Well! I have just had my first bona fide proposition. 🙂 A shopkeeper in the bazaar sold me a shawl at undoubtedly inflated prices, talked me into going over to his place “for two minutes” to see something, and then tried to seduce me. It was all quite amusing. I’m even almost not insulted.
(I have to say, after four months of various guides, touts, etc. mooning after me, it’s refreshing to find someone who’s actually willing to come out and *say* it. Even if he’s a cheating SOB whose sole excuse is that it’s been two and a half months since he’s seen his wife, because she’s holding down the fort for him in Kashmir.)
So, anyway, the story on Delhi:
First, it’s apparent to me that there is considerably more violence in India (or at least Delhi) than there is in Thailand, Cambodia, etc. In my first two hours wandering around the streets of Delhi this morning, I saw two fistfights! And, the passersby didn’t seem to think this was unusual–they crowded around, but made no attempt to separate people or intervene.
I’m not sure what precipitated either fight. the first one wasn’t terribly interesting–one guy shoving another around–looked like a straightforward case of male-pattern testosterone poisoning. (For the female version, see this month’s Farang! magazine. 😉 ) But the second fight was just plain *weird*.
It started out as a middle-aged man shoving a woman around, apparently straight into the path of a moving minivan(!). I had clocked it as domestic violence and was wondering vaguely if he was trying to kill her, and whether I ought to intervene (and no, I wouldn’t have–not in a strange country, it’s too dangerous). But then the guy shoved the woman out of the way, and launched himself at the oncoming car (!)–lashing out at its headlights with his fists, as it lurched closer.
Well, I’d never seen a guy hell-bent on murdering a minivan before, and certainly never one who was willing to stand in its path to do it. (By this point, the guy’s half onto the hood and going after the windshield, with his wife hanging onto his other arm, trying to pull him off.) I backed discreetly off about fifteen feet, next to a shop (I am curious but not entirely dumb), and just as i came to a stop, the crowd started shouting again, and I saw the guy in front of a shop, grappling with another seemingly-random man, as his poor wife tried to separate them.
By this point a crowd had gathered, and I started edging off–if there was going to be a riot, i wanted to be solidly on the fringes–but the old woman shopkeeper standing next to me saw me looking nervous and said something reassuring (no clue what–she wasn’t speaking English), so I stuck around. (Little old ladies are the *perfect* protectors. No one on earth is gonna mess with them, and if someone does, they’ll whack ’em with a frying pan. Little old ladies don’t have to do the cute little maiden act anymore, you see, so they’re tough as nails. 😉 )
At any rate, the guy’s wife managed to drag him off, and someone else in the crowd helped restrain him long enough for his intended victim to disappear. I saw his victim pile back into the minivan (oh–ok–he was attacking the minivan to get at the guy inside, but really, did he think that leaping at the front of a moving minivan was the best way to do it? this guy has gotta be NUTS…), and the minivan take off through the crowd, honking. Its windshield was cracked, with a fist-sized star pattern on the driver’s side. The guy (being held back by his wife) lurched after the minivan, shouting and shaking his fist, but couldn’t keep up.
I still have NO idea what that fight was about. the downside to not speaking the language: you get a lot of inexplicable, impromptu scenes like that.
After another hour of wandering around in search of a decent restaurant, I wound up having lunch at the restaurant next door to my hotel. There I ran into a dilemma–I was thirsty, and they served me a plain glass of water.
Now, everyone knows you shouldn’t drink tap water in “Third World” countries. In most of Southeast Asia, though, they know this darn well, so they serve up a sealed bottle of water, empty glass on the side (so you can check the seal yourself). Sometimes they serve a plain glass of water–but in almost all such cases, it really does come from a bottled water supply, and if they tell you it’s safe, it generally is.
But this is India, where the guidebook has two pages of warnings on bottled-water tampering and another two on food-safety issues (including deliberately-induced food poisoning to collect insurance money (!)). In other words, you can’t always believe the restaurant. haven’t been in India long enough to have any real understanding of the dangers, so decided to skip it.
(The lasagne wasn’t particularly edible, either. That’s the problem with eating while traveling–you never know what you’ll be getting. it’s good for losing weight, though…I’ve FINALLY gotten off the ten pounds I put on at Liberate.)
