Today I decided to take things easy. I stayed in bed until twelvish and was finally up and around by one o’clock. Later I would go and check out buses to Pushkar via a travel agent’s as recommended in the guidebook.
I decided that now would be a good time to meet the landlord and see those safari photos he was on about. When I told him this he dashed away excitedly and returned with a whole handful of photo albums. “Oh – great.” I enthused through clenched teeth.
We sat in my room for well over an hour looking through pictures that his guests had taken – I found some of it quite interesting, but he talked decidedly too much for my liking.
Ajit had many a tall story and it was hard to know what to believe:
- That he studied Kung-Fu under a Korean Master?
- Was a bodyguard to Rajiv Ghandi?
- Speaks seven languages?
- Is now the Maharana of Udaipur’s bodyguard for state occasions?
- Has the ear of the leaders of the local political parties?
- His father worked as an administrator to the British Raj?
- His brother is the commissioner of police in Bombay?
- His Uncle lives in Southport? (now that I could believe)
- That he’s the governor of a large expanse of land which includes the ruins of a castle and a secret lake?
- That the people and villagers of this region look to him as their leader?
- That he is a good hunter and has shot many panthers, boar and wild birds?
- That he owns horses, elephants and camels – which he uses for safaris – that he runs from the back room of his hotl?
- That he used to be a model?
- That he was the face of American Express for the whole of Asia?
- That he is 33, has had his business for 17 years, worked as a guide and security officer at the Lake Palace hotel for 10 years and was a model for 5 years?
- That his sexual prowess is now appreciated by many women around the local district – and as far away as Europe – and that his wife doesn’t mind?
Quite a character. He then invited me to lunch at his family’s house. I felt a little caught out, although I accepted naturally, I hadn’t expected to be invited into someone’s home but then how else would I see the real India?
The photographs he had shown me were all taken by guests on these “Safaris” that he runs to his stretch of land west of Udaipur. They seemed to back up most of his stories. Also Ajit showed me a visitors book that guests had written in stating their thanks to Ajit for such a wonderful and fulfilling stay, particularly with respect to the Safaris to the hidden villages, castle and lake.
I was next on his hit list I could tell but I didn’t mind; he seemed a truly genuine host. Whatever Safari I opted for hesaid, the price would be up to me.
I rode on the back of his motorcycle (no helmet of course) up to his home just west of the clock tower. I felt quite safe as we weaved through the narrow crowded streets of Udaipur – though a little concerned for the pedestrians.
His family’s house stood on the brow of a hill, it was in exceedingly good condition compared to most in the old city. The entrance hall looked comfortable; to the right his mother stood in the doorway to the kitchen, where apparently only she and Ajits wife were allowed to go. The theory being that other people may bring germs with them.
Next to this was his father’s room which had a photo of him meeting Indirah Ghandi on the wall. It was as tidy and as comfortable as any western suburban house – if a little smaller. Ajit explained that the walls were three foot thick there so that his father would be cool in summer and warm in winter. I met his father: a quiet ordinary man, pot belly and super-thick glasses.
At the end of the entrance way, which in a way was like a courtyard, he lead me upstairs to a central section where he, his wife and son all lived. In the middle was a potted-plant garden – with roses and many other sweet-smelling flora.
We greeted his wife in a room to the right. She was sitting on the floor making clothes with her reliable Singer sewing machine, the type my grandmother used to use. I assume Ajit said something like “Get us something to eat, bitch.” – because she smiled and went downstairs to the kitchen.
We went up one more level – to the roof where there were spectacular views over the city. I was most impressed.
We went back downstairs to the living room / master bedroom and sat and chatted whilst his wife brought us some food:
- cucumber and tomato
- onion sludge
- yellow spicy thing
- alwar cheese
- curd drink
- sweet rice krispies
It all tasted very nice.
His sister in law appeared with her son and they all began to chat about this and that. There was a brief interlude while his wife went to let off some bangers on the roof to scare away scavenging monkeys.
After lunch Ajit showed me ALL his family albums – wedding album included, some of it was very interesting … but most was exceedingly boring. The problem was that Ajit had a tendency to waffle on for hours about nothing in particular. Conversation as such was not possible with him seemingly unable to listen for more than ten seconds.
I finally managed to get away saying I needed to do some shopping. Ajit offered me a lift but I declined; he looked relieved. “Yes, I want to spend some time with my family.” His problem obviously is that he is far too generous for his own good.
The most interesting thing that he had told me was about Hindu weddings. Apparently they last 24 hours with a six hour break in the middle. A little more relative to the commitment than Christianity – a 45 minute affair at most nowadays.
After an hours walk around the city – having got well and truly lost on my quest to try and find the travel agents supplying buses to Pushkar – I arrived back at the hotel without a bus ticket, but did have a few minutes of footage of some stripey local park squirrels at least.
I hadn’t sat down for more than ten minutes than the doorbell rang. It was the boys from the art-school again. They wanted to know if I wanted to trade anything for some artwork. I invited them in and showed them a couple of items that I was keen to lighten my load of/ My waistline being far too big they couldn’t use my spare pair of slacks, but my old University rowing top they were quite happy with. Bollocks.
They lead me down to the school to choose something in exchange. I went for a beautiful miniature elephant (Rs 250 normally). I then agreed to have a beer with the boys on the roof of the hotel. One of them told me that when he leaves the school he is going to start a restaurant on the roof – very soon, this year maybe. To get the very best view over Udaipur we climbed with the aid of a handmade ladder to atop the water-tank.
With us we took plastic chairs to sit on whilst supping the beer and enjoy the view. I bought two bottles of Kingfisher to go around, well, I paid for it – one of the boys went and bought it and brought it back. They told me they thought Ajit was a little ‘out there’ and I shouldn’t take him too seriously. It was a fine cool evening and we could see down to most rooftops in the district. On a number of them boys were flying kites. I was told that during the Udaipur Kite Festival in early june – the skies are full of kites.
As the evening drew in, in the distance to the north, a cloud began lighting up. Obviously the monsoon was in full swing about 10-20 miles away it was an incredible sight – this giant cloud hurling electricity around.
Feeling hungry I left the boys and went for some food and then to bed. I had agreed to meet Ajit at 10am the next day to go and see some of the sights that he had talked of.