Tour Guide Versus Snake


I hate tours but this tour of Rajasthan looked awfully cheap. And I like cheap.
I turf up at a decent hotel in Karol Bagh, Delhi. There’s five on the tour and the Tour Guide’s a wiry, young Rajasthani with a reedy voice. He announces we’ll go to the market then, points at the three women and says, ‘You can buy clothes, cover arms.’
I feel a twinge of annoyance. My clothes are decent, but dutifully, I try to force smocky things, designed for narrower backs than mine, over my shoulders.
And the next morning, with the women in their sartorial disaster ensembles, we board a cheap, slow and crowded public bus.
Unwisely, I ask, ‘How long is this journey.’
‘Nine hours,’ is the reply.
‘How many rest stops?’
‘None,’ the Tour Guide replies snappily.
I realise, I didn’t read the tour description at all.

We snail our way to Udaipur, Ranakpur, Jodphur. Another day, another fort and always the petulant vibrato of the Tour Guide as accompaniment.
I want to go horse riding.
‘No horse riding, You fall off, you must leave the tour.’
I want to eat in a restaurant, not the hotel.
‘No restaurant. In restaurant you get sick. If you’re sick you must leave the tour,’ opines the Tour Guide.
After the punishing public bus, at Jaisalmer, a mini bus takes us to our camel ride and a night in the desert. At last we can relax. As the stars come out, I snuggle down in my sleeping bag on a cot under the open sky. An indignant voice rings out in the desert air.
‘You’ve taken your trousers off.’
I stir. Yes. He’s talking to me.
‘You cannot sleep without trousers.’
I query the veracity of this statement.
‘You must wear trousers.’ he insists, hysteria only a breath away. ‘What if sleeping bag comes down.’
I’m no match for hysteria. With a struggle I get my camel scented combats on without emerging from the sleeping bag.

The next day we arrive at the Bikaner hotel with a swimming pool. The temperature hits 40 and we’re ready to throw off our clothes and jump in.
‘No, you can’t swim,’ comes the querulous voice of the Tour Guide. ‘No bikinis. No swimming costumes. Not possible.’
Like so many blue whales we flop around the pool, fully clothed.
That night we look for an illusive leopard, driving about the desert for hours. At last, we stop for refreshments. I hit the Rum. Big mistake. I wake up projectile vomiting. It’s the jungle day.
‘We’ll stop at the clinic,’ says the Tour Guide crossly, ‘and if you’re not better you must leave the tour.’
I groan in agreement.

Having jumped the queue at a well staffed but filthy clinic and had an injection, I’m lying on a stained cot in a back room. I’ve just sprayed the room with watery rum when the tour guide comes in.
‘Get up. We must go.’
A compassionate orderly says, ‘Let her lie five minutes. Look!’
He points to the evidence of my poorliness. But the Tour Guide is adamant.

Happily, while the others visit a tourist village, the driver offers to drop me at the small motel which consists of some cabin type rooms dotted around a compound.
I lie on the bed and sink into unconsciousness. By now, I couldn’t move if I wanted to.
The next thing I hear is a battering at the door. Voices yelling, then, more banging.
The outraged quaver of the Tour Guide rises above the mêlée.
‘Get up, get up, there’s a snake in the room.’
I consider this for a moment but feel disinclined to act. The room spins on and there’s more hammering at the door.
‘It’s a BLACK snake.’ The Tour Guide has finally hit the high C.
The image of the snake slithers into my consciousness and a surge of adrenaline sweeps through me.
I feel better. Almost well. I pad across the darkened room and open the door. The hotel owner and his wife are standing there with sticks and a net.
‘I see the snake go under the gap in the door,’ warbles the Tour Guide, ‘and I go to get help. You must complain to the Company,’ he insists. ‘There can’t be snakes. It’s not possible.’
But I quite like the snake. It made me feel better. The Tour Guide on the other hand...

S Lee

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