Anyway: after lunch, I went wandering through the Main Bazaar (that’s where I’m staying). Lots of little shops there, mostly selling silver, random handicrafts, money exchange, and so on. The streets are quite crowded, and quite dirty–there are sacred cows wandering around everywhere, filthy beggars, shop touts, street vendors–but not really overwhelming, if you’re already used to Bangkok. I went into two textile stores, and finally wound up in the last one, where I bought the shawl.
That was an interesting place. The guy is Kashmiri, and had quite a selection of textiles. The cheaper stuff was machine-woven wool, but he had some fairly nice handwoven pashmina shawls, and eventually offered to show me the nicer stuff he had in back. Handspun, handwoven pashmina, some of it loosely woven in birdseye patterns. That takes a lot of skill–getting a tight weave even is relatively easy, but doing the same in gauze is tough. I admit cheerfully, I was slavering. I mean, we’re talking handspun cashmere thread finer than sewing thread, here, and handwoven to boot. Light as a feather, beautifully woven, and warm, too. Woo.
However, I wasn’t going to pay $500 for one, especially not until I’d had a chance to suss out prices (I have no idea what prices and quality are like…in three more weeks, I will 🙂 ), so I wound up buying a fairly decent wool shawl for an overpriced but not entirely outrageous sum. (It’s *cold* where I’m going–need something warm to take along.) As we were finishing up that purchase, we started discussing textiles and textile manufacture, and he invited me to have tea with him in the shop. Which sounded fine to me, but then he explained to me that he lived with his family in a hotel room nearby, and he really wanted me to come by the hotel room with him, for just two minutes, because he wanted to show me something.
Ding ding ding! Warning bells. when a guy asks if you’re traveling on my own, how long you’re staying in town, and where your hotel is (I didn’t tell him; just the general area–not *that* dumb), and *then* wants to invite you to his place, it’s a very bad sign. (Potential troublemakers usually “interview” you first, to make sure you’re a good candidate; so flagging certain questions is a good way of identifying Potential Trouble. I’m not *paranoid* about it, just aware.)
But despite all that, the cardinal rule of information networking is to poke your nose into odd places and be friendly, so I did some quick mental arithmetic, decided that I could certainly handle any trouble he posed, and he hadn’t had any chance to recruit friends, so what the hell, I’d go.
(This is the benefit of having taught self-defense for awhile. You can handle more problems, and thus can take more risks.)
There was, of course, nothing much at his place except a sob story about how he hadn’t seen his wife in two and a half months and would it be OK if he closed the door and we did *something* “as friends” (it wasn’t clear what exactly that was–his english wasn’t that good). Uh, no. I took off. I’m still amused, though.
coda: less amused now. another (different) guy just came into the Internet cafe, which is near my hotel (I *did* tell the guy the general area), and asked me if I was the one who’d bought that beautiful shawl. (Or maybe congratulated me on buying that beautiful shawl–I wasn’t listening to the first half of the sentence.) Since the shawl in question is sitting in a plastic bag on the floor, highly invisible, there’s no way he could have known about it unless he talked to the other guy, which makes me a little twitchy. Either I misheard (quite possible), or someone’s looking for me…I’m not sure I like this.
The guy’s gone now–I ignored him–but I think it’s time to take off, just in case, and head back to my hotel (Smyle Inn). the guy who runs the place likes me, and comes highly recommended by Hotel Namaskar next door, which is highly recommended by Lonely Planet and many other folks. So he’s probably reasonably trustworthy…I’ll tell him to keep an eye out tonight, just in case.
tomorrow I’m going on an organized bus tour of Delhi, and am leaving on the bus for Mandi immediately after that, so should be fine.
I’m almost certainly being paranoid, but given the stuff going on today, I’m not sure exactly what’s up–so best to be cautious. Given the two fights i passed by this morning, I’ve already decided to ditch the handbag (or at least keep nothing interesting in it): it’s too vulnerable if I have to do anything sudden.
Interesting place so far: a blend of dirt, extreme poverty, exquisitely beautiful handicrafts, delicate negotiation, and overt violence, all at once. The heavenly fragrance of ripe guavas mixed with the rank odor of stale urine.
Still, I’ll be glad to get to Rewalzar, and the cave yogis, tomorrow. On to Mandi! 🙂