While at the shoe factory Lisa requested use of the bathroom, telling them that she was okay using a non-Western toilet. She has traveled in other Asian countries and the use of the facility, not its style, was what was important. The factory people were aghast, however. We probably were the only Western people who had ever visited and it was, after all, a building that was not well maintained and all the employees were men. Probably a bit…unclean.
So we headed out, and Bilal instructed the driver where to go to a nearby friend’s house. Soon we had pulled off a typically busy street and were in a very quiet neighborhood. On one side of the street was some vacant land, occupied by some tents. When asked if they were “homeless” we were informed they are a remnant of nomadic group of blacksmiths.
Across the street were homes that were a bit newer than most we had seen. We pulled up to one and I saw
which of course tickled me and I knew Graham would have enjoyed this meeting. The professor was not at home but his wife happily greeted us, showed Lisa the bathroom (also non-Western but very clean) and then proceeded to offer us drinks and snacks. Bilal had escorted his younger sister there for tutoring when she was in high school and it was apparent there was a lot of affection between Mrs. Sharma and him.I asked to see her kitchen and it was only a bit larger than the one in the poorer home, but had a counter. She also had a refrigerator located in an adjacent room.This view of an upper-middle-class home allowed us to compare again, with our own. It was obviously better than most people have there and would have been comfortable enough for our own living, but still did not have features we are very used to here in the US.
The adventure continued after that. Lisa was on a mission to purchase ayerveda medicine for a friend. While Arvind, our SmartTour guide felt we could go to any pharmacy, Bilal once again got on the phone and found out that there was a small place in another market. The driver found his way there and we wandered around, looking for the Indian herbal shop. Once again, the guides opined that we were the only Westerners who had been in that section of town.
While the guides had not expected to purchase anything, I noticed they both got into animated conversation with the shop owner and soon everyone was carrying away parcels.
(Side note: Lisa has delivered the medicine to her friends who declared the pain was definitely eased! Ayervedic herbals medicines have been in use for thousands of years and, like Chinese herbs, can prove to be an effective alternative to Western medicine.)
Our next mission was also amusing to the guides at first, and then they understood our intent. Whenever I travel, where-ever I travel, I like to visit the local grocery store. Even here in the US it can be interesting to see regional foods that are not sold where I live. We had asked Arvind if there were supermarkets in India and he told us no, but sure enough, Bilal and the driver soon had found one.
It was about the size of what I have seen in New York City, maybe 5 or 6 aisles wide. Lisa and I were not quite sure what we would buy when we entered, but as soon as we saw the packaged spices we knew we had hit paydirt! I spent the equivalent of $10 and Lisa spent about $20 and we walked out with two large sacks of spices and spice mixes to bring home the flavor of India.
After asking the guides to find a “regular” place to eat supper and enjoying a meal with them, we had them bring us back to the hotel. By that time we had spent over seven hours with them, introduced to areas that tourists don’t see and getting a wonderful view of real life. A fantastic experience and well worth the extra cost….remember when you travel, cost is what you pay. Value is what you gain.