In the next entry, I will tell you of my visit to Agra, and the Taj Mahal (The building, not the famous Blues musician). That entry also includes my proposal for thinning out the population very aggressive self appointed “tourist guides”
But first: Mark hones his negotiation skills!
Ah, the auto-rickshaw. I love them and hate them. In heavy traffic, they are a cheap three-wheeled, two-stroke green and yellow carnival ride. It is sort of like bumper cars at the fair, but the other cars are city buses and you are going 70kph. As with taxi drivers the world over, they are interested in taking advantage of the unwary tourist in any way possible. Over the weeks, I have gotten much better at setting a price before I get in, this time I chose to let the meter run (never a sure solution either). At the end of the trip, the meter said 20 rupees. Fair enough, I give him a 50 rupee note and he gives me 20r back telling me the fare is 30r. Grump. I point out the fare on the meter is 20r and he informs me the meter must be broken.
Yes, of course, I should have realized.
Be aware, at this point I am arguing over 15cents US. On the other hand, you don’t think in dollars and cents, you think in rupees. 10r is another taxi ride, 10r is almost a bottle of coke, 10r is a phone call. In short, that 10r is bloody well MINE. So there I held the 20r note he gave me and I was not sure what to do next, so I took the only reasonable course of action: I reached over and snatched my original 50r note out of his hands.
I have to say this was a new position for both of us. I had never made a 20r profit on a taxi ride in India, and he had never seen a passenger on the profit side of the equation. It was a negotiation scenario that he had never quite encountered. I told him to dish out 10r more, and he searched the inner parts of his soul and decided his code of professional ethics required him to respect the findings of the meter.
I WON! Well, for a little while
As I am coming back to my hotel in the main bazaar, I see something I have not seen yet. A huge bull elephant lumbering its way down the narrow road separating the shops. I took a picture, and the trainer sets the elephant down and pulls me aboard. Of course there is no mention of money: if you come to India, this is the first clue that what you are about to do is gonna cost you. I knew that, and I really didn’t care. I am sitting behind the trainer, on an elephant, in India, as it lumbers down the highly crowded main bazaar. It was hard to think of a price too high. Oh, didn’t I mention the trainer did not seem very concerned with non-paying people, i.e. pedestrians? We go a little ways and he turns to me and says “500 (about $12) for elephant, you pay now..” You kidding? HERE! So off we went, and then I realized that..well, he seemed to really like scaring the living daylights out of everyone not on the back of the elephant. He urged the elephant to go faster, and a few people yeped and got out of the way and then it happened. I tried not to, mostly, but I could not help it: I chuckled. As soon as he heard that he turned around, grinned at me and says “Ah, Good American: HUT HUT HUT HUT”. This was apparently the signal to kick the beast into 3rd gear and away we went. With every terrified shout from a pedestrian below, he just laughed and yelled “HUT HUT HUT” until the elephant, and frankly everyone in that part of the bazaar, were moving at a clip the far side of nimble. You have to love a country with lax liability laws.
All too soon we emerged from the bazaar and there was a major road leading from the train station to a major auto rotary. Think a major roadway of 3 or 4 lanes each side: its 5pm rush hour. He does not stop, he heads the elephant down the middle of the road INTO oncoming traffic. There we are: surrounded by dozens of little green and yellow auto-rickshaws, my personal nemesis. Then of course (as this is part of the extortion scheme), he turns and says “You want more, 200 rupees for elephant, you pay now”. Please understand my frame of mind: I had visions of this massive creature wading into the traffic, leaving twisted wreckage that looked like crumpled green and yellow beer cans in its wake along with a mob of screaming taxi drivers. I nearly ripped my pocket out getting the money into his hand.
“HUT HUT HUT” and more of that insane grin. The elephant plunges in and all hell breaks loose. I felt a little like a Moses stand-in as the sea of taxis parted before us, and the drivers were not looking very confident. This was not the happy, dancing Ganesh they have always read about. This was just a big gray beast with bloodshot eyes and a pair of laughing lunatics on top that appeared thoroughly uninterested in taking control of the situation. After terrorizing the population, we rode back to my hotel, and I got my next lesson in negotiation:
“You want off elephant? 100 rupees, you pay now” Mind you, after my win over the taxi driver earlier, I was full of confidence I could negotiate with the driver. The driver on the other hand had very high confidence that I could not negotiate with the elephant. I thought for a moment of the elephant simply grabbing me by the ankles and shaking me until anything he was interested in fell on the ground, including my teeth. So, 100r: done deal.
But I have to tell you: US$ 18.24 to spend 20 minutes terrorizing a city on the back of an elephant? That’s a bargain by anyone’s standards.