So, I came back from 3 weeks of vacation, spent a week in the office, and then went to a week-long conference in India. I live a rough life.
The conference was for entry-level State Department employees, and it was held in Delhi, October 12-15. I went with 6 colleagues from Pakistan (if I recall correctly), and for those official sorts who might be reading this, we all found the conference to be beneficial, insightful, reaffirming, and all the rest.
This story, however, is not about the conference. It is about the events surrounding the conference.
Monday, the 11th, was Columbus Day, so we ended up with a three-day weekend immediately preceding the conference. Due to flight schedules, and our desire to do a little sight-seeing, the majority of us left for the conference on Saturday morning.
For those of you who don’t know, my camera was lifted last time I was in India, so before I went this time, roughly a million people told me not to lose my camera. I assured them that wouldn’t be a problem.
Anyhow, at the airport that Saturday morning, there were several of us participants, and also Ambassador Katherine Peterson who had stopped in Islamabad on her way to the conference from DC. She was a presenter.
We had come to the airport in separate vehicles, so we participants went to sit at the gate with all the riffraff to wait for the flight. The Ambassador, meanwhile, was waiting in the VIP lounge.
Just when boarding was about to begin, we received word from one of our Pakistani expeditors that the Ambassador had requested for us to join her in the VIP lounge.
So, we went over to the land of fancy leather couches.
As I said before, boarding was about to start when we left the gate. The regular passengers boarded and we waited. After we had waited for about half an hour in the VIP lounge, a van picked us up and took us to the plane. So as not to make VIPs wait a long time on the plane before take-off, they are loaded last. It’s a perk for most people, I guess.
For me it was not.
As we loaded on, most of the party was seated toward the front of the plane. My seat was in the next-to-last row. As I was walking down the aisle, everyone was giving me the evil eye, like people always give to the person who boards late. My carry-on was a backpack, and, of course, all the overhead compartments around my seat were full at this point. It was a little too big to fit under the seat.
I told the flight attendant to just throw it in the bottom of the plane with the checked bags, but he didn’t want to for some reason. He walked down the whole plane, checking every overhead compartment. And eventually, he found a spot to crunch my bag into, many, many rows away.
My bag secured, I crawled over two people who were too lazy to move, so I could get to the window seat.
And we were off.
There are no direct flights from Islamabad to Delhi, so we had to stop in Lahore. When we touched down, I had to wait for basically the whole plane to deplane before I could get off.
The rest of the American group was waiting, and they were beginning to wonder what had happened to me.
From Lahore, most of the group was going to wait around for about 4 hours and then fly to Delhi.
I opted instead to catch a quick ride to the border, walk across to India, and then take the train to Delhi. My good friend Nenita had decided to join me.
I had crossed the border and caught the train to Delhi before, so I knew pretty well what to expect.
Nenita and I peeled off from the group, and took the 30 minute drive to the Wagah border crossing.
We cleared Pakistani customs and passport control. Then we headed for India. Our last contact with Pakistan was with the border crossing official, who had to enter us in the out-going ledger.
This guy was the same man who had been on duty when I crossed last time. That time, he “jokingly” hit me up for a visa. This time, he also had some small talk for us.
“So you are working in Islamabad?”
“How is Islamabad?”
“Islamabad is great.”
“Good. And how is Iraq?”
“We don’t work in Iraq. We don’t know.”
“You are diplomat. You know everything.”
“Most of what we know about Iraq is the same information that is on the news.”
“Yes, yes… But let’s just talk person to person, just like human beings. Nothing official.”
“Tell me. Is it OK to kill innocent people?”
“Of course not.”
“That’s right. And is it OK to rape women?”
“Right. And is it good to shoot people and drop bombs on them?”
“That’s right again. Every religion on Earth is against the killing of innocent people, and the drinking, and the raping of women.”
It struck me how he wormed alcohol into the discussion, which is in fact not specifically banned by many religions.
Nenita and I had been ambushed, but we explained that no Americans supported the killing of innocents and that Americans hated violence as much as the rest of the world.
The border guard was shaking his head, as if to say, “What a pity – still sticking to the party line.”
I just wanted him to shut-up and write our particulars in the book so we could be on our way.
In a short bit, the guard changed the topic.
“So who will win the election – Bush or Kerry?”
“Who knows? It’s a dead tie.”
And at the time, it was dead even. No one could have answered his question.
So he rephrased, “Well, who do you think will win?”
To which Nenita responded, “We don’t know, but we will work to support whoever it is.”
And with that, the guard broke out laughing. “Yes, yes. You work for government; I work for government. You can’t say anything; I can’t say anything. None of us wants to lose our job for too much talking.”
He finally handed our passports back, we all shook hands, and we continued on to India.
During that exchange, Nenita and I were the face of America, and we had a zit on our nose. Figuratively speaking, that is.
As Nenita and I walked on, we ranted a few minutes at the gall of this guy to lecture us on the evils of killing and so forth. It must be OK when the violence is directed against unchaste women or when the killing is of Indians in Kashmir.
At the time we were crossing the border, a shipment of figs was also crossing. There was a truck parked on either side, and a team of laborers with each. The figs were going from Pakistan to India. Each Pakistani laborer would grab some crates from the truck, put a few on his head, and take off running to the border. At the border, there was a line of Indian laborers waiting, and the first in line would take the load from the Pakistani, put it on his head and run back to load the truck on the Indian side. It was quite the production.
The Indian side seemed to have a lot more laborers than did the Pakistani side. As such, there were a lot of Indians sitting on the road waiting at the ready for the order to run for some figs.
The waiting laborers were lined up in dozens of rows, and everyone was in a uniform of a blue tunic thing and a blue turban. The scene practically begged to be photographed, but I wasn’t interested in even trying. I think it’s offensive to just photo people without permission, and with such a large group, there’d be no way to get everyone’s blessing.
Nenita decided she wanted a picture, so she raised her camera. Immediately, there was a ruckus. Several of the men stood up and yelled “No photographs!”
Nenita put her camera away, and the men carefully watched us as we walked by.
We cleared Indian border control, customs, and passport control without further incident. Just inside the border, we stopped at the small group of shops and restaurants to change some money.
Since we were coming out of dry Pakistan, the restaurateurs all tried to tempt us with cold beer. Unfortunately for them, we have ample access to alcohol through the embassy, so it was no temptation whatsoever.
We passed on the beer and caught a taxi to Amritsar. Our car was an ancient boxy deal called an Ambassador. The dashboard looked like a cockpit in an old plane. None of the gauges seemed to be working. The Ambassador purred like a kitten – one close to death.
