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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

BiKronicles 5: Vadodara-Udaipur-Ahmedabad

Our maiden long coup. The sunsets and the moon.
The cold and the sun, beating down on us like old rum.
We packed in our bags and tucked away dreams.
Argued some distance and loved more fiercely.
‘Tis hard to travel heavy, ‘tis cold to travel alone.
But it ain’t that bad when I have you to call my own!

Mumbai-Vadodara (Karjan NH8)-Udaipur-Ahmedabad-Mumbai
02-06 Jan 2015, 5 days, 1800kms, 7-20°C, 2 souls, 1 Royal Enfield Classic 500, 1 couple, 1 Cramster saddle bag + 1 backpack

Udaipur, Venice of the east, is the most romantic city in India – probably on the list of romantic destinations around the world too. Everyone said it, social media concurred with it and then Abeer said it a few times. For me the last source was most important. HE found a place in India that steadfastly remained an intimate destination and he wanted us to go there. The plan was set while returning on the Maru Sagar Express from Udupi to Mumbai. That’s how trips are made… When 1 ends, another begins.

December 2014, Prelims
Checking to see how the Bebe is holding up
After ensuring that everyone was occupied with their own NYE plans (or the lack of one), we decided to kick-start ours. As usual, I was in top gear with the preps. This was a challenge for us in terms of distance and gear. Safety was paramount to comfort and luxury. So we enlisted things we spoke about gathering for our bike closet but didn’t quite get around to doing it. Abeer is a last minute person and I excessively occupied myself with hunting down the most romantic location in Udaipur to splurge on. The delusional cat in me even considered the currently-out-of-reach Taj Lake Palace Hotel. Luckily, before I could splurge our expenses on some ridiculously overpriced space, he told me to go low key. And so I did. Lesson: Wait a few days before you are 100% sure you wanna book a place and your plan is set with dates.

The week before the trip was pure constructive chaos. Extra spark plugs and little kits for the bike were collected, service was done, helmets and gear shopping was done, bags were packed to assess luggage and I was smart (then considered not so) to carry an extra backpack where all the excess shopping would nestle itself. We had an early dinner celebration on the 1st night (a day that could’ve ideally added to the trip) and called it in. My babies were gonna stay away the longest this time and I kept thinking of them when I traveled back and forth to drop them in foster care. They had plenty new furry friends and that warmed my heart.

Friday, 2nd Jan - Eventful starts
We had a tad bit of a late start than planned. We left from Mindspace, Malad at 6:40am and rode nonstop till the highway. I made coffee and breakfast at home and we loaded our Cramster bag and I carried the half-loaded backpack. The weather had a cold draft and before we could even exit Navi Mumbai, we were met with dense fog and mild condensation that made visibility near 0 and our gear wet. All vehicles had slowed down and their blinkers partially helped us get through some river bridge overpasses. At one point, I saw a faint outline of a board and asked Abeer to slow down until we came to a sudden halt. A few meters ahead was a steep drop on to some rocks. Luckily, I focused hard and after breathing a sigh of relief and not wanting to waste any more daylight time, we took off. We made 2 halts for some chai and petrol in this duration. At an average speed of 80-100km/hr in this weather, we crossed the state border into Gujarat at 9:45am and reached Vapi at 12:00pm. Our progress was good, we were doing decent time and the weather was pleasant as we had put on warm clothes, bandanas and balaclavas, head buffs, tightly strapped helmets, boots and leg warmers and gloves topped with our warm jackets. At Vapi the bike started to give us some trouble when accelerated to touch 100 and Abeer wanted it checked out as even I felt a wobbly sensation as a pillion rider. After a brief halt at a local mechanic who assumed it was the ECU circuit box, we proceeded to hunt for a Royal Enfield Showroom/service center. At this time, I really wanted to use the restroom. I found one after a 15-20min hunt and walk and wondered how on earth did these folks survive without a bathroom. We found an RE showroom/service center on NH 8 belonging to and run by Ojas Patel. This part of the trip made a huge dent in our planning. The bike was looked over thoroughly and at 1st assumed to be the ECU circuit which costs 9k. After seeking approval under warranty and what not, the owner Ojas, a young bike enthusiast himself, insisted that his service staff give the bike a long run on the highway to confirm it. Turns out it wasn’t the ECU box and it took ~3hrs to figure that the spark box under the seat was just loose and needed to be taped and put in place. In this time, we were deep in conversation with Ojas who was warm and very hospitable. He openly spoke of his desire to own his own Royal Enfield, his rides and trips, the bike groups and accidents and injuries. He currently runs this showroom and only service center available for miles. He spoke rather candidly of the manufacturing of the bike, issues and how to fix them, how many vehicles he has and what it cost him etc. Incidentally, after a 6yr whirlwind courtship, he married his college sweetheart who gave up an HR job to help him run the service center. After some tea and McDonald meals, we packed up and bid adieu at 2:45pm. They didn’t charge us a penny and that experience left a warm memory in my mind.

