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Saturday, March 3, 2012

RANT AGAINST LONELY PLANET

THE TUK TUK

For those not familiar with tuk tuks and the customs regarding them, I have to fill in a few details.

The tuk tuk is the unholy cross between a motorcycle and a golf cart. There are two seats - on up front, one in back. The driver sits on the front seat. Both seats are wide enough to seat two if they sit close together or are not obese.

When driving around, some natives use the tuk tuks as 'fixed route taxis' and board them quickly as needed.

I had just completed lunch and decided to get a tuk tuk back to my hotel. The driver didn't speak any English but I always carry around the business card of where I am staying because I'd like to see my bags again. So, I showed the business card to the driver, he eventually agreed to my price and off we went.

Along the way, one of the natives decided he'd like to ride and said something in Hindi to the driver while grabbing the bar to swing himself onto the front seat. The driver ignored him.

For some reason, the guy didn't let go. He held on, fell and go run over by the tuk tuk.

To add to his pain of being run over, the fat American (me) was sitting on the side he tried to board.

It was like a speed bump.

Because my neck doesn't move, I wasn't able to look back and see what happened to the victim. Did he then get run over by other vehicles on the crazy roads?

The driver drove on like nothing happened.

Personally, I wasn't eager to go back. Any time a foreigner is involved with an accident, it is always the foreigner's fault. Yes, sitting in the back with no access to the controls would still count as 'involved'. You were there. Had you not been there, there may have been no accident. So the thinking goes.

When I was paying the driver at the hotel, I said "Try not to run over any more people today."

The look in his eyes told me he wouldn't mind running over a few more people today. No, I didn't tip him for runnning over someone though I must confess that the sadistic part of my soul wanted to.

The follow up. I decided to go tell the manager of the palace hotel I was staying at about it. His reaction was of a man waiting for a punchline to a joke. "And...?"

Like Cairo, it seems that life is cheap in India. They have many spares...



BIKANER NOTES

In Bikaner, I realized I am officially 'forted out'. The exteriors of forts are still 'pretty cool' but the interiors have all started to look the same. Whilst I was at Bikaner's fort, I saw a bunch of tourists shuffling around having been deposited off from a tour bus. The tourists were doing their best to try to keep the 'isn't this fun and magical' look on their faces but 'bored and hot' was coming through clearly. Aside from the plus accomodations at the palace or to use the transportation hub here, there really is no reason to go to Bikaner.

I did some checking with the hotel I was in as well as (independently) the train station. It seems that if you book a ticket through the hotel, you incur a 50% mark up. In this case that would have been a buck but it is still worth noting for those on a 'shoestring' budget.

After Jaipur, I will have seen all of the major (tourist) cities in the state of Rajasthan. My overall impressions of Rajasthan are 'dusty, trashy, loads of forts and touts. Unless I need to pass through it going somewhere else I don't plan on returning but seeing it was certainly an adventure.

On to Jaipur.



HOTEL SAGAR

Despite the premium prices they charge, they still want 50 RS for an unlimited day of internet use. In a place with prices like these, that kind of penny ante BS is hard to believe. I'd just 'stay classy' and if a guest asked for the password, here you go - of course the internet is free. We are a ritzy establishment! As opposed to the "gimme a dollar" crap. Some people just don't get image.

The hotel Sagar also has a large courtyard for elegant dining. It is kind of cool to see the moon shining down on you when you're eating. The biggest disadvantage for Logan is that for two hours every night, musicians sat about two meters from my door and played traditional Indian music. For a normal and less crusty tourist, this would probably be an enjoyable thing.



JAIPUR

I really hate the overly happy Lonely Planet India guide book. I had read up on Jaipur before coming. I don't recall the word 'dump' being in the description - anywhere. But it is. They also have super aggressive touts that make the rest of India's look mellow.

I'm going to try to visit the better parts of this city tomorrow because I think I've seen the worst. As a side note, the 'pink city' isn't - it's more of a terracotta color. Lame.

They also have meters in their tuk tuks but don't believe them. Those are for the locals. They have a piece of paper they keep in their pocket that has a 'government translation chart' - in other words, more lies. That's not the way a meter works folks. Hence, I'm sticking with the 'haggle for the price before I get into the tuk tuk' - but I did want to try one out to see what the deal with the meter was.

