More India stories! Our first post got us through Jaipur, with this one picking up where that one left off, in Ranthambore.
Another Juice-On-The-Streets Story
Once again, I was walking down the street with a juice container. A teenager walked by, not malnourished but poor nonetheless, asked if he could have a sip. I took one last gulp, then gave him the container.
He seemed surprised, and genuinely appreciative. He said thank you, then continued on.
Lesson learned: Some less-fortunate people in India appreciate kindness, even if many don’t.
Sometimes They Are Assholes Just For The Hell Of It
India has a major problem with car horn honking. Drivers do it everywhere, all the time. Best Inna and I could gather, they do it for two reasons: to relieve frustration and to warn people that they are about to do something dangerous (run a red light, pass blindly, drive against traffic, cut off pedestrians, etc). And because traffic is horrible and drivers are always doing something dangerous, honking is constant in this country.
Even worse, bus drivers behave the same way. And their horns are blaring, like hearing-damage blaring. Being around them was awful and they constantly gave us headaches.
The bus-horn issue was particularly bad in Jaipur, but nothing was worse than what almost happened in Ranthambore. While returning from our tiger safari in open-top off-road jeep, we hit traffic, with a bus stuck directly behind us. The bus driver must’ve gotten frustrated, because he started honking.
The horn was deafening; it was literally a few feet behind us and the noise was rattling our brains. This had the potential to be the worst experience on our entire year of travel.
Thankfully, an older Canadian man was sitting next to me and he couldn’t take this at all (not that Inna and I could’ve, we would’ve lasted minutes at the most). As soon as the bus started honking, he threw a fit, yelling and throwing his hands in the air. One of our safari guides saw this and waved to the bus driver to stop.
The bus driver’s response? He laughed. Fucking cunt thought it was funny.
Doesn’t matter though, because the honking stopped.
Lesson learned: Some people in India are just awful.
A Nice Hotel Employee
Our hotel in Ranthambore was pretty nice, definitely the nicest we stayed at in India. Of its many positive aspects, one thing that stood out (especially after our experience in Jaipur) was the friendly staff. In particular, the staff member who took our meal orders, ran errands, and did other odds-and-ends, was great. He also couldn’t have been older than a teenager.
When we checked out we gave him a tip, ten percent of our food bill, the standard tipping rate in India. The tip was $2.
He was shocked when we gave him the money, and so happy. I actually gave him the tip while Inna waited with a tuk tuk driver, so he ran out and waved to her after saying thank you to me. He had the biggest smile on his face when he did it.
Lesson learned: The small tips we gave weren’t small to locals, and the money spent was worth it.
For Kids, Poverty Is A Game
Our train out of Ranthambore arrived three hours late, meaning we had to spend lots of time at the station. While waiting, two malnourished kids kept approaching us, begging for money. We ignored them but they persisted, using that sympathy-isn’t-working-so-let’s-try-annoying technique Inna and I had already experienced. They only left when the train station attendant literally chased them off with a stick.
The kids laughed as they ran away, the same way kids in the US laugh when playing tag or hide-and-seek.
And after a short bit, the kids would come back and the process would start all over again.
Lesson learned: In India, most poverty cases involving malnourishment aren’t due to misfortunate or unlucky breaks; it is simply their way of life.
Interesting sidenote: At one point, at the same station, a monkey came by, wanting to take the food we had. Like the kids, the station agent chased the monkey off with a stick, but unlike the kids, the monkey never came back.
The Ultimate Incompetence
Can’t discuss this one as the ramifications are ongoing.
Sleeping In A Sauna
Inna and I spent two nights in Agra, and for second night, we had to switch rooms in our hotel (the reason stems from the Ultimate Incompetence mentioned above). Unfortunately, we switched from an awesome room to a crappy one. Crappy because of one issue.
The AC in our new room barely worked; really, it didn’t work at all. As the evening went on, the room got hotter and hotter, until eventually it was like a sauna. The ceiling fan didn’t help and we didn’t want to open our window because it didn’t have a screen and would have let bugs in. So we went to the lobby and let the employees working there know our situation.
Turns out, the guest across from us (an Indian, so it wasn’t just us being high maintenance Americans) was complaining about the same issue. The staff looked into it, then tried to fix things by turning the circuit breaker off and on.
This didn’t work. When we went down again and told them this, they gave us a “what do you want, we already tried to fix it” look, then reluctantly said they’d try something else. They didn’t, or if they did it didn’t work.
Inna and I ended up putting on bug spray and sleeping with the window open, at least until things cooled down.
Lesson learned: Not only should you not expect Indian employees to be concerned about or solve problems, for many it is a waste of time to even ask.
Selfies At The Taj Mahal
Every once in a while, locals would ask us to take selfies with them. Unless we suspected ulterior motives, we always said yes. We also learned (based on our experiences in Yojakarta) to not just let them take selfies with us, but to take selfies with them as well.
