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“Merry X-Mass” sounds from the speakers at Barbeque Nation. It’s Christmas Day and, while singing carols, I had jumped on the back of my Indian roommate’s scooter. ‘We have to eat well’ was our motto. It’s Christmas! My roommate is originally from Benares (Varanasi) and we have a good click. Barbeque Nation seemed like a good option – especially because the waiters there (have to) do a dance every half hour, complete with glitter suit and wig. Hilarious! Being stuffed for 3 days we roll back that night. What a nice Christmas day!

``My roommate is originally from Benares (Varanasi) and we have a good click``

“Your train is delayed”… “oh, that sucks! Half-hour, hour?”… “nah, 8 hours”… “haha, yeah, but seriously, how much delayed?”… “8 hours”. With these words, I wake up on Boxing Day. My first Christmas Day BBQ buddy triumphantly shows a website where he can see current train times and delays. Whaaat? Seriously? A train that’s delayed for 8 hours. How? My train, which was supposed to leave at 12:00 on Boxing Day, finally leaves with an 11.5 hour delay at 11:30 p.m. Eleven-and-a-half-hours. In that time I could have walked 57 km at a steady tempo, or could have made three round-trips from the north to the south in the Netherlands.. but this train manages to be delayed by 11,5 hours. Interesting. Reason: foggy. Yeah, that’s right. Just before midnight, my taxi to the station drives through the thick fog at walking speed. Man… it looks like Dehli. Oh wait, they don’t stare here, we make Selfies here. At the station I quickly buy some water and an emergency packet of food and then after a nerve-racking search for the right train and wagon I dive into the train. Trains don’t stop here on a platform for long (although that extra delay wouldn’t really be noticeable after 11.5 hours) and it’s sometimes incredibly unclear which wagon to sit in. The train system work by reservation and everyone has been assigned to a bed/place number. Because everyone knows a train won’t be stationary for long; everyone starts to sprint when the train arrives, so you can’t really ask for help. Oh well, part of the fun, huh? Travelling is always fun they say. Well at times I want to wring the necks of the people who say this! It is simply not always fun, that’s an illusion. Like a minute later when I’ve put my bag down at the right bed and take a big sip of my just bought bottle of water. In a split second I realize something is wrong and I sprint to the “window”.. (well, window; hole with bars) and spit out the water. Gross! This is water from the tap, or worse… out of? In any case, extremely dangerous in terms of foodsafety! That scumbag at the station has been filling used bottles with unfiltered water and is selling them in his stall. For him it’s a good thing that the train has already set sail for Jodhpur – otherwise he would have gotten the bottle back. Flying towards his head.

``Jodhpur, called 'the blue city' for a reason...``

Jodhpur. Very cool blue city! Lots of hearts to Jodhpur. The alleys, mostly blue, where huge cows and bulls stroll through… the castle on the adjacent hill. Breathtakingly beautiful! Definitely one of my top 5 locations in India. Be sure to read my “destination” blog about India which deals with the highlights! By now it is time to get ready for New Year’s Eve. With precision, I choose a hostel that should be perfect for New Year’s Eve: with a rooftop! It looks very promising: great reviews about a good vibe among the travelers in this hostel! If I have to believe Google, Udaipur is also one of the better locations in India to celebrate New Year’s Eve. So: book, pack and go. I order a motorcycle taxi via Ola, the Indian counterpart of Uber.

After a few minutes the Ola motorbike arrives and I think: quite impressive in that maze of alleys. I tell the driver that I have to pick up my bag at the hostel, and then I have to go to the bus station. The driver speaks perfect English, and we quickly start chatting during the ride. He tells me that he noticed in the Ola app that I am not Indian and had therefore immediately turned off all the other apps and came straight towards me. “I know that just a few Ola drivers speak English, I really wanted to help you out”… “That’s right, it’s sometimes hilarious to communicate with the Ola drivers that can’ t speak a single word of English, but also quite exhausting for me and for that poor driver as well”. In my experience you have helpful people and you have helpful people. The first group of helpful people are looking for a big fat tip, or try to take you somewhere they get commissions for. The second group is sincerely helpful. 9 out of 10 times I am right and I see right through the intentions of helpful people. I immediately notice that this driver belongs to the second group. There is no self-interest, in fact: I only cost him money. We drive past several ATM’s, he waits at the hostel until I have picked up the bag, we drive to the bus station and he even walks along to ask for the right bus in Hindi on account of the confusing bus system. I am impressed. A stranger who invests so much of his own time, free of charge. When the bus is found, and I want to pay for the 2 rides, the driver doesn’t want to take the money either. “You are a guest in my country”… “Yes, that’s right… but I ordered a paid service, so I just want to pay.” In the end I offer him the choice: either he accepts the money – or I give the money to one of the many homeless people on the side of the street. This works, with a lot of grumbling… but I also have an internal feeling of justice I need to manage. What a great guy, I decide to ask him for dinner in an adjoining restaurant as a thank you for the help. After a quick phone call with his mother – to ask if she had already prepared dinner for him, which she didn’t – we walk to a nice restaurant and have a nice dinner.

