Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Week 7 (Monday 20th November – Sunday 26th November, 2006): Jaipur-Delhi-Agra and the Radjani Express Train to Kolkata

Pictures: The first one is of me and Karen, with some girls we met at the Shiva Temple in Jaipur. Next is the palace in Jaipur where one of the Maharajas kept his 365 wives. This is followed by a picture of the whole city of Jaipur from Amber Palace, then, me at the Shiva Temple, and me at Qutb Minar in Delhi.

On Monday I went to Anju’s house to do laundry. I sat there and waited for the laundry to be washed and dried. I actually thought I had to do it by hand, so I had bought some soap, but it turned out that she had a washing machine, so her overseer, Hemlal, did the washing for me. He hung them out on the drying line for me, and I worked on the report for Aasra while waiting. I also had lunch with them. I went into town and booked a room in Jaipur Inn, and also attended to some business with Bank of America (they had put a hold on my credit card).

The next day I went back to Mrs. Mathur’s place to give her the report. I had it on my USB drive, so I transferred it to her computer, along with some pictures I had taken while performing the survey. She had made some type of biryani for me, since I had told her that I liked that very much. It was very nice of her. I took some pictures with her and her family, and then Mr. Ahmed took me Kishangarh to catch a bus to Jaipur. It was a local bus, so I paid half the price I would have paid if I had taken an air-conditioned bus.

At the Jaipur bus station, I bought a ticket to go for the Jaipur by night tour organized by the RTDC, and got myself a rickshaw to take me to Jaipur Inn (where I was staying) and then to the RTDC hotel where I would join the tour. I met three French tourists, one girl from Hong Kong, and another guy from Germany on this tour. The funny thing was that apart from the Hong Kong girl, Bess, who was leaving by train that night, all the others were also staying at Jaipur Inn. The tour was nothing spectacular, though the view of Jaipur from Nahargarh Fort was amazing. After the tour we walked home together, and that was fun. I was hoping Twum could call me in my hotel room, but it turned out that the hotel phones were all internal (just like at Hotel Chitvan), so I didn’t get to chat with Twum. :(

The French tourists left the next morning, and Matthias and I went for the day long tour of Jaipur, also organized by the RTDC. On the tour bus, we met Karen, a lovely lady from Australia, and two cousins, Nikhil and Sid, from Karnataka and Hyderabad, respectively. We spent most of the tour together, taking pictures and having lunch together. It was a lot of fun. Matthias left by train for Bikaner that evening, and I went back to the hotel exhausted.

The next day I checked out of the hotel, and decided to do a bit of shopping before leaving for Delhi. I had asked Twum to send me some money via Moneygram, and I also went to visit a DV organization called Vishaka, based in Jaipur. After doing all this, I wanted to check email, so I asked the auto driver to take me to an internet café. Next to the café was a clothing and jewelry store, so I went in there to see what they had. I got some scarves and a sari as gifts for the ladies I work with, and made an outfit (skirt and top) for myself. If that was all, I would have been happy. While I was there, one of the workers had telephoned the owner of the store to tell them that a black woman had come to his store, so after I had been there for almost an hour, the owner arrived. I have to give it to him, he was pretty smooth. He came in and chatted with me, and then he started saying some things that just baffled me. He said I had honest eyes, and I thought that was a nice compliment, so I said thank you. He then said I gave him a good feeling. I thought that just like my honest eyes, he meant he felt I could be trusted or something like that. That was NOT the good feelings he was talking about. It turned out that he wanted to know me biblically, and when I told him I was married and in no way interested in his offer, he said “who knows why we have met today. You give me good feelings, so maybe we just have tonight.” Ha!! Sounds like a line from a cheesy movie, no? LOL! He said he would give me a hotel to stay in, give me a milk bath and oil massage, and take me out to dinner. Sounds pretty tempting huh? Yeah, if that was the only thing he was offering. Initially I thought he was kidding, but the man sure wasn’t. I left quite disappointed and feeling a little grimy from all the stuff he had said. I went back to the Jaipur Inn, got a bus ticket to Delhi at the station, and then went off to Hotel Pearl Palace to visit Karen, the lady from Australia. We went to the rooftop restaurant there and had dinner. We also met a lovely Irish lady who was traveling around India for two months, and we joined her for dinner. As the night wore on, one of the waiters came to me and said I had a phone call. Now THAT was weird, seeing that A) Pearl Palace wasn’t my hotel and B) no one knew I had come to Pearl Palace. If anything, I thought it was the people at Jaipur Inn telling me to come for my bags. It wasn’t. It was Mr. Khan, the grimy store owner. Everything took on a dreamlike quality right there. How the hell did he know where to find me? Simple answer: The auto rickshaw driver had reported my whereabouts to him. I don’t know if he was meant to keep tabs on me or something, but there had been another driver in the auto I was in, who had also been present at the store. I think he was the one who did the reporting. What did Mr. Khan want? To reiterate his intentions and let me know that his offer still stood, and would stand for a year, two years, ten years if need be. Oh my, what a TEMPTING offer!! (please read with in a sarcastic voice). I was shaken, and a little fearful. I went back to the table with Karen and the other lady and asked them to guess who had just called me. Karen was on point. She said that she wasn’t surprised, as the man could have paid the auto driver who tagged along, to give him the information. I stayed at Karen’s till around 11pm, then I got the hotel owner Mr. Singh (really nice man) to get me a reliable auto rickshaw, as it was pretty late. I got back to my hotel around 11:15pm, checked email, then got my bags. My bus was at 12:15am.

