Wednesday, June 3, 2009



Sitting in Indira Gandhi International Airport, waiting to board my flight to Jodhpur, I cannot help but feel as though I am going through a major life transition. Only two days ago I was enjoying air-condition, HDTV, and potable water. A mantra is supposed to inspire and support one through life's tougher moments; but all that keeps running through my head is, "BM, what the hell have you got yourself into?!"

I sat next to a Sikh from Amritsar on the flight from Newark to Delhi. He was young; only a few years older than I. He was tall, and strong, and very handsome, with chiseled features that hinted at his warrior lineage. His jet-black beard rippled as he giggled at the absurdity of me spending the summer in Jodhpur. "Life is too hot my friend," he said, chuckling once more. Indeed, I thought. How ironic it is, then, that I have chosen to avoid the heat of life in one of the hottest places on earth!


A private taxi brought me from the hotel to the airport this morning. As I got out of the car, a man no bigger than my duffel bag materialized by my side offering to carry my luggage. As I put on my straw cowboy hat he asked me with a look of wonderment, "sir, are you the rock star?" With a look of bewilderment that I am sure surpassed his own I replied, "no, I am the tourist!"


I am now sitting in an air conditioned hotel-bar drinking the most delicious, thirst quenching, soul-satisfying, ice-cold beer. I do not know how to even begin to describe the last few hours (that doesn't bode well for the rest of this trip).
The flight from Delhi was...confusing. My ticket said that there were scheduled stops in Jaipur, then Udaipur, before arriving in Jodhpur. The pilots, however, decided not to stop in Jaipur after all. No problem though; we got to Jodhpur an hour ahead of schedule!

As the plane broke through the low-lying clouds, descending into Jodhpur, I was struck by the bleakness of the landscape below me. The only greenery to be seen were the pathetic shrubs demarcating what once may have been fields but are now dusty sand dunes. The even, patchwork squares of land looked like a quilt whose color had been washed out. As the rickety age-old prop plane continued its descent we buzzed over countless dry riverbeds. Shriveled trees grasped at their banks desperate for even a drop of water that won't be seen until the monsoon next month. Before even stepping foot in Rajasthan I began to understand why the Rajputs call it Marwar, "the land of death."

I took an autorickshaw to my hotel, the Durag Niwas Guest House. More an apartment complex that a hotel (think no AC, sheets, or towels), Durag Niwas sits at the end of a dead end road about one mile from the old city. My room is simple and unremarkable; 10x7 feet with a bed, a nightstand, and a private bathroom. My shower consists of a cup and bucket that can be filled with hot water using an electric heater that must be plugged in long before use. The rooms surround a common courtyard and are about ten in number.
In the courtyard I met a British man who has been staying here for a few weeks. About forty years old, he looked as though he had been traveling for the majority of that time. He wore dirty, loose fitting, saffron pants and a tattered tank top with a tie-dyed "ohm" patch in the middle of his weathered chest. I smoked a few bidis with him as he imparted some of his hard-earned knowledge of India. Originally intending to spend only a few days in Jodhpur, his departure was inevitably postponed by his discovery of "some of India's finest opium."

After a homemade lunch of green beans, dhal, rice, and chipati, I left to explore the old city. After walking in the wrong direction for half an hour I finally got my bearings. As I passed by a young boy I made the mistake of smiling at him. "Hallo," he said. "Hello," I responded. "Wasyar nam," he gleefully chirped. I told him. "Banjeemoon," he repeated as he contorted his face in disapproval. "Ben" was a little easier for him. After this short exchange I was stuck with him for the next half hour as he incessantly badgered me for money or food, or both. Eventually I began to respond to his querries with a firm "chello," a word that the Brit had told me meant "go away." Either the message was lost in my butchered pronunciation or the Brit had been putting me on. For all I know, "chello" might mean "walking free ATM." After every one of my "chello's" the boy would smile and repeat his request for five dollars.

By the time I reached Sardar Market I was dripping with sweat; my fingers were so swollen from the heat that I could barely clench my hand into a fist. I walked between fruit stalls overflowing with rotten papaya and watermelon. Flies and hornets swarmed the displays for a free drink of putrid fruit nectar. The sweet smell of inscence and charras began to mix with the decaying aroma of raw sewage as I ventured deeper into the narrow medieval alleyways of Brahmaputra. I don't yet know what to make of the stares that I draw from people on the street. I know that virtually all come from kindhearted, well-intentioned people, but it is still a bit unnerving. Maybe I should cut myself a little slack; it is after all only my first day in India.

Something that I find very amusing: More than once I would be walking past a shopkeeper who seemed to be sound asleep under the shade of an umbrella. Almost as if they could sense my presence, they would pop up as I passed by, imploring me to enter their store. One whom I particularly remember shouted to me "Sir, come to my spices stores. I make your noses very happy, isn't it?" At the moment my noses wanted a cold bottle of water rather than a bag of cardamom. I grinned widely and respectfully at the spice man, shaking my head "no" as I plodded away.

A little later on I was clipped by a motorcycle in an alleyway. I now realize that I need to be conscious about moving in a straight line while walking. A zigzagging tourist is an unpredictable target for maniacal Indian drivers. Matters are not helped by the fact that "one way road" seems to be merely a suggestion here.

After three hours on foot I ended up at the Maple Abhay bar. For about four dollars I have since enjoyed two bombers and a mountainous plate of chana chat; garbanzo beans with onion, tomato, parsley, and turmeric. As my first day fades into my first night I can already feel this place taking hold of me. I am physically and emotionally exhausted, yet I want more! Is this masochism or healthy curiosity? I do not know...but so far, I like it.


  1. Amazing descriptions, I feel like I see what you've seen. It will be nice to hear descriptions of the people you meet and possibly their views of the state of world affairs.

  2. Ben, you got it wrong - You are the Rock Star!


  3. Ben,
    This is chapter 1 of a good book and the start of a movie.


  4. Hey it's been since high school since we talked, but I just want to let you know that this is an amazing blog and I look forward to hearing about your work there - as well as your observations! Good luck! Btw, you seen the darjeeling limited??