It is proving to be more difficult than I anticipated.
Sure, I am happy to take heed from the Lonely Planet, and dress modestly. Sure, I can accept that I might get Dehli belly, so might as well be brave and eat from a Jaipur street cart, so dusty it camouflages itself into the pink city street. But real surrender, giving up what I think defines me, Uh huh, let me wrap my fingers around those habits like a death grip, and pretend that’s just how I am.
We arrive in Jaipur, a city that hums pink from equal amounts of terracotta paint, and rising desert dust. Our airport transfer introduces himself as Kahlu, and just like the drink which his name resembles, he is sickly sweet and not all that it is cracked up to be. But this realisation only comes twenty four hours later. We agree to be driven around the city, and be shown the best sights, restaurants, and bargain shops, all at a very reasonable price of seven hundred rupees. Possibly reasonable – for airport standards – which we incidentally zoom past in the car (new, which Kahlu quickly points out), where paying five dollars for a coffee, and fourteen for a sandwich is standard for travelers bewitched by jet-lag, timezone travel, fluorescent lights and sleep deprivation. Lets just say we are still getting into the swing of the whole trust your instincts thing.
So an hour nap, a shower and a costume change we are back in the new-car-smell, and being lugged to the first stop; Jaipur museum. A beautiful intricate pop-up book of a building, encircled by a cemented moat road, that hints at past influences of British heritage, but resembles a dodgem car rally. Pigeons in throngs make me want to recite some Mary Poppins lyrics, but I hold off, as I am already getting more stares than I can pretend to feel comfortable with. The museum is beautiful, but Harry and I wander around, mostly silent, as if trying to find what is missing from the picture. We roll outside, and Kahlu rolls up, time to enter the old city. The entire old-quarter wears a powdery uniform of terrecotta, with white outlines on the facades, and hosts an expanse of tourist shops that is not unlike The Rocks in Sydney’s city centre. A quick stop to a magnificent stained-glass-windowed side of a palace, but before we have time to “Wow”, Kahlu trundled us off to see another Palace, that of which alludes to hovering in the middle of a giant lake. We are asked if we are hungry, and taken to a wonderful reasurant. Which prices resembles the airport that we left five hours ago. So, we sit in this overpriced Western restaurant that served everything, from Chinese fried rice to Dutch pancakes, all served, from a cheshire smiling waiter. As I stared out at the window at the glimmering heat, I look at a tourist outside, see her trundle into a rusted green autoricshaw, with singlet top – side boob hanging, and faded denim festival short shorts. As she clambered into the back of the rickshaw’s white hot vinynl seat, her knees up to her ears, exposing her (and to quote my grandmother) entire lunch box, I wondered, is this what we look like, us tourists? Is this what Kahlu sees? Silly looking money bags? I ask these questions, identifying a sour taste that had slowly rose in my mouth during the day, knowing our next destination is two factories that produced Jaipur’s famous exports, gems, and block printed materials, Kahlu’s best recommendations. The feeling of being labeled a western tourist, who’s money and Will can be at the hands of any cunning merchant made me irked. After the factories, and a chaperon back to the hotel with a disappointed looking Kahlu, (we were quite modest with our purchases, both being on a student backpacker budget) we unwound with the magic of aircon.
I kept thinking back to that girl clambering into the rickshaw, arse hanging out. How are we westerners seen? Brain ticking over, t.v on – my ponders got cemented as I watched a scene from Sex and the City 2, were Samantha hip thrusts in a mid-drift top and thigh hugging white Capri’s to a circle of Muslims in Abu Dabi, announcing her sexuality as a proud western triumph, it struck me. We are so unwilling to give it up. Let go of what we think defines us. We grasp at our identity as if it the only thing that we have, that our self our ‘me’ is so important. That if I choose to wear short shorts, and you do not understand that then tuff titties, because that’s who I am. But, if I cut myself in half, I will find no me. No Steph. If I cut you in half, there is no you, no person or thing inside you that is different from me. We are the same stuff, and however negative an idea it may seem, I am pretty sure that I am not special, not different, and very ordinary. So why am I feeling so different to what is around me right now?
