road to Pushkar

… Cliff and Tamella…

After we finally settled on the bus, we sat back for the long road ahead.  I mentally prepared myself for a lot of honking, lane cutting, passing, and overall danger.  To my surprise and pleasure, we were now on a 6 lane highway that was very smooth.  We traveled along at about 60 miles per hour without traffic and hassle.  The fast speed of the bus blew a nice breeze throughout taking away the various smells and the hot stale air.

Cliff and Tamella and I soon began talking about all subjects related to travel and eventually our conversation turned to other subjects.  Without fail, the subject of international politics came up – as it often does when talking to people from other countries.  They asked about the sentiment in the US regarding the war in Iraq.  They asked about Bush’s popularity, etc.  I do discuss the subject of the war carefully as many have very strong opinions about it and it can sometimes become “uncomfortable.”

Eventually, the conversation turned and Tamella asked what the latest child naming trends where in the US:

Tamella:  What sort of names are popular in the US these days?

Me:  Well, we had a biblical resurgence a decade  to fifteen years ago.  Names like Sarah, Joshua, Jacob,  and similar names were very popular (as I say this I realize that I’ve named off ½ of my nephews and nieces J )

Tamella:  Oh really?

Me:  And, in the late 80’s and early 90’s capitalistic names were very popular; Mercedes, Paris, Porsche, etc.

Tamella:  What have the trends been like lately?

Me:  Nature names seem to be popular as of late; Lark, Meadow, Hunter, Sky, etc.

Cliff:  We should name the kids like the Native Americans did; if you saw something at the time of the child’s birth, that became his name; Soaring Eagle, Two Deers, Screaming Elk, something like that.

Tamella:  (In a strong Australian accent) Yaya Clayff, but thay didn’t hahv highways back thayen.  What would you nayem ‘yer kid now?  “Flat dayd dawg, or two squirrel rawd keeyl?”

We all enjoyed a good laugh as the bus zoomed down the smooth road.  And with the good conversation and cool breeze, the 4 hour trip felt like 45 minutes.  By the time we arrive in Pushkar I feel refreshed without all of the swerving and horn blaring.

We climbed off the bus to collect our bags and we are immediately swamped by a wave of hotel agents, restaurant solicitors, beggars, and vendors selling anything and everything Indian.  I saw one man on a wheeled sled and offered him some Rupees.  As he had no legs, I had pity on him.  But, he also had a certain sense of pinache; he was funny, charismatic, and always had a genuine smile.

We push through the crowd and work our way towards town.  The vendors are relentless.  Most of the travelers have a copy of the LP Guidebook and have in their minds a certain desire of self exploration.  The vendors do not share their sense of independence and exploration.  To them, this is merely a life and death struggle for a share of the tourist trade that will put food on their tables and clothing on their children.  Rainer has the LP guide out and begins to orient himself to the map and the town land marks.  He and his girlfriend have selected 3 of the most recommended hotels and are determined to get to those hotels – hotel hawks or not.

As we push into Pushkar, I stare ahead with a blank look on my face.  I refuse to even acknowledge the vendors.  This seems to work, after one or two attempts, they leave me alone.  One of the German tourists, with his proper German manners, simply finds himself unable to ignore them.  He continually repeats, “No thank you,” and “Please leave us alone.”  His responses seem to encourage them and they hound him all the way through Pushkar.  He begins to grow frustrated with them and raises his voice.  But this encourages them even more.  They plead with him to visit their hotel, to just take a quick look.  They all guarantee the lowest price, the cleanest rooms, and the coldest fan.  The word “clean” in a budget hotel in India is a figurative description.  And regardless of the vendor’s claims, a fan is a fan and does not compare to air conditioning.