When in love, selfie
Post this unplanned halt, we were doing double time and 120km/hr to reach Ahmedabad. The rule was to avoid nighttime riding. One brief stop at McDonalds in Surat and a very hearty chat with a Harley Street 750 rider named Dixit, we sped on. Losing daylight, we decided to ditch Ahmedabad and stay in Baroda instead which seemed like a more doable distance. Tired, mentally washed, and excessively restless with back pain, we stopped on the NH8, 30kms before Baroda city, at the ONLY highway food stop lined with CCD, Subway and Dominos and a Le Nandini motel above it. Abeer’s exhaustion prompted us to ditch the last 30kms to halt here instead. As customary, our appearance and ride invited people and revelers who wanted to know our plans, give us advice on the roads and routes and connect with us in the future. There were surprisingly many folks driving 3-days nonstop from Goa (Sunburn and Supersonic) to back home right up to places like Chandigarh – the NYE’s effect still evident on them. Apparently, one such SUV with party folks headed to Chandigarh were tailing us from Vapi and had intercepted a Maruti Swift on the highway who tried to race and overtake us (something I consider reckless and rash). These revelers helped get rid of them and let us know about it. Another such group headed to Ahmedabad, also came to our rescue as the motel receptionist/staff/only human refused us a room as we were an unmarried couple. Their norm was anything goes including alcohol consumption and months of vacancy but no unmarried folks allowed. The 30-sec ago friends turned out to be the motel owner’s partner and promptly got us a room. At 1k a night, we thought it was a good bet. Clean large rooms and hot showers were all that we needed. We reminded ourselves that Udaipur was our destination so anything is doable now. Note: the nearest ATM was about 2-3kms away. We barely managed a Subway dinner, the room cost and a morning cup of tea in all the cash we had on us. I recommend this motel as a good stopover but beware of the backlash against unmarried couples. The fellow at the motel warned us that occasionally cops conducted raids and random checks were made. Another observation that I made was a chain of restaurants and eateries across the state of Gujarat and some into Rajasthan called Honest (spelt in a variety of ways with a yellow and red font). We had only spicy and flour loaded fried Gujarati snacks to our disposal which we wasted and some comforting tea.

Saturday, 3rd Jan - Dream ride
We started at 7:00am sharp for Udaipur with a firm resolve to make the most of daylight and reach at noon. So we waited on the highway and the moment the 1st streak of sun rays cut through the sky we left this oasis of a spot and headed on. As was informed to us by the revelers, the road from Baroda to Ahmedabad was a 115kms stretch of construction, multiple diversions and 2-way traffic in narrow lanes. In comparison to Mumbai roads, this was a tad breeze. But for an NH journey, this was horrid and should not be attempted in the dark. We stopped at 10:30am at TGB in Ahmedabad city and loaded on some semi-decent food of onion rings and dosas and coffee, got some medications for my mildly ill Abeer and left for Udaipur at sharp 12pm.

Note: Ahmedabad traffic was the ultimate royal mishmash and catastrophe of sorts. There were multiple 4-ways (chaar rastas) and NO ONE followed traffic rules. This despite traffic cops standing very much in broad view. Much time and energy was spent in maneuvering the bike through these estuaries of arrogance and cattle with further effort in avoiding collisions. No one seemed to even care if there was indeed a collision or near collision possibility. Apparently, the brink of death was a menial brush off for these folks. The cops didn’t seem to give 2 hoots either. Abeer really lost his cool dragging a 300+kg bike through this mess and wanted to get out as soon as possible. The people ‘appeared’ helpful with only a handful giving useful information. 2 wheelers and the obnoxious and visually unpleasant green rickshaws seemed adamant to cut at 30° angles across any road at any time and this irked us a lot. Gujarat so far wasn’t impressing us or luring us for even a fraction of it. However, Rann of Kutch still holds a special place in my heart.