The ride was about half an hour, but Nenita didn’t last 5 minutes. She was out cold, and didn’t wake up until we got into the honking, snarled traffic close to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
The Golden Temple is the holiest place of Sikhs. Nenita and I checked our luggage, checked our shoes, covered our heads, and went to check it out.
The Golden Temple sits in the middle of a large pool, and the whole thing is surrounded by a large white marble structure. Many people were taking a dip in the spiritual waters.
It was a fine day, and Nenita and I got some cool photos.
Once we finished at the Temple, we were off to the train station. There were several bike rickshaws waiting around, and when they saw us walking by, they descended on us. After some quick bargaining, we had a guy pedaling us and our luggage a few kilometers down the road for less than a dollar.
On my last trip to India, I had a hell of a time getting a ticket at the train station. This time, I knew how to do it. We got our tickets with virtually no waiting. To get any sort of good seat – like in an air conditioned car or in a sleeper compartment – you need to really book ahead. If you don’t, chances are that there will not be space available.
Nenita and I did not book ahead, because we both agreed that it didn’t matter what class we rode in.
Like my last trip, we ended up with tickets in the unreserved (steerage) section. The unreserved cars are not air-conditioned. They are the ones filled with the huddled masses. At 2 bucks a pop for tickets, though, we weren’t complaining.
We had to wait on the platform for maybe 45 minutes, and several beggars came by. Nenita gave them M&Ms in their begging bowls.
When the train eventually arrived, Nenita and I loaded up. We couldn’t find two window seats in the same booth, so we took a bench and Nenita gave me the window.
She went to sleep shortly after we left the station.
There were tons of people in the car, and with the exception of a group of young men who were all smiles and seemed to be up to no good, everyone put on a blank expression and zoned out. Everyone looked miserable right from the start.
Our train was called the Super Express. This was blatant false advertising. It went super slow, and it stopped at every station – and there were many. It took us over eight hours to cover 450 km. That’s an average speed of less than 35 mph. Super Express, indeed.
When we got to the Delhi train station, it was nearly midnight. Almost as soon as we got off the train, a taxi driver rounded us up. We figured he was as good as any, so we went with him to his miniature van (not to be confused with a mini van).
We told him we wanted him to use the meter, and he agreed, after telling us all the surcharges we were subject to (off-hours rate and so forth). We agreed to everything, and we were off.
And the meter was going crazy. The main unit of money in India is the rupee. The rupee is divided into 100 paises, like a dollar is divided into 100 cents. Anyhow, it seemed this meter was counting in paises, and it was really cranking.
The meter was already showing a few thousand and we were barely out of the parking lot at the train station.
Nenita asked the driver, “Are you sure that’s working correctly?”
And he replied, “Yes, madam. Just divide by 28 to calculate rupees.”
I don’t know what the units were, but the conversion wasn’t a factor of 28. I was crunching the numbers as we drove, and the final fare that he asked us for in rupees was neither a factor of 28 or 100 of the number showing on the meter. He charged us like 12 dollars total for a 30 minute ride, so we didn’t care. It was cheap enough, however he was calculating.
The conference was at the Hyatt Regency, and it was a nice place.
My original plan had been to drop Nenita off at the hotel and then go immediately off on an excursion. Since the train had taken so long and it was so late, Nenita offered for me to crash in her room and then head off early the next morning. I was tired, so I accepted her offer.
We were both starving, so we walked down the street from the hotel trying to find a place to eat. There were no restaurants whatsoever within walking distance, so we went back and ate at the hotel. Even at the hotel, all the restaurants had closed except for the 24-hour café.
After a hot shower and a good night’s rest, I overslept. I had intended to wake up by 6:00 to take the 6 hour bus ride to Jaipur, west of Delhi. I woke up at a little before 8:30.
I packed up my stuff. Nenita suggested that I leave all the things I wouldn’t need in Jaipur (like my clothes for the conference) with her, and I did. Then I caught a tuk-tuk down to the bus station.
I made it in time for the 9:00 bus, and I sprang for the air-conditioned one, which only cost a few bucks.
The bus was nearly empty. Everyone on the aisle shifted over to window seats.
I spent my time looking out the window and snoozing. It was so much more comfortable than the train.
After a long time, we stopped at a tourist rest stop. There were several snack vendors, a restaurant, bathrooms, and a parking lot full of buses. We all piled out of the bus, and several of the men just walked over and started peeing against the back of the building or in the grass. I’m all for open-air urination, but this seemed a little silly, considering the large capacity restroom that was maybe 30 feet away. It had plumbing and it was pretty clean.
After about 15 minutes, the driver opened the doors and started honking the horn to signify the imminent departure of the bus. Everyone loaded inside, and of course there was one guy who was late and had to run after the bus. Sucker.
Three more hours of window-watching and snoozing, and we hit the outskirts of Jaipur. It had been raining off and on the whole trip, and it had started again. Jaipur is in the midst of some hills, and as we climbed upward, the air got cooler. Everyone was turning their A/C nozzles down. When we got to the town, I whipped out my Lonely Planet so I could quickly research a place to stay once we stopped. The sky was pitch black, and I was expecting a wet walk to the guesthouse.
Luckily, it did rain buckets, but it stopped before we got to the bus station.
At the station, I set out walking for a guesthouse that was nearby. There were a lot of men around trying to round up business for their partners with tuk-tuks. One guy offered me a sweet deal, and I agreed. We went over to his brother Ravi’s tuk-tuk, and he drove me to the guesthouse.
At the guesthouse, Ravi offered to wait while I checked in, so that he could show me the sites of Jaipur.
I went to the check-in desk, and the attendant was like, “Sure you can stay here.” Then he handed me a key. I was like, “Isn’t there anything to sign or fill out?” to which he asked me when I would be leaving. When I told him that I would be gone by 8:00 the next morning, he confirmed that no, there was nothing I needed to fill out.
This seemed crazy to me. He didn’t know so much as my name. I could have literally destroyed the room and stolen everything that wasn’t nailed down, and there would have been nothing he could have done to find me.
I didn’t waste too much energy thinking about this, though. Afterall, he was probably pulling a scam of some sort on someone (someone other than me hopefully), although I don’t know what it would be.
I tossed my bags in my room. Then Ravi and I settled on a price for the touring, and we were off. It was around 3:30 when we started.
We started by driving through the old city. Jaipur is called the Pink City because the old city was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales who visited in the late 1800s. It is supposed to look awesome at sunset, but I wouldn’t know. It looked pretty average in full sun.
In the old city, there are several main markets, each specializing in a certain type of thing like textiles or jewelry. Ravi warned me that all the vendors in the old city were rip-offs. He offered a lot of advice like this, and it left me with a sense that he was trying a little too hard to appear like he was looking out for me. It seemed a little greasy.