We walk along in the hot sun.  The venodors beg.  the German pleads.  I look along into empty space thinking the whole way, “Doesn’t he get it?”  His “I’m not interested,” is heard as, “I want to be sold, you’re not trying hard enough.”  Maybe the German has never had a sales job before.  If he had, he would better understand the rules of sales and jungle capitalism.  As my mind wanders I begin to think that the US Fortune 500 companies are recruiting in the wrong places.  Instead of going to US colleges for their talent, they should come to India.  These guys could sell circles around most US sales execs.

Right then, it all comes rushing back.  My first experience with an Indian in America while working at a sales job.  After I was laid off from my job in the great recession that hit Los Angeles and California in the early 90’s, I took a sales job to pay the rent and to keep the phone turned on.  It was a horrible job.  It was stressful and hard work.  I couldn’t stand it and only lasted one summer.  Those 6 months were some of the longest time I’ve ever experienced.  To this day, I can still hear my sales manager’s voice, “If I ever see you talking to a Patel again, you’re fired!”

I was talking to a large Indian family.  They were pleasant and polite.  I explained the company’s product line and then went to the office to get some forms.  My Sales Manager ambushed me at the office door:

SM:  What are you doing?

ME:  I’m making a sale.

SM:  (With a tone of disbelief and disgust) With them?  Not to them you’re not!

ME:  Why not?  I don’t understand.

SM:  They’ll never buy from you.  They’ll waste your time haggling over price for hours.  And in the end, they will NEVER buy from you.

ME:  Well, they have to buy from someone.

SM:  They ALL buy from Indian wholesalers.  They are only here to toy with you.

ME:  (I couldn’t really believe him, it made no sense)  Then why are they here?  Why would they spend hours talking to me if they aren’t going to buy?

SM:  It’s a sport for them.  It makes them feel like they are at home.  There is no where else in America where they can haggle.  The movie theater, the grocery store, the mall, they all have fixed prices.  These people have no where to go and haggle.  They dream about a new and inexperienced salesman that they can chew up for 6 or 8 hours.  When he said “these people,” I could hear a certain amount of hate in his voice.

He walked back to the window and looked out.  He had a 1,000 yard stare much like a grizzled veteran that had served 2 tours in Iraq or Vietnam.  He muttered to himself, “Chinese.  It’s good when we have Chinese.  They have more money than Las Vegas.  It’s always a good day when the Chinese are shopping.  Not the Indians, they never buy anything.  I started back out to let the Indian family know that I wouldn’t be helping them.  The Sales Manager stopped me, “Where are you going?”  I replied, “I’m going to tell them.”  “No,” he said, “Let them stew.  I catch you talking to a Patel again and you’re fired.”

Patel, that’s the nickname for the Indians that I hear over and over again in the workplace.  Later, I am told that Patel is a common name in the caste of hotel owners.  It makes sense as so many Indians come to America and open or buy hotels…

At that job I heard every Indian joke in the book and learned to perfect my Indian accent.  It would not be until over 10 years later that I would learn more than just the stereotypes and prejudices of my own country.  I think Mark Twain said it best:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.


Stories, posts, reports, photos, videos and all other content on this site is copyright protected © and is the property of Scott Traveler unless otherwise indicated, all rights reserved. Content on this site may not be reproduced without permission from Scott Traveler. My contact information can be found on the home page.

Back to home page:

ride from the Jaipur Observatory

09 My drier LUCKY

… my driver “Lucky”…

Following a 20 minute “shotgun” tour of the Jaipur observatory, my driver “Lucky” takes me on a stomach wrenching roller coaster ride through the streets of the town trying to get me to the bus station before my bus departs for Pushkar.

Lucky zooms down the road cutting in and out of traffic.  He is not the only one, but he has little regard for my safety, much less his own.  It is not uncommon for him to cut off larger vehicles – strictly forbidden in the laws that regulate the Indian traffic “pecking order.”  But he knows I’m in a rush and is working hard for that 10 Rupee (.22 cent) tip.