Jheel guest house and Ginger Coffee
Having concluded this unpleasant episode, we headed on to our dream spot. At precisely 4:00pm we crossed the border into Rajasthan (“Welcome to Resurgent Rajasthan” it says). I was exhausted and restless but the border and the 360° change in scenery pumped new life into us. We celebrated with our little hand slaps and jokes and celebrations. Almost like a slap to not-so-modern Gujarat, a few meters after the state border was a massive sign screaming Kingfisher Hotel and Bar. Not like anything stopped me but it was a freeing sight. My job was to keep my love motivated and unwavering. He didn’t have me yet to trade places and share riding responsibilities – something I aim to change in the near future. Here on, the NH was lined with desert style sand dune structures and the stray starting of the Aravali hills. The edge of the highway was lined with conifer trees shedding their bark revealing ashen colors and alongside on higher ranges was twisty cacti like plants that looked beautiful in the evening shadow. We rode for a very long stretch and google maps didn’t help us with the anticipation – always presenting a few mins of distance ahead.

View from Ginger Coffee and Bakery Ghat

Ran into a very traditional and old school Rajasthani man (in retrospect I regret not having taken his picture). He was dressed the part with the massive twisted turban and colorful garb and spoke in a heavy accented tone. He was the only one who corrected me and said that Lake Pichoula was pronounced ‘pee-shu-la and not ‘pee-cho-la. We reached some very very narrow gullies that were hard to navigate through and taking a U-turn was a huge gamble. What made it tougher was these tiny lanes were on an incline as they led down to the lakeside. After numerous detours and near losing patience cum anticipation for our destination, we reached the most beautiful spot. Jheel Paying Guest House at the north banks of Lake Pichoula known as Gangaur Ghat. Parking the bike was difficult as there was no designate parking spot, yet we found a corner for our bebe. We weren’t gonna be on her for the next 2 days and let her cool down as well. Like the pictures, the guesthouse was exactly on the banks or rather in the lake with the foundation deep into the lakebed. It had the most adorable and very popular Ginger Coffee House and Bakery. On the left, the lake opened into its main body with a clear view of the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, the Gangaur Boat that has drawn me with its unending love stories, the Jagat Niwas Palace behind it, and numerous little sights. On the right, the lake had 2 poetic bridges that connected us to its east facing banks. Before heading to our rooms, we decided to grab a cuppa – a delicious ginger lemon infused coffee and a black one for me. I knew at that very moment, this would be a trip like no other. Mr. Jethi, a rather traditional yet polished elderly gentleman also the owner, greeted us. I insisted I wanted the water facing room and we had rode all the way for this experience. He clarified that unlike the reviews, it was the New Jheel Guest house and not the old one that was lake facing. I was happy either way cz we got a gorgeous, cozy, absolutely divine looking room with a view of the lake and the Lake Palace Hotel from our 3rd floor window (named Charan Vilas II). I was indeed in heaven and felt like royalty despite layers of the Gujarat and part Rajasthan highway on my face and clothes.

Abeer’s restlessness was akin to him losing the ‘beer’ part of his name. I knew that until a whole pint didn’t make its way into his system, I couldn’t get anything done either. We headed to Lal Ghat roof top café for a few beers. We passed the Mewar guesthouse, which Abeer recalled as the place he had put up at a few years ago during his 2nd visit to this romantic pocket. The cold finally settling it, a gorgeous view of the slowly descending darkness and lights popping up like Diwali evening astounded me. The seating is diwans and chairs with tables and little lamp tops. Every alternate table seating had a sigri burning to give respite against the steadily increasing cold draft on the rooftop. I was speechless and wanted moments to myself with him right by my side. I was proud of him. He rode all this way, got me here and we handled quite a bit being just us two on the road. We chugged a whole bottle and headed back to freshen up and get out and explore. We had just ~2.5 days to fit in this entire place into our memories and our trip. I was ecstatic that we had a bathtub but the cold weather hardly affords one the luxury of staying damp and clammy in such weather.

