Monkeys, Mosques, Money and the Dreade
On our way to Agra, we had a few stops. First, was the monkey temple.
Just on the outskirts of Jaipur, we were expecting the monkey temple to be on a semi-equal excitement level as the rat temple. Sadly, it was not.
The place LOOKS amazing! It is set in between two beautiful mountains and has gorgeous man made bathing ponds on different levels of the temple. There were a lot of monkeys. They were climbing the temple walls and chillin’ out in the stairs; they roamed by the ponds and were curious around people (probably because so many tourists feed them), but they were not nearly on a similar scale to the rats.
There were a plethora of men, both inside and out, that claimed to be professional monkey handlers. If you hired them, you would be safe from the dangerous monkeys. Throughout the whole temple they kept repeating “Careful! They are so dangerous! Please, let me be your monkey tamer.”
I have no doubt that these monkeys could be dangerous. Having been bit by a monkey in Laos and having my finger ache for days, I can attest to not wanting a monkey to attack you. But as long as you’re not a stupid tourist, these monkeys didn’t seem that bad. They are clearly used to human contact (there were loads of tour buses outside when we arrived) and they seemed content to just chill out. We took photos, but the setting was actually more interesting than the monkeys we saw. We realized they were much less unusual than the rats of Deshnok, and so we moved on fairly quickly.
Our second stop was lunch. Raju pulled up to his usual commission driven restaurant and dropped us off for lunch.
“It’s the last one!” I said to Kelsi as she looked at me and gave me an eye rolling groan. This was our last travel day with Raju, then we were on our own. I figured we could suck up one last touristy restaurant for lunch… But I was wrong.
We were already used to the more expensive places for meals. We pay at least twice what we should at every place we eat. This restaurant, however, was on a whole other level. Where we pay the already expensive price of 30 rupees for a plain naan, this place asked 120. Our vegetarian meals of 100 were now 350 rupees. When converted into dollars I could get a cheaper meal at home for the two of us! Additionally, only tourist restaurants pay taxes here. That’s an additional 14% tax and the expected 10% tip. Hell no!
For some reason I was cranky that day. Not over anything in particular, but little things were sending me into a rage. The prices at this restaurant were one of them.
“This is outrageous!” I said, probably a little too loud. Kelsi agreed.
“In not paying $6 for a plain cheese toasty!” She exclaimed.
We’d had enough of being told where to eat and what to do. We wanted to be on our own and not on this confining, tour-like schedule. We got out of our seats and stormed out the restaurant. The whole staff followed us in a frenzy.
“Wait! Madam! No, please! We give you a discount.” It sounds ridiculous to say it, but I was actually disgusted at how much a place can rip people off. Yes, I’m a tourist. Yes, I expect to pay more than the average local. But when we can go to any restaurant in town and order a 50 rupee thali, which is all you can eat, and this restaurant wants to charge between 350 and 700 for a single curry, even a discount is an insult. We ignored the staff and went to the car.
When Raju arrived we explained to him we couldn’t afford the food. He understood and took us to a local place a couple doors down. The price was 1/5 the cost and most likely more delicious. This is the last day, I had to keep reminding myself.
Next we stopped off at Fatehpur Sikkri. Fatehpur Sikkri is an ancient city about 40km outside Agra. It was once the capital of the Mughal empire back in the mid 1500’s. There are two parts to the city: the palaces and the mosque. The palaces cost 300 rupees for tourists so we opted to visit the mosque instead. We hadn’t been to many mosques yet, so the place was less monotonous than visiting yet another fort.
It didn’t matter what we did though, we were still constantly ripped off. One man showed me where the toilets were “It only costs 2 rupees!” He said with a smile.
“I only have ten.” I replied.
“Not to worry, they will give you change.”
However, when I gave the man the ten he just grunted and pointed towards the toilet.
“Do you have any change?” I asked.
“I was told it only costs 2 rupees.”
“No change. 10 for you.”
This was not the day to say this to me. I snatched the bill back in a rage and turned around after giving him my angriest glare. I refuse to use your toilets.
Before we even arrived at the mosque we were the main focus for photos. I tried to move out of people’s camera angles, but they’d just follow us anyways with the screen. Most of them weren’t even trying to be subtle; they’d just turn around in front of us with camera phones in our faces. It was the first day I nearly went Jackie Chan on their asses.
