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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Having just 5 weeks in India, I opted to visit fewer places and spend more time in each rather than burn travel time trying to see as much of the subcontinent as possible. The area I wanted to spend the most time in was the “Land of Kings” Rajasthan. Coming from Varanasi, logistics made it most convenient to start my Rajasthani experience in the capital, Jaipur.

A ginger guy from Copenhagan was on the train with me from Varanasi and told tales of the wonderland that is Christiania. We had similar intentions for Rajasthan and joined forces for the next leg of our journeys. Resisting solicitations for lodging from “helpful” locals aboard the train, we ended up at Tony’s Guest House; it turned out to be a great home base to make the most out of Jaipur.

Tony is an older man with a big heart and hospitality at his core. The accommodations were standard for India, but the atmosphere was world class. Outside of the iconic Hawa Mahal, The Pink City isn’t teaming with things to see and do. The guest house had a hammock-equipped rooftop lounge that offered a prime view of the bustling city in the middle of nowhere, as well as free morning yoga.

Whether Hindu or Muslim, religion dominates India. Tony does not buy into the mainstream and introduced me to his spiritual leader, Baba Ji. One evening, we loaded into Tony’s van and made the trek to Baba Ji’s compound nearly an hour out of town. It was something out of a Hollywood studio. Set on a hilltop overlooking an arid wasteland, I felt as if I had arrived at a Southwest Asian tribal leader’s fiefdom; in a way, I had.

The new Lexus SUV in the driveway was a stark contrast to its bare, rugged surroundings. It was Baba Ji’s new ride and intended to lift his spirits after recent heart trouble. Apparently, Baba Ji has a penchant for smoke, drink, and unhealthy food that led to his decline in wellness. He was confined to his room and there was a host of followers who attended to him and facilitated visits. We were offered a bhang beverage while meeting the people occupying the compound in wait of our visit with their leader.

When it was my turn, I joined Tony and we were taken to Baba Ji. Lazing on his bed, Baba Ji’s gray dreadlocks reached his feet. He was a true mystic, full of the insight, wisdom, and intensity that fits a person of his role. We had a brief, positive, and cryptic exchange. It seemed like our conversation could easily have taken place in a time long ago, but when he pressed his electronic service button to summon an attendant, I remembered that the 21st century had arrived.

Following our time with their leader, we joined the rest of the men on the roof. In all there were about 20 men there, some of them stay for long stretches of time and others, like Tony, visit frequently. They were gathered in a circle around a fire talking and smoking a chillum. My traveling partner so impressed the group with his chillum hitting abilities that they presented him with one of Baba Ji’s chillums. It was quite the honor. We ate with the group and returned to Tony’s Guest House.

While staying in Jaipur we also made the day trip to Ranthambhore National Park, which is supposed to be one of the best places to see wild tigers. There were no tigers around on the day we were there, but it was worth taking the chance to see my favorite land animal in the wild and a cool wildlife refuge.

Jaipur was culturally different than the India I had seen and felt more like being in neighboring Pakistan. It was a good time and a perfect transition to Rajasthan.

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