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28 November 2005

cut you down with his bamboo boomstick

i just had two excellent rickshaw moments. the following was written immediately after the aforementioned moments when i got into my hotel room while all the emotion was still seething within.

i read the delhi section of my guidebook during the train ride from jhansi to delhi... specifically the section about the potential scams and hazards. upon the train's arrival in delhi shortly after midnight, i was well armed and prepared for the onslaught of local transport chaos as i descended the stairs of the train station platform.

'taxi, sir?'

'no... i'll just take a prepaid rickshaw. thank you.'

'oh, there is no prepaid stand, sir. only at the airport.'

'really, that's not what i've heard.'

'no prepaid taxi, sir.'

i walked on ignoring the swarm of taxi and rickshaw drivers. the prepaid stand couldn't be far.

'where are you going?'

i figured it couldn't hurt to say. 'yatri house.'

'let's go... taxi. this way.'

i could sense from the tone in the drivers' voices that i was getting close to the prepaid stand but still i couldn't find it. i had flashes of second thoughts. were they right? had i misread in the guidebook that there was a prepaid taxi counter at the train station? again, i wish i had the facts.

'there is no prepaid taxi, sir. where are you going?'

'yatri house.'

'i know it. 20 rupees.'

hmm. 20 rupees. i knew my hotel wasn't far from the station. 20 rupees sounded all right. [my 'too good to be true' intuition was apparently down for maintenance.]

'you know where it is?'

'yes. yatri house.'

'you have a rickshaw?'

'yes... this way.'

the driver sounded like he knew the place. we entered the rickshaw yard and i had to push and hold a rickshaw so that my driver could navigate his vehicle from the rickshaw entanglement. i got in and we were off. five seconds later we came to a gate where a man was standing.

'10 rupees. give him 10 rupees.'

it had begun.

'no... no way... you said 20 rupees total. i'm not giving him anything,' i protested. it was at that point that i saw the prepaid stand.

'ahhh... _there_ is the prepaid stand. i'll just take a prepaid rickshaw.' i got out of the rickshaw and grabbed my bag.

'fine, fine, i'll take you there for 10.'

'10? no more.'

i gave the attendant 10 rupees in coins. i guessed this was a parking toll. and we were off... again.

the driver pulled out, crossed the street, turned into a narrow alley and stopped in front of a travel agency. the total trip time could not have been more than a minute.

[sigh...]

'what are we doing here?' i asked.

'yatri house. you go in and book it.'

'no. i'm _already_ booked there.'

one of three guys sitting outside the agency eagerly asked if i needed anything. fucker.

'no, i'm all set.'

my driver looked displeased. i'd obviously thwarted a redirection.to.hotel.with.commission scam that he was running with the travel agency. only after i had made it absolutely clear that i had a reservation and would not consider switching hotels did he eventually pull back out onto the main road. and we were off... again.

15 seconds later, the driver pulled over to the side of the road.

[sigh...]

'yatri house?' he asked.

[yes goddamnit... the fucking yatri house. you know... the one you said you knew how to GET TO?]

during the train ride i'd written the name and address of the hotel on a piece of paper for just such an occasion. i pulled it out and showed the driver. he processed the address in his head for a few seconds. i could tell by the look on his face that i wasn't going to like whatever he was going to say next.

'other side. 50 rupees.'

[mother_FUCK_er]

'no. 10 rupees. you said you knew where it was. 10 rupees.'

'no. other side of the city. 50 rupees.'

i was freaking _pissed_. the fact that it was about 00:30 and was dark and chilly didn't help matters.

