India Day 23 – Agra

India — By on January 6, 2008 7:57 am

Woke at 8:30am, and checked out.  I went to the bus station and got a bus to Agra at 12:30.  Met 2 German guys, and we humoured each other through the 7 hour journey.  When we arrived in Agra, it was dark.  I hate arriving in places at night.  The bus tried stopping at designated ‘rip-off’ points, pretending it was the ‘final stop’, as autorickshaw drivers shouted out ridiculous prices.  When we finally got out at the correct spot, autorickshaw drivers were charging 100Rs to the Taj Mahal.  I eventually bartered one down to 70Rs, and we set off.

We took a left and went up a dark street.  Suddenly, 20 to 30 men wielding sticks sprinted towards us down the road and surrounded the autorickshaw, shouting at the driver and hitting the rickshaw with iron bars and sticks.  They dragged out the driver, then turned the light on in the back with the intention of doing me some serious damage, before realising I was a foreigner.  “OK, OK, no problem”, they laughed.  I was surrounded, feeling terrified, though I tried to remain calm.  I got out of the autorickshaw , put my backpack on and my front bag, and walked quickly back down the road.  I learned later that there was an autorickshaw strike, and no autorickshaws were allowed to operate.  Those that did, and their passengers, would be dealt with severely by the mobs employed to intercept them.

The beaten autorickshaw driver drove back and picked me up again, but he ended up driving straight to a repair shop.  Not wanting to foot the bill for his battered autorickshaw, I hopped out and wandered the dark streets again, no idea where I was.  Eventually, I got talking to the same autorickshaw driver who had originally charged me 100 Rs, and whom I’d rejected.  This time, I gladly accepted his offer.  He took a secret route out of town, and we made it to the South Gate of the Taj Mahal complex, where a number of hotels and restaurants were.  I checked into the Kamal Hotel, just 400 Rs a night – but not before I’d bumped my head on the roof of the autorickshaw as I was climbing out, and it had run over my foot due to handbreak failure.

It had been a bad start to Agra.  I went to a rooftop restaurant and had a lovely thali and a bottle of Kingfisher, and felt better.  Then I went to bed, as I wanted to be up early to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise.

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