>Friday, March 30

Fearless Leader, our obnoxious tour guide, in a departure from his usual incompetent behavior, actually gave us crucial information about our day's activities.

"We are taking elephants up to Amber Fort this morning," he announced on the bus. "There will be two people per elephant. You should tip the driver no more than 100 rupees. That's 50 rupees per person."

After repeating this 45 times, we understood and debarked. While waiting in line for the elephant, Ray and I bought awesome folk dolls for 150 rupees (about $4 US) per set. Then it was our turn to get on our beast of burden. We stood on a platform and clambered onto a giant seat strapped onto the elephant.

And we were off. Our elephant driver must have been a cab driver at some point. He urged our elephant to pass the other elephants in a race to the top. I believe the idea was to get there fast, collect our tip, drop us off, and race down the hill to get the next group. The faster he went, the more tips he could collect. He did slow down a bit to offer to take out pictures and tried chatting us up. Unfortunately, he also put his sweaty turban on my head before I could stop him. I am not a big fan of sharing head gear with people, even ones I know.

We got to the top so fast there was no one else from my group in sight. The elephant driver then tried to shake us down.

"More tip! More tip!" he screamed in my face after I gave him 100 rupees, as Fearless Leader instructed.

"No," Ray and I said.

"Yes! You give me more tip!" He was livid as we climbed off the elephant onto the platform, where another guy began shaking up down for a picture he took of us while we were on the elephant. That's when we were surrounded by other people trying to sell shit to us. We fled and hung around by another group until the harassment died down and more people arrived.

The group fought off the hawkers until we actually were inside the fort. Then I had to follow Fearless Leader because it is easy to get lost in the labyrinthine passages. We spent maybe 90 minutes in the fort. It was swelteringly hot. On the way out, the hawkers were the most persistent we had ever encountered. It was most disconcerting having things shoved in your face constantly. We took Jeeps back down the hill and to the bus. As always, I was happy to see Malikit and Mohindish.

Although this was yesterday, I cannot remember what we did in the afternoon. Actually, now that I think about it, I think what I reported as happening on Thursday with the "shopping" actually took place on Friday. Since our itinerary is not accurate and I clearly am fried, I have no idea. I do think I was confused, though. Well, the story still stands.

Eventually, we wound up at Jantar Mantar, which is an utterly amazing set of sundials built hundreds of years ago. One is accurate to 20 seconds. That one also happens to be the World's Largest Sundial. Fearless Leader arranged for someone who actually knew what he was talking about to show us the sundials and explain the importance of astrology to Hindus. Some of the sundials showed calendars and sun positions so that people would know what signs they were born under and when to get married. Awesome Guide also asked us our birthdays, location of birth, and time of day and then gave us our signs. I think I was born at 8:30 am or so, and according to Awesome Guide, my sign is Capricorn with Mercury rising. This means that I am bossy and good at supervision and management. I may be bossy, but I am not that great at supervising people. Oh well.

On a side note, one of the things that this trip has made clear to me is that I need to stop whining about my career or lack thereof. I have been worrying about what I want to do with my life now that I am burned out of nonprofit management at the ripe old age of 31, and what the chances are of having a real writing career. Here, most people don't have options. They are born into them, like the guys who cut the marble inlay at the evil marble factory, which is supposedly a family craft. Or Malikit and Mohindish, who can either drive a bus or be homeless. There is not much freedom of choice at all. It is depressing as hell.

Anyway, after the sundials, Fearless Leader sat around dithering about what people wanted to do next. Eventually, he decided that Mohindish and Malikit could drive people back to the hotel if they did not want to visit the City Palace Museum, then come back and pick up the people who did go to the museum. While dithering, he left us surrounded by homeless children and women. We decided to move across the street, and then he was annoyed at us.

By the time we go to the museum, it was quite late in the day. He is awful at gauging group interest, and tried to force people to listen to his random speeches when it was obvious that people just wanted to wander around and read the little signs ourselves. Eventually, Ray and I lost our patience and started trying to sneak into the next exhibit, which freaked Fearless Leader out, and he rounded up the group and moved on.

I really wanted to see the collection of knives, swords, and unusual daggers, including a triple-bladed dagger! – and nearly went ballistic when Fearless Leader mentioned that the museum was closing in 15 minutes. After that, we rushed him through the textile exhibit, which was pretty awesome. (One maharina's outfit pre-dated Madonna by several hundred years with its come breasts). The daggers were bitchin'. I was pleased.

We were told that we were going back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, and after dinner, we would go to a market. I knew that this was not going to happen as we never leave for dinner on time nor do we finish before 10 pm. Then everyone is tired. Ray, John, and my new delightful friend Brian decided to venture into the 'hood right outside the hotel. After a minor misadventure that led us to a small tent city and John nearly falling into a badly designed sewer grate, we wound up at a shop just outside the hotel compound. Weirdly enough, the owner knew the family of one of Ray's students. It's a small world indeed.

As I predicted, dinner ran late and we were not brought to any markets. So it goes.