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India Part 1

This is an entry from October 05, which I am moving from another site.

I am in Bikkaner, on my last few days of travel
in Rajastan with my driver before I set out on my own. I will be in
Delhi in 2 days to catch a train for Varanasi, possibly the holiest
place in India, and then Darjeeling before I head to Calcutta to fly
to Bangkok on the 31st.

I have seen quite a bit thus far, and I find some of it takes several
days to process. I was in Jaisalmer for 3 days, including a night in
the desert on Camel Safari. (I could have had 2, but I decided I
liked the idea of a hot shower and a toilet). Just the same, the
safari was excellent. The Indian desert is about 70% scrubland and
30% rolling sand dunes. It was in the dunes that I went on safari.
The camel drivers were Muslims from a nearby town (this part of India
has a larger Muslim population, being so close to the Pakistani
border, and here at least the Muslims and Hindus live in peace) and
because the area had had no rain in several years, they were forced to
leave their family farm and find other work. The camel ride itself
was about 4 hours, until a halt was announced and camp was made. Cots
were set out in the dunes, and while we were offered the use of a
tent, I declined, choosing instead to sleep beneath the sky. Dinner
was vegetables and chapati bread and tea, cooked over a camp fire. In
the evening, I played cards with the men by the light of the moon. It
was very peaceful. Sleeping was very easy despite the bright moon,
but I woke several times in the night as the temperature dropped and I
was forced to add layers. It never got really cold, but a constant
wind brought a damp chill to the air which required long sleeves and
socks. It was quite a difference from the 100+ degree temperatures of
the day time. It was really awesome though. The moon was a waxing day
till full, and very bright. Aside from Mars and Venus, few other
stars could be seen, and the desert was bathed in a soft light, almost
as if a fluorescent (that’s definitely spelled wrong) light had been
left one. It was completely quiet, and aside from the 1 1/2 in long
dung beetles wandering past, there were no other bugs.

I woke with the sun, had some tea and toast and headed back to the
road where a driver was to retrieve me and the others who’d made the
trip. I have to say that I enjoyed my shower at the hotel despite the
lack of hot water.

After a 2 hour nap, I decided to brave the market alone, something
that can be a bit trying in other places, but not so in Jaisalmer.
Most of it is located in the "old city" a warren of narrow streets and
alleys. Just about anything one could want (in unfamiliar brand
names) could be found there, from TVs to house paint, sweets to
tailors. Many of the stores employ touts who lead tourists into the
clutches of shop keepers, or some owners just sit before their stalls
(some are quite small) and holler to the tourists passing by. I must
say that I inspire a certain affection from these people as they all
offer me "special price" or "discount just for you" ;-). Part of the
selling process involves certain inquiries made of me: my country and
city of origin, how many trips in India I’d made, how I felt about the
city I was in currently, my martial status, occupation, family size,
and whether I wished a cup of tea. Those things being resolved, the
process began with me assuring them I was not interested in anything
(except perhaps the tea) and they telling me that they had the finest,
the rarest, or cheapest type of good in the city, in rajastan and
possibly the world (usually it was all of these things). Thus far I
have been relatively successful in avoiding spending rupees, but this
process occurs for every transaction, internet usage, guide services,
etc. It can be a bit much at times.

One of my stops where I spent money was at a fresh squeezed juice
place that I had visited the day before. The owner was a friendly
fellow of indeterminate middle age, who had his eldest son helping
mind the store. During the course of our conversations, I learned
that the man had once been in the spice business, but that a truck
accident (which happens with great regularity in this country, mostly
at night and often with many fatalities) had cost him his entire
supply. So he scraped together again and opened a juice store. his
son had suffered an unknown sickness and had been left mostly deaf,
but still the man seemed happy and content with his lot in life. His
juice was fresh and delicious, and when I tried to tip him at the end,
he refused to take it, despite giving me the "Indian price" for my
drink. (there are 2 prices everywhere in India, one for the locals,
and one for the west. Sometimes, one can bargain these prices down,
but as a rule we will always pay more for something than they will).
I made it my business to go and give him as much of my rupees as I
could.

When I arrived there, his son was working alone. Just the same, I
climbed into the back of the store and had a drink, and when I wasn’t
looking, the boy (I suspect he was 17 or 18) snuck off to his uncle’s
sweet shop for a few snacks. We managed to communicate despite my
total lack of Hindi, his rudimentary English and the fact that he was
80% deaf. When I went to leave and pay my bill, he refused money for
the sweets and again charged me the Indian price. I am not sure if I
should cry or admire or both at their attitude, but it was inspiring
just the same. I made sure I had juice there this morning before we
left...

As for yesterday, I managed to survive my walk thru the market, and
managed to find my hotel again as well. No small feat considering
that there are no sightlines in the narrow market streets, the roads
don’t run straight, and there are few readily identifiable stores to
use as landmarks. after a quick shower (it is 90+ degrees here) my
driver Raju (who is a fine man, more on him later) and I walked back
thru the market to a restaurant near the fort in the center of the
city. It was only then that I realized how many people I’d met there
previously. Everywhere we went people called to me by name, hoping to
squeeze a few more rupees or just to impress the other westerners
scattered in the market with their English and/or to use me as a
reassurance as to their trustworthiness, value, etc. I joked and
yelled to them as I went, and generally enjoyed myself.

Dinner was at a lovely restaurant with a rooftop dining room
overlooking the fort. During desert, I was involved in discussions
with a French cannuck and a German couple on their honeymoon. They
all had had similar impressions of India, the good the bad and the
overwhelming. I was glad to find it wasn’t just me.

As for Raju, my driver, he is excellent. he comes from a small town
in the mountains north of Shimla, almost on the Chinese border. His
wife and two small children live there and he goes home once a year
for 2 months to help out on the little farm. He is devoutly Hindu,
not much of a drinker, doesn’t smoke as many of the drivers do, and is
a complete vegetarian. He has shown me many parts of cities that I
would not have otherwise seen, and he always tells me who will be
honest, who will try and cheat me, who sells good quality stuff and
who sells crap and most importantly, what I should expect to pay for
goods and services if I bargain properly. thus far he has been
dead-on. He makes me swear I will tell nobody that he provided that
information, as he fears, rightfully so, that the shop keepers will be
angry with him should they discover this.

I leave him and the comfort of our little Tata car in a few days, and
that will be my test as to whether I can survive this place or not.
Time will tell.

Tomorrow is the Rat temple (something I am not sure I am ready for)
where it is considered good luck to have one of the 10000000 temple
rats run across your bare feet (no shoes allowed inside). India is a
crazy place...

Posted by Daver141 08:16 Archived in India

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