Monday 26 December 2011

Incredible India: Streets Flummox GoogleMaps and Rotten Middlemen

Pains for trains
It was probably a wild thing to choose a Christmas morning for adventure by my standards. The opportunity had come to travel to Agra by train and I was so up for it.
Apparently, the tickets had been arranged and booked by a colleague though I became a bit suspicious when it appeared the night before things were more tentative than planned.
The schedule was a pre-dawn pickup from three locations for the train station but things began to go awry from that point. It suddenly became apparent how inscrutable the street and house numbering system was in New Delhi.
Beyond GoogleMaps
Apart from the major roads which had names and buildings with numbers; the residential areas normally known as Nagar; the houses were on plots with a numbering system that seems to have bedevilled GoogleMaps that they have not even bothered to assign names to the roads.
I found it incredible that so-called taxi drivers were clueless about the numbering system; in fact, it seems those who know; know their way by rote rather than by joining up the dots as they go.
At this time of the day, most roads were gated, fenced off and locked with Delhi Police barriers; we felt we were caught in an interminable maze as we tried to negotiate our way round the neighbourhood.
Recessive Geography Gene
What struck me more was how guards, workers and presumed residents could not help when asked for directions, it was as if the intricacies of basic geography that allowed for knowing where you were and charting where to go even in close proximity to your location had been so underdeveloped in their brains it had become a handicap.
Eventually, we packed into the taxi, overcrowded by one and made for the railway station only to get a confirmation from the railway officials that our tickets were literally duds. Thankfully, we had not paid for them yet.
Then a tout came in useful, he took us to “government registered” travel agent who said our tickets were not confirmed reservations but on a tentative waiting list with no guarantee that we might get to travel. Beyond that, we were also at the wrong station to use the tickets; one of the bureaucratic conundrums of India would have meant going another 20 kilometres to the appropriate station.
The middleman dirty man
In the end, we could not get a train, one was fully booked and another had been cancelled but we had the option of a four-wheel drive cab with high backs and head rests – the journey would definitely be a lot more comfortable than the one I had the week before.
It took 10 Indian minutes for the cab to arrive which by my watch was nigh on 40 minutes, at one point the issuing of an ultimatum with the threat to cancel the deal seemed to move things forward a bit and cab arrived. What we learnt off later on when we returned was the travel agent had earned a 33% commission with a 3-minute phone call and was ready to have us dumped at the point of embarkation close to midnight rather than ensure we were safely delivered to our hotels.
With a colleague of mine, I walked into his office and told him in clear terms that I will brook none of that nonsense, I guess he was taken aback at the forcefulness of my rebuke and our revelation of what his agency had creamed off to the driver that he had to ensure the driver took us back to our hotels.
That is just common courtesy, in all places where I have been picked up anywhere for tours, I have always been delivered back to my hotel as part of the deal.
It seems many businesses are able to get away with treating tourists to India shabbily with the impression nothing will come of it. Well, that will end with me, I have obtained the business cards of all these businesses and I will be publishing a list of people and businesses for tourists to avoid when in New Delhi.
We did it
My second journey to Agra had begun, this time with the possibility of doing the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Akbar Tomb in Sikandra.
Whilst all the arrangements did not seem to fall into place, the day might well be quite eventful nonetheless and it was.

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