When I got to the bus station I drew a lot of stares (what else is new?), but I was too tired to care. I met a lively lady from Mizuram, in the northeastern part of India. I initially thought she as a foreigner, but it turns out that people from that part of India have the Mongolian look common to China< and Tibet, than the Aryan look that most Indians have. She was working at a Christian mission in Jaipur, and was off to meet her husband and mother-in-law in Delhi. We ended up on the same seats also (everytime I’ve done the Delhi-Jaipur trip, I end up on the front row, on seat number 1 or 2. It’s quite odd). I kept her up with my chattering, then finally apologized and left her to sleep. I called my parents to let them know what I was up to, then finally fell asleep. It was nice traveling at night by bus. We got to Delhi around 6am, and I got an auto rickshaw to take me to my hotel, H.K. Choudary guest house. I had to bang on the door a few times before the people woke up to let me in. I basically just made it into the room, changed my clothes and then fell asleep.

I woke up around noon, ordered breakfast, then got ready to go tour Delhi. When I got downstairs the owner of the hotel was there, and he said they had a travel agency I could go to. Big mistake! When I got there, the person in charge whipped out a calculator, asked me what kind of thing I was looking for, punched in a few numbers, and then told me he could organize a tour of Delhi, a personalized trip to Agra and back, and a trip to the train station for Rs. 7000. LOL! I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He did a few deductions and brought up Rs. 5500. I told him that honestly, that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was just looking for the organized bus tours to Agra and back. He finally saw that I wasn’t some rich tourist out to gallivant about India,and gave me the package for Rs. 1900. I thought it sounded good and agreed to it. My own stupidity sometimes amazes me.

I got a car with my own driver to take me around Delhi. What they failed to mention was that it wasn’t by any means a guided tour. The driver basically took me to the place, dropped me there and waited for me to take as many pictures as I wanted, then took me to the next place. No history, no explanation, no nothing. I was sorely disappointed and a little put out. To piss me off even more, we only went to four places: The president’s house/parliament house, India Gate, Humayun Tomb and Qutb Minar. When I asked why, the driver said that there was a Sikh protest going on, so most roads were blocked, and I couldn’t go anyway. Right! When I got back to the Connaught PI area where my hotel was located, I wanted to buy a shirt to wear on my Agra trip as everything I had was a little dirty. I found a Kashmiri store that sold some nice shirts. As I was about to leave, the man who was helping me took me upstairs to look at their shawls. There I found that they had a lot of lovely bangles, and I spent a large amount of time looking through them. I purchased a few, and the shirt I wanted, and went back to the hotel. I ordered dinner of mixed vegetables, half Tandoori chicken, and some roti. It was lovely! AND, to top it off, the hotel had cable, and one of the channels had Mr. and Mrs. Smith on. So I ate my lovely dinner and watched Brangelina do their thing on TV. Then Twum called and we chatted for a loooooooong time, so I didn’t get to bed till 1am.

My trip to Agra was starting at 6am Saturday morning. I was up at 5:30am to get myself ready. I was quite tired, but I did my best. The top I had bought didn’t fit….seems to happen to me a bit here in India…I’m a little “broad in the chest” compared to most Indian women. I had to wear the same green shirt I had worn the day before, as it was the cleanest of my tops. A guy from the travel agency had arrived to take me to the bus, on a MOTORBIKE!! They are the rage in India, but I never thought I’d have to ride one. As it was still pretty early in the day, there wasn’t that much traffic on the road and it wasn’t too scary. It was pretty cool actually. We made it to the bus stand safely (thank God!!), and we had to wait for about forty five minutes before the bus itself arrived. I think out of the almost 30 people on the bus, only five of us were women. Before the bus took off, the conductor tried to move me from my seat to the back, and I protested pretty vehemently. What the….! Anyway, we set off for Agra and made a pit stop at this wayside restaurant around 9am. I had never seen so many flies in one place!! Ewww! I ordered a cup of coffee with butter toast. It should have been called butter with toast. The toast was mad oily, as if the bread had been added as an afterthought. LOL! Hey, it was safer than ordering an unknown Indian dish. I’m as adventurous as the next person, but not when I’m traveling to a tourist destination and I don’t know anything about the toilet facilities available.