I try to convince him in vain to slow down.  But he cannot hear me over the wailing of the engines and ever-constant horn honking to include his own.  My eyes dart about the traffic:  Big bus.  So full of passengers that 15 or so sit on the roof while they plod through traffic.  Really old guy driving a bicycle rickshaw.  He pulls a woman and her daughter.  They both wear brightly colored saris.  The mother is in bright orange, her arms smothered in gold bracelets.  And not the yellow 14k western style gold.  She wears the softer, higher gold content 22k or 24k gold.  We’re talking King Tut colored gold.  Her daughter looks like a smaller thinner clone of her mother and wears a bright pink sari.  Her skin is smooth and dark and she is quite beautiful.  The old man pulling them has a long white beard and wears a white loin cloth reminiscent of the type worn by Gandhi.  He looks like he is about to die at any moment.

08 Colorful clothing

Large plops of soft green cow piles litter the road like a minefield.  I chuckle inside, “The cow should have had the bottled water.”  I pray that Lucky will avoid them so that his tires will not cake the back of my legs with liquid green cow spray.  To the side of the road, a pig tries to escape the heat by emerging himself in the gutter against the curb.  The gutter serves as the toilet for any man strong enough to stand, a place to throw any and all trash, and as the local drinking source for all of the dogs, cats, pigs, cows, and other animals that run around the streets with wanton abandon.  The pig will make quick work of the waste of the other animals once darkness sets in.

06 Happy pig

Each night following the watching of the sunset as the tourists are driven off by the swarms of mosquitoes, they are treated to a swine show as they head to local cafes and restaurants.  The pigs come out from the mud holes and “cool places” and literally clean the streets of all fecal mater whether it be cow, elephant, camel, dog, or human.  Last night I saw the 3 piglets of one sow devouring a “Pampers” brand plastic diaper with what looked like a can of Dennison’s chili inside.  I chuckle to myself, “Baby should have had the bottled water.”

In an effort to sustain the Holy Cows that roam the roads freely, many pious Hindus drop off “food” for them along the curbside.  In reality it is trash; plastic bags filled with the remains of dinner and baby diapers.  One book that I am now reading describes that the cows eat the plastic bags along with their contents and in turn die a slow painful death as their intestines become clogged and entwined with plastic grocery bags.

A popular spot on the side of the road has attracted the trash of many of the faithful and has now become a trash bag dam.  The water, urine, human and animal waste that flows down the gutter now pools up behind this man-made dam.  A large “lagoon” has now formed that brims up to the curb line and extends well into the road.  The smell is incredible.  It instantly brings back memories of the Spring of 1994.  I remember visiting the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office as part of a University Criminal Justice course that I was taking.

Several weeks earlier, the Northridge earthquake had killed dozens.  One homeless woman was crushed under a freeway overpass that she was sleeping under.  The 120 tons of cement sealed her body in a mud coffin and preserved it from the elements.  Her body stewed in its own juices for 3 or 4 weeks until this piece of cement was moved.  Unfortunately, her body was not discovered for several days as it was flat and impacted into the mud.  By the time her smell alerted the authorities, she was dripping in maggots.  I remember seeing her face and chest writhe in motion as the little animals that resembled pieces of rice crawled and ate.  The stench was as if a green wall of poisonous gas had hit you head on and overwhelmed you.  The smell was almost as bad as this lagoon that we were now racing past.

Just along the curbside, only a few meters away, locals haggle over the prices of bananas at a mobile produce stand.  A few feet over, a man and woman munch on deep fried breads in blissful peace.  I fight the gag reflex as lucky cuts into oncoming traffic to avoid the cesspool.

A day earlier I had seen a back hoe is “excavating” another trash pile that had clogged another gutter line.  I couldn’t believe that the smell could be worse, but uncovering the “dam” I thought they might find a dead body it stunk so bad.  True to my nature, I took a photo.  It was not the smell, the water hazard, or the unsightliness of it that has spurred action, it is the specter of Dengue that has caused this dam to be broken down.  We read in the paper that the number of Dengue fever cases have exceeded 3,000, one thousand cases in the capital city of Delhi alone.  I look down at all the red dots on my feet and scratch the bites that I have on my arms and a sweat breaks out over my body.

