Sunday, March 16, 2008

This Is India

Written in New Delhi, India

In one scene in the movie Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio's character says in response to an American journalist grilling him on the brutality and constant power struggles fueled by the contraband diamond trade, "T.I.A." The journalist clarified, "This is Africa." In those three letters, DiCaprio's character sums up hundreds, if not thousands, of years of iniquity, tribalism, poverty, and war. India lacks the violent tribal warfare and a brutal history of tyrants, dictators, and oppressors, but over the course of the past month, Lizzi and I have looked at each other more than a few times and said, "T.I.I." This Is India.

In Kerala, T.I.I. came to mean everything moves at its own pace. There's no rushing it or slowing it down. However, in the North, T.I.I. has taken on an entirely new meaning. This new meaning is like one of those words in the dictionary that has five or six possible definitions. Kind of like something in yiddish.

Our day started where we left off yesterday (the first time we were in Delhi). We'd hired a rickshaw around 4:00PM to take us to see Huyamen's Tomb. We got a little way down the road before the driver pulled over and said that we could see a few other tombs and monuments. They were all things we wanted to see, but it was late, and most sights here close at sunset. He assured us that we could see it all; they were all on the way. So we agreed on a price, and off we went. Of course, he took us to the sight furthest away (the one he suggested), almost an hour. We sprinted through ruins, snapping pictures, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We hopped back into the rickshaw and we headed to the next place (again, one that he wanted us to see). It was closed. So was the next one, and the next one. In fact, we didn't get to see the one place we wanted to. Then he took us to a "government" tourist office, so we could book a trip to Rajasthan (which we want to do). Of course, all day he'd been telling us that he would take us to the government tourism office, and we pressed him that we wanted the government tourism office. Nope, he took us to a private tour operator, who quoted us an astronomical price. We turned it down. We got back in the rickshaw, and by this time everything was closed. This is India.

Of course, we still needed to get around the next day to see what we hadn't seen. We negotiated the three sights we wanted to see for the same price as we had just paid. He picked us up at the appointed time. No issues there. We got to the mosque. We made it to the Red Fort. We made it to Huyamen's Tomb. We loved the Tomb and spent 2.5 hours there taking pictures and walking around the amazingly well-kept grounds. When we got back to our rickshaw, it was 4:30 and our rickshaw driver scolded us for taking so long to see something that he believed to look exactly like the Taj Mahal (incidentally, he's totally and completely wrong). We had him take us back to our hotel so we could catch a train to Agra, and when we gave him the agreed fee, plus a 100 rupee tip, he balked at us, asking for more money. "But it was the price we agreed upon!" we argued. But he clarified that he'd agreed to take us around for half of the day, and as it was 4:45, we should pay him more. In fact, he wanted to take us to seven different sites, all day, at our agreed-upon price. Knowing that we tend to take longer at the dorky historical sites than most, we told him we'd pay him the same price, but that we only wanted to see three things. Same price. We walked away. This is India.

A quick check at the hotel desk and the travel desk revealed that although both advertised that they would book train tickets for guests, neither was going to help us procure train tickets to Agra. So a trip to the train station was required. We checked out of our room, hauled our bags over to a sketchy luggage storage place, and I headed off to the train station to get train tickets while Lizzi stayed behind to do some Internet work. On the way to the train station, I was fighting off touts left and right, rivaling Luke Skywalker in my skillz. At the entrance to the train station, the rickshaw drivers saw me before I could steady my light saber, and they immediately tried to direct me to a special stand for foreigners. They pointed to a giant blue sign that said "GOVT INDIA" in a building across the street with blacked-out windows. But the sign on the train station clearly read, "International Travelers, Please Book Here" so I ignored the rickshaw drivers and walked in. Or, tried to walk in. Before I could, a man grabbed me by the arm and asked me if I had a ticket. When I explained that I needed to book a ticket (duh, I'm at the train station), he told me that the sign was ineffective, as of 2007. He led me to a booking queue, grabbed a reservation form, told me to fill it out and take it across the street to GOVT INDIA. I thanked him, turned around, and went back to my initial destination. Or, tried to. Touttwo comes up and does the exact same thing. Different guy, same story. But instead of letting me walk back, he physically led me over to GOVT INDIA. So I walk up the stairs, remembering what the guy in the private tour office had told me about being up front about being a private office, and am immediately aware that I am not where I want to be. Nevertheless, I sit down in the chair and express my unending wish to get to Agra. My not-so-helpful new friend kindly informs me that the trains are full. Before he can sell me a $260 cab ride to Agra, I walk out. I walk back to our hotel, find Lizzi at the Internet cafe, explain the situation and tell her that we'll be staying in Delhi for another night, taking a $100 cab ride to Agra the next day, booked through our hotel's tour desk, who was now only too happy to help us. This. This is India, too.

It took four hours to get to Agra instead of the one-hour trip we were assured. T.I.I. But we checked into our hotel, grabbed our cameras, and made our way to the Taj Mahal, determined not to let the stress of the previous three days stop us from getting to our destination. The touts tried to make us pay them to get to the front of the line, but we held strong. T.I.I. We stood in interminably long lines (T.I.I.), said nothing when people cut in front of us (T.I.I) and walked through the turned-off metal detectors (T.I.I.). Once inside, we took a deep breath, walked through the south gate and got our very first glimpse of the Taj. There, in all of its glory, we looked at each other and thought the exact same thing: T.I.I.

taj mahal

We're at the Taj Mahal!

taj mahal after dark


Cris said...

Amazing!!! What does it look like inside?

Katy. said...

These pictures are fantastic.. not that you two aren't totally cute, but the time lapse one is really awesome. :)

mbbutler said...

I like your earrings, Lizzi.