I inhale deeply, and feel apricot flavored smoke fill my lungs. I focus on the palace, the lake and the distant ducks, all seen through small tendrils of smoke wisping away from the hookah as I pass it left. I exhale slowly through my nose, and briefly contemplate what it might be like to be a dragon.
We’re nearing the end of our extended stay in Udaipur, a palace filled town in southern Rajasthan. We had taken a train from nearby Jaipur, and had originally planned on only staying a day or two. However, Indian trains appear to need actual advanced notice to book a ticket, as the earliest we could leave was four days after arriving. In several days we’ll catch an 18 hour sleeper train to Mumbai.
India feels very big.
Surrounded by hills, Udaipur most prominently centers around Lake Pichola, which contains the lakeside City Palace and the two island palaces Jagniwas Island and Jagmandir Island. Many of locations in Udaipur were used as filming locations for the James Bond flick, Octopussy. We were pleasantly surprised to find a hookah bar on Jagmandir.
Clockwise on my left sits Sandra from Germany, Stephanie from the Phillipines, and Dave from Indiana. We met the two girls during breakfast the previous day at our lake view guest house. They were taking a break from working in Shanghai to get away from the Chinese New Year. It turns out both of them also worked for Evalueserve, and Sandra was friends with several of our interpretors from our in time in Abheypur.
India feels very small.
We pay our bill and stroll through the gardens on Jagmandir under the most perfect of blue skies. We had seen a single cloud in the four days we’d been in Rajasthan, and it didn’t have the temerity to stay very long. The sun was warm, the nights and evenings cool, and the air clear of the smog that seemed to infest Delhi and Jaipur.
My hands in my pockets, I slip off my sandals and stand in the perfectly manicured green grass, staring out over the lake into the hills to the west. Later that night the sun will set over these hills, and I will drink sweet lassi and listen to traveler stories on a balcony of our guest house. Tomorrow me and Dave plan on hiking through a wildlife reserve to the Monsoon Palace, a fantastic complex at the very top of one of those hills.
India feels … just right.