I called the front desk early this morning and asked them to get me a cab to Delhi. I didn’t want to chance any strange things with the train and figured the taxi would get me there sooner and more comfortably. My flight to the USA leaves at 6:30am tomorrow, so I wanted to make sure I had ample time to get my things together (I could have two full sized suitcases on the way back at 23kg/50lbs each, for example, but currently had one), relax, and get in any last minute whatevers for this trip.
I was told a taxi would be there at 9:30 and would cost 3000Rs, which was 500-1000 less than I was seeing online, so that’s cool. About 9:45, I called the desk to find out why he wasn’t there, yet, to find he had been waiting. I went down, paid the remainder of my hotel bill, and had them write out proper receipts for everything, including the taxi. They added 250Rs in case of tolls, etc. and told me I should put down 2250Rs in advance, so I did. I almost gave them the whole balance, but I am glad that I did not. Only one person at this hotel speaks English well, and another well enough. The taxi driver? Not a lot of English. I gave them the hotel address for Delhi, and a landmark: near the New Delhi Railway Station.
We loaded up my stuff and started off through Mathura. A few blocks later, he stopped in front of another hotel and a man joined us. I recognized this as “me paying for someone else to get a free ride somewhere.” If I’m paying $50 to go a few hours distance, I really don’t feel like having a free loader on. I’m not sure if that makes me a dick, but, in my head, it does not. I began trying to ask the driver who this was and why he was here. Finally, he pointed and said “my friend.” I tried to explain why this was not ok, but ended up phoning the hotel, instead. At first, I got a woman. I had never seen a woman, so I thought maybe I was calling a cell phone (business cards often have multiple numbers going to homes, cells, and the actual business). She assured me repeatedly that she was fine to talk to and wouldn’t just turn me over to the guy who had booked the taxi. She didn’t understand, though, and kept telling me booking me a taxi was no problem… finally, I got flustered and she turned me over to one of the guys… the one that speaks English well enough. He also told me it was no problem to book a taxi, but I finally got my point across: I just left in a taxi and we picked up a non-paying passenger.
I handed the phone to the driver and they had a short conversation. The driver turned to me and pointed to the man next to him. “Problem?” he asked. “YES!” I said. They had a short conversation, and we dropped him off a few blocks away. I curled up in my seat using my lumpy suitcase as a pillow and sort of dozed as we went through the rest of the city. A short while later, we stopped at a gas station. I remembered someone once telling me if you hire a car and they ask you to pay the gas, you have to, but I know that’s not true. I paid all I was going to pay, so I continued to doze.
The door opened and the driver leaned in. “500Rs, madam,” he said to me. I declined and he politely argued for a moment, telling me he had to buy gas. I explained that I was told it was a flat 3000Rs and I had paid extra for tolls, knowing there wouldn’t be 250Rs worth of tolls on this two hour drive. He had a conversation with the pump attendant for a while, and I phoned the hotel, again. The man that spoke English well took my call and told me I absolutely would not pay more and should not pay for the gas. I gave the phone to the driver, they spoke for a few minutes, then he handed me the phone, again.
I sat in the back of the car while the driver had various conversations with various people, then returned. He got in and so did another man. He pointed to him and said “500Rs.” I asked if that guy was going to Delhi, and he said “yes, 500Rs.” I tried to explain that if halfway there, it only cost 500Rs, then it was ridiculous that I paid 3250Rs for the entire trip. He either didn’t understand or didn’t care, so I called the hotel again. Immediately, the man wanted to speak to the driver, and there was a lot of “ji ji ji,” which means “sir,” then we dropped this man off a few blocks away.
What the fuck, dude? I know it’s not $50 in the USA to drive two hours round trip, and I know with that money in hand, I wouldn’t need to pick up people to dissipate the cost. Just… stop.
It took over three hours to get to Delhi, when it should have taken two or less. When we were getting to an area that I sort of recognized, I began looking for the Delhi hotel’s phone number online to try and get us there directly. He kept stopping to ask people where the New Delhi Railway was, and I finally showed him the address. He then asked for the receipt. I think if the receipt had not had the address to the hotel on it, he would have dropped me off at the railway, since I hadn’t fallen for all the crazy stupid bullshit he tried to pull before. That was what his face said.
He kept stopping places to ask people where to go or asking people in traffic. I finally had the hotel on the line and he talked to the man for a few minutes, then handed me the phone. A few seconds later, the man called back and asked to speak to the driver so he could give him directions… This went on for an hour or so. It was infuriating. Much like the time I was in Delhi earlier this week, the driver didn’t believe the writing or my pronunciation and was butchering the name of the hotel, which made things more confusing than locals politely giving directions to a place they didn’t know.
