My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Tribute to Tour Guides

This post is dedicated to the tour guides: those people, who are perennially happy, and from the eagerness of their tones, seemingly willing to give their life to get tourists another glimpse of the hot-spot. One can say that they have a monotonous job, describing the same places with same stories to the usual group of ignorant rich people. But they also get their share of great historical moments, especially when they have to answer such earnest tourist questions like “why did they build the castle so close to the airport”.

All around the world, they follow a pattern. Well remembered descriptions of things to your left, to your right and coming up straight ahead. A few jokes about the habits of his country’s people. And in most Asian countries, they would take you through a compulsory stop at an irrelevant shop selling gems, ginseng or handicraft, making it sound as one of the most sought after tourist destination. In India, it’s an experience when one encounters several of them at the entrance of any palace, rambling in broken English why you should choose him as the tour guide over the twenty other pitching for your tourist money.

But make no mistakes from their prepared jokes on their national character because they are seemingly also of the most patriotic sort, forced to stick to a nationalistic script as part of licensing requirements. When faced with uncomfortable questions, they can sometimes come up with strange answers. When we asked our tour guide in Bangkok about why the sex industry was so rampant and in-your-face there, she said bluntly that the Thai people didn’t consider the sex workers a part of their society.

All the same, they can at times be disappointing and unimaginative. At both the Jim Corbett National Park and Angkor Wat (Cambodia), I had asked the tour guides if there were any ghost stories about those places, hoping to hear something spicy. And despite my continuous egging, the hapless guides couldn’t come up with any horror stories.

But some, especially the tour guides in India, can be geniuses in making something out of nothing. In Jaipur, our tour guide showed us a two feet high replica of the Taj Mahal in a stone-work factory. He described it brilliantly as the second largest Taj Mahal in the world. And he didn’t stop at that; he promised he would also show us how the Taj Mahal looked at different times of the day. He lit an incandescent lamp to the left and said this is how it looked in the morning; then he lit the lamp on top to show how it looked at noon. Then he lit a fluorescent lamp and said this was how the Taj Mahal looked in a full moon night. Then he asked us if we wanted to see how the Taj Mahal’s reflection looked in the Yamuna River. My fellow German traveler instantly said “No”. Ignoring him, our tour guide asked us to turn back. We followed his command and turned, facing a cupboard with glass doors. Our tour guide proudly showed the reflection of the Taj Mahal replica on the glass door and happily said, “See, there’s the most beautiful reflection of the Taj Mahal in the world”. He probably wasted ten minutes of our time, but gave me this experience over the second largest Taj Mahal which I will never forget.

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