India Day 7: Guilt and Papayas

So. We get up at the f'n CRACK, throw on our clothes & packs, and stumble through the streets of Pushkar in efforts to meet Ramesh at the 6:30 am meeting time.

While stumbling, it occurred to us that, this early in the morning, we were less likely of being harrassed by priestouts at the ghats, and took a quick detour to visit one of the larger ghats. And so were 15 minutes late to meet Ramesh.

Which normally wouldn't have been a problem.

Turns out there were some seriously crossed wires going on. See, we told him that we'd call him if we wanted to get picked up later than 6:30. No call meant "6:30 A-OK!" We thought.

But HE thought that we were going to call to check in regardless. So he got there at 6 AM, and when we showed up, boy was he pissed.

Once we got on the road, he really let us have it. He told us all the cautionary tales about Pushkar, dangerous land of backpacker grifts.

There was the couple who went to a crooked guest house (run, in Ramesh's telling, by Muslims, of course) and got robbed, drugs planted on them, some such. Then there's the infamous "Bang Lassi" story, in which a hapless femalie is given a drugged yoghurt drink. Think "roofie." We later heard the story of a friend of a fellow traveler who did have one of those, but it was by choice (like an Amsterdam "space cake."). Then there was the guy who got dope planted on him by his guest house, so he had to pay off the cops (and the guest house got a piece).

Or there are the stories of Pushkar men who work in the shops & restaurants, who seduce & marry tourist women, go back to their country, then take all their money, go back to Pushkar, and start over. Beware, Ladies!

Were any of these stories true? Ramesh seemed to think so. But more important, he said that when a professional guide is in charge of tourists that go missing, the Guide gets arrested for losing track of them! And since cars weren't allowed in Pushkar, he couldn't check on us. So we felt bad. We apologized and in return got stonewalled by Ramesh. Which didn't suck.

Regardless, it was a long drive to our next stop, Udaipur.

If you've ever looked at Udaipur on a map, you know that it's out of the way on the standard Rajastan loop--5-7 hours south of Pushkar, 5-7 hours south of Jodphur. But the Lonely Planet said the lake palace was amazing, and other travelers told us that it was "romantic and european," so we put it on our itinerary.

Because of the length of the drive, it was late in the day when we asked Ramesh if we could stop for lunch. There weren't any of his beloved tourist trap commission places along the way, so we ended up at a little roadside stand just outside the hills surrounding Udaipur.

We sat down on woven flats to eat a couple of very spicy dishes with Parantha (bread), sitting with Ramesh as he told jokes about us in Hindi to the men at the stand. Everyone was laughing but N & I.

But as we ate, a bunch of girls gathered at the stairs leading behind the stand. They were the wives, mothers, and (mostly) daughters of the men who ran the place. They looked at us a giggled a while. Because, of course, we are white and foreign and therefore hilarious.

Finally one of them said something to one of the men, who said something to Ramesh, who passed it to us: Could they take Natacha to their home? It was right behind & just below the stand. Natacha agreed and went with these 7 or so females. 20 minutes later, she returned, carrying a huge green papaya. Turns out they'd shown her the kitchen, and were just generally mezmerized with her. We stayed a while longer to talk with them (via Ramesh) and take some photos.

Natacha, kind soul that she is, worried about not having any gifts to given them in return. So she dug into her pack and gave them hair chopsticks and cough drops. Hey, what would YOU have done?

Finally heading into Udaipur, Ramesh offered once again to find us a place to stay. Since we still felt guilty about the Pushkar thing, we let him lead the way. He took us to a place that the Lonely Planet did mention, a lovely hotel with a swimming pool that was roughly double what we'd dream of paying. Big "R" was in top form.

After getting lost a few times in the center of Udaipur old town, we located a place ourselves and sent him on his way so we could spend two Ramesh-less nights in Udaipur.

We spent that first afternoon walking through the narrow, crowded streets and sitting on the Ghat overlooking the lake. You can see the golden palace in the lake, an immense white structure immortalized in the film "Octopussy." We found a fancy hotel with a rooftop restaurant, ordered the cheap dishes, and watched the sun set over the lake, the twin palaces, a mosque, and a very busy day.