Taj Mahal is what Agra is most famous for. Touts come second, beating Agra fort, Fatepur Sikri and anything else that would interest the tourist.
Like it happens to everyone, my encounter started as soon as I got down from the train. Even before I left the platform, people came rushing, offering rides in rickshaws and taxis. I refused, but one of them got stuck to me and refused to leave. Being wary of such people, I tried getting away from him, but there seemed to be no escape. I said I knew someone here and was expecting to be picked up by someone. He left me alone but stood next to me silently. While he was there, I made a couple of calls before I decided to look for transport. People kept coming to ask if I wanted a rickshaw. Some of them looked at my big backpack and asked if I was coming from abroad.
My man waiting for me asked again – “Koi aa rahaa hai? chalen?” Is any one coming to pick you up or can I take you?
I was getting a little impatient now and shouted at him – “Just leave me alone and stop bothering me”. He simply smiled and moved a little away from me. I felt bad about being rude. After making a few more calls, I finally decided to hire him. He turned out to be a good man. He gave me a ride to Taj Ganj for a reasonable price, and we had a good conversation about Agra, things to see, places to stay, etc. He even got me to a good hotel, sans the commission that they usually get from hotels. I apologised for being rude and tipped him generously. He graciously said – “koi baat naheen saab, hamara kaam heee aisee hai,” and moved on.
Not every experience was pleasant though. I walked around Taj Mahal and was frequently asked by Rickshaw-wallahs if I wanted a ride. And they would not let me go easily when I said no. The day being Friday, Taj was closed and people approached me offering roof top views of Taj for a small fee.
Sometime that afternoon, I took a rickshaw ride to Agra Fort. The driver said he would wait for me to take me back to Taj Ganj. I told him not to wait as I would take a long time. I was in the fort more than an hour, and was surprised to see him still around when I came out. With Taj closed, Fridays are bad for business in Agra and it showed. But this time, I was the one to be rebuked by him. He offered me a ride back to Taj Ganj, but wanted to me to visit a couple of marble shops on the way. I refused.
He said, “nothing to worry sir, you don’t need to buy anything. Just visit the shop”
I had no interest to go around all the shops and was firm about my disinterest. He said again, “I will get a good commission sir, you don’t even have to buy anything, what are you to loose anyway?”.
” I don’t need anything nor do I want to visit any shops”, I said, “just take me back to Taj Ganj”.
This time I was the one to witness some rudeness. He refused to serve me and asked me to get down from the rickshaw!
The next encounter was fun. I was walking to a restaurant just a hundred meters away when a rickshaw guy came from behind and asked me if I wanted a ride. I said no.
“Tell me sir, where do you want to go? I will take you there”
“Not very far, I will walk,” I shook my head and told him.
“come sir, just give me ten rupees,” he said, “not much!”
I smiled and shook my head again. But he was not to leave me.
“okay sir, only five rupees.” And then he even came down to two rupees. By this time I was enjoying the conversation and we were both laughing. I reiterated that my destination is hardly two minutes away. He than smiled said
“you are our guest in Agra and you are walking in the sun like this. How can I let you suffer? Please come, I will drop you for no charge!”
“No, not at all,” I said, “you see, I am already about to reach the place. I just have to cross the road and go a little ahead. But thank you for the offer.” He finally relented and moved on!
To be continued…