The train journey to Agra entered into its second day.
Most people were the same. People on the side berth changed a few times. That is the problem with RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation) Tickets in Indian railway. With an RAC ticket, you can enter the train but you don’t have a fixed seat until the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) in that train allots you a ticket. If you have more than two or three people booked under this ticket, there is a high chance that everyone will be sitting at random places.
The same thing happened with a family who were going to Ajmer for pilgrimage. They had five people with them, but only three could sit together. In fact that three was actually six. Father, mother, grand mother and three children.
These children indirectly brought a new perspective to me. An interesting one, probably sad one too. From Day#1, you must be familiar with a the kid who couldn’t do much things without his parent’s help. In the morning, the parents took him to do his morning routines and came back. As taking a shower wasn’t practical on an Indian train, they sprayed water on his hair and started combing his hair. And he looked smarter in his fresh looks.
At a similar time, on the other side, while the father of three children tried to comb his long beard, the eldest daughter came in and took over. This five year old started to comb his hair. There was a contrast, an irony. It was kind of sad to notice this contrast, but for everyone else, everything went normal.
Some times, these Indian train journeys give you the most interesting life lessons, in the weirdest ways. It was time for me to be thankful for whatever I had and not whine about things that were not working well! Maybe I am not rich enough to take a 1st AC train ride, but when I get priceless life lessons like this, why would I try to avoid discomforts of a sleeper class ride!
After saying byes and exchanging numbers I left all those people at Agra Cantt station. There I was, at the entrance of the City of Love. It was not my first time in Agra, so I knew what to expect. Most of the time the first impression that you get of a place is through the people who would try to get as much money from you as possible, especially when you are a tourist or even a traveller.
I wasn’t a tourist, I wasn’t a foreigner, I wasn’t anything exotic, but I had a huge backpack. So that obviously made me an easy target. In Agra you don’t even have to get out of the train station to find the people who are waiting to make some extra bucks from you. They were present inside the platform of the Agra railway station itself.
Even being an Indian, it was very difficult for me to identify them. They would spot you from somewhere in the corners of the station and walk towards you and begin with the usual question. . ” Sir, do you want a taxi”. And they know that often the answer would be a No, but they would still begin with it.
I don’t think if anyone wants to entertain someone who actually tries to sell them anything quite proactively. We all look at them with suspicion. Subconsciously we know that they want to extract money from us.
It is quite understandable that they also want to make a living and that is why they are doing all these things. But their past actions only, brought this negative feeling upon them. What if their only motive was to entertain the guest of their hometown and to give them more than what they get in return. If they would do it, probably they would get much more than they would get otherwise.
These people are very good at convincing. Even though you know, deep down in your mind that their offers are too good to be true, at some point you end up giving them a chance thinking what if it is really true! Or you can also try and find out their secret scheme by completely understanding that you are going to get scammed.
Finding The Hotel
I wanted to find a very cheap hotel very near to the railway station for the first night to get settle down a bit and plan the next days. I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to walk out of the station premises to figure it out. So I went to a spot to sit down by avoiding all the people who were offering me an amazingly cheap cab services.
Thanks to the free wifi services, that are available in some of the major stations in India, I checked the maps to find out the nearest cheap hotels. I figured out how to get there and then started walking with my heavy backpacks.
As soon as I stepped out of the main platform, a bunch of men started to come towards me. As I left the station quite late after the departure of my train, I was the only prey for them to jump upon. So they were all after me.
I was tempted by many offers. “Give me only 10 rupees. I will take you to a cheap hotel. Only 300 rupees for a nice double room!”. I was almost tempted to take that offer, but decided not to go for it and walked towards the hotel I had found on the map.
I believe that one should always do research on what they are going to do just after reaching the point of entrance of a new place, such as airports, train stations, bus stations etc. These are the points where there is a maximum chances of getting scammed because you don’t have the power of knowledge at this point, usually.
For example, this is what happened to me while I was in Nepal. I arrived in Nepal for the first time at Tribhuvan International airport at around 11 at night. The best way to get to my hotel at that time was to take an airport taxi. Not much scamming or cheating won’t happen that way. Taxi was readily available and the taxi driver came and greeted. Along with another guy came and took charge of the luggage trolley. The taxi driver said, that guy would help to keep the luggage in the car. I thought, ‘alright fine, let him do it’.
