I woke up at 445 to catch the Shabtadi (Paradise) Express to Ajmer in Rajasthan. Despite heat, my sleep was deep and impartial. I dreamed softly of home amid the whir of the fan and the honk of motorcycles streaming from outside. I had fallen asleep at 830.
I took a rickshaw to the train station in the early morning dawn. The guy overcharged me by 20 cents but his job is so hard I couldn’t care. I realized my ticket is only as far as Jaipur. But I didn’t want to go there, the third leg of the Golden Triangle. I don’t want to deal with crowded cities, incessant touting and overpriced guest houses. I remembered Rhythm standing on our veranda in the sun while I sat, typing his words, his dictation. He waved me past Jaipur. Skip. Go to Pushkar. I will. I hardly care about forts anymore.
The amber hue of the sun sneaked through the train’s murky windows. The car was so coolly air conditioned that I dreaded getting out and feeling the heat blast. I was reminded of football practice– first thing you think about when you lie awake in bed is end of the day sprints in the heat of late afternoon. You both dread it because it means having finished running dozens of plays and conditioning up and down the field, and crave it because it means the day is over for you to go home and eat dinner in peace and play video games or dedicate the rest of your waking hours to relaxation. But travel isn’t football practice. I can take my time and follow my own schedule, heat or not heat.
I keep remembering how Anya said, it’s not the season to go to Rajasthan, the way her thinly plucked eyebrows knit together, and she assumed the tone of a schoolteacher delivering the right answer. I decided to come because of my stubborn longing to see things people tell me I shouldn’t.
I stayed on the train past Jaipur. The landscape began to resemble the American West: rising hills of sedgelike plants and sparse trees growing near plowed fields. Some hills had many trees growing in light brown dirt. Brick houses that could be adobe were low and rectangular. The land here looked different because of how many people have seen it– it’s existed for tens of thousands of years with humans living on it. Not true in the wilds of Utah…
Kishangarh is about twenty clicks from Ajmer. There are pink-flowered trees and crowds huddled in the shade. Women wore bright saris, and I suddenly had the sense of being in a very remote place. A young boy walked down the train platform naked, water bottle in hand. A man walked by in the shade of a parasol. Despite the bounce of tree leaves, everything seemed very hot. Everyone posed languidly in shade, leaning back, legs up, pausing with hands to chin, all waiting for the heat to pass.
I took a bus from Ajmer to Pushkar for 12 rupees, then a rickshaw to the Lotus Hotel, where Rhythm had suggested I stay. The kid who drove it had to get out at hilly points and walk. When I arrived, the pink bouganvilla, ferns and crowded foliage reminded me that Rhythm would definitely stay here. I was offered a lakeside view but for 200 a night, but I could do better. I chose the room behind it for 100. The guy who helped me doesn’t speak “full power” English but he served me Malai Kofta and a free chai.
After I ate I went for a swim in the green brown pool near the lake. The kid who had taken me on the rickshaw was there, along with twenty other locals. I figured I had paid his wages for the day with the 60 rupees I gave him, but he had a hard job. One boy wanted to race me, but I couldn’t risk inhaling any of that water– that would mean great sickness. For fun they balled up clothes and threw them at each other. One little boy stood naked on the poolside, fingering his penis. A woman went in with her clothes, and when she got out dripping, I watched her green sari stick to her legs and higher, where she began to curve. She changed on the side closer to the lake and I watched through boys splashing for a flicker of skin. When I was tired, I rose and walked back into the hotel. From the table outside my room I could hear locals shouting in a distant pool, watch ants crawl up and down the tropical trees, and feel the breeze cool perspiration from my brow.
On my way back from a meal at a touristy place, where I had Indian spaghetti in pesto, peppers and mushrooms, a man took my hand. He complimented me on my mustache which I’d had trimmed yesterday, Delhi style, and he pulled on my thumb, which cracked. He told me to follow him, and willingly, I went. He was from Kerala, and rubbed my head, massaged my neck, and pinched my shoulders and arms. It felt good. He gave me a stone to hold. I was afraid of how much this would cost. He finished and I looked refreshed. He showed me the pool of dirty water he’d collected that had dripped off my face when he’d sprayed me and rubbed my head. When I asked how much he said as much as I want since I’m his first customer of the day. He said normal price is 750. I gave him 250. He asked for 100 more, said he gave me all of his good energy; since I was his first of the day, it had been building. He was right. I felt great. I gave him another 40. He told me to take a shower when I got home.
I walked down the dusty road, past stores that smelled of rosewater, where men sat sorting pink flower petals. Bulls turned to look at me. I was smiling and radiating strong energy from my eyes and hands. Two girls approached me and asked me my name. This was the first time such a thing had happened. It was always men; come to think of it, I hadn’t had any interactions with local females. I felt sexual energy on both our sides. They told me I have beautiful eyes. Their names rhymed: Gina and Adina. Sexual fantasies rose in my mind. Adina asked for my hand and started squirting henna onto it. I didn’t want this. Ladies in saris turned to watch these two girls rape my hand. She finished a flower and I told her it was nice but I couldn’t pay for it. Reluctantly, they let me go, knowing I wouldn’t lie– my energy was too pure after that Kerala reiki session.
I walked away, down the dusty road back to Lotus Hotel. Wild boars were eating cow shit and it made sense that some people don’t eat pigs. Back in the comfort of my hotel, my lone neighbor, a Moscovite and his henna-dyed dredlock wearing female friend were eating dinner. The afternoon heat was dissipating into evening. I showered and felt clean and refreshed. I am looking forward to tomorrow.