5:32 – I’m awakened by a strange sound coming from the bathroom. Henry, my roommate for the next two weeks, is in the shower. He’s scrubbing. Vigorously. It sounds like he could be using a stiff brush to clean the grout lines in the tile floor, and given his fixation with cleanliness and safety, that may very well be the case, although the moaning and groaning coming from the shower suggests that he’s exfoliating. Whatever he’s doing, it sounds torturously painful. Who scrubs that hard for more than 20 minutes? I begin to wonder if the 60-year-old retired grain farmer from Germany might be into S&M.
Note: Longtime readers may recall that I met a man named Klaus when I traveled to Kangaroo Island (Australia) for Saturday #39. Although Klaus and Henry are both somewhat eccentric Germans who love their showers, I can assure you they are very different creatures. Klaus was a creature whereas Henry is just a bit different.
I’m in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and it’s Day #3 of a 16-day Dragoman Overland trip between Delhi and Mumbai. On the first night in Delhi I shared a room with a 30-something banker from London. Tim was a dream roommate – an articulate, clean, neat, quiet, non-snorer/farter who even offered to fetch masala chai in the morning. Henry does not fetch masala chai. Schnapps, perhaps, but definitely not masala chai. “Very danger,” as he would say.
6:15 – I’m awakened for the second time in an hour. Although I’m laying in bed and facing the wall, I sense that Henry is standing on the other twin bed. It sounds like he’s straining to do something with the ceiling fan which is just out of reach. Suddenly I remember something I noticed last night when Henry was rummaging through his luggage. He possesses a sizable bundle of rope, perhaps 30 meters in length. It’s wrapped up in neat loops and kept in a thick canvas bag along with a rather large ball-peen hammer and a bottle of Jägermeister. I sit bolt upright, thankful that I made it through the night without being bound and gagged or perhaps trussed up like a goat at the Kashgar market.
6:19 – Henry climbs down off the bed and thrusts open the curtains. A strange milky glow washes over the room. I fumble for my glasses and realize that the room appears to be white because I’m looking through a cheesecloth mosquito net that Henry has suspended from the ceiling fan while I slept.
I’m no expert on the matter, and I have been taking malaria medication for eight weeks, but I suspect the chance of contracting malaria in Rajasthan in December is in the vicinity of no fucking way. What I do know is that Henry has a complete medical textbook full of absurdly irrational fears.
He won’t ride in a tuk tuk. “Very danger,” he says. Drink hot masala chai from a chai wallah? “Very, very daaanger.” Exchange Euros for Rupees with anything but a uniformed teller wearing a name badge at corner branch of the Bank of India? “Ooh, that’s really danger.” Go for a walk after 4:00 pm? Eat street food? Cross two lanes of traffic without a light? Welcome Syrian refugees into Germany? “Very, very, very danger,” he told me. Repeatedly.
So with all those phobias it’s not surprising that he would erect a safety net each night and take it down each morning for fear the hotel staff might accidentally cut a hole in it. And even if someone did maliciously breach the Drapery of Danger, well, it’s one of three lines of defence. Every night before zipping himself into Fort DEET, Henry applies such a liberal dose of bug spray that it should probably be referred to as “bug bath.” He follows that five minute ritual with a few minutes spent fiddling with an alarm clock and a small ultraviolet bug light that he places beside his pillow. (The alarm clock stays outside the cocoon and generally rings for several minutes before Henry manages to extricate himself.) Thankfully, unlike Klaus from Kangaroo Island, Henry doesn’t wake up to a David Hasselhof song.
7:40 – I’m out of bed and have made a few notes on my phone. It’s a good thing I didn’t get up in the middle of the night and accidentally hit the switch for the ceiling fan instead of the bathroom light or Henry would have been wrapped up in a swirling mass of gauze and ultraviolet light, reminiscent of a Cirque du Soleil act.
7:45 – I take a wild guess that rock climbing is out of the question for Henry so I ask why he travels with 30 meters of heavy rope. “Are you planning to rustle up some camels, Henry?”
“No, no,” he replies, “I no use it when I sleeping on zee ground.”
After some more probing I learn that he has his own fire escape plan. We’re currently on the ground floor but had we slept on the second floor or higher, Henry would have tied one end of the rope to a dresser or desk and placed the bundle of rope and the heavy duty hammer near the window.
As a former racetrack oddsmaker, I would confidently set the morning line for the likelihood of being trapped in a hotel room during a fire at more than one million-to-one. And the odds that someone is thrown out of a hotel window when I’m awakened from a sound sleep to find a 60-year old German man in skimpy underwear standing on the bed directly over me? Ah, that would get you even-money at best.
8:30 – Breakfast was better than expected. At least this 3-star hotel serves real butter with toast and not the rock hard “fat spread” that you get in parts of India.
9:10 – I’ve joined most of the people from my Dragoman group for a 15 minute van ride to Jodhpur’s hilltop fort. Being the contrarian that I am, I get off at the fort entrance and immediately walk back down the hill toward the market. I’m more interested in interacting with locals than wading through a sea of tourists to view a fort that looks a lot like the last 10 forts I’ve visited.
9:30 – I spot a man ironing clothes in the doorway of his shop / home. He giggles like a little girl when I approach. It’s obvious that he has some challenges so I decide not to take his photo. (I don’t take close ups of people without their consent.). However, as I begin to walk away, an elderly woman appears at the door and motions for me to return. We both know that “one photo” really means “give me 10 or 20 Rupees.” I’m happy to pay up and she’s happy to pose with her son.
