“No, no, you can’t go outside now. Your fever is hot and your blood is very warm. I’ve given you medicine for pain and you must sleep now. I’m sorry,” said Mama, the owner of the 250 year old guest house in Bundi that I was staying in. During the bus ride from Kota to Bundi I’d started feeling weak, and within an hour could tell that I was definitely coming down with something. I arrived at the guest house at 6:00pm and immediately fell asleep. A few hours later I awoke with a fever, and decided that food was in order if I was to have a chance at combating the illness. I walked into the living room to find Mama and a number of other travelers scattered around the TV watching (and in the case of the travelers, laughing at) Indian soap operas. We all chatted for a bit while I ate, and within an hour I was barely able to muster the energy to continue speaking and went back to bed. The night was rough. My room was on the bottom floor and was thus especially subjected to the smells of feces wafting in from the street outside.
My techniques to conceal the smell ranged from putting fragranced lotion under my nostrils to (preferring my breath over poo) breathing into my closed sleeping bag. Alas, the stench prevailed. Additionally, my pillow was huge and terribly uncomfortable, so I switched between using my folded sweater and nothing (in times of fever-induced shivering and needing the sweater) as a pillow until the morning. But for $5.75 per night, it was hard to expect more.
I only had two nights and one full day in Bundi, and I’d planned on spending the day taking a tuk tuk to the beautiful waterfalls and ancient rock carvings just outside of town, as well as discovering the wonders of the massive old palace that spills down the hillside into the town. Instead, I just laid on the living room couch all day and, when conscious, watched American cinematic gems such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua and the Hannah Montana movie. I did manage to walk outside for about 10 minutes, but within 5 felt thoroughly depleted again and had to go back inside and fall asleep. Mama was starting to worry about how high my fever was getting (despite the lack of thermometer to
gauge this) and kept asking if I wanted to go to the doctor. “No, no doctors,” I said, knowing that I already had American antibiotics in case it got to the point that I also started to worry. “I would like a massage, though. My muscles are aching. Is there a place?” I asked. “Oh yes, yes, I call massage woman,” she replied. “She come here and give you massage for 200 rupees.” Righteous!
After setting up my massage appointment I wandered into the backyard to sit in the fading sunlight and wait. There was a massive tree in the center of the yard which had a swing hanging from one of the branches, and two monkeys were playing on it. They were quite entertaining; it was very much like watching cats when they get into their crazy moods and run around psychotically. These guys were fearless, jumping from limb to limb and through 15 feet of open air onto objects of questionable width and durability. At one point they knocked over all the patio furniture and ran up and down walls during what appeared to be a testosterone match. One of them came within five feet of me
to pick through the leftovers that some guests had left on the patio, and instead of shooing him away like I probably should have, I just took pictures of him and smiled. Bad tourist.
Walking inside, I was met by Mama, who held a bottle of oil in her hand. “I call lady two times, no answer,” she said. “I give you massage.” I would have protested based on the awkwardness it seemed a personal massage would cause, but my muscles were really, really achy. “Take off your clothes,” she said. “Here we go again,” I thought. Unsure of the protocol with this very personal situation, I looked at her questionably. “All of them?” I asked. “Yes, of course. It’s okay, I am Mama.” Super. On the bright side, she used special homeopathic ointments and oils that she assured me would help with my aches and fever. On the downside, what ensued was less of a massage and more of an intense, almost angry exfoliating session. While she occasionally actually dug into my sore muscles, for the most she just vigorously hand-scrubbed my skin for an entire hour. It was weird, but what the hell? It was only $4.
For some reason, during my massage I noticed how terrible my breath was. The attached “bathroom” next to my room lacked a sink of any kind and instead only housed a number of spiders and a stinky bucket of water, so I’d avoided it at all costs up to that point. Unfortunately, this also meant that I hadn’t brushed my teeth in 24 hours, and the nasty sick breath was becoming all I could think about. “When this massage is over,” I thought, “I’m going to sneak my toothbrush, toothpaste, towel, and bottle of water outside and brush my teeth in a poop-free corner next to the house.” According to plan, as soon as the massage was over I headed straight to my room and collected my materials. On my way out the door, however, I was stopped in my tracks. “Where are you going?” said Mama, as she walked in the room I was trying to depart. “Oh, just outside for a second,” I said, unable to tell her that the bathroom she offered was not up to my oral hygiene standards. “No, no, you can’t go outside now. Your fever is hot and your blood is very
warm. I’ve given you medicine for pain and you must sleep now. I’m sorry.” Damn. Knowing that this was not the kind of woman I could argue with, I hobbled back into my room and crawled into my sleeping bag. Only this time I decided not to cover my head; the poop smell coming from outside was, after all, somehow better than my breath.
I awoke three hours later to the sound of Mama coming in the room to check on me. “No fever!” she said, delighted. “Now come outside. Valentines Day, newspaper.” “What?” I said. She repeated the same thing again and I decided to just get up and follow her instead of enquire further. We walked outside, and to my surprise there was a small table covered in beautiful pink, white, and red bouquets and necklaces of flowers surrounded by candles. The Bundi newspaper was there to take pictures for an article they were doing the next morning in celebration of Valentine’s day, and apparently it was scheduled to be released in papers all over the state of Rajasthan. The 5 of us guests had to gather around the table and pose for photos, although the main
attention was on a poor (also sick) German girl and her Canadian boyfriend, since they were the only ones not traveling alone. “Can I go inside now?” the girl kept asking. “Really, I’m cold.” Unfortunately, she could not. Instead, she and her guy had to pose for endlessly ridiculous pictures, while me and the two hilarious Australian girls were forced to pose in various ways that supported the main couple event. “Girls, clap and smile for the couple!” said one of the session directors. The three of us - laughing increasingly uncontrollably at the dog and pony show taking place - clapped and made faces in between the shots. “To being single!” one of the Aussie girls yelled at the culmination of the shoot, which included confetti poppers for the final shots. “Thank god,“ said the German girl as she headed inside. We all sat around and ate dinner while watching Meg Ryan’s My Mom’s New Boyfriend. Later, I pointed out to the girls in private that the sweater I wore for the shoot had “SPLIT!” written in bold letters across the front, to which they laughed and applauded me for standing in solidarity with their “single power” spirit. I
decided not to derail their cause by telling them that I actually had and was really missing my boyfriend, so I just went back to bed. On the bright side, I had a heavenly smelling ring of flowers around my neck that, thank god, effectively masked the smell coming from my window.
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