I am the Golden Fleece, if you didn’t get that. Because I got fleeced, get it? Never mind…
Next stop, I was told, was Agra Fort. That was nice. In front of Agra Fort, Pappu stopped the car and told me to take pictures, since it was a great view of the Taj Mahal from across the river bend. Pappu was considerate like that. Yeah.
So I got back into the car and watched as we passed Agra Fort. What? Apparently, we were going to have lunch first. But before that, a trip to the jewelry store. They gave me a free ice-cold Pepsi and hospitable service (this is called the rule of reciprocity, where one is compelled to to something for a person who did a nice thing for them, i.e. give donations or sleep with them), but I wasn’t really interested in buying anything, but there happened to be a particular gemstone called the Star of India that was extremely fascinating. It’s a polished black stone that captures light in such a way that it seems as if there is a star trapped inside it. I was mesmerized. I thought about buying my sister one, but I saw the price, and decided to get my mother a really nice pendant with a smaller one instead. It was probably overpriced, despite my half-hearted attempts at bargaining. Guess Pappu got his commission there. And then they tried to sell me some other Indian stuff upstairs. I believe this is called the foot-in-the-face technique. I was tempted to buy a sitar, but not really, so I didn’t buy anything else. Oh yes, and we also went to a marble shop before that because Agra’s supposedly famous for its marble products, but it really wasn’t that great. Oh well, I guess commissions are more important than the customer’s desire to go where he hired the person to take him to. That’s just great.
Next was lunch. I was planning on going somewhere I had actually searched out, but Pappu just dropped me off at a place near the jewelry emporium called Indiana. Nice. Oh well, it seemed like a nice enough place. I ordered a murgh biryani (rice with chicken, basically) and a cup of chai. My first cup of actual chai in India. My first cup of chai ever. Unless you count that god-awful chai latte concoction that I once tried once. I remember drinking it and thinking, “What the hell is wrong with Indians? Why can’t they leave tea alone?” As I sipped my chai, I realized that there was nothing wrong with Indians, but those trendy latte-sipping American hipsters who thought that mixing one part chai, one part water, and some foamed milk would make some sort of exotic café beverage. Kind of like an americano, right? A diluted espresso? You’re not supposed to do that with tea. Idiots.
As I sat there with my revelation about chai lattes and chai, my biryani. It was surpisingly delicious, so I decided to forgive Pappu for his lack of consulting in lunch recommendations. After I finished, I called the waiter to pay my check. When I put down exactly the cost of the meal, no more, no less, he seemed a little angry. Perhaps he thought that I wasn’t going to tip. Which was wrong, of course. I had all intentions of tipping, but I guess he expected me to put it with the bill. When I put the tip on the table after paying the bill, he broke into a smile and personally showed me the way out. Geez, I didn’t know tips could make such a difference. I mean, I didn’t even tip that much. I guess it’s the thought that counts.
So I went back to the car and finally, we were off to Agra Fort. And then we stopped three minutes later to visit a carpet shop. This was getting tedious. Oh well, the manager showed me how Persian carpets were made and let me see several different carpets of different shapes and sizes. It was pretty cool. He offered me the cheapest one, a tiny mat that could be used as a mouse pad. A Persian carpet mouse pad. Now that’s classy. Of course, I had no interest in buying carpets of any size or price. I still had a long way to go, and lugging a carpet around Mumbai didn’t exactly seem to be the greatest idea. The manager was perfectly fine with this, and even let me take pictures of the loom. Nice guy.
As I came out of the building, a woman with a child approached me and asked for some money, attempting to guilt-trip me with her tragically sad child. What she didn’t know was that I had seen the same thing far too many times in Italy and France with gypsies. Kinda looked the same too, using very similar gestures. Because my heart was as soft as the Taj Mahal was black, I refused to give her anything. Besides, other tourists probably gave such people hundreds of rupees out of the goodness of their hearts. Hahaha. Whatever. Now to Agra Fort.
I still hadn’t figured out how to get out of the deal I had made with Pappu for the next day and Jaipur after that. I mean, I was pretty sure he was fleecing me, so I had to break the deal somehow. In a polite manner, of course. I still had a favorable opinion of him, despite the many unrequested detours. He knew his stuff pretty well, and he could be trusted.
When we arrived at Agra Fort, a man asked me if I was Japanese, so I said I was Korean, which I am. I expected him to start trying to sell me something, so I quickly walked away. As I turned back to see if he was following me, I saw him get into the car with Pappu. I immediately became suspicious. Acquaintance? Fleecing accomplice? They were probably laughing about Pappu’s exploitation of a young lone traveler. He was just acting like he liked me, but really, he just liked my money. That was probably it.
With my suspicions, I set off to the entrance gate of Agra Fort. In front of the fort, I met a nice Korean man who was traveling with his son and daughter, both of whom seemed to be roughly my age. I tok my picture and they took mine. It was a relief to meet someone who spoke a familiar language that wasn’t broken English. Yup. I bought the ticket to get in, then went inside.
Agra Fort was large and very impressive. I mean, I wondered why most people only thought that the Taj Mahal was the only big thing in Agra. The fort seemed equally, if not more, impressive. It also had a fabulous view of the Taj Mahal from a gorgeous marble balcony. I asked an Indian couple to take my picture for me. Yes, I wasn’t paranoid enough to think that they were going to steal it. They were fellow tourists, for crying out loud, with a far better camera than mine. If they were locals, the story would’ve been different. And that rule applies everywhere. In the world.
Oh, and there were parakeets! Green parakeets! No, I don’t have ADD, I just felt like changing the topic. I had seen the parakeets earlier but couldn’t get pictures of them, since they were in trees and trees are green, so green parakeets are kind of hard to point out in green trees. But now that they were hanging out in white buildings I walked around trying to take pictures of them. I ran into the Korean family again, so I took their picture again with the Taj Mahal in the background, and they took mine again. They seemed really happy with the pictures I took of them. I’m awesome.
I took a ton of pictures and was abount to go out when I noticed something funny. A dog was walking along the wall of the fort, which is pretty far up. Pretty strange dogs they have here in India. Much different. I think they have a different concept of who they are, since they’re not man’s best friend here. That would be the cows. Gotta love the cows here.
So yeah, I came out of the fort and went to the parking lot, where several people were in the car, talking with Pappu. Okay, that was not cool. Not when he was supposedly on the job. And then as we pulled out of the parking lot, he asked me to pay the parking fee. What? I don’t think I was supposed to pay for such things, not with the money I paid him. Sneaky bastard, saving a couple rupees for himself like that. Whatever. Now I definitely wasn’t hiring him again, or his friend for that matter. It was just a matter of how to avoid him guilt-tripping me. That would ruin my mood.