I hadn't planned anything for my trip before leaving. I had no idea how it was going to look like, what I was going to do, where I was going to go/eat/sleep...
In the plane, I spoke with several other "tourists" (for whom it was not the first time in India) who told me that India was definitely another galaxy, but that to enjoy it, I had to be really careful. And they told me about all the times Indian rickshaws/restaurants/hotels tried to cheat them, rob them, poison them, ... So when I landed in Delhi
, I was thinking that all Indian were cheaters, dishonest people, ... But during the next 20days, I saw nothing but hospitality, friendliness, helpfulness, ... I don't want to state "all Indians are good" or "all Indians are bad" (or anything), I guess both exist.
But as a friend of mine told me, as long as you have the Smile, as long as you're in a positive state of mind, you shouldn't meet anything but good people. I guess he was right.
I had heard that there was a huge cultural festival in Agra
(Taj Mahotsav), where all kinds of crafts, musics, and dances from India were gathering. As I didn't want to stop in Delhi, I thought it would be a good "first place to visit". Problem, I didn't know how to go from Delhi airport to Agra, and there was no map, no tourist information center, nothing that could have helped me. Only people to ask to. I dared ask to someone... who asked someone else... who asked a bus driver... who asked someone in the bus.
And for a dozen of minutes, there were these 4 people arguing around me to decide which was the best (and cheapest) way to go to Agra. Then, no problem, they put me in the right bus, where I spoke with a Iranian guy about religion, war, and this kind of stuff (his opinion being so different to our occidental ones), before he told me where to stop to go to the railway station and take my train. Take my train. Which one ? The station was so huge... Where to buy the ticket ? There were so many desks... Problem... After 10min wandering all around the station looking for some "tourist friendly" stuff (and not finding it), someone saw I was kinda lost and asked me what I needed. He then bought me a ticket for cheaper than I expected, took me to the right platform, and left. No problem ! Then, when the train arrived, as I didn't manage to find my wagon, someone told me to come with him, in a higher class, and we talked during all the journey to Agra (with him and actually with everyone around, like everybody already knew each other before.
..). Problem, I was not seated on the right wagon. No problem, the guy gave a small backshish to the controller so that I could stay and keep on talking.
In the end, these first few hours in the country already changed my mind about Indian mentality. I realised during the next 20days that these were no exceptions : I always got help when I didn't manage to find my way ; I always got help when I didn't manage to understand something ; I always got good conversations in public transports... But still, this was nothing compared to what happened a couple of days after my arrival.
I arrived in Jaipur
on a Sunday morning, 5am. I wanted to spend the day there, and leave in the night to Jaisalmer
Dad and daughters
I bought my ticket for a bus at 7pm, then looked for a rickshaw to visit the city during all the day, as I didn't want to get bored with my backpack. The guy doesn't want to take me for cheaper than 600Rs. I'm tired, don't want to argue, and I say ok. We start the tour, and after one hour, I ask him to stop at an ATM so that I can get some cash. Yes, actually, I had only changed 30euros as I didn't manage to withdraw in the airport. I tried 3 times on 2 different ATMs, with no result. But on this Sunday morning, I realise that I had no result because I used a wrong PIN code... And that after 3 attempts, my credit card was blocked. No way to withdraw money like that... I tell my rickshaw, say him sorry I can't make the day, I'll see tomorrow in a bank in Jaisalmer, but for the moment, just drop somewhere in a park, I'll just read until it's time for my bus.
He was not a good english speaker. All I understood was "Money no problem". 15minutes later, I'm in a slum, with his family. He invites me to go to the toilet (in the fields, with a bottle of water), wash myself (under the tap of a drum), have some food (delicious chapatis and chicken freshly prepared by his wife), accept a shirt he's offering me (silk one. I had gave his children toys, pencils and papers, and after that I gave him a shirt of mine), then go play cricket with the neighborhood (on an open field, with handmade bat and balls). Everyone wants to be taken in picture, just for fun. After 2 hours (it was only 10am actually), he proposes we go for a ride around the city with his wife and 4 kids, so that I can see the main points of interest. I insist he just drops me somewhere and don't lose time and energy with me, saying he already has a business and family to take care of.
