Saturday, December 6, 2014
Aneel arrived as we were checking out and whisked us to the Train Station, just .5 km away. He negotiated with a Porter to take our bags to the station platform for 200 Rupees ($3.20). A few minutes after we got there the train arrived and we found our seats. This time we were in AC Chairs class, which is nicer than an Amtrac train. Very similar to a jumbo jet, but with MUCH more leg room! WOAH! An attendant just came by and gave everyone A large bottle of mineral water! Were livin’ LARGE!
I have a seat by the window, facing backwards, and the sun is just now coming up over Jaipur. There are people who live right next to the tracks getting up and starting their day. There’s a Chai stand with a long line of customers waiting. There’s a mother or grandmother carrying a boy out of their house and laying him on a bed outside the house. His head seems loose on his neck and hangs back, like he lacks either the strength or will to lift it.
I see many people working hard. I pass an incredibly long pile of cow dung patties, and am thinking that this must be where everyone in town dries them. Then we pass a solitary woman, who is making them. But we also pass many people who seem to be idle. Just sitting alone and watching the world go by them.
When we got to Agra, which was the final station for this train, we let all the other passengers get off first. It was easier than joining in the mad scramble to get off first. Before we got off a young man suddenly appeared on the train, telling us he was a licensed pre-paid taxi driver and he could take us to a fine hotel. He talked fast and smooth, had good English, and we were immediately suspicious of him. This was exactly what had happened to Luke and I didn’t even want to talk to him. We told him we were not going to go with him. We were going to find the Tourist Office in the Railway Station and arrange a car and hotel there. He said there was no Tourist Office in the Station. I suspected he was lying and set off to prove it. We immediately found a window called “Enquiry” but after standing in line for 10 minutes, when we got to the front all we could enquire about was tickets. We were on a waiting list for seats from Agra to Delhi so we needed to talk to someone about that anyway, so we tried to sort it out there. We couldn’t figure out what the agent was saying. He seemed to be saying one thing one minute, and something else right after. It was very frustrating.
Meanwhile, the taxi driver was working his magic on us. He had followed us from the train, into the Station, and into the line. All the while keeping up a very polite stream of banter about how reliable and honest he is. He disappeared for a few seconds and came back with a book of hand-written recommendations from previous clients. There were comments from hundreds of people, from all over the world, some of them written in Japanese or Korean. The comments were all very positive and looked to be genuine. It was an impressive thing to see.
He told me he could Tke us to many hotels and we could see the rooms and take our pick. But he recommended the Taj Residency, and said we could get a very nice room for Rs 2,500 ($40). He said he would take us there for Rs. 100 ($1.60). That was all very reasonable, so in the end we let him take us. Saji stayed with our luggage in the car while I went in. I asked the rate and the manager said he would show me some rooms. He took me to a very nice room, in fact, it was the nicest hotol room I have seen in India. He said the price was Rs. 4,000. “FOUR thousand?!” I objected, ”We were told the rooms were $2,500!” “No problem,” he replied, “We have different rooms for less money.” He took me down the hall to a room that was dingy and smelled badly of smoke. “Ugh!”, I said, “This room smells bad!” “No problem,” he said again, “I can give you the other room at a discount. Come.” And he led me back to the front desk where that haggling began in earnest. He offered to give us the nicer room for 2 nights for Rs 6,500. I fought hard and ended up getting it for Rs. 5.400.
We checked in and then headed out with Faslu the taxi driver. We agreed to give him Rs. 1,500 for the whole day, plus Rs. 500 for a guide. We picked up a very charming young man who called himself ‘Sonny’ and headed out to see Agra Fort.
Sonny was very knowledgeable and charming. He knew puzzles and showed us optical illusions. For example, he took us out on a balcony where we could see the Taj Mahal in the distance. He asked us to note how big it looked (it didn’t look very large). Then he walked us across the courtyard, about 40 feet away and asked us to look at it again. Now it looked HUGE! When seen on the horizon with a lot of empty horizon on each side the Taj didn’t seem very big. But when we looked at it framed by columns and windows it suddenly seemed much, much larger.
(I’ll add more to this post later)
Continue to Day 18