As a side note, when I was arguing with the tuk tuk driver about the bill, a young guy came up and said "How can you call this man a liar? He is a human!" Well, I retorted, before the shop keeper pointed out the fare according to his sheet was 40 RS, the guy was saying it was 80 RS (the meter showed 7 rupees and 8 piasters - so I call him a liar because he lies. Then, remembering my training, I walked away without another word. (Yes, the despicable driver got paid).



THE FORT AT JAIPUR (AMBER)

Or is it a palace? Who knows. Anyway, it is outside of town a couple kilometers. My advice would be if you are in the area, avoid the town, go see just the fort. Find somewhere else to stay. Avoid the town. The fort is nice. They even have soft serve ice cream there for just 20 RS! Vanilla only but hey - we are roughing it...

Should you disregard this advice, there is a #5 bus you can take for 12 RS from the town to the fort. It's a half hour plus uncomfortable ride but it is cheap. Or you can pay 200 RS for an uncomfortable tuk tuk driven by a madman.



HOTEL SATKAR

While I was in Jaipur, I stayed there. The room was 'livable'. The amount of water that came out of the shower head wasn't actually enough to get me wet much less rinse so it became bucket showers. Because they were out of decent rooms when I arrived, they put me into a shoe box. It wasn't quite 'grease up and we'll squeeze you in there' but it was not far from it.

I think the best thing about the Satkar was the father and son who ran the place. They very much wanted to please me but just didn't have a different room I could move to the next day. Also, I went past the 'check out' time by a few hours but they weren't at all concerned about that and didn't charge me a thing extra. Their food is also pretty reasonably priced. If I am sent to Hell for my sins - and if that hell is Jaipur - I will probably end up staying at Hotel Satkar again.



THOUGHTS ON RAJISTAN

I don't know. I think I'm getting sick of the state of Rajistan (in Northern India). I think I'd better get out fast. If it wasn't for that 'throw powder at each other' stuff (AKA 'Holi'), I'd probably travel sooner rather than delay for a couple days. I am not sure if it's Nepal time or just mess around in other parts of northern India. In a couple days, I'll flee back to the state of Uttar Pradesh.



LEAVING JAIPUR

The day before, I had checked with the ticket window and asked if there was a train going to Agra. Yes, the man informed me, 5 PM. I did as usual and held up 5 fingers and said "Five?" Patient nods at the idiot tourist. OK.

The next day, I go back and attempt to purchase a ticket. The lady tells me the train left at 3 PM. Not five? No. It always leaves at three she informs me. Next!

Later, I told this story to another tourist and she asked how that could happen. "Gross incompetence?" was my only answer. All of those computers too.

The incident at the train station was just another in the irritating Jaipur. I resolved to escape at any cost. Hence, I went for the bus. The 'deluxe' bus tickets were twice as much as the train but I no longer cared. Getting out of that city was my only goal. I realize that a five PM bus that arrives in six (it was 7 or more) hours does violate my rule about arriving after dark, but I really wanted to get out of Jaipur.

As I was waiting at the bus station, I was chatting with a girl from Melbourne. I asked what she thought of Jaipur. To give an exact quote, "I fucking hate this city." I gave her a fist bump for that. I was worried that it was just me. She informed me that she'd been there several times and hated it every single time. It is a transport hub, so she was stuck going through it.



LUXURY BUS TO AGRA

Any time that I am a passenger in one of the malfunctioning rusted out shit box rock seated vehicles (this IS the luxury one I am speaking of - the normal ones are much worse) I always wish I had a roll of duct tape (yeah Bert) and some foam padding the size of my ass.

Before the bus started to roll, it was an oven. After it started to roll, the air eventually got a bit cold where it leaked in through the windows that wouldn't completely shut. Don't get me wrong - there are few countries I can travel in for about $1 USD per hour of travel on a highway but those two things would help with a little more comfort. Especially the ass pad.

When I got to Agra, I knew that I wouldn't be in a great position to negotiate the price of a tuk tuk much. It was getting toward the witching hour and India pretty much closes for business at 9-10PM. So, I took what I could get. One thing I did do was open the bidding. I said "Who can drive me there for 50 RS?" The guy claimed that it was 8 KM to where I needed to go (Taj). Apparently, he correctly read the look on my face as "I totally don't believe you" but he did show me a road sign that verified his story. Rather than him opening at 200 RS or some other "Hi, stupid white guy" price he had to go with a lower price since I know a local would indeed have paid 50 RS - or less. He went for 100 RS so I countered with "Fine, but if I don't like the first place you must take me to a second place I will tell you the name of." He agreed and off we went.

