India: Next stop, a hole in the net.

After a few days in Gurgaon, a small city southwest of Delhi that is home to most corporate headquarters in the area, we took a flight to Bangalore. Jeff was working the first few days of the trip, and he would continue to do so in Bangalore. While it sucks that he had to work, it was also kind of nice because his company paid for the housing. I was the one to book the hotel, and we got the fanciest one we could that was under his price cap. This got us an apart-hotel with a pool and garden rooftop.  Not long after checking in, we decide to go check out Lal Bagh, a botanical garden about 4km away. Before we went outside we asked the front desk how to get there. They said an auto-rickshaw would be best, and should only cost 40 rupee. We went outside and there was conveniently an auto-rickshaw.

He asks us where we want to go, and we told him, and he tells us he will take us to Lal Bagh, some temple I couldn’t understand, and a silk emporium, then back to the hotel, all for only 150 rupees. We try to say no, because we don’t want all of those things, we only want to go to Lal Bagh. He insists that we do the whole package. We say no. He says “Okay, only the gardens, and the silk emporium, for 100 rupees.” We still don’t want to go to the silk emporium, believe it or not. After some more declining, and more insisting, we finally agree to the package. Honestly, 100 rupees for going to Lal Bagh and back wasn’t a bad deal considering we were white. And you know, adventure or whatever in regards to the silk place.

We pull into the traffic, that never-ending metal wildebeest stampede, and head to the gardens. The driver, inexplicably, is growing on Jeff and me despite clearly acting in his own self interest. We go to the gardens and he says that he will be back in two hours, and he will pick us up right here, and if we need anything here is his card. We wander around the park, getting the requisite stares, but it is quiet, so we enjoy the scenery. The main image you’ll see for Lal Bagh is the glasshouse that is modelled after London’s crystal palace. It was here that we were approached by an Indian man and his friend holding a news-crew video camera. The man asked Jeff to please say into the microphone “The government is really bad.” Jeff politely declined, and we both had a nice chuckle as we entered the glasshouse.

We were catching the tail end of one of the many flower shows that occur at the park, so there was a large flower eiffel tower inside the house. There were a lot of people inside the house (compared to outside anyway), and we were met with stares, but also with children. The kids would come up to us and say “Hello.” I would side step away and pretend I didn’t understand english, because I’ve seen Oliver Twist, and August Rush, and Slumdog Millionaire and I know that kids are skilled in pick pocket shenanigans. Jeff, more politely, would say hello back and have a short conversation with them. By short conversation, I mean they would ask Jeff what his name was, he would respond and ask them their name, and then the conversation would end because that is all the english the kids know. This seemed relatively safe, non-pick-pocket-attempting activities.

After walking around the park for about an hour, we took a seat on a bench near the rose garden. While sitting, we were approached three times. Once was by a guy who tried to sell us something that I can’t even remember, the next was by a woman who tried to sell us a half-dead rose she probably picked in the park. The next approach wasn’t made by adults, nor was it actually an approach. There was a huge group of school kids walking by, clearly excited by us sitting there. At one point in the procession was a group of boys who started to yell to us to please take a photo. While I was reluctant, Jeff pushed me to do it, and I realized that I was being silly in trying to ignore the kids. Me ignoring them was not going to get them to stop, that isn’t how it works here. I picked up my camera, and five boys pulled out their camera phones, and we took pictures of each other taking pictures of each other. And I’m so glad I did, because I think this is one of the best photos of the trip.

We finished our circuit of the Lal Bagh having a discussion about the stray dogs that roamed the park and the streets outside. I was once told by someone that they didn’t believe in animal rights groups, because every dollar that goes to support an animal is a dollar that is not spent on supporting a human. This was particularly underlined at the moment because here I was shying away from and ignoring humans, people, beings, but taking a rapt interest in any stray dog that came my way. While I understand the point that person was trying to make, I can’t help but disagree that people are more worthy of our dollars than animals. People are making conscious decisions to exploit and not help each other. We have non-profits, we have enough food to feed everyone in the world, we have a huge global economic gap, we choose to not fix these problems. If people really cared about helping each other, we would, but there is no way to know that the money your giving to Africa is really going to vaccinating children or going to their corrupt government instead. I mean, you’re telling me that we can create a hand held device that can understand and respond to my verbal commands but we can’t figure out how to distribute food around the world in a practical manner? Seems like its more a misplacement of priorities.

