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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Jaipur Cheap Eats

Today we had some unexpected local treats in Jaipur (the capital of Rajistan — we arrived here last night from Agra where we made the obligatory visit to the Taj Mahal (and it lives up to its reputation)), which topped an already great day. We started off the morning at Lassiwala, a Jaipur institution (since 1944) serving only sweet lassi, a drink of blended yogurt and sugar, and renowned to be the best in town. I have had a number of lassis over the past few weeks and this was in a whole different ball park. Lassiwala makes its curd from a blend of buffalo and cow milk and the resulting lassi is thick and velvety with a bit of a curd skin on top for some texture. I hear there is some great lassi in Varanasi as well, so I will see how that compares; Lassiwala will be hard to beat.

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Although the lassi was very satisfying, I was still desperate for some coffee and solid food and on a tip from the guys at Lassiwala, we headed to Indian Coffee House, a cheap as chips co-operative cafe on M.I. Road. This was a great find. We were the only Westerners in the shop and the menu was genuine Indian, right down to the coffees. Josh and I each had a dosa — mine filled with egg and his with spicy vegetables (i.e. masala) — which is a fermented crepe made from rice batter and is a very common Indian breakfast. The dosas came with sauce and a runny side dish, both of which look too unappealing to post, but tasted good. I had a hot cream coffee, which was black coffee served with hot cream on the side, and Josh had a “special coffee,” which was a thick, already creamy hot coffee.

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(yes, I know this photo has nothing to do with food, but it wouldn’t be a complete Indian day, or post for that matter, without Sharukh Kahn; and by the way, after watching “Om Shanti Om,” (or click here for a Wikipedia summary), I am a complete Bollywood convert.)

The lassis and dosas kept us full until about 4, when, on our way home, we stopped at a street cafe for some samosas and aloo tikkis (Indian potato patties stuffed with peas and other vegetables). They were served with this delicious chickpea curry side dish that had some sort of sweetish green sauce. Two samosas, two aloo tikkis and a large bottle of water for $1.40. Can’t beat that.

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I am slightly embarrassed to say that we polished off lunch with another sweet lassi from Lassiwala (at least we shared just one). To get home, we decided to forego the auto-rickshaw and go for a straight-up pushbike rickshaw. I gave the guy two dollars, rather than the 80 cents the 20 minute ride was supposed to cost. I think in this instance, I understood his head bobble to mean thank you.

Ok, I am off to dinner.