Monday, October 17, 2005

Settling in

I've gotten into a fine groove here. Alas, my old habits have come back, and so I'm staying up till 3-4AM reading books, and then sleeping in until 2pm.

When the highlight of your day is an evening cup of tea, you have no real reason to wake up early.

I spent a few hours the other evening chatting with one of the Kashmiri merchants on the touristy main street. Nice chap, no pressure to buy anything - we just chatted about the state of business here, and the fact that competition is getting rough as new merchants rush in and copy his style.

He described (quite accurately) the tourist ghetto experience as the job of a fisherman. Tourists walk up and down one main street, lined with pharmacies/general stores, stone carvers, kashmiri clothing shops, internet cafes, fancy restaurants, and travel agents. The tourists never stray from this one street - as all their needs are met here. On one end, near the bus stop, touts and taxi drivers hang out, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims... and as the tourists continually stroll down the road, each merchant shouts out to them "come into my shop, have a cup of tea, etc". When you close your eyes and imagine it, the thought of 20 merchants each with a fishing line in the water, waiting to catch an unfortunate tourist - its not too far from the truth...

In any case - after one day, I got bored with the ghetto. It's very strange, but if you walk just one street away, the tourists vanish, and it's back to normal India. No one bothers you to buy anything - and they're a bit shocked that you've wandered out here.

I've got an almost ritual now - in the evening, I stroll a few streets away, get a plate of Samosas covered with spicy lentils (amazingly filling, and 5 rupees.. or 12 cents. What a steal!). After I polish a plate or two of that off, I wander over to the chai stand - a tea booth where old men hang out and drink. For 4 rupees, i'll get a cup of tasty, sweet, and (surprisingly pleasantly) milky tea - poured and mixed from an impressive height, thus giving it a nice head of bubbles. To that, I add a buscuit or two for dipping, and I hang out, drinking my cup of tea amongst the somewhat surprised old men.

On the way back, I pick up a bannana or two (an attempt to at least eat a bit of fresh fruit), and stroll back to the tourist ghetto, so I can find somewhere to read in peace.

I'll be leaving tomorrow, and heading back to the hell that is Chennai. With any luck, I shouldn't be there more than a day or two.

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