That Time I Woke Up In India: Going To Agra (8.11.2008)

I know now why they called the city Agrabah in Aladdin. Dear lord.

I checked for my train, which would be at platform 4 in an hour or so. The New Delhi train station was packed. Man, I mean, I hadn’t seen these many people packed into a single place like this before. And of course, there were the usual dogs lying about. One person accidentally stepped on a dog’s foot, and it kept on yelped until he took his foot off. Just felt like mentioning that. So I had a lot of time left, and my backpack was really heavy, so I decided to flaunt my AC1 status and hang out in the first class waiting room. The old lady at the desk asked me for my ticket, so I showed her my reservation slip, which she had no idea what she was, so she just let me in. The first class lounge had fans and benches to sit on. Pure luxury. When it was time to leave, I think I was supposed to tip her, but I didn’t speak Hindi and she didn’t speak English, so she let me go for free. Yay. I love free things, but they seem to be difficult to find in India. You can get everything here, but you also have to pay for everything. Sigh.

SO MANY PEOPLE

SO MANY PEOPLE

So I was on the platform, and I had nothing much to do except take photos of the train station and gaggles (is that even a word? If it isn’t, it should be) of people. I figured that I should check one of the boards to see if my reservation was confirmed. I checked the board and to my delight, my name was printed in Hindi as was as English! That was cool. Then I decided that I should wait where the AC1 car would be. The reservation thing said that it was three cars behind the engine, so it should arrive at one of the ends of the platforms. The question was, which end? I had to choose carefully, or I would have to walk the entire length of the train to get on my car. I stood at one end of the platform. As the train pulled into the station, I realized that I had stood at the wrong end. Argh. Well, good thing the train stopped at New Delhi for a fairly long time. I got into my compartment and looked outside the window. There were a lot of military types on the train, which made me worry about possible terrorist attacks. Yes, I worry about everything. I mean, if I was a terrorist, I’d attack easy military-types, just to prove a point. Good thing terrorists don’t think like I do.

Not quite as many people

Not quite as many people

As I waited for my compartment buddies, several vendors came and offered food. Mr. Mun told me that the food was safe and quite an interesting experience, so I accepted it. I didn’t know that you didn’t have to buy it, so I had a cup of coffee, a sandwich, and a plate of fried things that I think might be kachauri. Maybe. My compartment buddies were a nice Indian family (what a surprise) who were going to Hyderabad, where they lived. Wow. I didn’t know the train went that far. That’s practically on the other end of the subcontinent. They were a friendly family, although I think their little girl was a little scared of me. I don’t blame her, sketchy lone Asian traveler that I am. Probably a fugitive or a serial killer or something. Or maybe she just didn’t like talking to strangers. Yes, it was probably that. Anyhow, they were really helpful, translating for me when the porters/vendors showed up. They also taught me that I didn’t have to eat everything the porters offered. Good thing, cause I was starting to feel pretty full. When the porter came around to take dinner orders, however, I couldn’t understand what the choices were, so I chose a vegetarian chapati. Now, it was around then that I started to panic, since I had no idea what a vegetarian chapati was. I was scared that I would embarrass myself in front of the Indian family, who seemed pretty understanding, but you know, there are some limits to cultural misunderstandings. I tried to calm myself down by reading a book and listening to music on my iPod. Good thing I brought my iPod. Music is a necessity when traveling, even if you don’t actually listen to it that often. Believe me, you’ll feel the absence.

Anyway, dinner wasn’t that much of an embarrassment, since I barely started when the train pulled into Agra. I had barely started on my chapatis when I was forced to leave my dinner behind. I commended my stupidity in eating everything offered to me, as it served as a fine dinner substitute. I said my rushed goodbyes to the nice family and hopped off the train. As I stepped off the train, a man immediately approached me and offered to take me to my hotel for a ridiculously low price. Now, I didn’t know the guy was sincere about it or not, but I knew that if something seemed too good to be true, it probably was. Especially in a tourist trap like Agra. He’d probably mug me and drop me off the side of some distant road or something. I tried to shake him off, but I couldn’t find the exit, which didn’t help. Another man approached me and asked me rather nicely if I needed a taxi, but I told him that I just needed a way out. He showed me where the exit was so I thanked him and left quickly so he wouldn’t follow me. I went out and found my driver holding up a sign with my name. He was a jolly-looking man with a mustache, and his name was Mr. Pappu. I was tempted to ask him if he could dance (don’t bother asking, obscure Bollywood reference), but decided that would be kind of stupid in a town that seemed increasingly sketchy. Definitely a tourist trap. Mr. Pappu made a show of extreme hospitality by seating me up front next to him as his friend. Now, I knew I was fairly safe since the hotel sent him, but I still felt that I should be careful in case in he tried to get me to hire him for tomorrow and the day after. Then he showed me his visitor’s log, which seemed to sing his praises. I relaxed a little. A little too much. Then I found myself listening to Pappu listing out my schedule for tomorrow, starting from 10 AM. I had been planning to travel by myself, but damn, he was smooth. Also I was a big sap. So I decided to hire him for safety’s sake, since I’d be paying the hotel (and not him directly). Probably was overpriced, but whatever. Better spending a bit more for safety than trying to save a few rupees and losing it all. Yes, I justify my extravagant transportation and lodging budgets that way. Anyways, it didn’t seem like I could back out, so I agreed to his proposal. I mean, what could go wrong?

We arrived at the hotel and Mr. Pappu told the receptionist guys that I was his friend. They looked at him knowingly. I paid for the pickup (overpriced) and tomorrow’s day trip (definitely overpriced) and went to my room. A bellboy came and insisted on carrying my bag despite the fact that I had no trouble carrying it down the hallway. As he set in down in my room, he looked at me and waited. I smiled and thanked him, but he gave me a dirty look as he exited. I immediately realized that I should have tipped him. Whoops. Oh well, I didn’t want him to carry my bags anyway. The hotel room was very nice, with a king-size bed (which I was not expecting) and a nice TV and everything. Now, the TV didn’t have many interesting channels (I mean, most of them were in Hindi) so I settled on the Bollywood music videos channel, which was rather familiar to me. I realized that I didn’t have much water left, so I made a mental note to get a bottle at breakfast. Breakfast. The Sikandra. Then the Baby Taj. Then Agra Fort. Then the Taj Mahal. And probably many stops to emporiums in between. I knew the game. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how it would try my patience.

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