'absolutely not. [i'd had enough. [snap]] fine... you want to play games and be deceptive [you bastard]? i can play games too.'

i grabbed my pack and ripped it out of the opening in a gigantic rage and stormed away back to the prepaid stand. i was out 10 rupees... i'd need to make sure not to lose any more. as i neared the prepaid stand, the second wave of drivers hit me as hard as the first. relentless. i couldn't believe it... this was by far the worst rickshaw storm i'd weathered yet... they continued while i was WAITING IN LINE at the prepaid stand. i even heard one of them say 'oh, the yatri is full tonight.' i came very close to stepping out of line and screaming at him for being so horribly dishonest.

after a five minute wait i made it to the counter and told the attendant where i was going. he hadn't heard of the yatri house [perfect!] so i wrote out the name and address of a newspaper in front of him (i'd given the other piece of paper to the first driver). as the attendants were studying the address, the rickshaw drivers closed in around me tightly and i thought i felt something tug at my pack... this of course caused me to instantly react and spin wildly in an attempt to dislodge any prying hands. one of the attendants saw the frenzy and exited the booth quickly with an evil look on his face. the other attendant handed him a bamboo cane through the window.

i'd seen these bamboo canes in action in varanasi... evil. you definitely didn't want to be on the receiving end of one of those bastards. the drivers backed away in fear. [that's right you fucks. get the hell away from me or my body guard is going to cut you down with his bamboo boomstick.] the man with the cane pointed at a nearby building.

'yatri house.'

'i can walk there?'

this didn't seem right. i wrote out the address on yet another piece of paper. wild conversations amongst the attendant and the drivers (who had closed back in) ensued. finally the attendant singled out a driver.

'50 rupees. no more,' the attendant said to the driver.

the driver nodded.

'wait... i only have a 100. do you have change?' i asked.

the driver nodded again.

'i need to see it.'

he pulled out a wad of cash and asked me for the 100. i handed it over and he gave me back a 50. and right there i had broken one of the cardinal rickshaw rules: do not pay the driver before you've reached your destination. i didn't care... the driver seemed more laid back than the other drivers and the attendant with the cane had made it clear that he wasn't getting more money.

and...

we...

were off.

about 10 minutes into the ride, i saw my first indian elephant. kick! it was carrying one man and a big bundle of sticks. it disappeared into the darkness before i could grab my camera.

10 minutes later, we...

were lost.

[sigh...]

this driver had absolutely no clue where he was going. all i wanted to do was get to my freaking hotel so i could go to sleep. he pulled over three different times and asked for directions. fine... good. directions are good. more driving. dark alleys. circling. still couldn't find it. the driver was becoming obviously frustrated and aggitated. he eventually pulled over.

'i need more money. 50 more.'

'OH NO. this is a prepaid rickshaw. there is no more money.' and then i remembered that i'd already paid him. i had absolutely no leverage. i looked around... we were in a vacant alley, it was about 0100, and i had absolutely no clue where i was. shit.

'i need more money.'

i told him again that i wasn't going to give him more money and this aggravated him further. he began to raise his voice and went off in a tirade in hindi.

'i don't understand hindi. english?'

'no english! more money!'

i needed to defuse the situation. this was the first time in india that i actually feared for my safety. 'get me to the hotel and then we'll talk.'

he grumbled and pulled off. we finally arrived at the hotel 10 minutes later after two more stops for directions.

i grabbed my bag and said 'this is a prepaid rickshaw. no more money.'

he began to yell again... '50 more rupees!' and i yelled back 'LET'S TALK TO THE POLICE!'

fortunately i'd noted that two policemen were standing nearby monitoring some construction that was taking place. i stormed over and told one of the officers that the rickshaw driver was demanding more money than we'd agreed to. he motioned for the rickshaw driver to drive over.

a conversation in hindi proceded for five full minutes and i could tell that the policeman was siding with me. thank god. near the end of the conversation i started hearing the english word 'twenty' and i knew what was coming. this is what i assume was being said...

policeman: 'you're not getting 50...'

driver: 'well i need something, i've been driving all over the place.'

policeman: 'ask him for 20 then.'

driver: 'can you ask him for me?'

policeman: 'absolutely not. it's your fare. you ask him.'

drive: 'please? you ask him?'

policeman: 'no.'

the driver looked at me sheepishly and said 'what about 20, for my time?'

fucker. whatever man. i gave him a 50, he returned 30, and i stormed away after thanking the officer.

why does this have to be so difficult? my sentiment right now about traveling in india: fuck traveling in india.

--

chill with prahlad and charli in the morning
khajuraho bus to jhansi
hang with anna at the train station
train to delhi
rickshaw terror
yatri house

posted by paul on Mon 28 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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