Agra Part 1

Continued from Delhi Day 3.

I woke up ass early this morning at 4:00AM. Actually, that’s not so ass early since I have not tried to completely conquer my jet lag yet. I knew I would have to wake up early today, so I had been going to sleep and waking up early the previous 3 days.

First business for the day is to double check and triple check that I have everything that I would need for the day. Camera, check. Wallet, check. Travel guide, check. etc. etc.

Train tickets, che……HOLY SHIT!! FUCK ME!!!! Look at the ticket on the right. It says 7:35. Yeah, well, that’s supposed to say 19:35. I had bought the wrong tickets back in Austin and my return train would depart before I even get to Agra from Delhi. AAAAHHHHH!!!!! That was a dumb mistake and I can’t believe it had gone unnoticed for so long. It’s 5 minutes til 5:00AM, when the cab is supposed to pick me up to take me to New Delhi Station to board the train…Fuck!

I gathered everything quickly and ran downstairs into the internet area where the hotel has a computer for guests to use. I told the front desk of my mistake and asked if I can use their computer to try to book another ticket online. Well, the computer was turned off and while waiting for it to power up, I saw that there were 4 other hotel guests waiting in the lobby. Apparently, they were also heading to Agra and were on the same outbound train as me. Shit. I can’t hold them up as a group. I decided then that I would just go with them and buy my train ticket at New Delhi Station instead.

Out we go and pile into the car….oh wait…that car can’t fit all of us…

The hotel had hired another car just for me since we can’t all fit into the same car. Shit, I could have stayed behind and booked my train ticket after all. Oh well. It’s only 15 minutes to the station, and I can try to take care of it then. This is getting pretty stressful. During the cab ride, I started running through my head every single possible scenario of how I would make my way back to Delhi from Agra if I am unable to purchase a return ticket. Many train tickets sell out weeks in advance in India, and there are usually long wait lists for seats. Everything is a “Cluster Fuck!” in my head right now. Could have just said fuck it at the hotel and paid $100+ or so and hired a car to take me to Agra and back, but, what’s the adventure in that? I am determined to go to Agra today, and I am determined to have my first experience riding on India Railway today damnit!!

Pulling up to New Delhi Station. It’s only 5:15 in the morning and most of the streets in Delhi are pretty dead. Not New Delhi Station. This place is already a “Cluster Fuck!” at 5:15 in the morning. All the things that I’ve read about New Delhi Station is that it’s one of the worst places to be for a tourist. Touts, scam artists, and pickpockets everywhere. I dread the moment when I have to leave the car and be mobbed, cheated, lied to, etc. Fuck me! Why did I make the dumb mistake!

This is already overwhelming. I get out of the car, and touts swarm me. People try to misdirect me to a ticket booth. I try to wave them off and ignore them all.

Shit! Is this going to be me in Agra tonight? Sleeping on the cold dirty floors at the train station?

I was pretty much in tunnel vision panic mode right now so I don’t have too many photos. But, I did write everything down on my trusty notebook immediately after so I can write a thousand words to describe what happened here. This is quiet the story!

My train leaves at 6:15, which is about an hour away. I had never been to New Delhi Station, so I am instantly disorientated and I have no idea where to go. I do know that there’s an official international tourist office that I believe is government operated and catered to travelers like me. I looked for that sign and saw it, went up the stairs and saw an Indian man and two Westerner backpackers(man and woman) walking down the stairs. I asked them if the international tourist office is open. The Indian man pointed at the sign and said that they don’t open until 6. Well, shit, that’s not going to help me much. I told them I needed to purchase a return ticket from Agra back to Delhi for tonight, and asked where the ticket booth was. The Indian man said to follow him. I didn’t really have any other choice right then, so I started to follow them. We went back downstairs, on the curb, and kept on walking.

