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19 November 2005

properly execute the second

i decided last night to stay in kolkata until monday and then take a night train to varanasi. i booked my train ticket in the morning after breakfast, hit an atm, and then allowed a market tout to escort me into the new market complex (one of the first stops on a walking tour outlined in my guidebook).

the indoor market was gigantic, the biggest i'd visited in india, stores packed one on top of another and selling everything from meat to jewelry to clothes. as expected, the tout led me to a standard souvenir knick-knack shop and the salepeople began the well rehearsed robotic process of laying things out in front of me... chess sets, silk shirts, knives. 'what do you want? what do you want?' i thanked them for their time and told them i didn't want anything and wasn't in much of a shopping mood. i always felt a little bad in these situations because the shopowners always went to great lengths to showcase their merchandise... unfolding shirt after shirt... huge wall paintings... while i had no intention of purchasing anything. my escort led me to another store where the process began and ended the same way. en route to the third, i saw my chance to escape.

my guide was walking a few paces in front of me and exchanged a few words with two men sitting on a bench outside one of the stores. as i passed the two men i gave them a 'yep, i'm another tourist that is being led from shop to shop by your friend there. i've given up trying to escape.' expression. they smiled and returned a 'yep, we've seen it before' look. i feigned a 180 degree turn with the intention of turning back around and being a good tout-follower but my legs didn't properly execute the second 180 degree turn and instead sped up and carried me deeper into the laybrinth away from my guide. the two guys i'd just passed saw the escape and raised the alarm to get my guide's attention but it was too late at that point. i'd already turned a few corners and had disappeared into the maze.

i wandered the shops freely and got a few surprised 'wow, there's a foreigner in here without a guide!' looks from the shopowners. minutes later another tout locked on and i found myself in the same situation. after a few more shops, i escaped again by telling him i was going to check out the indian museum (the next stop on my guide book's walking tour).

'oh, the museum is closed today.'


in these recurring 'that place is closed/full/flooded/burned down/full of gangsters' situations i always wished i had the facts... i was 99% sure that the tout was lying to me in order to redirect me to a situation which would benefit him in some way... but as i discovered in the case with afrosh in mohabalipuram there was always a chance that he was telling the truth. in this particular instance, the numbers prevailed. i found the museum open when i arrived.

the museum was a fairly standard natural history museum... some cool exhibits... but all old and dirty. one thing which stands out in my mind was a stuffed polar bear. years of pollution and lack of cleaning had colored the polar bear a distinctive dark brown color and it looked very out of place in the arctic recreation on which it was positioned.

i'd planned to continue on to mother theresa's grave but i needed to return to the travel agent by 1630 to pick up my train ticket. darkness was closing in and i spent the rest of the evening eating and writing.

posted by paul on Sat 19 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)


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