Our first attraction was Jantar Mantar, which was an old observatory. It had a lot of cool structures that were used to track the positions of the planets and so forth. The most prominent piece was a huge sundial. The shadow-casting part was several stories high. There were a lot of young school kids in uniform at the observatory.
After the observatory, we went to the City Palace. It was basically a big park surrounded by a wall and some buildings. Ravi dropped me off at the back entrance, and there were five naked children playing in a small hill of sand on the side of the road. They probably ranged from 2 to 10. Ravi pointed them out to me like he thought I would be amused. It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen them already.
When I started walking toward the Palace entrance, the naked kids got out of the sand and lined up for me to take a photo. Then the mother (their handler?) came running out. It was so lame. She had this whole I’m-so-embarrassed-at-my-kids-but-you-can-photograph-them-for-a-fee act going. She didn’t speak English, but the gesturing said it all. The scene was way over the line of exploitation, so I brushed the whole crew off.
Everyone hanging around the gate looked shocked when I didn’t go for the bait.
A little ways away, there was also a naked old man routing around in a sand pile. He was mentally handicapped.
I didn’t find the City Palace to be that impressive. The thing that I liked the most was all the old men chilling out, playing cards all around the grounds.
I hadn’t thought about it at the time since it was sunny and I wasn’t paying attention to the time, but all the attractions in the town closed at 4:30. Since I got a late start, I wasted most of my time at just 2 sites. By the time I finished at the City Palace, it was nearly closing time. Ravi said he could get me in to one more site, so we sped off in the tuk-tuk. As we were heading down an alley, he hit a pot hole that caused me to fly up. I cracked my head on a metal bar over the seat.
Ravi pulled to the side of the road while I was hunched over, holding my head. He was like, “Sorry, sir. Sorry, sir. Sorry, sir.”
The pain went away after a second, and we continued on. I kept my head low the rest of the ride.
As we approached this last site, the name of which I forget, Ravi briefed me on the payment procedure:
“There is a Brahmin caretaker for this temple. When we leave, I will tell you that he is the one you should pay for visiting the temple. You will then ask him how much to pay. He will tell you, ‘As you wish,’ and you should give him maybe 20 rupees [about 50 cents]. Most Americans don’t know, and they give 2 or 3 hundred. That’s too much.”
I was clear on the payment procedure, so we went in for a look. The old Brahmin opened the gate and let us inside. It was past closing time, so Ravi and I made a very quick round of the place, looking at the statues and carvings.
Then we left.
Outside, the Brahmin opened the gate for us. Ravi prompted me, and the three of us went through the whole payment dance. It was like we were following a script. I paid the guy his 20 rupees.
Just outside the gate to this site, there were stairs climbing into the hills on either side. Toward the right, the stairs led toward another temple on the top of the hills. It was a temple of Ganish, the elephant-head guy, and it had his ancient Hindu symbol on the side – a huge red swastika.
I didn’t go all the way to the temple since it was probably closed anyway.
I just walked halfway up the steps to take in the nice view of the city. The whole way, I was followed and harassed by several young children who wanted money. They were surely determined. I kept telling them ‘no’ in Urdu, which is basically the same language as Hindi. I would also tell them to go away but I could only remember the polite imperative, so I was telling the urchins something more on the lines of “you please leave, sir” as opposed to something more appropriate like, “beat it, kid!”
They hounded me the whole climb up and down, and during my break at the midway point. They were getting on my nerves. They got no money.
Since all the sites were closed at this point, Ravi started trying to push shopping. Earlier, he had told me that other tuk-tuk drivers would harass their passengers to visit certain stores so that they could get a commission, but that he didn’t do that to his passengers. Oddly enough, though, that seemed to be exactly what Ravi was doing. He knew a great carpet factory I should see, as well as a garment factory and a jeweler.
I didn’t want to see any of these.
Having done these factory visits before, I knew exactly what would happen. I would get a quick, boring look at the production of the carpets and clothing and jewelry, and then I would be subjected to high pressure sales tactics in the factory showroom. Thanks, but no thanks.
I asked Ravi instead to take me to a restaurant with good Rajasthani food.
The place he took me was right across from the bus station, and there was a good crowd of people there. I had a dish of assorted vegetable preparations, some sweet lassi (yogurt drink), and tea. It was good. Normally, curries and things come with either rice or bread to sop up the sauce. Here, they served crumbly bread balls that were sort of like hush puppies. You would crumble them in the sauce and then scoop it up and eat it.
The waiter noticed which vegetables I was eating the fastest, and brought me seconds on those.
After my meal, I walked back over to the tuk-tuk, and Ravi dropped me back at the guesthouse. I paid him his fee and a tip, and he was like, “I need to ask you a favor. Please don’t tell my brother how much you paid me. He’s the one who brought you to my tuk-tuk this afternoon. He is very lazy and drinks all the time.”
I told him that his secret was safe with me. I doubted I would see him or his brother again, anyway.
Before he left, he offered to pick me up in the morning to take me back to the bus station. I told him that wouldn’t be necessary.
It was dusk, and I set out to explore town on foot. My plan was to catch a Bollywood flick at the theater in Jaipur, which is supposed to be one of India’s finest.
Five minutes into my walk, a young hip Indian guy walked up to me and greeted me in his British English. We had the usual exchange (the hello, the what’s your name, the where are you from, the how do you like Jaipur, the when did you arrive, and the how long are you staying). Then he moved on to other matters:
“Tell me. Why are Americans so rude nowadays? They are so standoffish and they don’t talk to anybody. It didn’t used to be like this.”
Once again, I was the face of America. I could sense the lad was troubled, so I put on my counselor hat.
“I know less Americans are traveling to this part of the world today, but I don’t see why they would be any more or less rude than in the past. What specific problems have you had?”
To which he responded, “Just the other day, there was an American here with many piercings on his face. I asked him about them, and he was very rude.”
“Oh, yeah? What happened?”
“He told me to f**k off!”
Stifling a laugh, I explained how people who do things like excessively pierce their faces can sometimes be self-conscious about their body modifications and how when he asked about the piercings, the piercee may have felt he was making fun of him.
Then I gave him another angle. I told him to consider an Indian with a red forehead dot visiting the U.S. A small percentage of Americans might be jerks and make fun, but the vast majority would just be curious. They might ask about it or they might just stare. Either way, this could get annoying after a while, and the Indian might eventually get pissed off at someone for staring or asking about the dot. And so I explained how maybe the pieceree had just reached his limit of being gawked at and lashed out.
Or there was the third possibility that the guy was just a jerk.
