Has there ever been a time when you wanted something?…like, you REEEAAAALLLLLY wanted something so FREAKING BAD??? But what it took to get to that something was sooooo painfully awful that you curse yourself for ever wanting that thing in the first place and vow yourself to never want something like that again, ever!!! Well, let me tell you about the time I wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and booked with the wrong travel agency.
The Taj Mahal was for the longest time a big time bucket list item for me. This huge white marble mausoleum is a place which I’ve had on my bucket list for as long as I had started travelling, and one that had escaped me many times for the sake of other destinations. So you can imagine that my expectations when I landed in India were HUGE about this place, and I COULD NOT WAIT to see it with my own eyes. I was actually salivating with excitement…pretty obsessive thought.
As you may recall from my New Delhi post, our time in Delhi was short so we had to book a one-day tour from New Delhi.
The hotel where we stayed was complete crap, holes on the wall, freezing cold and all. Long story short, there was NO.FREAKING.WAY we were booking a tour with them. So we decided to venture near the hotel and look for a travel agency on Maharana Pratap Rd. The first one we found was run by a German expat who really spent a lot of time talking to us and showing us all the possibilities for the one-day tour. He made us feel so much at ease that instead of continuing shopping around we just decided to book with him. Hack #1.
The start to a “beautiful day”
We were picked up at 6AM from our hotel in route to the departure point. Outside was not only foggy but awfully cold (later we would learn that day was the coldest it had been in New Delhi in the last 5 years). As I was looking for a car to get into the guy turns around and says, “get in”. It was then that I noticed a windowless tuk-tuk…“hopefully the point of departure is not far” I remember thinking to myself.
The road was extremely foggy and cars were coming in both directions. I’d like to say that I had never heard a Tuk-Tuk honk so many times in such a small amount of time but, I have (all over India, and Bangkok).
There were lots of close calls with other cars that I stopped counting and started praying! The air was so cold I didn’t feel my hands anymore either! I had a moment of hesitation when I thought that maybe this is how it’s supposed to end :s Pretty creepy thought when you know no one in this country to pick up your body :s
Finally we made it to some type of bus station by sunrise, all limbs still attached. To our surprise, the bus was filled with locals with only one other foreign girl and us being part of the “tourist” group. The “bus” looked like a 3rd generation porta-potty on wheels, and smelled like one. It was quite uncomfortable too, and cold…very cold. We literally froze the whole road, it was so bad that there was frost on the windows.
After what seemed like an endless ride, the bus finally made its first stop in the middle of nowhere. The guide asked everyone outside and walked us to a curiously badly situated souvenir shop. It did not take me long to understand that it was one of those shops where the guide probably gets a commission for bringing tourists. Of course everyone went in as there hadn’t been any bathroom stops for the last 3 hours…
As soon as the last one of us got in, one of the shop clerks locked the door behind us!!! This even got some of the locals rowdy…but inside we stayed. The shop was NOTHING especial (like, at all), some stones and statues which were supposed to be “precious” and were sold at ridiculous prices.
Then they took us to a smaller room and shut down the lights and I lthought, “what the hell?!?!?”. I didn’t need this!!! I was already tired, cold, and creeped-the-fuck-out enough as it was…the last thing I needed was to get mugged (or worst) in some basement in India!!!
But there was no danger, none whatsoever. Instead, we were treated to the shop’s “coup-de-grâce “, a cheap replica of the Taj Mahal which flashes in the dark….OOOOOOOOHHHHHH!!!!! It kind of made me wish they’d rob me to at least have a better story to tell.
Once they let us out of the shop and after an inedible meal (to date I still wonder whether it was chicken or pigeon), the bus finally arrives to Agra.
“Get out of the bus”
The bus stops in the middle of an intersection, and the driver lets a guy come inside who points at us and at the other tourist, and starts to speak (rather aggressively) to us in Hindi. Seeing that none of us understood, he asks two couples we had befriended to translate for us. They tells us that he wants the “foreigners” to get out of the bus and go with him.
Imagine being in a totally different country where you don’t speak the language and someone is barking orders at you, and you don’t understand a thing! We were confused and did not know what to do!!!
