by Bob Bestor
You might remember from previous stories that Team Phun! (myself and three high school buddies) had brought along a couple of guitars and a ukulele on our 16-day tour of Rajasthan, India. We had just spent a delightful evening around a crackling campfire in the garden of Hotel Bhairon Vilas, visiting and singing and playing with a few other guests, a couple of hotel staff and our host, Harsh, the owner of the hotel.
Now Harsh is one cool cat. I’d guess he is in his late 30’s and looks like a Bollywood movie star. He is quite handsome, wearing his hair pulled back into a very hip little ponytail, and flashing a gleaming smile. He carries himself with the ease and confidence of a very successful man who has descended from many generations of very successful men.
Harsh has taken the former family compound, which is located just outside Bikaner’s historic Junagarth Fort, and turned it into a gorgeous hotel, with stained glass, antique furniture and beautiful tapestries throughout its huge rooms and common spaces. Also on site is a pool, a restaurant and a funky little bar that looks like it was decorated by Charles Addams. Harsh definitely has an eye for the finer things in life.
At one point between numbers he asked, “Are you professionals or just friends who play together?” Well that cracked us up. But in Harsh’s defense we did have a professional amongst us. While Dave and I are mediocre musicians at best (sorry Dave) Doug is a professional. He majored in music in college and has spent the last few decades making his living teaching music, playing classical guitar, and performing with bands ranging in style from jazz and swing to rock and bluegrass and just about everything in between. Doug papers over a lot of cracks that Dave and I create. Doug is our secret weapon.
So anyway, a good time was had by all, singing great tunes and making friends for life with people we’d just met. And of course, we all enthusiastically agreed to come back the next night, which was to be our last night in India, and do it all over again.
We spent our last day wandering around Bikaner hunting for souvenirs, snacking on street food and basking in the hustle, bustle and all-encompassing non-stop commotion that is India.
When we returned in the late afternoon from our day out, we were approached by hotel staff and informed that Harsh wanted to take us out to dinner that evening. Once again we enthusiastically agreed and a time was set. Team Phun! was more than excited with the prospect of a dinner out on the town with Harsh, followed by another campfire sing along. But when we met at the appointed time Harsh looked puzzled.“Where are your instruments?” he asked.
Team Phun! had assumed that we were going to out to eat and then coming back for music. Harsh obviously had other ideas. Now I don’t know how the other members of Team Phun! felt about this, but this was moving very quickly out of my comfort zone. It’s one thing to play informally with a few drinking buddies around a campfire. It is another thing entirely to go out in public, say, to a restaurant, and perform. And that’s where we seemed to be headed.
Nevertheless, we grabbed our instruments and loaded ourselves, along with our entourage (the other hotel guests from the previous night were along too), into a few cars and were soon on our way. Within a few minutes we arrived at our destination and thankfully it was not a restaurant. It was Vijay the Camel Man’s Guest House.
Since 1983, Vijay Singh Rathore has been running camel safaris in the nearby Thar desert. His guesthouse has a large pavilion out back where a fire was already roaring. Tables and chairs were set up, the barbecue was red-hot and a self-service bar was ready for lots of self-serving. Vijay’s staff was also at the ready with plenty of delectable treats set to hit the barbecue as soon as we’d all settled in.
Now Vijay the Camel Man is also a successful man. And while Harsh carries himself quite confidently, Vijay carries himself almost regally. He looks to be around sixty and sports a perfectly trimmed salt and pepper mustache. He wears a pillbox hat cocked jauntily on his head. His perfectly tailored sport coat and slacks appear to be made from the finest materials and he wears a gorgeous silk scarf draped around his neck and tucked into his jacket. It is a very dapper look and his web site does not do him justice.
We gathered around and Harsh introduced us to our host. Then Vijay enthusiastically greeted us all: (Note: no offense is intended, but for full effect the following should be read with your best Bollywood inspired Indian accent.).
“Welcome everyone! Welcome to my home! It is wonderful to have so many lovely people here tonight! It is a blessing to have travelers from all over the world. We have guests from Germany. We have guests from Spain. We have guests from France. And of course, we have our special guests from America! (That’s Team Phun! by the way.) I am delighted to have you all here. We have plenty of food and we have plenty of drink. Please make yourselves at home. Please help yourselves. I want everyone to have a wonderful time because…..That’s the Way…uh-huh, uh-huh…I Like It!”
Yes, that was the venerable Vijay the Camel Man quoting the almost equally venerable KC of KC and Sunshine Band and his 1975 number one hit single “That’s the Way (I Like It).” It brought down the house. And it was the perfect beginning to a “wonderful” (to quote Vijay) evening.
What followed was a steady stream of fabulousness from the barbecue. Kebabs of chicken, fish and mutton just kept coming. All perfectly smothered in the finest of Indian spices and sauces. It was some of the best food of an already stellar food trip.
So we all ate and we all drank and we all shared the stories of our travels and our homes. Team Phun! performed about a dozen songs and those that knew the words sang along when they were inspired to. Nobody asked if we were professionals this time but we did get plenty of warm applause. More good fun.
All too soon though we realized it was getting late. We’d been at Vijay’s since before 8pm and it was now well after 11pm. Our driver Promod had been hanging out this whole time waiting for us. Our bellies were full and we also felt that maybe we were close to overstaying our welcome. We decided that in a few minutes we should start making the move to leave. But before we could, Vijay made another proclamation:
“Dinner is served!”
With that his staff paraded out of the kitchen with several large trays filled with rice and chapatis and even more chicken, fish and mutton.
So we all simply carried on. More food. More drink. More fun. We finally made it back to our hotel at about 1:30am.
And that’s the story of Team Phun’s last night in India. And just like Vijay the Camel Man, that’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, we like it.