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We checked out of the airport hotel and a boy carried my bag to the side of the road. He was supposed to flag down an 'auto' three-wheeled motorised rickshaw (or tuk-tuk to us) for us, but stood there for a while until one popped up of its own accord. The driver wouldn't haggle with Mikey but were too tired to argue. The journey was one of near-death, but the scenery was cool. I saw cows in the middle of the road (yes, they really do have them here! Proper zen ones), a bunch of people carrying a dead body on a litter, people playing cricket on a building site and stray dogs and barefooted people and robed men. We were dropped off close to the hostel, and the owner, a retired army major, was very friendly and chatty, and told us all about the other people staying here. And about his life and his wife and his daughter and the train station and recommended restaurants and how to book tours and bingo. Then we got to see the room, which needed a clean. It got one and we unpacked a bit. I think the bathroom is suppsed to have hot water, but there wasn't any in the shower.
We checked our mail briefly and had a look at train tickets online. A great website, www.seat61.com, explains all about train travel round the world (with useful photos and a lot of information) and we were convinced to by rail passes which can be more expensive than individual tickets but are a lot more convenient. Then we tried to find some lunch. At the end of the road is a street called Main Bazaar, and it's incredible. Yesterday was diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (celebrating the rescue of wife of king by supermonkey, as far we were told in Thailand), which we didn't know. I would have tried to get here for that, otherwise. But the streets were covered in tinsel and most of the free-range cows were similarly adorned and there were glittery things everywhere. The shops all sell wonderful clothes, materials, ethnic things, souvenirs, carvings, statues and anything you've ever imagined getting from India. It was also completely packed with people and bikes and autos and rickshaws. A man sat on a step playing a gourd-shaped flute ata cobra in a basket. Really. People called out to us all the time. One man, very friendly, walked with us a bit and started chatting to Mikey and then told us that he wanted to give us a no-obligation quote on some tours. He hadn't said no soon enough so we tried to bluff our way out of it. We were meeting friends. There were five of us. We couldn't make decisions now. Yes, the price is excellent. Yes, we'll phone you. We escaped down the ladder from his office. He waved to us.
A boy started chatting to Mikey. Mikey must learn to say no, or else we'll never get anywhere! The boy, apparently, although I couldn't hear him, said up front that he didn't want any money and just wanted to practice his English. He gave some advice (leave Delhi as soon as possible, don't leave your wallet out, wear Indian clothes so you don't get charged tourist prices) which were either common sense or rubbish. He carried on walking. He asked Mikey if he wanted to go shopping. Mikey didn't say no. It's just a little word... We walked and walked and walked. At one point a gang of lads raced towards us screaming. The boy translated that they wanted something. Mikey explained he had no money. The boy pulled Mikey away and I was left in the middle of the crowd with them all yelling and laughing at me, trying to get me to do something. It was the only time in the whole of this trip that I've felt so intimidated. I jumped into the road to escape and ran to catch up with Mikey. I was fed up with being led around by this boy who didn't want anything so I just said that we had to go back to meet our friends. He tried to argue that we were very close to the markets now and Mikey finally managed to explain that we wanted to go back. The boy led us towards the city centre and then he stopped and asked for a present. We had nothing except our guidebook and some money, but the boy was adamant that he wanted something from our country. He decided on Mikey's watch, and protested that Mikey could always buy a new one. If we'd hd one, an English coin would have been perfect, and we normally carry a couple just in case but today of all days we'd left them in our room. In the end, and after much protest, the boy left us. I was very glad. Mikey practiced saying 'no'.
It was 4pm and we had eaten nothing all day. The restaurant we were looking for wasn't there, so we found another cafe. We had four delicious curries and puddings and tea for two and it took almost two hours. It was a lovely way to spend time. It was dark by the time we'd finished and we walked back to the hostel. Men were weeing in the streets, beggers were sitting by our ankles, people wanted to sell us things and cars tried to kill us. It wasn't a nice walk back in the pitch black, but the bazaar looked nice again. The man from the tourist shop stopped us and asked if we'd decided to go with his offer. Mikey explained that we hadn't seen our friends yet. Tomorrow we'll say that they want to take the train so we'll go with them. In future, this is our last day in India, we've been all over the place, we're with a tour group, we must't go far, and we're going home in the morning. It won't work, though.
More fireworks for diwali tonight, zen cows in the streets, horns and calls to prayer and sirens. It's bedlam outside but it's a lot cooler than we were expecting, we have a plan for tomorrow and we have 35 days to go until we're home. We can cope with this!
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