Sunrise brought the sweat that a cold shower cannot contain, and we are off for more sight seeing. Vastly different from the previous day we are picked up by a guide who would look more at home in a nineteen fifties adventure film, and was booked back in Sydney town by our travel agent. Classic sunglasses, a kerchief tied around his neck that doubled as a brow-sweat-mop, and a bandy leg walk, this guide, by the end of the day was called Uncle. Thanks again Lonely Planet for the cultural naming tips. He informed us with many tisks and clucks that the previous guide, Kahlu, was a crook, and had taken us to the unregistered dealers of gems and cloths, verified by our lack of certificate that is meant to accompany such wears. This guy works for the Indian government, and has been working in the tourist industry for forty years or such, and had so much knowledge of everything he showed us, it was like having family show your around their home town.
That afternoon, after far-welling Uncle, we wander down the interior streets of the old city. In a bustling racket of a cloth market stalls, Harriet got groped by an old man. I did not really see what happened, but I could see by her face that she needed to get out of there, so we ducked into a dust trodden side lane where some kids were playing cricket with rocks as balls. One was aimed at Harry’s head, and missed by a mile, but as I strode past, the little rat took a mega swing at my head with his bat. I shouted, and wagged by finger at him saying “naughty!” but definitely felt the sting of the insult. Why are we so unwelcome!? It felt like Jaipur did not particularly want us, or even have the energy to pretend. Maybe everyone was hot and bothered. I felt so indignate. How could I be seen or catagorized as that silly ignorant traveller. How can I be disliked by a stranger so much. Not me, the loose cotton top wearing, savvy respectful Sydneysider. I know where it’s at with this whole culture stuff. So how can I, get so swindled? Not so much the seemly wasted money (I still have a really nice ring, real gem or nada) but the fact that I, with all my sagaciousness, can be made the fool. Well, India, 1, Steph 0.
Never-mind the moan, I am off to Orcha! A country town paradise that I visited five years ago.
So, as the googled temperature displays a unfathomable forty seven degrees, we head to the air conditioned hotel room at the Orcha resort. Two single beds, a tele, a deck of cards, a consistent feeling of nausea from the combination of my brain being stewed in its own juices, and the malaria tablets prescribed by by doctor a zillion miles away, allows for a solid five hours of room time. And I am anxious. Like a feeling that I should be doing something, ticks away in my foggy brain. A mental list materialises, check facebook? E-mails? Write down muses of day? I definitely have to e-mail my sensei, a task I have been putting off, as the e-mail itself contains a job, that although is a work in progress, remains to be the antithesis of perfection in my mind. To Do, later. So, nothing really to be done. Shit, really? Run through metal checklist again. And one more time. So, to do – relax. Okay, relaxing. Then, I confess, to Harry, as I am curled under my white summer doona, pale as a sheet, and getting sicker “Harry, I feel anxious, I need to do something”. She looks at me like I am a crazy person, “Your sick Steph, just chill out, we don’t need to do anything.” Her confirmation eases my guilt somewhat.
Then, it hits me! I, in my righteous, culture savvy garb, am willing to give up things that are easy. Cover my shoulders? Sure, easy, no problem. Stop working so hard? BUT THAT’S WHO I AMMMMM! My brain screams. I have a memory of when I think this became my mantra.
I was in year five, so eleven years old. I had a pink BMX bike, that I had outgrown considerably. My bike was my transport to and from school, and every afternoon I would peedle home, from East Port primary in Port Macquarie, up a hill (and this is a HILL, in eleven year old standards) and directly past the public high school where my mother worked. Now I was under the impression that since my mother taught there, they all know who I was, which may or may not have been the case, but for an eleven year old, the clock of invisibility derives from being unidentified. So, every afternoon, I got a third of the way up that hill, in which I reached the point of standing up on the peddles, unable to drive them down any more. The shame of getting off the bike, and hauling it up the remained of the way, past bus lines of jeering kids seemed like an inescapable hell. What I did realise though, however horrid the journey to the top, the top would always come. Just keep on plodding and working at it, and I would eventually get there. I decided then, working hard, worked for me. Just not in the case of the Orcha Resort in forty something degree heat. So, what to do? Well, give it up I suppose, surrender to doing nothing. That’s the logic, the practice however is proving difficult.