Tuesday, 27 February 2018

When Life Throws a Curve Ball...

It was an easy ride from Udaipur to Jodhpur, a mere 250km and if I remember rightly, without even one person attempting to kill us. We stopped at intervals, at one point to grab some lunch at a stupidly expensive roadside restaurant just beyond a toll gate. They wanted 580 rupees for a vegetarian thali, something that usually would be around 100, so we picked the cheapest things on the menu, a rice dish with cashew fruit (that later came back to haunt me) and a salad. I like the toll roads here. Like Malaysia, toll roads are free for two-wheelers. A narrow lane is provided to the far left of the toll gates for two-wheelers and anything else small enough to squeeze through – tuk tuks, small cars (sometimes they fail and get stuck and that makes me smile) and even one time, an elephant with its mahout.

A short distance before Jodhpur we stopped at the Om Baba Bullet Temple, a Hindu temple where the subject of worship is a Royal Enfield Bullet 350. As the story goes, a young local man died in an accident on the bike at the spot where the temple stands. He hit a tree and was killed instantly. Police recovered his motorcycle and placed it in their compound, but strangely that night the bike disappeared and returned to the scene of the crash. Again, they recovered it and this time chained it up in their lot, draining the tank too so that it could not run. Again the bike was gone in the morning and was discovered back at the crash site. At this point it was deemed a miracle, a temple built and the bike worshipped as a deity. A prayer offered here is said to protect you on your journey.

As ridiculous as it might sound, this was one of the nicest temple spots we’ve visited here yet. The other people visiting seemed genuinely in awe of the bike and some were excited to talk to us as we were travelling on bikes too. As we moved to bypass the blessing area at the exit to the temple, we were beckoned over and offered a blessing, assured it was good luck. As odd as it felt to do so, we accepted the Tilak mark in the centre of our foreheads and smiled. In hindsight, we wish we’d spent a little more time at the temple, said a prayer or two. We’ve even considered returning.

Arriving in Jodhpur the town immediately had a nice feel to it and the Mehrangarh Fort, dominating the skyline above the old town greeted us as we arrived at Shivam, our chosen guesthouse for the next couple of nights. There was no parking to speak of so we squeezed the bikes as tightly against the wall as we could, hoping they’d be missed by the dueling traffic. The guesthouse was pleasant, an old haveli with several floors reached via increasingly steep stairs and at the top we were greeted by a teenage boy with a tiny green chicken in his hands and a big smile on his face. Our room turned out to be more of a suite with a balcony and couch area as well as a private bathroom and of course the bed. We’d booked two nights to allow us plenty of time to visit the fort the next day. Little did we know it would become our home for much longer than we expected.

Yep, it's a green chicken.

The fort is an incredible sight from the ground, even more so up close. After an expensive tuk tuk ride to the entrance and an elevator ride to the battlement level and we could finally get an idea of the scale of the city. Jodhpur is known as the Blue City on account of so many of its building being painted shades of pastel blue, much like Chefchouen in Morocco. This time the ticket price was a little more, but if ever there was a chance to visit a castle out of a kids’ picture book, then this was it.

We spent the next few hours wandering through the museum and around the fort walls. The weather was a little cooler than we’ve got used to, which was nice. This was also just as well, because neither of us felt on form that day. I was suffering a little from the effects of the food I’d eaten the day before and Evan was also feeling off-colour and lethargic. We stopped as we left the fort to chat for a while to chat with a couple of Brits who were only in town for the day and deciding we felt up to it after all, continued onwards to the City Palace, a grand building housing a small museum, posh hotel and ancestral home. By the time we returned to our guesthouse late that afternoon we were both exhausted, more so than our days activities should have accounted for.

Swift nests on the ceilings of the fort

A beautiful, old step well in the centre of the city

It was at this point that life threw us a rather unexpected curveball. When we awoke the next morning, it quickly became clear that Evan’s eyes weren’t working properly. Try as he might, he could not focus and had developed sudden-onset double vision. Presuming it was something that would fade as the day wore on, we were disturbed some hours later to find it hadn’t changed. Realising we were not going to be able to leave town that day, we hurriedly booked another night and started googling the symptoms. As with any attempt to use google for a medical diagnoses, the possibilities were disturbing. On one site was a WhatsApp number for ASG, a local eye hospital offering free consultation and advice so we sent them a message. Their reply came through shortly after – you must come to the hospital right away. We were about to get a first-hand experience of the Indian healthcare system.

Luckily for us, the hospital was only a few kilometres away and tuk tuks are cheap and easily available. At this point we had no idea if an appointment was needed, but we figured that showing up was probably better than phoning and asking. Upon walking in the door we were greeted with smiles, paid 300 rupees to register and Evan was shuffled straight into the eye test area. They established that his eyesight itself was fine, but that there was obviously something wrong. For the rest of the day he saw various eye specialists who came to the conclusion that the muscles in his right eye were not working correctly. They referred him for an MRI scan and sold him some eye patches, eye drops and vitamin pills. Total cost as at the end of day one – 1,600 rupees ($24.50)

The following day, armed with the referral paper from the eye hospital, we made our way to the Amit MRI Centre. Here we were requested to remove our shoes and joined a huddle of people waiting in the reception area for their name to be called. It was a little crowded, so instead we chose to sit outside on a wall. There’s something very odd about sitting outside an MRI facility, with bare feet and ambulances coming and going, delivering and collecting accident victims right on the pavement as scooters honk impatiently and weave in between the emergency teams in their urgency to get to where they’re going. Life really is worth very little here.