He kept insisting and insisting for us to go with him. Resigned, we almost got up and went, until the couple tells us to sit down and tells something to the guy in Hindi. A verbal war ensued between them which we had no idea what the heck to make of it!!! All we knew by the sound of it all was that the guy who came into the bus was pissed the hell off!!! Finally he left with no tourists to go with him.
The couple then explain to us that this is a scam where they will charge us to DRIVE US to the Taj Mahal (something we had already paid for), and that we would probably have to pay them to take us back to Delhi after very likely arranging to stay someplace in Agra.
Fine! Touts are what they are, I don’t really care about that. Since then I’ve dealt with so many in so many countries and I can see them coming a mile away. I question why the driver would stop to let him in? Especially if he knew this would happen? not that the driver or the guide did anything to help. Oh…wait…unless the guide gets a commission for anyone that goes with the tout??? hum…Hack #2.
The long way home
After finally seeing the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal (which I have to admit it was overcrowded but still AMAZING!!!), it was time to head back to Delhi. We started heading back around 8PM, which is pretty late considering that the journey is about 4 hours long in a car, so there was no way that this rundown piece-of-crap bus was going to get us there before midnight. We let a big “sigh” out and well, got into the bus.
Temperatures dropped significantly during the evening, and everyone was literally FREEZING alive. Little did we know that the night was far from over.
At about 10PM the bus makes a sudden stop in the middle of freaking nowhere! It is pitch black outside and all we can hear are noises and people talking, but nothing can be seen through the windows.
Call me a wuss, but this was the 2nd time in one day I was telling myself that “maybe this is how it’s supposed to end”…
Finally the guide comes in and tells us that we had arrived (nobody knew we were going…) at a religious place which represented the birthplace of Hindu God Krishna. They were offering us “the opportunity” to see the birthplace of Krishna for the small sum of $40USD!!! I crossed my fingers and looked at the ceiling repeating “please no one get up, please no one get up, please no one get up”…half the people from the bus got up.
I was too cold to even peek outside and too tired to care… the only thought I had was that I was going to die freezing in a crappy bus in the middle of nowhere in India. The fact is that whomever didn’t go froze their ass in the bus for an extra hour…AN HOUR!!! No covers, no gramma’s hot chicken soup, NOTHING!. My toes were freezing and all I could do was curse the moment we stepped into that travel agency.
Finally, one hour later people board the bus (super excited) and we go on our way…this was Hack #3.
One last kick on the balls
After another 2 hours we finally see a sign that reads “New Delhi” and I can already picture myself rolling in the warm covers of the crappy bed in my crappy hotel room. You know when you’re sooo tired that the actual thought of being in your bed brings the dumbest of smiles? That was me at that point.
As the bus starts dropping people one by one I realize that it is 2AM. 2-A-M people!!!! I wasn’t sure anymore if we would even get back before sunrise. It was already foggy again outside, just as it was yesterday morning when we left the hotel…
We arrive at Connaught Place where the only other foreign tourist’s hotel was, and the driver tells her to get out. But the girl does not recognize the place and the driver (nor anyone else) has the remotest idea of where her hotel is situated. He keeps insisting for her to get out and obviously the poor girl is scared shitless!!!
If you haven’t been to Connaught Place, imagine a plaza surrounded by hotels, shops and restaurants. Now imagine the same plaza but now pitch dark in a cold night, and add people sleeping on the streets…yeah I wouldn’t have gone out of the bus either.
Finally the guide seemingly gives up and walks with the girl until they find her hotel 10 minutes later.
So, here we were, bus almost empty at 3:30AM, FINALLY on the road leading to our crappy hotel, when suddenly the bus stops under a bridge, 5 blocks from where our hotel was. Again, pitch-dark-cold-as-%$%^-I’m-not-getting-off-this-bus scenario, but now I am it.
The guide reassuringly tells me “no worries, area safe, he goes with you”.
I ask, “who is “he”?”
“he”, and he points at some guy who I had not seem during the entire day, who suddenly gets up from the passenger seat. He had enough covers on him to keep at least half of the bus warm.
“fuck it, I just want my bed”…