Pulling ourselves out of bed the next morning was not exactly easy; the excessive amount of rum and whiskey we consumed the night before ensured that. The quantity and the quality I should add. You know waking up is never going to be easy when you’ve swuggled down a bottle of McVernon’s Finest Scotch.
The hangover staved off long enough to allow us to say one more round of goodbyes to those that were leaving for Delhi. After the bus had pulled away and after breakfast was generously tucked away we began our scheduled day of…well, nothing. And it was nice to have nothing to do. Even nicer not to see anymore palaces (a sentiment that only lasted till Udaipur). The day therefore will not command much page-time. I will only mark it as the day I finally got ill. It was not so much a case of Delhi-Belly but more a need for a Jaipur-Diaper (Yes, that should rhyme).
That night I was to wake in fits and starts and bits and parts with gut wrenching stomach cramps. Very intermittent but very powerful whilst simultaneously keeping my fitness up by having me run to the bathroom every half an hour. I bet you wish I hadn’t devoted much page-time to this now eh?
The next day our tour guide Yash was back from Delhi, complete with train tickets from Jaipur to Udaipur: the man’s home city and current palace of residence. Sorry, that should be place. Or maybe palace. We’ll wait and see. This was not the best day to experience my maiden voyage on India’s famous railway network yet there was nothing to be done. Feeling no better, we boarded the train aoround 2.30, arriving in Udaipur at approximately 10.30 and with 8 hours of tremendously horrendous backwards and forward, side-to-side train movement in less than comfortable “recliner” seats.
However the journey was made all the while once we had ridden auto-rikshaws to our palace of residence, left our bags to our rooms and took to the roof-terrace to witness one of the most spectacular views in my eyes’ entire career of sight-seeing. This was at 11’oclock at night, yet half the city was visibly lit up with their identical twins twinkling back at them thanks to the surrounding lakes. Yet whilst it was the most breath-taking sight of our travels so far, I could not shake the bite and twinge of my aching stomach as well as toilet-bowl withdrawal symptoms. In my condition, it was not safe to be away from a bathroom for too long.
I’d like to say things improved when I awoke that morning, but it didn’t. Firstly, I felt worse and secondly you actually need to have slept in order to awake and I managed no such thing. The cramps intensified and the in the safest analogy conceivable by my imagination, the 1500 meter pace-setters reached their final 100 meter sprint, meaning my visits to the bathroom became much more frequent.
With the Ned Flanders euphemisms out of the way, I tried my best to stomach a breakfast but got as far as a piece of warm bread used to pass as toast and a glass of Diarolyte. After that, despite the fun and games that had been planned for the 8 of us that day, I went skulking back to bed. It was the safest place and after barely an hour’s sleep I needed to recuperate (I’ll by pass it here, but my next post will be a one-off investigative-critique into the bizarre dream I had while Jo and co. were out. It involved Denton Drive, Nick Meagan, Mike Craven and zombies).
Not wanting to miss out on the entire day, I pulled myself out of bed long enough to enjoy a boat ride through Udaipur which was more than worth getting up for. It was all I could manage though, and it took every inch of strength (okay, the one inch of strength) in my body to climb the stair to my room where I was out of breath to the same degree as if I’d completed 10 laps of a football pitch. I was completely shocked at how weak I was and any notion I had of getting better appeared dashed in that moment (dash, sprint, run all seem to be used in much the wrong context here).
The next day was Holi, a Hindu festival of colour and water that was one of the major reasons we decided to come to Udaipur in the first place. Luckily, I had a much better night sleep than the one before and whilst the cramps were still lingering, the sprints had finally finished the race and I was feeling a lot more refreshed and energetic.
And so began a wonderful if not brutal day of rubbing brightly coloured powder into each other’s clothes, faces, hair and anywhere else that happened to be on show. The festival is linked to another celebration which took place the day before: something about a woman who was burnt because of a demon…I think. Maybe the demon never called her back. With spring replacing winter, the colour is applied with the idea that when you come to wash it off, you will have to wash with the strength of a thousand elephants because the stuff just does not come out! Having to scrub that hard, the troubles or sins of winter are scrubbed off and a clean slate is offered for spring.
We were lucky enough to celebrate the festival with some of Yash’s friends and family and I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say how grateful we are for the experience. Except for Jo maybe, who looked ready to take her ball and go home after being (quite honestly) harshly hit with water several times. Having survived the festival, it is much easier to look back and go: “Ahhhh yes, Holi, what a lovely time we all had”. Which we did. For the most part.
The following day the group that had survived gradually started to drift off and leave in a bid to re-join their original paths. We happened to be staying in India the longest, and as we had not booked any hotels or trains in advance we decided that we liked this city, this Venice of the East so much that we stayed as long as we could. We had a fantastic week in what is a beautiful city. It did not have quite the same appearance or feel as the other major cities we had visited. The narrow, windy and often steep roads stirred up images of an Italian city suburb and the vast surrounding waters and screensaver mountain images gave it a unique feeling.
Amongst all these were your typical Indian palaces, temples and monuments, but after a good week’s separation from sight-seeing we felt ready to give them another chance at making “us” work (for the kids). The City Palace was grand yet was certainly not built with the 6ft plus tourist in mind; its narrow and low ceilinged passages were not the easiest to negotiate. Anyone over 6”4 probably shouldn’t bother. It looks nice from the outside too.
