Last week, when the editors at George Magazine pitched this assignment, I jumped at it. With the exception of Houston, Texas, there are not too many places in the world I won't visit as long as I'm paid well and get to expense everything. Normally, I would spend my 36 hours in Rajasthan, India at the airport trying to get a flight out but that wouldn't be much of an article so I put a clothespin on my nose and went looking for fun.
Friday 5 P.M.
After 23 hours of air travel and eight hours on a crowded train from New Dehli, you're starting to think that another weekend in Milan might have been a better way to spend $60,000, but one glance at the cannonball dents left in the wall of a fort will put a smile back on your face. Be careful not to step on a dusty beggar as you trod past Mehrangarh Fort in beautiful Jodphur. Named for those silly pants favored by British fairies, this city of sandalwood, dirt and open sewers puts the "in" back in India, as in, get inside a fancy hotel and stay in!
Friday 8 P.M.Book yourself a room at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, a lavish Art-Deco masterpiece that proudly contains the longest sewer pipe in the eastern subcontinent, assuring that you won't be smelling yourself two hours later. Rooms start at 500,000 rupees, or $10,740 a night and for an additional 10,000 rupees Elizabeth Hurley will recreate her wedding night -- with you as the groom. After quenching your carnal apetite, dine at the hotel's restaurant. Order the Indian-influenced lamb curry (47 rupees) and a delightful bottle of Mumbai Merlot (114 rupees).
Friday 11 P.M.
Jodphur is a world famous exporter of polyester and opium. Skip the polyester but head over to The Devil's Bargain, a safe but touristy opium den on the darkside of town. Find a comfortable pillow and spoil yourself with some top shelf, pea-sized "pills" of the local Bollywood Brown (64 rupees a pill). Don't forget to pick up an artfully wrapped tin (160 rupees) of raw opium paste for the folks back home.
Saturday 11 A.M.
Forget where you are and how you got there? Go back and read the entry for Friday 11 P.M. then hire one of the colorful elephant cabs for the short ride to Bikaner. Remember to ride side saddle or you may lose an hour recovering from a elephant-induced episiotomy.
Bikaner is one of the few places in the country where the cow is treated like a cow and the rat is treated like a cow in India. Enjoy a 100% beef 114 Grammer with Cheese (12 rupees) with a traditional Cherry Slurpee (6 rupees) at the clean and well lit Burger and Lassi before standing in the long lines at the Karni Mata Temple.
Saturday 1 P.M.
The locals call it the Rat Temple but don't let the teaming swarms of rats discourage you from visiting. The 14th century architecture is splendid, the historical mumbo jumbo relayed to you by a guide with poor english and few teeth about how Ms. Mati asked the god of death to reincarnate the son of a grieving story teller and ended up with a temple and 30,000 rats makes you feel good about being a Christian, and the smell of rat feces is a refreshing break from the smell of human feces.
Much like a Japanese Restaurant, no shoes are allowed in the temple, and if a rat scurries over your foot, legend has it that you will have seven years of good luck -- and goosebumps for three hours. If you see an albino white rat, you win a date with Padma Lakshmi. If you are truly blessed and a rat shits in your coffee mug, this auspicious occurence will result in you being reincarnated as a guy married to one of those buxom multi-arm goddesses that are hotter than a five story walk up in old Bombay.
Saturday 6 P.M.
After a four hour bus ride to the pink city of Jaiper, visit the snack bar at the bus depot and order a chai (6 rupees) and a sweet fan biscuit (4 rupees). Watch as the weird herby stuff is steeped in exotic steamed milk, just like at the Starbucks back home where a chai (6 rupees) is almost as good and the maple oat nut scone (9 rupees) is actually better than anything you can get in India.
Get back in the bus and leave because Jaiper has way too many Indians and the curry is subpar.
Saturday 10 P.M.
Sitting on the edge of an endless desert where the sand in the wind painlessly removes the enamel from your front teeth, Udaipur is considered the most romantic city in India, --the Reno, Nevada of the subcontinent. It also has really good curry. At the Royal Sitar eschew the tempting chicken fingers and fries (15 rupees) and order the mutton curry (29 rupees). It's a hearty stew-like dish flavored with curry and the freshly killed parents of lambs, and it will provide you with the fuel you'll need for the frantic festivities to come.
Saturday 12 A.M.
At the upscale Bengali Ranch, choose from the well thought out selection of local varietals. In a small but elegant room (200 rupees an hour), she'll remove her shimmering sari then you'll whip out your tikki masala, and to her surpise it will be every bit as hot as her vindaloo.
Sunday 12 P.M.
Just like it's sister city of sin, Udaipur is full of one arm bandits. It is also home to an alarming number of two armed bandits, one legged bandits and one armed one legged bandits so watch your pocket book as you stroll to Lake Pichola. Take a boat (24 rupees) or wade (0 rupees) to the island in the middle of the lake and have lunch at the Isleoflosttoys Palace. Built in 1373, it's menu hasn't changed since 1397, and for good reason, everything is delicious. Order the curry (62 rupees).
Sunday 4 P.M.
As you begin your 31 hours of travel back home, with an ice pack strategically placed on your inflamed sphincter, squeezed in a train that is stuffed like a samosa with less than savory ingredients, think back on the last 36 hours and be thankful that you didn't go to Milan or Miami for the weekend because then you'd be forced to go back to work on Monday instead of Wednesday. (You don't get sentences like that at the New York Times!)
I did this better before:
36 Hours in Zagreb, Croatia