The young man was pleased with my insightful answer, but he still had one more question for me. “Why do you have a beard?”
To which I told him to f**k off.
No, not really.
I told him it was on account of my Muslim heritage.
No, not really.
I told him I just grew it for kicks and it was easier than shaving every day.
And that was the end of our discussion.
As we parted, we shook hands and he tried to do the urban black handshake deal with me. He was doing different grips and thumb grabs and all, but I clearly wasn’t versed in the maneuver.
I continued walking toward the theater. It was dark by now.
I found the theater easy enough, and it was doing a brisk business. The show playing was Dhoom (an Indian movie along the lines of The Fast and the Furious except with motorcycles instead of cars). The next showing I could catch was at 10:00, so I had a lot of time to kill.
I wandered around, briefly looking at shops as I passed. Outside one shopping center with a few stores and a few restaurants, there were 3 Indians sitting with a hippie-looking Brit. We made a little small talk, during which one of the Indians proudly pointed out his t-shirt to me. It said “America’s #1 Mayor”. I wasn’t sure if the name of some actual mayor was on the back or if the shirt was saying the kid was the #1 mayor. He just kept pointing to the top lines and saying, “America number one. America number one.”
I told him it was a fine shirt, and I continued on.
As I was walking, I didn’t see any other Westerners besides the hippie Brit. I got gawked at by the locals and bothered by the beggars.
In no time flat, I was targeted by another young man.
He was walking in the opposite direction I was, and he stopped to tell me that my beard looked smart.
I thanked him.
Then we went into the small talk again. This was another Ravi.
He explained how he liked to learn everything he could from visitors because he didn’t have the opportunity to travel. After the usual questions, he asked where I had been before Jaipur. I told him that I came from Pakistan to Delhi and then to Jaipur. He honed in on the Pakistan, and asked why I was visiting there. I told him that I wasn’t visiting – that I lived and worked in Pakistan.
At this, he literally jumped back and was like, “Are you a terrorist?”
I was thinking, “Good one, retard,” but I instead answered him, “No. Are you a terrorist?”
And, of course, he denied being one.
Like the last kid, he went on to relay his tales of American standoffishness. His story involved a traveler who kept insisting he was Canadian. Then after some grilling, he admitted to Ravi that he was really American, but that he was afraid to be identified as such.
Not to be insensitive, but what a loser! Firstly, India isn’t known to be hostile against Americans. And secondly, if the guy wanted to lie, he could have at least stuck to his story instead of getting caught in it.
Ravi proudly explained how he knew from the start that the guy was American and not Canadian because of his accent. Then he went on to sermonize about how honesty is the best policy.
Ravi asked what I was doing for the rest of the night, and I told him I was going to catch the 10:00 movie. He checked his watch and told me that I still had some time to kill. Then he asked if I wouldn’t join him for a beer while I waited.
I agreed and we went into a bar called Bouncer’s that was near where we were talking. Not realizing the power I wielded, I commented to Ravi that it was kind of dark inside. Ravi immediately called a member of the bar staff over and had him brighten the lights. I told Ravi that I was just making a comment and that I wasn’t expecting them to change the lights on my account. It was done, though, so I just left it alone.
We ordered a few Kingfisher beers, and before they arrived, a friend of Ravi’s came in. He was a weaselly guy named Sanjay.
Turns out that they normally hang out in one of two bars. Sanjay was waiting in the other for Ravi, and when he didn’t show, he figured correctly that he was in Bouncer’s.
Sanjay was the dominant friend, and he decided that they should take me to the other bar, which was supposed to be nicer.
I didn’t care either way, so I agreed.
We cancelled our beer order, and walked around the corner to a hotel bar called something like 2K2 Bar.
Like at Bouncer’s, the room was full of guys and not a single woman.
We walked upstairs to the seating area and took a table. There was Indian music blasting. The TV over the bar was showing a fashion show.
I ordered a large bottle of beer. It was Kingfisher Strong (or something like that) with twice the alcohol of the regular. It came with a complimentary napkin full of potato chips.
Sanjay poured me a glass and handed it to me. I was waiting for him and Ravi to fill their glasses, but they said they were going to wait a little longer to order beer for themselves. They told me it was their custom for the guest to drink first. As I had the huge bottle, I filled their glasses anyway and we toasted.
Then the drinking started. They both kept telling me how much they loved beer and how they always drank a lot. That was funny, since they were nursing their beers something fierce.
I was drinking at a regular pace, and every time I would put my glass down, they would top it off. I got the distinct feeling that they were trying to get me drunk.
I relished the challenge, though. I had been in training for just such an occasion for the past 18 months on the Islamabad party circuit. These jokers didn’t know who they were dealing with.
When one bottle was emptied, the bartender would replace it. And so the night began.
We talked as I drank and they nursed. They were both in business and had traveled extensively (so much for Ravi’s “honesty is the best policy” bit). They each probably listed 20 countries they had visited, including the U.S., and here Ravi had been telling me that he didn’t have opportunity to travel.
Sanjay was also a legal resident of Nepal, where he had one of his businesses.
They asked where I worked and I told them the Embassy. At this, the genius Ravi tells me, “Never tell people that you work at the Embassy. That is why shopkeepers charge you too much and the beggars ask you for money. Tell them you work for the Red Cross.”
His advice was all good and well, but I don’t generally tell beggars and shopkeepers what I do for a living in the first place. If I did announce I worked for the Red Cross, I seriously doubt I’d be getting any sweet deals. And yet again, what happened to Mr. Honesty?
Ravi’s ignorance was nicely coupled with Sanjay’s sliminess. Sanjay told me about his wife and new baby… and his girlfriend.
They told me that they knew several Americans who were in Jaipur learning Hindi. They offered to organize a small house party in my honor with the other Americans, but I told them not to bother. Between the bar and my movie at 10:00, I didn’t have time.
Once that offer was declined, Ravi suddenly remembered that there would be some Hindu festival later that night. It didn’t take much convincing before I agreed to join them for this festival. One of their other friends had a car and he would be by later to take them.
When I said I would go, Ravi was especially pleased.
Meanwhile, Sanjay had turned his attention to the music in the bar. He yelled to the waiter, who went to the stereo and turned it up.
Sanjay was like, “This is a great song.” And it must have been because every guy in the bar started belting it out.
I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. It was totally a Bollywood moment.
This continued song after song. Each song was “a great song.” I had no choice but to continue working on my beer.
Ravi turned to me at one point and told me how he and Sanjay ruled this bar. And it appeared to be true. They were the only ones ordering the waiter around to adjust the volume or change the song.
The music was deafening.
