Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 20: Magic Rug Ride

We checked out at 10am and grabbed a bite in the downstairs bakery before seeking out the local silver selling shops in search of a ring that Sarah had seen the previous day. We didn’t like that guys hard-line staunchness with his prices, even doing the final ‘get up and walk out’ manoeuvre which usually results in a call back with an even better ‘best price’, but had that time resulted in silence. After a lot of looking at lesser versions, we decided to go back to the guy with the good stuff for round two of bartering. After getting a slightly better deal for that ring plus another, I told Sarah that I would treat her to it. It had been on both of our minds since she walked away from it the day before, and was therefore a worthy gift to give.

I stopped to check out a tunic coat and was greeted with an unlit floor with four or five shopkeeper types sitting chatting. They soon scarpered, leaving me with Praveen, A four foot something portly pygmy with a sweet, welcoming disposition. I shook his small, chubby fingered hand and discussed having one of his jackets made for me, choosing from a wide array of fabrics and border patterns with the help of my own personal designer and stylist, Sarah. We shopped a little more for presents before shooting back to the hotel to grab our loads and chuck them onto a waiting rickshaw which whisked us over to Mahendra Prakash, one of the best hotels in Udaipur which had its own pool. Since we were at the end of our journey, we decided a well-deserved stay in a swanky place was in order, so we’d booked ourselves a one night stay in room number 8, which is my lucky number and was by far the best place I’d stayed the entire time. It had a huge king-size bed, strange and interesting art on the wall, a stained glass wall with sofa in front and an expensive looking marble bathroom. As we lay on the bed I decided that this would be my treat to my lover, she deserved it, after all without her I’d not have been on this amazing journey, nor had such amazing company.

We spent a while testing how comfortable the bed was, then got showered with welcome warm water before hitting the pool. Two tortoises, that were aged sixty and forty years old respectively, roamed in the quaint garden as I swam lengths to let my heart know he still needs to stay strong. I got out, instantly dried by the 2pm sun as it darkened my olive skin, and laid beside the tortoises who after a few seconds of staring into each other’s faces leant in and actually kissed for a few seconds. I wish I’d caught a snap as it was hilariously beautiful.