My Wishlist - Taj Lake Palace and the Gangaur
After a brief tour on foot through the gullies exploring more ghats, we reached a row of hotels boasting their own roof top cafes. A myriad of cuisines and some promising liquor were advertised to their full potential. I was taking in all of it: walking after 2 days of riding, the cold weather which afforded me the luxury of warm clothes, jackets and boots that I absolutely adore, stopping by the Bagore ki Haveli and its ghats where open performances happened every evening from 7-8pm, constantly evading my urge to indulge in the plethora of shops with the most beautiful jewels, silver, colored stones, leather and faux leather handicraft goods, unbelievable artwork and tradition and finally beautiful people. I fleetingly watched my love walking and excitedly soaking it all in as well but clearly loading up on patience as I marveled at everything. After a brief ho-hum of where to eat, we took a chance and headed up a flight of block stairs to Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel – Dining. It turned out to be a fine dine restaurant with a Rajputana-esque charm about it. Despite no reservations, we were comfortably seated and I noted only foreigners around us. I was glad that I could treat Abeer to a lavish meal in a lovely place as an unspoken gesture of gratitude and blooming love for bringing me here. Yes, a place, experience or location takes your love and your perspective of your partner to another level. I sensed that the moment we left Mumbai. Despite the mechanical and weather hurdles, he hadn’t been keeping well at all and we spent nights lying awake trying to battle his worsening sinusitis condition. The irony was that I would always be the one to suffer but this time it was he and it pained me to watch him in such a state. As we finally settled in, we had our 1st round of brandy and whiskeys and dug into the most awaited ghosht preparation in any shape or form. He loved it and part of my time spent with him is to watch him enjoy food. We were foodies and never shied away from trial and error. One thing to note was that staff everywhere appeared to perform and function in military style discipline. Yes they were polite, prompt, well-spoken and versed in English and local languages and very efficient in their tasks. But they NEVER smiled. Save for shopkeepers, no one smiled anywhere. Throughout our trip staff at hotels and restaurants only afforded us a courtesy smile but none had a genuine hearty one – almost as if it was a forbidden rule in their job description. Shopkeepers gave us a luring smile, one that pleaded us to walk in and buy their artisan and craft work. This baffled me but I maintained that I would be my natural self even if not reciprocated.

Post dinner, we walked around some more, marveled some more and headed back for some much needed sleep. Passed out is an understatement and that we did.

Sunday, 4th Jan – Royalty much
We HAD to catch our sunrise. This place and the temperature was no exception. We woke up at unearthly Udaipur hours 5:30am and crossed the poetic bridge to the east facing banks of Lake Pichoula. The sky had morning hue but the sun remained deeply out of sight. We finally found stray early risers. Kailash, a chai wala serenaded us with 2 cuttings and marveled us with his story of how he did a Mumbai stint back in the 80’s. Worked for a sethji with marble and stonework dealings in and out of Rajasthan. Like all others (and sensibly so), life in Mumbai didn’t appeal to him for the long innings and he returned to this paradise of a spot and has been happy since. I couldn’t help but take a few pictures of his tea making device which was part manual and part physics. This moment, this tea in breaking dawn was the most romantic moment since we left. We continued on to the temple at the edge of the banks and watched the sunrise. It was stunning and really warms you up. We were covered in layers but there were local folks swimming and bathing in the ice-cold water of the lake and seemed hardly affected by it. We also ran into the fattest, cutest bunch of puppies and packed them up to their momma who sadly had a dislocated fore leg and was limping away from her pesky bunch. Clearly, we didn’t aid and abet her escape plan. The edge of this point gave me the closest possible view of the Gangaur[PD1] . A royal barge, with an extravagant history of royalty using it for commute and festivities, is now leased/used by the Taj for the occasional dinner on the lake. It is completely prepped for a 2hr long romantic ride around the lake accompanied by Rajasthani cuisine prepared by the Exec. Chef. Exclusively available to guests of the hotel and retailing at a starting price of ~INR 80k. It is the 1 thing I would have wanted to share with my love and have noted it for a time in the future when my piggy bank is overflowing and a bout of senseless romantic gesture hits me. I stared it at as long as I could and imprinted it in my bucket list.

