We wrapped up our sightseeing in Delhi on Monday. Our trusted friend Parmjeet met us in the morning and took us to the Jama Masjid, which is India’s largest mosque. It was here that I became acutely aware that with respect to tourists people will generally try to do something for you, however insignificant and regardless of your declining the offer, in order to demand money.
Before we were even inside the mosque, we were joined by a young guy who started explaining the history of the mosque. At first, we were confused; perhaps an annoying guide was part of the ticket, but I realized this was not the case. I asked him to leave us alone without any success. After his largely unintelligible 5-minute rant, he demanded 200 rupees ($4). I offered him 50 rupees or $1 to go away, and he then tried to remind me of a non-existent conversation during which I agreed to pay him 200 rupees for his knowledge about the mosque. While we are not talking about a large sum of money, we are now talking about the principle of the matter. Since I did not think “liar, liar, pants on fire” would get me very far, I held firm at my offer of 50 rupees pretending as though this was the only cash we had. Here’s the scenario: outraged tour guide versus me; I have 3 whole weeks in India, and the longer he spends with me, the less tourists he can swindle. Game on. Unfortunately, Evan felt that it was worth paying $4 to get him to go away. Swindle number 1 (although I think technically Evan was the swindled one, not me).
We tried walking down Chandni Chowk, which is Old Delhi’s main thoroughfare and is full of bazaars. We gave it our best effort, but we became overwhelmed after 20 minutes. I took photographs, because I knew it would be difficult to describe. There are things everywhere. People. Cars. Bikes. Bikes with carts that are carrying items 5 times larger than the bike and cart combined. Cows. Cycle rickshaws. Auto rickshaws. Trash and things you do not want to step in. Men squatting, chewing paan and spitting. Piles of trash burning. And then there are the horns. Everyone honks their horn all of the time.
After accepting defeat, we then went to India Gate (42m-high arch commemorating soldiers killed in WWI, Afghan War of 1919 and the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971), saw Safdarjang Tomb and Qutab Minar (think Roman Forum but Indian style). All worthwhile and all easily accessible thanks to trusty Parmjeet.
Evan and I did not make transportation arrangements prior to arriving in Delhi, as we thought it would be easy to do so once here. Not so, and in retrospect this was foolish. But, if we had, we would never have met Parmjeet and come to rely on his kindness. In India you can hire a driver and car to take you anywhere, but we were unable to find a company that would respond or that did not require an Indian cell phone number. After our first day with Parmjeet, he offered to be our driver for our second and last day in Delhi. He also offered to drive us to Agra and to Jaipur. We like and trust Parmjeet (largely because he did not drop us off at a store after we said we did not want to go to said store like our driver on our first day did), so we did not need to think about this for very long but then the negotiating over price began. We did not have many options, but Parmjeet did not know this. Nevertheless, he got the price he wanted. A little later in the day though he told us we would be in a different, more spacious car, and therefore the cost went up by 2,000 rupees. See last sentence of first paragraph – except that Evan and I have a strong affection for Parmjeet, so we took it in stride. Also, his brother would be driving. His qualifications to drive us to Agra and then to Jaipur: “he Sikh like me, he have long beard too and is vegetarian, okay?” ”Okay!”
We left Delhi early Tuesday morning and made our way to Agra. All of the things that made it difficult to walk down the street in Delhi also make it difficult to drive anywhere in India (except there are no paan spitting men to dodge). In India, the roads are for everyone, not just people in/on motorized transportation. You can walk; you can herd your cows, goats or camels; you can travel at 10 mph because you have 4 people on your motorbike. No one rides a motorbike or in a car by themselves, since there are so many people. Transportation is more utilitarian because of this perhaps? I saw 2 adults and 3 children on a motorcycle, a man standing on what was left of a bumper while holding onto the roof of the car, and (my personal favorite) a man sitting on the open backseat door (next time there is no room in the backseat, just roll down the window, place your butt on top of the window, open door and off you go).
Agra. If it was not for the Taj Mahal, I do not think anyone would come here. We arrived late in the afternoon and our hotel was not exactly what we were expecting. Writing about it may re-traumatize me. Needless to say that we left Agra a day early and are now in Jaipur.
While in Agra, we of course saw the Taj Mahal as well as Itimad-ud-Daulah and Agra Fort. When we arrived in Agra, our new driver, Krishan, pulled over to tell us that his English-speaking friend was joining us. We told Krishan that we did not want or need an English-speaking guide, but we sat there waiting for him anyway. See last sentence of first paragraph.
It is difficult to describe why we did not like Agra, but we didn’t so we moved on. Now we have made it to Jaipur a day early. It was a 5-hour drive and having left Agra early allows us to have 3 full days here instead of 2.5. We may even take a day trip to Pushkar.
At dinner tonight we met a man who used to live in Potrero Hill but now lives in Santa Fe. His work (he’s in the jewelry business) involves traveling up to 4 months out of the year through Asia. He gave us lots of information about Jaipur and told us that if we wanted to begin exploring Asia, there are 2 to 3 countries he would have recommended as an introduction. So it would appear that by coming to India first we jumped right on into the deep end. We’re treading water right now but are going to start swimming (we think).
There are things I do not like. But, there are a lot of things that I do like. There are things that we have seen that I still have a hard time comprehending and cannot adequately describe. They are images that everyone has seen either on TV or in movies but that once you see in person and repeatedly, your whole frame of reference shifts. I do not think that it is possible to come to India and leave as the same person you were when you arrived. Sorry if this is cryptic, but it is late and I am pooped.