There were only five other people in the poolside garden, one being a little pot-bellied ten year old Israeli girl who swam alone, unmonitored by everyone except me and the few other strangers. She spent the rest of her time sipping from bottles of Coke on her wealthy parents’ tab whilst they were off doing something which was obviously more important than spending time with their only child. There was a German couple too but they departed soon after we arrived, although their towels were left saving the limited sun-beds for the duration of the afternoon, whilst I remained on the floor. Some stereotypes ARE true. Hahaha. The final two fellows were American guys from California named Alex and Larry. I though Alex was actually Paul Simon for a split-second before we spoke, but alas there would be no renditions of ‘Me and Julio down by the schoolyard’. He was very outgoing and sociable from the off, and we spoke about football and our own travels to each other’s homelands. Larry seemed like a harder nut to crack, his silence as he sat reading creating an air of mystery and intrigue that, unfortunately, could never be achieved by someone fully open and outgoing like Alex, or myself. I rued him for being the catalyst of this realisation, but the interest remained. He went and sat with his feet in the pool and Alex told us how Larry had adopted two Indian children, one of whom will be competing in the Paralympics in 2012 and how the other worked at the hotel and they were both visiting for a ceremony. The little girl came and shared her Tic-Tacs with us as we sat chatting until the sun disappeared behind the hotel wall.
It was the perfect time, the time that we’d all been waiting for, the time our taste buds feared: ‘Mixed Mushroom Munch-off time’. Sarah, the ballsy little so and so had been on a mountain trek with a guide before I arrived, and he picked some magic mushrooms from the path and put them on a rock, telling her what they were before walking on. She had cheekily chucked them in her bag, carried them in a plastic photograph film case for days, then smuggled them in her skirt on her flight from Bangalore to Delhi where she met me. Amazing. Four weeks’ worth of being sealed away had done them no favours at all, they smelt and tasted absolutely rotten and we had to shot them like pain pills to get them down without gagging. For dessert we had the leftover majority of the mushroom chocolate that we’d sampled in Agra, enough for five or six portions apparently, but we wanted to go a lot further than last time so we ate them all as well.
I didn’t want to come up in the room that we’d be sitting in all night, thinking it would be more fun to let it creep up on us as we were out and about doing normal things, so I suggested we go for a stroll to get a few drinks for later. After about half an hour, whilst sitting on a cushioned platform in a shop, I spent a while staring at the multi-coloured rug on the floor which had a new found vibrancy to it and laughed to myself, knowing that things were about to change. Sarah was bartering over the cost of an embroidered kaftan for her mother, which was white but very dirty from dust, and she questioned whether the size would be too small. I replied saying, “That’d fit me”, much to the shop keeper Manish’s disagreement. I jumped up at the first chance of a bet, exclaiming “If it fits me we get it for 150”, before pulling off my shirt and worming my way into the tight-fitting woman’s blouse and strutting about like a model with a victorious grin as they both sat watching and laughing. Manish still declined the sale, even though we had shook on it, which irked me a bit, but when he started speaking about his business and money his voice broke and developed a desperate stutter which worsened as he went on. He said he’d been there, away from his home and family running the shop for over fifteen years, and how in the last few he was barely making anything. He even showed me his sales book for the past few months, September only showing 3900 rupees, about £50, and said he wanted to shut up shop and move back, but that even shifting his stock for a decent price would be difficult. I told him to get out, it was clear that we was unhappy and breaking up being there, and it broke me up inside.
We were both feeling pretty sorry for him, and he was an unfortunate but kind soul, so we started looking at more stuff. He was pulling out pashminas left, right and centre, piling them up on top of us to display the variety of colours and we came to one, the colour of which none of us could define. It was a browny, red-ish, purpley, coffee-ish, dark thing and we all laughed over the confusion it caused. Sarah bought it just for the fact that it had amused us so, and I bought one in red. We didn’t haggle on the price. He told us about the origins of the word pashmina, which we all know to be those thin scarves that are ‘two for five pounds’ in most markets in London, but a pashmina is actually a small mountain goat, and the scarves are made using the wool which grows on the underside of their necks. He showed us an old magazine article about it, with a photograph of a cute baby pashmina attached. It’s a shame I can’t get two actual pashminas for a fiver, they’d make great living clouds to go with the ones I have painted on my bedroom ceiling. Manish then cracked open his own personal Pandora’s Box, handing me the granddaddy of all woollen neck wear, a black pashmina made of the finest material I’d ever felt, which he claimed  was either 7000 or 70000 rupees (£93 or £933). As soon as I draped it across my shoulders with a pull that made it stroke the back of my neck, I was in love. I wanted to live in this material, swim in it and eat it for dinner so my insides felt as rich as I did whilst prancing around the store like a dandy aristocrat. “Lar-dee-dar” I remarked whilst swishing in-front of a mirror, before dragging it over Sarah’s bare back so she could enjoy its effect. I had the thought, in amongst my psychedelic swanning around wearing rags for the rich, that perhaps Manish thought his luck was in with us, and that his mortgage would be paid before we left his shop, but unfortunately I had to hand him back his piece of Heaven, with a handshake, and we departed with two unwanted scarves and a dirty top.

