Akash Kapur first travelled to the state of kings as a footloose young man. Now a father of two, he returns to find it an example of how to age gracefully.
I woke up early on my first morning in Udaipur. My wife and children were still sleeping. I left the room, walked the immaculate grounds of The Oberoi Udaivilas, where we were staying, past warbling pigeons and a peacock whose screech jarred with its exaggerated beauty, to the edge of a pool overlooking the city. The monsoons had been generous. Lake Pichola—one of the most lovely lakes on earth, according to Rudyard Kipling—was full.
I looked out towards the city, over a skyline of cupolas and arches and rolling green hills. There was a familiar crispness in the air, a clarity and freshness that brought back memories of an earlier trip. My world had changed a lot since then, but the air in Udaipur smelled the same. It was good to be back.
Sixteen years earlier, I had travelled through Rajasthan on a borrowed Royal Enfield motorcycle with a Canadian friend whose flowing red curls and delicate bone structure belied his skills as a mechanic. We spent more than two weeks on the road, driving over the Aravalli mountain range that slices Rajasthan in two and across the harsh Thar Desert that dominates the western part of the state.
It was quite an adventure. We ran out of fuel in the middle of the desert and we endured innumerable breakdowns (none of which, fortunately, could confound my travel partner). We slept under the stars on a camel safari, took few showers, and stayed in hotels (if indeed they could be called that) so squalid the memory still makes me wince.
Much has happened in my life since that trip. I got married and had two boys. I have grown older: my hair is thinner, the lines on my forehead deeper. I have lived a lot, travelled in many countries. But the memory of that motorcycle trip has always stayed with me. It was a magical time; I have rarely felt so alive. And I suppose it was that feeling of living, of sucking at what Thoreau called ‘the marrow of life’, that has often made me wonder what it would be like to return to Rajasthan—to retrace the journey I took as a young man; to revisit, with my wife and sons, the cities and countryside I had known before I knew them.
Adult life dulls the senses. It is not a criticism of my wonderful wife or children to say that family, work, routine and responsibility can numb a man until he is barely sentient. Can travel make you feel alive again? I was back in Rajasthan, now staring down the barrel of middle age, and I was determined to find out. I wanted to know if I was still capable of feeling the world.
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