This was written in response to a prompt from a member of my writing group, Word Central. We meet twice a month and I’ve been going for a year now. I love it, everyone is friendly, good fun and encouraging with their feedback. Anne-Marie said ‘Write about the worst holiday you’ve ever had’. I’ve never actually had a bad holiday, but I wrote anyway. So with apologies to Madhu and my other followers on the Indian sub-continent, and my tongue quite a way into my cheek,
Missing Jodhpur and Climbing Savitri
Have I ever had a bad holiday? No, only holidays during which I was sick, sick again and then sick some more. The most annoying of those holidays was the one where I completely missed the two days I had in the blue city of Jodhpur. Of course it was Jodhpur that make me sick with its spicy lime juice. Or perhaps it was the malady of enrapture, the one where I fell under India’s spell and briefly lost all common travel sense.
I’d survived the rigours of a night in the Thar Desert, where my friend was nearly paralysed by her camel, so I thought I was on the home run. It was enchanting to sit in an exotic courtyard, surrounded with moist greenery, after several days of scorching my nostrils every time I inhaled. Amazingly the mosquitos were kept at bay by the strategically placed candles, including the ones under the table, flickering dangerously close to the pants of my salwar kameez. The lilting sounds of unnamed instruments kept me entertained while the lime juice quenched my thirst, but if only I’d stuck with the lassi, I might have been saved. If only we hadn’t lingered so long on the road that afternoon we might have reached Jodhpur in time to see some of the promised blue.
I was woken from a blissful sleep a few hours later, my friend was ill and I rushed to help her. The emptying of her stomach seemed relentless. Half an hour later so did mine, and we were in danger of dehydration. We both slept and vomited, vomited and slept, through the whole of the next day, and every few hours our driver Muggan Singh would knock on our door, his face lined with concern that his two madams were so poorly. He arranged for us to move to a new, clean room, away from our infectious cave, supervising the hotel staff personally as they moved our every possession.
The next morning we were unable to travel on to Pushkar. On one of Muggan’s visits to bring us the bottled water that that was beginning to stay put, he brought some medication with him. The local cure was apparently Ayurvedic, small brown pills that had a vile smell and were very difficult to swallow. The western remedy we had ‘gone prepared’ with clearly didn’t work and I have faith in traditional medicine. Convinced that we had dysentery, we were desperate enough to get them down. Shortly after taking them we began to feel better.
We still didn’t manage to see any of Jodhpur. Teasing glimpses of Mehrangarh fort peered at us from its high perch, but spreading ourselves out in the four wheel drive vehicle, we had little energy to return its gaze. We had to let Jodhpur go, goodbye, maybe next time.
If we hadn’t had air conditioning that 120 miles would have seen us off. Neither of us wanted to have to use a squatter in some godforsaken roadside café, so we’d had as little water as we dared, and no breakfast. We couldn’t tell if poisoned belly or empty belly was making us feel so lousy.
After Jaisalmer, Pushkar was the place I most wanted to see, but we could only stumble around in a daze when we arrived. There were temples, there was without doubt a taking off of shoes and much to ooh and ah about, but I have little recall if so. We dutifully sat at a table in the Sunset cafe, admiring the sunset, pushing masala omelette around our plates, trying to digest Muggan’s announcement as well as our first solid food. We had to get up at 5am, he said. You need to climb Savitri Hill and be there for sunrise. To argue with Muggan was futile, besides we’d found that trusting his knowledge of Rajasthan made sense, he was a proud Rajput through and through.
He dropped us in the dark at the bottom of a hill, with handrails and a slope broken by a step every twelve feet. It didn’t seem too bad – to begin with. We took our time and there was no one to witness our walking like two very old ladies. At the top of Savitri is a very sacred temple and as the light began to come through, we saw a couple of very, very old ladies, with skin that looked like a mixture of leather and prunes that only elderly Indian women have. They namaste’d us as they sprinted by, we watched with loose jaws.
The path was no longer smooth and gentle, it was a rocky horror trail and any cool morning air had long since vanished. We sat on a low wall and stared back to our start point, then ahead to the temple. We were two thirds through the one mile climb and had no hope of making it to the top. We waited what we considered was a reasonable length of time to convince Muggan that we reached the top, actually that’s a lie, we sat there until we had the strength to move.
Muggan never did know our secret, we thanked him and said that the view from the top was incredible. Back in our hotel we slept for two hours, dysentery wasn’t far behind us after all.
So was Rajasthan the worst holiday I’ve ever had? Absolutely not, it was unforgettable. To have not been sick would have been better, but hey, shit happens. We did manage to extract from Muggan what the active ingredient was of the ayurvedic pills, it was cow dung.