Ron has come down with a stomach disturbance and the chills. He did not sleep last night. But after taking a concoction of Immodium and herbal anti-parasite formula, along with probiotic pills, he seems to be on the mend rather quickly. I hope so. I am lucky to not have had any issue yet...knock on wood. But I take the herbal formula twice a day, as well as probiotics. I think it has strengthened my system.
Today was supposed to be our shopping day, but many of the street stalls were closed since it is Sunday. But we had Ali Baba pick us up @ 10 AM. Before that, I went to a textile shop around the corner from the hotel. It is a small, basement operation. But they had many nice things. All of India is known for it's textiles & printing, and the area we are in now (Rajasthan) is well known for it's block printed, cotton, vegetable dyed textiles. I am having 2 salwar kameez outfits tailored for me in this traditional cloth (one is red and the other, blue). I started out the day with a frame of mind to bargain hard and yet have fun doing it. And I have to say I am enjoying being a bit tough. I brought down the price of these outfits significantly enough, and continued the approach in all the places we shopped in.
The key is to be indifferent about the item you are trying to purchase. Do not get excited about anything. Ask the price, then shake your head saying "too much". Then counter with a price that is a bit lower than what you are actually willing to pay. The shop owner will start saying "This is a fixed price shop, we cannot change the price. Look at the quality! We have the best in Jaipur (Delhi...etc.)!" Then you shake your head again, and say "I will look at other stores and think about your price." Start walking out the door. The shop owner will then ask you to sit down and say "Since you are a special customer, I will give you a special price". He will then give you a price that is about 10% less than his original price. You then stand up again and get ready to leave, but quote a price that is about 10% higher than what you originally offered. Eventually, the shop owner will come to the price range you are comfortable paying. Especially if he feels you are willing to go elsewhere.
Remember - you can find many shops selling similar items. If you are looking at a handcrafted antique piece, then that's a different story. But still apply the same technique. Unfortunately shops in India are now trying to charge Western prices - so then what's the point of shopping in India? It's better to save the money and shop back at home, where you don't have to deal with carrying the items back.
A few comments about shopping with rickshaw drivers. They all try to push you into stores where they get commissions. If you don't go into their stores, they get very upset. So my suggestion is, when the driver starts pulling you towards the stores, tell him you are willing to visit 1 or 2 of his affiliated stores - but he has to agree to stop at any other place you want to go to along the way and wait in the rickshaw. In this way you help each other out. If you don't go into any of his stores, he will become very difficult to deal with and your trip will be more unpleasant. Just apply some hard bargaining techniques and refuse to buy anything you don't really want.
A Few More Observations on India:
1. Many men hold hands here, as a gesture of friendship. It is surprising and it is also very nice to see. For some strange reason though, women and men do not hold hands as often!
2. Pigs are used as garbage pickers. They eat up all the food-based refuse. Then the destitute people pick through the rest and sort out plastics, glass, etc (to sell back to companies for a few cents?)
3. Most of the beggars are very happy to recieve a pack of cookies/biscuits. However, a few do get upset and look only for rupees. Don't let this stop you from carrying some food and giving to those in need. But try to pick a time and place where you won't be surrounded by 20 more people wanting food.
4. After about a week of traveling in India, the contrasts start merging into one vibrantly disturbing and beautiful landscape. The rawness starts to ease as you become more familiar. The honking even begins to become "white noise".
5. Don't be afraid of smiling back at the children. The contact is amazingly heart warming. If you are a woman, try not to iniatiate eye contact with men. Unless you are in a store and you have started the bargaining process, or if you have chosen to befriend someone. I find that I walk through the streets taking note of the people around me, but I do not let my gaze remain too long on the men. Anyhow, the women here are much more interesting to look at with their brightly textured and colored saris, salwars, jewellery, etc.
6. If you take someone's photo, and they are aware of it, give them 100 rupees as compensation. If they are a crafts person, and you bought something from them, then offer to send them copies of the photo. Try not to photograph people without giving something back.
7. The help staff in hotels are extremely appreciative of being given modest but fair tips. Especially if it is accompanied by a smile and a human quality. If they know you recognize them as equal humans, they will do everything possible to make your stay as comfortable as possible. However, there are always those who want to get money out of you, and not give anything in return.
8. If you are being pestered by street hustlers trying to sell you something you are not interested in, saying :Chalo chalo! (Go go!) gets rid of them suprisingly quickly. I usually start by saying "No thank you" in a civil tone, and by the third time I end up saying "Chalo Chalo" very strongly. They usually do not persist after that.
Time to take a nap...