“Ni Hao”: Building bridges with a Chinese Man

When I started my journey, one of my biggest challenge was to overcome the difficulty to trust strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers” has it’s own local and regional flavours in our families and like most of us, I have grown conditioned on it. In new places, I have been warned of people who will put me in harms way and therefore to not drink water, to no eat anything a stranger would offer. The warnings are endless and the outcome is a castle of fear, which you spend more time trying to climb over.

The first destination on my solo travel was Aurangabad. As I climbed into the train and found my seat, I made acquaintance with a young researcher, Masters in law and currently working for the Justice Department. He was on an assignment to collect data on check bounce cases across India. We connected and talked and discussed quite a bit. Eventually deciding to accompany each other and explore Ajanta Caves together.

Introduction to Chinaman

We took a ‘Shivshakti’ bus (government bus service) to Aurangabad. The ongoing infrastructure constructions made the journey very difficult, both as an experience and for the time taken to reach the destination. As we set out to explore the caves, we noticed that the bus staff was trying to communicate with an elderly East Asian man about the time of return. Both of them were trying their best to communicate and comprehend, but the attempts were futile. Obviously, your’s truly volunteered to help.

Native Greeting-The rope of trust

Having visited china for 10 days on work, many years ago, I had picked up a few words and greetings. ‘Ni Hao’ is the Chinese greeting for ‘hello’. I had taken a note of his passport before greeting him. “NiHao” I said and he looked at me surprised. His face lit up like a neon bulb. Very greedily, he tried responding to me, and obviously, I had to disappoint him. All my knowledge of Chinese language ended at ‘Ni Hao’. I could not converse with him beyond the greeting.

Dumb Charades is great skill to build

Thanks to the dumb charades that I and my wife were damn good at, with careful choice of animated actions, I was able to get the message across to him. He knew no word of English and we didn’t know any Chinese. Even then he decided to tag along with Hussain and me for the rest of the journey. Now, I would like to you to visualise the conversation between me and this man because it was all via actions!

With our guide at Aurangabad, Hussain and Cheng. Our Start.

After a lot of effort, I was able to pronounce my name to him and he gladly shared his name as Cheng. We shook hands on it.Now, he officially showed me his passport so that I get his name right. Continuing in actions, I showed him how old I was, which was 40years and he shared his as 55. He we went ahead and used the calendar on his phone to show me his date of entry into India and his date of departure. I was amazed, he had been around for a month already.

India-China Bhai Bhai- My man Cheng

We spent a lot of time in each other’s company, which was an experiment in itself. We explored Ajanta Caves, had dinner together and also shared all the expense. He also asked me what I was paying for my stay. I told him that I was paying Rs.350 and he very emphatically responded that he is coming with me.

Trust Achievement

I introduced him at the hostel. He stayed the night there and we continued explore Ellora, Daulatabad Fort on the following day. He was set to leave for Bombay (mumbai) that night. He showed us his wallet to tell us that his Indian currency is exhausted and he needed help. He reached in his pocket to draw out a 100 dollars and gives it to me to help him with the exchange. I was honoured at the trust he had placed in me. That feeling in itself was something I will cherish all through my life. I negotiated on his behalf and got him a good deal. He left for Bombay after saying a warm bye to us.

On Day 2 at Ellora with Deb.

The learnings were significant on this first solo destination after attending the course with traveler’s university on “Transforming from Tourist to a Traveler”.

Here is this alien man who knew no word of English, travelling in India with just a translator app, trying everything non-native to him and placing trust in someone non native. This was my moment of understanding that the Universe takes care of everyone and everything in it, we just have to trust the Universe and have faith that that it is all going to be okay. The roads might not be as smooth as we want, but eventually each curve, each stone, each ditch and each high will be an experience adding to this journey.

Take Aways

My take away from the interactions and experiences with Cheng, Hussain were many. I have put together a few points for anyone who intends to start traveling solo.

  1. Start with the belief that you can survive
  2. Acknowledge other travelers, they are in the same boat as you are, with same anxieties and excitement.
  3. Learn the art of small talk with any stranger- Name-Place-Eat-Weather-Clothing-Music-Age. Use your identity card, and google translator wherever necessary
  4. Learn greeting of the land. Google helps here too
  5. Smile more often
  6. Share and give more to your fellow travelers
  7. Be in the interest of the others

Go Solo!

Solo Exploration of Jodhpur

Where to Stay

The season in Rajasthan is from October to February. At this time accommodation is generally on the higher side. There are several hostels in Jodhpur, most which are located closer to the Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) Area. These are all the good names like Zostel, Hostelavie, etc. Some very up market hotel names like 360 degree Panorma at Pal Haveli is also there. An upmarket hotel accommodation is available inside the Mehrangarh Fort.

I stayed at a budget hotel, very close to the Jodhpur Railway station called Hotel Shiva. There were families as well as groups staying in the hotel. Room charges were Rs. 800 per night. No hot water was available and the quality of the beds and facilities is just about average. We would have paid the same amount had we stayed at the hostel. I strongly recommend staying at a hostel. They are close to the tourist places and most of them offer a great view as well.

What to See

In Jodhpur the top most tourist places to see are Umed Bhavan, Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Mandor Fort, Ghantaghar, and Osiyan Temple (about 60 kms away from Jodhpur).

