Our Road Trip by P.S. Joshi

Ajay had decided that as long as we were in northern India we should take a tour and see more of it.  It sounded reasonable and affordable.  We had our American ATM card with us so extra funds were available when we needed them.  There were sufficient funds in our account so why should we worry.

We went to a travel agent, a large, exuberant man who put all our worries to rest.  Yes, he could supply a car and driver and we would have a great trip.  He mentioned other Americans who had hired his agency and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  We made a down payment and he made arrangements.

The next day we came to the agency and our driver and car were waiting.  The first place he drove us was to meet his family at their home.  My husband said,  “This is the Indian way.”  They were especially interested to meet an American and we had a pleasant visit.  Our driver spoke excellent English.  My husband interprets for anyone who speaks Hindi or, when in Maharashtra, Marathi.  Most people in the part of northern India we were visiting spoke Hindi, Urdu or both.  Many people in India also speak, or are eager to learn, English.  Many can understand some English but  Hindi is the official language taught in most schools.

We next were taken to some places of interest in Delhi including several shops selling items tourists might be interested in buying.  These stores apparently had some agreement with the agency.  We did actually  buy some small souvenirs and pieces of jewelry.  Rather I did as Ajay’s not interested in that type of thing.

Then we headed south and about an hour from Delhi stopped to see the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary.  It was a warm day so I didn’t take a wrap or jacket from the car with me into the park.  The driver stayed with the car in the parking lot.  My husband thoroughly enjoyed looking at the various birds, talking with other visitors to the park and just sitting and relaxing in the environment while early afternoon drifted into late afternoon.  I tried to get him to budge with no luck.  Finally he agreed that it was time to move on.  The chill of evening was fast approaching and I began to feel it.  By the time we reached the car I was cold to my bones.  I felt like I was never going to be warm again.

Sunset was coming and the  driver made a decision.  We had a four-star hotel booking for the evening but he said that he was absolutely not going to drive that far at night on this highway.  I realized he was right as we passed quite a few burned out wrecks of trucks littering the pavement edges.  A little way on we came to a town where he found a modest but acceptable hotel for us.  I never knew what his own sleeping arrangements were for the nights.  He might have had family or friends he stayed with, or had agreements with other hotels and/or hostels where he could stay along that route.  I was so cold all I could think about was near some kind of heat.  Some men in the hotel parking lot had a fire going on the ground and Ajay told me to go and get warm there.  It looked great to me at that moment so I joined the men around the fire while Ajay stood and watched.  I didn’t sit, I just stood as close as I safely could and soaked up the warmth.  I slept in my clothes and heavy coat that night.

The next day we continued on toward Jaipur in Rajasthan, leaving Uttar Pradesh.  In Jaipur we took a tour of the red sandstone Jaigarth Fort.  We ate some lunch and afterward made an unpleasant discovery.  Ajay went to an ATM that would accept our American debit card and tried to make a withdrawal.  We were horrified to find that the card was not accepted for some reason.  We knew there was money in our account but the card was just not working.  Knowing that we might be in serious trouble is putting it mildly.  That card was our lifeline in India.  Ajay become very disturbed and had to tell the driver that for some reason we would have to try later.  We did several times with no success.

We had some money with us still and drove on to Pushkar where we had a booking at the Pushkar Lake Palace.  It was a modest hotel with a balcony on the lake.  It was a lovely scene and we dined on that balcony.  Unlike Delhi, it was warm in Pushkar.

The next day we walked around and down to a bridge crossing the lake to a samll temple on the hilltop.  We started to walk across the bridge when an elderly man stopped us and said in Hindi, which Ajay interpreted, “You must take off your shoes when crossing this bridge to the temple.”  I looked down at the bridge surface and saw that it was covered with animal dung.  Numerous animals had no doubt been driven across it and no one had come and cleaned it in the recent past.  I told Ajay that no way was I going to cross that bridge without shoes in that filth.  I had seen, and would see, other temples so it just wasn’t worth the trouble.    While we were standing there, a young couple also came to see the temple and when I told them about shoes not being allowed on the bridge, they took off their shoes.  I guess some people think differently than I do but that didn’t change my mind one bit.

Our driver, understanding the money problem, drove us back toward Delhi the next day.  There were no more five-star or four-star hotels for us.  Reaching Delhi we had to face the travel agent.  He was no longer his jolly self.  His voice was raised in frustration bordering on anger.  He owed people and his business depended on trust.  Could someone loan us the money?  My husband was bordering on mania and the agent, who had a kind heart, seemed to take pity on me.  We called Ajay’s elderly uncle in Mumbai but he couldn’t loan us any money.

The agent wasn’t going to permit us to leave Delhi while we still owed him all that money so the trial of staying each night in a different modest hotel began while Ajay contacted different friends to see if he could get a loan.  He finally found friends in Delhi he could stay with while he sent me by train back to Mumbai to stay with his relatives.

Eventually, he contacted a friend who loaned him the money he needed to pay the travel agent so was able to  join me in Mumbai.  This friend was willing to loan the money both because he was an old friend of Ajay’s and because he once had the same problem on a trip.  Ajay finally was able to contact our bank in the U.S. and straighten out the problem. It turned out to be some trouble with the computer. The next time my husband traveled to the U.S., he had our son’s name put on the account just in case.  (Next we take the train home from Mumbai to the picturesque hotel.)

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