05 Cleaning the gutter

We come to a red light and I realize that even though there are only 2 lanes in our direction, there are no less than 5 vehicles lined up at the light jockeying for position.  I don’t even know why they bother to paint lines on the street.  I look around, we are completely surrounded.  Two rickshaws (motorcycle) in front of us, a large city bus on the right (passengers on roof), a truck behind us, horse-drawn cart to our left pulling vegetables, and bicycles on either side.  The light hasn’t been green for ½ second when every horn goes off simultaneously.  We are instantly engulfed in a cloud of blue smoke.  The bus exhaust is aimed right at us and I hold my breath while Lucky races the engine and lets out the clutch.  “Pop!”  I hear a small explosion from behind us.

10 Roof space only

… less than standing room only…

Lucky begins to push our now disabled rickshaw to the side of the road as every car behind us is honking without quarter.  I hold my ears and wonder what is wrong.  As soon as we are safely to the side and the traffic passes, I ask Lucky, “What’s wrong?”  He smiles sheepishly at me, bobbles his head from side to side, grabs a water bottle and shouts, “Two minutes!” He then runs across the road disappearing around the corner.  The Lonely Planet Guidebook describes the Indian side to side head wobble as meaning, “Yes, no, maybe,” or “I don’t know.”  Great.  My bus leaves in less than ½ hour and I haven’t even gone to the hotel to collect my luggage and friends.  We were supposed to have Chai at noon.  I sit by the side of the road and watch the circus as it plays out around me.

03 Water buffalo in traffic

… you never know what you’ll see on the road in India – here a herd of buffalo walk down the center of the road…

Within moments, sensing that I am without guide, the beggars descend on me like vultures on a dead animal in the desert.  The first to my side is a thin pregnant woman carrying a child of about 6 months.  She looks like she is about to give birth tomorrow.  I do the math in my head, 9 months less 6 months.  Recovery time?  Forget it.  Wanna ride a bike?

The mother and child are so dirty that they look like they have not bathed in months.  I take them to be homeless.  She gives me the universal “feed me” sign, but I continue to look ahead and ignore them.  She says something that sounds like “biscuit,” and points to her child and to her swollen belly.  At this moment a terrible thought enters my head.  A thought that is utterly Darwinian.  “If you couldn’t feed the first kid, why did you have another?”  I am disgusted with myself for thinking it, but what can I do.  There are literally millions of starving here and I cannot feed them all.  And then I think again, “Why DID you have another kid?”  Safah would be proud.

Herein lays India’s problem:  Too many people for the resources at hand.

The woman finally realized that I am not going to acknowledge her.  To argue or say no seems to just encourage them.  I gaze ahead expressionless.  She grows tired and moves away.  Next in line is a boy of about 14.  There is no actual line but there is however a clear order to begging.  Each knows who arrived first and their position in the virtual queue.  They also know not to break the rules of the street:

  1. Wait your turn.
  2. Be ready with your pitch when your turn comes up.
  3. Hope the beggar in front of you is unlucky and there are Rupees for you when you get your chance to make a sale.

After a while he gives up and the third and forth take their turn.  Some of the small children “cut” in line and tug at my pants leg but that always seems to be expected.  Suddenly, they all disperse without warning.  I look up and see Lucky running across the street carrying what appears to be a bottle of tea.  He opens the gas cap and pours the liquid into the tank of our motorbike rickshaw.  “What?  You ran out of gas?  You know we are in a hurry today.  Why didn’t you fill up while you were waiting for me at the observatory?”  He just smiles and bounces his head from shoulder to shoulder like a ping-pong ball.  In no time we are back on the road.  This time he is driving like a fury and I begin contemplating tipping him to slow down.

