We were off to Agra, travelling by private taxi, to see the Taj and a few other tourist traps. I asked our driver to stop at an ATM before dropping us off at the Taj. He obliged by stopping at a seemingly random spot to ask for directions from a neatly dressed man standing on the side of the road. They exchanged a few words in Hindi before the man hopped in to show us the way.
He turned to me to ask if he could accompany us as our guide to the Taj.
I could not believe our luck! You ask for an ATM and they throw in a fully qualified guide to boot.
“No thank you”, I replied with a smile.
“But sir I show you and explain you the wonderful history and treasures of the Taj…” he fired the first volley.
Unbeknownst to him, I was ready to stave off his assault on my right of refusal.
“Do you know who I am ?” I asked, my voice on the edge of indignant.
I gave him a few seconds to stare at me, befuddled by this break of a century old protocol, before I offered him some sweet release.
“I am Doctor Meyer from South Africa, Professor in Indian history and archaeology. I know everything . This is the stuff I teach my students every day.” I said authoritatively, eager to hear his answer.
To my surprise he took this bold statement in his stride.
“Excuse me sir, but at the Taj there’s a long queue for tourist to get ticket, two hours you can wait – but if you go with me, we go in front of queue,” came his quick rebuff.
After many more attempts he eventually gave up and allowed us to continue unguided.
Needless to say, when we got out of the taxi we were accosted by a host of guides trying to sell their services, but we evaded them by hopping onto a nearby golf cart and scooted off to the gate, happy to leave them in our dust – for a moment at least.
At the ticket office there were two ticket kiosks, one for locals and one for tourists or “high value” tickets costing 35x the price of the local ticket. There was nobody at all at the “high value” ticket counter, so we quickly bought our tickets, but as we made our way to the security check point we were approached by two young gentlemen who kindly showed us to a table where complimentary water and shoe covers were given as part of the “high value” ticket.
Then the older, smarter looking one proudly showed us his official-looking card and explained how all the other guides who had approached us in the parking lot were fake, and that their services as qualified tour guides were offered free, as part of the “high value” ticket too.
I looked at him with a skeptic grin and asked, “Tell me, how many rupees is free ?” His younger, less-experienced colleague, eager to impress his senior, blurted out, “Two hundred and fifty rupees sir!”.
AGRA, INDIA: 20-11-2013