No Taj, but how I became a Rickshaw driver.

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Flag of India  ,
Friday, June 2, 2006

Timing, I guess really is everything.. I arrived in Agra on a thursday, and of course, the
damned Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, as it is a muslim holy day. But whatever, there is always next time, and if not, I managed to see it from the outside anyway, you can't miss it.
There is much more to India than the Taj anyway, and really that is what I came here to find: The Real India. . .
Of course being a bit of a touristy place, there are bicycle rickshaws everywhere, and also it being the off season for the Western tourist, they are desparate. I started in to talking with one of them, and he gave me a cheap rate, half a day for 50 rupes. .
We rode around through the back streets of Agra, near the Taj, and Agra fort, and many other minor sites that get overlooked by the standard tourist. They are used to tourists here, and that is one thing I sort of shy away from in a place, the more western tourists, the more beggars and touts. The more scams and such.

On the way back from Agra Fort, I bade Ravi to get into the back, and then I became a rickshaw driver, driving him up the hill and back into town to the great amusement of the other rickshaw drivers. They asked, "where is liscense?" and I pointed to my empty hand, then back to my driver, riding in style, a role reversal that made people smile. .
At the end of that jaunt, I told Ravi: 20 rupees. He had a good laugh then.

Ravi seemed sort of a good fellow, though, and he told me how it works: The rickshaw driver takes you to a place, and then gets a commision on taking you there. Two places he could take me to would give him 20 rupes each, a handsome supplement to his fee, and I don't mind seeing handicrafts--I am a tough sell anyway, and anyone I would want to buy for is a tough person to buy for. I thought it not bad to just take a look around, take a few photos of handicrafts and perhaps someone in my family or friend circle might like to have something from one of the shops. Remote shopping, by e-mail.
The first place he brought me was very posh, as well as a bit pricey, but they had nice items, and good sales people who basically let me see all I needed to see there, and did not pressure me. I did not find the perfect thing there, though, and off it was to a smaller shop. There I did find a couple of hanging beaded items I thought would look good hanging from the chandeliers at home. "Surya" figures. Ravi collected a little extra for this, and I was not really doing anything anyway, so I figured I'd help the man get a good day's pay in.
He wanted me to come and meet his boss, who owns a carpet shop, at which they can make a custom design for you if you wish, or you can select from one of theirs. I really did not want to buy a carpet, as I am travelling light and poor anyway, and besides, it is hard to carry one of them on a motorcycle. .
The boss finally came. Adil, a sufi, had been praying, as it was Friday. He had quite good English, and I told him that he need not interrupt his prayers for the likes of me. What followed was a great conversation. Adil has similar philosophies and views of the world and heart as my self. A kindred soul. All the people of the world have a light inside them, we all share the same desires and problems, though in a different form. . but, more on the depth of all this later. Suffice it to say that we had a bit of a bonding experience in the carpet shop, sharing chai, and speaking of lofty things.
Ravi, I think, did not get most of the gist of the conversation, just as the professor needs to have a student with at least some background in the subject matter to be able to teach, but Ravi seemed very happy that his boss and I were getting along so famously. The shop is downstairs opposite the Park Plaza hotel in the tourist square in Agra, so if you want a hand made beautiful carpet (no children are used in the making), or to see them being made on the side of the shop, please do go in if you go ever to see the Taj. Send my regards to Adil, as well, a good man with a good way of seeing life, who will probably speak with you and have some chai.
Ravi can be found in that circle as well, in his bicycle rickshaw, near the Park plaza. Tell him I sent you. He is a pretty good fellow, and will tell you a lot about the history and ways of Agra. Not too bad a place.

At last around 7 or so it was time for me to go back to the Rotten Palace, and get some sleep for the long drive ahead. Also Adil had to get back to his prayers, so we all bid each other "subratri," (goodnight) and went on our respective ways.
Of course my room was full of the good old rotten smell again, and being the last room at the end of the corridor, it was 95.7 degrees farenheit, as measured by my handy fever thermometer. A sweaty night, but with 10 mg of valium, a beer and a few inscense sticks burned to kill the smell, I managed to actually sleep in the clammy puddle of sweat that my bed became, and awoke at 4:17 in the morning. Up and showered, and off on the road at 6 am.
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