Namaste from Delhi & Agra, India


I love a bit of irony. But the irony that I am currently writing our  first introduction to Delhi 3 weeks late while on probably our most suicidal bus journey BACK to Delhi to catch a flight to Udaipur…thus avoiding overland travel… is grating. India exemplifIes the balance of energies. On one side of the scale India offers you blissful calmness, peace and enlightenment, where time oozes by with theraputic effect. On the opposite side of this scale… is this particular bus ride…

…and Delhi.

Our preconceptions of Delhi prior to going were pretty much fulfilled after our “Official Government Taxi” (monitored by the police apparently, pfffft), attempted to scam us on our way to our hotel.

It plays out like so. (Any section or detail marked with * is a hint a scam is imminent.)

We grabbed an official* taxi* from the  airport. Gave him our address slip and asked him to bring us to our booked hotel near the Main Bazaar. With pretty good English* he struck up conversation*.  “First time in India?”*

“No 3rd time in fact…” (Trying not to show any naivety.)

Conversation continues* as we sit wedged in traffic.
The traffic was pretty busy in the evening hours, as he explained that it was a result of the Prime Minister elections*, yadda yadda ya, oh and he has a friend living in Dublin*, also a Taxi driver apparently (wow this guy’s original…). He then asked if i had a more detailed address* for the hotel. We hadn’t but the address we gave him was pretty long. I suggested he call the hotel and ask them for the full correct address. He complies*. Handing me the phone I type the number but he wants to make the call*. He chats away in Hindi* and hands me the phone to speak to the hotel manager*. A long and confusing conversation shortened, the hotel manager apologises and explains that he emailed me back telling me it was cancelled and we were refunded***. Of course! At this point it’s blatantly obvious what’s going on. So I ask him what number I had called him on…

“Errrr*…you called me, so you tell me…” comes the reply.
“I know I called you, but tell me, what number is this?”
“Err…I have …like six numbers, I don’t know which it is.”*
“Ahhhh okay, I’ll tell you what, nevermind about cancelling our booking, so…how about we come anyway and speak in person at the hotel, yeah?”
“Ohhh no sir, impossible because the area and streets are closed, sir… Because of the election.”*
“Naaah don’t worry I’ll come anyway.”

At this point I look at the phone’s screen, doubting it displays the number I provided…’YAGOOB’ is displayed.

“Yagoob?” (meanwhile wondering what kind of name is ‘Yagoob.’)
Taxi driver pipes up…”Please give me phone!”*

I hand it back along with a high dosage rant. “Ahah…we know this bloody story!! Hotel is closed..whatever. Look, just shut your mouth, don’t f**king speak to us for the rest of the journey and take us to our hotel, now!”

And with that he shut his mouth and drove to us to our still booked, still fully accessible hotel near the main bazaar. Arriving soon after, our new buddy has to open his boot for us to get our bags. Expecting glaring expressions of disapproval he walked around to the back while looking at his feet. This didn’t deflect the next stern bollocking which was delivered a little more subtly. He apologised.

India 0 | Justice 1

Once we knew a scam was being conceived (pretty much as soon as he opened his mouth) it was a fun little exchange of wit and will, finally explaining to the taxi driver that we know this ploy all too well and what might be a game to him is an insult to us.

Our hotel was a pricey one, as we decided to splurge £12 a night on a decent room, bed, TV and ensuite. Arriving around 10pm the air is thick with boiling humidity. Our hotel, despite being relatively nice, was situated at the main bazaar, a bizarre collection of litter filled streets, hundreds and hundreds of locals and tourists bustling around in a hot stinking world of dilapidation. It has a lot of energy and we felt somewhat at home here after so much of the hustle and bustle of SEA and China.

we bumped into Yael and Stacy again, our friends from Australia and planned a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra the following day. V and I decided to check out the local train station to enquire about tickets. Again this simple task becomes another infuriating example of Indian bureaucracy. Even a simple task of booking a ticket online for trains is impossible due to all the restrictions the Indian government put in place. It is impossible to book online unless we have an Indian number, which we don’t, and an American Express bankcard, which we don’t. without either you are left in limbo wondering how and why the hell these rules exist. Then deciding to book it in person at the train station is the next ridiculous hurdle. As soon as we walked into the vicinity of the train station we were hounded by touts and liars, posing as ‘official tourist helpers’ armed with fake laminated ID cards and an overpowering demeanour often stopping us in our tracks facing us, claiming we can not go to this section of the station or that section, and that the tourist office for trains is down the road, conveniently it’s their tourist office selling higher priced tickets. Although we know they are fake their forceful nature encourages you to doubt yourself. Regardless we stuck to our guns, ignored this rude asshole and ventured into the chaos that is New Delhi train station. People and luggage everywhere, no queues whatsoever and huge boards with times scattered all over them. Again we are approached by another official tourist helper tout and again his persistence is enough for us to want to crack up. We didn’t and decided to leave ignoring the insistent claims that we need to get an ‘official government rickshaw’ to their office to get tickets, basically his mate parked nearby in a rickshaw. The heat bearing down on top of us during this ordeal just intensifies the annoyance.

