Plans have been made, and the plane ticket purchased. I return to India in November 2012 to celebrate Diwali and my 60th birthday at Prem’s house in a village in the foothills of the Himalayas.
When we talked about this on the final day of my trip in March 2011, Prem said he’d be at the airport when I arrive, which I find pretty extraordinary. His village is about 12 hours away by bus, and flights from Europe usually arrive in the middle of the night. (Although I’m coming from the Washington DC airport, I’ll have a layover in Istanbul.) By then I knew how to get myself to a hotel from the airport, so I suggested it might be easier for him if we met at my hotel the following day. That elicited a look of patient exasperation from him, like a parent might give a child who has just made a completely ridiculous comment. He was having none of it.
For the first week, I’ll be at Prem’s house, which is somewhere in the Mandi District a little northwest of Shimla. I haven’t made any solid plans beyond that. I want to be free to change my mind and stay longer if something special is happening. Prem mentioned there are always weddings in his village around Diwali time and wants me to see one, and he’s eager to show me the village culture. I’m looking forward to it.
I don’t know when or how I’ll get to Udaipur after that. I’ll rely on Prem’s advice. I only know that it would take about 16 hours by train, so I’m planning on flying. The nearest airport to his village is in Shimla, but there are no direct flights from there to Udaipur. I’ll have to fly to Delhi first.
My friends Nirmal and Pushker in Udaipur have assured me they’ll be at the Udaipur airport to pick me up when I arrive. I’ve decided to stay at the Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel, but since I don’t know the day of my arrival, I can’t make reservations until after I’m in India.
I’ll be in Udaipur for a week. Since I met Nirmal in his leather shop last year, he has gotten married. He sent me a DVD of the wedding video. It was amazing! He is also now the father of a baby boy, born in May 2012. On this trip I’ll meet his wife and son as well as Pushker’s family. I have a list of nearby monuments and things to see, but I have a feeling I’m going to be spending more time with my friends and their families and less time sightseeing. Again, I haven’t decided on a definite day to head back to Delhi. All I know is, the train takes 12 hours from Udaipur to Delhi, and the plane takes a little over two.
My final few days will be spent in Delhi doing things I haven’t done like exploring Chandni Chowk, eating at Karim’s and visiting monuments I didn’t get a chance to see last time.
I’m really looking forward to the cultural aspect of this trip. Sightseeing is always fun, but getting a glimpse into everyday life and strengthening relationships is going to be really special.