|Index :: Day 11 Darjeeling :: Day 09 Udaipur :: Day 05 Agra :: Day 10 Pushkar :: Day 07 Jaipur :: Day 06 To Jaipur :: Day 12 Darjeeling :: Day 06 The Taj :: Day 01 Delhi :: Day 08 Udaipur :: Day 04 To Agra :: Day 03 Delhi :: Day 02 Delhi :: Arrival At Night :: Weekend Trip bodhgaya ::|
|Drivers, Guides and ancient temples|
|Day two: Shopping, a new drink and the Qutab Minar|
Lunch for instance. We have been shopping for clothes for a few hours in the Cottage Industries Emporium and have just paid to have clothes made for us, clothes that we think are high quality, but will fall apart within less than a week. Upon our return to Delhi we will learn the art of negotiating a full refund. But that's a later story... For now, we ask the salesman for a recommendation for lunch and our driver knows it well. We are instantly off in our tiny car, rolling through unpaved roads with a look of a permanent construction site, onto larger carriageways that have two lanes on either side of a grassy median. A sudden turn off takes us into a sheltered mall of 12 shops with a covered walkway for protection from sun and rain; it even has its own parking lot. Although we see the restaurant recommended by the salesman, our guide ushers us into another on the corner, telling us that this one is better; he and the driver go off to the one whose name we were originally given. This is the beginning of our observations of the difference between what we want to do/see and what the guide & driver think we want to do/see. They think we want fancy restaurants with forks, napkins and Coca-Cola. What we want is good, cheap, local food. At this point we didn't know Raju and Sanju well enough to argue with them, so we went to the "better" restaurant.
It is here that we are introduced to a fabulous Indian drink; one that can be ordered throughout the country. It's called Fresh Lime Soda sweetened with sugar water or served salty (or sweet and salty if you so desire). One third of the glass is filled with freshly squeezed lime juice and then soda water is poured over the top. The salt or sugar is added before the soda is poured. The salt helps replenish some of the minerals we are losing from our prolific sweating, but Julie likes it because it tastes like a margarita without the tequila! We also try another drink that will never again be ordered. It's called Jal Jeera, and would be better served in a mug so that we cannot see the colour of a green sludge topped with little yellow balls of some kind of carbohydrate. We can taste cumin, lemon juice, and garlic. All good when used to flavor hummous, but not something that our tastebuds are used to encountering in a drink.
The flavour, while not exactly vile has a tainted quality to it; only after drinking half of the glass does it register that the water may have been poured from a tap - less than 48 hours in the country and the one rule about not drinking tap water may have been violated ... when our driver comes to collect us he confirms that mineral water was used to make the drink, but this confirmation does not encourage us to pour the rest of the sludge down our throats.
As we walk from the restaurant towards the car a snake charmer spots us. We give him and his cobra a wide berth as he scrambles to start his flute and open his snake basket; the cobra rises slightly and then does a great job of trying to get quickly away from the wicker basket. The snake charmer uses his flute to hook around the snake's body and drags it back to the basket. Realising that we are unimpressed by this spectacle he removes his precariously perched turban while our guide reassures us that the city requires all such snakes to be defanged.
As we left the site Sanju was quick to spot us and served as an instant intermediary in our purchase of some postcards of Delhi for less than a dollar. These postcards were printed in 1964 in a badly offset printer. The booklet of cards had obviously been stepped on once or twice by tourists who had them forced into their hand and could think of nothing more as a response than dropping the cards and walking away. Again, we bought them because Raju and Sanju thought we wanted them and we weren't sure how to say no. We would eventually learn this lesson, and get quite proficient at saying no.
The day was coming to a close for sight seeing and we decided that this was the time to buy a rug; the one luxury item we would buy in India. The fabulous three-hour experience in a rug shop requires its own section in the OST ramble on rug buying, so please check it out.
The sky was getting darker as we left the happy rug salesman and Raju suggested a trip to a temple where he exhibited his preferred way of dealing with queues, by pretending they do not even exist. As we were walking down the street Marcus had to maneuver around a swiftly moving cyclist and in doing so stood on Raju's heel, tearing the entire sole away from the leather boot that appeared to not have left Raju's feet since the day he started earning a living. Walking in such a way as to minimise the discomfort we were fortunate that one of the many shoe wallahs was so close by. Within a few minutes the wallah had mashed about six nails through Sanju's sole using a metal tool that was more like a pestle than a hammer. This was obviously a process that Raju had repeated with this pair of shoes over the years and he knew the value of the work. Refusing the asked-for 10 rupees, Raju haggled the wallah down to 5 for the few minutes of work and we were on our way to the temple.
As non-Hindus (which is a nice way of saying tourists) we were instantly ushered into a locked side room where we were told we would have to leave any cameras behind. Lying that we had no camera with us, we opened our bags but not our pockets to make our case more believable. We have no problem refraining from taking photographs in a holy site, but find it hard to trust that our camera would still be in the unlocked wooden cupboard inset to the wall of the non-Hindu side room.
The one striking element of the tour was the prolific swastika use. Although we have known that the Swastika is the Hindu symbol for peace we have only ever seen it on all things Nazi or on TV shows about ancient Eastern temples. This was a modern everyday use of the swastika and it felt awkward to know that the Western reaction to the sign was not only inappropriate, but also simply non-existent here. Raju's tour of the temple can be found in more detail in the ramble section of the Off Season Traveler.
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