I travelled alone this weekend to the city of Jaipur. On my first day I walked through the Pink City to the Hawa Mahal, and perused through the bazars that lined the streets. Because I was alone, I found myself engaging more with the people around me than I would traveling with friends. While purchasing some trinkets from one of the stalls, a shop owner and I struck up conversation. The shopkeeper offered to show me a temple down the street, then quickly took off through the crowded market expecting me to follow him. I didn’t have to follow the shopkeeper, nor did I feel obligated to. But I chose to anyway, I guess because it felt right in that moment.
One hundred meters later, the shopkeeper slipped into a doorway in the middle of the market. I followed him inside and was greeted by a beautifully decorated, open air courtyard. Now alone, he explained to me how his father had owned this temple, and how there was an excellent view of the city from the roof. He went up the stairs to the roof and I continued to follow him to what was indeed a beautiful view of the cityscape. Looking out at the city and the mountains on the horizon, the shopkeeper pointed out various temples and gave me a brief history of each. I followed him back downstairs to a shop that his friend had owned, but I didn’t purchase anything. I thanked him for his time and for showing me his temple then continued on my way to the Hawa Mahal.
Afterwards I was reflecting on this encounter, wondering why I felt comfortable following this man like I had. I absolutely would not have followed any stranger at home in the United States, but here, it just sort of felt natural. I did this again on Sunday, to a lesser degree, and followed a security guard at the Amer Fort through some closed passages to the roof of the fort. Again I found myself gazing at a gorgeous landscape alone with a strange man, and asking myself, “is this okay”?
A lot of the practices here do not have the same formality that they would in the United States. There’s been a lot of phone calls and spoken agreements, and I’ve found myself relying on nothing but the word of strangers for everything from my cell phone service to transportation. At first it felt strange, but after watching people continuously follow through on their words and their plans I just feel wonderfully optimistic about people and their intentions. The amount of trust and integrity that I’ve seen exhibited in the culture here has been awesome and moving and I hope to foster this same trust and integrity wherever I go.