More lessons along the Golden Triangle and Beyond

Continued from previous post

I am not sure why being locked in the room brought up so much anger.  But I was furious.  Who locks a bedroom door from the outside with their roommate inside and goes off to have dinner!  At first, I tried to breathe deep and calm myself and see the humor in the situation. But I just couldn’t find anything funny.  There were no telephones in the room to call the front desk or housekeeping to let me out.  I went to the window to see if I could escape by jumping.  I was on the second story and I imagined a jump would have some consequences.

I recalled that there was a shop nearby our door so I began to gently knock on the door.  After a few minutes I began to knock with a bit heavier hand and a few minute later I was shouting, “Hello, can anyone hear me?!”

Finally a man’s voice answered, “Are you locked in?”

“Yes,” I sang back in an unpleasantly pitched voice, “would you please find someone to unlock this … door!”  The man worked at the shop nearby and assured me that no one from the front desk or housekeeping could help me because there is only one key!  He would have to go find my roommate at dinner, but he couldn’t leave his shop!   I told him that if he didn’t find my roommate, I would be jumping from the window.

He promised me he would go and try to find J..  About 15-20 minutes later, J. unlocked the door and walked in with out an apology but  rather saying unemotionally,  “You were meditating and I had left all my money and passport in the room, I wasn’t about to leave the door unlocked. ”

I was able to manage a few questions in a calm voice, “did you realize that you were locking me in?” “Did you not miss me at dinner?”

She hadn’t thought about it.   I was livid and hungry.  I had missed dinner altogether.  The man from the nearby shop poked his head into the room, “Are you okay?” he asked me.

“Sure, and thanks a lot for your kind help.”

He smiled and said, “come by my shop, I have a lot of beautiful things.”  I assured him I would.

I recalled  the “stone man” from the jewelry store the previous day,  handing the white stone to my window, as the tour bus drove off.   “What,” I thought, “if I needed that white stone to handle my mental state with all that would soon  happen on this trip?”  That thought continued to float through the back of my mind for the rest of the trip.

I took a shower and went to bed mad and hungry.  The next morning at breakfast the blonde travel agent (i could never remember her name) came up and told me to hurry, the bus would soon be off for elephant rides at the Amber Fort.  I told her that I would skip the Amber Fort, that I wanted to have a leisurely breakfast and hang out in the Palace Gardens today.  I said, “please inform the bus driver not to wait for me.   I will not be coming along to the Amber Fort.”  The blonde hummed and said something under her breath and walked off with an, “okay sweetie, suit yourself,” over her shoulder.

About ten minutes later J. arrived for breakfast.   She had found something amazing in the gift shop. I told her to skip breakfast, that she had to hurry for the bus, the group would leave in the next fifteen minutes for the Amber Fort.  I said the plan is to ride elephants to the Fort and it sounded like fun.  She asked why I was still sitting there and I told her I was just going to hang out and meditate on what had happened last night.  I experienced such intense anger and had a panic attack. I was prepared to jump out of the window.   I laughed and said maybe in a pastlife, I had been in a member of the harem here or some such oddity.

Jules sat down and order coffee and breakfast.   She said she would stay with me.   I suggested she do me a favor and go with the others.   She ignored my rebuke.   I then told  her to at least go tell the others she would not be going so they did not wait on her.  She dismissed the idea, as unnecessary.  And began to tell me the story of her own confinement and jump from a window as a child, when she had been locked in their apartment by her mother.   Of course, before she had finished her story, my two favorite travel agents came running up to the table. Hurry they said, the bus is waiting for you and everyone is furious with you for making us wait.   We told them we would come find you.

Apparently the blonde woman had neglected to tell the group that I had planned to remain at the Palace and when J. casually blew the two off, with a, “I don’t want to go, just go on without me,” my two favorite people shot me such a look of disappointment and a I-never -thought- you -would- be- so- disrespectful-Jan.     I felt awful.  I couldn’t even speak up and say that I told the blonde lady to tell the driver.  I just said, “I am sorry.”

I spent the day meditating and writing and J.  spent it shopping.   We met for a late lunch and I was frankly very impressed.     She had bought a handmade musical instrument from one of the hotel musicians.   The musician had also thrown in his own turban and had wrapped it expertly around her head.  That is how she showed up for lunch and with the musician in tow. I must say she made quite a sight!   The home made sarangi was rather handsome for a painted wooded box with some wooded knobs. Four strings were strung across the body and tied to nails and it was played with a handmade bow.  The musician played it for me.   I asked her how much she had paid, thinking my sons might enjoy such an instrument. I was amazed.  She had paid $160 USD.   I looked up at the musician who smiled widely, and left quickly.  J.  had also bought a ring and earring set that was gorgeous and looked like they had been made for her.  I told her she must have been a maharani in a past life.