But anyway…

After the park our rickshaw man was waiting for us exactly where he said we would be. Next stop, silk emporium. We wove through the streets which were especially congested at rush hour and took a ride down the auto-supply street of Bangalore. This street had the small shops that every other street had, but they were all full of car parts. Not full of car parts like Toy-r-us is full of toys, full of car parts like when a kid “cleans their room,” but really just shoves everything into the closet until eventually its just a precarious wall of things. This was shop after shop of car-part-closets. Sometime after this street we came to the silk emporium.

This was actually a shop of souvenirs and from the moment we walked in, we were escorted around the shop and given a wikipedia description of every product. It was exhausting, even if we glimpsed in the direction of something, our escort would eagerly pick it up and try to sell it to us. We really didn’t want anything because then we would have to carry it with us while we traveled, but they did somehow finagle us into buying one thing. We got it for about a third of the original price stated thanks to Jeff’s nifty haggling ability. Our driver was very sad we didn’t buy silks (the driver gets a commission for bringing people there and what they buy).

We stayed in Bangalore for two days, most of which was spent in the hotel or at Jeff’s work because I was still too scared to walk around by myself. I was completely content to hang out with Jeff, my rock, and enjoy the air conditioning. And it wasn’t like I didn’t get to see anything, there was a hawk that flew next to the pool while I was sitting there. So yeah, I saw things. From Bangalore we were scheduled to take a bus to Pondicherry, where we will go to play ultimate in Auroville. We had scheduled to be picked up from a bus stand nearby, so we decided to walk with our bags to it instead of taking another rickshaw. As we walked to the bus, the parts of town became less and less business and more and more local. We finally walked to where we needed to be, and well, it was very different than the fancy-pants pool I’d been sitting next to the last two days.

The place was basically shaped like a cul de sac, but in the middle was an enormous pile of trash. Digging through the trash were cows and dogs, and people sitting in the shadows because street lights are few and far between. Around the mound of trash are giant buses (not actually giant busses, normal sized busses, but you know, busses are big) that are playing their larger slower version of the Tetris game that all the other automobiles are playing. Along the outside of the cul de sac are 150 different bus companies, all trying to get you on their bus. We are looking for our particular bus company, while staying far enough away to not be bothered by other bus companies, but also close enough so we aren’t stuck between two Tetris-bus pieces. We ask a nice police man where our company is and he points us in the right direction.

We finally find our company and sit down to wait for our bus. The man who seems to be the best at english, and thus elected to deal with us, tells us to follow him. He takes us to a bus and tells us that it will take us to our actual bus. I, happily, go to get on the bus. Jeff grabs my shoulder and says not too. Now, I am confused. Jeff is the more experienced traveler, he is my guide, he is the reasonable one of the two of us. If Jeff gets worried, I get worried. He doesn’t trust that this bus will take us to “our” bus, he doesn’t know who this guy is, he doesn’t have any way to prove he works for the company other than he was standing under a sign. We go back to the “office” and Jeff tries to call some numbers we see on the bottom of our printed ticket. I am sitting there, looking like what I imagine to be the human version of a sad, hungry, puppy. The guy dials up a number and hands me the phone to hear someone on the line, angrily telling me to get on the bus. Jeff is on the phone trying to speak english to someone and explain the situation, which they clearly don’t understand. He also wants me to figure out if we can trust this on-the-phone-guy, which of course I can’t. Eventually, we agree to get on the bus. Because of this 20 min excitement, am extremely overwhelmed. I have cow shit on my shoes, the one person I look to for leadership isn’t trusting the situation, everyone else (present or otherwise) is telling me to get on the bus, I am sweating and my shoulders hurt from my bag. The bus starts to move and I just relax and resign myself to whatever is going to happen next. Jeff is still on his phone looking up things on the internet and tracking where the bus is going, and asking me if the guy said we were going to this place which sounds like it could be a place or a curry. And I just ignore him. Turns out the guy was telling the truth, and we were dropped off where we were supposed to be, and we made it safe and sound the next day to Pondicherry.

Not after me curling up in the fetal position and telling Jeff again that I really don’t think I’m ready for this. One hour outside of the safety of the hotel and that is what happens. No way, I want to go home.



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