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Haridwar to Delhi to Agra

November 28, 2017

As we began the long slog back to Delhi, I was desperate for an ATM.  I’d wiped out all the rupees at the Istanbul airport, but that didn’t result in enough to pay Ajay for the ride (It did before the pashmina).  We stopped in a few in Haridwar, but they were all out of service and I could tell Ajay’s good spirits about it would only last so long.

I’m sure we’ll find plenty in Delhi, I pointed out optimistically, visioning a shiny corporate center (as opposed to the crumbling storefronts in Haridwar).  Ajay nodded / shook his head in the cryptic Indian way and we were off.

As we took to the highway, the UP to the UK, Ajay informed me, it is important to note once again, that the roads in India are as crazy and the movies make them out to be.  Even the highways.  For a brief moment, I had thought to self die this trip, as I have trips in Europe and the US.  If I had, you would never hear from me again.  I’d still be on the side of the road waiting for my moment to merge.  There is a vague left lane goes one way, right goes the other, but that only holds til someone finds an opening to get to where they want.  Cars merge from every direction, motorbikes carrying 2, 3, 4 or more people, generally without helmets whiz through.  Bicyclists and crowded bull-driven carriages as well.  The highways are crowded with festive trucks as well.  The only way to explain these trucks, almost all made by the Tata company of India (which makes cars, trucks, cell phones, luxury goods, you name it).  The best way to explain these trucks is to imagine an elephant decked out for a parade.  Now imagine that elephant is a truck.   They are gorgeous.

The traffic is not.  Soon after leaving Haridwar,  a motorbike directly in front of us, carrying three young men, toppled over spilling the men into the oncoming traffic – specifically us.  Ajay swerved quickly and sped forward as I twisted against the seatbelt to look behind.  They’re ok?  I asked panicked.  Yes, yes.  They are lucky he said, never looking back.  Shouldn’t we stop, I asked.  No! He told me if he stopped he would be in trouble, which didn’t comfort me, but I couldn’t do anything.

After a while, Ajay pointed out a camel on the road and started chatting hesitantly till my heart was beating normally again.  A bull carrying a flat bed with about six sari-garbed women and a teenage boy passed by us.  The boy was pulling new sneakers out of a shoebox to show off to the women.  Boys are the same everywhere.

We stopped for lunch where I offered up my debit card and the result came back rejected.  SHIT! I didn’t tell Bank of America that I was coming to India and the blocked my card.  Ajay will not like this! I risked roaming charges to call and use the phone system to update my travel and hoped that by the time we found a bank, they would have kicked in so I could pay Ajay.

For the last legs of the trip, as darkness fell, Ajay told me about the other people he’d driven over the years.  Germans, who liked ganja too much, Brits who drank to much, and Spaniards who were vulnerable to the rapists because of their warm spirit.  Apparently, according to Ajay, the rapists don’t like Americans.  I didn’t learn why, but I’m fairly grateful.

In Delhi we stopped at a “plaza,” a dusty collection of buildings housing McDonalds and Subways alongside cheap sari stores.  Teenaged boys and young men gathered together in groups smoking and laughing.  There were few women and they were all on their way somewhere or shopping.  The Bank of India was open for business, and my card worked and all is right with the world.

I bid Ajay goodbye with a big tip (he was awesome, except for maybe leaving the scene of an accident), and got ready for the next big drive.

In the morning my new driver, young Neerij arrived to take me to Agra.  He wove through traffic loudly playing Indian rock music and asking me about New York.  The sun was bright as we headed east, but he had no sunglasses.  I looked around and no one else did either.  Nor regular glasses for that matter.  I realized what a luxury Ray Bans are.  We stopped early at a highway reststop for chai, where Neerij introduced me to shop owners and they showed me their wares despite my protests.  This is common in many developing nations (and probably developed ones) and I’m sure the guides get commissions, but it is very awkward.  I passed on purchases and we were on our way.  Neerij spent the drive trying unsuccessfully to teach me the Indian nod. IT is a beautiful, complicated thing, that I will never master, but maybe will start to understand what the different speeds and angles mean before I leave.

After a fun ride, we pulled up to my Agra hotel and I bid Neerij goodbye.  As I settled into the hotel, my phone buzzed with his Facebook, instagram and whatsapp connection requests. He was delightful, but I didn’t accept.





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