My People of India
I think that one of the most important parts of traveling is meeting people. I think it is #2 on my list, with #1 being seeing places. During our month long trip through India, the 2nd most populous nation in the world, we had a handful of amazing encounters with fellow travelers, local cooks, inn keepers, farmers and life coaches that were doing their thing, but paused for a few moments or more to chat. There was at least one notable person everywhere we went, and I don’t want to forget them…so here they are. My people of India.
Late Night Visitor – It was our first night in India, and the owner of our hotel knocked on our door at 10:30pm and scared us out of our mind. There was no peep hole or chain on the door to protect us, but he banged on our door, rang our buzzer and demanded to have our passports. We resisted opening the door because we were frightened, but he was persistent, so we gave in eventually and opened to find a mild-natured short and squat man wearing a light blue cotton shirt with white cotton trousers. We handed over our passports, and he brought them back 15 minutes later unharmed. It is hard to be in a country where you can’t trust everyone, so we apologize for not trusting you Innkeeper, but we were just watching out for ourselves.
Call Center Manager – On our second visit to the muslim restaurant, Karim, during Ramadan, we arrived just before sunset and were ushered to a 4-person table where two were already seated. Then a fifth person, the Call Center Manager, joined our table. He was an energetic young guy from the suburbs that seemed to have come to Karim for the free food! It seemed like he was very curious to know everything about us, but I think he was showing off his English skills in front of our other dining companions!! Later in our trip, we saw the new Bollywood movie, Hello, which is about a call center in despair…and I couldn’t help but think of this guy!
Mohit, the WK Delhi Creative Director – Just before leaving Delhi we stopped to visit the Delhi office of Weiden + Kennedy, Nik’s old employer. There we met Mohit, the Creative Director and host with the most!! He offered us a quiet haven from the chaos of India with wi-fi and coffee!!! What more could we ask? He also gave us insight into advertising in India, some good traveling tips, and the name of his good friend in Jodhpur, who is mentioned below. Thanks Mohit for providing a home base.
Dolma, the quiet Ladakhi Innkeeper that Warmed us with Tea – Her guest house was quiet, quaint and cold. In fact, we couldn’t sleep very well because we were too cold, so we left Dolma after two nights to slumber at Jigmet’s Guest House down the road. When we departed, I told Dolma that we were leaving Leh because I didn’t want her hurt her feelings by choosing another guesthouse over hers. Of course, the next morning when we were eating breakfast at Jigmet’s, who walked in? Dolma. Turns out that Jigmet is Dolma’s brother. I felt so bad for lying to Dolma, and every time I saw her she seemed hurt. Didn’t my parents tell me to always tell the truth?? So thank you Dolma for teaching me a lesson I shouldn’t have forgotten, and I’m sorry.
Gottfried the Lifelong Trekker – Nik met Gottfried outside the Leh Palace while I was wandering around inside. The boys refused to go in based on principle because the foreigner entry fee was Rs 100 ($2) while the Indian entry fee was Rs 20 (40¢). I wanted to go in because of the architecture despite the 500% mark-up. It was a palace for goodness sakes! How many palaces have you been inside in your lifetime?? When I came out, Nik and Gottfried were deep in conversation about the underhanded politics of India. I listened for a little while, then we all went our separate ways. The next evening, we ran into Gottfried at one of the local restaurants and invited him to join us for the meal. We ended up chatting for over two hours about travel and life, and he became our basis for all serious travel. Now when we think something is hard core, we ask ourselves, “What would Gottfried think of this?” Also, he reminded me of my distant cousin, Charles. Hopefully we will see Gottfried again one day soon. Perhaps we’ll visit Germany during one of the 6 months per year he calls it home.
The Polish Chain-smoker and his sidekick, the Bus Attendant/Travel Agent – We took a local bus from Leh to the small village of Basgo in search of the Indus River, and we ended up sitting next to a Polish traveler. The bus took a pit stop in Nimmu, and we sat with the traveler and his sidekick to eat samosas and drank chai. Our conversation was light but funny, and it was great to sit with these two guys for 10 minutes as they put on a comedy routine of sorts even though they just met 3 hours before.
Breakfast Companions – At Jigmet’s Guest House there is a small living room where the guests linger all day and night, and it is especially popular in the morning for breakfast. On our second morning, Nik went down while I dealt with a bat of food poisoning. I eventually joined the group only to discover that an Australian traveler had food poisoning a few days ago after eating at the same pizza place. Then we discovered that she was about to do a 10-day homestay in one of the villages near Leh, then go on to Delhi to do volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity. One of the other breakfast companions was a Dutch girl that had been traveling through Australia and India for the past 6 months, and one of her highlights was being an extra in a Bollywood film. These are the conversations that are often the most fruitful, because now I want to do a homestay, volunteer for Habitat overseas and star in a Bollywood film!!
