“400 rupees sir”
“Are you kidding me? That’s way too much! 50 rupees maximum!”
“Sir I spent one whole day making this yesterday. It is the best quality, fine detail. If you have a girlfriend, she would love it! Your mother perhaps, sister? I will give you the best price because I like you sir, 300 rupees!”
“No way, I’m living in India for 5 months and I can get this for much cheaper somewhere else”
“200 rupees, final offer”
“I’ll give you 80 rupees for it, no more. I have to go now, my friend is waiting”
“No wait! 150 rupees, final offer or I will be losing money on this deal”
“OK, goodbye” – turns around to walk off
“Fine, 100 rupees!”
“Deal, 100 rupees”
“Thank you sir, how was the Taj Mahal…blah, blah, blah”[This discourse is shortened down from the real bartering which took over 10 minutes]
Even though I bought this item at 25% of the originally proposed price I still feel like I overpaid for it big time…oh well I’ll get better at estimating these prices slowly. To put things into perspective, 100 rupees is $2 CAD. This happens at least 5 times per day.
Last week my friend Dominic and I booked train tickets to visit the touristy “Golden Triangle”, consisting of Jaipur and Agra. We were put on waitlists and by the time Thursday came around we were number 1 and 2 on the list. Unfortunately our train was destined to leave at 5pm on Thursday and we were still not off the waitlist when the train left. We were soon told about another option: hiring a driver for the weekend. It seemed ridiculous to both of us at the time the person at the travel bureau suggested it to us – we could never afford to do something like that in Canada on our cheap student budgets! But it turned out that having our own driver for three whole days to take us to wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted, cost us less than buying two train tickets in Italy. Paid for the driver, Shyam, and soon as he suited up we were on our way! Our only concern was that we might have been falling into a big scam and even to this day we don’t know if we did or not…oh well, we will never know now.
For some reason I expected both Agra and Jaipur to be small towns because I had heard very little about them and they appeared small on maps compared to the other larger cities like Delhi. It turns out that Jaipur has a population of 3 million and Agra has a population of 1.5 million – that’s definitely more than Vancouver! The scale of these populations came at quite a surprise and I think it’ll be something I get used to as I continue my adventures here in India.
Jaipur had some pretty great forts and palaces on the hills around the city surrounded by Jungle which Mowgli could well have grown up in. They provided amazing views and we learned much about the Mughal empire and a history that I had heard very little about through my Western history classes. Surprisingly, the British part of Indian history that I’ve run across so far has been fairly close to what I’ve learned growing up. My favourite part of Jaipur was Jantar Mantar, the astronomical observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1730. This is the site of the world’s largest sun dial!
In Agra we woke up before our driver was even ready (5:15 am). We eventually navigated through the awakening streets of Agra and made it to a hotel not more than a 5 min walk from the South Gate. Climbing up 6 flights of stairs, we came to the rooftop terrace to eat breakfast. Why eat breakfast here at such a ridiculous hour you say? To see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal of course!
And it was beautiful!
After eating breakfast with a guy from Marseille, we continued on to explore the Taj Mahal in person. For some reason I had expected a grand buildup with big parklands around the Taj like you would expect in Canada. Here, it was all built up areas, shops and houses right up to the outside gate of the site of what many people call the “most beautiful building in the world”. Shocking, but it makes sense when you think about it. As we approached the South Gate, we were greeted by a 10-year old boy who spoke impeccable English. He helped us get oriented, found out about our home towns and welcomed us deeply to Agra and the Taj Mahal. He told us what scams to watch out for, how to get free bottled water with our tickets, which tour guide to pick and how to avoid the big line up for tickets. And at the end before he sent us off with our $1 CAD/hour personal, professional tour guide he made us promise to come visit his shop afterwards…which was to be expected. Still, what a salesperson! This is who I had the bargaining war with that I quoted at the start of this post.
As foreigners, we paid 30x the price of a normal Indian Taj Mahal ticket. It also meant that we got to skip the exorbitantly large line around the Taj though, so it was partially worth it. One of the most impressive parts of the Taj Mahal was that all the pure, white marble was carried hundreds of kilometres from different regions across India and arranged here by thousands of workers and 1000 elephants over 12 years’ time! In my mind it is definitely close to being the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen – perhaps matched by the Vatican.
On our way back to Delhi we stopped at a little town called Mathura – the birthplace of the Hindu Deity Krishna. We visited the most exquisite Hindu temples I have ever entered (total 3 so far), and it was very interesting to see the various practices occurring in this place of worship. From the Christian Churches, Buddhist Temples, Islam Mosques, and Shinto Temple I’ve visited, this is the most bizarre of them all. I think it has to do with the fact that Hinduism is not a strict religion like some of the others. Like Buddhism, it appears to be much more a way to live your life, a philosophy to live by. It seemed very unorganized with people going everywhere it seemingly no particular order. All very interesting and I hope to learn more in the coming months. As an added bonus, I decided to keep a cow count as we drove through. In the hour and a half that we were in this city, I observed 261 cows!!
A new week, some new observations about India:
1. There are lots of cows in India
2. India seems to be devoid of traffic laws but does have a very organic traffic flow that seems to just work
3. Indian people do not admit they don’t know directions to somewhere. They always point somewhere and appear confident about that direction even if they do not completely understand
4. Living in India for 5 months vs. being on vacation for 2 weeks drastically brings prices down on everything you wish to purchase
5. Staring is perfectly acceptable in India