Them posers mocking our city life - Breathtaking
We left for the guesthouse, and readied up for our 1st day in town. Hotels and their cafes routinely open up at 8am onwards. We had a hearty French breakfast at Café Namasté and proceeded to check the place out. We headed 1st to Tibet Market. It’s by far the largest I have ever been to. EVERYTHING warm, weather beaten and of all kinds of material was there. We spent 40mins hunting for a good pair of warm gloves and they were extremely affordable. I looked at everything and was seriously tempted to dig my shopping claws into the gear. Stuff we painfully shell out a month’s ration worth of cash on a single almost-all-in-one jacket was retailing at 1.5-2k here. But in south western India, this stuff was barely a necessity. And so I refrained. We headed to the City Palace tour which took up nearly 3hrs of the day.

Note: When in Udaipur esp. this part of town, WALK. Walk everywhere. That’s what we did. We were on foot for 3 whole days and didn’t even allow ourselves the luxury of a tuk-tuk. Walking in this beautiful weather was sinful delight. Cold air with just the right touch of warmth from the sun. Pink rosy cheeks and foggy breath. Walking side by side was nearly impossible cause of the narrow gullies and the constant array of traffic. So everyone walks in single file and as close to the edge as possible. The roads are extremely well lined, clean, and occasionally (ok often) interrupted by the largest most pampered cattle. So walk. And contrary to the 4 lane disaster that Ahmedabad generously rewarded us with, this was a lesson in traffic, courtesy and discipline. In my very brief stay and constant moments on the road, not once did I see a jam, verbal abuse or overbearing use of the vehicle horns. Most folks used 2-wheelers but an occasional bus/van also managed to find its way through these crawl space like lanes without so much as a scratch or fuss. I was mighty impressed. Metros and large cities had much to learn from Udaipur. Besides why whoosh past so much culture and art and ignore these visually entrancing sights. I wouldn't.

City Palace was a breathtaking and extremely insightful tour. There was a steady mix of Indians and Foreigners that day and possibly the most crowded location. Looks like everyone came here for the New Years. I wish to write in detail of my experience at the City Palace. However, I won’t do it for 2 reasons: my blog post has overstretched its limit and writing about the palace would ruin the essence of what it REALLY encompasses. So whoever is reading this and is promptly making a trip to Udaipur, please do not miss a visit here. Passes are sold at varying costs, which include extras such as vintage car collections tour, additional museums and more primitive parts of the palace. We were lucky to have even seen the most majestic set of thoroughbreds in the stables towering 2 additional feet above my height. I suddenly envisioned the plight of the Victoria horses in Mumbai.

Sunrises and teas with unrewritable stories
An Israeli and Italian lunch at the Doctor Café followed. A cozily tucked away café with a very modest kitchen and psychedelic design makes this café. Found on almost every list of food and visits for Udaipur. Delicious and fresh, you can’t miss this place. We were tired from walking all day and went back for a quick siesta before the evening coffee at Ginger Café. Seriously, this spot was way too addictive and I couldn’t get enough of that gorgeous hearty sun on me. Likewise for Abeer. We were like 2 hippos sunning ourselves after a mud bath, gazing more drowsily than lovingly at each other whilst sipping mochas and chomping lemon tarts. A quick tour of the Indian spice market was what I chased. I had read of some special Rajasthani masalas especially for meats: Kachri specifically. It is a desert cucumber, dried and powdered which is rubbed as marinade on read meats for that extra tenderness and flavor likened to tamarind or aamchur. I was lucky to get a pocketful along with some more in house measured and ground spices by a passionate and very educated couple. I even picked up some reasonable lavender oil for my man who had trouble sleeping due to his sinusitis. We headed to catch the last ferry from the City Palace docks for Jag Mandir Palace. My mother had insisted at least 100 times that I should take this time bound ferry and dine at the Jag Mandir Palace islands. Here is what I learned. The ferry is limited to rides to the island till 5pm and costs a moderately acceptable fare of ~INR 300/- between 9am and 3pm. Thereafter, charges escalate to INR 650/head. One can stay the day, browse the island and then dine there and a ferry shall bring you back around 9pm. Cost of dining is upscale and purely experiential with a view of the lake at night; lights and dining in the middle of it all. We skipped it and decided to take a modest approach to the evening. Shopping never gets old here. The leather goods and the plethora of artisan work with any and every form of imagination is applied here. We met a moody painter who captured near detailed work on made-to-order t-shirts and canvas. I was mesmerized and wanted to take a picture. He snapped at me that photography wasn’t allowed and showed me an inconspicuous sign on one of 3 entries into his shop that screamed the rule. Abeer had a brilliant idea for him to paint my favorite Warli depictions on the helmet. He declined in a snap and that was full-stop to the request. A bit more shopping and additional happy financial damage, we headed to Ambrai. Through our trip, our social media accounts were abuzz with suggestions to dine at Ambrai – a fine dine eatery located inside Amet Haveli (now an upscale hotel) on the banks of Lake Pichoula. The ambience draws folks more than the food itself and I guess it’s USP was so high that even at 6:30pm we were unable to secure a reservation; it being a Sunday. The manager assured us a table at 9:00pm should we walk in that moment. I went inside and glanced at the promise of what everyone was chiming about. Yes, it was worth the wait. In the meantime, we headed to the rooftop café of Wonderview hotel next door and downed some much craved whiskeys and unlimited shisha. This particular evening the temperature took a serious drop and I couldn’t feel much of my hands or my face. It was a good 7°C or lower, I’m not sure. We couldn’t wait any longer for the reservation so we went back to our side of the lake and revisited Natural View Rooftop café above 32, Lal Ghat Hotel. We dined on succulent mutton dishes and local cheese and yoghurt parathas. I wanted their local fish, which is apparently a catfish variant, but they had run out of it. We drank and dined till we were stuffed (in true last meal style) and then headed back to our warm bed. This was also the place that we got our 1st beer when we got to Udaipur and probably one of the highest rooftop views. Sad to leave the next day, we decided this was a return journey must-do.

