18th March, 2009
Well, that was relatively painless! Expensive, but not too bad as far as my happymeter goes. I’m in Agra at the moment and staying at the Kamal Hotel. I bagged the last room, and instead of being charged the regular 500-600 Rupees, I’m paying 900Rs. I must have a great big “M” tatooed on my forehead. For instance I was charged the First Class Air Conditioned rate of 241 Rupees for a general seating coach, which is actually more fun (as long as it's not too crowded) than the AC ones cause the windows are open and only have bars, and the doors are usually left open so you can sit by the door and watch the world go by without anything between you and the rest of the planet. Everyone else in my car paid 61 Rs. And that was charged by the Indian Railway which is government run. Anyway, a couple of young guys tried to get me a refund but between the ticket seller saying I was charged for 1st Class Air conditioning and the ticket inspector saying despite the charge, I had to sit in general seating, nothing happened. I keep telling myself it’s only two bucks, or four bucks, but I’m still getting nickel and dimed to death here.
Good news is, even though I was cornered by a taxi tour at the Agra Cantonment Station, I got charged only 60Rs. to get to myself which the young guy on the train said was what I should pay for the autorickshaw (tuktuk). So after I booked into the hotel, I went to the rooftop café here and caught the sun setting and my first sight of the Taj Mahal. Looks different than the pictures, but tomorrow I’m headed over there to take a bunch of pictures for you. I don’t think I’ll stay another night. All depends on the times for the bus to Jabalpur. If I can get a day bus, I’ll stay another night. If it’s a night bus, I won’t renew the room (actually switch from this room to a cheaper one). I ate a great butter chicken dinner with iced coffee, tea and then a coke, and had a great chat with Neti from Israel who’s travelling in India with her sister.
So now it’s dark and I’m writing and watching satellite TV. SO let me tell you about my trip to Delhi from Hyderbad. To do that, we’ll have to go back to:
15th March, 133 BC
16th March, 2009
I woke up at like 4:30 and got to the station about 5:45, and had a nice cup of chai, and found the train. A Japanese girl helped me figure out how to read the reservation list pasted to the side of the railway carriage (search for your age as it is the most widely variable, and recognizable distinguishing info on the list. Worked like magic. Turns out all the seats had been bumped up one from what is on the ticket, and wouldn’t you know it, the only guy who wouldn’t move was the guy sitting in seat no. 10 which was my assigned seat (next to the window). Oh well! I chatted with a guy across from me. He worked in Delhi as a chemical engineer for India Oil Company. We shared the compartment with a woman who was travelling with her nanny and two kids, and their seats were spread over three compartments so I told her I’d sleep in 27 and her daughter could move over to No. 10. The guy who didn’t move had left by the evening. The sleeper compartment was nicer than the one I travelled in down to Kerala, but we couldn’t travel with the doors open (shame), but it was nice to be travelling through the day. The trip from Hyderabad to Delhi is 1689 km and cost 1275 Rupees (23USD). About the equivalent of travelling from Winnipeg to Toronto. The railway food was great and I talked to a buncha people, all Indian. And the food was pretty good on the train. Drank a lot of chai.
Slept well. The bunks are pretty cool. Three layers, so each compartment can sleep 9. The middle ones fold a couple of times till they’re ready. And I found at this: it’s not just me or the language barrier; lots of \indian people have a hard time figuring out train numbers, platforms and seat numbers. And they get charged 5 rupees for tea sometimes. I’m not sure if I said that before.
17th March, 2009
So, I had a good sleep, got a couple of cups of tea in me and arrived at the Nizzamuddin station in Delhi about 8:45 and took a real cab for 250Rs. (I shoulda taken an autorickshaw) to the Foreign Residents Registration Office and got there just after they opened at 9. After waiting for about two hours, it turns out I should have been at the Home Office place over by the Taj Man Singh Hotel, the Swiss gut behind me said that’s where I should be, but that I should stay in line in case he was wrong, but he was right, so I took a tuktuk there for 100 Rs.
