I spend the next two days meandering aimlessly with Rohit and Atul. I’ve no real desire to go into town…I’ve seen many of the tourist sites on previous trips and the thought of being driven round the Red Fort in a rickshaw in 45 degree heat makes me shudder. Instead, we do ridiculously fun things – eat dosas at his local restaurant and grab homemade icecreams from a stall a few streets away (the woman makes them daily and sells between 5-8pm – they’re all gone by the time she goes back inside). We sit under trees in the park, discussing religion, philosophy and the joys of travel. And when they have to work, I amuse myself, reading, wandering, and taking in every smell and sound that makes this country so magical for me.
Finally, on the afternoon before my flight, I carry out a few errands . I agonize over outfits at Fab India (an amazing department store that sells all kinds of clothes, furniture and linen).
As I finally decide on a Shalwar Kameez of lightblue top and white trousers, Rohit scores a date with our charming young assistant – 25, studying for a second degree, unmarried and with an increasingly nervous mother on her back. I tell her I’ll dance at their wedding, as I pay the bill. Then it’s onto the post office, to mail my grandmother a postcard (she loves, more than anything, to receive postcards from me, and has a huge collection of them, from the last 25 years, in a box). Along with it, I mail her birthday card (with a Hindi greeting on it), Let’s see if they actually arrive (two weeks later, back in Israel, I am reliably informed that they made it all the way to West London – hurray for the trust Indian Postal Service).
After that, I make my way to the pharmacy, to pick up all kinds of lotions and potions at half of what I’d pay in London or Tel Aviv. And, finally, to the optician, where yesterday I had a test and picked out two fantastic frames – one titanium and rimless, the other dark and Prada-style. Oh my, do I look good. I’ve splashed out big, and the grand total comes to – $75. A small price for sophistication…
It feels strange, shopping, after weeks on the road with a backpack, staring at ashrams and colonials lodges, at mountains and Tibetan monasteries…but I have to admit, it feels good. Bargains in India are to be found on every corner – and on my Tel Aviv salary, I feel like a maharajah here. That night, I take Atul, Rohit and his mother out to a fancy restaurant (where dishes cost as much as $7 each!) and we make a toast around the table – to friendship in India.
And at 2 am, Rohit – who refuses to let me call a cab – takes me on my final journey, back to Indira Ghandi International, for my 5.30 am flight. The sky is an inky black but there is nothing quiet about the city, as we drive through it, nor out on the highway to the airport.
I find it hard to believe five weeks have passed. It has been a spectacular trip – surpassing all of my expectations. As I haul my bag over my shoulder and hug my friend goodbye, I realise I’ve got 500 rupees left in my wallet. I try to hand them to him but he refuses.
“Keep them for your next trip” he smiles. “Come back – soon.”
I don’t have to give him my word. He knows as well as I do that it’s a given. It’s really “Goodbye, and see you again.”