Finding familiar faces in Khajuraho

The drive from Varanasi to Khajuraho was much longer than we thought. About 90 minutes into the journey, our driver pulled off the highway (aka beaten path) for some chai. The stop was sparsely decorated, at best. Concrete walls, open slits where windows should have had glass, lawn furniture indoors and out. He motioned us directly to a table that was already half-occupied by an older couple, also accompanied by a driver.

As the two drivers made small talk, so did we. Little did we know that we had basically the same itinerary, and that we’d be traveling from city to city at the same time. After our stop, during which we learned that they had already visited Rajasthan once before, we set off in something of a caravan, destined for Khujaraho.

We escaped our babysitter — err, driver — for the day, and skipped around to the temples in town. (Pictures to come!) As we sauntered around town looking for somewhere to rest and have a lassi (yogurt-based drink), we spotted familiar faces as soon as we climbed the stairs to a rooftop restaurant.

For the two hours that followed, the topics of conversation allowed us to finally breathe easy, and vent about our similar experiences. Both of us hired drivers to take us around, but didn’t quite expect our drivers to play “guide” also — telling us which hotels to stay at, which bazaars to shop at, which restaurants to never, ever eat at, and which monuments were not worth spending money.

Conversations thus far with Indians have revolved around how much money they can make off us. Conversations with fellow travelers allowed us to be real people again, unafraid of the fast-and-quick nature of our hosts. This is not to say we’re tired of Indians. Sometimes, though, a conversation for conversation’s sake, as opposed to “what’s best for us,” is a godsend.

Our new friends from Belgium are a charming couple, and have just as many miles left in their trek as we do. Anne-Marie is a photographer, and her pictures are a well-documented reflection of their traveling. At the end of the afternoon, we were happy to know that we weren’t the only ones feeling a little confused about the whole experience dealing with Indians.

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