At the Taj Mahal, three guys requested selfies with us. One was by himself, college aged is my guess, and he was super-cool. After taking selfies together he asked if we could be Facebook friends because he was interested in following our travels. I accepted his request, so hopefully he will read this (leave a note in the comments if you do)!
The other two were also college aged. We took selfies with them on our way out, but I stayed a little longer to take more pictures. Afterward, I went to find Inna, who said she’d be waiting in the shade. Except I couldn’t find her, and she didn’t see me looking for her either.
This went on for about five minutes, until I encountered the guys I took selfies with. They asked if I was looking for my wife, to which I said yes. They then pointed to where she was, not even close to where I was looking.
Lesson learned: Being social and friendly is always a good thing. Yeah, you might get taken advantage of a couple times, but you also get experiences like this.
Note: When we talk disparagingly about India and Indians, we are obviously not talking about these guys, or the post office guy in Jaipur, or our Indian friends, or most women or children (minus the impoverished-as-a-lifestyle ones), or most men over fifty. Really, it is almost entirely men aged 20-40 and the impoverished-as-a-lifestyle class who ruin India. Problem is, there are tons of them.
Everything Costs Something
It is a twelve-hour train ride from Agra to Varanasi, so we elected to take an overnight journey. Because of this, after check-out at our hotel we left our luggage in the lobby, then explored the town.
We picked up our luggage later that afternoon, after which, the clerk said “aren’t you gonna give us anything for that?” I actually wasn’t, since watching luggage on checkout day is part of their job. Not to mention the fact that this clerk mostly just sat around chatting with his friends all day. But none of this was worth the confrontation, so I gave him a buck.
Lesson learned: In India, no service is free. Everything costs something.
Note: Inna was not with me for this last story (she was buying food for our train ride). That will come into play later.
Another Scam Attempt
I was looking for a stepwell near some ghats along the river, when a local asked if I needed help. I immediately recognized him as a scammer but even so I played along. I told him I was looking for a stepwell, to which he responded that there weren’t any in the area. He then asked where I was from, another question that scammers like to use. I told him.
We chatted a little longer, when, in the middle of our conversation, another scammer approached, asking where I was from. This was surprising, as scammers never step on other scammers’ toes. But I didn’t care so I told him. Then the first scammer gave the second scammer a look, a what-are-you-doing-I’m-already-in-here look, after which the second scammer asked me another question. At this point, the first scammer gave the second one an even more aggressive look, one that finally caused the second scammer to move on.
So now it was just me and the first scammer again. We continue chatting, until he said “I don’t know what you’re looking for but there’s something I can show you. Follow me.”
“Nope,” I respond and walked the other direction.
I never did find that stepwell, although I did find another on the other side of town.
Lesson learned: Once you know scammers’ tricks, they are much easier to handle.
Despite the above story, I still fell for a scam in Varanasi. Like the others, this scam artist was a pro, but unlike the others, he used a different technique, one that I wasn’t ready for.
Varanasi is India’s death city. The city is a major religious destination, one of the holiest in the country. As such, many elderly people (particularly widows) come here to die.
In Hinduism, bodies are cremated after death, and because so many people die in Varanasi, the crematoriums are active 24/7. Two of these crematoriums, the most prestigious in the city, are open air and located along the Ganges. So, as I was walking along this river, I took a picture.
As soon and I did, an Indian confronted me. “What are you doing! This is a sacred event! You can’t take pictures! You’ve insulted the widow!”
Now, I took my picture from far away and this is India, so I know I’m most likely facing a scam. But what if I’m not? I probably didn’t but what if I really fucked up? It didn’t help that I was by myself (same as when I was scammed in Mumbai), making me more vulnerable to manipulation and also unable to talk or reason things out with anyone else.
I respond by offering to delete the pictures, to which the scammer said I couldn’t because of local superstitions. Instead I had to ask for forgiveness, and donate to an orphanage. Fuck.
I walk to the “orphanage” but on my way, I noticed this guy following me, so I turned to leave. Before I got far, the guy confronted me again. “You want to cause a scene? You need to get forgiveness. You need to make amends for what you did.”
At this point, I realized I could either tell this guy to fuck off or give him a couple bucks and leave. I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I chose the latter. And this is how scammers get you, they get in and then you can’t get them out without being an asshole, paying money, or causing a scene. The only defense to this is to not let them in in the first place.
So I went near the “orphanage”, where some lady was saying prayers for some Asian girl, probably a victim just like me.
After the Asian girl left and I sat down, then the lady said a few prayers, then she asked for money. I gave her 400 rupees ($6).
She was pissed! She said something in Hindi, to which the original scammer got aggressive again, saying that I didn’t play enough, that I had to donate 2500 rupees (~$40). To this I simply said “no” (I may have added an “are you crazy?” or “fuck you”) and walked off.
