Palanpur to Udaipur, India – We woke up the next morning stiff from the cold. We weren’t prepared for a cold night so all we slept under were our sleeping sheets and when we woke up we could see our breath inside the compartment. It was definitely the coldest weather we’d experienced since leaving Europe. Arrived at Palanpur and 9:30 a.m. and walked over to the bus station with Nicky and Neil another British dude we’d met on the train, also headed to Udiapur. Apparently not many Westerners make it to Palanpur because the minute we entered the bus station and had put down our stuff there was a crowd of people surrounding us – easily three people deep. People were standing on the neighbouring benches to get a better view of the white people and see what they were doing. The people just sat there and stared at us like zoo animals, so we began acting like animals. Rich juggled a bit (more for his entertainment than theirs I gather) and when Neil reached into his bag to get out his water bottle the crowd leaned closer, all trying to get a view of what magical Western item the sahib was pulling out. When Neil pulled out the bottle he held it up over his head like an orb and screamed, “Water! The elixir of life!” He then lowered the canteen piously, opened it, and took a sip as though its contents had been blessed by the Pope himself. The locals just watched in amazement not knowing what to think.
We had an hour to kill so the four of us just sat around talking to each other while a crowd of 50 looked on . Our bus arrived and after securing a seat with my swords we said good-bye to Nicky (who was headed to Jaisalmer) by giving her a kiss on each cheek. As our bus pulled away I was just hoping the locals wouldn’t try to get a kiss from her as well – as she’d just kissed us in public. Our bus driver floored the gas pedal and we arrived in beautiful downtown Himetnagar around lunch time.
At the Himetnagar bus station we were once again the center of attention with a small crowd following us everywhere we went. Absolutely no one in this bus station spoke any English (interesting because the Indians all know a little English since they use the language to communicate with each other from different states) so I got to play charades with the station attendant (using my map of India as a prop) to try to find out which platform the bus to Udiapur was leaving from. After a nice long game of charades it was sorted and time for us to eat some lunch.
This was your basic bus station restaurant – big and absolutely packed to the brim with locals eating their own lunches. We ordered a bunch of vegetable dishes then waited around for our food. Once it arrived I noticed they’d forgotten to bring us yogurt (to kill the heat) but it shouldn’t matter too much. Rich and I have been traveling around India for quite some time now and are pretty used to all levels of spicy food. I took a bite of this Alu Gobi and the spices emanating from those potatoes were nothing like I’d ever eaten. I can honestly say that no where on the planet have I ever tasted such hot food. I’d learned that the initial heat eventually wears off (or numbs your mouth enough) so you can eat, but this dish just didn’t stop. I even took a sip of the Indian tap water on the table in an attempt to kill the pain. It got to the point where I got up and went over to the kitchen door to get some curd. Now after nine weeks you would have though I’d remember the Hindi word for curd since we asked for it all the time – not this time. I couldn’t remember it for the life of me so I made motions like my face was burning off and the waiter finally got the hint and brought some out for me which I devoured and rubbed on my burning lips. I took the curd back to the table and Rich and Neil each had their share of the salvation as well. We were pretty hungry, so we managed to take alternating bites of our meals and the yogurt to slowly make our way through lunch.
After lunch we meandered out on the platform, the bus arrived, we strapped our bags onto the roof and we were off towards Udiapur. The only problem was there were roadworks for more than three quarters of the way to Udiapur, so instead of nice tar sealed roads we got gravel and dirt causing everyone inside the bus to be tossed around. The shaking got so bad that this became a Class 5 typical African bus ride – and those conditions are really hard to duplicate. Neil put a rip in his pants from being tossed around so much and Rich & I felt like our internal organs had been rearranged by the time we arrived in Udiapur at 7:00 p.m. that evening. We said good-bye to Neil and headed over to the Lake Star hotel just outside the main downtown section of town. We got a brilliant room facing the lake; one side faced the Lake Palace Hotel, lit up sitting on its island in the middle of the lake, and the other direction looking out over the water to the City Palace in the middle of the old fortress.
As we were heading out to dinner we met this woman, Karen of the UK who had the room next to ours. She seemed like a nice person at first glance and before we could react she had invited herself to come to dinner with us. Little did we know she was one of the charter members of the space cadet club. We were walking along when she asked if we did opium during our longer train journeys. The conversation went something like this:
“Do you take opium on a train Journey?” asked Karen. “No,” said Rich to which Karen responded “Oh! I never go anywhere without it.” Great, a junkie for dinner – wonderful. All she did was talk all through dinner, blather pouring all over the table. I don’t really remember saying much, not that there was much opportunity to speak anyway. Dinner finally ended and we walked back to the hotel where Karen finally left us. We vowed to try to avoid her as much as possible from now on.