High stakes scamming

Where?  Still in Agra at Bonfire Hostel

I woke up, glanced at my tablet, it’s 0730, not too bad a nights sleep.  Check emails, do some stuff, read, hang out for an hour and then check time on my phone, 0630.  WTF????   Crap, this is the right time, I hadn’t changed the time on my tablet. Suddenly I am feeling tired again.

I’m not the first person to observe that the best way to see a place is on foot.  Nor am I the first to notice that when on foot, there is a lot to be said for following your nose and seeing where you end up.

Come, my friend. Walk the back streets of Agra with me, I guarantee many laughs along the way.

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Akil from the hostel had recommended a restaurant last night. You would have enjoyed the malai kofta. While walking there I wasn’t sure if I had missed it, businesses can be pretty obscure.  I asked a guy selling apples “where is Priya Restaurant?”, he pauses for a moment and says “50 Rupees”.  I can’t help myself and burst out laughing and walk on, finding the place about 100m further on.  Thinking about how much money he likely makes selling apples from a cart (there’s heaps of competition) I decided to give the poor bugger R50 on the way back, unfortunately he had taken his apples and gone home. Karma?

This morning we will head in the same direction, not to find apple wallah, but because it is somewhere new.  Where there had been a handful of stalls last night, now the place was bustling.  Down a dusty lane where people seemed to be coming and going look what we find, a fabulous vegetable market.

You can never have too much coriander

You can never have too much coriander

Sellers need to do something good to be competitive here, most people sell one thing and whatever they are selling, there is likely 20 other people selling it too.

...or potatoes

…or potatoes

Let us stop for a moment and watch one woman buy about 5kg of potatoes –  it looked like she paid R60 ($1.20).  How people make a living is beyond my understanding.

Purchases are piled high on people’s heads, on bicycles and in the back of autos.  It is quite something to watch.

Wandering aimlessly I notice we are heading toward the Taj Mahal, it is only 1km from the hostel.  I spot what we would call a shopping centre, this is called Golden Bazar and we head for the main entrance, shops are interesting for their differences to home.

And this place is different.  It can best be described as an Indian version of Banksy’s dismaland.  Almost every shop is empty and boarded up, but remarkably one or two were operating…why?  And out the front, to complete the scene was this.

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dismal indeed

How are you enjoying our walk so far?  All this and we’ve only covered maybe 1km and had to wave off about 20 auto drivers who refuse to believe we want to walk.

Down to the East Gate Road and along to the entrance to the Taj Mahal. There has been some glimpses, but with all the smog it is hard to tell if that really is it (it is, of course). We’ve  walked about 4km now, how are you holding up?  Drink water, it is only R20 per litre. This has been a good scouting mission as we discovered we passed the ticket office 1km back without noticing.  Putting the ticket office conveniently next to the gate would be un-Indian.

Yes, I know the main road turns right, but the hotel, though a fair way off, is more or less straight ahead, so let’s follow this small road. What can possibly go wrong when you have Google maps on your phone?

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This is the real India, people going about their chores and business remarkably all within a stone’s throw of the Taj.  A smile and hello will almost always elicit a response and people asking “what country”  delight in hearing we are from “Australia – Ricky Ponting“.  Yes it worked last trip, why not use it again.

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Look at this, the map doesn’t lie, we have popped out right near the hotel.  Nice!

Here’s that pesky auto driver again, he won’t give up.  I enjoy the banter, he has a great smile, speaks excellent English and needs us to be the first customer of the day “for good luck”. 😀 His offer of R20 (40c) for an hour is embarrassingly cheap.  Raju is going to get his good luck and we get him take us to Sheroes, resisting his offer of stopping at a few shops on the way. He will wait.

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And if an auto driver says he will wait, he will wait.

90 minutes at Sheroes. We would have stayed longer but two groups of about 15 people each came in completely overwhelming the place.  When we leave, noting that Raju’s auto is still parked over the road I lead the way.  I duck left, weave behind a parked bus, scuttle along with a horse drawn cart, cross the road (so we are on the wrong side, traffic coming towards us).  Stupid me, driving into oncoming traffic is a basic use of the road and suddenly Raju is beside us again.

Lots of laughs as he recounts everything that happened in the restaurant and comes up with more excuses on why we should ride with him.  No, walking is good!

But then he come up with an idea, a high stakes scam, if you will. If you know me you’ll know this is my idea of fun.  He will take us for free, we will stop at a shop and go in and look around, appearing interested in the outrageously overpriced jewellery.  He will receive a whopping R20 commission for bringing tourists.

It seems to work, I will come back later with my wife to show her those beautiful rings.  To play the part we have to get back in the auto and he drops us 100m down the road.

Another km or so and we are back at the hostel, I guess we have walked about 6km.  What fun, did you enjoy that?

Of course there has to be a fitting end to our morning and there he is, Raju is parked outside the hostel.  “Did you get your R20?”. Thumbs up and a big smile.

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