On Sunday we decided to take our rickety bikes for a spin out into the countryside somewhat, with hopes that we didn’t end up having to carry them back. The destination was a hill that offered an overview of the community, as well as some historical markers of interest. But we never made it all the way. Not because of our bikes, but because of a persistent pest.
He was a teenager who seemed affable enough, and was riding his own bike. He wanted a selfie with us, as the locals so often do, and engaged in friendly conversation as he rode along beside us. Then he started telling us about the environs and offering to show us certain things, and the game became clear: he wanted to serve as our “guide” — in exchange for getting his palm crossed. So we politely told him that we were not in need of any guidance, but preferred to just explore on our own.
He did not, by any means, take the hint, but continued riding along beside us, making comments about things as we passed. When we took an impulsive change of direction, he would take it right along with us. We informed him a couple of more times, less politely and more firmly, that we wanted to just be on our own, but it didn’t make a dent.
When we found the hill we’d been looking for, he knew our intentions, and suggested that we all park our bikes there and hike the rest of the way. At this point, we decided it was time to scrap our plan and just head back into town– there was no way we were going to walk on an isolated, wooded path with tissue clinging to our heels. So we turned our bikes around and headed back down the hill. He, of course, followed suit.
Seeing that we were aborting our mission, he started hitting us up for money, saying that he needed some to buy a bottle of water. (In contrast to almost everyone else we saw in India, wearing sandals or going barefoot, this kid sported a pair of rather pricey-looking sneakers, so he didn’t appear to be hurting for funds.) We told him that we had no money to give him – which was true enough, though we did have money. Then he asked Kimberly to give him her watch. That’s right: he didn’t ask her to sell it, but just outright give it to him, apparently thinking that would be suitable compensation for his “advice”. He’d also been inquiring about her camera, so clearly that figured into his machinations. (It’s quite possible that, had this episode occurred in the U.S., this kid would have attempted to rob us at gunpoint; fortunately, firearms are not such a sine qua non elsewhere in the world.)
As we passed houses along the road at which people were out in their yards, we made a point of greeting them to draw attention to us and our shadow. We figured he probably lived in the neighborhood and was acquainted with some of these folks, and might be embarrassed for them to see what he was up to. It must have worked, or maybe he just got tired and impatient, because we soon realized that he was no longer collecting our dust.
Heading back into town, we decided to go out for an early dinner, at the same restaurant where we’d dined with our friend Bob a couple of weeks earlier. Along the way, we passed a decent-sized supermarket, and decided to go in and browse for a couple of items we’d been seeking, including a bar of gourmet-ish chocolate.
Being confirmed chocoholics with (we like to think) refined tastes, we’ve made it a habit that in every country we go to, we buy at least one bar of a chocolate that is unique to that country; and Kimberly has built a collection of the wrappers. But we had a most difficult time finding any such product in India. We did eventually, after a few months of searching, but it wasn’t easy; because it seems chocolate is simply not much of a thing in India. The chocolate bars you see in stores are of limited variety, mostly quite sugary and commercial, and imported from elsewhere (Cadbury is the ubiquitous brand of choice). It’s sometimes hard even to find cocoa powder, and when you do, it’s usually in a tiny package the size of a pack of cigarettes or a can of baking powder, rather than in a Hershey-sized mini-barrel. You can find the latter in some stores, but even the actual Hershey’s brand also offers a smaller can that we’d never seen in the States.
To no great surprise, we didn’t find the chocolate bar of our dreams, or anything else we sought, in this store. What we did find, once again, was more attention lavished on us than we felt comfortable with. As we’ve mentioned before, whenever we’d go shopping in India, we’d have a store clerk constantly at our elbow trying to be of assistance. In this case, there were, count them, three of them. They wanted a selfie with us, and we obliged. At least they didn’t try to shake us down for pocket change.
At the restaurant, we were at a disadvantage this time because we had no companion who could help us navigate the menu. (Where is that boy on the bike when you need him?) So it turned out that we didn’t order what we thought we’d ordered. No matter, it was still quite tasty. In fact, you just can’t go wrong with Indian food. Well, at least not in terms of the food itself. You certainly can commit a dining faux pas if you’re determined to.
When we first were seated, the server brought us little cups of water. Dennis took a sip from one, and saw that the water was warm. And it dawned on us that maybe these were intended to wash our fingers in. Sure enough, they soon took them away again. Leave it to Dennis, who also ate from a dog’s dish in Mexico. It seems that our personal missions on this tour include collecting chocolate wrappers and inappropriately using dishes in the places we visit.
June 25-26, 2022