He just tells me "Guest is God, Guest is God !", and we leave to Amber Fort. As the entrance fee was 150Rs for tourists (and 20 for Indian citizens), he gives me his ID card so that I don't have to pay too much, and I'm sure he'll be there waiting for me with my backpack, in 1 hour, or even 2 if I need more time. In the fort, when I show the ID, 3 controllers ask me if I'm really Indian. I say "haai", they don't even argue and let me go. 1 hour later, back with my rickshaw, we go to another fort, where he wants me to go alone. I say it's stupid, either we go altogether, or we don't go. He pays for everyone, doesn't want me to pay back, and we visit the fort. When we go out, he tells me he is now going to sleep because he's a night rickshaw, but that his brother-in-law will take care of me and that I'll continue my visit with him until 5pm, then we're invited for dinner at his place and they take me to my bus.
I insist again they don't bother themselves with me and go back to their business and families, but it seems they won't change their minds. So I go all the afternoon with brother-in-law (who doesn't speak english at all, only "Money no problem", we visit his family in another slum and take tea with them, then back on the road, a moto stops next to us, talks for 10min with brother-in-law, then tells me "If you're really in trouble, I even sell my motorbike for you and give you 10000Rs, you are way more important than things, or money, for us", and he gives me a huge hug. Then they both take me to an internet cafe so that I can see if there's anything to do about my credit card, they buy a bottle of water and biscuits for me even if I didn't ask anything, then take me to a crafts shop where a girl lends me her mobile phone so that I can call in France to try to solve my problem, she tells me it's madness to go to Jaisalmer without money, it's better I stay in Jaipur until Monday to try to see if banks, when they are open, can help me, and brother-in-law tells me I can sleep at his place, even for a week if I don't manage to solve my problem.
I just say I'm really tired (I didn't get any sleep the previous night) and I'd rather get a hotel for the night, even if I have to pay. I have to argue 15min, and I had argue later again to be sure they take me to a hotel. Before that, we went back for some visits, then back to rickshaw1 for dinner, after which he wanted to give me 500Rs to help me (I'll always remember the picture of this guy, wearing rags, in a slum, offering me money like that). I of course refused, saying I was the one who should be giving money. Later, after we went to the bus station to get refund for my ticket to Jaisalmer and after we found a hotel (explained to the guy I had money problems and get a discount from 700Rs to 150), brother-in-law also wants to give me money, I refuse again. He tells me they'll come and see me on the next morning to see if everything's ok.
Before that, I slept 12hours in a row.
Next morning, I go from bank to bank, and everyone tells me there's no way I can get money with my credit card as it is. Leaving the 8th one, I really wonder what I'm going to do next, when a rickshaw almost ran into me. And in this rickshaw was a guy from my school with a friend of his. They stopped the rickshaw, I went with them for a huge breakfast, explain my problem. They give me enough money to survive, tell me they are now going to Pushkar
and that I'm welcome to join. Ok. I just go and take my backpack in the hotel (the rickshaw made it for free as I managed to solve a puzzle he gave me), call my rickshaw friend to tell him everything's ok and a gift (a watch) is waiting for him in the hotel, and I take the bus to Pushkar with my friends.
Later, I've been invited 3 times for dinner (in Pushkar and Udaipur) by families living away from the center, who were just not used to see white people and happy to share something with them. None of them asked for any money, all of them were smiley, friendly, just happy to share a part of their life with someone different.
In Varanasi (after my girlfriend joined me), in the moghol area, a guy invited us to visit a sadu temple and silk factories (the guys there even invited us to try the machines), just for us to discover an area usually forgotten by tourists. In Pushkar, a guy also invited me to visit a couple of temples, and then to take a chai with his family.
And everywhere, we always met people that were happy to come and talk with us : a guy who ran to me to ask me if I was french because he wanted to speak french, a young brahmane who wanted the opinion of young tourists about his city and who explained us many things about the system of casts, a rickshaw who wanted to enjoy elephant festival in Jaipur with us, a salesman who closed his shop to take me on a bike trip around Udaipur lake.
.. I never had to deal with any cheater or dishonest guy, on the opposite, I felt like I met the most helpful and friendly people in the world. Maybe I've just been lucky. Maybe it was the Smile and the positive state of mind (as a foreigner here for discovering Indian way of life more than as a tourist just there for sightseeing without really interacting with local people). Maybe most of the Indian people are like that. I don't know... And actually, I don't even care. The only thing that matters is that these people made me love their country and made me realise how we, in occidental cultures, have everything we want but aren't ready to share more than a small part of it, while they have almost nothing but are ready to share all of it.