As if things were interesting enough already, things got weirder. Three men dressed as women entered the bar. I don’t know if the preferred term is transvestite or cross-dresser, so I’ll just use transvestite.
Anyhow, these 3 transvestites came in, and all of the men started hooting and howling.
Of the 3 transvestites, only one could have maybe passed as a woman. The others were too tall and they had large manly facial features.
They came in and sat at the table directly behind us.
Sanjay gave me the eyebrow wag and asked what I thought of the ladies. I told him it was pretty obvious that they were men.
He thought I was pretty sharp. He explained how actual women only went to expensive hotel bars, and how they generally only drank tequila which was considered classy.
The transvestites were the center of attention. They flirted with the guys, who in turn flirted back.
Sanjay and Ravi were giddy with excitement. They kept telling me, “The gays are going to dance soon. The gays are going to dance soon.” And before long, a clamor rose for the transvestites to dance.
After a few more Bollywood sing-a-longs, they obliged.
It was awful. First the transvestites danced alone. Then guys went out and joined them. There they were freaky dancing with the transvestites, and the whole scene was all the more disturbing since the transvestites danced like men. It might have been different if they moved like women, but they didn’t.
At one point, the “pretty” transvestite tried to draw me out on the floor with some scarf flapping. There wasn’t enough liquor in the building for that.
Before long, one of the guys got out of hand, and the fake breast of one of the transvestites got knocked out of place. All three stormed off in a huff and left the bar.
There was a long wave of laughter, and then things settled back down to the sing-a-long.
Shortly after the transvestites left, genius Ravi turned, laughing to himself, and whispered to me, “Those were mens.”
I was like, “Yeah, I know.”
After a little longer, Ravi asked if I was ready to go to the festival. I told him I was, so he went to call his friend with the car.
When the waiter brought the bill, my two companions suddenly remembered that they forgot to get money before they came. Convenient. We had drunk about 3 liters of beer, and since I had probably drunk at least 2 of those on my own, I didn’t mind paying. That and the fact that it all totaled around seven bucks.
I was nowhere close to being drunk.
Now that we were ready to leave, I went to the bathroom. I had needed to pee for a long time, but I got the feeling that if I had left the table earlier I would have come back to a ruffinol in my beer. These guys were shifty.
At this point, you might be asking yourself why I would purposely get in a car with perfect strangers who I suspected would ruffie my beer if given the chance. My answer to that is that they didn’t seem violent to me. The worst thing that I could see them doing was robbing me blind.
And since I am writing this story, I clearly walked away from the incident.
Anyhow, when I came back from the bathroom, Sanjay had a surprise for me. He had selected an American song in my honor. So I took my seat with a sense of impending doom. And there I was, sitting at my table with about 30 Indian guys singing Barbie Girl to me. Sanjay was hanging all over my chair getting up in my face as he sang.
After the longest 3 minutes of my life, that damn song ended. And right after that, I told Ravi and Sanjay that I was going to wait for the car outside.
Sanjay was like, “Oh, did we make you uncomfortable?”
To which I told him, “No, but we also have a tradition where I come from: You leave the bar after you pay your bill.”
Ravi bolted out to check on the car’s arrival. He came back to tell me that it would be there in 5 minutes.
I went outside to wait. I was there with all the drivers and hotel service personnel.
As soon as I got outside, the sky opened up. It was a torrential downpour. All of us outside huddled under the covered walkway, but it was raining so hard, there was a lot of splatter and we still got pretty wet.
Five minutes came and went. Then 10 minutes. Ravi told me again that the car would be there any minute.
Twenty minutes passed. I figured that the car might have been delayed because of the rain, but I also wasn’t going to wait around all night. I decided that when 45 minutes hit, I was leaving.
And before long, I was outta there. By the time I left it was close to midnight. Ravi and Sanjay didn’t see me leave, so I undoubtedly became the next standoffish American for the stories they would share with travelers they would encounter in the future.
The rain had been so intense that the streets were totally flooded. For a while, I was able to avoid the water by using the sidewalks, but there were no sidewalks for a long stretch of my walk.
At the end of the sidewalk, there was a large group of people. Seeing that the water wasn’t going anywhere fast, I took off my shoes and socks and continued on my way.
I was walking in the street, in water nearly to my knees, barefoot. And I was slightly pissed off. Aside from the rain, I was angry at Ravi for causing me to miss the movie and the Hindu festival.
I must have been looking pretty hard as I walked down the street because even the beggars left me alone. This made me laugh out loud. And this made people look at me more strangely, I think.
Eventually, the water drained enough so that there were dry places to walk. I put on my shoes and continued.
After a while, I came upon two guys named DJ and VJ (or maybe Deejay and Veejay or Dijay and Vijay?). We had a nice chat whereby they kept asking me in Hindi if I could give them 50 rupees so they could buy alcohol. I acted confused and kept telling them that they were very generous but I couldn’t accept their money. This was actually good fun, and we were all laughing a lot.
Then this bike rickshaw driver named Ramlad drove up. He started going off about these two guys, telling me how they are always up to no good and so forth.
Ramlad killed the fun and DJ and VJ left, so I took a ride in his rickshaw back to the guesthouse. During the ride, he told me how he just likes to help people and how he wanted to give me a free ride home. I told him that was cool.
When we got to the guesthouse, I offered him the going rate for the ride he gave me, and he took the money without a moment’s hesitation. I guess he didn’t want to give me a free ride that badly.
Like Ravi, the tuk-tuk driver, he offered to pick me up in the morning if I wanted a ride. I told him thanks, but no.
I was muddy, so I hit the shower before bed. There was no towel provided and I forgot to bring one. I guess I can’t complain since the rate was only $8 a day.
I air-dried under the ceiling fan and went to bed.
Meanwhile, off at Guardian Angel Headquarters, my account rep was feeling a bit stressed. That very night, he put in a transfer request for a less stupid ward who wouldn’t be so much trouble.
I had a good night’s sleep, woke up on time, and was out of the guesthouse by 8:00 as I had said I would be. I walked to the bus station which was a few kilometers away, stopping for breakfast along the way.
At the bus station, I caught a bus to Delhi. So as to get out quicker, I didn’t wait for a bus with A/C.
Unlike the ride to Jaipur where the bus was practically empty, this bus was totally full.
I was seated next to a young woman, and I had the window seat. I had the window open. She reached across me and closed it. Evidently, she was cold.
The ride back to Delhi was much the same as the ride out of Delhi, only I slept less and stared out the window more.
A few hours into the ride, a young woman went up and was having a conversation with the driver and the bus supervisor guy. Then she started watching out the window. Meanwhile, the driver slowed the bus down, waiting for her signal. I assumed that she was getting off between stops so that she could access her village or something. That wasn’t the case. She was scouting for a place to use the bathroom.
