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Get Me Outta Here!

Having found out yesterday that our train tickets had not yet arrived, we decided to try and attain them ourselves.  We arrived at Agra Fort Railway Station at 8am (opening time) only to be informed that all trains to Varanasi are fully booked for the entire month.  This left us in a quandary with several choices available – we could return to Delhi and attempt rail transport to Varanasi from there, we could return to Delhi and purchase a plane ticket to Kathmandu or alternatively try and haggle a reasonable price for a taxi ride to Varanasi.

We concluded that the latter was the best option, mainly due to the fact that we really didn’t want to return to smelly Delhi if we could avoid it.  Added to the fact that a reasonable price would be (hopefully) little more expensive than the total cost of our train tickets, this seemed a viable alternative.  Having agreed between us that we ideally wanted to pay 2000-2500 Rupees (Rs, about £28-35) and no more than Rs 3000 (about £42), this proved more difficult than anticipated.

Having traipsed around several taxi ranks using tough bargaining tactics, we established that the best offer we received was Rs 3300 for a non air-conditioned car and 4000 Rs for air-conditioned.  The decision was made to cut our losses (the fact that we really wanted to leave Agra was heavily embroiled in this), so we returned to the initial firm and informed them that we would accept their offer of Rs 3300 non-AC.  We immediately returned to our guest house and came back with our baggage, only to be told that the non-AC car was not available, despite the fact that the very car that he had allocated for our use was still in the same position it was fifteen minutes earlier.  When I pointed this out I received the less than helpful reply “This car no good, no good.”  So I retorted with the seemingly pertinent point that it seemed to be fine earlier only to be informed “This car no good, no good.”  The Indians can be very selective with their understanding of English at times.

Getting increasingly irritated, we informed them that no available non-AC car was their fault, not ours, so therefore in the interests of fairness they should provide an AC car for the same price.  “No, AC 4000”, replied our Indian ‘friend’.  So we pointed out the same fact again, to be informed that we were indeed right, but he couldn’t arrange that deal without clearance from his boss, who was in his office.  So I firmly pronounced “Right!” and started marching towards his office, only to be called back by “No no no!  Boss is half hour away.  You wait half hour if you want to see boss.”

Our taxi man was now backed up by at least ten of his countrymen, surrounding myself and Gavin (my accompanying traveller), all shouting loudly and gesticulating wildly, to no apparent purpose other than to cause confusion and most probably intimidation to ourselves.  In the midst of all this came the incredible offer from another Indian “I give you AC, 5000!”  Excuse me if we don’t accept this phenomenal deal.  Given the fact that our frustration was a swelling pressure cooker at this point, we decided to give up, let them win and pay them Rs 4000 for an AC car.

Having loaded all our baggage into the car, we set off and immediately asked the driver to put on the air conditioning – having paid an extra Rs 700 for it, we might as well use it!  We received the reply “No no.  You pay for non AC.  You pay 4500 for AC.”  At this point Gavin and I exploded in a Hiroshima-esque mushroom cloud rage of fury!  We simultaneously made the decision to return to Delhi and board the next flight out of this irritating country.

Having arrived at Agra Cantonment Railway Station, we purchased two 2nd class AC sleeper tickets for the train to Delhi.  Once you have purchased your tickets (a feat in itself), actually locating the correct platform and boarding a train is a ridiculously overcomplicated affair.  No signs seem to exist informing the general public which trains go where, the platforms have no information regarding where the current train actually stops, yet everyone seems to have a sixth sense or has learnt through experience.  We found dialogue with the porters interesting – they all seem to be unhelpful, disinterested and speak little English (although the selective understanding theory may well apply).  Amazingly, the drinks vendors all seemed to know where each train was bound, but would only exchange information in return for a purchase from their stall.

A mixture of the aforementioned problems and frustration spilling over from earlier meant that we spent a total of three hours in the searing, sweaty, clammy afternoon heat on the platform, periodically accosted by beggars and missing two Delhi-bound trains in the process.

Just when we were on the brink of passing out, our train finally arrived, so we hastily boarded.  The train itself was surprisingly comfortable; there was space for us both to lie down and the five hour journey allowed us sufficient time to recuperate from our ordeal so far.  Once leaving New Delhi Station we boarded the first taxi we could find and made for the airport, wrongly believing that our troubles may soon be over.

Having already bemoaned Indian taxi drivers in previous diary entries, I now realise that all driving we experienced prior to this were positively sedate Sunday afternoon jaunts in comparison with this maniac.  I learnt early on in my subcontinental adventure that all Indian cars seem to have been specially fitted with a wire connecting the horn with both brake and accelerator, so his continual ‘beep beep beep’ was no surprise, albeit still irritating, as was driving with the main beam on in the heart of the city.  The main problem, however, was that he refused to stop at any intersection (particularly roundabouts) no matter what was approaching.  Consequently, on what should have been a relaxing twenty minute drive, we nearly encountered several smashes, were on the verge of mowing down a cyclist and drove into the back of a van at a roundabout.

Being polite and English, I fully expected the two drivers to stop and exchange insurance details.  Not so.  Insurance is probably unheard of here.  Instead, the driver in front disappeared into the distance, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we had dented his rear end and we headed on, guessing that our driver probably experiences this several times a week.

As I write this, it is currently 4.05am and we sit in the waiting lounge of Delhi International Airport (that incidentally we had to pay to get in!)  Gavin is asleep and we are both waiting for Indian/Nepal airlines offices to open at 8am so we can purchase a ticket for departure, hopefully this morning.  Despite the fact that we have spent all day waiting around for, and being frustrated by, various forms of transport (planes, trains and automobiles), I am actually in relatively good spirits.  This is based on the hope that we can escape the madness and confusion of India to the relative haven of Nepal, although recent trouble with Maoist rebels is a concern.

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