Some random observations and stories about my trip.
We get around town in the 3-wheeled, motorcycle-engined “tuk-tuk” (pronounced “took-took”) — we surmise the name came from the ever-present horn tooting. The drivers get perilously close to trucks, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, buildings, and cows, but so far we’ve not seen any in an accident. We think they all invest in frequent brake jobs! At stops women beggars thrust their hands inside wanting money for their nearly naked babies.
I’ve sprinkled some tuk-tuk-eye’s view pics in today’s blog.
Sometimes you hear what you want to hear
In a museum, our heavily accented guide pointed out a panel of Sanskrit letters going vertically up 3 stories. He showed us how the letters look the same size up the 30′ wall. He pointed to successively higher sections, saying, “Bigger, bigger, bigger.” My travel mate nods knowingly, thinking he’s translating the letters into “Be good, be good, be good.”
Our full-time tour guide is Govind, a handsome 25-year-old with a master’s degree in tourism. We’ve dubbed him our “GQ Guide” because he could be on the cover of the Indian version of GQ. He married a woman a few years ago his parents picked for him and is very much in love. On our trip he discovered his wife is pregnant, so we’ve decided to be aunties the baby.
Praying to the god of “default”
However, I’ve become quite tenacious and have had success in other hotels piggybacking off other’s wifi. I take my booted laptop to the corners of the hotel, like an electronic divining rod. Eureka! I found a hotspot connecting to a server called “default” in a lounge on our floor.
I then bartered with the three other laptop owners for knowledge of this location, earning a foot massage from one. Then I “rent” out email and Skype time to the others, earning a shoulder massage from one, French braiding of my hair from another, and a tut-tut ride to town from one more. All of this bartering is in jest, as they can use my computer whenever they want and I don’t expect anything in return. But they are a giving and generous group, so I am receiving gifts nearly daily.
Shanti — chianti — whatever
We are besieged by hawkers at every turn. To get rid of them, we are told to say “shanti,” from the Sanskrit for peace, as a way of telling them to go away.
I have trouble remembering the word. Yesterday, frustrated by the relentlessness of these boys, I searched for the word to dismiss them. I emphatically said, “Chianti!” When that didn’t work, “Shiraz.” So instead of telling them “peace,” I yelled wine names at them!
Two from our group have an interest in Indian rituals, so when they heard of the nightly burning of the bodies of those who died that day, they want to attend. As they left for the ceremony, one of our group yells, “Have fun.” Then she realizes this is not really an appropriate send off for such a ceremony, but it’s too late. We’re all in stitches.
Prayer call alarm clock
Every morning we are awakened at 5:00 by the chants of the first Muslim prayer call. The sweet singing comes through our hotel windows. We consider this our first alarm. We wonder if the local Muslims do, too. Can they then turn over, as we do, awaiting the 6:00 song? Or do they rush out of bed, dress and scurry to the mosque? And is this the 15-minute warning that services are about to begin, or does it signify that “We are starting and you had better get over here”?
I know, you’re saying, “Then it was pretty stupid to come to India, wasn’t it?” I figured I could find ways to survive. And I have. I’ve eaten little bits, but it doesn’t agree with my stomach. So I’ve been subsisting on roasted chicken and vegetables, which isn’t a bad diet. I’ve lost a few pounds, based on how my clothes fit.
So it’s a good thing I didn’t come here for the food. The people and sights, however, have been excellent.
Soon after alighting our bus in the market area, a dozen of us were “befriended” by Nassar, a nice shop owner with good English who offered to take us to his shop and give us a good price. Duh! He was not pushy and in our face, as the street hawkers are, so we obliged, thinking we’d politely look for a few minutes, then make our way to the bazar a few blocks ahead.
There Nassar’s 30-something brother, Bobby, introduced himself. He also spoke good English. They said they exported to Chicago. Upon meeting me Bobby said, “I’ve waited 30 years for you. Where have you been?” A fun ploy. He flirted that he was happy to have beautiful American women in his shop. I asked what his wife thought of his flirting with the tourists and he said he wasn’t married. “Then how does your girlfriend feel about it?” I pressed.
“My girlfriend in Chicago broke up with me. So you should have dinner with me tonight and I’ll take you dancing.”
“I already have dinner plans.”
“Then tomorrow. What is your hotel?”
“I’m not telling you my hotel.”
“Then I will give you my cell number and you will call me and I’ll pick you up and we will go anytime you want.”
I smiled and laughed as we played.
We continued to banter as I looked at pashminas. I asked the salesman helping me for a better price than the $100 he quoted. “Bobby” I called over my newest suitor, “My darling, my sweet, I want a lower price.” He came over, “For you, my love, only $70, plus I will throw in a scarf from my special supply.”
Did I get a good price? Yes, but not a steal. Was it worth it? Yes, the entertainment value alone was priceless.
We are learning how to bargain with the vendors. We are a tad naive. I’m afraid we haven’t done well up until now.
I ran into a young Indian man with his mother and Kansan girlfriend. He was laden with packages from the bazar. I asked him for tips on negotiating. He said, “Offer one third to one half of the price they say. They will act offended. Don’t budge. Walk out. They will soon offer you your price or close.”
We tried it at the next shop. A pashmina caught my eye. “How much?” I ask the shopkeeper. “Five hundred rupees.” (About $12.50.) “Too much,” I say. “How much you give me?” he asks. “One hundred fifty,” I counter. He looks aghast. “I no can do.” I turn and walk out of the shop. He follows. “Four hundred.” Keep walking. “Three hundred.” More steps. “Two hundred.” I’m a shop away now. “Okay, one hundred fifty.” Deal!