Friday, November 21, 2008

How Many Ways to Fleece a Tourist

Today is another adventure. Went for a walk this morning exploring a different way than I usually go. I ended up at an old temple that Grace and I had stopped to see when we took the rickshaw into town. Then, I had wished I had my camera. This time I had it. A man who claimed he is a yogi sadhu approached me and invited me in to see the temple. At the last alcove of an alter with the image of Shiva and Durga this yogi told me that it is expected that I make an offering. No problem, I put a 10 rupee bill at the alter. Silence, then the yogi's eyebrows rose and he began complaining about the amount. I immediately told him that if he was a true yogi sadhu he would not have any attachment to the money or the amount and that his karma service of showing me the temple would be without expectation of anything in return.

Had a kurta tailored for me at another end of town so I next walked over there to pick it up. It didn't quite fit. As alterations were made another member of the family tried to sell me some shawls. I told him that they looked like the shawls all the other vendors were selling and that if he had better quality shawls I might consider purchasing from him. He then brought out the most beautiful Kashmiri (wool shawls with intricate embroidery) and Pashmina(woven patterns from silk, wool, or yak) shawls. They were very expensive. He began the bidding at 9,000 rupees for 2 shawls. I said that was way too much and I would give him 5,000. He cried that he would make no money and that I know nothing of the value of these shawls. I said that I very well know the value and that is why I would only pay 5,000. He then went down to 8,000. I again said no, that I would pay for my kurta and leave. He then had a pained expression and complained that I was acting like his mother. I said mabe I am your mother. The price dropped to 7,500.
I placed the kurta on top of the already wrapped package of shawls and said 7,000 now or I walk with the kurta alone. I ended up walking with the whole deal for 7,000. I was later told by an Indian that I was fleeced but I don't care. He was happy and so was I. He did have the best quality shawls that I have seen since I've been in India. He then toured me through the factory where the wool shawls are hand embroidered and the silk is woven into cloth. A tour well worth the extra rupees. He then led me back to the main street.

I next stopped at a music shop and asked to look at a shanai, a wood flute played with a reed and brass trumpet shape at the other end. Westerners typically see these played to entrance cobras. That shop didn't have one so I was led down a maze of streets to another music shop ( westerners are warned not to do this). The shop keeper brought out a couple of shanai in poor condition. My eye did catch a very strange ancient looking instrument that had multiple sympathetic strings as on a sitar and 4 gut strings which are played with a bow. It was very small, about 18 inches long. I asked the shop keeper if he could play it. The owner of the shop offered me chai and said wait here he will return in 10 minutes. The instrument is called a sarangi. After waiting a half hour the owner returned with a sarangi player and a tabla player. I was served more chai and enjoyed a private concert. Not that I asked for it, it was sublime, but when they finished playing they looked at me in expectation of renumeration. I looked at the owner and he said I needed to pay the musician. Here I was handing out money again. I placed a 50 rupee note in front of the sarangi player. He looked insulted. The owner of the shop then brought out a 10 year old radio contract the musician had which paid him 750 rupees. I figured, nice try, and reached forward to take back the rupees. The musician then took the note not altogether happy. The shop owner led me back to a main road. I began walking and realized I did not know where I was. It was getting dark. I asked someone which way to the ganga. I knew if I could get to the Ganga I could find my way back. The road led to a ghat which I had to walk through to get back. This was a burning ghat. One funeral pyre was burning and another about to be lit. I next asked where the Assi Ghat was (the ghat closest to the academy). After walking another hour I arrived at the academy.

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