Eventually she called the bus to a stop, and ran down the road toward a house. Several men also got off and relieved themselves a few feet from the bus. Then everyone piled back on and we were off.
Not fifteen minutes later, we were cruising down the road, overtaking a truck that was transporting steel beams. Thanks to some slick bus driving, we rammed the truck. It practically tore the door off the bus. All the Indians were tsking.
The truck pulled over in the shoulder, and we pulled up next to it. The drivers started yelling at each other in Hindi. I was curious as to what our driver was yelling since it was totally his fault.
Before long, several of the passengers on the bus started yelling out the windows. It was crazy. Then passers-by started gathering outside.
I was waiting to see if they would start singing, but this Bollywood scenario never materialized.
People were really getting hot under the collar. One or two guys were arguing in English and the guy on the bus was yelling about how this stupid accident was holding up a whole bus load of people.
While we were stopped, the bus supervisor tied a rope around the bashed-up door to hold in on to the bus. And soon enough we were off.
In no time, we were all back to zoning out and sleeping.
Then we were back at the half-way point rest stop area.
We all debussed, ate snacks, and used the bathrooms. Then we loaded back up.
Before long, we had another situation develop.
All along the route, the road would go through villages. In the villages, there would be people all around and at one village area, there were speed bumps.
Our driver wasn’t paying attention, and we hit the first speed bump pretty much at full speed.
The back of the bus flew up, and when it came down, the back window came down on the people in the back row as a shower of glass. This was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Several of us were laughing – including many of the people covered in glass. Now that’s a good attitude!
Unfortunately, since the bus was full, everyone had to stay put, glass or no.
We arrived in Delhi without breaking anything else or exploding, so that was good. Once we stopped at the bus station, the driver came back asking what the people had done to his window. As you can imagine, he got an earful from the passengers. It was his fault afterall.
At the bus station, there were several tuk-tuks waiting for customers. Their prices were ridiculous, so I skipped them and walked down the road.
Close to the India Gate monument, I caught a tuk-tuk at a much better price. He was carrying on about losing money with the fare I wanted, but I was insistent. The driver and I finally agreed on a fixed price, but I had him turn on the meter just for kicks. When we arrived at the Hyatt, the meter was lower than the straight price we had agreed on. I pointed this out to show the driver what a good deal I was giving him. He wasn’t amused.
I went inside and checked in. Since Nenita was holding most of my things, I only had the clothes I was wearing (which were 3 dusty days old at this point), my camera, and my toiletries kit.
I called Nenita’s room. No answer.
As it turned out, she had gone on a day-trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. The trip was an optional part of the conference, but I had already been to the Taj and wasn’t interested in going a second time.
The clothes I was wearing were too skanky to walk around the hotel in, so I ordered room service for dinner and sat in my room and watched TV. Every 20 or 30 minutes, I’d call Nenita’s room. She got in late, and my whole afternoon was wasted.
After she got back in the evening, I went to get my stuff. I went with another good friend, Josie.
When Nenita answered her door, I commented that her t-shirt was funny. It had a picture of a camel, and the caption read, “Rajasthan – a great place for a good hump.” She proudly told me how she had bought it at one of the hotel stores.
Then we talked briefly, and I got my things that Nenita was holding for me.
As we left, Josie and I were talking. Josie was like, “She has no idea what her shirt is referring to. You have to tell her.”
I couldn’t believe it. Surely Nenita was aware that her t-shirt had a double meaning.
I explained the shirt to her later, and she was mortified. Poor Nenita. The funniest thing to me about the whole incident was that she’s the same age as my parents.
Nenita changed shirts, and the camel shirt was permanently out of circulation after that. Pity.
At the conference, I got to see several people that I knew from orientation and a few that I used to work with in Islamabad. Of the orientation crowd, I saw my good friends Felicia and Diana.
Near the end of the first day of the conference, I checked my e-mail for the first time in several days. I received an e-mail from my father dated a few days earlier, notifying me of my grandfather’s death. He had been in a coma for a few weeks after undergoing surgery, so it wasn’t a total shock. So, although I loved Grandpa, there were no tears. As I continued to open my e-mails, I opened another from my father. This one got to me. It turns out that my mother and her brother (my uncle) had taken Grandpa off life support and watched him breathe his last. Pulling the plug is a big responsibility and I wished I had been around to offer support to Mom.
An unfortunate aspect of all this was that I had mentioned to my parents that I would be going to India, but only in passing. They ended up not remembering, and they didn’t know how to contact me.
By the time I read the e-mails, there were only 2 days before the funeral was to take place in Virginia.
I researched flights that afternoon and the following morning, and with the help of the onsite travel agent who was assigned to the Embassy in Delhi, I got some tickets reserved. They were very expensive, as one would expect for last minute fares from Delhi to Virginia, so I asked my parents what they thought before I bought them. They both agreed that I shouldn’t spend so much money for the funeral, and they felt Grandpa would agree.
And so I didn’t go.
On the day that I had gotten the news, I pretty much had the computer room to myself. After I started looking normal again, Josie came in to check her e-mail and immediately asked what was wrong.
I told her.
Later that afternoon, we had a 20-minute break in the conference schedule, and we decided to go get a drink.
We went to the hotel bar and ordered. There were no other customers. The waiter was intolerably slow, especially considering the time limit of the break, but our drinks eventually came.
We had a toast for Grandpa Jim, downed our drinks, and went back for the last few presentations of the day.
That evening, I went to a reception, and then I went with my good friend Matt to catch a Bollywood movie – finally.
Dhoom wasn’t playing at the theater we went to. The feature we watched instead was called Bride and Prejudice – a faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice taking place in modern-day India. It was in English.
At this theater, all the seats were sold by number, unlike in the States where you buy a ticket and then go sit wherever you want.
Matt and I opted for the best tickets – premium class – and they cost about $3. The ticket seller told us that he would give us good seats. The theater was a single screen, similar to the Uptown in DC, and our premium class seats were on the front row in the center of the balcony. We got awesome seats.
When we went to our seats, there was an old lady already sitting there. We had her move out of our assigned seats. She did move, but she kept asking us to scoot down so there would be room for her family to sit.
Seeing as how her family didn’t have tickets for these seats, Matt told her that we wouldn’t be moving. Then he turned to me and was like, “Looks like someone is trying to get a free upgrade to premium class.” That cracked me up.
The lady ended up with her family more on the fringes of the balcony area.
I had popcorn and Coke, and the movie was pretty good. The whole experience was a great way to end a downer of a day.