We didn’t imagine that we’d end up shopping on ‘shrooms, and didn’t bring much cash, so after getting lost in that small shop for an hour we only had enough for the snacks we’d set out to buy. We were in hysterics as we skipped down the street in a lively fashion, everything more flowing and alive than usual as we discussed our shopping experience, confirming that we both came up in there, and both pity purchased from Manish after hearing his truthfully uttered stutters about his financial situation. Now India is a strange place to be in general, when tripping, even more strange and hilarious. We’d always chuckle through the agitation of shop-keepers who think they’re somehow psychic when you walk past their stores, offering any array of things that you’d never feasibly want or use instead of knowing their demographic enough to only approach potentially interested parties, but experiencing it high was just hilarious. As we stumbled, arms around each other, past a few stores one aged Indian seller loudly whispered ‘look on this’ whilst brazenly waving a yellow elephant fridge magnet in my line of vision with a hypnotic wrist action that could only have been mastered over decades of enticing tourists to buy whatever he holds. However, I just burst out a bellowing guffaw, leaving Sarah wondering what was so funny. We found a little shack with drinks and snacks, bought a few drinks and crisps, and then I spotted the sweets. I grabbed our purse, pointed at every chocolate bar and a gummy pizza sweet, which was all they had, telling them to hook a brother up stat whilst giving them all the cash from our kitty. I noticed when leaving that I just casually said “Cheers mate”, then patted the guys young son on the head saying “See you later, boy”, and remarked that it’s funny how when intoxicated you forget where you are and just revert to your most standard self, instead of shuffling around politely saying ‘Namaste’ to every passing stranger and child to let them know that whitey is in town, and he’s carrying love.
We ventured back to the safe sanctity of our room, jumping over missing drain covers like they were great craters to overcome on the road to righteousness, and started smashing through the snacks in a fort that I’d made for us on the bed, using the multitude of cushions from all around the room to create a comfortpalaceloveden for us to relax in whilst staring, enamoured by a framed wall hanging. Neither of us had liked it at first, but with these new eyes came a new found appreciation for its warped brilliance. It looked like it was painted by a three year old kid with one bad eye, the giant monster-ish red, yellow and blue faced people with hook-noses above their eyes, walking in the same direction across the canvas, which also contained a wonky border and stoned flowers that were made of love-hearts. We had seen the strange, alluring cohesion of this brightly painted masterpiece, and we wanted it. I checked the wall to see if it was removable, so we could buy it, but it didn’t seem accessible, so we vowed to enquire the next day, Sarah stating she would reproduce the scene on a wall in her future house. I tried to convince her to chuck in £10 each with me, in order to go back and buy everything the sweetie shack had to sell, saying “3000 rupees will clear them out, it will be great”, but she dissuaded me and we instead opted to get a bite in the hotel restaurant. We grabbed a table outside in the sunbathing area, and I left her seated whilst I went inside to get menus. Alex and Larry were sitting at a table and we got chatting about their evening, Alex was the kind of guy that could converse for hours, and before I knew it, it had been about ten minutes of chit-chat, no menus, and Sarah left tripping on her own, out of sight, about ten metres away from us outside. I invited them to join us if they wished, being polite and friendly whilst potentially lining us up for a mass exposure of stupidity in our spacey states.
I returned to my lady in waiting who asked if I’d really been gone for ages, or if it was just her, saying that she’d been watching a shadow rabbit drumming in a distant plant pot. I could see it too, the leaves all alive and playing their part in the nature’s painting, and he looked to be keeping a good rhythm. I explained that I’d seen Alex and Larry, and almost instantly they arrived at our table, the game was on. I clung onto conversations like a cat thrown at curtains, whilst delivering the humorous ramblings of a mad man trying to feign normality, explaining that I wanted to consume everything on offer, and remarking on how the missing moon was now nearly full, and finally showing-off her face to me. I ordered Aloo Palak, I had no idea what it was, but I liked the name, and a garlic naan, which Sarah and I demolished like beasts, mopping up potato from the bowl of delicious green sludge we’d been served. Larry stayed true to his modest and to-the-point demeanour up until we spoke of the tortoises, and where they slept. With a new sign of life he jumped to his feet to check out their dwellings and I followed him over to some plant pots where they supposedly slept. “Oh wow, a frog” he remarked, then turned to me with his hands out, holding it. I had a flashback to my sixth birthday, when I found one in my back garden, and kissed it hoping it would turn into a Princess, and considered kissing this one to see if it would turn into a second Sarah, but before I could do anything it leapt out of Larry’s hands right towards my face, landing just in front of my feet, then hopping away. I don’t know why it wasn’t up for a smooch, perhaps I had some Aloo Palak in my beard, although I’m sure the green would’ve resembled a lily-pad.

Alex and Larry left us doing damage control, Sarah in disbelief that I’d let us in for such an experience, and telling me about all the crap I’d come out with whilst she’d sat there staying silent and sensible. She also told me that Larry was reading Christian magazines by the pool earlier, but luckily we hadn’t got onto the topic of religion or I might have offended them with my crazy theory that dinosaurs actually existed. I downed a banana lassi in a matter of seconds and shared a pot of tea with my partner in crime whilst laying on loungers looking up into space, before retiring to our room to lay on the bed. You could hear an almost-song in the ‘silence’ surrounding the room, crickets outside our window providing a steady rhythm, the beat, as oncoming cars in the distance approach, creating a bridge which built up natures constant tune, the chorus coming as the car passes, often with a number of beeps that could make an ambient noise rave hit its peak, being the crescendo of our habitat’s harmony.

We smoked a joint on the bed, within the wondrous walls of our comfort emporium, and watched Dave Chappell’s Block Party whilst entwined in each other’s arms, until the magic fell silent and we drifted away.

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