He did help. He didn’t runaway with the bag or anything. But he ‘helped’ to take the bag to the car which was parked hardly 10 meters away! At the end of the help, the driver said to give that guy some tips since he helped us with the luggage. I did give him money. It wasn’t a big scam or anything, but you get the point. You’re most vulnerable to all such schemes of scams at such points. Your ignorance will be exploited.
While writing this, I’ve got this idea of collecting all sorts of scams into one page. I have created this page so that you can share your ‘getting scammed’ experiences and help others to stay away from it.
Reaching the Hotel
After the short five minutes walk, refusing all the offers on the way, I had reached one of the cheapest hotels in that area. After a short bargaining which I am not very good at, I got the room for 400 rupees. It was a place where sleeping is the only priority and has nothing to do with hospitality. The paint on the walls were peeling off. It had a rusted bathroom door. All the bathroom fittings had heavy salt scaling on it. And the water did tasted salty!
One day before I reached here, a heavy storm has hit Agra. Trees fell on the electric lines and there was no electricity from that day onward. Mobile network was also almost non-existent. No power, no internet, I stayed in that mini dungeon . After taking a nap for an hour, I went back to the railway station to access internet and to figure out what to do next. Finally I decided just to walk around that area.
When I went to the same place again, without a big backpack, no one really bothered care about me. It was a bit saddening to know that I don’t look quite special without proper accessories! It is true for most people as they give unnecessary attention to the way people dress up or carry vanity items. Same goes with nice people too. No one gives much attention to them as long as they are nice and agreeable to whatever things you believe in. But the moment you tell them an unpleasant truth, they change all of a sudden and you become a bad guy! Only time will make them realize the truth.
Is Kindness a Weakness?
When I was walking, a cycle rickshaw stopped next to me. It was an old guy and he wanted to take me to a market just for 20 rupees. I knew that there would be some catch behind it, but I agreed to take a ride anyway. I thought I would refuse all other offers from him which he would offer me on the way and pay him more than 20 rupees since he was old and trying to make a living by doing a hard work.
Actually I have done a similar thing when I was in Agra for the first time too. I felt very bad for an old guy who was working so hard in the heat and I decided to take his cycle rickshaw. As we were on our way, I was thinking of giving him more than what we had already agreed upon. But then he took me to a place where they sell leather item and then to a place selling marble items and then to a place selling sweet peda and stuff which were completely opposite to what he had told me before. Then I decided not to give him anything extra. After working some time in the tourism industry, I knew how the commission system works. Thus I understood, somehow certain people in touristy places doesn’t really deserve your kindness. Or at least the tourism industry has spoiled them.
Will Kindness Fail Again?
I was a little bit apprehensive about this new guy too. But I decided to be stubborn to say no to everything else he had to offer. So we started out ride. He started to tell me his name, his story, about Agra and similar things. I actively listened to his stories. Then he started giving me some advice on what to do in Agra, how to do it by staying away from the tourist traps and all. It was also interesting and informational to listen.
Then he started telling me what all souvenirs to get for home, for mum and all that and from where I should buy them so that I wouldn’t get scammed. He also offered me to show those ‘authentic’ places. I politely refused, lying without any hesitation that I had already bought all those things during my first visit. He did try it a few more times and then understood that there was no point in pursuing me. Probably he understood that I was a ‘cheap’ traveller.
He stopped in front of a souvenir shop and I thought after all my stubbornness he took me to such a shop. But he soon explained to me that it was the government market he was referring to!
So I was in front of a proper touristic souvenir shop and he wanted me to check it out. I paid him the exact 20 rupees as we had initially agreed upon and said bye. Went inside the shop, saw some stuffs and came out while the shopkeeper was giving me hundred ideas on how I should send it home.
The Touristy Experience
I decided to walk back to my hotel and see things on my way. I met the same guy again on the way and he again offered me a ride back to my hotel. I refused it and started to walk. On the way I saw a real market which was quite busy even though they didn’t have proper lights due to the heavy storm that happened the day before.
These are the things that we travellers really want to see and others don’t really understand. They are deciding things for us, what to see, what to enjoy, where to go etc. Maybe they should rise above their touristy thinking and start to be creative. There are so many people out there to experience the real thing, the real life, the experience! All you have to do is to create some authentic experiences.
What was the authentic experience you had during your last trip? Do you have any tip to improve the tourism Industry in India?