Day 9: Exhilarating India

Day 9: Saturday, 25 April 2020 – Jaipur, India (26.9124° N, 75.7873° E) ( 24,942 Covid-19 cases & 779 deaths in all of India as of today)

A brief aside for us travelers. Maybe hopeful, maybe not.

I confess to have eaten dirt when I was a kid. And other dirty things too. I played with living and dead critters. I have never been obsessed with avoiding germs. In fact, I saw the benefits of the healthy and varied biomes in my stomach–trillions of organisms from thousands of species, yikes! My science classes taught me that microorganisms were our friends…the good ones of course; and germs and parasites are ubiquitous. I let my daughter eat ants–apparently they were spicey! But not worms. We always had numerous species of pets. Never had wipes growing up or when raising my kids. Playgrounds, pre-school, sports…yep. Hand sanitizers are relatively new in my consciousness. I do see their merits of course, but simple thorough hand washing was always the mantra in our house. We let minor kid conditions run their course without zapping them with pharmaceuticals. And none of my kids have asthma, autoimmune disorders or food allergies of any kind; me either. Coincidence? Anyway, here’s my point: I would speculate that we travelers have been exposed to a wide range of bacteria and viruses from around the world (that Sri Lankan out-house, that Hong Kong wet market, that refugee-run restaurant in Ethiopia, those Moroccan farm animals, that Indian train ride, that Yangon to Dala ferry, that intercontinental flight from Istanbul…etc, etc..) that would seem essential to our health and the production of our antibody immunities. It can’t be just because I drink vodka on the road! I would think that like athletes in training, that our immune systems have been strengthening themselves with repetitive exposures while we travel the world. Maybe our systems are super strong and create extra-high energized T-cells that more easily overcome the bad pathogens that may enter our systems and help us maintain our homeostasis. Makes sense, no? So, to all us travelers, stay healthy, I think we are well-equipped…but keep on self medicating with vodka too–it can’t hurt in these perilous times!

India…What are the clichés? The great unknown. The definition of culture shock. You’ll either love it or hate it–there is no in between. Expect the unexpected. An assault on the senses. India time is relative. The land of snake charmers. Delhi belly. They’re so poor, but happy. Organized chaos. Cows rule the road. They have too many Gods. Be careful you don’t lose yourself. Corruption is everywhere. No one speaks English. The food is too spicy. It’s too hot, too humid, too polluted. Forget personal space. The land of temple burnout. The people will tug at your heart strings. INDIA = I’ll Never Do It Again. India teaches you patience. You have not experienced India until you’ve taken a train. Nothing can prepare you for India. Heartbreaking. Life affirming. …stereotypes are shorthand for turisms. And there is a lot of human truth to be found in India; the good, the bad and the ugly. And that’s all before breakfast.

One point three billion people; that’s 1,353,000,000 souls. Each with a life, a family, a past and a future, and a story to tell. And you might possibly meet them all too…if you do it right. And we have tried to do it right, having visited India seven times while conducting our annual travel adventure competition, The Global Scavenger Hunt: Chennai, Delhi, Pune, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai, Amritsar…and a whole lot of villages and national parks in between. But we have barely scratched the surface. India is the great equalizer to me, and the ultimate travel competition gameboard. Win, lose, tie, it doesn’t matter where your team places on the India leg; survival is the key…getting through it. Indeed, if you can travel well in India, you can travel well anywhere. And so, we do our best to expose our travelers, usually every-other-year, to the amazing land and people that is the India I know.

Knowing full well that India is hard to articulate, yet such a Wow!…we of course got a few memories from our alum about their adventures in India. First up today, based on his early-years seniority, is Randy, a 2004 almost event winner until the last day (A fun story you should ask him about someday!), that seems like a fun movie trailer:

“The Taj Mahal delivers on its reputation as one of the seven wonders of the new world. The Taj draws seven million people a year and is a goldmine for local entrepreneurs. The Slumdog Millionaire (2008) scene where Jamal Malik poses as a guide and passes off an absurd history of the Taj is one of many scams. And the kids stealing shoes outside the entrance of the tomb? Yeah, they exist. It’s easy to miss the sign where for 50 rupees your shoes will be safely guarded. At least it was for me. Compounding my new dilemma of losing the only tennis shoes I had for the entire trip was the searing heat of the stones beneath my socks as I hotfooted it out the main entrance. But I was in luck. A smart fellow ran a shoe store right outside the main gate, dealing in cheap handmade goods and the fenced take from the previous day. He had many choices, right up to the equivalent of a U.S. men’s size 9. I wear a 12. The problem with running around the hilly streets of Agra in a race for scavenges on a hot day in March is the debilitating calf cramping caused by curling one’s toes over the edge of a leather sandal three sizes too small. This must be what it’s like to bonk at the end of a marathon. I stumbled into the nearby Agra Sheraton one hot mess at the end of the day but felt far better when greeted at the front door by two unusual men, one beturbaned with a large sabre tucked in his waistband and the other in a furry chipmunk costume. Fear and Loathing in Agra. The next morning in the tiny backseat of a beater car on the way to Jaipur that would later break down I cut up a pair of gym socks to use for heel straps and ran around in this ridiculous getup for two more days. As I remember we won the India leg of GE2004, literally on my last leg. I doubt the kid who lifted my Nikes ever found someone with feet large enough to buy them, nor could he imagine this story coming up 16 years later. Cultural immersion is indeed a beautiful thing. The moral of the story? When the shoe valet charges 50 rupee, use it!”
Randy and Agra friends, sans Nikes.                                       Better days, pre-adventure appropriation!