I finally made it, though, and paid him the final 1000Rs. No tip for you, ass. I hadn’t eaten all day, so when I was shown to my awesome room, I immediately ordered food and wolfed it down while looking over the nearest markets. I needed a suitcase, first of all, and everything after that was just extra. I opted to go to a market that Lonely Planet claimed was about middle class and had lots of bobbles.
I took a rickshaw so I wouldn’t get lost. There were only a few hours of daylight left. The market was similar to others. Many of the same stall repeating down the road and few, if any, Westerners. There were several suitcase stalls, so I knew this wouldn’t be a big deal. The first one I stopped at, I pointed to the size I wanted and the man grabbed one that had a strip of fabric reading “POLO” all around the perimeter. I knew it wasn’t Polo, and so did he. He tried to convince me that 3000Rs was reasonable and wouldn’t budge when I offered 1000Rs. Both were ludicrous.
He told me the Polo one was imported and got down another suitcase, exactly the same in design, but with no Polo logo. The badges were the same, the zippers, interior, straps, handle, everything the same, but the color and the brand. He said that one was made locally. I was already exasperated. I bought a two-piece luggage set with proper 360 degree turning wheels and good stitching from Walmart for $40 before I left. I wouldn’t pay almost $60 for this crap. I kept telling him it wasn’t Polo and I knew it was the same, but by the time he was willing to negotiate, I was leaving.
A few stalls only had small bags, though they tried to rope me in, but I wouldn’t be convinced that a handbag was better than a full sized suitcase. I stopped at another stall and the man asked what I was looking for. I pointed to the size I wanted and he invited me in. Once I was in the stall, which was about 6x6x7′ with a hole leading into the next stall, he set two suitcases in front of me. The way things were arranged, I was then trapped in the stall, as one wall had stacks of bags, the other had the “door” with the salesman from the next stall standing in it trying to help this sale, and the man in front of me with the two suitcases. He wanted 3600Rs for a suitcase and I immediately declined, wanting to go to another place rather than argue the price.
He would not let me out, though. He would not move. I repeatedly declined and told him to let me out, but he was rambling about how amazing these really shoddy suitcases were, while the man in the hole to the next stall chimed in rapidly, blocking the doorway. Finally, I moved the guy from the hole by gently pressing him to the side and kicking my way through a pile of empty plastic bags. He started grabbing my arms and my clothes and they both kept demanding I stay. I turned and shouted at the one who had a hold on my arm, ripping it from his hand. “DO NOT TOUCH ME!” I shouted, really angry.
They continued to try and negotiate! Unbelievable!
A few doors down, I paused at another suitcase booth, but as soon as I heard the price, I started to walk away. They were shouting at me and following me and I was still so upset by being grabbed, that I just shouted “BAS!” A Sikh at a nearby booth laughed.
There was a strip of jewelry stores and I had tried a few in the other cities to try and find this type of jade mined in India for my friend. I went in one, where the man tried to convince me a completely different stone was just the same. I went in another to be told I was looking for a “beggar’s stone” and no jewelry shop worth their salt would have it. So, having walked half the market, I decided I would just get a suitcase and leave.
I stopped at the stand closest to the entrance. When he tried to give me the Polo bag spiel, I told him that I didn’t care about name brands and just wanted any case. Cheap. I pointed to a burgundy case that had two raised dolphins on it and the words “MY DOLPHIN.” There.
He grabbed a different case and started to demonstrate the exact same things his colleagues had, but I declined. I want the My Dolphin case. He got it down and started to open it, but quickly shut it. I later found this was because the lining had the repeating POLO pattern on it, and it’s hard to make the case that Polo manufactured this thing. I talked him down to 600Rs from 2500Rs and grabbed a rickshaw to the hotel.
Now, talking him down was easier than the others, obviously. When I had him at 1500, he kept saying his price was 900 and that he wouldn’t make one rupee profit if he went lower. Never believe this. He did not take a 400Rs hit, nor was the quality of the bag over the $11 or so I shelled out for it. It had three stationary wheels on the back and was quite cheaply made. It had dolphins on it and that is all I really cared about.
I tossed the bag on my bed and went downstairs. At the front desk, a young man from Afghanistan was having trouble plugging his laptop in. India has the same plugs as the Middle East and parts of Europe, except they have a pointless ground, as well. If you don’t have the ground, though, your plug will almost always fall out. I took him to my room and gave him one of my unused plug adapters. They cost something like $0.60 and I had only used one the entire trip, as I had brought a small surge protecting powerstrip. He was nice and kept saying he wanted to stay in touch and how he hoped I would go to Afghanistan one day. I kind of hope I don’t, but I don’t know a lot about the country.
A lot of people invite me to visit their country. This guy, the creepy tour guide, the Burmese nun (who also lives in Singapore part of the year), and so on. I told him I was leaving around 4am and he seemed put off, but offered to escort me through town if I had “trouble” in the city. Nothing I can’t handle, and I couldn’t tell if any part of this was a come-on, so I declined. It might sound a little paranoid to think all nice guys are hitting on me, but I have been told a woman traveling alone looks “strange,” and so many “helpful” guys on this trip were a little too helpful, so better safe than sorry.
