November 7, 2014

India Photo Diary: Agra

making marble embroidery from semi precious stones. These men are the descents of the craftsmen that built the Taj Mahal.
traffic is awful in Agra. Actually, traffic is awful everywhere in India because no one follows any traffic rules- it's common to see someone driving down the opposite lane.
{Places in these photos: Fatehpur Sikri, Khas Mahal, Agra Fort, Panch Mahal, Taj Mahal}

India, The Land of "Yes... But"

"Why can't I go out at night here?!" I complained to my guide, Qurban.
"Because you are a foreign beauty and Agra men are aggressive!"
"McDonalds is right across the street! I can see the golden arc from here!"
"Agra men are bad. They will try to touch you!"
"That's like everywhere! And I get my boobs pat down every time I go through security at the metro. I don't care anymore."
"Agra men are the worst! Minus me of course... I'm a gentleman. But others will try very hard to touch!"
"I'll make myself look as ugly as I can!"
"Sigh... If you really want to go let me come with you."

Qurban really did not want me to cross the street. Even though the street was lit and paved. I really needed McDonalds. After a week of eating non-stop spicy Indian food everyday, my stomach was ready to go on strike. Any more spicy paneer and my stomach would have popped out of my body and run away without looking back. But I felt bad because if I was to go, then he was to come and twiddled his thumbs rather than be with his family. So I decided to order room service and took an Imodium. Room service is cheap in India anyway, a goat masala with rice was only $7.

Yup. That was my night in Agra. Staying in my room and passing out while watching a Bollywood movie. I'd say our biggest accomplishment in Agra minus seeing the Taj was hauling back a crap load of Valentino shoes and a pair of Rudsak boots. That sounded so pretentious but honestly Valentino is ridiculously affordable in India as they are made here.

India, as I have described to friends, is a country full of "buts". Nothing is as simple as it seems. Or people here will agree with you and promise you everything until you pay them. And then you realize that the thing you pay for doesn't work.

Hotels are awful at this. I have never stayed in so many hotels in which they look great in pictures but once you get there it looks like a civil war occurred in the hotel. Our hotel in Delhi, Prince Polonia, was the absolutely worst hotel I have ever stayed in my entire life. They took our money, but the hotel taxi never showed up after I confirmed 3 times. The hotel itself was open... But all the roads leading to the hotel was closed. When I called the hotel they told me to "find another room for that night" leaving us scrambling at 1am in the morning.

When we finally checked in the next day none of the appliances worked and there were blood stains on the sheets. "I wonder if someone died here," I nonchalantly thought. Nothing in India surprise me anymore. I hopped on the bed and started reading my book. "HOW COULD YOU LIE ON TOP OF SOMEONE'S BLOOD SPLATTER?!" a voice came from the other end of the room.

I went, "Huh?".

After a day of cold shower and lack of WiFi I decided to complain to the front desk:

"You say you have WiFi here." I said.
"Yes, we do." The guy at the reception answered.
"But I cannot get on your WiFi."
"Oh, WiFi not working right now."
"When will it work?"
"Soon" the guy woddled his head.

Indians love to woddle their head as much as they love to not drive in a designated lane and honk at every other car.

"How soon? WiFi hadn't worked in 1.5 days!" I said, the guy woddled his head again.
"And there is no hot water" I continued to complain.
"You have to wait a few minutes for hot water."
"There was no hot water this morning and now it is 7pm and there is still no hot water!" I said. The guy woddled his head once more.
"And the TV won't turn on"
"We will send a guy to look."
"Soon?" I asked. The guy woddled his head. I was getting fed up with his woddling.
"Soon as in the next 5 minutes?"
"Ya," replied the guy, then woddled. It took the TV guy 20 minutes to show up.

Everything in India runs on "Yes... But" while leaving out the "but" until you've paid and discover the 'but' yourself. Our hotel has a pool but the pool looked like it was never cleaned. Our hotel has a restaurant but it is so dirty that I'd catch gonorrhea just by sitting there. Our hotel has a pool table but it was so gross that if I was to use it I'd have to chop off my arm after.

In Agra we pre-booked a Tonga ride (a mini horse carriage) to take to the Taj Mahal but when we got there the Tonga ride was "broken":

"HOW?!?" I asked our guide. He shook his head.
"How can ALL the Tonga ride be broken? Like, all of the horses died?!"

The guide couldn't answer. We ended up having to pay a tuk tuk driver additional and never saw our Tonga money.

I made an Indian "rule of a third". It goes: When you ask for three things in India, only one will get done. The AC unit is broken, the TV can't be turned on, there is no hot water. Well, you're only going to get one of those resolved. Or, you order a curry, with water, and white rice. You get your curry, but they have no white rice but some other more expensive rice, and they bring you juice. And something on the bill won't make sense, always. So I stopped having expectations in India. As long as I remained rape free, mugged free, disease free, and my stomach was happy, I was happy.

The worst was when we were at the Mumbai airport. We went for a drink at a fancy airport restaurant where you'd think they'd be more professional since they are charging western prices. The menu read:

Kingfisher 500 
Kingfisher Ultra 600 
Heinkien 700 
Corrs 700 
Budweiser 700 

"Can you explain the difference between Kingfisher and Kingfisher ultra?" Eric asked.
"Oh we don't have that."
"Neither Kingfisher or Kingfisher Ultra?"
"No" the server said, and woddled her head.
"Okay... So can I get a Corrs?"
"We also don't have that."
"So what beer do you have on this menu?!"
"We have them. But the prices are in draft. We only have can. So extra 300 rupees for all of them."
"So you are telling me that none of your prices match what your menu has printed on here?"
"Yes" and woddled her head again.

It's not like you can argue with them on their own pricing. I ordered a bottled water but they charged me additional 20 rupees because "the new menu says 80 rupees" in which they never mentioned about this new menu until the bill came. The "green salad" was the saddest green salad I have ever had. It consisted 8 pieces of chopped up onions, 8 slices of tomatoes and 8 slices of cucumber. There wasn't even any dressing.

"Ha! Those foreign suckers!" I pictured the server saying while waving the extra rupees in her hand and woddling her head to another server after we had left. Perhaps with bloodshot eyes and horns growing from her head too.

For the longest time I did not understand why how outsourcing can lead to lowering the quality until now. How hard is it just to deliver what you promise? Apparently it is impossible here. Sure, in Canada we pay twice, or three times more for services, but at least I know I can depend on them. When I pay my internet bill I know my internet will work all month. When I look at a restaurant menu I know what I am eating and how much I will be charged.

In India, if you were ask if your phone works in your room, you can't just ask "does the phone work?". I made that mistake. Instead, you have to ask: Will the phone ring if someone was to call me from the outside? Can I call someone from the outside? Do all buttons work?

Sure, prices for things are amazingly cheap in India after you haggle, but the service remains awful. On the other hand, the workers salary is next to nothing, and the police and the government are so corrupt, so can you blame them for not wanting self-improvement?

In my heart, I can understand where these people are coming from. You don't thrive to smell roses when you've only been around mud your whole life, and you definitely won't if you know you are staying in mud forever. As much as they are unethical to foreigners, I sympathize with them. I never realized what a luxury it is for things to "just work" after paying for it, but oh I definitely have a new appreciation for it now.