Plus it was a special treat just going to a theater. In Islamabad, the only theater in town got burned down in a riot last year and was never rebuilt. And before that, it was off-limits due to security concerns, anyway.
The next day, after the end of the conference presentations, I went shopping with my good friend Julie.
We didn’t buy much, but I was able to chalk up another traffic accident. This time, our taxi ran into a motorcycle and knocked the driver onto the road. After a bit of a discussion, he rode off and so did we.
All this crashing – the motorcycle guy and the earlier 2 incidents on the bus from Jaipur – was something I hadn’t expected. Sure, the traffic in India is a mess, but I had always assumed that it just magically worked itself out somehow. Clearly, it wasn’t working out for everyone, though.
Julie and I had been shopping at a craft market called Dilli Haat, and an expensive handicraft emporium. All I got was a cheap paper mache cow from Dilli Haat. It looked like a child had made it.
After shopping, I went touring with Matt.
We grabbed a taxi from the Hyatt taxi queue, and our driver was a guy named Krishna Rit (sounds like Reet).
We hit Safdarjang’s Tomb first. Matt talked us in at the local’s price using his Pakistani diplomatic card (I hadn’t brought mine), and the savings were substantial. The Tomb was nice and well maintained.
Next we went to Humayun’s Tomb. This time, the ticket seller again sold us locals tickets, but when we went to the entrance, the ticket collector wouldn’t accept them. We paid the foreigner price. Humayun’s Tomb was impressive. Its architecture was a precursor to the Taj Mahal.
By the time we left, it was getting dark. We had Krishna take us to see the illuminated India Gate. After that, we drove down the main avenue where all the government buildings were located, and stopped to look at someone’s house – the president’s I think. We both agreed the house was ugly.
I had a dinner to go to that night, and time was getting short.
Matt wanted to get dropped off at Connaught Place, so we decided that we would drop him there and then I would have the driver drop me off at my dinner.
Connaught Place is an area of stores and restaurants around a traffic circle. It is the center of Delhi, and any fool driver would know how to find it.
According to the map, Connaught Place was only a few streets from India Gate. Yet Krishna Rit was weaving through all sorts of back streets and alleys.
Matt was looking at the map, and repeatedly asked Krishna where we were going. Krishna kept insisting that we were going to Connaught Place.
And after 10 or 15 minutes, we stopped – not at Connaught Place, but at a handicraft emporium. It was the same rip-off place Julie and I had been to that afternoon. I had also been taken there on my last trip to Delhi in May. This place must have paid a good commission, though, because all the drivers were always trying to funnel people there.
Matt was quite perturbed. He and Krishna had words in Urdu, during which Matt told him that we would not be paying the full meter price since it was artificially inflated by the unwanted detour to the craft emporium. And part of the discount we would take was punitive, of course.
Krishna knew he was busted and didn’t offer much of an argument.
After that, we dropped Matt at Connaught Place and continued on to the house where I was to have dinner. During the ride, Krishna continued to rationalize his detour to me. He was getting on my nerves.
After stopping several times for directions, he finally found the house. I paid him his reduced fare and told him not to wait.
Dinner was great.
The next evening, Matt and I continued touring. We hit the Qutb Minar. The main thing here was a large victory tower, which we photographed excessively. Another cool thing here was the iron pillar. It was over 2,000 years old and was forged with such purity that it had never rusted. Modern scientists still don’t know how the Indians made it since the technology that was used has been lost.
While Matt and I were touring the Qutb Minar complex, an old Indian woman pointed out some cool angles to photograph the tower. Having fallen for this at the Taj on my first trip to India, I knew that as soon as I took her advice and photo-ed from her suggested vantage, she would start hounding me for a tip. I brushed this woman off. Then when she went to harass other tourists, I took some photos from her suggested spot. It was a nice spot, which is no shocker. If I hung around at the same place every day, I’d probably know all the cool views too.
Matt wasn’t familiar with the photo advice scheme, but we watched the helpful old woman working on a European woman and the scene played out like I knew it would. The tourist coughed up some rupees.
There was a barbeque that night at the Embassy’s American Club, so we didn’t tour any more after Qutb Minar.
I stayed for a short while at the barbeque and then went back into town for some shopping.
The shopping was good in Delhi. One night I went shopping with Nenita and Diana. We went to a government craft store and got some awesome stuff. Then we went shopping in the Janpath Market area, and got some real treasurers. A lot of Tibetan things come into India. Nenita ended up with some Dragon-shaped trumpets, and I got a cool evil looking mask that was supposed to scare bad spirits away. Diana made some interesting purchases as well. She and Nenita also got several pieces of jewelry – anklets I think.
Nenita, all the while, was on a mission. She was on the hunt for scorpion or dragon jewelry. She would ask every vendor if he had anything, and she kept coming up empty.
We eventually ended up at Dilli Haat.
Diana was a Dilli Haat junkie. I think she went there everyday of the conference at least once. I started to suspect that she had a serious problem one day when we were having a video teleconference with Colin Powell. When it came time for questions, Diana took the mike and asked the Secretary, “Can I go to Dilli Haat now?” Then she started twitching and drooling, before collapsing on the floor. The Secretary took it all in stride.
I got some good deals at Dilli Haat, using my favorite bargaining device – the walk-away.
It was fun watching the others bargain, especially Nenita. She’s not the least bit aggressive. Rather, she bargains with an almost exaggerated cheerfulness. Like the rest of us, it worked sometimes and sometimes it didn’t.
On our last night in Delhi, Friday night, Nenita and I went for a little more shopping, and then we went to dinner with our good friend Chris, also from Islamabad. He was in Delhi attending another conference.
Chris had hired a car for the day, so he picked Nenita and me up at the hotel. Having spent so much time together, Chris and the driver had developed quite a rapport. The driver cracked me up, though. He was this little guy, driving this big car, and you could tell that he just wanted to please. Unfortunately, he couldn’t understand everything that was said to him since his English had a few kinks.
A few days before, Nenita, Julie, and I had gone to dinner at the Indian restaurant in the Hyatt. The quote on the menu was something to the effect of “Enjoy the flavors of Indian street cuisine”. The food tasted good enough, but it definitely wasn’t at street prices. We didn’t have that much food and we ended up paying like literally 50 bucks a head. That would last for weeks if we had used it on actual street food, instead of gourmet street food.
Anyhow, we didn’t want to have a repeat of that, so we went with Chris to a restaurant outside the hotel – one that locals might eat at.
We had his driver drop us off, and Chris told him to be back in an hour and a half.
Then we sat down for some serious grub. I was cracking up the whole meal watching the waiters misunderstand things and in turn watching Chris and Nenita’s reactions. Not to mention, Chris is an endless source of corny jokes and puns.
