I don’t know where to begin.
An offer in Bundi: 500 rupees to the waterfall and back. “Can you swim in the water at the waterfall?” Yes.
“How about 300?”
Or perhaps meeting Christian last night.
Me: “There’s a waterfall, you know. You can swim in it.”
Or maybe I begin on the motorcycle, with Mayauk at the helm, Christian in the middle, me in the back holding on for dear life–white-knuckled–as we bounced our way 40 kilometers through the desert to a waterfall that, I swear to God (in that motherfucker of a desert), I couldn’t believe could possibly exist. Until I saw it. Until I was forced to confront its existence.
Or do I begin at Krishna’s shop, with Krishna telling me that the “cheating man” who I bought hash from cuts his hash with, get this, dirt. Here Krishna rubs his arm, rubs the India filth-film into a fine little ball.
“This,” he points and smiles, the grit in his fingertips, a little black ball.
“There are some things I don’t want to know, Krishna,” I reply.
(Krishna has the most endearing smile in all of India, which is why I bought him a beer. And which is why I give him cigarette after cigarette despite the fact that he charges ten rupees per chai, an absurd price. (I got free chai for life, however, after buying him that beer).)
Or do I begin in the water, with Christian and Emily and Nina, swimming underneath the cascades, feeling as though we’ve stumbled upon the last great untouched beauty of Rajasthan, because we have?
It doesn’t really matter. I’ll start on the motorbike:
“Ow.” I say this with vigor. I’ve been on the back of this fucking motorcycle for an hour, and my groin muscles hurt, and I feel like I’m going to fall off every thirty seconds, and I’m obviously getting sunburnt, and again, I feel in my bones that there cannot possibly be a waterfall in the middle of this desert. Christian asks me if he needs to move up. “No,” I tell him, “I need to get off this fucking bike.”
We’ve worked our way off of the main roads, which are bumpy enough in themselves, and into rock-littered dirt-bike paths. My balls hurt. My back hurts. My groin hurts.
Ten more minutes, I hear from the front.
The ten minutes are, needless to say, worth it. Mayauk, Christian, and I pull into the “parking lot” above the canyon. The waterfall is thin, this being the hot season, but it’s flowing. It’s flowing and it’s sky-blue and it’s safe to swim in. It’s water, in other words, that doesn’t exist in India unless you find your way to the sea. It’s water that should be filled with shit and piss and plastic bags and more shit and piss.
But it isn’t.
So I dive in.
And Christian dives in after me.
And so does Mayauk, the guy we’re paying to be here.
And honestly, if you can think of a better way to spend a Wednesday afternoon–something better than swimming in an oasis-pool in the desert in India–I’d like to hear about it.
Because honestly, this is The Oasis In The Desert. The real one. Not the mirage. This is a little pocket of life in the middle of only death.
This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.
Christian and I swim until we can’t swim anymore, and Nina and Emily arrive. Nina: Dutch, 21, traveling alone, shy in the way that she says goodbye. Emily: British, 24, meeting her brother in Varanasi, adorable. The Indian children gather around us as the women walk up to the rocks. The children stare.
Emily: “It seems as though we have an audience.”
Emily and Nina are bikini-clad blondes in a sexually repressed society: of course they have an audience.
We swim some more, Indian tweens gawking at loose white women. I dry my bathing suit on a rock in the sun. It becomes apparent that it’s time to go.
And we do. We go. Mayauk leads Christian and me back to his motorcycle. We bid the women adieu. We climb back on the two-wheeler. We weave in and out of cows and trucks and rickshaws and speedbumps and rocks and villages back to Bundi.
It is a perfect afternoon.