Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Making Sense of Kodai

Kodaikanal, favored honeymoon destination for Indian newlyweds, felt like a sordid little podunk town from the first moments I was there. A beautiful mountain town shrouded in thick fog. I met Ambrose, the guide who took me to amazing waterfalls and valleys and a steep trek and told me stories. The town is an Indian Twin Peaks: mountainous, run-down, beautiful and sordid.

According to Ambrose, you can get anything in Kodai: drugs, liquor, women. Indeed, even when you're not looking. When I got back to the hostel, I met a gorgeous guy sitting on the terrace. Sid, an aspiring Indian actor. We chatted and smoked cigarettes while his American friend from Goa slept. She finally emerged an hour later, at 5pm. Karen, a twenty-year old burn-out, high and hardly able to string a sentence together. She was from California but living in Goa for the last year, and before that, Dubai, which was where she had met Sid. She was waiting for some shrooms. While we waited with her, Sid opened a bottle of whiskey, and she sucked on her joint.

Karen belonged in the bird hospital in Delhi's Old City. "Bird hospital" conjures up warm, nostalgic feelings, right? At least it did for me, at first. But when I got there, I found myself hurrying through the tight corridors between the patients' cages, barefoot (they make you remove your shoes) and recoiling at the squalor of so much uncleaned waste and so many broken, mangled wings with clear toothpick bones sticking out askew. Eventually I found a laugh where some birds were lucky and had tiny plaster casts, but in Kodai, I never did manage to find any levity around Karen.

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