04 Indian traffic

After narrowly missing a city bus head on, Lucky swerves back into the lanes of traffic that are actually going our direction.  I’ve heard of passing or rural roads, but doing it in the city during full traffic astounds me.  We come to an elephant lumbering along down the inside lane.  Lucky cuts into oncoming traffic once again to pass.  Now I can see that the lanes are split by a cement center divider ahead.  A cow stands next to the divider munching on trash that has been discarded by passing cars.  In a flash of steak and concrete, we barely manage to cut back to our side of traffic before dreadful consequences.  Not to be outdone by a man-made barrier, Lucky begins passing on the outside shoulder.

My mind drifts as I enjoy the show of brilliant colors worn by the Indian ladies.  When the honking is not so bad, I listen to the sounds of commerce and savor the smells of the cooking between the piles of trash and cow plops.  I think of Lucky’s .22 cent tip.  T.I.P.


Hmm…  I’m sure there’s irony in there somewhere.

07 Mule train in traffic

… there are all sorts of trafic jams in India…

I say goodbye to my friend Carol that I’ve spent the last 2 days with visiting The Amber Fort and the shopping bazaars of Jaipur.  Rainer, Tanya, and I board Lucky’s rickshaw and head for the Jaipur bus station.

Upon arrival, we are besieged by vendors, beggars, and salesmen.  The first to arrive carries a silver tea-pot in one hand and 5 tea cups suspended from the other hand, one cup hanging from each finger by its handle.  “Chai!  Chai!  5 Rupees Chai!”  The Chai tea in India is about the same as in the Middle East.  It has the same flavor and the same sticky sweetness.  The only difference is that milk is added to the Chai here.  To keep from killing off the tourist population, the milk is added and then the Chai is brought to a boil killing off any bacteria harbored within.  I’ve talked to ExPats that have been drinking it for months without ill effect.

Several young boys, each with a bottle of cold water in either hand, compete for our attention.  “Cold water, 12 rupees!”  Several children tug at my pant legs, “Meesta, meesta.  What country you from?  England?  USA?”  A woman carrying a child approaches making the universal “feed me” sign.  Two women shove bananas in our faces, “Banana!  Banana!”  But we are late and do not have time to shop until we find our bus.  We can purchase bananas and water out the window once we have safely claimed our seats.

We look but do not see any numbers posted above the bus platforms.  There are three lines of busses, about 8 per row.  We are looking for bus platform 3.  This gives us 6 possibilities.  I see a man wearing what appears to be a uniform and ask him for directions:

Me: Sir, which is platform 3?

Man: You need banana?

Me: No thank you.  Which is platform 3?

Man: You need banana?

Me: No thank you Sir, I need to find platform 3.  Do you know where it is?

Man: You need water?  You need.  I get.

Me: No!  I don’t want a banana!

Man: Yes!  I have banana!

Me: Do you speak English?

Man: You need Chai?  You need banana?  You need, I get.

Argh!  I march off in search of our platform.  I spot a #1 above the last bus at the end of the row.  I ask the driver of the bus two over and he confirms, “Pushkar.”  Rainer is convinced he smells of Hash and considers waiting for the next bus.  I only smell oil and gasoline and convince him to stay on board.  We climb in and run into the Australian couple, Cliff & Tamala that Carrol and I met the day before in Amber.  We talk all the way to Pushkar making the trip seem like 45 minutes instead of 4 hours.  The smooth highway and good conversation tell me that I am about to turn a corner from Indian sensory overload to the relaxing vacation that I came for.


Stories, posts, reports, photos, videos and all other content on this site is copyright protected © and is the property of Scott Traveler unless otherwise indicated, all rights reserved. Content on this site may not be reproduced without permission from Scott Traveler. My contact information can be found on the home page.

Back to home page:

Dehli, India

…originally written in October 2006 & emailed to friends and family …

I’ll try and type fast and keep my descriptions as short as possible for now as there is a line formed at the internet computer.