Nenita kept telling me to stop laughing so much, but I couldn’t help her out with that one.
The food was tasty and cheap – a winning combination.
When we finished, the driver wasn’t around, so we walked down the street to see what was happening at the little shops. This was not a good shopping area, and it didn’t take us long to realize there wasn’t anything for us to do there.
As we were walking back toward the restaurant to wait for the car, the little guy in the big car came driving down the road and got us.
He had picked up one of his friends while we were eating.
After that, we went back to the hotel. I was tired so I called it a night.
The flight schedules were limited for our return to Islamabad, so we all ended up on the Saturday afternoon flight.
That left Saturday morning open for touring.
Matt and I were going to go, but he overslept. He told me to go without him, so I went with Nenita.
We went out to the taxi queue and we ended up in Krishna Rit’s car. I recognized that he was familiar, but I couldn’t recall how I knew him.
He agreed to drive us around for 100 rupees an hour (a little over $2 US), which was a pretty common price.
Our first stop was to the Railway Museum.
We arrived before it opened, so we had to stand around for about 10 minutes.
The museum itself was pretty worn-out. The neat part was all the locomotives from throughout India’s history that were displayed on the lawn.
Matt seemed to have been maybe half an hour to an hour behind us. We saw him at the Railway Museum when we were close to leaving.
Right when we left, a group of young school kids filed in with their teachers.
Our next stop was to Old Delhi to visit Jama Masjid and the Red Fort.
Taxis are not allowed in the Old City, so there comes a point when you have to leave your taxi and either walk or hire a bike rickshaw to go the rest of the way.
Krishna Rit explained this to us and pulled up near a shop. There were rickshaws all up and down the road.
He told us to go into the shop “just to have a look” and the shopkeeper would provide us a rickshaw free of charge to go into Old Delhi.
We told him that we were not going to have a look and that we weren’t interested in the free rickshaw.
At this point, things started getting heated, and I was able to place Krishna as the same guy who had been a pain with me and Matt earlier in the week.
We told him that we would just hire a rickshaw from the street, and he and shopkeeper started accusing all the other drivers of being crooks. Only their recommended rickshaw driver was honest, supposedly.
This hassle lasted for several minutes, and several drivers and passers-by nosed by to see what the issue was.
At this point, there was no way in hell that Nenita and I were going in that store. It was a matter of principle.
We ended up getting our own rickshaw and heading into Old Delhi.
The first place we hit was Jama Masjid, which is the largest mosque in India. In India, the pricing structure for attractions included a price for Indians, a price for foreigners, and an additional charge for cameras.
When we got up to the entrance of Jama Masjid, my camera was clearly visible, so I paid the foreigner-with-camera price. Nenita had her camera in her purse, so the ticket man asked her if she had a camera. Her memory card was full, so she wasn’t going to use her camera. She should have just said she didn’t have one, but instead she opted to try and explain that she had one but wouldn’t be using it. This didn’t fly, and the guy insisted that she pay. It was only a few rupees more, so she paid it. She was pissed, though.
After we looked around at the mosque, we went to the Red Fort. The fort in Lahore is similar, and I’ve been to that one 3 times. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Red Fort.
While we were at the Fort, we ran into Matt again.
After the Red Fort, we decided to walk through the choked markets of Old Delhi. Nenita was looking for some casual shirts, and it looked like a good place to find some.
As we walked along, people kept trying to latch on to us and steer us to their shops. It was getting annoying.
This one guy asked what we wanted and Nenita described the shirts she was looking for. Supposedly, this guy knew a place where there were many stores lined up that were selling shirts like this. We foolishly followed him.
After we had walked completely away from the main market street, he showed us a shop. It was definitely not part of a long line of shirt shops. It was either a store he owned or one that was paying him a commission. We were not amused with the dumpy store, considering the hike we had made to get to it. We left.
This guy wouldn’t take a hint.
As we continued shopping, he offered comments on everything. “That shirt is poor quality. This shop is expensive. I know where you can get more colors.”
He was getting to be a royal pain. I was like, “We are not going to your store, and we do not want your advice. Please leave.”
And he stayed around and continued to bother us. The sad part is that I think he actually thought that we might be compelled to give him a second chance if he kept “helping” us.
Our time was running out before we had to be back at the hotel to catch the car to the airport. We went back to the rickshaw.
The driver pedaled us back to Krishna’s taxi. I don’t know about Nenita, but I was tempted to not go back to Krishna and just catch another taxi back to the hotel. Of course, that would have been dishonest since we owed him for at least the driving he had already done.
When we got back to the car, we paid our rickshaw guy, and then Krishna started his whining again.
“Just have a look! Don’t buy! Just have a look!”
Nenita and I loaded into the van and closed the doors. There was a snake charmer outside with a cobra in a basket.
Krishna saw us in the car and got into the driver’s seat in a huff.
Then he was like, “When I gave you the rate this morning, that was special price. If you won’t go inside, the deal is off. Now I will use the meter. I gave you low price because I will get store commission. No look inside, then no special price. The deal is off!”
The meter had not been turned on the whole trip, so I don’t know how he would have charged us for that anyway.
It wasn’t an issue, though. I told him that we would pay him what we had agreed to pay him and that was the end of the discussion.
At that, we were off, and Krishna started belly-aching about needing to get home. We were paying him for a 5 hour block, and we still had time left.
I had him drop me off at a store, and then he took Nenita back to the hotel.
I came to find out later from Nenita that he ran out of gas before they got to the hotel. That was a nice touch to the already stellar service he was providing.
I looked around the market a little and came back to the hotel. And soon we all loaded up and went to the airport.
At check-in, there was a small annoyance. At the conference, we had been told by the travel agent that all of our tickets had been reconfirmed for our return flights. This was not the case. Everyone had been reconfirmed except me and Matt.
Matt asked them if the flight was full and they told him that once the people who had reconfirmed their seats were accounted for, there were still 20-something seats available.
They wanted us to wait until all the confirmed passengers had checked-in, but this didn’t make sense.
By the time we were checking-in, it was too late for anyone else to reconfirm. Those who hadn’t yet reconfirmed, but were holding valid tickets, should have then been handled on a first-come-first-served basis. Since there were at least 20 seats, and since we were there first, the airline should have just assigned us seats on the spot. I’m sure that’s what any other airline would have done.
Eventually they did check us in without making us wait until the end of the check-in period. They didn’t do it without making a stink though.
As we flew from Delhi to Lahore, I had a window seat, and the sunset was superb.
A few hours at the Lahore Airport, an hour more in the air, and we were back in Islamabad.
And before long, I was safe at home – camera, cow, and all.