Day Three: Tale of Tikal (Road to Rajasthan Begins)r
Today, our road trip to Rajasthan began. Before hitting the road, we faced a few complications and serendipitous moments (seems to be a theme already on this trip).
First, upon checkout, not one single credit or debit card worked. It then dawned on us that due to booking several hostels online the day before and experiencing credit card issues at checkout, both of our credit cards were blocked. Luckily, Wylie had American money on him so we paid with cash instead. While paying out, an Indian man who worked at the hotel asked us where we were headed. We told him we were hiring a driver to take us around Rajasthan for 18 days, then Agra to Varanasi to Bodh Gaya. He asked how much we were paying and after answering 64k rupees, his jaw basically dropped and he immediately told us that we were getting ripped off – that the hotel could lower the price down 20k rupees. This was a problem, as we had already put down part of the deposit and were about to head over to the travel agency that helped set up us (not to mention we were already running late).
This was pretty upsetting given that this was a mutual friend’s friend who had given us this deal and we were initially very trusting of the relationship. Wylie and I kept our cool and decided to confront them about this.
We headed over to the shop only a few doors down from the hotel, and laid it out. While not getting too bogged down in the details, Amit’s friend Tikal decided to lower the price to the one the hotel had offered. We decided that for better or worse, we would just continue on with the original plan as we didn’t want to damage the relationship.
So -- onto payment. We still had no working credit cards and had to put down the rest of our deposit. After getting our SIM cards properly set up, we called our banks and got things sorted, a process that seems straightforward but took WAY longer than what you’d expect.
At that moment when things were starting to smooth out, a shirtless elderly Indian man wearing a bright orange turban and white pants walked into this small shop. He was carrying a basket holding a bucket warmed by open fire, and dipped a wooden stick inside the bucket. I watched him apply the stick to Amit’s forehead which coated a muted orange bindi on his third eye. Wylie and I both were anointed with this bindi as well.
We learned that bindis are called “tikal” in Indi, which mystically happened to be Amit’s friend’s name too. Amit pointed out that when you’re given a tikal, it means you’re surely going to have a great day. Things were certainly looking up.
We were then introduced to our driver, Sono (pronounced Suh-noo), who would be taking us through Raghsthan for 18 days. He told us he had been doing this for 32 years and we could rest assured that we would be fully taken care of. Even though his English was not the best, he seemed like a really nice guy.
And just like that, we were off!
Our first leg of the journey would take us from Delhi to Mandawa, about a 6 hour journey. We brought some garlic nan on the road to hold our stomachs for the first part knowing that we wouldn’t have access to safe hotel food on the road.
And damn that nan.
About 2-3 hours onto the road, my stomach started to move in the craziest ways, and before you know it, I had my first Indian bout of food sickness – my deadliest fear about this whole trip. I’m not going to go into any more detail, but let’s just say Wylie’s stomach wasn’t too far behind. About 5 hours in, his stomach also told him it was time to use the bathroom. Poor Sono! There was so much beautiful Indian countryside to take in during this whole road trip. In between naps and bathroom stops, I caught a glimpse of cows grazing, the smoky sunset welcoming us into the state of Raghstan, and little villages brimming with light, life and chaos.
We arrived in Mandawa in the early evening, and Sono dropped us off at the Hotel Paawana Haveli. We were greeted by two young Indian guys who showed us to our room – though it was dark outside and not easy to see, it felt like we were walking back in time through a fort with beautiful mural work adorning all the walls. Our bed lay below a wide and beautifully painted mural of a kama sutra scene. Such a romantically themed room for such an un-romantic experience. My stomach was starting to settle down, while Wylie’s was just beginning to enter the worst of the worst. The icing to all of this was being joined by our grasshopper friends, creeping and crawling the bedroom and bathroom floors.
I guess you could say this was a proper Indian rite of passage.