Trip to the Krishna Temple and sad Update: Amarillo is a Scam

The morning after meeting Amarillo we woke at 7am to feed the cows before morning temple, for luck. After sufficient difficulty finding the temple we gave up on the cows and decided to follow the throngs of people entering the Hindu service.

India is impressively efficient with security: they scan the millions of people riding the metro, entering the monuments and museums each day with much more grace than the American TSA musters within the states each day. The same is true of the temple: you must walk through a metal detector, and if you have a mac air or iPhone in your bag you are easily shuffled to the bag check (if as few Americans carried such devices as Indian Hindus attending morning temple, TSA bag check would surely be more efficient too).

The service was much like most religious ones: people sang traditional songs, congregated, greeted one another, bowed their heads and gave each other a sugary food, bringing good karma. They marched circles around the statue of Krishna or Shiva (7, 11, 21, 31 to 101 times; even numbers are bad!). They raised their hands and sang, their volume increasing as the curtains finally lifted to reveal the Hindu god Shiva; Josh said it was like witnessing some very old tribal mystic ceremony. As quickly as it began, it was over, and the worshipers began their exodus, save those last few with more rounds to make around the shrine, depending on the gravity of their wish or blessing.

On our way from temple to market we saw a merchant with food very similar to that we saw being distributed and eaten at the temple (a doughnut-hole looking food). Through broken English he finally understood that we were asking if this was the food of the temple, and he gave us some, explaining that sharing it was good luck.  A few meters later we entered a shop that had a quilt we had been wanting. Less than 60 seconds after we entered the man who had bestowed the temple doughnut upon us entered. He, like Amarillo, was a charming multi-lingual, also offering us tea and seamlessly engaging us in compelling philosophical and cultural discussions. We left 40 minutes later with the quilt.

Within 10 minutes of picking us up later that afternoon our driver told us that people like Amarillo and doughnut-man and a handful of others that we had met over the days – charming multi-linguals working the markets – are a known part of the system. These men charm up the foreigners with tea and fulfilling conversations in their native tongue, telling the foreigners how glad he is that they have come to visit India, of the important things across cultures like family, the whole time building trust and rapport and then delivers the unwitting dupe to the next shop (always his brother’s or father’s shop), where he overpays 50-200% and the charming multi-lingual tourist bait takes his commission (could be up to 40% like the tour guides) and moves on to the next fish.

We have spent 9 days taking turns with optimism and pessimism; knowing we were traveling to a totally foreign land and tolerating the misuse that begets, and then being beyond toleration. Josh tonight is the more sanguine between us; I’m slightly reeling at the realization that every conversation that we’ve had that we thought was a “cultural experience” was someone trying to scam us. And I’m definitely done bending over backwards to make sure I don’t offend the locals.

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