Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Luxury Coach To Ajanta And Ellora, India, 1982

The fountains weren't running at the Ajanta Ambassador. I don't blame them one bit, in retrospect.

I planned to spend an entire three months in India. And I mean PLANNED. It was that or waste a lot of effort on going to a faraway foreign country just to sit in hotel rooms with bad sheets, feeling panicked.

I have always made my way through the uncertainties and ambiguities of life by planning. Runs in the family. My youngest sister is known, affectionately, as Plannerina. Although she says kid #3 has finally put Plannerina to rest. But I digress.

I took guidebooks to India. Fodors and Let's Go. I thought about every step of the trip. And now I was in Bombay. With time on my hands. I had at least three or four days before film industry interviews would begin. The caves of Ellora and Ajanta were on my list. Or Ajanta and Ellora. Either way.

Somehow, and I do not remember how, I found a tour to Ajanta and Ellora. Via luxury coach. Let me say simply that words do not always mean the same thing in foreign countries. Even when they are ostensibly words of your language. The tour took us from Bombay out to the caves, one night on a bus, a hotel to shower in and have breakfast upon arrival, a day at the caves, and then another night back on the luxury coach to Bombay.

Oh take pity on a child. Even now I shake my head at my own optimism. Realizing at the same time that optimism can be a very good trait, especially for adventures. I got on the luxury coach, which, in this case, turned out to be luxurious enough even for a slightly spoiled young America. Sat down in my seat, a very nice seat, as it turned out, next to a middle-aged Indian man. And proceeded to have a violent allergic reaction to something I had eaten. Which caused me to itch all over, sneeze violently, and break out in hives. Hard to breathe. (This allergy was to become so serious later in life that the last time it happened I believe I almost died. But this was early days.) There was really nothing I could do about it that night but endure. So I did.

The attack passed. However. Right about the time when my throat opened up again, and I understood that I would probably live, I also understood that the man in the next seat wasn't squeezing my leg by accident. I twisted, I turned, I got annoyed, I tried to give signals that I was not appreciating the attention, I gave up. I moved to the back of the bus and sat down in the last row of seats against the back. Where I bumped around so violently that I could not sleep at all.

I arrived at the Ajanta Ambassador in a state of complete temper. As a 25-year old, on occasion I resembled a teenage girl. Not exactly the most gracious of species. The shower helped. Air conditioning helped. Breakfast really helped.

My knapsack. For daytrips. Completely impractical, but sentimentally valuable. Loaned to me by my boss at the time.

Off we set. The caves of Ajanta and Ellora were built by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains between 200 B.C. and 700 A.D.. Carved into the side of a cliff alongside a river in the plains. Not even a grumpy baby Grande Dame could fail to put aside small annoyances, the wish for cold water, the discomforts of luxury coaches, in the face of this.

Like most of my trip to India, Ajanta was hot. Very hot. The sun was so bright I had to shade my eyes. Almost hard to see. But there were caves. And statues three times my height. All carved before my culture was much of a twinkle in some wild Saxon's eye.

We toured. I had remembered how hard it was to transition again and again from dark to light, from hot to cooler. But my notebook also tells me that a guide had us all wait outside one of the carved chambers. He went inside with other guides. They chanted. I remember now. Standing out in the white sun, a courtyard enclosed by decorated walls of statuary, men chanting in caves.

I'm embarrassed my notebook also shows I wrote about loud air conditioning on the same page. Everything I say is as truthful as I can make it. As best I can remember. I don't know if it matters.

Then we saw the sleeping Buddha. Carved in stone. I remember, at the time, I was not impressed. So what? A Buddha. I'd seen pictures. So what? He was long, and lying down. But now, looking at the Buddha's face, I think I missed something. I was very, very young. Pretty scared and trying to replace my fear with all kinds of inner commentary.

I made it back to Bombay uneventfully. If being 25, and alone, in India, in 1982, can be said to be uneventful. We humans have a remarkable capability to reset normal.

Have a wonderful weekend.



Anonymous Judy said...

Is that a Riverside Drive, NYC address on the composition book? Nice :-).

This is fascinating. I am having so much fun living vicariously through you.

November 20, 2009 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Yes. That's where I lived when I was in Manhattan...Glad you are enjoying my stories. Thanks for reading, Judy.

November 20, 2009 at 8:21 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What an adventure! I love the pictures, because quite honestly, I will never go there. Too much of an adventure for a whimp like me ;)

And I'm laughing over the leg touching. I suppose even back then, there was the misconception that American girls were easy.

November 20, 2009 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger La Belette Rouge said...

Something about your Indian notebook made me think of the Darjeeling Express( the notebook is very Wes Anderson looking). Have you seen it? If not, I recommend it!

I have always wanted to go to India. However my fear of snakes has kept me away.

November 20, 2009 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger Duchesse said...

So evocative. I can feel how disoriented you were. A friend's 18 yr old daughter went on one of those pay-for-your-kid-to-volunteer trips to Kerala last summer. She was accustomed to far more luxurious living. Billeted with a good family- for the middle of Kerala. I doubted she would survive the heat, but she did, tutored English in a school, fled to the hills on weekends and absolutely fell in love with India.

That leg stuff is called "Eve-baiting"- that's why some trains have women-only cars.

November 20, 2009 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger ELS said...

Really, really enjoyed this, what an amazing memory you have and how fiercely you evoke what you experienced. More, please!

November 20, 2009 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger Black Labs and Lilly said...

I am loving the India series!! Being one year over 25 I find myself thinking about how I would be reacting in those situations, and I think I would be pretty hot and tired, especially on the luxury coach!

November 20, 2009 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Elle said...

What a great series, thanks for sharing! I've always been far too cowardly to venture overseas alone!

I'm hosting a fun monogram card or Christmas card giveaway, drop by my blog to enter!

November 20, 2009 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger f8hasit said...

I think it's wonderful that you still have your journal!
Great story as always. Thanks!

November 21, 2009 at 5:40 AM  
Blogger Princess Freckles said...

What an amazing trip that must have been! I'd love to visit India someday. We'll see. For now, I will enjoy your fantastic story of your adventure! Thanks!

November 21, 2009 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger Mouse said...

I love that bedraggled old notebook.

November 21, 2009 at 7:44 AM  
Blogger Vix said...

Loving this series; wondering what future installments of the past you will bring....

Your visit to the caves made me think of "A Passage to India." I should really re-read it (or at least rent it, ha!).

November 21, 2009 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Aren't you so glad you kept a journal?

Oh the men and their beliefs about American girls. And the stupid women who fed those beliefs. Thanks a lot, stupid women.

The only good thing about these men is that they taught me to stand up for myself. Once I figured out that subtlety would get me nowhere, I learned to say, "Stop that. Go away. Leave me alone. Don't talk to me." This shocked them so much that they would usually do as I commanded.

November 21, 2009 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger iffatali said...

Travel is more than seeing of the sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
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November 7, 2012 at 3:53 AM  

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