The tourist area is pretty much arranged around the Taj. When I say that I mean that the vast majority is due south of it. There was one place I wanted to try out near the east gate. This isn't a huge deal as the gates are only a couple hundred meters apart. Remember, the Taj Mahal isn't really all that big. Despite what Lonely Planet says.

I had written down two places from the gods cursed Lonely Planet book. (Since I spent money on it, I get to bitch about it and feel better.) The first was "Hotel Sheela". The guide described it as a good budget option from 350-550 RS. Apparently, the success of being put into LP has made them jack the prices up to a minimum of 800 RS. No wifi. Next we went and tried Saniya Palace Hotel. This one sucked, no wifi and was also priced up from what LP said. Meh.

Both of these places tried to convince me that nobody in Agra had wifi in the rooms. Normal Indian lying. I knew it and I suspect they knew I knew it.

So, I was taken over to "Taj Guest House" and given a horrible room. It was 350 RS and noisy - next to the check in desk. They promised to move me to a better room tomorrow. They thought they'd be getting 500-600 RS per night but surprise - they are getting 400 RS per night. I know how to bargain. This room is marginally better and a little bigger than the crappy room. We'll see how it sleeps tonight. It has a fan that has two speeds (off and fucking on) mounted to the ceiling.

While checking in, I met up with a group of Lithuanians (two guys and two girls, not couples) who ended up to be interesting and fun. We went and enjoyed a couple overpriced (150 RS) beers together and de-stressed from our day of travels. They have a lot more stress than I do as they're trying to pack all of India into two weeks.

This may represent the high point for me in Agra. We'll see. It was a very good time.

I'm not sure how long I will be in Agra. The temperature isn't currently too bad. I'm in a decent place although I have to ask them to turn on the water boiler since they don't just leave it on. There are masses of places to eat very cheaply (20 RS basic breakfast) as well as non-Indian food (and meat) if I want it. I have found where to buy alcohol although it is a bit more expensive in this town.

And I'm trapped by Holi - for at least a day.

So, we'll see what happens.



INDIA STRANGENESS
[Disclaimer: If 'strangeness' offends, you take yourself way too seriously. I personally believe many American customs are strange, weird and even dangerous.]

In America, if you have a partially destroyed bill (or over half of a massively destroyed bill) you can take it to any bank and get a replacement. In India this is not the case. Once a bill is ripped (even a little) then you need to off load it on to someone as soon as possible. It could become worth nothing. I'm thinking "What kind of country can't afford to print MONEY?" Really?


The thing I hate most about "Hello!" in India is that it's a 50/50 thing. Half the time it is someone being friendly ("Look! I'm speaking with foreigners!") and the other half it is some guy who wants to get you into a conversation to sell you something (short con). It sucks that it is 50/50. If it was mostly a real greeting, you could be the friendly guest in the country. If it was almost all short cons you could cheerfully respond with a loud 'Fuck off!' But it's not. The way I have started responding is nodding and smiling. You are then covered. If it is the friendly type, they go on happy with their work. If it is the pushy salesman you can just ignore anything else out of their mouth. A note on the salesmen: if you stop and talk to them, you are not only encouraging them but wasting your time. It always amazes me when I see people doing this because they 'don't want to be rude'.


Aside from around the Taj Mahal, there isn't a lot of 'police presence' in India. Most of the police are also either unarmed or with ancient bolt action rifles. To Americans, that puts them at about the level of security guards.


In India, there are a lot of products that cost double or more what they do elsewhere in the world. High end electronics, phones and such. This is because the elite Indians won't buy things unless they are outrageously expensive in order to have a 'conspicuous consumption of wealth'. I regard this as very silly indeed (buy more stuff or save your money) but it matters to that crowd. Apparently, the crowd is large enough to have boosted the margins for these things. This gives some of the merchants incredible mark ups.


Beggars are allowed to work the trains. As in, they come on to the trains to solicit money.


I've been told Indians who want a seat must often reserve two months or more in advance for trains. Fortunately, foreign tourists seem exempt from this strange rule. The conductor will charge you extra money for sitting unless you are near the engine compartment where all of the really poor people go. I suspect this is yet another hold over from the old days when the dirtiest (coal burning) and noisiest car was the engine and the cars next to it were the least desirable. Rich folks to the rear! The cost of the seat is only 15 RS. I did try to get out of paying it simply because I was curious if it was possible and thought it was another tourist shake down - but it isn't and it isn't.


