A wise woman once told me, “There are no coincidences,” and whilst I have definitely become aware of a certain synchronicity occurring in my life over the past year of full-time travel, no experience has given me more evidence of something at work, than my recent jaunt across the Indian sub-continent in an orange auto-rickshaw named Sunny.
Around midday on day four of the Rickshaw Run, we rolled down a mountain in southern Rajasthan into the supposedly beautiful, lakeside city of Udaipur, only to find ourselves in the midst of congested urban sprawl.
But we had seen the photos, and we knew that wasn’t it, that we were missing the sweet spot; the place tourists flocked to in droves to sip chai on crumbling palace roof-tops and gaze at their reflections in the glassy lakes below.
We stopped for gas and asked directions.
“Where are the tourist hotels?” I asked a friendly onlooker (of which there were a few). With a sideways tilt of the head and the flick of an nut-brown arm whose trajectory I followed with my eyes, we were somewhat wiser as to where we might find the hotels, palaces and lakes of the Tourists’ Udaipur.
Kim drew the short straw and would be the one to navigate the old city’s narrow, congested alleyways. She performed a ten-point turn when we hit a dead-end, and attempted to avoid collision with the bikes, people, cows and other vehicles that moved in converging currents all around us. All this whilst deciphering our terrible directions over the cacophony of car horns and Sunny’s engine which would put any ride-on mower to shame (as far as decibels, not functionality, is concerned).
But we didn’t just need a hotel, we needed a hotel with parking, and finding such a place was proving somewhat difficult in the maze of streets flanked with handicraft stores, restaurants and coffee houses.
We pulled over on a slightly wider stretch of road, and I jumped out to ask directions from a fellow rickshaw driver. I explained our, er, unique predicament, to the confused man who then motioned for me to get in the back of his ride.
“Aah, no, we have our own auto,” I explained, pointing to Sunny down the road, “We need a hotel with parking, can you show us to one and we’ll follow you?”
He again motioned for me to get in the back. The poor man didn’t understand a word, but as luck would have it, another man had stopped for a chat with the rickshaw driver who spoke perfect English and translated my dilemma. I showed him the hotel website I’d found which was open on my phone.
“No, no, you don’t want to stay there, that hotel is not good for tourists,” he assured me.
“Well do you know one that is, but not too expensive, for say, 500 rupees a night?” I asked the ‘expert’.
He talked to the driver in hindi for a bit, then turned to me.
“Would you like to be near the lake?” he asked seriously.
“Yes, of course!” I answered, getting excited, but then remembered our fourth team member. “With parking?” I added tentatively.
He instructed the rickshaw driver, we settled on a price of 70 rupees ($2) for him to show us the way, and I thanked the helpful man for his assistance. Then I jumped into the back seat and instructed Kim to “Follow that rickshaw!”
“You guys keep your eyes on him, and I’ll just drive,” Kim told us, understandably overwhelmed at the prospect of keeping up with a seasoned pro, just four days into our auto-driving baptism of fire.
She did a wonderful job, driving our gas guzzling, bike/trike/lawnmower hybrid on the opposite side of the road than she was used to, whilst we screamed, “Left! Right!” or the completely useless, “There he is!” whilst pointing in a direction she could not see.
“Kim, you might want to give a little more room on the left!” I screeched, wanting to be polite as I snatched my left limbs as far inside the cab as possible.
“Okay!” she called back, distracted by the moving maze of obstacles before us as we approached a junction.
We hit the side of a parked motorcycle on the left side, and I tentatively looked back to see it wobbling on its stand.
“We just hit something!” I called out, wanting to do the right thing and check that there was no damage. An orange auto draped in garlands of pink flowers is not exactly an inconspicuous getaway vehicle, and there were plenty of people around to witness our crime.
We came to a stop in the traffic and I jumped out to inspect our first victim.
“It’s fine, not a scratch!” I called out, a little louder than necessary, before jumping back in the rickshaw.
