Rickshaw Turf Wars

Of the places I have been in India so far, Jaipur is my favorite. We weren’t there for long, but the food was good (as previously discussed), the people were appropriate (mostly), the place was pretty, and we just had a good time. I just wanted to post a couple anecdotes as well as some pictures, before I get into the heaviness that is Varanasi in my next post.

On our second night in Jaipur on our way home from dinner, we somehow managed to get in the middle of an auto rickshaw turf fight. Seriously. After leaving the restaurant and feeling dissatisfied with our three desserts (no, that’s not a typo), Josh convinced me to go to McDonalds to share a McFlurry. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t normally touch fast food; my new exception to that rule is India. Anyway, we finished off the ice cream and we walk over to a few guys standing around rickshaws and asked for a lift to our hotel, knowing that the price should be 50 or 60 rupees (about one dollar). When a man — who seemed to be in charge — suggested that it would be 200 rupees, we were so shocked by his dishonesty that we deteriorated into a fit of laughter and I actually asked the man if he was on drugs. Normally when people try to rip you off for these rides, they try to charge you 80 rupees, not 200. After a short and ridiculous argument, we started walking away, and as is typical, we were chased down and given a fair(ish) price. This country wears you down in so many ways, that you sometimes swallow your pride and just accept the offer, even though in your heart you’d rather search for a more honest driver.

So we got in the rickshaw to which we were directed and we ended up sitting there and waiting. A couple minutes passed and we were tired and frustrated so decided to get out and find another driver — why should we sit around and wait for some dishonest guy? In India, there may be a shortage of toilets, but there is never a shortage of drivers. So we cross the road and just as we flagged down a new driver, who happened to be one of the men in the initial group of drivers we approached, and hopped into the rickshaw, the original rip-off driver zipped up behind us and jumped out of his rickshaw with his 10 year old son and they both start fighting with our new driver, who seemed to have undercut the original driver (the apparent boss). While the three of them were going at it, another rickshaw pulls up and Josh and I decided we would take this one, the third party bystander. As we got out, both the first and second drivers started chasing us and screaming. The next thing I knew, Josh has signaled to the new driver to start driving, and he and I start sprinting ahead of the other screaming men. On the run, we literally jumped in the moving rickshaw and zipped away. It was kind of like an action movie getaway, except it was a rickshaw. I really hope that the driver who took us home hasn’t been blacklisted by the Jaipur rickshaw mafia. He said he was going home after he dropped us off; probably to make sure they hadn’t burnt down his house.

The next day we were supposed to fly to Varanasi, but upon arrival at the airport, we were told that because our first flight was delayed, we would miss our second flight and there was no alternative way to get to Varanasi that day. I am not going to go into details, but basically the Spice Jet (yes, that’s an airline) manager for the Jaipur airport, was so horrible that we ended up in a very tense argument with him (think lots of explicatives). Let’s just say that had we been in the U.S., we would have been thrown into jail.

In the end, there was nothing we could do, so we flew to Delhi and rebooked our Varanasi flight for the following day. Then did what any budget traveler would do — booked ourselves into the Taj Mahal Hotel Delhi, the nicest hotel in the city, arranged to be picked up from the airport by a BMW (only the second one I’ve seen in India), and then went out for an obscene dinner at the Morimoto restaurant in the hotel. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself in this country or you won’t make it. On that note, I’ll leave you with some photos. Credit to Josh for the third, fourth, and fifth photo.

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New Yorkers, do these look familiar? Wasabi by Morimoto.

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Bukhara: Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin Eat Here

A few days ago, I was so lucky to be treated to a meal at Bukhara, a restaurant in Delhi that has been voted the best in Asia and the thirty-seventh best restaurant in the world. I think my exhaustion got in the way of expressing my true appreciation, so to say it again, thank you very much Josh.

Bukhara is a meat heavy, tandoori style restaurant focusing on kebabs and is a favorite of Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin. I even broke my no chicken habit so as not to miss out on the full experience, though nothing could beat the lamb kebab, which is marinated in yogurt and spices and tastes like no other form of lamb you’ve had. There is no cutlery at Bukhara and you must eat almost everything (including a red onion appetizer) with your hands. A bib is provided.

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The butter naan is hard to pass up, too.

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Same with the dal (note the butter).

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My photos in this post are not great because I couldn’t touch the camera after I started eating — like I said, no cutlery. I hope you get the idea.

There is also a delicious north Indian dessert called gulab jamun, or deep fried reduced milk dumplings doused in sugar syrup. The variety served at Bukhara are stuffed with pistachio and cardamom. I have tried this dessert at three restaurants and Bukhara’s are best version I’ve had yet. I know what they might remind you of in this photo but I hope you can get over it.

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