Sunday, February 5, 2012

Around the World: Aurangabad

February 5, 1992

After a good night's sleep, I'm ready for another day in India.  Maybe it's because Jalgaon is considerably less crowded than Bombay or if it has something to do with the fact that the driver is more exposed, but getting around in a rickshaw is a lot less stressful than going anywhere in a taxi.

India rickshaw
Photo by Richard Ishida

Back at the train station, I discover that Aurangabad is only a short bus ride away. Short means it's only a few hours as opposed to the full day I spent on the train yesterday.  I buy my tickets and ask which bus I need to take.  The attendant rattles off some numbers and vaguely points to a line of platforms.  I walk over to where I think he has indicated, but there is no bus.  Confused, I go back to confirm his instructions and he tells me that I am at the correct platform, I just have to wait for the bus to arrive.  He doesn't know when that will be.

Fair enough.

After a short wait, a bus pulls up to the platform.  There seems to be no orderly way to board a bus in India.  It is a full contact sport.  After considerable amounts of pushing and shoving, I get on and find a seat only to discover it's the wrong bus.  So after more pushing and shoving, I get off the bus and continue waiting at the platform.  To pass the time, I refuse the services of several men offering their translation skills and come up with creative ways to answer the same questions about my personal life.

"Where is your husband?"

I don't have one.  I left him at home.  I ate him for breakfast.  Isn't he with you?

"Why aren't you married?"

Why do you care?  Should I be?  My religion doesn't allow it.  Are you allowed to be out unsupervised?

Finally, the right bus arrives. Push and shove and push and shove and I find a seat just as the bus is pulling out of the terminal.  In the guide book, I discover that Aurangabad has a hostel, a YHA no less, for 6 Rs.  When I look up from my book for some scenery, I am greeted by a bus load of blank expressions.  Again with the staring.  That empty, I-can-go-days-without-blinking stare.

Hotel Panchavati, Aurangabad

The hostel in Aurangabad is full, but the Hotel Panchavati next door has rooms for 83 Rs.  After a delicious meal of dhal (lentil soup), palak panir (spinach and cheese) and endless servings of chapattis, I have the energy to go explore.  It's mid afternoon, too late to head to the caves, but too early to call it a day.  I want to see where I am and it's time India and I got properly acquainted.

There are a few fruit vendors on the main street where my hotel is.  On my walk I pass several cows, some are led by someone, some are kept off the road by ropes tied like shackles to their legs, while others roam freely.  A group of school children decide to use me as target practice with rocks, but as luck would have it, their aim is terrible.

Photo by Cytravel

Water is for sale at the front desk of the hotel.  After turning my shower into a laundromat, I head downstairs for water.  "That will be 26 rupees," the clerk says handing me two bottles.  I give him 56 Rs and while I wait for my change, I inspect the water because it's not uncommon for bottles to be refilled with tap water.  One bottle is clear, but the other has an odd greenish tinge and unidentifiable things floating in it.  I show it to the clerk and ask for another bottle.  He hands me 20 Rs and wishes me a good day.

"I think there's something wrong with this water and you still owe me 10 rupees."

He smiles politely, turns his back to me and directs his attention to some paperwork.

"Excuse me," I say with reserved agitation, "I would like another bottle of water and my change, please."

No response.  Another employee comes over and the two men start up a conversation.

"Hey!" I protest emphatically, slamming the bottle on the desk, "Give me another bottle of water and my ten f*ck!ng rupees!"

I have their attention. The original clerk hands me a sealed bottle of clear water, uttering "So sorry, so sorry."  The other reaches into the cash register and slides 10 Rs across the counter towards me.  "So sorry."

"Thank you," I say politely, gathering my water and money, "Pleasant evening."  They both return my friendly wave as I walk away from the front desk.  I'm laughing at the ridiculousness that has just occurred.  Playing the role of the stereotypical Canadian, ever polite, insisting I get every last cent due me.  The amount at issue is about 40 cents.

Keep the change, but I still want clean water.
Photo courtesy of osocio

Back in my room, I'm creatively finding ways to drape my laundry around the room and on the balcony so it has a chance to dry overnight when I catch sight of a man casually strolling down the street.  He's naked but for a string tied around his waist.  No one pays him any mind, like it's the most normal thing in the world.

• ¤ •

"The habit of fixedly staring at you is one you just have to get used to. It’s simply unembarrassed interest, and there is nothing you can do about it. Staring right back is not going to change anything.
Summon up as much understanding as you can, but sometimes pushing and shoving, cutting into queues, continuously trying to get you to do something you don’t want to, the inevitable rip-offs, all become too much and even the most easygoing travelers lose their temper. Treat these things as part of life, practice staying more relaxed next time, but if they start to happen too often perhaps it’s time you took a break from India. After all, that’s what Nepal and Sri Lanka are there for, aren’t they?"
~Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit: India