I got an application thing done and they told me to come back around 5. I need to find an ATM, so I went to the Khan Market which turns out to be a sort of trendy place with trendy restaurants. The meal cost me 850Rs. about the same as back home. It had wifi so I decided to go with it. Walked back to the Home Office and after some wrangling and waiting got a sealed envelope to take back to the Foreign Residents Registration Office the next day. I checked the Lonely Planet guide and saw in the Lonely Planet Guide that a hotel called One Link Road was half way between me and the bus depot where I could catch a bus here to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The first tuktuk driver wanted to charge me 250 rupees and take me way downtown to a good cheap hotel. He had no idea of where I really wanted to go and really didn’t seem to care till I took my bags out of his rickshaw. He couldn’t even make sense out of the map I showed him. He dropped the price, but I’d lost confidence in him, and had a feeling it would not be a happy trip with the guy, so I went with an old guy who charged me only 100 Rs. It was quite a way, and we chatted about taxi driving and he showed me the 100 Rs. parking ticket he’d got for stopping in a restricted place, so after he got me to One Link Road, I paid him the 100 Rs. for the fair fare and another 100 to pay his ticket ($2) Jeez talk about Mr. Cheapo turned Mr. Moneybags! The hotel was beautiful. 2500 Rupees! Though it’s the equivalent of staying for 5 nights anywhere else, it was just so darn nice! There was no lobby, just a really tasteful dining area, a beautiful salon off to one side and a kitchen. The rooms were actually bedrooms in a luxury flat. With WIFI! And hot water! I had a shower and even manicured my nails (all 20). Had a second hot shower, shaved, trimmed my nosehairs, put on my white lounging pajamas, got a tea tray, and watched Matrix Reloaded on TV, then Transformers. I was up til 3AM uploading pictures and writing and playing on Facebook and chatting with Lee on MSN briefly. I’d like a house like that one I think, though I guess if I owned it, it would be cluttered with all my stuff!
18th March, 2009
Got up at 7:30 and had a great omelette and fruit salad for breakfast (with a pot of tea!) and caught a tuktuk for 100 Rs. to the FFRO on Rama Krishna Puram. The driver got lost and I finally convinced him to ask for directions and I got the FFRO by 10. Here’s a tip for anyone going to the FFRO. It opens at 9:00 but the line doesn’t start moving til about 10. When I got there, there was no line. Well, I shouldn’t say that exactly. There’s one line for Afghanis that is always out the door and they have a whole section to deal with refugees from the war. The other line for everyone else didn’t exist when I got there, but the wait was still 2 hours.
I chatted with a really nice Japanese girl who was working in Delhi and is moving to London in June. Some employment agency guy actually used my number to add an extra batch of visa applications to his pile, and the man who was doing my application tried to make me go back and start all over, but after some considerable wrangling, I got him to work on the application. He rejected it cause I didn’t have a photocopy of my passport, but luckily I had got extras made the day before at the Home Office. Then he said I needed a photo PASTED to my application. I almost fainted! But I remembered I had a glue stick in my crayon case, and pasted one of the photos I’d had made in Sanaa to the application, and he grudgingly took it, and wrote some stuff about gettting aan extra entry and stamped the passport. Then off to another desk to get that guy to initial the application. He sent me back to the first guy (actually, the third, counting reception sign in and the front desk) to get a stamp, which the first guy insisted he had already given, then back again, then to the last guy, and I was done! It was only about 1PM.
And here's the thing that amazed me more then anything else during this process: It didn't cost ANYTHING! That's right! No charge. No extra fees. They just wrote in my passport, stamped it, and I was free to go!
So, passport fixed, I got a tuktuk to the Sarai Khale Khan Bus station, thinking I would take a local bus to Agra. Reading the Lonely Planet Guide (LPG)as we drove there, I found out the train goes quite regulary to Agra, which means my narrative has now gone full circle.
Apparently it is good form to get to the Taj Mahal by 6AM to watch the sunrise. We shall see!