“Hold on, I can’t find my wallet!”
Oh no, I thought to myself. This is quite the way to start our Jodhpur excursion. With a feeling of hopeful anxiety, I joined Tejas in his frantic search for the misplaced wallet.
“Is it in the bag?”
“Did you drop it on the ground?”
“Already checked and it’s not around here.”
By this point, Sarah, Pia, and I were sharing the same look of sympathy towards Tejas, each of us acknowledging the sinking feeling that a person gets when something important cannot be found. As the search got more and more hopeless, Sarah suggested we go back into the station where our bus was still parked in hopes that the wallet may have just slipped out of Tejas’ pocket when he was not looking. Tejas spoke with the driver and boarded the bus, hoping that this final effort could be his saving grace. I stood outside, watching both Tejas and the driver through the large bus windshield as they sifted through every seat and searched even the smallest compartments.
After a few minutes, the driver looked up triumphantly at Tejas, and held out an object I could barely make out in the dim bus light. It was a small, beige, and rectangular, with what appeared to be a thin strap attached to it. Tejas took it in his hands, his smile wide with anticipation. But in a split second, his smile faded to a look of confusion. Tejas held out the item through the window for us to see, and I realized that it was not a wallet, but rather a money belt. He quickly took what looked to be a card out of the belt, and walked out of the bus towards us.
“Look what I found.”
“Is that your wallet?” asked Sarah.
“Nope. It’s his.”
Tejas showed us the card that he had taken out of the money belt, and we all gave each other a look and laughed. It was a Princeton student ID belonging to none other than one Sijbren Kramer. A Sijbren Kramer who, at that very moment, was cooly riding a rickshaw on the way to the LG Guesthouse not knowing that his backpack was devoid of its single most important item.
“How does someone get this lucky?”
None of us had any real response to Tejas’ question, but the shared happiness that we all felt soon dissipated at the renewed realization Tejas was yet to find his own wallet. He went back into the bus, this time asking me to go with him. We once more got down to searching, looking in almost every conceivable place where the wallet could have gone. For some reason, the finding of Sijbren’s money belt had lightened the mood, and the finding of Tejas’ wallet felt much more like a matter of “when” rather than “if.”
Minutes passed, and our spirits once more began to decline. The clock was ticking, and we would have to leave soon if we were to eat dinner that night. In a final burst of frustration, Tejas reached down into the depths of the crevice that existed between a seat and the bus’ sides. He let out a loud groan as he extended his arm as far as it could go, his fingers just out of reach of a small, dark object.
With a final effort, Tejas reeled in his catch, pulling out his dusty, grime covered arm to reveal an even more dirty and slightly wrinkled brown wallet.
I could see the feeling of jubilation that had instantly overtaken his whole being, and as we walked off the bus towards Sarah and Pia, Tejas looked prepared to experience Jodhpur with more excitement and vigor than that with which he had arrived.
The ride to LG Guesthouse was a good one. We could not help but rejoice along with Tejas, and even Sarah’s gentle scolding was markedly playful. When we finally arrived at the guesthouse, we ate and laughed, still questioning how it was that Sijbren had left his money belt on the bus without realizing it, and wondering how it was that things could have worked out so perfectly. Eventually, we retired to our rooms, exhausted from a day of travel and prepared to wake up at 6 AM the next day for a walking tour of the city .
That first night in Jodhpur set a precedent for the rest of the trip. There was something, some sort of force, magic, Godly power, or whatever else it can be called, which stayed with us over the course of the following days. We unanimously agreed that everything we did and all the things we saw and learned had blown away many of our expectations. From that first walking tour where we met one of the finest jalebi (sweet, similar to but better than funnel cake) makers that Sarah and Neerav knew, to our ziplining experience in and around the Mehrangarh fort, Jodhpur took on surreal qualities that we had not found in any other place. This does not mean that we all felt the city was perfect or that we ourselves had no problems over the entire excursion, but rather that even when we were not 100%, everything just clicked. The feeling is hard to describe, but I think Sarah was able to put it into words better than anyone else: “It’s as if all of the city is part of a movie set. Everything we see is so perfectly placed that it gives off a surreal feeling. Even an old, rusty bike leaning against a wall seems to be there because someone knew it was the perfect place to put it.”
The finding of Tejas’ and Sijbren’s wallets was by no means the highlight of the Jodhpur trip. We learned history we had never even encountered in school, met with a water conservation NGO named Jal Bhagirathi that presented us with information regarding water scarcity, ate some of the best street food we could find, and walked the alleyways of the ‘Blue City,’ encountering just a few of the facets of Jodhpur’s rich history.
But the finding of the wallets gave our group something we may not have sensed or recognized in a tangible way. While in Jodhpur, we felt more unified, even in our arguments, and I noticed that we opened up to one another more than we ever had. The magic of Jodhpur began then and there, and it is a magic we continued to hold on to as we drove the six hours back to Udaipur, and continue to hold on to as we go about facing the challenges of existing in a new environment and being away from home.