Sunday, January 30, 2005

After Shock

Yesterday was kind of awful.

To begin with, I was not in a good state to arrive in Ahmedabad in the morning. The overnight train ride had been uncomfortable. Nine of us sat in a space meant for six people. The bench four of us perched upon was also supposed to be my bed. I could only sleep when everyone else was ready to climb up into their bunks for bed. I was ready to close my eyes a couple of hours before everyone else. It was noisy, it was dirty, it was crowded, but we had a luxurious experience compared to the people in 2nd and sleeper class. I have no right to complain.

One nice change in Ahmedabad from previous cities was that the auto-rickshaw drivers will take passengers to their destinations without any detours. No craft shop visits. No restaurants along the way. Straight to the requested location. Whoohoo! Got taken straight to the hotel I had booked. Recommended by my guidebook, turns out that Hotel Roopalee is actually the kind of place to check into only long enough to go find another hotel.

Initially, I thought I could handle it. The room was small and kind of dirty, but there was a bathroom and a bucket of hot water could be requested. The bucket arrived and after the dirt and grime of train travel, nothing sounded better than a hot bucket bath. Once in the bathroom I started to notice how nasty it was. Fresh spit stains from someone who had been chewing betel nut. There was a roach watching me bathe from above the mirror. In the process of getting clean, I was actually beginning to feel dirtier. What put me over the edge was finding someone's turd in a cup in the toilet bowl. Going back into the room, I also found the last occupant's garbage. Didn't even want to take a close look at the bed. New sheets were probably too much to hope for.

Down the road I found another hotel, three times more expensive, at $10 a night. There were some other people checking in, fleeing their nasty hotel (also recommended by a guidebook). The man behind the check-in laughed. He gets a lot of his business from people running away from other hotels.

After getting resettled, I went to the internet place next door to the hotel. Set in a huge, old building, kids play soccer in the vacant lot next door. Pigeon droppings cover the stairs and the computers are housed in cubicles decorated with betel spit and peeling grey paint. It's called the "Super Cyber Cafe." Balancing upright is a necessary computing skill because the chairs are all broken.

Yesterday I became obsessed with eating at a clean restaurant. It hasn't been something I've thought of too much in other cities. Never felt that Delhi, Agra, or Jaipur were too unpalatable. In the area of Ahmedabad where I'm staying, it seems as though the streets are just open air urinals which cars happen to drive through. Flies are abundant and migrate to the open-air restarants. I couldn't find anywhere to eat on this eastern side of the river. After crossing the Nehru Bridge to the west, immediately things seemed better. Fewer piss puddles and abandoned buildings, more businesses and green space. People have places to go and things to do.

In the end, I spent most of yesterday in the company of two lovely French women. All three of us had been refused entry into the Calico Museum. There is an unpublicized policy of only allowing 15 people into the museum in the afternoons. The quota was already filled so we couldn't go in. Marie and Bernadette and I wandered through the streets, watching women in bright saris dance at a wedding celebration. Things were looking up.

In the evening we spied a new restaurant, only two months old. It's on the top of a shopping center and Bernadette was the only one of us who noticed the tables up on the roof. After walking around the dusty city, we all needed a drink. "Aadhar: A Temple of Traditional Taste," is an undiscovered refuge above the noisy city. It's so undiscovered that we were the only customers there. The ratio of staff to diners was about 15 to 1 and we were given a grand tour. There are two outside dining gardens, one indoor snack room, a huge dining courtyard complete with temple to Shiva and fountains in the center. Currently under construction is another garden, banquet, and wedding reception area. With all the stone mosaics, wood carvings, and textile draped ceilings, it's probably the most beautiful restaurant I've seen in India. And it's completely empty. Expensive? Main dishes cost about 50 rupees/$1.25 each.

After coming down from the rooftop restaurant, the French women and I said goodbye. The calm induced by the empty restaurant faded quickly away. The auto-rickshaw driver almost killed us a few times. I sat back and tried not to look. He didn't know where he was going so I became the guide in a city I barely know. Returning to the hotel, I was met by a woman who wanted money. She pulled on my clothes and my arms until I escaped into the hotel. I wanted to check email again but was afraid to enter the ramshackle internet building in the dark.

The evening ended with one of the hotel workers trying to get into my room. I had asked for some toilet paper but the hotel didn't have any. One of the men working there offered to go to the store and get some, but I said no thank you. While I took the elevator up to the room, he apparently ran up the stairs. I was surprised to see him at my door when I exited the lift. He still wanted to go buy the toilet paper. No thanks. He wanted to show me how to turn the key in the lock. No. And he wanted to show me how to flick on the light in the room. Goodbye. I told him goodbye about five times. He started to push into the room and I had to shove my body against the door and lock it quickly. Goodbye!

I almost I wished I was back in Delhi, being stalked by my nemesis.

After a good night's sleep, I don't feel so culture shocked. The restaurant on the corner with flies also sells packaged cookies. Cookies for breakfast. Before catching the overnight bus to Aurangabad, I'm hoping to pay a visit to Gandhi's former ashram on the outskirts of the city. Going to the ashram was my reason for coming here in the first place. Almost forgot about it in all the drama of the day before. I'm hoping that my next destination will be very boring.


Blogger Stephen said...

You're going to need a vacation after your vacation!Very interesting, keep writing, I'll keep reading.

January 31, 2005 5:36 PM  

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