"Whiskey, come, come," said a welcoming local man on his motorcycle. My motorbike had a flat, so the man thought he had a solution: drink away your problems. Everyone else on the road slowed or stopped, too, wanting to help us in any way they could. I walked the bike to a grocery store near the shade of an old tree, where the owner took a wrench to the tire nuts. Alison and I took the tire to the nearest mechanic, who fit a new innertube in a few minutes. Good thing we got two bikes
, I thought, as we continued our way south from Bhuj to Mandvi along hot desert asphalt.
I had met Alison for the last day of Holi, in Bhuj, the capital of the Kutch region. Together with "Boy With A Jacket" a young Englishman who liked wearing jackets back in the UK, we braved the streets as targets for adolescent boys. Girls above the age of 12, all women, and most men had left the streets. We met a family who shared their colored powder with us, so we could all throw colors at each other and spread the color on our faces. Soon the celebration was full of hugs, color throwing, water balloons, and periodic drive by powder throwing.
Alison was studying women and tatooes as part of a one-year around-the-world grant for recent college graduates. She was here to talk to local women about tatoo art, but also to enjoy a few of the sights. Finally, we reached Mandvi after a couple of breakdowns. Mandvi was a ship-building town. Soon, we were invited aboard a boat under construction.
The enormous wooden vessel, eventually bound for Dubai as a cargo ship, would take two years to build, mostly using hand tools--equipment little changed over the centuries. Around the port, ships were in various stages of construction, giving a complete picture of the birth of a new boat.
We returned to Bhuj with no breakdowns, watching the setting sun over the desert. Bhuj, with its narrow curving streets, was recently rejuvenated following a 2001 earthquake that leveled the town and partially destroyed the Aina Mahal, Bhuj's palace.
Despite the recent destruction, I was amazed at how quickly the city had rebuilt and recovered, although the Aina Mahal seemed to be nearing the end of a Jenga game in places. The people were also receptive with smiling faces at every corner.
I took my backpack to a tailor's shop, as the zipper I had replaced in Varanasi was beginning to malfunction. He fixed it and I was about to pay, but he refused and insisted, saying: "I just want you to be welcome here."
At this point, months after leaving home, many things begin to wear and break--zippers, pocklets, socks, camera flash--so part of the process is taking things to tailors and repair shops and meeting the workers of the town. Some things are beyond repair, so need to be replaced. The life of Smartwool socks, for example, is two solid years on the road. Replacing the $10 socks with $0.25 socks was a good reminder that things in this world can be strange, in terms of relative prices.
Still, all in all, from flat tire to Holi to zipper, I felt very welcome in Kutch.