You Like My Rickshaw?
Trip Start May 01, 2010
23Trip End Jul 15, 2010
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Where I stayed
We left Lucknow for Agra on a non-A/C train, our options being limited. It's summer holidays for Indians, you see, and the trains are very busy.
But we had our reserved seats, and we found the train and our compartment without too much difficulty. There was a fair amount of sweat, however. It was hot.
Our compartment was not even full, but we expected to pick up passengers en route. And pick up we did, for as we arrived in Kanpur, the biggest city between Lucknow and Agra, we were greeted with a swarming mass of humanity. And then the fun began.
Before the train had even completely stopped, people started piling on
Eventually, the man in front of me admitted defeat and moved on. People around him started doing the same, and the people who had legitimate tickets started to get their seats. There were still about 20 extra people just standing in the aisles, but whatever.
After about 6 hours, we finally crawled into Agra. We had read that the touts in Agra were some of the worst in India, and we were not disappointed. We took two steps off the train and were immediately approached by a man in a blue shirt asking us the usual questions, where were we going, did we have a hotel, did we need a taxi, etc
He got on the phone, and soon after we were passed on to another guy in a grey shirt, who proceeded to ask us the same questions. We gave him the same answers. He kept following us. It was fun.
We saw a tourist police stand (these are around train and bus stations, and are supposed to help people like us arriving in new places), just to double check that the pre-paid taxi stand was outside. Pre-paid taxi stands are great because they give fixed prices to various destinations, so you don't find yourself in a difficult situation with a driver who is demanding an exorbitant rate for your cab fare. The tourist police officer confirmed that, yes, the pre-paid taxi stand was right outside.
The fellow in the grey shirt was confirming this as well, and as soon as we exited the train station, he started pointing to his right, saying that the stand was over there. We followed for a bit, until Genevieve noticed a sign that said "Pre-paid Taxi Stand" on the left, or, in other words, the exact opposite direction that the guy in the grey shirt was telling us. He kept saying that the taxi stand was over here on the right, and we kept saying, no, there is nothing at all on the right, and there is a big sign advertising the taxi stand on the left. So we started walking left, and he kept following us. It was fun.
We reached the pre-paid taxi stand, where there were several dudes hanging around
The next day, instead of going to that wonder of the world, the glorious Taj Mahal, we went...to the mall! Yes, it's true. We had some errands to run. We needed some stuff, and the mall was the place to go.
But we had company. Waiting outside our hotel were two bicycle rickshaw drivers. They wanted to give us a lift to the mall. We declined. Walking is pretty much our only exercise these days, and the mall was only 2 kilometres away. We wanted to walk.
Of course, walking is bad for bicycle rickshaw business. Very bad. We had the following conversation:
Bicycle rickshaw driver - You want my rickshaw?
Us - No thanks, we want to walk.
BRD - Walk? No....
U - Um, yes?
BRD - No. Walking is very far.
U - No, it's only a few kilometres. It's not that far.
BRD - No, very far.
U - No, it's OK, we want to walk.
BRD (pedalling beside us as we start to walk) - Come on, there are no tourists here, we have no business.
U - I'm sorry, but we want to walk.
BRD - But I have no customers all day.
U - I'm sorry about that.
BRD - Yes, come on, you want my rickshaw?
U - No, we want to walk.
BRD - Walk? But it's very far, and very hot.
U - No, it's OK, we like to walk.
(this continues the entire 2kms to the mall....)
BRD (as we approach the mall) - OK, here is the mall, I wait for you here and you go back in my rickshaw
U - No, please don't wait. We are going to walk back.
BRD - No, walking is very far.
U - No, it's not that far. We just walked here and it was fine.
BRD - No, it's too far. And very hot.
U - No, it's OK. We like to walk.
BRD - OK, I wait for you, you take my rickshaw back to hotel.
U - No, please don't wait, we are going to walk back.
BRD - OK, I wait and you take my rickshaw back.
U (going into the mall) - Bye
Now, imagine having this conversation EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU LEAVE YOUR HOTEL!!! Even if you are literally going around the corner, the same conversation. Then there were the guys selling marble items. The guys selling Taj Mahal magnets. They guys selling postcards. The auto-rickshaw drivers. It was a never ending stream of people trying to sell us stuff we didn't want.
What to think? Well, it was off-season in Agra, and I'm sure they didn't have a lot of business. But, it is packed with tourists during the on-season, and I would hope that they make a good living then. Is it our responsibility to purchase a service we don't want just because the service provider is persistent and making us feel sorry for him? And, what's more, when we took an auto-rickshaw to the train station a few days later, we passed several people trying to hail a cab. Why were drivers hanging around the Taj Mahal ALL DAY, when fares were waiting only a 10 minutes away? We stayed three days in Agra, and I have to say that being constantly bombarded with people pushing us to buy things we didn't want got to be quite irritating.