The man that runs the hotel told me the other market was a two minute walk, to I made my way to it. It was more like five and was a long stretch of the same several shops, with a few odds and ends scattered throughout. Loads of Westerners were around, though, so I knew from the Lonely Planet description, I was there. It was supposed to have been the place for backpackers to go.
I wandered down the street, deciding to browse one side, then the other. A tall, thin man tried to hassle me into his shop and I repeatedly explained I was going up and down the sides. He said I should just take his card, so I followed him into the shop, and once in, he was just like “well, you’re already here, so shop!” No, dude. The guy at the counter understood. I took their card and went back out. A young man from a touring agency struck up conversation with me and I went for his card only to find he was trying to invite me to his country. He showed me pictures of somewhere quite beautiful, but when I repeated I was leaving at 4am, his boss dismissed us.
I went in a few shops. One of them was to try and find that jade, again. No one I had spoken to had known what I meant. They would say they did, then show me all the wrong stones. It’s called “bloodstone,” and is a green jade with red specks and marks through it. Everyone tried to show me red or black stones or shaped glass or whatever. Two shops in Varanasi, one in Agra, and several here.
This is awesome:
I finally found a shop with loads of beads and stones. The old man that ran the shop came in and I told him I was having no luck with bloodstone. He immediately rattled of the description. I was so excited! “I’m a gemologist,” he informed me. I had seen a few degrees on the walls of these jewelry and trinket shops claiming other people were, but I didn’t care. This dude knew what I wanted.
I wanted two small, same-shaped stones, but he had maybe 40 differently shaped stones, some carved into the vague shape of hearts, others meant to set into jewelry. The best ones were meant to be set in men’s rings, but were about 400Rs for one small stone, which was… shaped for a ring. The concept of “faceting” has escaped some jewelers here. Faceting is for fancy, clear, usually precious stones to show the beauty of the stone, right? You’ve seen the cuts. However, they will cut jades, jaspers, glass, agates, and other things that don’t need faceted like this… these jades (or jaspers, as he called them) were no exception. I liked the stones, just not the cuts.
I selected several different cuts and variations along with a large ball of the stone. I got them quite cheap, though, if the guy at the fancy store was right, it should be something like 10Rs for any stone, and I was paying about 80 per. Whatever. My friend had given me money in advance AND she’s awesome, so why not? They are quite lovely in their variations.
After this, I pretty much had all the things I had intended to buy in India: a suitcase and these stones. So, I went to various shops and bought trinkets and little things here and there. I found myself at the shop I had taken the card from and talked to the guy running it. He was quite nice. Probably my age, apparently a piercer, and just… nice. It was refreshing. We talked for a while, then he showed me some body jewelry. It was strange, though, because I have 00g plugs in my ears that you can see through, and he showed me the fake ones… the 18g ones that make it look like you have 00g… and the ones he thought were 00 were probably a 2. I have encountered this problem before in India…
I ended up just buying a small, cute nose pin and left out. I bought a small wooden statue at one stand. It was Krna, but had no flute in his hands. When I asked him for one, as many shops have ornate flutes separate for some reason, he left for a moment, and returned with a clipped off plastic toothpick. He produced a second one, shorter in length. I didn’t even care. I thought I had the two flutes with the baby Krsna, so I took it and left.
This is a shop made wholly of my nightmares:
As I was exiting the market, a man asked if I wanted to see coats. I had tried repeatedly to buy a coat, as it’s quite cold at times here, especially in my room, but never found one under $100. His were 600Rs or… $11. And they weren’t bad! The first one I tried on was really nice with lined sleeves and body with a detachable hood. It was this burnt… brown, though. The others weren’t the same quality, though, so I took it.
I got a bit lost on the way to my hotel. It was a bit after dusk and people were wandering. Or men, I should say. Just men. They had empty pints and were filling off of one, pissing on things, getting cabs, talking. It was a bit seedy, though, and I had been asked if I wanted to buy hash just a few blocks away (if you want to stop this crap, just shout “I DO NOT WANT HASH!” and they disappear quickly; it’s not legal in South Asia, no matter what they tell you). I backtracked and found my way to the hotel. I asked for a cab at 4am, ordered room service, and went up to upload photos and distribute my things across my bags.
Here is the strange, fake-Vegas neighborhood I’m in:
I ended up staying up way too late… 4am taxi… not a fan.
I uploaded this quite late, but this is the demon fruit I got on the street at Mathura with a piece of newspaper containing spices… I don’t have a clever photo finish. Sorry.
Oh, wait. More pictures from the Mathura train station— Krsna ruining a giant stork’s day:
and… about to club something with a red bull…