Later in the day, one of the young men who worked at the hotel came over to me to gossip about my roommate’s musical instrument.  He was angry and said that she could have bought the same thing in town, much better quality, for about $40 USD.  She had given the musician a year’s wages.  The musician had told everyone at the hotel about the sale and had left to go tell his family and hide the money.  He was afraid that J. would try to renege on the deal.  The young man speculated that the musician would quit working for the rest of the year.  I amused myself with the thought that J. may have  payed back some karmic debt.

That afternoon and evening, all our travel companions, one by one showered me with their ire, either in word or cold shoulder.  J. on the other hand seemed to get by unscathed.  Go figure!   Oh, I thought, why hadn’t I bought that white agate!   We left the following morning.  J. sat next to a pretty New York City travel agent on the bus.  One of the few men on the trip graciously offered me a seat next to him.

I liked Jim, he and Carol had been the two people who I most felt affinity with in the group.  Jim wanted me to sit next to him because he was trying to avoid Tara.  Tara had decided that she and Jim were going to have a “fling” on the trip, but Jim was not interested.  Tara was another blonde and very vivacious, too vivacious for her thirty some odd years.   As Tara walked past us, the bag slung over her shoulder hit me in the head, surely by accident.  Jim and I chatted about Yoga and India, all the way to Agra, the next point on the Golden Triangle.

We stayed in a lovely newer hotel in Agra. It seemed to be the only fine hotel in the city at the time.  In fact, the thing I most appreciated in Agra was not the Taj Mahal, but were the wonderful shops in this hotel!   It was May and tourist season was over, so the shop keepers were most inclined to haggle and bargains were possible.  A three foot, sandalwood carving of Mahatma Gandhi, in his dhoti and with his  cane had caught my eye and I wanted him!  The shopkeeper had priced him at roughly $1500 USD.  He didn’t even give me a price in rupees, he wanted US dollars.   I said thank you and walked away sadly, no reason to bargin with him, it wasn’t close to what I could afford.

I went to find J.  to tell her about the statue.   She boasted that said she would get it for me for a fraction of that price!  I told her I would be forever grateful.   She nodded as if it was done.  J. was seated at a table by the pool sipping tea.  She was excited because a famous palm reader and psychic was staying at the hotel and would wander through the throngs of well-healed mostly female tourists with interesting tidbits at a price commensurate with such valuable insights and forewarnings.   I shrugged my shoulders and sat to order some tea and veggie sandwiches.  While we were there, the palm reader came out to the pool for a quick glance around.  He was tall, distinguished and a bit theatrical looking in his turban.  His glance stopped at our table, lingered a moment then moved to a group of ladies at the other end of the pool.  He walked over to them, introduced himself with a salaam and sat down.  “Well,” I said, “that group should keep him busy for the rest of the afternoon, why don’t we go over to see the Taj.”   Just then Jim and Carol came up and suggested the same thing.

In the late afternoon sun the Taj Mahal was magnificent.  It is amazing that the most well-known and extravagant   structure built in India had no function other than being a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the forth wife of a Muslim man, mogul Emperor or not.

Strategically placed along the reflecting pool leading tourists to and from the Taj were about  fifty attractive young boys with cameras who would smile widely and say,  “Please beautiful lady, I take your picture.”   I do not like having my picture taken and must have accomplished to ruin every photo, with a hand across my face or a turn of my head because the next morning not one young man ran up to me with a beautiful selection of photographs for me to  purchase.

However, the next morning as we were preparing for a group bus tour to the Red Fort of Agra a few kilometers away, a young man did walk up to J. with a collection of beautiful photographs of her at the Taj.  The young man offered her several package deals, all pretty reasonable.  The full photograph package was equivalent to just less than ten dollars and the photos were very professionally packaged.  But J. refused to pay the price he asked, perhaps she was a bit prickly over the price she paid for the sarangi. They began to tease each other and haggle.  I left them to make the deal.

Not wanting to be accused of keeping everyone waiting again, I went to sit on the bus.   As I watched out the bus window, the conversation between J. and the photo walla got heated and finally at one point, the young man took the photos, all six of them, and right in front of her face, ripped them in half.    Jules’s mouth dropped open. And then, he turned and left.  I wondered if he had ever done that before.

J.  walked onto the bus and sat by me.  She seemed disturbed. “Did you see what he did,” she asked?

“Yeah, I did, maybe he did that for effect and he has all the negatives and will show up this afternoon to seal the deal.”  I ventured.

“Hmmm.”   J. was quiet the whole ride to the Red Fort of Agra.  The Fort of Agra was where the Shah Jahan had lived with Mumtaz Mahal.     He had rebuilt much of it and replaced the red rock with white marble, inlaid with gold and semi-precious gems.  It was an impressive place, but most poignant moment came when in the tower we were shown where Shah Jahan had been imprisoned  by his own son, Aurangzeb for crimes against his people.  There was a post and chain on a marble balcony, where he was allowed to sit, with a great view of the Taj that had brought him only disgrace and disrepute.

