>It's my last night in India. I wanted to get out and look around New Delhi a bit, but three things are preventing me from doing so. First, my hotel is located on a traffic circle. Second, there are no sidewalks that I can see. Finally, I can't see if there are any sidewalks because there are almost no streetlights. Any of these circumstances would be surmountable alone, but they are quite the potent combination. I'd be run over in about 2 seconds if I even thought about trying to cross a street.

However, this is fine because it gives me much time for reflection and I realize that I am three days behind in my travel blogging, so sitting in my cushy hotel room with a view of India Gate, which is actually lit up at night unlike the Taj Mahal, is perfect. I'll break this up into 3 posts so it is not so deadly long.

Thursday, March 29

The road from Agra to Jaipur was literally the most insanely awful path I have ever traveled. The entire damn road is under construction, so it is not paved in most places and every few miles or so, the two lanes in each direction become one lane in each direction. While I was looking out the front window, I held my breath multiple times as we appeared to be driving straight on into oncoming traffic. There was more close calls than you can shake a stick at.

After Fatehpur Sikri, we went "shopping." "Shopping" in this case means that Fearless Leader, our evil and incompetent tour guide, refuses to take us to market places where we can buy things that we want because he will get no commission. Instead, he brings us to vile tourist traps where we are first forced to watch some "educational" demonstration of how the trap's artisanal products are produced. Yesterday we began with carpets.

Since I have no intention of buying a carpet (prices start at $425), I was bitter from the get go. I drank our "hosts" stupid free Pepsi and felt smugly satisfied. After the informercial, I wandered around the emporium for a few minutes. They also sold cloth items (wall hangings, table clothes, pillow covers, clothes) and other random odds and ends. I didn't want to buy anything, so I went outside and sat down on a shady step near the entrance to the tourist trap compound.

After I consumed a melted granola bar, Bus Driver's Apprentice, Mr. Singh, materialized from wherever he is forced to hide himself when we make a stop. I was delighted.

"Do you speak any English?" I asked.

"A little," he replied. "Why are you not shopping?"

I laughed hysterically. "I don't need to buy rugs," I said and smiled.

He smiled, sat down next to me, and we chatted for a while. His name is Malikit (no doubt I am spelling it wrong), he is 29, and he did indeed get married only nine months ago. His wife is 26. He is only able to go home to his village rarely. He has been working as a bus driver's assistant for 9 years. He asked me if I was married and for how long.

"Do you drink wine?" he asked me out of nowhere.

I thought it was an odd question, but he may have thought I was wasted the prior night when Ray and I were laughing like hyenas. "No," I said truthfully.

"Germans really like to drink wine," he confided.

As we were talking, Bus Driver approached us, and I found out his name, but of course, I can't remember it now. (I think it is Mohindish or something like that.) He's been driving tour buses for 22 years. Both of them often work the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur route, but sometimes they drive up to Nepal, too. These guys work absurdly long hours and are so nice. I really, really enjoyed my time with them. It made the two or so hours at the tourist trap quite pleasant for me.

Finally, we went jewelry "shopping." This involved a lecture on uncut gemstones and then we were supposed to buy expensive jewelry. I sat around sulking. After an hour, I noticed that the cart of beverages for us was left completely unattended. I swiped two unopened Pepsis for Malikit and Mohindish, and went outside. They were hanging out and I foolishly offered each one a bottle, not noticing that a guy from the jewelry shop was watching them like hawks. They declined, so I stuck the bottles back in my bag and figured I would try again later. I hoped that they would not get in trouble.

That is the thing about this complicated, archaic country: being nice to people can get them in trouble. I thought about the times that I have gone on bus trips at home. The bus driver always joins the group inside the restaurant for meals on long hauls. Here, it would never happen. I wanted to invite Malikit and Mohindish, especially last night, to eat with us, but it occurred to me that even if they were allowed to do so by Fearless Leader, I was not sure that they would be comfortable in that situation. It is made clear by the other employees that this is not their place. (To his credit, Piggy actually asked Fearless Leader if the guys could join us, and he was completely taken aback by the idea. He assured us that the guys were fed by the restaurant in another room, but I think that is a lie because I found them on the bus today eating granola bars while we had a late lunch, but that is another story.)

We checked into the hotel and then rushed off to see a prayer ceremony at a fancy Hindu temple. It was very interesting. The Lech helped himself to some of the sweet sacrament or whatever it is, and then walked around offering it to various women in our group as if it were candy. Fearless Leader blathered on and on. Eventually, we left for dinner and then went to sleep.

I am still glowing from my chat with Malikit and Mohindish.