The Train Tout – Beware…do not trust anyone outside the turnstiles at the New Delhi Train Stations…we learned this the hard way.
The Cafe Coffee Day Patron – After our experience with the tout, we sought refuge at a Cafe Coffee Day, where we ran into a local who told us of the latest Delhi bombings and offered directions and help while the Cafe Coffee Day employees snubbed us and were very rude.
The Hotel Relax Concierge – We entered Hotel Relax to ask directions to the nearest open bookstore, and ended up staying for the entire day. The concierge was extremely accommodating and offered us an old India Lonely Planet (because we lost ours) and a room to rest in for the day. He also cooked us lunch which wasn’t very good, but at least we didn’t have to leave the hotel!!
September 29 – October 1
The Sahi Riverview Guesthouse Innkeeper – He kept us well fed (with the help of his younger friends) and well informed. He was so helpful that we actually tipped him…and we don’t do that very often.
Large and In Charge – A European woman we met at the guest house whom we asked advice for a good place to eat. She offered to usher us there personally, and as she walked the streets of Varanasi she knew everyone and walked with a confidence that I had never seen before. Oh, and the restaurant was good too!
The Wandering Indian Youth – At dinner, a young man asked to join us at our table even though there were at least 10 other tables open. He was a student from a wealthy southern family that was traveling for now on his father’s dime. We think that he was interested in Nik because after a few minutes of conversation, he asked if Nik and I were just friends. Sorry, but he’s taken!! Regardless, he was a pleasant dinner companion, and I hope that he finds his purpose soon.
An Indian Orphan – At our guest house, we met a gentleman who had been adopted at the age of 8 by a Dutch family, and had just returned to India for the first time. He was staying at Riverview while he settled into his volunteer work with disabled Indians, and he hopes to one day develop an NGO that helps orphanages. I wish him well!!
Marie and Thomas, the French-Canadian/French couple that met in Thailand, has been working in Australia, and just arrived in India after a couple months in China – We met them at the rooftop restaurant of our guest house, and ended up going with them to the Agra Fort. Thanks to Marie and Thomas, we have a photocopied version of Lonely Planet China and a few good suggestions of where to go.
Two Skinny Cycle Rickshaw Drivers – We wanted to get out of the touristy area of Agra, so we took a rickshaw to the Sadar Bazaar area, and on the way, our driver stopped and recruited an equally thin and old driver to come along. We were confused at first, then reallized that we were too heavy for the one man alone, so we had to split up. They took us to the Post Office and lunch, then tried to take us to 2 different shops so that they could get commissions even though we blatantly told them NO. If they hadn’t bugged us about going into their commission shops, we probably would have given them a tip that was more than their commissions. Oh well!!
Hansung, The South Korean Chinese History Buff – He was wearing all white on his 10-day vacation from a prominent accounting firm when he sat next to me in the 2nd Class waiting room at the Mughal Sarai JN Train Station. He was the first to tell me about the incident in Jodhpur at the Palace, and when I told him we were going to China next, he gave me a 30 minute Chinese History lesson complete with notes and a hand-drawn map!!! I will be emailing him soon as we nail down the specifics of our trip.
The Innkeeper/Travel Agent/Former Camel Safari Guide – Once again, we had an innkeeper that kept us well fed and well informed. He also arranged our Osiyan visit as well as our bus tickets to Udaipur. His family was very gracious, and his wife even shared sweets with us one evening when we were the only ones dining at the rooftop restaurant.
Nikheledra, the Boutique Hotel Owner – He is a man with a vision of luxury that Jodhpur has never seen before. Nikheledra is currently building a boutique hotel in the heart of the city on the site of an old Haveli, and we were fortunate enough to have a personal tour complete with cocktails on the roof overlooking Jodhpur and its Palace. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask him what his hotel will be called, but it is scheduled to open in January 2009. Good luck with construction, and we will see you again someday. (This is the friend of Mohit, that I mentioned earlier.)
Rekka, our Indian Cooking Instructor – She learned the art of spices from her father-in-law whose father used to be the cook for the Maharaja. She welcomed us into her home, and taught us how she cooks as if we were family. (I have done a separate post about our cooking class here.)
