Tuk-tuk drivers are a breed apart – they work seriously long hours, for little money, through the heat of the day, choking on the fumes of a million exhausts, listening to the deafening cacophony of horns, always with a smile on their face. Oh, and they are lunatics.
Our tour guide, Avdhesh, hailed a tuk-tuk for us to take us from our hotel in Jaipur down to the city centre through the evening traffic. We had already experienced rush hour in Delhi and Agra so it wasn’t a complete shock but it was still an exhilarating experience. The four of us crammed into the back of what could be described as a souped-up lawn mower and without a glance in the mirror we pulled out into the traffic and hurtled down the road at breakneck speed. Sensing we were a bit cramped in the back our driver gesticulated to me (looking over his shoulder while keeping the pedal to the metal) that I should climb over and share his seat. Weighing up which option was more likely to result in my death I declined his kind offer and clung on tighter in the back. It was one of the highlights of the trip so he deserved the tip and I asked if I could take his photo which he was only too happy to oblige.
We did a lot of travelling on our holiday – much of it by coach. Coming from England if you spent six hours on a coach you would expect to travel a good few hundred miles. In India though the average speeds are much lower for a number of reasons – there were dual carriageways but I didn’t see a motorway, the road surfaces are dreadful, nobody follows the highway code, and you always have to be on the lookout for cows which suddenly decide to wander across the road. Our coach driver – Mr Singh – was a star. He drove for hours through city traffic and country roads, through sandstorms, squeezing the coach through tiny gaps and was always ready and waiting for us.
Our driver’s helper was also amazing. Helping navigate our way through cities and the countryside, keeping an eye out for wandering cows and dogs, and keeping us supplied with cold bottles of water. How did he keep the bottles of water cold when the temperature is over 40 degrees Celsius? Every morning the bus would stop in the middle of the road outside a shop, he would leap out and run into the shop returning thirty seconds later with a massive block of ice.
Visiting a carpet shop in England is quite possibly one of the most uninteresting activities imaginable – not so in India. This shop in Agra not only sold rugs but made them too – by hand. The process is far more pain-staking, skilful and time-consuming than I first thought. Some of these rugs take months and months to make by many craftsmen. Of course once you have been given the tour and been supplied with complimentary masala chai you are given the sales pitch and this salesman was entertaining, knowledgeable and persuasive.
This visit to a textile shop in Jaipur was similar to the carpet shop in Agra. Top quality items made on-site at a fraction of the price you would pay in the UK. Again you are give complimentary soft drinks or masala chai while the salesmen do their thing. Like something but it is not quite right? Long sleeves but you want short? Give them ten minutes and they make the alterations there and then!
If you missed my previous post about India you can find it here.