A must do for Slow and Budget Travellers

My focus was primarily the places around Mehrangarh Fort. It took me good 4 hours to explore this fort and its nook and corners. The fort houses a museum of exhibits from the historical era as well. I walked down from the Mehrangarh fort to the Ghantaghar area. I can very convincingly say that this walking trail is a one of the well kept secrets of Jodhpur.

The next day, I walked from Ghantaghar to Nav Chokia. The way leads to the back entrance of the fort, which houses two beautiful and not to be missed water bodies. Nav Chokia is the place to be, if you want to experience the Blue City for what it is. It is ancient, some of the structures are few hundred years old and seem to have stood the test of time. It is a must do if you are traveller by foot, or bike or any other budget format.

Local villagers recommended that I take the walking path to visit Jaswant Thada. This was another worthwhile trail. Jaswant Thada is a nice marble structure near a water body. From this place you can get a mesmerising view of the Jodhpur City and also the view of the fort.

The entrance fee at the fort was about Rs.300 (entry and audio guide). The entrance fee at Jaswant Thada was Rs.30

Since I didn’t visit the Umed Palace I don’t know the entry fee, but I managed to see photographs of the clock collections and the car collections at the palace. As I understand the royal family stays at the palace, therefore a very small part of it converted into a museum of sorts.

Mandor Fort is about 9 kms from city. It is accessible by train. One has to then take an autorikshaw or man driven rikshaw.

Transport

To get to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer, I took a train. The sleeper Class ticket fare was about Rs.575. On a budget travel and in the right weather, AC train can be totally given a miss. People on the train were kind and accommodating. There were no incidents of thieving as well.

Taxi, auto-rikshaw and other local transport is easily available.

I used the hitch hike, shared auto model and by foot to move about. A lot of this can be covered by foot. You don’t have to pay more than Rs.10 or Rs.20 when you use a shared auto.

Uber Service is poor. Taking a regular autorikshaw/TukTuk would be better. Negotiate shamelessly. No one feels bad.

Special Musical Performance

After enjoying Mehrangarh fort on foot for over 4 hours, the mood of the day was to devour some laal mans and garlic naan. The Winding stone paved road and the search for Rajasthan’s more revered dish lead me to a corner building which hoarded sign saying “Live Classical Music Performance”. There were some foreigners trying to make way into the building.

I paused my search for laal mans and stepped into this little performance space. The tourists were beginning to lose patience waiting for the performers and they were as brattish as 5 years olds, trying their hand at the tabla, and ofcourse endless side-eyed selfies with a pout. After a brief wait, 2 young men stepped in with instruments. They laid out the Santoor and the Saarangi. The men explained the instruments.

The Santoor is an instrument with 100 strings and let out sounds which are meditative, pleasant and sets the mood of happiness to the listeners. With Arbaaz on the santoor, he managed to take us through an elating and enthralling experience. Soon his multi-talented brother who accompanied Arbaaz on the Tabla, unpacked a vintage Saarangi. The sarangi is a desert violin, which has 36 strings and connected to 4 main strings bunched with horse hair. It lets out music which is very akin to intense vocal expressions.

I requested if he can play something in Raag Yaman (Kalyani in Classical) and he generously played an outstanding composition to mark an end to the evening. Making my contributions of Rs.300 and thanking them, I set out to find my gastronomic muse, the legendary Laal Mans from the Rajasthani Cuisine.

Eats in the Blue City

For breakfast, we ate a place called Janata, which is brand with over 400 shops. Kachori chaat was very nice. Price Rs.35

On the road towards Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) There is a Shahi Kachori, a corner shop just before the clock tower. Price is Rs.20 from what I remember for both Pyaz (Onion) Kachori and Samosa. While the place is usually over crowded, I felt the items were salty. The stock is always fresh though.

Bombay Tea shop on the same road has some amazing bun maska. Price Rs.15. They serve chai, but I didn’t enjoy what they served. Price of Chai is 10 for what they call as single chai and it is quite a size.

As one passes the Clock tower, one enters the road towards Pal Haveli, there are crowded tea shops who serve Kulad Chai at Rs.30. I found the coffee to be better Justified. Price Rs.15

Just opposite to these tea shops there is a much talked about Omelette shop. You wont miss it. They open after 11.00 am and stay open until night. They have an excellent menu of omlettes. I tried the “Cheese Masala Omlette”. very good and filling indeed and costed me Rs.60. It is well reviewed in tripadvisor and tripto, but it also seemed like a local favourite. It is usually crowded, and you are unlikely to miss it.

I managed to find a place called “Curry’s”. This is the roof top cafe above Zostel, Jodhpur. The order was served without much too much wait. I judge the dish 2.5 on 5.0. It missed the dominance of garlic, which needed to cut through the red chilly powder and the fat in the dish.

Nevertheless, the succulence of the meat (chevon) and their Rajasthani hospitality are worthy of mention. The bill was about Rs.400. With slight disappointment I set out to explore some dessert. Mishrilal’s Doodh Bhandar is a vintage milk and sweet shop near the Clock Tower and is known for a few dishes. The Makahni Lassi and Doodh Jilebi. I pursued the Makhani Lassi which is glass of sweet yogurt with a dollop of home made white butter in it. While I couldn’t finish the entire thing, I must mention Makhani lassi is a wonderful treat that one shouldn’t miss. Price is Rs.40.

Ended both days in gratitude to the numerous people who made my exploration of Mehrangarh Fort, Rajathani music, It’s food and finally in being able to scout and spot the “Blue in the Blue City” and further “Immersing in the Blue” a very memorable travel.

If there are any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section. I will happy to answer and connect with you.