Nansuk, the Camel Safari Guide – He and his family welcomed us into their home for 2 days and one night, as we learned about their farms, their family and their camels. This gave us a small taste of what a home-stay could be like, but I’m still interested in doing a longer one. Any suggestions?? (I will do a more detailed post on the camel safari)
2 Scotts and 2 Germans – Our camel safaris overlapped by 3 hours in which the 6 of us ate lunch, relaxed and talked about travel experiences. Of the Scottish pair, the guy had just arrived in India after riding the Siberian Railway through Russia and China, and the girl was a veterinarian that is volunteering in Jaipur for a group that is trying to reduce the cases of Rabies in the city. I hope you guys had a good bus ride to Agra!
The Prankster Muslim Innkeeper – He was red-bearded and extremely gracious as we were indecisive about which room we wanted, and then he played jokes on me as we left…He told me that it would Rs 10 to use his bathroom (which is untrue) and he told us that our bus had been canceled because of a gas tank explosion (also untrue)…but it was all in good fun, and everyone got a good laugh out of my gullible nature.
Saffron Sari Lady – Nik and I were watching the parade of women walking and dancing down to Gangaur Ghat when I was pulled into the mix by a beautiful woman in a Saffron Red Sari. We danced together and laughed together for a few moments before I pulled away to the side so that I didn’t lose sight of Nik.
Joe and Erica, Our Fellow Americans – We ran into Joe and Erica a few times around our guesthouse.They had just arrived in India from Africa, and they were very happy to be there!! We talked about the states a little bit, and found out that they had also lived in Portland. Small world!!
The Australian Bus Buddies – We rode from Jodhpur to Udaipur and Udaipur to Mumbai with this couple and we were the only 4 foreigners on both trips. It was nice to have casual conversations with them, but it was also comforting to know that we weren’t the only foreigners.
Lawrence, the extremely personable freelance Life Coach that hangs out at the Barista in Coldoba in hopes to relive the day when he met his Canadian Muse – We chatted with Lawrence for over an hour about life, India and sex. Well, Lawrence talked about sex, and we listened. We asked him several questions about India, and he was excited that we were so interested. Then somehow he started telling us a story about a Canadian girl that he met at this very coffee shop, and they ended up living together. He implied that they never had sex, but they did sleep naked together…don’t know how that came up, and I wasn’t comfortable talking about it, so we said our goodbyes shortly afterward.
Auntie of Theobroma – I never spoke to this woman, but I wish I had. She was an older lady, probably in her 70s, and she had an energy that was unstoppable. She spoke impeccable British English, and I wish that I could have asked her about the days before India’s Independence. She reminded me of my own grandmother, and if I ever go back to Mumbai, I will ask her to have a cup of chai with me.
Niranjan, the Pharmaceutical Sales Rep – Towards the end of our train journey, I asked Niranjan about the mysterious group of business travelers that were singing in the next berth on the train. He informed us that they were playing a game where one person would start singing a Bollywood song, and when they stopped, another person had to start a new Bollywood song that shared the last word of the previous song. It impressed me that people knew these songs so well, and I tried to think of a genre of music that Americans could do that with….and the only thing I came up with was Christmas Carols!
John, the Bandana Taxi Driver – John approached us during dinner the night we arrived, and offered a tour of the spice plantation nearby. We told him we weren’t interested. Then he was sitting outside the next morning when we went for a stroll on the beach, and he offered to take us on a tour of Goa. We told him we weren’t interested. Then he was waiting outside when I went to look for a better guest house, and he recommended one down the road. I actually went there and we moved over shortly afterwards. The morning before we left, I went outside to ask him to take us to the airport later that day, but he wasn’t there. Then 30 minutes before we left, I went to confirm our flight, and he drove by and offered to take us on a tour of the spice plantations. I told him that we were leaving that day, and he offered to take us to the airport. I said I was sorry, but we had made other plans. It goes to show that the one time he wasn’t there was the time that we could actually give him business. Sorry John.
The Dosa Man – We wandered around looking for a nice restaurant, and ended up at a dosa shop that seemed popular with the locals. We sat at a small window-side table and the Dosa Man was our server. We chatted for a little bit about the crowds outside, and then we went back to our guesthouse. I woke up the next morning with the worst food poisoning ever. The man was nice, but unfortunately his Dosa wasn’t.
It is unfortunate that we ended our trip with food poisoning, but I don’t blame Dosa Man. He doesn’t reallize that our stomachs are much weaker than his fellow Indians, and he doesn’t have an FDA watching his every move!