India: Our Favorite People
Since I just posted about an aspect of India that I found most distressing and most challenging, the intrusion of others' attention and expectations, I'm now going to talk about the nicest people we encountered in India:
The Dewans: This was the family of a school friend of Cheryl's. They live in a suburb of Delhi called Vasant Kunj. We stayed with them for a couple days when I first arrived and then again when we returned from Agra and then a third time just before I left. They were very kind to us and made sure we had tasty meals and a bed. The young people of the family, Aanchal and Abenov (sp?), took us out one evening to see India Gate (pictured above through a bus window). It turned out to be a wonderful local tradition for families to go out to park along the grassy mall that stretched out to either side of the monument and eat ice cream cones bought from a cart. There were street vendors selling the sorts of things they normally sell at concerts or fun ride parks -- bubble solution and lit up plastic strings (the kind you fix into a circle and wear around your neck), stuff like that. The weirdest thing was a little 3D show in a box that showed images of gods and tigers and things. It was 3D like the old ViewMaster viewers, with a stereo picture set up. You pay, then peek inside, and I was expecting something like a peep show. However, it was really geared toward children, I think. Anyway, it was a lovely evening.
The other very sweet thing Mrs. Dewan did for me was to teach me how to put on a sari and gave me a sari blouse of hers that I altered to fit me. I'm very grateful to her and to all of the Dewans for their care of us.
The guide at the Hilltop Fort at Gwalior: This fellow really grasped the fact that westerners did not respond well to the hard sell. His "no really, you don't have to hire me" schtick was frankly endearing after a week of "come into my shop! Come in to my shop!" Unfortunately, he wanted to take us around by car and we, being insane Americans who didn't realize that only poor people walk everywhere, wanted to walk up the hill to the palace and temples beyond. Thankfully, one of us struck on the idea that he could meet us at the palace and only give us the palace tour for a significantly reduced price. As we were the only westerners he had seen in a couple months, he took the deal. He spoke English quite well and really knew a lot about the palace. It was a lovely tour and I'm really glad we got to meet him. He tried to tell us some of his best lines for the temples, but by the time we got to them (without him with us) we didn't really know how to relate what he had said to the buildings in front of us. Very sweet guy, and if you ever go to Gwalior's fort, go to the south western gate and see if the tour guide is there.
Chime: She was a Tibetan refugee who ran a restaurant (Norlakh Cafe) in Leh. We went to her restaurant quite often while we were there. She made delicious garlicy fried potatoes and cream of barley porridge, so we loved to go for breakfast. About the third time we went,Bret and Cheryl had to wait for me to join them there, so the got into a conversation with her. The next time we saw her, she invited us to her nephew's wedding reception. It was a really interesting cultural experience, and some of the best parts were when we were able to help her with some of her cooking duties. She is intelligent and kind and very sweet. One of the most memorable conversations we had, I said how wonderfully sweet I found the faces of the Tibetan children and she pointed out that it was because our features were so different and that she felt the same attraction in looking at us and our Caucasian features. I know that "exotic" is essentially just different, but it was interesting coming from her. She is a lovely person with a lovely and intelligent daughter (whom we met at the wedding, pictured below on the left, and then once or twice after) and I'm really happy to have met her.