Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Leh day 3

After taking care of a bit of critical business in town, I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in a rooftop cafe, drinking black tea, and hanging out with a wonderful crowd of israelis, playing cards, and shooting the breeze.

The Israelis have a fantastic word-of-mouth network, through which they seem to know what has happened where, which guesthouses are the best, what the cheapest prices you can pay with various merchants, etc.

From this network, I was able to learn something useful info about my two potential next destinations. There was recently a bomb attack in Srinigar that killed a bus-load of Indian tourists. My other option: Kulu/Parvati valley, had an israeli backpacker killed on a hike within the last few weeks.

So the question becomes - do I go to Kashmir, where bombs explode, and pakistani mujhadeen wait just across the border, or do I go to Parvati, where 2-3 backpackers vanish ever year. So many wonderful choices.

I also got to play one of my favorite games: Guess the ethnic makeup of an israeli. They have such a fantastic mix of different cultures, that it is really hard to figure it out. Best of all, they take no offense at it - and it's usually one of the first things they ask each other upon meeting.

I was batting about 50% during my guessing - although, at one point, I told a woman that I thought she looked like she was from Yemen, except for the fact that her nose was too small.... She replied that she had gotten a nose job. Normally, this could lead to some embarassment, but she laughed it off.

I managed to pick the brains of the group for the best protocol for bribing police when you get caught with something you shouldn't have. Likewise, the best practices for this have been handed down from seasoned backpacking Israelis to the newcomers.

The general consensus seems to be that whatever happens, you should ask to pay the "fine" on the spot as soon as possible. The more police arrive, the more expensive it gets, until someone high up arrives, at which point, it can be impossible to pay your way out.

Multiple people voiced the opinion that: "It's just money, and no matter the cost, it's better than an Indian jail."

Quite interesting. My experience with paying bribes is relatively minor (my taxi speeding for example), and so it was facinating to hear some of the stories the told...

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