During elections, hotels are no suppose to stock alcohol. Hence, if you order some they have to send a boy out to the black market vendor to buy it. Apparently, everyone knows where this vendor is. Very odd custom.



TJ WARNING

Beware of India. With your dust allergies, the air here may actually be lethal to you.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Some people want to shake your hand in India. If it is someone on the streets, DON'T. Sometimes, they don't release it. "Give me money" is the gist of their connversation thereafter. If you don't want to be rude, put your palms together and give a small bow. Keep them there until they put their hand down or just walk away because Also, remember if they control a hand, it is easier for them or their buddy to pick your pockets!


Consider windows to be a 'fixed' thing. If you try to open it, it may not open. If you want to close it, that may not have worked since the 1940's when the train was made. Sit accordingly.


In your 'travel bindle' it may be a good idea to keep a roll of duct tape for patching holes and such in the train. Assuming you are discrete, it would probably help keep the cold air from blasting in through the holes in the rusted out shit bucket you find yourself riding in. Note, this may also describe the first class trains - lower classes are worse...


Many common goods come with prices written on the products. Toilet paper, water, etc. Merchants will try to convince you that this is indeed the price. It isn't. This is called the 'stupid tourist price'. Hell, why do you think it's written in English? Yes, I have bargained down these items as well.



NEGOTIATING FOR NEWBIES

I've watched tourists who have apparently never tried to negotiate before attempting to do so in India. Maybe paying several times the price for everything has gotten them to the point they want to barter. Maybe they read in their guide book that it is custom and they should do it. Maybe they have heard that people who don't are considered rich idiots. Who knows. But, in general, they suck at it. Through careful research (and eavesdropping) here is how they often do it:

Newb: "How much is X?"
Shifty salesman seeing yet another easy mark doubles the price.

Here is a different method of negotiating:

Experienced: Holds up the money in one hand and points to the item with the other.
Shifty salesman seeing a non-Indian attempts to increase the price by 50% because he figures he can put the money to better use than the current possessor.
Experienced: Waggles the money in his hand. Possibly begins to walk away. Possibly laughs. Possibly says "This or nothing!" and then begins to walk away. Or counter offers with half their price.

There are two keys. First, knowing about how much something should cost. You get that with experience. Your own (eh) or someone else's (better). Some items do have prices written on them. These I call 'stupid foreigner prices'. They are written in English, not Hindi. Take the hint. That will at least give you a starting point.

The second key is the huge willingness to walk away. If you can't just as easily turn and walk away, you lose. Chances are good you'll get called back. Don't get me wrong - if it is 5 AM and that is the only tuk tuk in existence and you really need to get somewhere soon - just take it and go. But if it is the middle of the day and there are a lot around, why settle for their price?

In America, we don't have different prices for 'native' and 'foreigner'. The price is the price. It irritates me when people say 'Oh, he must be rich. We charge him five times as much!' Not fair. This anger helps me to negotiate. I know that even if I get the price down to what I consider a 'good' level they are still making a lot of extra money off me.

Some people don't bargain because they consider it a pain, or they're embarrassed or have some other excuse. Or they say "Look how rich I am and how poor they are?" That is mildly irritating and it drives up the price.

Hopefully this simple yet ranting guide will help you know how to start learning to bargain.



A LIST OF TUK TUK DRIVER PHRASES AND WHAT THEY MEAN

Hello!
....... Translation: "Get into my tuk tuk, I want to massively overcharge you."
Where you go?
....... Translation: "Get into my tuk tuk, I want to massively overcharge you."
Sir!
....... Translation: "Get into my tuk tuk, I want to massively overcharge you."
What country you from?
....... Translation: "Get into my tuk tuk, I want to massively overcharge you."



PHILOSOPHY

My take on India thus far. The main thing I like is the cost. Being able to eat for $1-$3, stay somewhere for $8 and live for under $20 - a win. Do I like the people? They are like anywhere else - some are great, some are dicks. The cultures I've seen so far, very cool. Makes the place very exotic. There is a lot of stuff I hate - hourly annoyances of stupid shit, people who make the Turks look like they aren't even trying to sell anything, etc. So India is good and bad. I'm curious if my opinion will change as I hit different states in India. They are almost like separate countries. Hence, I will still be traveling around India.