We received word that our buddy Ifat who we trekked with in Nepal for 3 weeks was arriving into Delhi that evening which was awesome, so again our small group is reunited and we spend the evening devising how to get to the Taj Mahal in Agra. The next morning around 7am we decide to venture back towards the train station and haggle with the beloved taxi drivers. Travel agencies were too expensive as they too inflate prices to squeeze as much out of white people who they believe are all wealthy and have money to burn. Immediately we are surrounded by taxi assholes and after much debate and annoying haggling we manage to convince a driver to take 5 of us in a slightly larger tin can with wheels. No air con. They claimed it would take around 2.5 to 3 hours. Lying prick.

2 hours 30 minutes later we are still in Delhi after having to drive to a government office so that the taxi driver can obtain a permit to take the taxi out of the city, then stop to switch vehicles, then stop to pick up another driver, then stop for petrol, then stop for food…And the worst part is that one of the two drivers is by far the most ignorant son of a bitch we have met on our travels. Never please or thank you, always “Come”, “Get in”, “Get out”, “Give me cigarette”, etc etc. Also just driving through Delhi is another reason it takes so long. So much traffic, cows, and rubbish, made more fun by the background smell of sewers and sulphur. Eventually we make it onto the expressway and drive for another 2 hours 30 minutes in the back of this metal shell, uncomfortable, roasting hot, sweating and miserable.

We make it to Agra and our asshole driver waits for us while we explore. Agra, the home of the great Taj Mahal is a total dump. The contrast between the Taj and Agra is stark evidence of the massive wealth divide in India, however with this divide comes a lot of tourism which obviously is the main source of income for the locals in Agra. Entering the Taj is another mission as you are tackled by beggars, touts, camel riders, and street sellers selling snow globes with the Taj inside, which will never be a reality because we wonder if Agra has ever seen rain let alone snow. Then you file into a long metal queuing frame, obviously put in place because Indians never queue. Literally they will crowd around a till in a shop all attempting to be served by waving money in front, yet the polite whities stand gormlessly waiting. Sometimes shopkeepers ignore you completely if you do not exert yourself and be seen. Really, I have stood alone at counters and the shop keeper will not serve me if I don’t ask. I don’t think it’s down to rudeness but more so difference in ways, but come on, some logic wouldn’t go amiss. Even the way they drive is idiotic. Similar to the rest if Asia in general, but way more aggressive with long ignorant horn blasts. Any gap, they will fill it. Incoming car needs space to squeeze through? Who cares, bull on past them regardless. Things often hit a stand still because people are too dumb to realise that order can be useful but in a country with a 1.2 billion population (second most over populated after China) it’s somewhat understandable how people can totally disregard each other and become ultimately selfish through and through.

Anyway, rant tangent over, we make it into the Taj grounds after passing security checks, at which they confiscated a small yellow floatation handle for my camera because apparently tripods are not allowed. This isn’t a tripod, but a handle to stop a camera from sinking in the sea…no amount of explaining helps and I doubt there is much use for the thing in this bloody weather. Weird. I got it back later when leaving.

The Taj is stunning. Beautifully kept grounds, with marble everywhere, and pristine palaces greet us offering much needed escape from then outside world. A lot of Indian tourists visit the Taj but ultimately are more fascinated by white people, as we are often asked by crowds of 20 or more people for photos. Families dragging their kids by the arm to stand beside us and smile even if they are crying. Eventually we have to say enough is enough and walk on. The Taj Mahal, a palace built by emperor Shah Jahan for his late wife Mumtaz Mahal is now the tomb in which both are buried. As beautiful as it is the unbearable weather makes it difficult to enjoy. We took a ton of photos, explored the tomb and surrounding walkways, and then we escaped. All 5 of us are roasted and uncomfortable so the next mission is ice lollies and water. Back to our taxi we go, and before we leave we have the necessary argument with our driver that we do not pay for the parking as our price includes everything. Right let’s go, back to Delhi, a horrible return 4hours 30minutes journey back in stupid heat. We had to close the windows to keep the heat out as the air blowing in felt like someone was standing with a hairdryer on full power blasting it into your face. It started to get late and moods cranky, especially our driver who after many ignorant comments and demanding tones I had to advise him to talk respectfully to us, and basically told him what we thought of him. The second driver, a nice guy, just smiled as he understood where we were coming from. Back into Delhi, back to the traffic, back to the stink, and back to the chaos, but at least it meant one thing, we can pay the driver and get rid.

Our time in Delhi drew to a close the following day and we had to decide where next. Originally our plan was to head south to Kerala, the spice center of the world and a haven for beautiful beaches, but we learnt that its monsoon season so it’s a no go. Also we had planned on hitting Rajasthan towards the west but again weather prevents us as it’s blistering hot reaching nearly 50°C in the shade, and that most locals evacuate this crazy heat. So on a whim we decided to head follow our friend Ifat to Manali in the north of India. This proved to be an awesome decision in the long run.

We said our goodbyes to Stacy and Yael once again and hit the hay before our bus ride to Manali the next day, supposedly a 12 hour trip. Nope. 16 hours. We left Delhi at 5.30pm and arrived in Manali at 10am the following day, exhausted but happy to be in a more saner and cooler part of India.

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