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Delhi | Cola Triangle | Jaisalmer

The Cola Triangle

When we made the (then) difficult decision to leave our jobs and travel for a year with no material prospects and a dwindling savings account, we thought we had considered all financial factors. However, over the course of this trip, we realized that we had grossly underestimated one forsaken employee benefit. No, we’re not talking about the zillion internet stock options we gave up. In fact, some of those options have never been handier, especially in those countries that don't traditionally use toilet paper.

No, it wasn't the "Golden Handcuffs" of promised riches that we found ourselves desperately missing when scraping by on $20 a day in Southeast Asia. No, my friends, it was the "Cola Handcuffs." Those little cans of caffeine that our employers cleverly kept perpetually stocked in the free fridges while they worked us morning, noon, and night. This may seem like a trifle, but over the last few years we had worked up some fairly sizable coke habits. Not only that, but in Southeast Asia, a can of the stuff costs roughly the same as a dinner for one! Budget busting or not, cold turkey wasn’t really an option, and the real problem was that it was very difficult to find Dana’s particular poison, Diet Coke (known as Coke Light outside of the U.S.) anywhere in Southeast Asia. Of course, it wasn’t hard to understand the scarcity of Coke Light: no one in Southeast Asia, except Buddha himself, is fat!

Desperate times called for desperate measures. As Dana lay curled in a ball in Bangkok with the shakes, Will sent an email to Coke Headquarters in Atlanta. We were instructed to hold on, help was on the way.

Some agonizing weeks later, we were standing in the corporate offices of Coca-Cola India in New Delhi. In an extremely informal ceremony, Dana was presented with a couple cans of Coke Light. Our good friend, Todd Hoffine of Coca-Cola, had come to the rescue!

Todd, who was in India on business, was off to tour the popular Golden Triangle (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) for the weekend, and invited us along. It was a lovely, and slightly surreal, trip in fine company. We toured the indescribable Taj Mahal at sunrise in Agra, weaved with carpet makers, drove the long, barren stretches between the cities, crawling along behind herds of sheep in the road, passing men on the side of the highway with scrawny, dirty bears on leashes, hoping to charge for a photo. We strolled the haunting, empty, ghost palace on the road to Jaipur, and the grand Amber palace in Jaipur, always avoiding the snake charmers with their baskets full of fangless cobras. At night we would join Todd at his hotel for belly dancing and glorious food, and we would trade traveling stories. After the previous few weeks of roughing it on our own in Cambodia, Vietnam and New Delhi, Todd and his hospitality were like an oasis in the desert.

Our time in India coincided with the Cricket World Cup, in which India eventually came in second to Australia. The country was cricket mad! Every empty lot (and there are a lot) in India, seemed to be occupied by Indian boys and men swinging cricket bats. Gangs of men crowded around basement windows to watch the World Cup on the inhabitant’s television. It was inevitable that Todd and Will would catch the cricket bug. In Jaipur they had the driver make an unscheduled stop to spend an afternoon playing cricket with a field of very welcoming Indian teens in a dust bowl under the shadow of the Amber Palace. Todd's Ruthian whacks at the ball were well received by all. Though we could swear that the only googlies (the cricket equivalent of a spitball) bowled that day were reserved for the Americans.

After three enjoyable days Todd, our savior, left us in Jaipur to return to work in Delhi. We went back in search of those elusive (curry laced) baloney sandwiches. From Jaipur, we hopped a sleeper train to the western reaches of Rajasthan: the crumbling fairy-tale fortress of Jaisalmer.

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