5 min read
You learn many lessons when you travel. One is how to pack – what to take, what not to take. But, even more importantly - what to take with you on the plane should your luggage not arrive the same time or place as you.
This I learned on my first trip to India.
It was a long, long journey – forty hours from L.A. to the city of Jaipur. Up at four am for the first flight to London. There, a seven-hour layover. Enough time to taxi into the city for Chinese food. Followed by an overnight flight to New Delhi, landing late morning. Finally, a four-hour drive to Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan.
I remember two things most about my arrival to the sub-continent - besides the excitement of going to maybe the most exotic place in the world.
The first, shortly before landing, the flight attendants came through the plane with aerosol cans spraying some kind of disinfectant, just in case. They didn’t want us to infect India.
The second, just as we landed I saw men and, also women in their saris, digging in ditches right alongside the runway. We taxied past them in our jetliner as they hoisted pickaxes and shovels from another century.
Oh, there was actually a third thing I remember: When we went to get our bags and gear – we were here for a video shoot – my suitcase didn’t appear. Also, some of the gear didn’t make it, like the camera batteries.
Apparently, all that stuff was still back in London. The whole baggage thing at Heathrow Airport had been enlightening... literally. There, we had learned the baggage handlers wouldn’t lift anything over 40 pounds.
As we were a video crew, we had lots of bags and cases well in excess of that. So to comply, we got down on the floor at Heathrow and re-distributed our gear, shoes, batteries, underwear, to load-balance all our bags. After much scrambling, we succeeded. Then we went off for the Chinese food before catching our late night flight to New Delhi.
Fortune: “Unexpected excitement awaits…”
I can still see the baggage claim at the Delhi airport, the conveyor belt running empty and mindless. Me - staring, willing my suitcase to appear. But my juju wasn’t strong enough.
So there I was, standing in India with just a fanny pack. That’s it. Not even a change of underwear.
The airline people told us not to worry, everything would arrive within hours… or the next day. But we weren’t staying here – we still had a four-hour drive to Jaipur. This could complicate things.
- Lesson One: when checking in your luggage, always pretend you’re never going to see it again. What will you take on-board to continue your travels in some kind of comfort?
We met our driver, who stuffed us into a nice little van. Before undertaking our overland trek, we went to a lovely hotel to lunch with some our clients. Taj Hotels & Palaces Group was sponsoring our assignment and we’d be shooting their hotels (and Palaces) in three cities – Jaipur, then back here in Delhi and finally Mumbai.
Lunch gave me hope. My first Indian food in India did not disappoint. Just as good as it was in L.A…. actually, better. Our clients assured us they would track our luggage and gear. Their words were kind, plus the garlic nan on the table was excellent and very comforting. I loved ordering it back home. Yes, garlic nan reminded me of Los Angeles.
So I took some for the road.
The Road to Rajasthan
We popped open all the windows in our little van because it was hot on the way to the state of Rajasthan – the largest in India. It’s in the north of the country and borders Pakistan.
It also encompasses the Thar Desert, and with the warm winds hitting us, I was thinking it sure would have been fun to change my shirt. I pictured my suitcase sitting at Heathrow. Perhaps it weighed in at 41 pounds and no one wanted to touch it.
I let it go and took in the Indian diorama unfolding before us - scores of villages, children and livestock, the sparse fields. And the trucks. The Indian trucks.
Everything is a little different in India, but some things are so radical they’re almost dream-like. I’m talking about Indian cargo trucks. The drivers and owners here are strongly entrepreneurial and very proud of their vehicles. But not a stenciled name on the driver’s door kind of proud.
No, these guys paint their trucks from stem to stern in a psychedelic ribbon of flowers, symbols, goddesses, Bollywood stars and even poetry. That kind of proud. Their trucks are their family crest, money-maker and virtual second wives.
On this desert highway of sand and ochre, the Indian trucks, ‘Goods Carriers’ as they’re called, come blasting through the dust like screaming Maybelline makeovers on wheels. Their oranges, pinks and pastel greens paint the desert like personal love notes - as they bounce along on bald tires, without benefit of power steering or brakes.
We don’t even believe the first ones we see. Soon they’re just crazy eye candy, reminding us of how far we’ve traveled into this other world… and without much sleep.
We’re about thirty-six hours into the trip and I’m nodding off. I start free-associating and picture my nighttime routine – in the middle of the day in Rajasthan. It is then I remember I don’t have my meds…
Yep. They’re also back in London. Dumb. Really didn’t think that through. They’re not essential. I won’t start crawling on the floor, drooling without them. It’s just another reminder that I’m feeling a little lost, a little naked here in India.
- Lesson Two: Remember lesson one and plan not to see your luggage again. Ergo, take your meds with you on the plane.
I reach into my fanny pack for the garlic nan. This is my comfort zone. My one possession and the nan. The aromatic bread sustains me.
Soon we are coming upon the city of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. It punctuates the landscape with its massive pink walls.
Known as the “pink city”, Jaipur was painted this way for a visit from Queen Victoria during the Raj – when Britain ruled India.
Our little van putters up to one of the towering city gates and we shuttle through. Inside the regal city we inch over the dense but very pink thoroughfares.
China is by far the most populous country in the world. Yet it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re there. Perhaps because it’s so huge.
India, on the other hand, always seems to be teeming, swarming, bursting with faces, arms and hands reaching for you. It’s one of many sensory overloads that assault the uninitiated. Some find it frightening – some exotic. Put me down for exotic.