It wasn’t long before Evan was called to get changed into hospital robes, something he did in a room in the next door building before walking back out into the street, handing me his clothes and walking back in another door to the MRI scanning room. A tedious two hour wait and we had the MRI scans and report back – all clear. Relieved of course that that was the case, but still no closer to understanding why Evan could not see properly. Unsure what else to do with the MRI results, we returned to the eye hospital and after a rather long wait to see a particular specialist who was caught up in surgery, we left at almost 8pm with a referral to a neurologist. Total cost as at the end of day two – 4,600 rupees ($70.65)

After failing to reach the neurologist on either of the phone numbers we had been given, we decided the next morning that the only other thing we could do was to go to the address we had been given for him. Good old google deposited us unhelpfully on a road in the suburbs that contained many things, but not a neurologist’s office as far as we could see. A small crowd soon grew as various locals attempted to weigh in on where we should be looking, eventually agreeing that the only sensible thing to do would be to go to the Goyal Hospital nearby and ask there. This we did and were met immediately by a very helpful young lady who whisked us straight off downstairs into a crowded corridor and asked us to sit down outside the office of the very person we were looking for. She advised it would be an hour’s wait, so leaving Evan safely sat in the queue, I took the opportunity to walk the few kilometres round trip to the ATM at a specific bank that we know Evan’s bank card works at. It was good to be able to walk for a bit after sitting around for so many hours over the previous days waiting for consultants. My timing was perfect and just as I returned Evan was called to go and pay his fees, before shortly after being summoned to the doctor’s office.

A neurophysician with 28 years’ experience, Dr Rajeev Muther asked logical questions and established that as we have only three and a bit weeks left on our tourist visas, here was no point ordering blood tests as the results would probably not be back before we had to leave. He appeared pleased with the MRI report and offered a few possibilities, one of which was that it was likely a virus causing the problems and the best course of action would be to prescribe steroid medication. He advised that if it was a virus, then he should expect to see an improvement in about two weeks. If not, then the treatment up to that point would be the same for other possible diagnoses regardless so he would not have wasted any time. We left the hospital with a sense of positivity for the first time in a few days. Total cost as at the end of day three – 7,600 rupees ($116)

That was almost two weeks ago now and I’m relieved to say that improvement has been slow, but steady and overall noticeable. For the first couple of days we pretty much spent our entire time in our room. To walk anywhere other than up to the terrace for food was impossible. Cabin fever soon set in though and we realized that having memorized every crack on the ceiling and paint peel on the walls, we needed a change of scenery. With Evan unable to ride of course, I spent a morning walking around the town visiting other guesthouses, looking for a place that’d work with Evan in the condition he was in, but also somewhere we could park the bikes safely. For a week they had sat at on the side of the road in the lane opposite our accommodation and were covered in a thick layer of dust and pigeon poo, something that started to become a concern as the local law enforcement are active in picking up bikes that are parked illegally or appear to have been abandoned.

Luck was on my side and I found a place that could meet all our requirements only a couple of streets away. The following morning we walked our things round to our new room, Evan walking with his hand on my shoulder, the only way he could move about in relative safety. If you’ve ever experienced walking around narrow streets in India with 20:20 vision you’ll fully appreciate why that’s so terrifying with anything less than.

Since then we’ve pottered around, spending most of our days eating, sleeping and drinking coffee in a wonderful little café in the square. Café Royale has been our go-to several times a day just to sit and watch the world go by. I think it’s possibly my favourite thing about Jodhpur. It has been a challenge though. I don’t do well sitting around doing nothing, spending a lot of time alone with my thoughts. I’ve memorised the beautifully hand painted swirling flower pattern on our bedroom ceiling to the point where I could probably recreate it from memory. I could of course go out and do things on my own, but it’s really not much fun wandering around aimlessly whilst worrying about whether or not Evan is ok sat back in the guesthouse. Of an evening we walk the couple of streets to Dagley’s rooftop restaurant. Surprisingly cheap for the quality of the food they serve, they have a menu that will take us a while to work our way through.

A couple of days ago we extended our range a little and took a ride out to Mandore Gardens a way north of the city. Mandore was formerly the capital of Jodhpur State before this was moved to Mehrangarh Fort. The city of Mandore was abandoned and now only the ruined fort and a several monuments remain. Figuring that the gardens would be a good place for Evan to be able to walk around freely without risk of traffic, we spent a couple of hours wandering the exquisitely carved temples, some of the best examples of temple carving we’ve seen anywhere, stopping to watch the cows terrorise the troops of monkeys around the place who in turn terrorise the people trying to feed them.

The street dogs find the best places to sleep!

Sitting in the square during the day though has taught me to slow down a little, to watch people passing by and to not feel the need to constantly be on the go. I’ve watched the ladies selling saris, many of them well into their senior years, often sat for 18 hours at a stretch on the pavement surrounded by their rainbow of colours. A couple of them smile at us now, recognising that we’ve been there longer than the average tourists. Occasionally they try their luck at extracting 100 rupees from me for a sari and I’ll be honest, I’ve been tempted a couple of times, but I just don’t have the room to carry things that don’t have an everyday purpose. I admire their tenacity though, their determination to make a living rather than resort to tugging on the sleeves of tourists with pleading eyes that so many of the younger people seem to choose to do.

So we’re not really sure what’s next. We are in the hands of the medication and doctors, and patience is our only option. With visas running out we’ll have to make some choices soon, but in the meantime we’ll continue with our daily routine and hope that one of these days Evan will wake up with his sight restored and we’ll be able to get back on the road again soon.

1 comment:

  1. This is bad news regarding Evan's double vision. I hope by now it's eased up and you can continue with your journey. Just when you've reached a place of interest too, it must feel like such a blow. Again your blog and photographs are so interesting. My fingers are crossed for you both that all goes well for your last laps. Jenny xxx