But I digress. After the mall, we went to the Agra Fort, originally built by Mughal Emperors in the 1500s. It was very impressive. Huge. Beautiful. Impregnable. And we only saw half of it! (The other half was undergoing some maintenance.) It was one of the benefits of staying in Agra a bit longer than your typical tourist, as many people make day trips from Delhi and only really see the Taj. We even had a nice walk along the river to get there, much to the dismay of the cycle rickshaw dudes
We retired early that night as we planned to get up the following morning at dawn to go and see the Taj Mahal.
And it was grand. I really had lowered my expectations of the place. Call me a grump, but you just hear so much about how magnificent and wonderful and perfect and blah blah blah it always is. But as we walked through the covered archway revealing the grounds leading up to the Taj Mahal, I have to say I was awestruck. It was huge! Way bigger than I thought it would be, yet intricately carved and painted once you got close enough to notice. It was perfectly symmetrical as well, so much so that they built a replica of the mosque that is on the grounds on the other side of the Taj, just to preserve the balance of the place. The one mosque is in use, the other is complete except it does not have the prayer sanctuaries found in the first one. Also, since we got up early, there weren't so many people there either. We actually had a few moments when we could not see another soul! You could even go inside the mausoleum to see the coffins of Shah Jahan (who built the Taj) and his wife Mumtaz Mahal (who he built if for.) All in all it was really cool and certainly a highlight of our trip so far.
We spent about 3 hours inside the walls of the Taj Mahal grounds, and then went back to our hotel for a nap. We were actually feeling a bit under the weather, and I have to report that the remainder of our stay in Agra was rather uneventful, as we just took it easy, rested up, and prepared for our trip to Rishikesh.
But wait, I lie
I don't know why this is, but it seems like restaurants in this country don't often specialize in anything; in fact, they just try to cook every style of food imaginable to try and suit the needs of every eater. It's like I'm reading the same menu over and over again: Indian (veg and non-veg options), Chinese (chop suey and chow mein), Continental (sandwiches, salads, baked chicken). And, since all these places have enormous menus, they invariably have many items that are "not available." Like just yesterday, I wasn't in the mood for Indian, so I decided to roll the dice with the non-veg tacos. It was a risk, but I like to live on the edge so it's OK. After deciding to get them, I was talking myself into it, like, they'll be good. I haven't had tacos in ages! Oh yeah...tacos! So I order them, but the waiter says they are "not available." ARGH!
So we are in a restaurant like that in Agra, and, the only reason we are even in that particular restaurant is because they show movies. They had a few to choose from, and we picked "Doubt" because Gen had heard that it was good. But, of course, that DVD wasn't working. We finally settled on "Troy." I had low expectations for the movie, and it didn't disappoint. In fact, it made me a bit annoyed because I have told movie studios to stop super-imposing Brad Pitt's head onto my body but they keep doing it
The sound on the TV wasn't working too well, and there was lots of noise from cars honking on the street below, but the English subtitles were on, so that helped. The only thing that wasn't helpful about the subtitles was that they were completely and totally wrong. A lot of the time, they weren't even English words up on the screen. We spent some time trying to figure out how somebody could possess the technology to put subtitles on an obviously pirated DVD, but yet not have the wherewithal to search the internet for the correct script for the movie.
Luckily, I realized that I could devote about 25% of my attention to the movie and still figure out what was going on. Gen had seen it before as well, so that helped. I was just getting into it a bit, actually. There was going to be this big battle. The two main dudes were just trash talking a bit about whose sword was bigger and the like. Huge pan over the enormous armies, dramatic music, and...
And the power goes out....
Oh my sweet goodness what is going on??
Gen yelps and grabs me, thinking the building is under attack
Yes, monkey fight.
I guess monkeys, despite being cute, are actually vicious little devils who are in a perpetual state of conflict over the pecking order. So fights break out. And, when fights break out, switches get turned and plugs get disconnected, so the power goes out. Of course it does.
And, what was even better was that since the remote control wasn't working either, when we restarted the movie we couldn't fast forward, so it just began playing again. Thankfully, buddy behind us was eating his dinner and chewing ferociously with his mouth open, so the added ambiance made up for the disappointment of not being able to finish the film. Please don't tell me how the movie ends. I've heard it's something to do with a horse but I'm not sure.
On to Rishikesh.