Lesson learned: Even when you think you’ve figured them out, they can still get you. Also, in India nothing is too sacred to use against tourists, not even religion, not even death.
Some People Like This Place
Near our hotel, Inna and I found an amazing Korean restaurant; it was clean, delicious, cheap, and was run by one of the nicest women (a Korean) we’ve ever met. The restaurant also catered to tourists, and so we chatted with a couple of them there.
One guy we met was from England. He loves India and visits often, usually for months to escape the crappy British winters. He came to Varanasi this trip because he was interested in the city’s unique approach to death (he wasn’t macabre; it was related to his work. I don’t remember what he did but it had something to do with hospitals or nursing homes or something like that.)
When Inna and I mentioned the things we didn’t like about India, he shrugged and said “that’s just how it is here.” That’s a common statement travelers who like India make, but Inna and I don’t get it. Yes, that’s how it is here, but that’s not how it is elsewhere, Southeast Asia for example. Bali even has Hinduism just as authentic as India; it is also much cleaner, nicer, and friendlier, and can be done for almost the same price, so why not go there?
Anyways, we continued chatting, and eventually our conversation turned to politics. This guy did not like Brexit nor did he like Trump (honestly, we haven’t met a single non-American on our trip that liked Trump. We heard there were some Trump supporters in Australia, but we never met any. Oh wait, there was one Indian who liked Trump, but he also believes that all Muslims are terrorists; he told me so himself). Then the conversation turned to Putin.
I don’t remember what brought it up, but I mentioned that several (something like ten as of our conversation) of Putin’s political rivals suffered inexplicable deaths, including two assassinations in the month before our conversation (it may have even been within the week of our conversation; at least one, the Kiev one, was definitely within the week).
The British guy was skeptical. The west hates Putin so much, he said, they’ll do anything to make him look bad. He wouldn’t be surprised it some western government was behind the killings, in an attempt to weaken Putin by making him look like a murderous dictator. I told him that was absurd for the simple fact that if it were true, whichever government was doing it was failing miserably. Putin was gaining power with every killing, not losing it.
He shrugged, and we changed the subject.
Lesson learned: Not a lesson, more of an insight. Travelers who enjoy India have a little bit of anarchist in them. Somewhere inside, India-lovers dislike society, and they enjoy the chaos that weak societies like India bring.
The Price Of Juice
While at the train station waiting for our train, I picked up a couple juice containers for Inna and myself. When I asked the price, the guy behind the counter (a 20-something guy) thought about it for a second, then said 150 rupees ($2). I paid and left.
The juice was really good. So good in fact that Inna and I wanted more. So I went back to the same store and bought the same juice, this time from an older (40-something) man. He charged me 100 rupees ($1.50).
Pretty sure that first guy pocketed that extra 50 rupees.
Lesson learned: None. You can’t let stuff like this get to you; it happens all the time in India.
Everything Costs Something, Again
Our Gorukphur hotel didn’t have a restaurant and there was nothing within walking distance, but the hotel did have connections with a restaurant that could deliver to their place. We took them up on it. And the food was delicious, as every meal in India was.
When it came time to pay, however, we found that we were being charged more than the prices quoted on the menu. The hotel explained that the extra charge was for plating and serving the food.
At this point, Inna lost her shit. We had finally had a good experience with our hotel in Varanasi and she was hoping to leave India on a good note, something she thought this hotel was now preventing. As a result, Inna got confrontational, raising her voice and refusing to pay the extra amount. Inna called me over (I was dealing with our luggage at the time) and explained the situation, but I wasn’t surprised because I already learned that “everything costs something” in Agra while paying for something that Inna was not with me for.
I could tell what was happening. After four weeks of being disrespected, taken advantage of, ripped off, manipulated, etc, Inna had snapped. She had had enough and she wasn’t going to let it happen again. She was also taking it out on this hotel.
However, in my opinion this wasn’t a case of it happening again. This was a case of cultural miscommunication. I told Inna to look at it like a delivery fee, sometimes people don’t mention things like that because they are so ingrained that it’s a given. Yes, they should have told us, but was it really a big deal? It was only three dollars and we were almost out of here.
Eventually Inna calmed down, I paid the bill, and we were off.
Unfortunately, this would not be the last thing we had to deal with in this country.
Lesson learned: In India, everything costs something.
One Last Swindle
We’re going to hold off on relaying this one as well. But we will include the lesson we learned from it, which is:
Lesson learned: Four weeks is too long to spend in India. If you are interested in visiting this country, get in and get out quick, two weeks max. Or spend most of your time in the south; things are better down there. Unfortunately, most of the great sites are in the north.
This brings us to the end of our India stories, at least the ones worth sharing. From here we’ll return to chronological order, which left us in Bangkok. Once we blog through Thailand and Cambodia, chronological order will reach India, where we’ll write our normal posts about our visit. Hope you enjoyed this little detour though!