Monday, 5th Jan – Rowing and sinking
Next morning we returned to Jagat Niwas Palace hotel restaurant – one of few places that opens for gourmet breakfast offerings at 6:30am. We were hosted by Pradeep, probably the only staff that smiled genuinely during our meal. We both opted for the aptly named Continental Palace Breakfast with eggs our ways, fruit and bread baskets, pot coffee, and mini accompaniments. Breakfast is our thing and this met the criteria beautifully. We were the only patrons up and about so early, which ensured a very private dining experience. After, we decided to catch up on some random boating on the Lake from the main ghats. An affordable INR 300/- for two people on a large canopied boat which a 45min tour around the lake made a good start at 9:00am. We were tad annoyed as in contrast to our serene breakfast, we were literally hijacked by a bunch of families from the northern belt who yelled and screamed and insisted on raunchy item numbers whilst simultaneously ignoring the driver’s insistence on putting on life jackets and remain seated in a way that the balance would be restored. They defied to say the least, at one point even ordered, and jerked him around. I was annoyed that my moment on such a beautiful lake was totally ruined by the inconsiderate and rather uncouth bunch who asked me to take pictures of their antics. We tried to make the best of what we could. Point to note here was that a conscience effort was made to pack all Indians in one boat and all foreigners in the other for a ride. THIS explained it all.

Poetic Justice
A quick coffee and brunch at a caved in café called the German Bakery/Edelweis Bakery ensued with delicious made to order buns, sandwiches and burgers. We then checked out to leave this slice of heaven. Now I have been on many weekends and trips. THIS was the first time my heart physiologically and emotionally felt heavy. I was, in the purest form of truth, not ready to leave and was experiencing early signs of withdrawal right from the moment our bebe vroomed to life. I reluctantly got on the bike and tried as best as I could to distract myself from welling up or feeling overwhelmed. I was in love. With Udaipur, with Abeer, with the bike, the road and this new lease of life that was pumped into our new year, just everything in that moment.