I mentioned to a guy how deeply annoying the touts were. He said, "You know when you have a tank full of fish and you put just a little food in? And they bump heads?" I agree with that analogy but when them 'bumping heads' causes the 'food' to want to go somewhere else I don't see that helping. Also, I don't see any way to correct the situation. Telling poor people who desperately need money "Hey, don't bother the tourists." will never work. So, if being bothered literally twice a minute is something you absolutely cannot handle, rethink India.



WHAT IS HOLI?

Logan's version: Holi (pronounced "holy") is a holiday when the Indian people go ape shit. They toss multi colored dust on each other, smear different colored stuff on each other and douse each other with water from anything from squirt guns to buckets. I don't know the official reason why they do this (nor care, honestly) but I suspect it is to let off steam and celebrate "Fuck winter! Summer is coming!" These are my suspicions. I'm sure that the actual holiday is rooted in much deeper and more mystic stuff. I just now looked it up in wiki and it turns out I was right. I rock.



HOTELS AND THE AGE OF THE INTERNET

In Agra, the following two places have wifi in the rooms:
Hotel Shahjahan & Restaurant
Taj Guest House

The following hotels are unaware of the modern age and do not:
Hotel Kamal
Hotel Shanti Lodge
India Inn Guest House
Prince Palace
Sai Palace

Yeah, it's a pet peeve. For those to whom this is not important, hey, I understand. But there are a lot of people who desire internet. It's not exactly expensive for a hotel to have, either...



LONELY PLANET VS LOGAN'S VOYAGE

I realize that the Lonely Planet India is a couple years out of date but I am so hating on it. Aside from the OK maps...

Shankara Vegis Restaurant. According to LP, their thali is "shockingly good". Apparently, their restaurant reviews are done by the same idiots doing the hotel reviews. It was decent but I wasn't shocked. At all. The place itself was fairly grimy upstairs with holy cow poop (not joking) stacked on the way. Not the kind of thing you want to look at when you're ordering food.

I suspect there are problems with LP type of guide books.

1. You can't put anything broadly negative in a guide book. You can say an establishment is dirty but you could't say something like "The city of Jaipur sucks to be a tourist in. The touts will quickly convince you that whatever you thought you wanted to see isn't really worth the hassle. The Amber Palace is the only cool thing - and it sits outside of the city so you won't even have to enter that cesspool to see it." I suspect the Indian government would be pissed and tourism in Jaipur would dry up fairly quickly. Despite - from some people's point of view - of the truth of it. [Note, I realize other people have a different point of view. They can put theirs in their own blog or the comments section below.]

2 After a couple years, everything except the most general of information (and history) gets 'dated' and becomes less and less useful.

3. You don't want to mess with the masses dreams. While I may describe the Taj Mahal as 'meh', I wouldn't want to stifle the dream of someone who had - for some odd reason - a lifelong ambition to see the structure. In a blog, I can say 'meh'. Everyone understands that this is only my opinion. If someone else saw it and was 'entranced' by it, I'm glad they had a nice time. Unlike the writers of the Lonely Planet, I don't have to say that everything is amazing and astounding. I'd rather give my honest point of view on such things. Amber Palace, pretty cool. Taj, meh.



VIDEOS

Prathvi Palace in Jaisalmer
Restless Natives
Hotel Sagar
Bikaner Holy Lake
Pink City WTF
Amber 1
Amber 2
Amber 3
Amber 4
Amber 5
Amber 6
Amber 7 How to be a...
Amber 8



COSTS

Evergreen Restaurant, near Bikaner bus station. Feast for 155 RS.

Small scoop of butterscotch ice cream at swanky palace restaurant, 65 RS.

Ticket from Jaipur to Agra on 'deluxe' bus 203 RS. Keep in mind that the only difference between a deluxe bus and a regular one is they don't pack people in to standing room only nor stop more often. It is still a rusted out shit-box with rock hard seats and windows that won't close or open properly.

Small bottle (amount not listed on it) of Bagpiper Whiskey, 300 RS.

2 comments:

  1. Hello,
    I came across your website and found it very enjoyable. I just had a couple of questions so if you could e-mail me back that would be great!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi! Due to spammers, bots and a Norwegian mercenary unit that has been looking for me, I don't e-mail but if you want to leave your questions in the comments I'll do my best to answer them.

    ReplyDelete

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