So, I’m writing this the day after saying goodbye to Shakti, who has been our driver, advisor and friend (and spare/better parent to the children) for the last 9 days.
Before we came to India one of our concerns, which again had been discussed ad infinitum with friends who’d been before, was about how to get around. Having settled on car and driver, as many many tourists do, we then worried ‘what if he can’t speak English?’, ‘what will it be like to ‘share’ our holiday with someone else?’, ‘will it be terrifying being driven on Indian roads?’ and many other things besides.
So we were introduced to Shakti by Scott and Josie’s friend, Gopal. From the off, Shakti managed to put us at our ease about our driver-based concerns, but also pretty much everything we were worried about on the trip.
Shakti has absolutely made the first nine days of our holiday special, and was so perfect for us as uncertain first-time visitors…
Things that we weren’t expecting:
- He’s a very careful driver with extensive ‘defensive driving’ qualifications. I didn’t feel frightened once (and at home in England I’m frightened permanently as a passenger)
- He can answer any question, seemingly about any subject. He pointed things out all along the route to make the journey more interesting, and to highlight (and slow down for) potential photo opportunities. Surprising specialist subjects turned out to be trees, mines/geology, birds, politics, history…
- He’s kept us right on matters of etiquette – this was another concern before coming to India – what if I offend someone by doing something culturally clumsy, like baring a shoulder or a knee in a temple? Shakti has helped with questions of attire – (long trousers, or long sleeves required today?) questions of where to barter and where not, where a guide may be a help, or why a certain ritual is carried out as a blessing…
- As a Hindu, if asked, he will help us to understand spiritual aspects of Indian life, and what we are seeing. He does this in a self effacing humble way, and is also happy to give a balanced view of other religions.
- Shakti is such an enthusiastic person – always keen to learn more. He was an absolute pleasure to share parts of our trip with, for example he came birdwatching with us (and appeared to develop a keen eye within a short time); came for a trip around Jodphur fort where he shared his enthusiasm with the kids (they listen when he talks); and to the school, where he engaged with the young people in a way which looked like a lesson in teacher-training. He brought such a positive attitude to all activities, which to some extent rubbed off on our children. They admit they’ll behave better for Shakti, as he commands their respect, but also they like him – they’ll even smile in a photo for him, and he kindly passed on many lovely photo momentos on an evening via Whatsapp.
- Shakti’s background, prior to becoming a driver many years ago was as a health and safety inspector for the mining industry. As such he has a strong eye for danger, and for detail. While he’s been with us we had a genuine sense that he won’t let you put yourself in any danger, eg with crossing the road, with pick pockets, with oncoming leopards or sloth bears.
- Alongside all of this, Shakti has a strong sense of his responsibility to his client, and as such he is very careful to make sure we have private ‘family’ time. I think he got the balance absolutely right (although he could have come along with us to more things, we do need to learn to manage on our own as well!!)
- Also, where the was room to make any changes to our itinerary, any suggestions have been a big bonus. He has so many contacts – literally every place we visited if he didn’t have a friend before we went in, he’d made one before he came out.
Shakti, thanks so much – you’re an amazing human, and we’re all so happy to have shared this journey with you. You’ve been a lovely addition to the family, as you’ve allowed us to become part of yours this last 9 days or so. We hope we’ll meet again in the future, and we’ll keep in touch…