Guest Column: Jim Phelps’ travel log: Incredible India

Editor’s note: The following is a travel log submitted by Jim Phelps, owner of Phoenix Traders fair-trade store at 215 7th St., Rockford. Phelps is traveling through India and Nepal, and will be sending updates about his different experiences along the way. This is the first entry in his travel log. Read all subsequent entries in this ongoing series under Online Exclusives at

By Jim Phelps

Monday, April 3, 2006

It’s the constant “nick” that Indians raise to a new art form in India.

Last night, I flew in on a 777 over places I always wanted to see—just not from 36,500 feet up. Or at night—Moscow—Aral See- Kabul—The Line of Control (a war zone at 14,000 feet in the Kashmir, fought over by the Pakistanis and Indians).

And today we get the constant “nick” of the commercial knife. Never too much money for the tourist or businessman to part with. Now, the air agent tells me he wants 300 extra rupees for his work. Yeah, right.

My restaurant is the crossroads of the world. Five stories located above the main bazaar in Paharganj, Delhi, I hear Russian, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Hebrew, German and Japanese. The waiters are Thai; the cuisine is southern Indian. What the hell! I feel weirdly out of place. Even the Coke tastes lemony. It would go better with rum or tequila, or both.

Tonight’s specials include:

No. 1 Lamb Laffa

No. 2 Thunka (Grey Salad)

No. 3 “Special” Lassi

A Lassi is a minty yogurt and ice drink. A “special” lassi contains the roots of the marijuana plant. Called Bhang, it’s been known to put you into delirium.

I have to fly tomorrow, to Katmandu, Nepal. I don’t need any extra help getting there.

Over the restaurant stereo, on this beautifully muggy Delhi night, is playing “welcome to Hotel California.”

Yeah, Hotel California. Wrong generation. Now it is “Californication.” American culture, like a virus on the world stage. Riots in Delhi were held three weeks ago over our president’s visit. Americans are still not trusted—feared, loathed and ridiculed on the world stage. I half expect some marketing wank to come up with a catch phrase along this line: America: love it, live it, or nuke it, just buy our Coca-Cola.

The Brits used to call everyone right of the English Channel “WOGS.” We have our own terms. You all know them. None of them particularly endears us to the rest of the world. I guess we think we could nuke them. But, the WOGS, you see, are catching up with technology. They have nukes, too, you see, and soon the means to deliver them. Just a thought. I hear change begins at home. Try applying it on the “home” front in the “War on Terror.” Just a thought.

The flight has me wigged out. Time keeps changing. I half expect it will land at Kabul International Airport. Or maybe Kandahar. At least I won’t get blown up by IEDs on the way by bus through northern India. Yep, the local constabulary in Uttar Pradesh and Nepal have full-on Maoist rebellion on their hands. Oh, IEDs—outside of Iraq, India had 147 IED explosions in 2005. I met someone who said one wounded him.

I hear the Maoists have resorted to taking hostages. Last week, they tried to take a party of four Polish trekkers in Nepal. No one is saying it openly, not even the police, but it sounds like the Nepalese Maoists didn’t fare too well in the fight with the Polish Backpackers. So, the lesson is this—don’t mess with Poles!

Time for a shameless commercial plug of my own. Krissy P. (who makes some tie-dye for us), I’m wearing one of your shirts. I got a picture of me standing in front of a poster that pretty much sums up my day.

It says:

No one is Happy

When Quality its Missing

You are No One

“Good Quality can make you”

No. One.

Whatever that means—Welcome to Incredible India. Enjoy your stay. Watch what you say.

Jim Phelps is owner of Phoenix Traders fair-trade store at 215 7th St.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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