``The city of lakes.. Udaipur``

“Could you please turn off the air conditioning? It’s 6 degrees outside and I’m freezing in my cabin!”… “No”. Bloody hell. The cabin in the sleeper bus from Jodhpur to Udaipur is made for dwarves and has an inoperable air conditioning blower at the head and foot end. The blanket which is present in the dwarfs shack has the size of a tea-towel and the thickness of a cigarette paper. All strategies have already been tried. Socks on, socks in the air conditioning, sweater on, the “tea-towel” over the head, long pants on, everything has failed so far. And the “no” was a clear “no”. There was neither more energy to ask why not. The icy trip takes 7 hours and arrives at 04:00 in the night. Acclimatizing to the 6 degrees outside is not necessary, inside the bus it was the same thing. I arrange a warm Ola taxi to drop me off at the hostel, with the thoughts of finally crawling under a warm blanket. No.. OF COURSE NOT! It would be nice if things worked out for once today! It’s 4:30 AM and nobody in the hostel opens the door. No response to the doorbell, the phone, the text message, the pounding on the door. There you are, freezing up in the middle of the night in 6 degrees. What a joke. After an hour and a half, while 7 cows pass by (and one of them tries to eat my bag, but cows are sacred here so I am not allowed to kick it) and while having rang the doorbell 100 times, someone looms up and opens the door. “Sorry man, all the rooms are booked for today, so your bed isn’t ready now, you have to wait till 12:00.” “But you can sleep in the common room, on the couch.” You see, you’re cold, stone-cold, you can hardly feel your legs, despite the nightly warm-hold sprints through the streets of Udaipur and you haven’t had any sleep… at those times everything sounds like a good plan! “Yes, it’s okay… Do you have three blankets?” … “Sure”. But the show isn’t over yet. Arriving in the common area (sitting area of a hostel) it appears that the area has an open connection to the outside… so it’s also 6 degrees here! No way! However; if you’re really on your last 2% energy, then everything’s fine. But only with a triple blanket! I can confirm that backpacking is sometimes back-to-basic.

``not that they can see much, but the city is guarded...``

The city of lakes… Udaipur. Small(er), less hooting (but still many hooting) small restaurants and many beautiful lakes. The well-chosen location to celebrate New Year’s Eve, experience karma and experience political power games.

December 30th: after a hardcore day of sightseeing I think: “hmm, I’ve actually only been eating local dishes in the last 2 months I’ve been traveling…” … “and still haven’t been troubled by anything in terms of health problems!” Let’s have some Western food again… “something tasty”… Pizza for example. This excellent choice, a pizza pesto, has given me an interesting last 24 hours of 2019. Less than 30 minutes after my pizza was devoured, I was hit by food poisoning. My newly formed friendships on the rooftop terrace of the hostel came to an abrupt hold. Every next half hour it hit – i couldn’t even hold back one sip of water. Amazing by the way, how such a food poisoning can transform within 24 hours from level ‘hardcore’ to level ‘maybe a small beer tonight after all’.

December 31st: Just before the last sunset of 2019 is set, I discharge myself from my sickbed and report to the upcoming Indian party on the roof terrace. Well, fair is fair… the first sips of beer were accompanied by some anxious sweat drops; but you just have to try it. Lying in the fetal position feeling pathetic at 12 PM… that would have been a bitter pill to swallow!

``it promises to be a fine end of the year, the location for it is perfect...``

11:30 pm. After many dance steps, I quickly go downstairs to make some phone calls with my family in the Netherlands. It is 7:00 p.m. in the Netherlands, so they’re probably stocking up a bunch of deep-fried ‘oliebollen’.. It’s a centuries-old tradition in the Netherlands that is inextricably linked to NYE. Who, for God’s sake, ever had the idea that deep-frying a ball of batter really makes people feel NYE, even worse: that it makes people happy.. I’ve never met anybody who said: “Gee, I’m so in the mood for a bite of greasy oil, I can’t wait!”. No! Because those people don’t exist. It’s just a mediocre tradition in the Netherlands, but traditions are rather sensitive there. Everyone is reluctant to eat them… just observe the bowl of ‘oliebollen’. Everyone tries to ditch them at the neighbour’s and eat as little as possible. Those hangovers on New Year’s Day aren’t caused by the champagne – it’s just the painful process of breaking down the litre of fat dripping from those deep fried balls. Just like the creator of the packaging method where they wrap items in indestructible, glued-up hard plastic, the inventor of ‘oliebollen’ must also receive an appropriate punishment. Although, from my point of view.

``...the beer ends up behind a large plant...``

Meanwhile, it’s 11:45 PM. I just finish my last conversation, I’m about to go upstairs, and then… then all of a sudden I hear a lot of screaming coming from the first floor. Then 3 crew members of the hostel come running down the stairs with a cooling system full of alcohol, and a split second later they vanish into a random room included the cooling. The music upstairs has suddenly gone silent and from the corner of my eye I see 7 khaki-colored uniforms storming upstairs while drumming their sticks on the stairs, banisters and other objects they come across. Okay. Quick risk analysis: The khaki color must be police, the cooling with alcohol must have changed location urgently for a reason… and I, the white foreigner, have a big bottle of beer in my hand. Preventive action: run and get rid of that beer very quickly. The beer ends up behind a large plant and all of a sudden I’m in the common room making some fake phone calls in Dutch.

11:55 PM: the khaki uniforms come down and then disappear into the street’s smog. Just like the speakers. They were taken as a trophy. 11:59 PM. On top of the roof terrace, the partying Indians, in spite of everything, haven’t lost their spirits – and collectively started singing – which at exactly midnight changed to “Happy New Year”.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Comments:

  • Marielle

    March 18, 2020

    Hi Jack, hoe gaat het? Of wat we tegenwoordig aan mensen vragen “ben je (nog) gezond?” Waar zit je momenteel? Is het geen probleem om als Europese toerist in dat land te zijn? Door Corona worden mensen soms wat korter voor de kop….
    Stay safe, groet,
    Marielle

    reply...

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