I love Indian people.
Traveling this country has been hard. It's dirty, poor, and has given us challenges I have never faced while traveling before (sickness, travel hazards, security checkpoints...) and yet after all the dust has settled one thing remains - the people. And gosh, they are beautiful and interesting.
We have had 80% positive interactions (opposite of what I experience in Chi.naville). One of my favorite things is collecting characters. In Hangzhou I have many - my foot massager, hair dresser, doctors, vegetable seller, etc. And India has introduced many more fabulous souls to my memory.
Let me introduce you to some of our Indian characters:
Mona. Mona is a common Indian name that means, "kid." Mona is also the guest coordinator at the Alka Hotel in Varanasi. He is clever, constantly chews Beetle leaves making his teeth a bright red color, and knows everyone in the back alleys of Varanasi. We swear he's either mafia or the village idiot everyone appeases. He knows how to please foreign tourists, cracking open bottles of wine for rich white people (not us, ha), and offering walking tours. We hired him for a day to take us around the city. He is a devout Hindu who spent 20 minutes telling us over and over again how every morning he, "touches the penis," - a statue that must be touched in one of the temples he took us to. Apparently to Hindus, it is sacred. To us it was hilarious. We saw him for two days after our tour and each day one of the boys asked him, "Mona, did you touch the penis today?" He never responded.
Rahul. Rahul is a tuk tuk driver in Jaipur. He works outside Hotel Kalyan and uses his impeccable English and good humor to attract repeat customers. Women traveling alone trust him, so he can charge a higher price for better service and a trust-factor. We rented him for a day to drive us around after deciding that we liked him and wanted to support him. He waited for us outside a fort for 4 hours. He used to work in a company making 3 dollars a day. The 12 dollars a day he makes as a tuk tuk driver puts him in a higher class. When asked how many girlfriends he has, he responded, "2 - a woman, and my tuk tuk."
Richard. Richard is also a tuk tuk driver. He stopped us while we were walking along the road yesterday to ask us why, "Westerners ignore people." We explained that the constant heckling from touts may cause some tourists to walk by without responsding (we too are guilty of this on occasion). He then went on in great English to tell us that when visiting a place, you must know the people not the buildings. I was only half listening to his rehearsed speech though, because I was busy admiring his clean, sharp suit top and snazzy hairdo. Richard can't read or write, but learns English by stopping foreigners on the street - like us.
Shena. Shena has been an educator for over 18 years. She looks old enough to be my grandmother, but after observing how fast people age here, she is probably no older than my mother. Her skin is leathery and she is clothes in red sari material and golden jewels. Her ankles steps make a clanking sound from her adorned ankles. Mona teaches street girls at the Ladli school. (www.ladli.com). We visited to purchase jewelry the girls make to support themselves. Mona is tough, takes no prisoners, and expects the best from her girls. Mona exhibits qualities I want to have as a woman - strength and gracefulness intertwined. Peace and an internal fire. She held my hands to kiss me goodbye when we exited the compound after our short visit.
Shana. Shana owns the B Villas in Udaipur. When we walked into the doors this morning he appeared from the shadows and cried out, "Jessica!" I had made the reservation and he was waiting for us. He then grabbed each of us and pulled us into a tight bear hug. "Here is not hotel, here is home," he said after guiding us slowly up our never-ending flights of stairs to our guestroom. He wears coke-bottle glasses and a sweater vest. He is old and curious and charming. He is waiting for me to finish this blog on the computer behind the desk so he can show me his friend's blog. We're old pals who have known each other 10 hours - 2 generations and a culture apart and yet able to share tea and life stories.
I love all these people. I am interested in these people. In how they are different from me and how the luck of the draw placed us each in our corners of the world, determining so much about us.
We have arrived in Udaipur after spending 3 relaxing days in Jaipur. These are the nicest cities of our itinerary and we are very happy to have saved them for last. We are all moderately healthy, rested, and happy to relax a bit. The streets are much quieter here, shop owners less pushy, and there is a chill atmosphere, very different than Varanasi, Agra, or Amritsar.
A James Bond movie was filmed here so tonight's plan is to find a roof-top bar and watch the film. Tomorrow we are riding horses to a village. That should be funny.
We have been counting down the days left with sadness. Two nights here, a night on a train, then one night in Delhi and then we fly to Hong Kong. I am so sad to part with India. I am already scheming a way to get back here.
I need more Indian characters in my life.
walk slow. xoxo.