The first thing I can say about India is that it is tough travel.  I believe that this is country #55 for me and is hands down the most trying of your patience, your humility for humanity and poverty, and on your ear drums.  Right out of the airport, the traffic is loud, loud, loud.  Everyone uses their horn as some sort of sonar, beeping and honking to push others aside, to alert that they are passing, and for pretty much any reason.  Between all the honking, your ears are ringing by the time you arrive at your destination.  At every stop, you are besieged by beggars & vendors selling everything that you can imagine.

Just getting from the airport to my hotel and I felt like I needed a vacation.  The poverty is everywhere.  Right in the middle of traffic lanes on the median you see people sleeping.  They must surely be deaf to the incessant noise.  Every mile or so you see someone using the big Earth open air toilet; the place is so crowded that I guess they are used to not having privacy.

Pedestrians be weary, they are the lowest on the traffic totem pole.  As described in a clever book I read “The Holy Cow,” the pedestrians give way to everything or risk being run over.  Above them on the pecking order is the bicycle rickshaw, they in turn give way to the motor-bike rickshaw, then to the small car & taxi, they in turn give way to larger cars, then to small trucks, and the monsters of the road are the large busses and trucks.  But even the busses and trucks are not at the top of the pecking order.  That is reserved for the Holy Cow.  They are everywhere, they walk through traffic, and all stop and yield to the Holy Cow.  It is really quite amazing.

While in traffic, the overwhelming stench of diesel smoke mixed with human and animal waste overrides the senses as horns bleat in your ears.  On my ride to Agra from Delhi, it was all I could do to keep from retching over the side of the cab.  I haven’t been that sick since Joe, my Instrument Flight Instructor, blind folded me and did loops and spins for 30 minutes until I turned green.  Now, I never get air or car sick – that was at least, until I came to India.

Hotels and hotel service in Delhi and Agra could learn a thing or two.  Unclean sheets, nasty bathrooms, & mosquitoes are commonplace.  When all that is on the news is the several hundred cases (and fatalities) from Dengue Fever, it keeps you up all night worrying that you’ll soon be dying in an over-crowded mosquito-ridden hospital wing in the capital city of India.

Going to a restaurant is a wrenching experience.  The food tastes great and so far has not made me sick, but those serving it and those waiting in line around you are far from considered sanitary by the standards of most industrialized countries.  Many, I have just watched use the open air Earth toilet and have now washed their left (no toilet paper) hand with some water and are now handling the menu as they pass it to me.  You really have to check your gag reflex and think of happy thoughts.  Once the food comes though, it is quite delicious and your brain drifts to the impoverished children that have all lined the window of the restaurant and are now staring at you with their noses pressed to the glass.  I find that the universal “give me money or food” sign is the same in the Middle East as it is in India, a gesture to the mouth with closed fingers.

On my first day of sightseeing I tried to get to the Indian National Museum.  None of the cab drivers has heard of it and I somehow end up at the national railway museum next to the Chinese Embassy.  I drive around Delhi all afternoon looking for the big museum, never find it, but find all sorts of adventure.  I posed for a photo at the Indian Arch (looks like the one in Paris) with my taxi driver.

Eventually, I made my way into the Muslim quarter.  Talk about taking a step back in time.  This place is almost unchanged through the ages.

Most were genuinely curious of my presence.  Whenever I took a picture, I would show a copy to them.  This made a lot of smiles with the friends (top photo and below).

However, Americans aren’t too popular these days in the Muslim world and I did get quite a few dirty looks.  One man said to me as he walked by, “This is not your home, you do not belong here.  Go home.”  Not wanting to get kidnapped and end up in an orange jumpsuit on Al Jazeera, I kept a constant look over my shoulder and kept moving – shooting pictures all the way.  But overall, the people were friendly and were curious about me.  I enjoyed watching them and seeing them going about their daily lives.


Stories, posts, reports, photos, videos and all other content on this site is copyright protected © and is the property of Scott Traveler unless otherwise indicated, all rights reserved. Content on this site may not be reproduced without permission from Scott Traveler. My contact information can be found on the home page.

Back to home page: