Yeah, you read that right: missing passport. I left for Agra and the Taj Mahal at 5:50 AM, as you know if you read the last post. My driver, Akaz, and I drove for four hours in his Tata sedan (air conditioning on re-circ, oh thank you Akaz!). After two hours I looked in my purse for some money for breakfast and realized that my passport was not there. I had cleaned out my purse the night before, to remove the loose coins that weren’t Indian, and all the pieces of scrap paper one gets here. I knew for a fact that I had not put my passport anywhere “safe” and that I had not encountered it since my fateful visit to Reliance internet services. They asked for ID when I set up my $8 account and I did not recall getting it back. I remembered asking for it back and they said they were still scanning it, so I started using the internet instead. But I never remembered getting the passport back. I think it got left on the scanner bed, and since they were closing when I left, we were all in a rush and it was forgotten. I called the travel agent in Delhi and asked him to call the place, since I knew the name of the market area where it was, and we went on to Agra since we were already two hours away from Delhi and it was only 8 AM.
The agent called and called, but got no answer from the Reliance café(s) that he called. There are several, which I knew, but I thought only one in the Green Park Market. Still, by lunchtime, no results. It went on this way until 2:30 with nothing. No phone, no one went over there because it was completely across town, etc. Knowing it would take at least another four hours back to Delhi, and that Reliance had closed at 7:45 the night before, I told my guide that sadly, I would have to skip the Red Fort at Agra and get on the road. I was very disappointed to do that, but with a passport on the line, I felt I had no choice.
We skipped lunch to save time so I ate one of the bananas I had brought with me. It was weird eating because it had been in the sun and was very hot (having sat in the sun in the car, the banana was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). At home, they are usually room temperature and of firm consistency. When I said it was odd, Akaz looked at me like I had two heads and said “is this the first time you are eating a banana that is hot?”, and I said “well, yes, it is”. He laughed and shook his head. The bananas here are sold farmer’s market style, and they sit on plywood tables in the heat until they are purchased. Since it’s been over 100 degrees every day for over a month, I think all of the bananas here are eaten hot. Later, not having anywhere else to put it, I rolled down the window and threw out the banana peel. Akaz laughed and told me “now you are having an Indian holiday: throwing trash out the window. Welcome to Incredible India!” His words – not mine!
Since we had skipped a proper lunch, we later stopped at… gasp… McDonald’s for a take-away meal (as they call it here). Please note that this is a country where the cow is literally sacred. Today I learned that for the first 10-15 years of a cow’s life, it is usually owned by someone. But after that, a lot of people set the cow free to roam. They brand it as a free cow and if anyone should take it and slaughter it, they are in a lot of trouble. Once a cow is marked “free”, it really is free. Many of the Indian people are vegetarian and the rest generally don’t eat beef (sometimes just to keep from upsetting the neighbors). Where does this religion leave McDonald’s hamburger establishment? McDonald’s menu in India is largely comprised of chicken, fish and vegetarian options. I was pretty hungry by this time (5 PM) and ordered the Maharaja Mac. It’s like a big Mac except with very thin chicken patties and the special sauce has a hint of curry. The fries were still like the ones at home, though.
On the way into Delhi, the traffic was awful. Akaz drove skillfully and assertively, fighting traffic at every moment possible to get us there in time. I could tell he was really working on it, and it was not easy. We got to my neighborhood at around 7:35, only 10 minutes before the Green Park market Reliance café was to close. Turned out, Akaz didn’t know exactly where that market was and he thought I’d been to the Reliance close to my neighborhood (wrong). Oh no. Somehow, against hope, I managed to direct him the remaining three miles or so, even though it was dark now and I had only been that way once – in daylight. I cannot tell you how proud I am of that accomplishment, by the way. There was a memorable funky U-turn involved, thankfully. I got him to the Green Park Market and I found the café as the metal shop rollers were coming down. As soon as they saw me, they waved and said “Ma’am, we have your passport!”. I said “Thank G-d!”, and commended them on their honesty. They were in the process of emailing the US Embassy to tell them that they had my passport and I should come and get it (I saw the email they were composing). I got there in time, I got the passport, the embassy was not alerted to my stupidity, and all was well.
In twelve years of traveling abroad, I have never made such a stupid mistake with my passport. I was very, very lucky today and I am grateful that the men at Reliance were honest, and as their name says, reliable. I am sure they could have sold my passport for a pretty high price, though it would have been a crime. I wish they’d had an operating phone number because it would have saved me a lot of worry all day. But in Delhi there is a lot of change. The phone number prefixes are changing size so often it is easy to get a non-operating number when you try to call, or a dead land-line (such as the one at the home of my hosts). One cannot just assume that all the connections are going to be present, as they would be at home. I dodged a bullet. Someone up there is looking after me.