Sunday, March 13, 2011

Agra - Touts and Scams

I'm not to big on the must-see locations.  They tend to be overcrowded, tout-filled and in some cases more of a hassle than they're worth.  And to be sure 90% of my Agra experience was just that.  What made the difference between one of my worst stops in India and a worthwhile experience?  The Taj Mahal of course.

It really is a beautiful place and despite its popularity the area inside the gates is reasonably peaceful.  Sadly the tourist gate before you go in is Extreme India of beggars, child touts, pushy rickshaw drivers and all sorts of smells.  Yet Shah Jahan's masterpiece lives up to it's fame.  It's just the sheer size of the bugger that gets you, when I saw photos I knew it was big but not that big.

My visit to the Taj was actually my second full day in Agra and I was in a good mood after rebounding from my arrival and day 1 horror stories.  I suppose I was still missing that shanti feel from Jaisalmer.  Since Jaipur was a noisy headache I was a little on edge.  Then I arrive in Agra at 11 in the evening and am in for a rude awakening about levels of annoyance. 

First the rickshaw drivers near the train station were a surly lot unwilling to bargain and only too willing to try to guilt trip me into overpaying.  I ignored them and walked into town a bit to catch another rickshaw that I was able to get a fair price for.  Then I get to the hotel I want to check out and they're demanding twice the price they're listed as having in Lonely Planet.  Annoyed I march straight out to go room hunting sometime around midnight.  This is when I began to lose it as two rickshaw drivers I had never even seen before begin to follow me down the dark street.  I turn on them and tell them both to fuck off before I need to get the cops involved.  The older one backs off but the younger one tells me he's going home and just walking in that direction.  I tell him fine, walk a little further and stop by a lighted shop.  The bastard soon realizes I'm not moving and stops to wait for me.  I tell him to fuck off again and head into the next hotel.  While I barter for room prices the idiot rickshaw driver sits down waiting for a commission.  I explained the situation to the guy at reception to make sure the proto-stalker doesn't get money for harassing tourists.

Then the next day I headed to Fatehpur Sikri which is 45 minutes outside of Agra and home to a massive mosque and abandoned royal compound of one of the Mughal Emperors (Akbar maybe).  I was really hoping that it being outside the city would mean it was a little more chilled out and enjoyable but no such luck.  Older guys would follow and hassle you about giving you a tour.  Kids were everywhere begging or asking for your ticket stub as there must have been some sort of scam going on.  And on top of all that the sights weren't all that great.  This was the day that led to my post of frustration on the blog.  Luckily, I think that venting did me some good because the next day was a great success.

I was left with one day to see the sights in Agra itself and had to make the most of it.  I stumbled awake early-ish in the morning to see the Taj but the sound of rain lulled me back into sleep.  Getting up at a more reasonable hour I went to get breakfast (food was surprisingly cheap in tourist restaurants near the Taj) and set about waiting out the storm.  After it ended it was a mad race to see the Taj, Agra Fort and the Baby Taj all in one afternoon.  I saw them all and it was definitely a worthwhile experience.  Just to get into the Taj was 750 rupees and 250 each for the other spots.  For a little perspective, 250 rupees is a reasonable price to pay for a decent hotel room.  I wish I could put up more photos but the internet connection I'm on now is extremely slow.  You'll have to settle for this one of the cycle rickshaw I took to the Baby Taj.  A great way to see Agra even though I felt pretty bad for the old guy doing the pedaling!  He was nice, we chatted and had some samosas and chai together at our destination.

Then at 10 in the evening I was off to the train station, ticket in hand.  Sadly I was on an RAC ticket (reserved against cancellation) so had to sort through loads of papers to find my name.  It took me ages because I didn't realize they had a section for names written in Hindi and names written in English for each passenger.  After about 10 minutes I realized they had just written my name using the Devanagari alphabet and that my English name was blocked by a bunch of other papers.

Feeling frazzled but relieved I sort of had it figured out I headed to the platform to get a chai, water and some cookies as I wait for the train.  There are two guys, the guy working there and another guy chatting with him.  As I come up they help me out and then quote me the price 90 rupees.  I'm taken aback and check to clarify and they then say 80.  I'm really confused at this point but more interested in getting on my train then worrying about that so pay and move on.  As I find evidence I'm on the right track, and see the list of prices for chai, etc. at another stand I start to get pissed off.  They overcharged me by 50 rupees and since I had some time I decided to take a friend's advice and get angry to solve this situation.  Some loud confrontational words in front of the Indian customers and threats to get the station manager soon got me my correct change and I contentedly waited for my train.   I'm positive these guys are able to scam countless tourists who have just arrived in India just as they nearly got me.  Things here are confusing enough without people actively trying to make it harder on you.  That said, I didn't lose my positive mood and was able to confront the intensity of Varanasi head-on.  Til next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment