A Lonely Planet Surprise in India
My stay in Rajasthan’s Royal City of Udaipur was intended to be a Lonely Planet special: accommodation, eating and sightseeing all planned out by an expert travel writer. But, as is relatively common knowledge, Lonely Planet mostly tends to be a collection of drab instructions written by someone whose idea of a shoestring budget is staying in a three-star hotel.
It will, however, at times, have its rewards.
I was travelling with my German friend Sophie. We’d spent the last two weeks winging it around Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, as Sophie’s trusty Lonely Planet didn’t cover those regions. Udaipur was kind of a last minute decision — we were just stopping over for the night on our way further south, so figured we’d put the good book’s advice to use. Off we popped to its eating-out recommendation and, surprise surprise, it was shit.
Back at home, I consider myself quite an Indian cuisine connoisseur, and by this I mean instead of ordering a chicken korma and a butter chicken, I would order a chicken korma and a palak paneer. I suggested to Sophie that we order the latter of the two, but what was supposed to be a delicious blend of spinach, spices and posh cheese ended up looking and tasting like a blended soggy cardboard box and a bit of newborn baby poo (the green kind).
As the food took approximately seven years to reach our plates, we had already downed a few Kingfisher beers, and my tongue was ready and revved to slip. I slurred some sentences at the owner that went something like, “If you have so proudly placed a Lonely Planet recommended sticker on your front door, your service and, more importantly, the taste and appearance of your food should be better than this!”
Phwoar… he was well pissed. We had a blockbuster yelling match that ended in us fleeing the restaurant. For safety, we decided to slide into what happened to be a small local art gallery.
Inside, Sophie and I gazed at the paintings. They were actually pretty rad. We chit-chatted about their radness, and in our Kingfisher beer states of mind, had a serious discussion about lashing out and paying to have one shipped home (a hobo can always dream).
The artist, Mr. A, noticed our enthusiasm and wandered over. He was a handsome man, about mid-thirties, who was donning a classic Indian mo. We got talking, and he eventually asked us to come upstairs.
Behind the gallery was a narrow hallway that led to an out-of-this-world blinging staircase — Bold and the Beautiful, eat your heart out. We hesitantly ascended, transfixed by the glitz and glamour. It opened up to a marble-floored room filled with an assortment of portraits, landscapes and a four-poster bed centrepiece. This bed was legit, like the ones you see in a Bollywood-eqsue A-grade porno.
We had an elaborate chinwag with Mr. A about India’s caste system and gender inequality, and sipped on his extensive range of high-end spirits. Then, after obsessing over his works of art and inflating his head to a larger size than necessary, we were asked if we would like to take part in a portrait session with him.
What – us? we thought. Us? Would we like the pleasure of posing sensually on the Bollywood-esque four poster and waving a brush abstractly upon his majesty’s canvas? Yes please!
Coincidentally, Sophie had chosen that day to wear her mystical rainbowed Sari, and Mr. A assured us that this garment was going to work per-fect-ly for our upcoming masterpiece.
Up first playing the role of Artist was me, and in the role of Sensual Lounger Dressed in Revealing Sari was Sophie. Mr. A was infatuated by her womanly curves and how the flowing piece of cloth accentuated them. I got started by dipping a brush into his posh array of oil paints. That high-school-boy-with-dreams-of-finding-fame-through-his-creativity was coming out of me, and I was in absolute ecstasy following Sophie’s physique across the canvas.
Like the art director on America’s next top model, Mr. A shouted commandments at her: “Pull the sari up; feel the goddess within!”
All was going well, until suddenly, he decided to intervene. He climbed into the four-poster, disgusted by Sophie’s apparent lack of inspiration from within, and took it upon himself to arrange the sari with his own hands. “You are such a beautiful woman. Let me touch your pussy.”
Sophie politely refused.
Mr A. turned to me. “You don’t mind if I touch your wife’s pussy? It will relax her, make her more comfortable and then – you will have your masterpiece!”
We giggled nervously, confused as how to react in such a situation. I too politely refused, ignoring the fact he thought we were married to avoid further questioning and extreme unease.
Sophie covered herself with what sari was still attached to her body then jumped up and made some sort of bathroom excuse. By the time she returned, I had diffused the situation and awkwardly assured Mr. A that she didn’t want him to touch her vagina, and that a G-rated portrait was perfectly okay with us. Or at least, I thought that’s what I communicated.
When the time came for Sophie and I to swap roles, the propositions continued. Mr. A started heckling her to “touch your husband’s cock” and “fuck your husband on the bed”. As much as I totally would have loved to dive head-first into the experience with an open mind, I’m afraid this time, I was not prepared to sacrifice our friendship in the name of art. After all, I am not the slightest bit attracted to moot — or voyeurism for that matter.
Mr. A must have cottoned on to our discomfort, as he soon apologised for his actions. He blamed his forcefulness on the extensive range of high-end spirits we had been sipping — a total cop-out of an excuse. He let us finish our artwork and bowed his head in shame while he offered to send it free of charge to our home address. Nice guy, eh?
So there you have it: had we not followed the Lonely Planet’s advice and gone to that tragic restaurant, we never would have done a runner, found shelter in Mr. A’s luxurious home gallery and almost been molested by him whist we painted our portraits.
Months later, whilst I was visiting Sophie at her home in Leipzig, a parcel arrived. Inside was our masterpiece. To this day, the portrait remains proudly plastered on her wall.
Cover by the author