Delhi to Agra
I usually write about the positive side of India. This time I wanted to share the other side to balance things out. We decided to go to Agra on Sunday. We learned that hiring a taxi is a bit expensive and is not safe. We decided to take a bus instead and enquired the people at our guest house’s reception. They didn’t know about the bus service, so we asked our rental car person for pointers. He made some phone calls and said it would cost Rs. 700 per person to go to Agra. He said he will take care of buying the tickets, so we gave him the money. We trusted him as he drove us around all week.
Following morning we were picked up by the bus. It turned out the bus was not going straight to Agra. It was going to stop at Agra fort and at a couple of other temples in addition to Taj Mahal. About half an hour into the journey, we learned that there were a few guys behind us that were Telugus. It was not hard to identify them, as they decided to force their desire to listen to Telugu music on the rest of the travellers in the bus by playing Telugu music on their cell phone speaker. Few minutes later they were asking each other how much they paid for the bus trip. One of them responded Rs. 450 and other said he was ripped off because he paid Rs. 550. Expression on my wife’s face overhearing this conversation was priceless.
Then we get off at a roadside Dhaba/Restaurant for food. There was neither a menu nor prices listed anywhere. This is a place where the bus company and the Dhaba guys have made a deal. Roadside Dhabha’s are known for inexpensive food. We ordered some food and when the check came we were surprised at the amount. A paratha was charged Rs. 40 which was what a good hotel in the heart of the city would charge. In any event the rip-off scheme didn’t stop here.As we got closer to the Agra Fort, a gentleman calling himself a guide boarded the bus. He introduced himself as the guide provided by the bus company. He told everyone that it is the company policy to not accept any tips. Things started to look up and at last as we found a trustworthy guy who was not there to get us. As we got closer to the Agra Fort, he asked everyone to give Rs. 20 per person. He told us that it doesn’t make sense for everyone in the bus to go stand in the line to buy tickets. We got the tickets back and on the stub price of the ticket was Rs. 10. He took Rs. 750 from non-Indians and not sure what the actual price of those tickets was. Foreigners are charged a much higher price for the tickets at Indian monuments.
After seeing Agra Fort, we got on the bus and the guide started talking about how tourists are taken for a ride near Taj Mahal. He urged us not to buy anything near Taj Mahal as they are of shoddy quality and the pieces were not made of real marble. He said the most reliable place to buy was at the Uttar Pradesh government’s handicraft showroom. He said the work is authentic, certified, and prices are fixed so you don’t have to worry about haggling. He did the travellers a big favour and stopped at the UP Handicrafts store. Travellers went into the store and bought souvenirs like there is no tomorrow. Big boxes kept coming into the bus and were being stacked everywhere. I was walking around the store looking for a sign that said the place is run by U.P. government. Nowhere did it say that it is run by government. In fact on one side of the store it is written “Meena Bazar”. Alas, all the people were conned into buying souvenirs at inflated prices that too without bargaining. One foreigner paid Rs. 3000 for a pair of shoe that was bought by another guy for Rs. 600. By sheer luck we got away without buying anything.
We went to Taj Mahal and the guide again ripped us off for the tickets. By the way, he was hardly a guide. He got the tickets and then disappeared and was only seen when we got back on the bus. After seeing Taj Mahal we got back in the bus and my wife asked for a Tea. I got a tea in the mini cup that barely holds a couple of sips. The tea vendor asked for Rs. 10, I paid and as I was leaving, I noticed that he was charging everyone else Rs. 5 for the same cup of tea. My head was spinning at this non-stop rip-off. From a big scheme of things, this is all small money. But the fact that people could cheat you every step of the way was very hard to absorb.
On the way back from Taj Mahal, a new guide appeared. He identified himself as a Brahmin who was devoted to the cause of Krishna for the last 12 years. He made us say “Krishna Bhagavan Ki Jai” a few times. He took us to Mathura where the temple doesn’t allow guides inside. So, we were spared from the rip-off scheme. Then he took us to Brindavan and purportedly to a temple where Sri Krishna grew up. The place was ill-maintained and was in one of the narrow and dirty streets of Brindavan. He told us that the temple has 2000 widows whose only goal in life is to recite Krishna bhajans. We walked into the temple, and the priest made us all sit and his assistants right away brought out receipt books and asked us to start writing donations. The guide came over to me and said that I should at least donate Rs. 2500. I was thoroughly pissed off at this point. I asked him if this is a place of worship or a place for money collection. The guide said that the money was for the widows. My kids were getting restless, so I got up and left the place.
This is the other side of India that one should not overlook. 50 years of socialism has ruined India’s moral fabric. You are constantly being ripped off- whether it is the servant maid taking insignificant things like dish washing scrubs and small utensils, or a janitor in the office walking away with iPhone, or your driver stealing fuel from your car, or India’s cabinet minister getting a bribe of few billion dollars for 2G spectrum. Corruption has crept into every corner of the system. These minor irritants over a period of time can affect your quality of life. My wife is about to get rid of the servant maid and do the household work herself. I am pretty close to firing the driver and not get another one.