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15 December 2010 ·

New friends and Sikh temples

One of the main things people advise you about India, apart from, ‘Don’t drink the water!’ is not to trust anyone; the taxi drivers will rip you off and make you buy things from their cousin’s store, etc. And I’m sure this happens. We know we paid way too much for a taxi one day because the driver was very sour when we refused to go shopping. The next day Tom bargained much harder with an auto rickshaw driver, before starting the trip – as everyone advises you to do – and get thrown out in the middle of a roundabout, because the driver had felt cheated and worked himself into a rage. People are people wherever you are, but there are always more good people than bad. And sometimes trusting people gives you an experience guide books can’t quantify.
So when we tried to walk back to the hotel one afternoon and got confused on the giant Connaight Place roundabout, another auto rickshaw driver stopped and said, “You look lost!” He took us back to the hotel, accepted very little for it because it was on his way home, and arranged to meet us in front of the hotel on our last day in India. My session didn’t start till 2:45 and so I’d decided to take the morning off. I wanted to go to one of the government run markets to see the tribal handicrafts, especially embroidery, but when our driver asked if we’d like to see his temple on the way home, I said I’d sooner do that anyway. He is a Sikh, and we’d seen this beautiful temple with its great gold roof, from the outside, but hadn’t understood anything about it. Now we were being taken as guests – and when he read the message of the day on the board outside, he laughed as he translated, “When you are lost I will show you the way.”
I didn’t have my camera, but in some ways am glad, because sometimes a camera takes you out of the experience, and sitting in the temple, while our new friend went off for a moment of silent prayer, was one of the more moving experiences of my life. I’m not sure why; sometimes these moments just happen, and all we can do is be grateful. Now we’re home, and though we had to leave behind the sacred marigolds he had blessed for us, we’ve planted marigolds in the garden in front of our bedroom – and we’re both wearing the bangles he bought us. 

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio