caffeine crash in the palace Tuesday, December 31 2019
location: room 308, Karohi Haveli, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
It was still too early for breakfast when Gretchen and I woke up this morning, so we went on a little stroll on the streets near our haveli. I'd been carrying a piece of increasingly-stale roti in my pocket since the lunch at that place with the cashew and mushroom curries and I'd been wanting to give it to one of the dogs or cows roaming India's streets. Gretchen and I soon found a suitable street dog whose territory seemed to be the intersection of two narrow side streets. He (and I remember the dog as a he because I don't remember seeing pendulous teats) seemed to prefer standing calmly right in the middle of the intersection and moving out of the way of vehicles as they came through. I offered the roti to this dog, but he didn't take it. He just sniffed it and looked at me. Clearly this dog had recently eaten something better; if I'd offered this same roti to either of my dogs Ramona or Neville, they would've gladly taken it off to somewhere nice to devour it in private. Despite this, the dog seemed to read this offering as a gesture of kindness that might lead to something better, so he followed us for a block or so before returning to his preferred corner, where we later found him when we walked back to the haveli.
Before heading back, though, we first walked down to the water's edge (the west shore of a northeast arm of Lake Pichola near the Daiji Bridge). There we found a mix of dogs and cattle and not all that many people. One of the calves was soaking wet, having recently been in the water, and one of the dogs kept barking about it. There was a temple nearby, and I got the feeling that the cattle and dogs were drawn to food that the temple was providing them.
Breakfast this morning was up on the roof of the Karohi Haveli at a long table. The other guests were provided a non-vegan breakfast in an indoor room on the same level as that part of the roof, but or VegVoyages breakfast came in the form of a small buffet near our outdoor table, and it was the same sort of breakfast we'd been having: some sort of curry or spicy soup, some sort of bread (usually puri, which I've been calling "greasy bread"), as well as toast, peanut butter, and bananas for those who can't eat curry as their first meal of the day. But the thing that made this the best breakfast in days was the beverage option. In the room serving the non-VegVoyages guests their egg-rich non-vegan breakfast stood a coffee machine (a popular brand of such machines in India is Coffee Day), and there hadn't been anyone operating it. This meant that members of entourage had experienced unfiltered access to caffeine. And it was real coffee, not Nescafé. By the time I made it to the Coffee Day machine, there was an operator standing there that I had to go through. He was a distinguished looking man with a grey mustache and enough English skills to know what buttons to push when people said things like "Americano" (first espresso, then hot water) and "double espresso" (push espresso, wait for it to finish, and then push it again), though of course it would've been easier if I'd been allowed to just push the buttons myself. I was so excited to be drinking real coffee that I had something like five or six double espressos. That's a lot of caffeine.
Our first event after breakfast was to walk through town, crossing the Daiji Bridge and then continuing to the Royal Palaces of the Maharanas of Mewar, where we were broken into two groups and given guides who quickly ran us through. The palace was in a better state of renovation than the other places we'd visited in India (with the exception of the Taj Mahal). It had courtyards and some well-decorated hallways, but the stairways tended to be very narrow and there were a great many entryways with such low head clearance that even fairly short people were forced to stoop. Our guide told us that these entryways were intentionally made this way so that, should the palace be overrun, defenders could stand on the other side of these entryways to hack off the heads of invaders as they came stooping through. The only other thing of interest in this tour was learning about prosthetic trunks added to horses so that when war elephants encountered them they'd take pity on them, mistaking them for baby elephants. By this point I was feeling miserable from all the caffeine I'd drunk. Trying to describe how I was feeling to the others, I said that I felt both hot and cold at the same time.
Next came a boat ride on Lake Pichola, which was a perfect match for my frazzled caffeine come-down, since all I had to do was sit in one place while the boat's motor meant I wasn't expected to hear or say anything. Eventually we landed on the east bank of Lake Pichola and there was a swarm of tuk-tuks to take us to lunch at a place called Garden Hotel Udaipur Restaurant (on Bing.com; on Google Maps it's just called "Hotel"). As with last night, the food was served thali-style, with us each first receiving a stainless-steel teevee dinner tray and then someone coming around to put one thing on each of our trays (usually in the homologous compartment). We were hungry (or perhaps even hangry), and things started painfully slow at first. Perhaps they deliberately begin this way so as to create a cinematic build-up. I say this because the first guy delivering food worked slowly and walked as if he had an ill-fitting prosthetic limb. But later he was joined by other, more able-bodied men, and by the end the food was coming out so quickly that we had to shoo these guys away. As for the quality of the food, it seemed within the range of what we'd been having all along, though all the people around me were acting as if it was especially good. After lunch as people stood in queues for the bathrooms (even for the men's room), I briefly wandered over to a small automobile museum nearby to look at vehicles from the very earliest part of the 20th Century.