Then there was the shoes. We stopped taking my purse into tourist sites because it was like holding up a sign that says “I have money”. Unfortunately, that meant we had to leave our shoes outside the temple. We left them far away from the crowd, but when we came back, they had been moved into a pile that some guy was watching. We had to tip him to get them back. *sigh*
Inside, the mosque was lovely. But I could hardly enjoy the serenity of it with people trying to guide us around. Kelsi and I are so stubborn that we walked zig zag across the mosque just to avoid doing what people said.
“Yes, this way to see the mosque.” So we’d walk the other direction.
“Right in here and you can see the tomb!” Even though we were already on our way in, we’d turn around and walk the other direction. It took us four times as long to see the tomb as it normally would. Take that!
In the end, it didn’t matter what we did. We had a young kid follow us around, telling us facts about the place and had to give him money.
Young children came up to us periodically and just demanded money.
“You give me 10 rupees!” One young girl shouted at Kelsi.
“No!” You aren’t doing anything! Why would I just hand over money to you? I wanted to shout back at her, “Get a job! You’re 8! I saw a 4 year old laying bricks two days ago, what’s your problem?!” (Side note: I actually DID see a four year old laying bricks, and had I had my camera ready I would have added yet another photo to my newest “only in India” album)
At this point, there were still more cameras taking photos of us than there were of the mosque and all of a sudden I just wanted to leave. Normally it doesn’t bother me as much, but that day I think both Kelsi and I were at our breaking points.
When some young guy on the bus ride back asked to have his photo taken with us he was met with death glares from the two of us.
“No!” we snapped “We’ve had too many photos taken of us today, thank you!”
He looked mortifyingly embarrassed as he sat back down. He never turned around in his seat again. I almost felt bad. At least he asked! As I said… Breaking point.
We were quiet and exhausted for the rest of the drive to Agra. I finally turned my head from looking out the car window to avoid the stares, winks and eyebrow raises from people driving past us. When we got to the hotel, we just wanted to lie down.
We were shown to our room and the place was lovely. As a bonus, the restaurant had the cheapest prices we’d seen so far! We looked through the menu in our room and picked out exactly what we were going to order. A rest and some cheap food and we’d be right as rain!
We lay down for a few, and just as I was about to feel relaxed Raju came bursting into the room.
“We are leaving!!” He announced as he threw us our passport photocopy that he must have grabbed from the front desk. “Grab your things!” He was shaking with anger and wandering around the room, picking up bags and looking for things we might leave behind.
“Woah, Raju, what’s wrong with this place?” We asked.
“It is no good! Not good people here! Chello!”
We rolled our eyes. “Okay” we sighed. I didn’t want to argue because he looked so upset. I assumed that he had just gotten in an argument with the hotel manager and was leaving on a point of pride. But if he was this shaken, then why argue.
All of a sudden, Kelsi and I looked at each other and had the exact same thought. The food! Just our luck that we’d have to leave after finding the ONLY cheap hotel to eat at in two weeks! We just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all and walked out with our bags on, only 40 minutes after we had checked in.
When we got outside, however, we were a little surprised. The manager and all the nice staff that had helped us to our room were standing outside. They were yelling in Hindi and flailing their arms in anger at a police officer. Behind the police officer was about half the police force, all holding guns. There must have been 30 or more policemen standing outside the building. Behind the policemen was half the city of Agra, all watching us walk out of the building and into Raju’s car. What in the world was going on?
Raju was angrily muttering under his breath in Hindi as he opened the trunk and threw our luggage in. Kelsi and I were struggling to hold back giggles. What’s happening!?
When we were a safe distance away I finally asked.
“Raju, what’s wrong? What happened at the hotel?”
It took an excruciatingly long time for him to explain in broken English what was going on. And his incessant habit to say “maybe” between every third word as a filler made it seem like this all “maybe happened”. But in the end, I gathered that some girl had been inappropriately handled during her massage in the hotel spa.
“If you safe, I happy” he ended his explanation. Well okay then, new hotel it is.
Our new hotel was several grades down from the last one, but still well within Kelsi and Hilary standards (which, lets face it, are so low they’re practically non-existent). We threw our bags down and went for dinner in the restaurant downstairs. When we opened the menus, a vegetable curry was back up to 250 rupees. Dammit! We just can’t win…
As a note, this is the BBC news article that came out on the incident at the hotel in Agra just a couple days later.