After a bout in Nainital, I returned to Delhi for my seventh time, for once disappointed at how early our train arrived (early overnighter means less sleep) and dropped my stuff at the first place willing to accept two dirty foreigners at 5 am without asking for two nights rent. I met my friends Sean and John (to be referred to by a rapper/fashion stylist's title) at their fancy hotel for breakfast and ate up, even spotting real life bacon on Sean's plate. Well, not so alive anymore, but impressive to encounter nonetheless. We did the some site seeing, heading to the Red Fort, though it was closed due to the upcoming Republic Day and security concerns. We saw the nearest mosque instead, meeting a few Portland-ites on the way out who recommended an alternative energy firm out in Oregon to help work on Wind Farms. Networking CAN happen in India, you just have to go to popular spots. We also saw the Parliament building and India Gate, though we barely stopped our cab before security waved us on. Thanks to the impending Republic Day, we glimpsed our sites from the car before relaxing the rest of the afternoon. While Sean John ate some fancy (and expensive) meal, my Australian friend and I ate Pizza Hut for dinner. Yeah, it was caving to western culture, but Pizza Hut is actually a fancy restaurant and we paid nearly four dollars for our meal. That night we tried to find a bar to meet up at, but instead went to some "global cuisine" restaurant for alcohol.
Sean John and I continued travelling as a trio the next day, but on our way to a Sikh temple, we got pulled into a cricket game in what used to be a shopping complex. We lost, but returning from the temple, after sitting and eating a free meal with the seated lines of Sikhs, we ran into an older set of kids playing cricket. We joined in, losing twice, but glimpsing a bit of Indian character I hadn't seen before. With only one serious sport to their name, the people of this country definitely love the game. We aimed to hit the ball between two trees - you were out if you got it in the road - and shouted when our Delhiite teammates dropped a catch. Leaving the game, after sharing a Pepsi with the winner, I felt a little more connected to the culture, which was the proper time to proceed to a Hindu Temple, where I tried to explain what I could about the religion to Sean John, but mostly just got a red dot on my forehead. We trucked it (well tuk-tukked it) to Hauz Khaz for a fancy South Indian meal, but no beer?!? Walking for a while, we finally found the Asian Games complex where we could find a drink, though our choice was Long Island Iced Teas and our night dragged on until closing time; midnight. John stole some guy's bike and rode it in circles until he crashed in a heap. Returning to our budget hotel, our 'energy' woke up a German coinhabitant, and we slept like logs, ignoring dirty sheets. The next day we decided that Republic Day was not our friend, so we skipped the parade and caught the first train to Agra, arriving just in time for a 4 pm lun-inner and an outside view of the Taj Mahal at sunset. A little kid, Jamal?, took all the cheesy photos of us holding the top of the palace and so on, but stopped short of stripping our car since we rode up in a rickshaw. We gave him ten rupees despite his pleas for dollars.
I typed emails while Sean John saw the wonder of the world, and we caught up at the Agra Fort while John confessed to meeting the girl he was going to marry. Our train to Jaipur left at 5pm, arriving too late for dinner, but Cafe Coffee Day remained open with the 'most delicious strawberry shake of my life' for John and I. In Jaipur we saw a bazaar, got tired of haggling and surviving in India, and then chose the Golf Course to relax at. After viewing the Polo Fields, we strolled over to the Rambagh Hotel, owned by the same people as the Taj Hotel in Mumbai (means fancy) and after some stunning gardens entered the even more ornate reception room. As we entered a woman walked out, and I looked up just in time to recognize her as the mother in every Bollywood film, from 'Singh is King' to 'Dostana'. Big deal. Seriously. We got cocktails outside of their illustrious restaurant and even got a tour of the rooms - the hotel attendant told us that the palace used to be a hunting lodge for the British. Surely he was joking...
That night we got nostalgic for the werstern world, and had Pizza Hut again - with pepperoni! After a relaxing day where Sean John played golf and I bought a replacement pair of pants after my eight month old quick drying all purpose khakis ripped in the bum. Last day included a tour of a fort surrounded by elephants, though rather than to protect, they were there to carry visitors to the elevated entrance, and then a stroll along the 'street of fancy stores' (unofficial name) in Jaipur to see the end of winter sales. Our train to Delhi was a sitter, with almost two full meals of food, and when we arrived and found a room, I was exhausted purely from the work my digestion was doing. Sean John's last day in India included a disappointing attempt at finding art, Route 66 Diner for lunch (more American food?) and a stroll through Khan Market in the afternoon, where I looked at the cover of nearly two hundred books and didn't buy a single one. We met John's friends from Beijing for dinner, and after getting a bit rowdy over the last round, parted ways for the airport and our respective late night flights. Sean John returned to Beijing at 3 am, meanwhile I slept in the airport until my 4:30 flight. I was aware that my flight was early because I had gotten a text message saying "your flight has been PREPONED" which both surprised, confused, and then reassured me.
In Kerala, arriving quite grumpy at 9 am, I spent the night in Kochi, where after a nap, I boated over to Fort Kochi for a wander and gander at fishing nets, Catholic influenced architecture, and a parade ground full of kids playing Sunday afternoon cricket. That night I finally watched 'Slumdog Millionare' without dubbing or subtitles (I asked my neighbor for a few Hindi clarifications) and decided that you haven't really lived until you've gone dump diving. A bus the next morning carried me to Munnar, a town among tea plantations in the Western Ghat hills, where I strolled around all of this morning, wearing my feet out, and leaving me with no energy for th Tea Factory tour. Maybe next time.
Future plans, though no one asked: I'm off next to the beach of Varkala for my last six days, departing Feb 10th from Trivandrum to New York for a stint before returning to Austin, TX, home to prize-winning cowboys armed with guitars, pecan trees full of kites and squirrels, and wanderers chasing armadillos.