The Indian man said that he’ll get us in a cab, and the cab will take us to the ticket office where we can purchase a train ticket. I have a bad feeling in my guts about this. Why would I need to take a cab to a ticket office?? My instincts told me to turn around and walk back towards the station, so I did. I told the Indian man that I am going back to station, to this he tried to tell me to keep following him. The other two backpackers kept on following the man. I remember looking at them in the eye, and I could see the same fear and uncertainty that must have also been present in my own eyes. Now, thinking in retrospect, it felt like they were heading for the slaughter house, and they had no courage to turn around and change their own fate. Those eyes were just begging for me to yell at them to follow me back to the station for a chance of salvation.

As I took the 20 steps back to the station, I fought off more touts who swarmed me like fly on hot shit(that’s me). I looked around and found lines where people were seemingly buying tickets. I saw that there was an Enquiry(British spelling) line so I waited, and struck up conversation with an Indian man standing next to me. I asked him if I could buy a ticket from Agra back to Delhi here. He said no and said that I had to go to another ticket office. Shit, not this again. But, he seemed like an actual train passenger since I was the one who initiated conversation. I asked him if he could show me where to the right line, and he left the line, walked with me, and finally pointed at a white building on the far end of the station. At the white building, I could get my advanced ticket. I thanked the man, took a deep breath, and ran to the building to make good use of time and to avoid touts.

The long lines inside the white building. There were only Indians here and I could tell they were all on the lower socioeconomic level. Is this really the place? I had no choice really, so I just waited in line. 15 minutes went by, it’s now almost 6:35AM…My stomach is in a knot.

I finally make it to the front of the line, where of course the guy behind me cuts me off at the last minute. Again, he was half my size. What’s up with these Napoleon complexes in this fucking country? It’s always the smallest and scrawniest guy who pulls off this shit. Well, makes sense. It’s the lower class, poor and malnourished that pull off this shit.

I wrote down the train ticket that I wanted on a piece of paper and handed it to the guy behind the counter. He looked at it and said that they only sell unreserved seats here for 60 INR. What the fuck is an unreserved seat? I think it’s first come first serve in the unreserved class. Anyhow, I heard enough to know that I won’t be guaranteed a ticket in any form, and the guy behind the counter told me to go back to the other ticketing office, where I would go to counter 62. Ugh! I was just there.

Of course counter 62 was closed, so I waited in counter 67 which I am hoping to be the same type of counter. I struck up conversation with a well dressed Indian man in line, and he spoke to me in English. He told me that I can’t purchase advance tickets until 8:00AM. Well, that’s not what I wanted to hear, but at least that makes things clear for me.

My choices at this point are to either take my train to Agra, and try to purchase a return ticket there when the office opens up after 8:00AM. Or, I can tuck my tail between my legs, call a cab, go back to the hotel and hire a car to drive me to Agra and back.

I’ve gone this far, and I am not going back, I walked to the security line that will lead to the platforms.

While waiting in line, I saw the four other hotels guests from my hotel who were also on my same train. They were walking away from the check point, followed by a well dressed Indian man. I greet them, and asked if they knew where our platform is at. They mentioned that our self printed E tickets are no good and that we would need to exchange them for real printed tickets. What! No one told me that. The Indian man looked at my ticket and told me that I had the same problem as the 4 others and that I should follow them to where I can get a real ticket. I left the line and started to follow them. The Indian man told us that we need to get into an official government taxi, because the private taxis would just take you to their own tourist offices instead of the official government one. Not 10 seconds after saying this, we walked to a car painted like a taxi, but it looked nothing like the office vintage car looking taxis. Hmm…I said to everyone that this isn’t a government taxi. The Indian man tried to convince us otherwise, but it felt wrong to me. Didn’t I just encounter this not 20 minutes ago? I needed time and space to think and regroup.

