So who’d pay the ransom?

There were a good few minutes yesterday afternoon when I genuinely thought I was being kidnapped.

It says a lot about me that during that time I a) updated my Facebook status with words to that effect and b) started thinking about whether I could surreptitiously hide my iPhone in my shoe without it being discovered.

I was about 300 miles north (I say north, it could be any direction to be honest) away from Delhi. I’d driven out there with my Indian farming chum, Ricky, who’s spokesman of the Indian Poultry Federation and has actually been a great ambassador for the country’s entire agricultural industry.

The four-hour car journey from Delhi to Hissar state was one of the most fascinating I’ve ever been on. From the manic cities we passed into lush countryside full of rice, sugar cane and soya fields, as well as random herds of buffalo sharing baths with women washing clothes.

Buffalo bath

I’ll write about the morning’s trip to a dairy processing plant in another post, but in the evening Ricky decided we’d stop off in a remote village so he could call in on his friend, who’s a timber merchant.

Having realised I have a thing for taking photos, Ricky sent me over the road with his friend’s non-English speaking geriatric father to photograph the mill in action:


I was then led out of the back of the mill, to randomly find a swish-looking car waiting there with its doors open. Without being given a second to turn around, I was bundled in by two men, the doors closed and off we shot.

In hindsight we were probably only in the car for ten minutes, but it felt like we were driving down a scary, dark labyrinth of alleyways for hours. The men who had got into the car with me took my camera off me, passing it around as I flapped my arms about trying to get them to get them to understand that they had to take me back.

Happily, it turned out I wasn’t being robbed or kidnapped and this was actually a show of well-meant but scary Indian hospitality. I was, in fact, being taken to a soap factory. And pretty interesting it was too. Caustic soda is mixed with non-edible oils (I later found out it’s the oil from cotton seeds), it’s boiled in huge pans, set into huge moulds and then cubed when cooled.

I was then herded back into the car and taken to a market area, where I was led to a tiny office containing a bed with three old men in it. I was pushed down next to them and ten awkward minutes passed before a man finally arrived and told me in broken english that I’d been brought to a pesticide merchant, and asked if I wanted to look at his TRIzol.

By that point, I figured I just had to go with what was happening, so by the time I escaped the chemical store and got back to the car to find it surrounded by about 100 locals who were staring and pointing, I just gave them a big wave and hopped in.

We then drove on to a cotton mill, where word had spread there was a foreginer in town and I was met by another 50 or so men who didn’t speak but stared at me with their mouths wide open. I was shown how the cotton is plucked from the plants, sorted, combed and then packed into bales before being carted off on the back of a camel. Fascinating stuff and utterly surreal – especially given the whole process was explained via lots of flailing arm movements, pointing, and nods.

Eventually the local journalist turned up and I had my photo taken for the village paper before I was ferried back – shaken but slightly less frightened – to my starting point at the wood mill, where an Indian tea had been set out for me. Ricky explained I was the first white person to ever visit the village, and they wanted to honour the occasion to make me feel welcome with a guided tour and snacks.

Thankfully, Indian tea comes very, very strong and very, very sweet. Maybe they’re used to having to revive their guests from shock…

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2 Responses to “So who’d pay the ransom?”

  1. Hannah

    Your updates brighten my day! Actually laughed so hard that a little bit of wee nearly trickled out…

  2. Jon

    That’s a brilliant story. Can’t believe you were the first white woman EVER to visit the village. That’s fantastic. You must have felt like the Queen (after you realised you weren’t being kidnapped). Brilliant experience and great write up. I’m full of jealousy, admiration and pride. Well done :)