This being a tour generally for vegans, who in turn tend to be interested in animal rights, this afternoon we went to visit a local animal sanctuary called Animal Aid. Though I like animals, I've never particularly liked going to animal sancturies. I'm still burned out by growing up among farm animals, some of whom I would later eat. I find farms and even farm animal sanctuaries sad places, especially when the latter have animals with particularly tragic stories. I get it: the exploitation of animals sucks. As a vegan, I feel like I don't need that message driven further home. For others, the message is an enlightening one, and for that reason I support the idea of animal sanctuaries. But that doesn't mean I ever want to go to one. But there we were, at Animal Aid, walking past fenced-in area containing dozens of dogs with various forms of paralysis. Some had lost all function of the left or right half of their bodies. Other had lost function of the back half of their bodies. The parts they'd lost control of just flopped around like clothing. It was disturbing to see, and I averted my eyes. I don't know what things were like back in the cat area, where I could hear cats yowling. But I didn't want to know. It wasn't long before I was doing that thing I do when I'm uncomfortable and don't really want too many people to notice: I put the tip of my right top canine tooth against the tip of my right bottom canine tooth and just hold my mouth that way, which must then look slightly askew because this means the left canine teeth are about a quarter-inch apart.
There was also a large fenced-in area full of cows and donkeys. Some of those cows were in the process of dying from having too much plastic in their intestines. Since in India it's illegal to kill cows (even for euthanasia), they were all on heavy-duty painkillers until Shiva decided it was time for them to come back as accounts payable managers in Kolkata. There as also an area for calves and goats and a whole section for dogs suffering from mange; apparently such dogs get abused in India because they look different. We got a basic introduction to the place by a youngish white woman with some sort of European accent, but later we got an extensive extemporaneous lecture from one of the founders, James, a towering 78 year old who could pass for 55. From him, we learned a few things about Hindu culture that helped fill in the some of the missing pieces in our minds. Their attitude towards the dogs and cows in the street is one of acceptance and non-intervention. Unlike westerners, who develop close personal relationships with animals (even giving names to ones they will eventually kill and eat). Indians, we learned, will ritualistically feed a dog for years without ever giving it a name. Similarly, when a cow no longer produces milk, the Indian who owns it will shove it out into the street to fend for itself, confident that their relationship is now over. The prospects in India for young male cows who will never give milk are generally dire. Set out into the street without any sense of the world, they turn to eating trash, which ends up mostly being undigestable plastic. But the fullness it gives a cow satisfies him, though in many cases it leads to intestinal blockages and death. James told us that, as of now, there are few places in India doing anything about the constant stream of animal tragedies. Animal Aid can only support the Udaipur area, though Udaipur constitutes a small city by Indian standards. There are no such places at all for the megalopolises like Kolkata, Mumbai, and Delhi.
As James talked, I did my best to ignore the misery behind him: the downer cows on painkillers and the pissed-off donkey hauling off and kicking some other already-injured beast just for wandering too close.
After James' presentation, we got a brief tour of the recovering dog pen, where the healthiest dogs at the sanctuary resided. Some had recovered most of their lost functionality after a paralyzing accident, while others had recovered from disease. When we were there, many of them were sleeping in dish-shaped hollows dug in the ground (or large plastic dishes that served the same function).
Just before going back to the bus, some of us bought teeshirts and other schwag from the gift shop. By then the sun was low in the sky.
This evening, the tuk-tuk swarm took us all to Singji's (the main Indian guide's) house, where we were greeted by an impressive fireworks display launched from Singhji's roof (such a thing would be unthinkable in any American city). Again we were shepherded to the roof, and again a bar appeared featuring beer and rum. I was in a great mood and struck up conversations with several groups that didn't include Gretchen. (I should mention that Gretchen and I were the only representation from her family; her parents, sister-in-law and nephew all stayed back at the haveli.) There were two burn barrels full of random scraps of wood. Amusingly, when some plastic packaging needed to be disposed of, someone just threw it on the fire, resulting in a cloud of toxic fumes. Nobody would ever do that with an American burn barrel (at least outside of Redneckistan).