I left the group, walked back to the security line and read my printed ticket. It says E-ticket and I am pretty sure it’s good. I waited in line and I looked over at the 4 other hotel guests over by the well dressed Indian man and the “official taxi”. They had not gotten into the “official taxi” yet, and were looking over at me. I decided then that perhaps I shouldn’t be paralyzed this time and watch them get slaughtered like I did with the other two. I tried frantically to wave them over back to the security line. It didn’t take them long to come over. When they came over, I told them that I think our tickets are good, they told me that they were thinking the same. We took comfort in our group unity waited in line together. I thought it kind of funny and ironic that the scammer’s extra elaborate lie about government taxi was what helped me out him as a fraud.

It’s been so stressful here. Anyone who offers to help you just seems like a lifesaver in the middle of an infinitely large and dark ocean. The scams have been perfected, and they know the exact right buttons to push. It’s hard to not fall for them.

Made it past security and our platform was the first one immediately past security.

If you made the waitlist, you’d name would appear here.

Yup, let me just walk across the rails.

Lots of people sleeping and camped out at the station.

Here comes the train!

Here’s my car. I had walked to the wrong end of the platform originally. The cars were labeled C3, C4, C5 etc. So I figured it’ll end up in the Es somewhere. Nope. E1 was in front of C1.

AC First Class seats. Pretty nice. I can sit, rest, regroup and figure out what I will do once I get to Agra and figure out what I will do if I don’t get on a train back to Delhi tonight.

From the moment when I found out that I had the wrong ticket to me sitting down in the train and everything else in between only took an hour. That has to be one of the most hectic hours of my life.

The sheet of paper where I wrote what kind of ticket I wanted and the direction for counter 62.

Bottles of free water are handed out.

As are 4 different editions of free paper.

Pretty crowded train.

Free roses are also handed out. I feel special.

Ticket checker. As suspected, my ticket was good.

It’s twilight and it was impossible to take a clear photo on a moving train with dirty tinted windows. Right after leaving Delhi Station, slums lined the sides of the track, and in the very low light, I saw poor Indian men squatting on the rails. At first, I just found it odd, then I realized that they were popping a squat and used the elevated rail as their performance platform.

Yummy cookies.

Tea time. Milk powder was provided to make milk tea.

The Indian man who sat next to me struck up conversation with me. We started talking, and I told him about my ticket situation. Immediately, he started thinking of ways to help me. He had an cellular internet capable laptop, and I asked to borrow it to purchase a ticket online. I ran into trouble with the ticket purchase because the government just literally started a new procedure where you have to register with some other organization. So, that was a no go, shit. I thought that I had it solved. I did find out that every single return train from Agra back to Delhi tonight had been sold out and that at best I can only expect to be put on the waiting list. Fuck!

Failed attempt at ticket purchase.

Fat to make me feel better about myself.

Here’s my new friend trying to help me out again by attempting to purchase the ticket on another website that sells India Railway tickets. That was again a no go. He was a godsend though, and went above and beyond to try to help me.

I made a mistake, but because of it, I am learning all sorts of new information that I otherwise would not have learned. In retrospect, I am almost glad that things went wrong because the adventure was totally worth it.

My new friend told me to go to Agra, purchase a ticket for 12001 train, which is the same train that I am riding on now, but just on the return leg. It is the best train and is always on time. There are 11 wait list seats, but over 100 First class seats(the wait list for the other classesĀ  had even worse odds), and that my chances will be good to make the cut. He said that there’s another train I could have taken with only 1 wait list, but that car only had 10 seats of that class which meant that my chances might be worse. That train also habitually run late. Apparently a lot of people in India reserved their tickets, but then cancel their seats last minute and do not board. He also told me that it’s typical for a train to have 10% more seats than what they actually sell.

Awesome! It seems like it may be possible for me to get a ride back to Delhi tonight after all, even though I won’t know for sure until an hour before the train departs. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and not think about it too much today or it’ll bog me down.

The scenery is pretty dreadful. The poverty is pervasive.

Ahh, the toilet that I’ve heard so much about. You can still find these in Taiwan in some of the more rural places, but, this is in First Class car here. There is also no toilet paper. You use that cup of water to bidet yourself. Then while you do that, you can think about how many other people used that same cup to bidet themselves…

Hot milk for cereal.