We got to Agra around 1pm. A guide materialized from somewhere and told us we were going to Agra Fort first. When we got down, I told him that I knew that the ticket for the Taj Mahal could be used at Agra Fort and a few other places. He said that was not true. I quietly paid the Rs. 300 and went to see the fort, took a few pictures and got asked to take pictures with other people. You could see the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort. It was pretty cool. I hung out with this couple, a Kashmiri man and his Finnish wife. When we left Agra Fort, the guide said we would go visit the Baby Taj and then break for lunch. We didn’t make it to Baby Taj. He took us to a restaurant where we had lunch, then told us we were going to stop at a government emporium. We wasted time at this so-called government emporium, where people tried to force us to buy miniature versions of the Taj Mahal, and shoes made from camel and buffalo leather. Too much!! When we finally left for the Taj Mahal, it was almost 4:30pm. He told us we had seventy minutes at the Taj. Hahahahah…I scoff at him in retrospect. The line was long, and we had to wait a long time in order to get in, because they conducted security searches of people going in. And…I was right about the tickets. The Taj ticket cost Rs. 750, but it included access to Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and two other places. Mr. Guide had supposedly pocketed our money. Whether he had or not, I wanted my money back. I didn’t enjoy being at the Taj Mahal very much, but I got some good pictures.

By the time everyone got back to the bus, it was past 7pm, going on 8pm. I fell asleep almost as soon as I sat down, because I was pretty tired. The guide had disappeared (predictably!). I was quite mad at this point. When I woke up, we had turned into another town, Mathura, where Krishna is supposed to have lived. We first stopped to go see the main temple. I didn’t want to go so I stayed behind. I decided to find some food around the area, so I got down from the bus. One of the guys on the bus who had stayed behind offered to walk with me, and we found a food seller who sold idli and dosa. I eaten either idli or dos, but I was encouraged to try them, and they were okay. As I was eating, this man started talking to me about sex, about what I did when my husband wasn’t around….I mean, it was hard to see why he was asking those questions or talking about that subject in particular. I’ve found that I’m too polite and too respectful. I should have shut him up plain and simple, without beating about the bush. I tried to steer the conversation on to safer things, to his wife and children and what they did, but he kept coming back to sex. It was quite disgusting. Then, he asked me where I was staying in Delhi. I told him that I was staying in one of the hotels in Delhi. He then asked if I wanted to sit by him for the remainder of the trip. I quickly said that I wanted to sleep, so it was unnecessary for me to move, and that I was having a good conversation with the guy who was sitting by me. He then offered me some rum. What!!?? Once we got near the bus, I quickly detoured into another store so I didn’t have to be in his company any longer, wondering how I seemed to attract such weird people. After buying an apple drink, I went back to the bus, which was ready to depart.

I thought we would head for Delhi then. Wrong. We went to another place that had a Krishna temple, supposedly in Krishna’s house. This time I went and joined the couple I had met earlier, quickly explaining to them what had happened. When I pointed out who the man was, they told me that he and his buddies had been drinking rum and smoking on the bus. When we got to this Krishna temple, they tried to get us to donate money. I was fed up by then, it was past 10pm, and even the people in that area had gone to bed already! Once we got to the bus I realized I needed to pee, but there were no toilet facilities available. Tulli’s husband went with me to the back of a house, and there I squatted in the dark and did my thing. I felt tired and dirty, and couldn’t wait to get back to Delhi. On our way back we stopped at a wayside restaurant again, and didn’t make it to Delhi till after 2am. Then, the driver dropped me somewhere in Connaught place, nowhere near my hotel. Some auto drivers milling around came to my aid, but I ignored them. One of them was however persistent, and said he would take me to my hotel at no cost, because it wasn’t safe for me to be walking around alone. I made him swear to God that he was being honest, and he took me straight to the hotel. Anything could have happened, I know, but my options were pretty limited at that time. I paid him though, Rs. 20 for his help. I again had to wake the hotel staff up as they were already closed.

I made it to my room and fell asleep, waking up around noon again. I ordered breakfast, and got ready to check out. Since I was checking out after noon, I had to pay for half a day in addition to the two days that I had already paid for. They asked me how I was getting to the train station, and I said the guy at the travel agency was sending someone for me. They called him up to check, and he said it wasn’t part of the deal. Imagine my surprise and annoyance! I told him that he had said it was part of the package. He spoke to the hotel staff and asked them to arrange a rickshaw for me, which is how I got to the train station. On my way there, I got the auto driver to stop at an Airtel store so I could top up my phone. I found my way to the station, asked for directions about my train, and went to wait on the platform for a while. The train arrived on time, and we left on time also.

I met this lovely girl called Lina and we chatted for a while, and watched Kal Ho Naa Ho. I was in 3AC (AC car with three beds per side). It was at the train station that I realized how much Mr. Khan (grimy Jaipur store owner) had ripped me off. He also had a travel agency, and I had bought my train ticket from there as I wasn’t sure how the train system worked. They had booked the train ticket online, which I could have done myself, and then charged me Rs. 615 in commission charges. That could have paid for one night in a hotel and for dinner!! I sent him an angry SMS message as I had his business card, expressing my disappointment and anger. I would have felt better calling him and insulting him, but I didn’t want to give him that pleasure. Anyway, the train ride was nice, we got good tasty food, and we made it to Kolkata about an hour later than scheduled on Monday morning, but I was just happy to be in Kolkata!

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