More scenes from India past…

Next up is Jackie’s memory. Part of a 2009 team called the GG’s (aka Galavanting Gals), her memory is not only a great story, but sums up the spirit and creativity the event calls on…:

“A great Global Scavenger Hunt moment for us took place April 27, 2009 in the Rajasthan Area, Jaipur, India. We were asked to climb to the top of the Palace of the Winds and convey the purpose of it. We were then told to enjoy the view from across the street in a rooftop cafe. Scavenging on foot since about 1:00pm, with the temperature at about 118, we went to the top of the Palace of the Winds about 3:30pm. This palace we learned was for the ladies of the harem. From the many jali screens they could observe without being observed.  In addition, the jalis were designed to catch the wind for cooling…how wonderful. From the top, the entire city could be seen. We then crossed the street to complete the scavenge and there wasn’t any rooftop cafe around. So we found a nice merchant on the street to help us locate such a cafe. He confirmed that there weren’t any rooftop cafes. The charming man took us through his little storefront opening into a courtyard and up some stairs to his artifact store. He proudly displayed his espresso machine, made us coffee to drink out of his beautiful china cups and served us on his balcony overlooking the Palace. Upon leaving he asked us for the web information so he could follow us on our journey. We were the only team to fully complete this scavenge that day. Success was ours in trusting this stranger in a strange land.”

Jackie & partner Sylvia using a good map…

Finally, Alicia from the 2004 winning team offered up her top ten list, and since a few are from India, we will leave it here for you:

“Wow, there were so many memorable scavenges and events during our Global Scavenge trip in April 2004. My top ten are:
1.  Seeing the Taj Mahal.  I teared up and thought of my mother who would have loved to see this beautiful and elegant architectural homage.
2.  Talking our way into the Burj al Arab Hotel and holding up a line of their silver Rolls Royce’s because I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
3.  Spotting a flat bed truck with a body wrapped in white sheets and following it in a tut-tut to witness a cremation/burial on the Yamuna River.
4.  Eating street food in New Dehli and living to tell about it.
5.  Eating the most delicious Thai food in Bangkok.
6.  Sunrise at Ankor Wat while spending time with the orange robed monks.
7.  Firing an AK-47 at the Viet Cong tunnels in Cú Chi.  It was the first time I ever handled a gun.  It will be the last time.
8.  Walking within the beautiful old city of Fez and navigating the souks.
9.  Visiting Sintra with its magnificent palaces and bringing home a stunning reproduction of tiles used in the early 15th century.
10. Winning the 2004 World’s Greatest Travelers award.”

Finally today, we have Pamela, half of the 2018 team of Sonoma County Strong:

“I had always wondered about India, but never actually thought I would get there. When we found out we were going, I was exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. I figured well, when in Delhi, we had to see the Taj Mahal. It was a crazy, smelly, devastating, intense train ride just to get there. I knew it would be a good experience, and it would be beautiful. However, I was not prepared for the tears that I wept when I finally walked through the gate and saw it in its full glory. Despite the intense heat and discomfort, it took my breath away. One of the major awe-struck moments of my life. I’ll never forget it. Thanks for showing us the world.”
Gawd, I know what I want for dinner tonight after this post…a Bukhara feast of: onion kulcha, Sikandari raan, Mugrh chicken tandoori, garlic naan, dark dal, and keep the Taj lagers a coming, please. (Bev, Buz…you coming over? We could go to the Golden Temple in the morning?)

Well, as I like to tell our travelers, it’s now time to reposition ourselves into another part of the world, to conduct one of our infamous pivots–that might take us north to Europe, south/west to Africa, or maybe just linger in the Middle East? …with our stop tomorrow being a quickie to Abu Dhabi.

By the way…I have been asked what kind of music I am listening to during our period of  Covid-19-inspired self-isolation…good question. Of course, like everything/mood, I have playlist for that:

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com