I rose early the next morning to do some Yoga by the pool.   J. was not in the room when I returned.   I showered, packed and went down for breakfast.   She was not in the dining room.  I took a plate of food from the buffet and went to find a seat.  Jim asked me to sit down with him. I did so happily. We began to chat about how we felt we were in Disneyland and Tara came by the table and made some comment like, well look at the lovebirds!   I couldn’t believe my ears and Jim grabbed his plate, stood up and said to me, ” I can’t stand this” and walked off.   I sat pretty much dumbfounded and alone with my breakfast.  All I could think of was how much I really don’t like being with other people. The ego is nasty and unpleasant.  We are all just a ]complex entanglement of desires,  prejudices and  judgments.    It is just easier to be alone.

A few moments later the palm reader came into the room, walked over to a table of ladies to say Bon voyage.. . then  walked to my table and asked if he could sit down.  I said, I didn’t have any money and I was not really interested in having my palm read.  He said, “I don’t want any of your money and you do want your palm read!  But, without reading your palm I can tell you that you will return to India many times, over many years. Perhaps you will even read palms? You don’t really belong with the group you are with, why are you here?”  And  without waiting for an answer, he sat down and asked for both of my hands. I gave them to him.

You come to India for spiritual inspiration and because it is your dharma.   You will come again and again with groups. You will come with the same man, many times. You will lead groups with him through the Himalayas.   I cannot tell if you are married to this man or not.  It is not clear.    He laughed and said, you are a late bloomer!    I asked what he meant.  He said, “just remember that I told you first.”   With that he said he was happy to meet me and excused himself.

J.  came whirling into the breakfast room and came right up to me.  “I got the statue for you, go now and pay the man. He is wrapping Gandhi up now!”   J.  and I had over the past two days gone to the hotel shop to try to negotiate a better price for my sandalwood Gandhi.   Now as the bus was being packed with our luggage,  the owner  agreed to $300 USD.   I could pay half in rupees and half in USD.  She knew that was my limit.   I was thrilled.  I hugged J.  and told her she was the greatest and ran to pay for Gandhi.  Wrapping took more time than I had,  and of course when I got to the bus, everyone was already on board and furious with me once again.   On top of being late, wrapped up, Gandhi was about 4 ft high and took a whole seat to himself.   I didn’t care who hated me by this time.   I was so happy to have Gandhi with me and the understanding that I would return to India again and again!

We arrived in Delhi and checked into the Sheraton.   The last leg of our trip was to be to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehra Dun and Corbett National Park.  We meet before dinner to talk about our final four days in India, because there had been a lot of dissent and discussion about how to spend it.  Apparently only seven of us wanted to go on, the rest preferred to remain in Delhi to see alternative hotels and to shop.   The majority would stay in Delhi so they would keep the bus.

The next morning, the seven of us along with our Indian guide took the early train for Haridwar.  It was in Haridwar I saw the River Ganges for the first time, my first cobra and stepped over my first dead body covered with flies, which oddly had no odor of death.  It was in Haridwar that I spoke to child beggar, who rode on wide skateboard because his legs had been cut off by the mafia to increase his donations.   It was in Haridwar that I participated in my first arati to Mother Ganga and placed a boat of flowers and lighted camphor on Her swift waters and felt my spirit soar.  It was in Haridwar that I entered my first Indian ashrams and met with gurus who had no interest in traveling to the USA.

It was in Rishikesh that I took a boat across the Ganges and watched women wash themselves so naturally in the cool water.  It was in Rishikesh that I took my first bath in the Ganges, albeit with much more modesty.  It was in Rishikesh that I walked across the Ganges on a swinging bridge and overcame my fear of heights, and where I met sadhus who had no apparent interest in westerners yet would give teachings freely with a cup of chai.

It was on this last tour that I had cups and cups of real chai and ate chapatti cooked over a gas flame and uttapam, sometimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner served in an open air restaurant our group would never have taken us.

The seven of us were like children.  Jim wandered off a few times in Rishikesh determined to start up white water rafting trips down the Ganges. But for the most part we stay together, visiting ashrams, and wading in the Ganges.  Jim and Carol would go with me to the Ganges in the early morning when I did my Yoga and Meditation and go again with me at night. We all shopped for friends and our children.  We found the most wonderful gifts and nothing cost more than about $5. USD.    Everyone one of us at one time or another said the same thing.  “This is the best part of the trip!”  We never made it to Dehra Dun or the National Park.  Before we knew it, we had to take the train back to New Delhi.

At first we tried to explain that we had for the first time on the trip experienced India!  But no one could understand our excitement or perhaps they did not want to consider that they had missed something not going with us.  I know J. understood  that she had indeed missed what she had come to India for in the first place. But, she wouldn’t talk to me.   She had another roommate and so Carol and I roomed together.  J. and I did not sit together on the plane going back home.   And when our husbands picked us up at the airport we were standing  alone ignoring each other.  But as we left for home, we turned to each other and both said,  almost simultaneously, “lets catch up in a couple of months.  I love you.”

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