We followed our now totally confused guide, who had thankfully pulled over during our shenanigans, around a bend to a quiet street that ran along a lake, parked the rickshaw in front of a small white temple and let out a combined sigh of relief.
The hotel was perfect. An old building with large, whitewashed rooms and pretty fixtures, the promise of hot water, ample parking, and all for the princely sum of 500 rupees (about $12).
View from the room
I opted for my own room after sleeping three-to-a-bed the previous night, and on outdoor camp-cots the night before that. After lugging all our gear out of the rickshaw, we scattered to shower and change. So happy to be able to strip off my filthy clothes and get naked in my own ‘boudoir’, I didn’t worry too much when I couldn’t locate my mobile phone. I thought it must have been thrown into one of the communal bags in the girls’ room.
By the time I emerged from my room to meet the girls at the lake-side coffee shop across the road, I almost forgot to ask them about the phone. I’d got chatting to a couple of local business owners, Salim, the tailor from down the road and his friend, a local tour guide. They were pretty interested about our unique journey, and I sat outside in the mid-afternoon sun with them, drinking chai (and me, a cafe latte), fielding questions about the strangely decorated vehicle parked before us.
I mentioned it to the girls as they went off on a mini-tour of the city. I could think of nothing worse than getting in a rickshaw for the afternoon as I was fending off a terrible cold that made me feel lethargic. It was all I could do to rest on an outdoor step with my new friends, basking in the small amount of warmth the sun would deliver to us that day.
The girls hadn’t seen the phone, but still, I wasn’t worried – it was probably in my bag somewhere and I’d missed it.
When they returned, I’d migrated inside the coffee shop after turning my room upside down, to no avail.
The phone was gone.
The hotel owner and Salim the tailor had both called my number, and the phone was switched off. By then I guessed that the phone had slid off my lap somewhere after we stopped to ask for directions. I remembered showing it to the rickshaw driver and his friend, but after that…
I must have lost it as I legged it out of the backseat during our little bingle – my $400 smartphone lost to the busy streets of Udaipur.
I couldn’t remember where the junction was where we’d hit the motorcycle, and the fact that the phone was already switched off was an ominous sign. It was a shame, but I had to accept that an item of such value would be snatched up by anyone that found it.
Salim offered me his condolences and I shrugged my shoulders.
“Oh well, nothing I can do,” I smiled, trying not to let it get me down.
The girls looked horrified when I told them the news. My phone contained the GPS that was our navigation tool. We had a map, but without that little blue arrow telling us where the hell we were, we had little hope of knowing where we needed to go.
“We were just there!” they cried when I told them my theory of losing the phone during our accident, and they quickly took off to see if they could find it.
When they returned with huge grins and one shiny phone in their hot little hands, all I could do was repeat, “No way! Nooooo Way!” whilst we all shook our heads in awe.
They had gone back to the scene and walked into a store opposite to ask if anyone had handed in the phone. The store owner had watched the whole thing, knew the guy who had handed it into the police, and directed the girls to the local Police station. After being shuffled from room to room, which was a bit of a nervous wait for Kim (who thought she might be in trouble for her reckless driving!), two police officers emerged holding hands, bearing large smiles and my Samsung Galaxy smart phone.
I thanked the girls profusely before running down to Salim’s tailor shop to deliver my good news. He shot me a huge grin, before inviting me in for chai with him and his wife.
It was only day four of the Rickshaw Run, and already I had been on the receiving end of synchronicity; of the forces outside my control working to get us across the finish line in Cochin, some 2135 KM away.
Welcome to any new readers of Sarah Somewhere, and thank you to everyone who has been following my journey in the world so far! Please feel free to say hi in the comments, connect via Facebook, or subscribe to email updates, I’d love to meet all of you.
Read Kim’s wonderful story about the same day on her blog, So Many Places. Whilst I debated whether or not to publish this post that I wrote over the last couple of days, I thought, “what the hey?” it might be interesting for people to read about the same series of events from two different perspectives!