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Finally the Taj

Agra, India

After the second night's rooftop dinner we went looking for an off-licence again, because the restaurant beer prices were really high and, although it's a novelty drinking beer out of a tea-pot, it's not all that nice as it all foams up. After an extensive search we finally found a place selling beer and I asked for a couple. In India, most retail products, in particular all alcohol, it marked with an MRP: Maximum Retail Price; occasionally, especially in supermarkets, things sell for less. The MRP for alcohol varies from state to state, and I knew from the label on the beer the young guys had bought for me the previous evening that I should be paying Rs60 for a “mild beer”. At the off-licence I saw it coming: he took the two bottles out of the fridge and quickly wrapped them in newspaper before I had a chance to look at them. Then he asked me for Rs180. I was becoming impatient with constantly being ripped-off, so I said “I don't think so”, unwrapped one of the bottles and pointed to where it said “MRP 60/-”. “Sixty rupees”, I said. I was sure, having been caught out, he would back down, but Indians do not seem to feel embarrassment or shame and he persisted: “Yes, that is the old price. The new price is 90”. Unbelievable! Here I think is where SE Asian and Indian culture differ substantially; in SE Asia they will happily over-charge in a bartering situation, where it is up to you to fight for a better price but I think a Thai, for example, would die of shame to be caught out in a bare-faced lie like that, whereas Indians lie constantly; they have no shame. I said “You are kidding! Forget it.” and to his surprise we walked off, followed by his voice saying “OK – 80 rupees”.

It really is very frustrating and wearing, and you constantly have to be on your guard. Every time you have any kind of financial interaction with an Indian, it's an opportunity to rip you off. Matthew had been absolutely right that first day in the Red Shield Guesthouse. The previous day, during our auto-rickshaw tour of Agra, I had run into another problem relating to the MRP. We stopped off at a kiosk to buy some water as it was very hot. I decided to buy a couple of soft drinks as well. With each item I asked the vendor how much it was; each time he told me a price higher than the MRP; each time I said no and, pointing to the MRP, said the correct price; each time he said OK and repeated the correct price. Then I stated the total, to which he said OK, so I handed over a Rs100 note. At this point a child came over to me and started harrassing me to buy some postcards, so I hurried back to the rickshaw. Only as we pulled off did I realise that the bugger at the kiosk had given me the change according to the prices he had originally said, rather than all the prices he had agreed to afterwards. Indians!

Maybe it's as well the off-licence tried to cheat us, because we were up bright and early for sunrise at the Taj the next morning. We actually got to the gate just as it opened at 6am. Again there was a huge price difference between what Indians and foreigners have to pay to get in: Rs25 vs R750. Not much you can do about these official price differentials, but it is annoying to think that an Indian (or a Cambodian for that matter) who can afford to get to Scotland can then go into any art gallery or museum absolutely free of charge; they can go and look at waterfalls for free; they can go on treks in the hills for free; and so on. I think the time has come to start charging exorbitant fees in Scotland specifically against the nationalities whose countries impose these yawning two-tier tariffs on us! To be fair, Indians aren't given with their ticket, a free bottle of water and shoe covers, which mean you don't have to remove your shoes and walk around on scorching marble barefoot. We were searched on the way in and I was told I would have to check in my camera tripod at the lockers before being allowed in. For some reason tripods are not allowed, just as they were not allowed in the Fort. The only reason we could come up with for this is that tripods take business away from the professional photographers. Joanne's search resulted in far more exclusions: her MP3 player, her book, and her head torch were all inadmissible. Apart from the apparent lack of logic in any of these, I had been allowed to take in all of these things although Joanne's book was Ben Elton's Gridlock, so maybe there was some sense to it after all. Or maybe it's just not becoming for a women to be reading, listening to music, and looking after herself in the dark; who knows?

Inside it was already starting to fill up and we tried to take our opportunity to snatch a couple of clear photos of the Taj Mahal and us in front of it. But pushy Indian photographers were getting in the way of almost every attempt and even had the gall to demand that we move out of their shot when we had been there first. Of course there is no such concept as “there first” in Indian culture; it is dog eat dog and fight your way to the front. Joanne had had enough and started refusing to get out of the way, or asking Indians to get out of her shot. This is, I believe, the correct way to react, except that she was also getting upset and annoyed by how rude it all seemed. To them, though, I don't think any of this is seen as rude, it's just what you have to do in a country where there are far too many people. Of course the Taj Mahal is lovely and Joanne was really enjoying seeing it, but her patience with Indians, which had been even shorter than mine all along, had run out. Lucky we were heading to Nepal! Only afterwards did I admit to Joanne that I had been a little bit disappointed when I first saw the it; it's a lot smaller than I had expected and there isn't much at all to the inside, but we were here for Joanne and she thought it was amazing.

After the Taj we had lunch in a little place nearby, where the owner told us we could have beer for Rs70 if we came back for dinner. And the off licence had tried to sell me it for Rs90! Unfortunately we had a train to catch and hurried away to catch it.

There is of course a huge danger of taking too many photos of the Taj Mahal, after all what else are you going to do once you are in there? I did, but I've spared the blog from most of them. If you want to see more you can click on an image then go through the photos.

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on May 26, 2009 from Agra, India
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
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