When the folk music portion of the evening began, I found myself seated between Savanna and Melada. Initially, based on prior experiences, I didn't have much hope for the music, but tonight things were different. Again, the instruments were restricted just to human voices, harmonium, and tablas. But this time the songs were sung by several voices, and at least one was always a woman's. This one change livened things up a lot, making the music sound like something I might listen to independently. Much of the music sounded like something one might find on a Dead Can Dance album. (That probably sounds stupid to anyone who appreciates Indian music, but I'll admit that DCD is where I'm coming from.)
Then it turned out that this wasn't just a music performance; it was also to be a demonstration of dance. The dances were always peformed by women in dressed in colorful flowing clothes and having bells around their ankles. Sometimes two women performed and other times it was just one. An amazing early dance had the women dancing with flaming pots balanced on their heads. Later, one of the women danced with an ever-increasing number of pots balanced on her head, one atop the other. She would make moves such as running forward and then coming to an immediate stop, able to balance a five-foot-tall stack of pots on her head through the whole thing by leaning into it subtly.
When dinner came out, it was presented thali-style, with the stainless-steel trays. In addition to the delicious curries (all prepared by Singhji's wife), there was pot of Chinese noodles that people like Gretchen and me couldn't have enough of. About two hours before midnight, Singhji's people fired off a massive volley of fireworks to greet 2020, still an hour in the future even for Thailand.
After giving all of us a large amount of schwag (which included the coffee cups mentioned yesterday; we had to take them for all our family members not-present as well), the tuk-tuk swarm took us back to our haveli.
At this point Gretchen was feeling sleepy and perhaps a bit ill, so she didn't want to join the others on the roof for the Haveli's New Years party. But I did. As I left the room, I absentmindedly locked it from the outside, trapping Gretchen in the room. (If the phone had worked, she could've gotten out, but it didn't.)
Up on the roof, I found Bess, Kirstin, Kirstin's mother Connie, Savanna, and Savanna's mother Diana. They were dancing to a fairly American-themed dance mix being spun by the DJ. Kirstin quickly bought me an enormous bottle of Kingfisher, so I had everything I needed, so I joined the dancing.
An hour or so passed with us drinking and dancing, and gradually an Indian contingent accumulated some distance away. They were shy at first, taking lots of video on their smartphones of us old, awkward gringos celebrating in our usual style in an alien land. But then they gradually started to join us. The first was a mixed-heritage couple, but then lots of Indian women joined a dance circle that included Savanna and perhaps Kirstin and Bess. At the stroke of midnight local time, fireworks were launched from many rooftops within the visible panorama. Sometime after that, a bunch of young Indian men joined our dancing. They were tiny, no taller than five-foot-four, and thin as 13 year-olds. As they danced, they often interfingered their legs in a male-male intimacy that you'll never see in America.
When I finally left for the evening and returned to room 308, Gretchen heard me and awoke with a start, informing me that I'd locked her in and telling me that she'd wanted to come up at midnight to wish us all happy new year.
Cows near the Daiji Bridge early this morning. Click to enlarge.
View of the Chandpole Bridge from the Daiji Bridge. Click to enlarge.
A Sally-style dog (complete with crossed paws) on the walk to the Royal Palaces. Click to enlarge.
Swastiks at the Royal Palaces.
An impromptu chessboard in the Royal Palaces today. Click to enlarge.
My nephew riding in the front seat of a tuk-tuk.
Brandi (the only non-white in our group) receives an unexpected floral garland in the Royal Palaces. Click to enlarge.
A happy egret at Animal Aid.
A happy dog at Animal Aid.
A grey langur with a very young baby near a satellite dish (as viewed from our haveli room). Click to enlarge.
Someone's freshly henna'd hand at Singhji's party tonight.
Ededilly zooma zooma! At Singhji's party tonight.
Some of the music tonight with dancing. Also, trouble with the burn barrel requires attention.
The musicians and folk dancers at Singhji's party tonight.
The Indians (mostly) who joined the dance party on the roof of Karohi Haveli a little before midnight tonight.