Soon another son emerges from the back room. He glares at me and raises his clenched fists until the old woman explains that I just want a photo. He relaxes immediately and calls for the rest of the family. Over the next 15 minutes I was introduced to all 10 members of the family who live in two smalls rooms behind the storefront. When I pull out my iPhone, the teens chant “selfie, selfie, selfie” in perfect unison.
9:35 – A few doors from the tailor shop I come across a man crouched on the floor of his small butcher shop. He doesn’t have much meat in stock, and what he does have isn’t exactly Alberta AAA beef, but while we chat a customer comes along and tries to buy the entire inventory.
The customer doesn’t want to pay the asking price but after a few minutes they reach a compromise. The man gets six or eight goat’s heads but only after the butcher has poked out the eyes and set them aside, presumably for another better paying customer.
9:50 – I have stopped for my second masala chai of the day. It’s sweet, piping hot, and I’m beginning to think addictive. I used to prefer black, dark-roast coffee over sweet, spiced tea with milk but this stuff is growing on me.
10:50 – I’ve just spent 45 minutes talking about the antique and reproduction furniture business with a wholesaler / exporter whose specialty is new coffee tables and entertainment units made from reclaimed doors, store fixtures, push carts, camel wagons, flooring, highway signs, etc.
The fast talking exporter claims to be a good friend of the CEO of Christie’s (the London auction house). When I tell him that I’m from Toronto, he asks if I’ve heard of Heather Reisman and her husband Gerry Schwartz (Onex Corporation). Heather has been a customer for years, he says. I wonder if Jodhpur (known as ‘The Blue City’) was the inspiration for the name of Heather’s company, Indigo Books (now Chapters).
11:00 – I meet up with my previous Dragoman roommate, Tim, who has arranged a half day tour to a rural village. The two of us take a tuk tuk to a hotel on the other side of town to meet our guide. There’s only one problem: The hotelier / tour guide’s father-in-law has just passed away and he (the guide, of course) won’t be able to accompany us. Thankfully he has arranged for a friend named Shamburam to drive us around for the day. Minutes later ‘Shambu’ pulls up in a fairly new Jeep. He speaks good English and is easy on the eyes. I want to say “things are looking up” but that might be seen as an insensitive play on words given that a dead man is laying on a cot behind the hotel’s front desk and his eyes are still wide open.
12:00 – Our first stop is the home of Shambu’s mother who is busy preparing lunch. The big pot of dal isn’t quite ready so Shambu introduces us to his brother Chhoraram who is weaving a rug on the community loom which is set up in a shed next door. How convenient, eh?
I’m technically homeless and simply cannot buy a rug but Tim makes up for my pathetic economic stimulus policy by having them wrap up not one but two 9′ x 12′ dhurries. These beautiful rugs are made on the community loom from locally sourced camel hair and coconut fibres. Tim paid about $300 per rug. Had these rugs made the next shipment to ABC Carpets & Home stores in America, the retail price would be north of $3500, according to Shambu.
14:00 – Shambu can spot a very rare black antelope from half a kilometre. We stop for photos several times but the animals are always too far away for me to get a good shot with an iPhone. Peacocks are apparently a Rupee a dozen, although I never did catch one showing off his plumage.
15:30 – The real purpose of this trip is to visit the Bishnoi village of Khejarli. If you’ve never heard of the Bishnois, you’re not alone. But I bet you’ve heard the term that was coined to describe them sometime after an event that took place here in Khejarli in 1730. More on that later.
15:40 – We stop at the home of a recently widowed man who tells Shambu that he’d like to welcome us into the community with a little ceremony. We sit on a carpet in his front yard while the white suited man grinds and mixes what I imagine to be his own secret blend of masala. I was wrong. I’ll let the video tell the story.
Even Herr Henry would likely agree that the trace amounts of opium I would have ingested are no more dangerous than the three sips of tap water.
The story of the Bishnoi people is an interesting one. I could spend the next hour writing about them or I could be lazy and paste in some slightly edited text from Wikipedia. You know which option you’re getting, don’t you?
“Bishnoi is a religious group found in the Western Thar Desert of India… The name is derived from bis (twenty) and nai (nine) i.e. followers of 29 principles laid out 540 years ago by Guru Jambheshwar.
Out of the 29 tenets, 10 are directed towards personal hygiene and maintaining good basic health, seven (are) for healthy social behaviour, and five tenets to worship God. Eight tenets have been prescribed to preserve bio-diversity and encourage good animal husbandry. These include a ban on killing animals, felling green trees, and providing protection to all life forms…
In 1730, 363 Bishnoi men, women and children led by Amrita Devi died while protecting trees that were being cut by the king’s men. This incident happened in Khejarli, about 26 km south-east of Jodhpur. The Bishnois sacrificed their lives while protecting trees by hugging them.”
And now you know the origin of the term ‘tree hugger.’
18:00 – We’re driving back to Jodhpur and I have thanked Tim for inviting me on this impromptu tour and Shambu for being a great last minute replacement. Another Saturday has turned out better than expected. I can’t help but think of Henry, though. What did he do today?
23:00 – Henry and I are laying in our separate beds (okay, Shel?). I’m making notes on my iPhone while Henry fiddles with his ultraviolet bug light. I ask what he did on his one and only day in The Blue City. He tells me that he spent an hour at the fort before returning to the safety of the hotel where he sat in the gaited courtyard for the entire afternoon and evening.
EPILOGUE: The benefit of not having reliable internet access or a chance to update the blog for two weeks is that I can now report with the benefit of hindsight. I’m happy to say that I survived 16 days on an overland truck, six nights in tents, and no Germans were strangled. Watch for my report of Saturday #78 in a few days.