Saturday, February 20, 2010

Khajuraho or 'Mary Has a Bad Day'

You know it's going to be a bad day when a tuk-tuk driver tries to push you for a fare before you've even left the room you woke up in. But apparently that's how it is in Sleeper Class (actually the 4th class of sleeper cars), and more people are pointing in the window at you in a way that makes you think they want to sell you something. I think I'm starting to understand what it means to be treated differently because of your race, and I think traveling in India would be a lot more fun with darker skin. I know this makes me a bad person, but I want to ride in a higher class not for the amenities, but for the people who are priced out. In the USA, I can pass for a regular person, between my skin color, older car, modest home and jewelry, etc. But here, it seems that all most people can see is dollar signs. I'd like to promise myself that I will not spend any money at any business that sends a tout out after me, but I fear that doing so would result in going to bed hungry on the street.

Anyhow, back to the day... we started with a tuk-tuk ride to Khajuraho from the train station, and toured a whole bunch of hotel rooms. We eventually ended up at the hotel we'd originally wanted from the guidebook, but managed to get a better price than originally quoted us, since I'm sure they could see our confidence in our ability to go elsewhere. In fact, we actually got the very bottom of the price range listed in Lonely Planet for the first time all trip. Tonight's hotel room is only 150 rupees or about $3, and it's decent sized with 24 hour hot water on a quiet street.

After checking in and using the bathroom for the first time since Tibet House, we hit the town... which has some of the most annoying touts we've seen (okay, they were the same as everywhere, but they are the worst everywhere). Josh wanted to get street food for lunch, so we went out looking for a popular seller. Didn't find one, because we were too early. We got some food from a seller with 3 other customers right then. It was good, but not that cheap. Hopefully it won’t make us sick. Then we dropped into a South Indian restaurant for some dosa and chatted with a college student from Australia who is here on summer break.

After lunch we dropped into a shop where we found some nice looking (and very Indian-looking) brass handles, which is something Mary's sister kind of asked us to bring back for her. But he wanted around $15 for one, which seems too high. And Mary doesn't like to haggle any way other than turning around and walking out, which didn't work in this case.

Then we walked over to bus station where we wanted to exchange our ticket from here to Delhi for one from here to Varanasi, which theoretically is allowed. The guy gave us a hard time though, because the ticket wasn't in great shape. Then he demanded that we come up with change for him for the refund. Then when we went to buy the new ticket he apparently didn't anymore have the small bills I'd just given him, and demanded exact change from us, which we no longer had. And he was pretty rude about it. Actually, he was pretty rude to us from the get go.

After that fiasco, we finally went to the Jain temple complex, our sightseeing for the day. By now it is miserable hot with not a cloud in the sky. The temples were nice, though not that exciting. They are not the main attraction in this town, and the touts getting there had been really annoying.

After, Mary wanted to stop and get a soda. The first place we stopped, we asked if they had the kind she wanted and they said yes and sent one of the people working there running across the street toward the other stand that had a sign up saying cold drinks. We asked, "How much?" They responded, "Have a seat." We clarified that we wanted to know the price and again they responded, "Have a seat." I would really like to know if this is a cultural thing, or a trying to rip you off thing, the way the rickshaw drivers respond "don't worry about it" when you ask the price of the ride. I think much of the problem here is that we are honestly not as rich as they think we are. Yes, some Americans will spend $3 on a soda and not think anything of it or wish they'd checked the price first, but if we were people to "not worry about it", we never would have been able to afford to come to India. And if we don't worry about it on the trip we will have to go home early. Anyway, we moved on from that establishment and after a while came across another stand where we purchased a soda and he opened it for us and then said we had to pay him another 5 rupees if we wanted to walk away with it rather than drink it there and return the bottle. In his one chair. In the full direct sun. We were really pissed, and he didn't want to give us a refund (obviously), so we just walked away. I feel a little bad, since maybe he honestly thought it went without saying that we would stand there and drink it. But mostly it just made me angry because it seems like people here are always playing these little mind games with you after services are rendered. Did he really not understand? Or is he just taking me for a ride trying to extract some more money? I certainly don't want to cheat anyone, especially not anyone so much poorer than myself, not even by accident. But at the same time I very strongly don't want to give a red cent to a person who tries to take advantage, and very much regret giving them my business. And then I don't know if I am being horribly rude when I blow off the person who responds with "have a seat" or "don't worry" (maybe it's a cultural thing and many people don't understand that some bad apples have made it impossible for white people to respond politely?), or if they really were working a con and I'm just telling them I'm not that dumb.

So yeah, it was a bad day. Now it's time to go out for dinner and turn in early for bed. Maybe it will be better with a good night's sleep.

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