Welcome To The Palace
It’s now been around 40 hours since we started this journey. We’re tired and really, it is time to check into our Palace. Other travelers can check into their Inn or B & B or Hotel. Today, we have rooms at the Palace.
There it stands before us, appropriately expansive and ornate. The Rambagh Palace was the home to the Maharajas of Jaipur. Its last ruling resident, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II ushered in modernization but was ultimately defeated by the Palace’s heating bill and lawn care of its 47 acres. He turned it into a hotel.
Now it is owned by Taj Hotels & Palaces and its guests are the Crown Prince of Fujairah, the President of Bangladesh, the Queen Mother of Bhutan and Oprah.
Our rooms are beautiful. Not huge but perfectly appointed. Because this is the way things are:
- Nobody does cuisine like Indians.
- Nobody does weddings like Indians.
- Nobody does luxury hotels like Indians.
There is no discussion here. This is the way it is. Like gravity and air. Just accept it.
I take a shower in my beautiful shower and then crawl back into my crusty travel clothes.
- Lesson Three: when checking in your luggage… alright, you know that by now. So bring extra underwear on board. And maybe some socks and T-shirts too! Are they that heavy? Would it kill you to think ahead!?
This goes for all flights. You may be taking a short trip to New Jersey but your bags could still end up at Heathrow.
So dinner. We have an amazing meal in a dining room fit for a king… because it was. In fact, a hotel rep points out a charming cottage on the grounds and tells us the Maharini, the widow of the Maharaja, still lives there. Royalty so close by and I’m sitting here in my shameful underwear.
Something has got to be done about this. The hotel has kindly made plans to take me into town that evening for sundries and whatever I need.
My bag and our gear are supposed to arrive tomorrow so I figure I’ll get a toothbrush and some sort of Indian underwear. I’m wondering what Indian underwear is all about. I start getting mind pictures of Mahatma Gandhi in his white, underwearish outfit.
I told you this is a really nice hotel… I mean, palace, right? So they provide me with a driver and a new Mercedes. We glide onto the main thoroughfare to a brightly lit store (also in pink) that has music, electronics, spices, shampoo, socks and incense.
My underwear is talking to me so I head over to that aisle first. I’m full of touristic curiosity. And there they are, neatly stacked and in brightly lit rows: Haines, Fruit Of The Loom, Jockey…
I’m expecting something a bit more exotic but I can’t say I’m disappointed. In the same way the garlic nan was comforting, seeing these American brands far from home was also reassuring. I would not be going to bed tonight with some mysterious Indian textile rubbing me the wrong way.
I zero in on the Jockeys. I had been wearing their boxers and boxer-briefs for a while and they get good marks for comfort. My only choice here, however, are briefs. Not the boxers or boxer-briefs I was used. This was it. Just briefs.
The model of briefs is called, “Elance”. Sort of a combination of ‘elan’ and … ‘lance’? I buy a package of three.
All Day Comfort at the Palace
India is a land of contrasts – vast opulence and extreme poverty – people just getting by. Our shoot was kind of the same. We shot in marbled, mirrored boudoirs and atriums, but our tech was just getting by with clothespins and duct tape.
Our stuff hadn’t arrived, so we had no camera batteries. A hotel engineer helped jury-rig us with some hot 220 volt lines running from the ceiling right down to the camera. This made things more exciting.
If you touched the camera just the right way you’d get a smack of 220 juice. So we fought for elegance while trying not to get electrocuted. It was a touchy ordeal.
But let me tell you, my new Elance briefs kept me high and dry all day. They were the best – they didn’t pinch and the support was perfect. India was turning out to be a land of unexpected jewels.
The next day was my birthday and my kids emailed me a beautiful birthday poem they had written. The crew threw me a nice dinner… at the Palace’s expense. And, our stuff finally arrived.
We could now untether ourselves from the live, sparking death wire and roam about with our fresh camera batteries.
In my well-appointed rooms, I finally open my suitcase with anticipated relief and change my shirt and socks for the first time on the subcontinent. But a glance at the stack of my old boxer-briefs surprisingly leaves me cold. Suddenly they look so worn and ancient and well… used.
Something has happened. There has been a shift here in the state of Rajasthan. I think I may be a briefs’ guy now. Yes, glancing in the bathroom’s mirror at my new Elance body I know this will be my preferred undergarment of choice. Travel does expand one’s horizons.
The rest of the shoot went elegantly well. Jaipur is a stunning city with astonishing, ancient forts and temples (also pink).
We even got to play elephant polo which is a hilariously sluggish game. Plenty of time to plan strategy - or to pull out your camera and snap photos of the Palace - while your elephant lumbers up to the ball.
I don’t think I have to tell you that throughout, my Jockey Elance didn’t fail me. And that went for our shoots in New Delhi and Mumbai. I pretty much rotated my three new pairs and barely glanced back at the old boxer-briefs in my suitcase. I already envisioned them as rags once I got home.
Back in the U.S., I stayed away from Indian food – I feared crushing disappointment. But I did make a bee-line for Macy’s. I was going to add to my Elance collection. But… I couldn’t find them. Not at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s or anywhere I looked. This model was nowhere to be found.
This became an ongoing exercise in malls everywhere. Me, searching… for years, but never again finding Elance briefs.
Perhaps they were made only for the Indian market. There are over a billion people there.
As I said, you learn so much from travel. Who would have thought I would have to go to the other side of the globe, be stripped of my possessions and reduced to my essentials - only to find true inner peace with the best underwear ever.
Thank you, India.