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.
Caleb and I stayed at a number of luxury hotels in India—the Leela, two Taj Hotels, which were converted from palaces, and the Manor, a boutique shop in the middle of the Friends Colony, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Delhi. Thank god for fucking corporate America.
They all had their charms—who doesn’t dream of living in a castle?—but were also rife with faults. The Leela had water stains on the walls. The Taj hotels were infected with fleas and pigeons. And the Manor was something like a model home hotel, the kind of place the Bluths would live in were they to have invested in real estate in India. The furniture was cheap, the water in the bath tub was green, and the waiters at the restaurant pretended not to speak English. “We don’t want to have the chef’s tasting menu,” Caleb told one on the second night of our stay.
“Only chef’s tasting menu,” he insisted.
“I ate here last night,” I told him, baby-faced and lying. “Just give us the a la carte menu.”
Now, I’m not a snob about most things. (Who am I kidding? Yes I am.) But it’s my opinion that if you’re paying $300 a night (or more) for a hotel room—or even better, someone else is paying for you—then you should have a concierge that is helpful, a comfortable bed, staff that doesn’t try to steal from you, and clean water to bathe in. That could just be me.
As promised, today will be my last day of India posts, which makes me really sad. As tough as the trip was, it was also very fruitful. It lifted me from my numerous ennuis, and made me feel alive. It gave me thousands of beautiful photographs, and hundreds of ideas for short stories. I’m not sure what I’ll write about next week.
I’m trying to think of New York as a foreign place, so that I can have some adventures here. I’m going to wake up every day, and leave my house, and try to do something that scares me.
But until my corner bodega becomes a place of interest, I’ll finish off with some final recommendations, in case you ever find yourself in Rajasthan, the state where I spent most of my trip.
I think what I miss most about it are the colors. In New Delhi, and the cities of Uttar Pradesh (such as Agra), the colors the women wear are muted—olive green, maroon, tan, mustard yellow. But in Rajasthan—and most especially in Jodphur—they are fire, sparking the air, giving the whole place a feel of otherworldliness.
I spent three days amongst them with my guide Suresh, who by our last day together, had changed his behavior from that of an angry father to a doting husband. He could sniff my moods. He knew how far he could push me before I snapped.
Last week, I finally read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, a science fiction novel that, completely coincidentally, is frequently set in India. In it, the two main characters, arguing for autonomy for the colonies that live on the moon, find themselves in Agra—the city of the Taj Mahal, made the capital of the Mughal Empire by Akbar the Great—on no less than three occasions.
“Stretched out by Prof and caught breath, then said, ‘How do you feel, Prof?’
‘Okay. A bit tired. Frustrated.’
‘Ja da. Frustrated.’
‘Over not seeing the Taj Mahal, I mean. I never had opportunity as a young man—and here I’ve been within a kilometer of it twice, once for several days, now for another day…and still I haven’t seen it and never shall.’
‘Just a tomb.’
‘And Helen of Troy was just another woman. Sleep, lad.”
In honor of Professor Bernardo de la Paz, I made the Taj Mahal my final destination in India.
After I saw this photo on Caleb’s camera, I got mad at him because he was bending away from me. “Why don’t you love me anymore?” I asked him.