The ride from Udaipur to Ahmedabad remains my most favorite stretch of ride. We started 12pm sharp after brief halts for gas and some cash (remembering not-so-card-friendly areas). The weather was beyond divine and the roads and bike cooperated beautifully. Once we crossed the Gujarat border, an unfriendly feeling warped itself over me. We touched Ahmedabad at 4:00pm and took a nice long break at a gas station. Somehow, after much agony we found and reached Hotel Canada Intl strategically located right on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Expressway. Now in my defense, this was to be our 1st halt heading toward Udaipur, a budget stay at INR 500/- a night and the hotel pics looked promising on Agoda. Here is what we encountered. The hotel was located on the 4th floor of a commercial building in a budding district that caters to travelers and business folks. There were no other guests which is why the manager was all too kind to shift my reservation from 3rd to 5th Jan with no extra cost or fuss. There was no kitchen to cater to anything and all cities save for Mumbai will not serve you the kindness of a tea/coffee at unearthly hours. The rooms were large and could easily accommodate 3 sleeping bags if a group were to crash here. Basic amenities and service from the all too kind staff would easily bump this to an INR 1000/night hotel in Mumbai suburbs. After much ho-hum we headed to Kankaria Lake area of Ahmedabad, logistically the closest civilization and city boundary that we could make it too. Almost as if to prove how unfriendly Gujarat was to us, most places were closed on Mondays. We managed a traditional Gujarati and Rajasthani thali at Purohit Lunch Home. Abeer found it too much for his palate and barely ate much. We rode back through messy meandering traffic. Clearly, traffic and law and order wasn’t high on the city’s priority list. My Gujarati speaking and reading skills helped us tremendously and this was the only time I wasn’t sorry for using them.

Tuesday, 6th Jan – Granite laden hearts
Highway vigilantes
After a night of half-baked sleep, we took off at 7:40am to Mumbai. That sinking feeling hit me again but this time it was overshadowed by a desperate urge to leave Ahmedabad. I was so excited for my love to see Ahmedabad that I had visited and stayed at a few years ago. This was a far cry from it. We instantly hit the bad roads and stopped for some questionable tea and lifesaving biscuits at a truck stop. That’s all that lines Gujarat state national highways. Truck stops, no restrooms, irresponsible and arrogant drivers (strangely the GJ1 plates), dry scenery, no sensible eating joint, yet miles of gorgeous smooth roads followed by dusty gravelly stretches. I was in mix mode here. We were famished and there was absolutely nothing to replenish our raging hunger. Our MAIN stop was at 1:20pm in Surat. Till then save for a 15min halt for a sad for-lack-of-any-choice-paratha, we had been on the bike for 5.5hrs and it was getting restless. Tempers soared and dropped thanks to some giggles. I can’t be mad at him at all. Not for long at least. He was beat and had miscalculated a McDonalds destination a few kms behind. Thirsty, sugar-deprived, famished and sore from crown to toe, we were looking for an ‘oasis’ of something on the NH. We reached the Surat McDonalds outlet and gorged on food like John Hammond’s grandkids did once they escaped the dinosaur park and the previous eventful night in Jurassic Park. Once out of there we did not stop at all till we hit Navi Mumbai. Thereon the traffic was a brutal nightmare. I couldn’t comprehend what was worse, the starved ride all morning or the horrid excruciatingly painful traffic in Mumbai suburbs. The riding had taken a severe toll on both of us and by evening it had been roughly 11hrs on the bebe. When we left Ahmedabad the mileage reading stood at a precise 8000. When we reached home it was 8600. I was amazed we made it. We made 2 stops just to get a sense of our behinds and whether it was still there. Getting back on got more painful than getting off it for a break.

6:00pm Home
Celebratory drinks
We reached home, showered and prepared for 2 things: cold beer to celebrate the magnanimous victory of our maiden long journey and resting day on Wednesday. We drank ourselves silly and the following day we dedicated it to 2hours of uninterrupted rejuvenating ayurvedic massage and treatments which we both desperately needed. I felt extremely blue – the kinds that lay hidden under sheets of black. I was glad to be home but I was pensive, tensed, restless and longing. Guess the city does that to us. Our New Year had indeed gotten off to a wonderful start and it was well planned and thought out. It would’ve been magnanimously boring if every square inch of the plan had fallen into place. That’s what made it so magical. I was in love again. That was the idea. To fall in love again and again through times, experiences and motions of every spec in life. Udaipur did that for me and Abeer and I can’t wait to go back to her again.

Wishlist: When I left Udaipur, I solemnized two things to do when I went back. One was to fulfil a dinner at Jagmandir island as well as Ambrai. The second and more prominent one was to save for a one night stay at the Taj Lake Palace and get access to the Gangaur and fulfill my wish to dine on it whilst enjoying it with the man I loved. I hope it happens soon.
For more pictures and moments: