_In the eerie darkness, we heard more than saw the straw basket hit the dank floor with a loud whump!  A menacing hissing sound came from within  - a low rumbling hhhaaaarrghhh.  Allegra screamed and clutched my arm.  The drunken man squatting on the floor laughed and slid off the top.  A second large man entered, blocking the doorway, the only exit from this creepy back-alley house.  In the beam from the henchman's headlamp,  we watched as an enormous cobra uncoiled itself and stood ramrod straight, then darted at the drunkard, striking and missing.  The only sounds were the hissing and Allegra's sobs.  Somehow it felt more like a hostage-taking than the "children's magic show" we had been promised.  We owed them money, I didn't know how much, and we weren't leaving until we had paid, that much was clear.
It had started off as a really. . .

fun day - bubbling hot boiling chai in glasses on the street (no place to wash them, so they just re-use them after each customer) -  
We had been buying water from a guy named Jalal.  We said "We'll meet you at 2:00 for a tour of the temple." He spoke english well and knew a lot about the area, history and architecture.  We figured he would give us a fair price. 
mistake #1: set the price first
Jalal said 2 1/2 hours and a personal guided tour of the area temples for 500 rupees. It was steep but we agreed.  When we showed up, a different man named Doud was driving.
mistake #2: stick with the original plan for the original price - a change in men means a change in price
Doud drove us to the temple - literally three minutes away.  We had to pay another 250 each for tickets to the temple.  Immediately, Doud introduces us to Ali - very nicely dressed, spoke english very well, explained information really well.  He told us many great stories, explaining myth and history in a way we could grasp.  We were really happy with him.  It started to get weird as we walked around the temple grounds though.  He got angry at Allegra and Birch: "Sit down!" - very controlling. 
I thought his services were included with the ticket price; John thought his services were included with Doud, because Doud is not guiding us at all. 

Meanwhile, we are being swarmed by touts who are selling marble carvings.   One man in particular is hounding me, really persistently to make a sale.  He starts at 800 rupees, then 400, then 200.  I didn't bring my wallet on purpose.  The quality of his work is not very good - I actually wanted to buy a carving that I saw closer to where we live - but I look in his eyes and I see desperation - he says he has a wife and children and he hasn't made a sale all day.  So I agree and Doud gives him 150 for an elephant.  I have my head in my hands - I don't even want the stupid elephant.
_Then Doud and Ali talk and he accompanies us to the next temple.  To make room for Ali, Birch and Ali go in a different Tuk-Tuk . 
mistake #3: never separate a child from both parents
Nothing bad happened, but Birch was scared and it was just stupid on our part.

Later, we figured out and confirmed that Ali meanwhile is smoking pot and drinking in between temples.  So do we get the Bad Parenting Award for that one?

We drive away to the next temple.  Twenty minutes later, another tout offers me a better elephant for 20 rupees.  Ali wants to make a "quick stop" at his son's store - we don't buy anything and now Ali is getting angry.  He's drunk and nasty.  It's getting late, the temples will close soon and it gets dark very early.  Ali gets John separated from me, sitting down, and John is swarmed by men leaning into him, until John agrees to buy a carved ball for 1000 rupees.  Doud drops me and the kids at Ali's house, and we move through the dark into a room that has one exit, where Ali performs sleight-of-hand tricks with extraordinary skill. John has been taken in the car to an ATM machine to get a wad of cash.  Now there is a power outage, these snakes are between us and the door, we have to pay and there is no way out.  I am trying really hard not to let  the kids know how scared I am inside.  At the first opportunity, I lead the kids out the door and John stays behind to pay.

We have an interesting discussion with the kids about finances and money, making money, economics and people's desperation, "have" and "have-not" countries, values of the integrity of honesty versus the integrity of providing for a family.  We go to dinner and order a fish that costs 250 on the menu.  The bill comes, the menus are gone, and we have been charged 950.  John decides to keep and carry his carved ball as a reminder not to be forced to buy anything for emotional reasons, whether fear or pity. 
We are grateful to Teacher Ali for a lesson learned over rupees and not dollars.  I leave my elephant on the table in the hotel.

