Monday, June 27, 2005

Tales From Middle Earth 5: Body

The Conference is over. There is much revelry on the last night. The other delegates have decided to take the early morning shuttle back to Delhi. Uber and his harem are alone at last. I try sleeping but the incessant birdsong coupled with the shrieking airbus have awoken me. There is a gentle tap on my door. I open the door and the person on the other side sizes me up in my red tartan pyjamas. I equally size up his black pinstripe frock. "I'm your guide for the next three days." Oh oh. The last thing I need is another guide. I have learned that the Bhutanese are nervous about letting foreigners run free through their carefully preserved society. They must shudder inwardly when they think of the tangled mess of South Asian life which surrounds them.

Time to change, organize the harem and then move on to pleasanter climes. We arrive at the Uma just in time for lunch. We have agreed to move here for the Hedonistic Phase of our holiday. The Uma is a boutique hotel owned by the King's uncle and leased to Christina Ong a Singaporean businesswoman with a flair for designer hotels. My room is dreamy and the bathtub (pictured above) is the apogee of luxury. I seek ways of unscrewing it and taking it home with me. The hotel is terribly New Age. Funky music wafts through every room. Aromatherapy reigns supreme. The food is terribly terribly good. Jewel and I endorse the low carb menu. This is sublime. Six star sublimity actually.

I pore over the massage menu while the others leave for some absurd trek or the other. I decide that my body needs TLC and the Uma spa is just the place for it. In the next three days my body is scraped, kneaded, pulled, tugged and pummeled into shape by a team of men and women. I am to be immersed in herbs I have never seen before. Hot pebbles are to glide all over my sinuous back. I will be clingfilmed in mud, leaves and other substances with origins I do not want to get into. The overall effect is orgasmic. Or so I recollect. I trudge up each evening in my dressing gown, crawl into bed and disappear into a world of dreams. I never switch on the television in my room barring one night when I feel my disconnect with the outer world is getting out of hand. The Michael Jackson jury is about to render its verdict. All this could be coming from another planet. Bhutan is the real Neverland.

The next few days are sublime. I am taken to the archery club and given a crash course on how to deal with a bow and arrow. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and they manage to muster a few medals at the Olympics. There are long drives on snaking roads. At times we are driven up so high that breathing becomes an effort. On other days I walk aimlessly down High Street, taking pictures of people. I bribe children to pose for me with packets of Lays Crisps and bottles of Thumbs Up. I try shopping one day, but there is really not a great deal to buy. The harem is devastated. I believe this must be the first time they have have ever had to survive on minimal shopping.

I chat with the girls at the front desk. One of them is emboldened and asks me if I am a film star. I blush and reply I am not. "Ah but you look like one." Blush again. "Really, how would you know?" "We have many here." "Ah such as ?" "Well Cameron Diaz was here last week. And Mr De Niro comes in next month." Is that cool ? A tall West Indian man drifts by one day with a blonde girlfriend. I have no idea who he is, but he exudes star quality. He nods at us each time we meet and I secretly think he expects us to request an autograph. It transpires he is an English footballer called Sol Campbell. Alas. Soccer is not high on the list of the Uber's priorities. Or those of his harem.


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