Before I left for my trip, Shark lent me a nice lens for my camera. “You get up every day before dawn, Breezy, and take pictures,” he told me. “Then, again, at sunset, you go out. The rest of the day, the light is crap. If taking photographs is what you want to do, you have to treat it like a job, every day. No more second honeymoons.”
He was referring to my last trip to Vietnam, where basically all that I did was chum around with my toothless guide, Toon, drink sauvignon blanc in the lobby of the Park Hyatt, and stare googly-eyed at Caleb.
Dutifully, I followed his orders. I was up at 5 am every morning. Then, in the late afternoon, I’d have a guide take me out to some vantage point at sunset, as far outside the city as our car—or in one case, his motorbike—would take us.
The trips at dusk made for the sum total of my adventures in India.
The best of those days were in Jodphur. There, Suresh and I climbed ancient ramparts spread out over the desert, up stone stairs so steep that I had to grip them with my hands, and lift my body up behind me.
He with his dress shirt, dress pants, and polished shoes, and me in my pink cotton dress and gold ballet slippers, made quite the pair rock climbing in the wild thickets.
He took me, running, into the Blue City, down windy, stinky streets, to the doorstep of a family he knew, who let me climb skyward, to their roof, to capture the last rays cast on the Mehrangarh Fort, from a sun that set over the desolate land on its western facade. In the last light, they served us Chai Masala, in tiny tea cups. A little girl, on the next roof over, blew me a kiss. I blew one back, and she ran into her house, giggling. A minute later, she was out again, this time dragging her brother behind her. I blew them each a kiss, and then kept on doing it until they were screaming with laughter.
On the last day, Suresh asked me if he could take me on his motorbike to a secret spot on the outskirts of the city. “No.” I declined three times, before changing my mind.
So I hopped up behind him, side-saddle like a lady, and we made our way in the terrible smog, me snapping photographs, bareheaded, he with a helmet and a visor, tense through his thin cotton dress shirt, which I held onto lightly, unnecessarily.
Through the terrible traffic, we crawled, bottlenecking at every roundabout. People smiled at me, and pointed. Dust filled my lungs, and I’m still, today, coughing from it.
Through a wasteland of crematoriums, we rose, just as the sun blazed above a cloud barricade on the horizon.
There, a small family trailed us as we hiked to a vantage point, screaming, “Ta ta,” and pulling at my skirt.
I beamed at them, and they beamed at me. Their grandmother, tiny and shriveled, gathered them together, clucking at them to pose for my camera.
We departed at a rampart. They continued left, and Suresh led me right, up the towers of an ashram, which offered sweeping views of all of Jodphur’s cities—the walled city, the blue city, the new city, and the vanishing one.
“Why did you ever let me say no to this?” I gasped at Suresh. “You should have told me I’m an idiot.”
“You’re a woman, your moods change,” he told me. “I didn’t know what you would say when I brought you here.”
“You should always bring me here,” I said.
Fortunately, he didn’t understand me.
After I snapped 50 or 100 or 200 shots, he asked me if I wanted to wait out the final rays of light.
“No, I’ve had enough,” I said, exhausted.
So we made our way back down through the crematoriums, into the crowded streets, my lungs burning, my skin dried out by the desert.
It was the most wonderful night I had in India, my hair whipping behind me, my fingers light on his shoulder, the vistas of an ancient city in the memory card of my camera, which hung, heavy, from its strap wrapped around my neck.
Whatever you do, if you go to India, spend as much time in good light as you can, as far outside of the city as someone will lead you.