John's talisman from Teacher Ali. He now carries this heavy rock carving in his pocket whenever we are travelling from place to place as a reminder not to feel pressured to buy anything out of pity or exhaustion.
Leo Tantalo
12/29/2011 04:35:28 am

And Africa is next on the itinerary. Seriously? Seriously?

Go straight to Europe. No detours. Back to civilization.

Everyone, p l e a s e b e c a r e f u l !!

Angela Tantalo
12/29/2011 05:58:39 am

I agree Carolyn, desperate people do desperate things. You just don't want to be the victims of their desperation any more. You should leave India and go straight to Europe. Our thoughts are with you and keep safe.

12/29/2011 08:02:09 am

John/Carolyn, please reconsider our offer...and stay safe!

12/31/2011 05:29:16 am

holy crap! John...go to my aunt's house in Italy. She'll remember you and take you in anytime!

I was expecting Indiana Jones to come in half way through the story and save you. Watch yourselves! Have fun.

Lesson #3...snakes are bad.

Happy New Year!!!!

1/1/2012 03:38:07 am

Wow.Very scary situation. Be wary of tour guides. On a lighter note, Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you all enjoy the 2012 leg of your fantastic journey! No more "lessons" from rip-off artists. We love you all and wish you well!!
Margo, Randy and the kids

1/1/2012 07:56:57 am

Scary stuff. Stay safe.

1/1/2012 05:49:02 pm

Following your blog and enjoy it. To see the world your way must be great but has its challenges. Stay save! You will have a new take on life in North America! All the best for 2012!

Rebecca Salmon
1/4/2012 06:59:25 am

Well, anyone who has traveled with children has been in those horrible shoes--but I must say--YOU WIN the prize for handling it best!!! AND HONESTY!!

Off you go on another adventure. Hope some of the spiritual leaders can convince you of how much you learned from your hilarious (okay,yes scary!!) mistakes!!

Love you guys!


1/4/2012 09:23:47 am

I don't know why this situation is being trivialized. What happened here was an absence of common sense. Sending a 15 year old child alone with a complete stranger who is intoxicated, and then to continue on with this man to his home for a "magic show" with cobra's, was a complete lack of good judgement. When we are traveling with children, their safety and well-being should be paramount in our minds! No matter how you spin this situation there is nothing funny about what happened here, I am just glad that no one was hurt, and trust that a valuable lesson was learned and wont be repeated.

Rebecca Salmon
1/4/2012 09:56:46 am

My apologies, Madeline, for offending you. I understand the serious nature being a parent of three myself, however, no one was hurt and these are wonderful parents who made a momentary mistake as they learn to travel in a new culture and country. John and Carolyn know me very well and they know that I love them and their beautiful children and because of that, I felt I could lighten an otherwise terrible situation. I feel badly that you found this off-putting and I will send my further comments directly to my friends as not to possibly offend other readers. All the best. Rebecca Salmon and Family.

Marianne and Graeme in Australia
1/9/2012 06:19:35 pm

John and family, thank you for your card and Christmas wishes. Your special card was wonderful.
We hope the rest of your journey will include more pleasant experiences. Good luck.

Danny Trinca
1/10/2012 12:34:35 am

Hey.....I need my LifewithBackpacks fix. Where's the next update?

Jackie Ewing
1/12/2012 10:58:37 am

I'm just loving your blogs - this one and Allegra's. All your pictures are amazing and your stories are fascinating. You guys must have been so exhausted (and relieved!) after that scary day!
Wishing you safety, health and lots of fun for all the remaining days of your trip!

1/19/2012 10:15:00 am

Happy new year to all of you. WOW! Look out Africa you will really be seasoned by the time you arrive there. This is an incredible adventure you are sharing with your kids. Missed you this Xmas, had to find a temporary canasta partner. Stay safe and enjoy. Love Deb

Cassie Debbie,s friend
1/23/2012 12:11:45 pm

Sitting at Debbie,,s with. Collette and dayle after a good meal as you well know about. And deb showed me your blog. What a great trip you guys! Your kids will remember it forever and you will see things through their eyes that you would have never otherwise seen. Keep up the energy and itinerary and I will try and stay posted up here in the freezing rain. Enjoy!


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