Somehow Adam, my travel companion, talked me into going to the Taj Mahal again (I have already been). Now he owes me BIG!!!
Adam and I decided to do the Taj Mahal the easy way and take a tour. We felt this would be less hassle than hopping trains and rickshaws and doing it ourselves. The bus was supposed to pick us up at 6:30 am. The guide showed up at the hotel at 6:00 and walked us at least a mile through dark alleys and trash lined streets to wait for the actual bus. After waiting in the freezing cold for an hour we boarded the bus packed full of Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi tourists. The mixed cultures was nice, the language barrier was not.
After five hours the bus came to a sudden halt and the guide in broken English said for me and Adam to get off the bus – just us. He said he had arranged a guide and that the rickshaw driver would take us to the sites. He explained this was all inclusive except the tip to the driver and that we would be dropped at the bus later in the evening.
We arrive to the Taj Mahal and the driver instructs us to return in an hour and a half so he can take us to the other sites. We wait 45 minutes in line and pay our $20 admission (50 cents for Indians) and do a mad dash in and out of the Taj Mahal so we can be timely for our driver. The Taj Mahal is amazing but even Adam later admitted it is something one can really only do once. We rush back to the rickshaw and he begins to tell us how he is going to take us to some shops. Oh, I know this game! After being in Delhi for three days and being nickeled and dimed every exchange we have, I have little tolerance for this guy who made us rush through the Taj Mahal so he can make commission on taking us to overpriced touristy emporiums! In India my politeness is out the door! I told him I knew this game and that we did not spend five hours on a bus today so we could be taken from shop to shop for his commission. We compromised to go to only two stores for ten minutes each and that we would not tip him. Lunch as well was a trip to a very overpriced restaurant. We retaliated and would not get out of the rickshaw until he took us to get some good ole’ dirty Indian street food. We won.
Back on the bus wishing we had taken a train on our own but pleased to be returning home. Ahh- maybe a few hours sleep on out bumpy ride. After a few hours the bus stops at Krishna’s birthplace. We are so over the whole experience so we skip the temple and have a chai. Back on the bus again. Ahh – to go home. Another hour and the bus stops at some temple in the middle of nowhere. Tired and irritated we follow the herd and do as we are instructed. Well, instructed in Hindi. We remove our shoes, walk through the cow dung on the streets and file into a temple. We purchase flowers for offerings that Adam immediately places around his neck like a lei. I grab his arm and tell him to quickly take it off before anyone sees as the flowers are only to be enjoyed by the gods and are not to be smelt or worn. We sit on the floor with the others and babble some words in Hindi and repeat after them and blah blah blah. The baba (holy man) then gives an elaborate presentation and rips open the veil to the amazingly heinous miniature temple. We try not to snicker. The baba writes in a notebook the names of all there for prayers for them and their family members (excpet us)! I ask the guide if we can leave. We are not allowed. We are itching to get the hell out of this situation. Then in PERFECT English the baba, the one who forgot to get our names to pray for us and our families, asks for donations. I reply we are not Hindi. He responds in perfect English about how it is okay to donate. I refuse. What is this!
Back on the bus. Another hour we stop again for dinner. We are supposed to be back in Delhi by 11:00pm, we arrive at 3:00am. We arrive dirty, frustrated, irritated, ready to get the hell out of Delhi, hating India, and now sick (Adam has Delhi belly and I have a respiratory infection).
We hated India …until now. We managed to survive another bus that left four hours late, once again standing on the polluted street inhaling fumes in the cold waiting for our bus.
Now we are in a little slice of heaven in Dharamsala where the Tibetan government is in exile and the Dali Lama resides. People are nice, streets are not overcrowded, we are not hassled, people smile etc. We are happy to be here.