Sometimes, in an effort to override the overly-paranoid-when-travelling Bratt gene, I end up going too far the other way and becoming very naïve. An example:
I travel from Delhi to Agra for the day to see the Taj Mahal, or the ‘Taj’ as you call it if you’re cool.
Immediately I am accosted at Agra station by a tuktuk driver who actually is offering ‘very good price’. So I get in. He does a sterling job of up-selling this small journey to a day long usage of his taxi services. I am suspicious of course, but I figure it will take the stress out of the day for me and it is quite cheap, so I go for it. So far, so good, all I’m doing is using a tuktuk to take me around the sights for the day – nothing wrong there, lots of people do that.
The driver does lots to try to convince me that he is one of the good guys – he shows me a book of glowing written reviews from his passengers, repeatedly tells me he’s all about ‘customer satisfaction’ over money and he gives me insider tips on how to avoid scams and touts at Agra’s attractions. This guy clearly has my best interests at heart. My suspicions dissipate. He’s a treasure.
After waiting for me outside the Taj, he dissuades me from going to the other big attraction in Agra – the Agra Fort – saying not to waste my money as I will see better forts elsewhere. Instead, he can take me to a view point where I can see the fort in all it’s glory without paying. Oh my god – whaddaguy giving me such helpful tips like this! I agree, I can’t really be bothered with the fort anyway and my new buddy clearly knows what’s best. The viewpoint, it transpires, is a vast, dirty and dusty car park and if I stand on a step at the back of the car park I can see a tiny bit of the wall of the Agra Fort. It’s the same wall I could have just seen by turning my head left as we drove along side it in the tuktuk. Oh well, perhaps we just have differing opinions on what a good view is, that doesn’t make him a master scammer after all.
He then asks if I’m hungry, which I am. He drives me to a restaurant, all the way cracking jokes and repeating the hilarious English classic ‘lovely jubbly’ and I’m just like ohhhhhh THIS guy! Upon arriving, I ask if he is going to eat too, and in a flash he’s joined me at the table. How charming this is! Me and my new Indian friend dining together, I’ll take a selfie to mark the occasion, and put it on Instagram so that everyone back home will see I’m having the true Indian immersive experience and making Indian friends! Then the bill comes. He looks at me with comical seriousness, puts his hands together and says ‘thank you for lunch’ whilst the server waits for me to reach for my wallet. Half joking, half incredulous (with a look not dissimilar to that of a 13 year old girl who’s just been dumped in the playground by her boyfriend of 2 weeks that she thought she was going to marry) I say ‘oh, I’m buying your lunch am I?’ to which he responds: ‘You invite me for lunch, I accept! You invite me!’ I’m way too new to this county, tired and British to put up a fight, so I pay, pretending I’m fine with it. I’m seething. (In the days to come I discover that the food in that restaurant was about x5 the price of what food usually costs in this area).
After getting back in the tuktuk, he whips out ye olde game of ‘let’s visit all the these important craft workshops that are actually all my friends’ shops who will sell you stuff and I’ll get a commission’ – it’s like he’s not even trying anymore, he’s already got me. It’s only at this point I come to understand that this is the real reason he stopped me going to Agra Fort. He’s out of ideas and time is going slowly – there’s still 2 1/2 hours until my train and I’m not interested in buying any gems/marble/saris/tunics/copper pots/beads. I let him sweat for a bit driving around Agra not knowing what to do with me before eventually telling him he can just take me to the train station – an opportunity he jumps at. I still pay him and say goodbye and he literally turns his back on me and doesn’t utter a response – the charm offensive has expired now he has his cash. I go into the station, find the upper class female only waiting room (which is currently hosting 3 sleeping women and 4 awake cockroaches) and sleep until my train. The end.
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