Real Kellogg’s!

Egg omelet. Tasty!

As we were eating breakfast(included in fare), my helpful seatmate mentioned that I should buy a Tatkal ticket, which sells at a 25% premium and would bump me up on the waitlist. After a while, he thought about this some more, and waved over one of the train staff. He spoke to the train staff and turned and told me that I don’t have to buy a Tatkal ticket. I should just buy a regular wait list ticket, come up on the train, and find this guy and he’ll help me find a ticket.

My ticket to a ticket. Apparently, the ticket that I buy at the station instead of online is different. Even if I don’t have a seat, if I board, no one can deboard me. Not sure why this is the case, but that’s what my new friend said. He travels this route twice a week and knows all the staff on board. He told me that when I board and find the man above in the first class car, I should just slip him 150 INR and he’ll find me a seat because there are always extra seats and this guy would know where they are. I am definitely in the know now. I know who to bribe to beat the system!!

My seatmate also was able to get his train staff buddy to bring me another egg free of charge!

It’s impossible to get a decent photo from inside the train.

Indian mint.

I spoke to my seatmate for a long time. In return for all of the help he’s given me, I tried my best to return the favor by helping him do a rough itinerary if he were to visit America. The number one place he wishes to see was Las Vegas and he wanted to see a lot of natural scenery. He had never heard of Yellowstone though. I told him that’s a must if he’s going to visit the national parks.

This photo doesn’t really show anything, which is basically what the whole train ride looked like.

I made it to Agra at 8:21. I thanked my seatmate profusely for all of his help and disembarked.

Found the foreign tourist ticket counter while I fought off all the touts.

I also realized another mistake that I made. There is an extra quota for foreign tourists, but you need to bring a copy of your passport as proof. I didn’t bring my passport copy with me, so I am out of buying from that quota. But, obviously I qualify as a Freedom Fighter? ‘Merica! Fuck yeah!

This lady, presumably from Africa, was arguing with the attendant and holding up the whole line. She wasn’t really arguing for anything, but rather just venting and bitching, which helped no one and held everyone up.

Got my wait list ticket. I am number 11. The guy behind the counter confirmed that I have a pretty good chance of making my train. OK, deep breath.

New train in red, and it leaves here at 20:30.

I know I am hot shit, but touts, please don’t flock at me like flies.

Found the prepaid rickshaw stand. There were two Japanese guys there, and they asked me if I was going the same way as them. I was. We decided to share a rickshaw. Sweet.

It’s less stressful when you are traveling with others because you’ve got others watching out for you on the scams and whatnot.

Our driver had these notebooks filled with testimonials from other clients. He tried really hard to sell us on the idea of hiring him for the whole day.

I’ve heard about the free roaming cows. I am seeing them for the first time here in Agra.

Behind that wall lies a pristine golf course. It has to be the most unlikely place for a golf course to exist.

This is what the street looks like next to the golf course. Poverty and perfectly manicured lawns, side by side, separated by a see through fence.

This is where we got dropped off. The two Japanese guys went off in search of their hotel. The driver tried to get me to hire him for the whole day. I would be here in Agra for 12 hours. Perhaps it is a good idea to hire a driver who knows the area well and speaks fluent English. I decided to hire him for the day for 350 INR, which is not a bad price.

The rickshaw driver would wait for me down this street while I visited my first destination. I took this photo so I would remember what the place looked like and how I’ll find him.

I turned down this small alley to my first destination.

South Gate. Can this really be the way? It’s in the middle of the slums.

Run down ticket office. A kid of roughly 10 tried to get me to go look at his shop. I said that I didn’t want to. He said that I should look when I come back out again this way. Then he showed me where I could get shoe cover for my shoes and I told him that he should go ask someone else to look at his shop because I never buy anything. Then I tried to give him 10 INR to go away, but he refused it. I did not expect that.

The most expensive ticket so far by far.

To be continued at Agra Part 2.

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