We visited a park and a zoo on our second to last day which does not command much page-time other than Jo being scarily followed and asked for photos on more than one occasion. They didn’t seem interested in this tall, dark haired, pale skinned creature, which when put like that, I don’t blame them for. We also later visited the Monsoon palace, located upon the highest mountain in the region. We went just before sunset so that we could see the yellow sun going down over this stunning city and despite the windy and perilous route to the top, it afforded some amazing views which I hope you’ll find in the photo album I’ll upload in about a year.
The next day, Tuesday 13th March, we said our farewells to Udaipur as we had booked a sleeper train to take us to Delhi for our flight to Bangkok the day after. The train experience I will save for another post my dear reader but I will sign off with a few final thoughts on our time in India. At least I will try and offer you some final thoughts, because whilst you are in India, you are constantly re-evaluating your thoughts on the country. Just when you feel over-awed by the country’s beautiful and masterfully engineered palaces and monuments, you are suddenly shaken into fury and annoyance by the major cities’ constant natter. The country suddenly becomes an inconvenience and you forget why you are there. But just an uncomfortable 8 hour train ride of stomach cramps away and you find yourself once again, prisoner to the incredible ambition and natural beauty of some place unexpected.
There is no doubt that we enjoyed our 2 week stint there but we came to the mutual conclusion that –maybe Udaipur aside- we would not willingly come back to India. The feeling of vulnerability at almost every turn, the staring, penetrative eyes of the crowded metro, the battle and the physical effort that accompanies each day ensures that a two week stay feels more like a 2 month slog. I will remember the very good of India, for there was much good in it and I feel if we had stayed any longer we may have relinquished these warm memories in place of a cold resentment. In that sense, we very much glad to have loved and left India.
So having had an abominable night sleep, I decided to miss the walk amongst our beautiful new surroundings that had been scheduled, so that I could have another go at sleep.
With the cramps having lessened somewhat and with a huge fan whirling away overhead, I took myself up underneath a furry blanket and settled into slumber (a bit of a strange image I know, but I had that hot n’ cold fever thing going on).
That’s when Nick Meagan appeared (for those who don’t know, Nick Meagan is a long-time school friend). From what I remember I was leaving my room at my house in Wallasey, which was almost completely empty of any furniture. All that remained in the room was my rucksack and its various spilled contents, giving the impression that after 6 months carrying my stuff, it had returned to my room to vomit: an act of repressed and ill feeling towards me, perhaps?
When I got to the front door the street was almost identical to how I remember it and as I stepped off the driveway, non-other than…Mike Craven (another long-time friend) lumbers through the garden, pouring with sweat. He breathlessly asks:
“Why didn’t you answer? I knocked at your house before. We were meant to go for a run.”
Now, for the record, I haven’t been for a run since November so whether this is my subconscious trying to guilt me into starting running again, I’m not sure. On the other side of that record, and what I am sure about, is that I have never been running with Mike Craven (not to say a run wouldn’t be nice, Mike. Just…why now?).
Anyway, a crowd began to gather- obviously furious at the fact that I failed to keep to my word- all various faces from home and from school, Nick Meagan standing out in particular (I’m sorry, but if I start naming names I won’t be able to stop).
I don’t quite know what’s being said or discussed, but all of a sudden Paddy and I (in the same way people magically spring up out of nowhere in dreams as if they had been there all along) begin to retreat into the house, only for Nick Meagan to put his arm through the gap and stop the door from closing. We pushed and pushed but we now realised that this was no ordinary Nick Megan; this was Zombie Nick Meagan. Zombie Nick Meagan was too strong and his persistence was too great. The only obvious explanation of course were supernatural, un-dead powers from beyond the grave.
In an attempt to make him re-coil, I grabbed his arm with both hands and took out my anger with an oriental twist. My Chinese burns were no match for his Zombie-fied strength and I spent what felt like an eternity twisting to no avail (or burn).
The dream ended there. Spending a time composing myself having been completely weirded-out, just as most people start doing I began to wonder what in Vishnu’s name it all meant!
Very quickly I was reminded of Sigmund Freud and his theories regarding dreams and the subconscious. Now, my understanding of his theories stretches as far as an assignment in my second year of university for my Literary Theory module, specifically under psychoanalysis. The only conclusion that fits, taking into account my (then) current situation, is that the action of Chinese burning the Zombie Nick Meagan, was a direct confrontation with my (then) current illness, and the fact that my burns had no effect on the Zombie Nick Meagan, means that I was completely and utterly frustrated with being ill. With sleepless nights, with runny visits to the bathroom and with cramping stomachs (the twisting feeling in my stomach can be directly compared with the twist of a Chinese burn).
Strangely enough, whilst writing this, sat in bed with Jo reading A Game of Thrones next to me, I made another odd connection between the real and the sub-real.
Jo told me she had knocked very loudly on our door having returned from her walk. I- having had no communication to the real world whilst asleep- heard nothing. Neither did I hear Mike Craven’s attempts to call on me for the run I had supposedly agreed to. Could I have sub-consciously heard Jo’s knock and manifested it into the Zombie-filled world of my dreams? Tune in next week when my special guest, Dr Peter Venkman will hope to reveal all. That’s next time on Joe’s Tales from the Other Side.