By now you have all seen the pictures of the auto rickshaws that run amok here in Hyderabad. They are everywhere. Noisy, stinky and very plentiful. All one needs to do is walk a quarter block in any direction and there will be a rickshaw driver there ready to pick you up.
The same is true in Delhi. The only difference is that the Delhi rickshaws run on natural gas instead of diesl, and are painted green and yellow, presumably to show their “greenness”. Ender noticed this difference immediately, and did his best to entertain everyone by yelling out “GREEN AUTORICKSHAW!” at the top of his lungs every few minutes as we drove down the street.
Now, as much as we liked Delhi, and we liked it A LOT, we seemed to get ripped off quite a bit there. It felt like everywhere we turned we were being asked to pay 2, 3, or 4 times more than a local would pay. Whether it be at the Taj Mahal or the local market, our obvious foreignness was a reason to up the price. To quote a song from “West Side Story”…”One look at us and they charge twice…”.
On Saturday, we had arranged for a taxi from our hotel to take us on a 20 minute ride (at most) from our hotel to where our friends were staying. The hotel’s base rate for this service was a ridiculous 700 rupees. Because we had to be there by 7am, we were in no position to argue that morning and ended up paying it. (Did I mention that this hotel was chock-full of foreigners? I suppose it goes without saying).
But, after a good night’s sleep on Sunday, we had taken all we could stand. This is where things got ugly. Scott marched down to the front desk and told them to call a cab for him, and that he would only be paying the regular cab rate (It had been 250 rupees to get home Saturday night), and not a cent more. Of course, the front desk argued. “But that’s our rate,” they said. “But the government says we have to charge that,” they say. So, after about 10 minutes of arguing (and sweet little Scotty is getting awfully heated by this point), we march outside to the main gate of the hotel and Scott makes the same speech. “Call us a cab, this is what we will pay”. However, we were again met with a ton of resistance. “Its a luxury car!”, they tell us. (My year 2000 town and country with the non-working air, the failing breaks, the bad transmission, non-moving windows and stinky milk spill in the back seat was far more luxurious than their cars).
Again, after much arguing, we realize that it is time to switch to plan B. Instead of giving them the satisfaction of charging us triple the amount, we decide to walk. No, not all the way, just to the stand of auto rickshaws down the street. With a couple more rants thrown over his shoulder that involved the words “Rip Off”, “Ridiculous”, and, I believe, “Bad review on travelocity”, Scott led us down the unpaved road and toward a much less luxurious ride. (Proving that its all a matter of what you are comparing it to).
The first rickshaw driver who we met was a man in his 40’s or so, his right eye was filmed over due to accident or disease, and he apparently had a rather bad lung infection judging by the coughing he did as we drove. However, he said he was able to get us to our destination for 250 rupees, which was the main goal. I wanted to throw in a pack of cough drops as a tip, or maybe an antibiotic.
The drive was bumpy and loud. The air quality poor. However, the ride was not an unenjoyable one. We bumped along, much closer to the sights and sounds (what we could hear over the coughing from in front) and smells (ok, maybe not so enjoyable) of the city than we are in our air-conditioned car. The ride was fun and exhilarating, until it came to an abrupt stop.
Suddenly the driver quickly pulls over. Without a word, he gets out, messes with a compartment below the driver’s seat, pumps something in front multiple times, heads around back to check the engine or whatever is back there, and finally comes to us with the news. The brakes are giving out. He can no longer drive us. At least we were thankful that he recognized and admitted this instead of trying to carry on to the destination, which I am sure a lot of drivers might do…
He runs to the nearest rickshaw (about 200 feet behind us), and waves to the driver to come and get us. Scott asks him what the payment arrangements should be, and the driver agrees that it will be Rs 150 for him and Rs 100 for the next driver. We agree to the terms, but then find that neither of them have change for a Rs 500, so, while we waited patiently in the new rickshaw, Scott was off on a quest to find some change.
After getting turned away at several little shops, Scott finally broke down and bought the necessary Rs 100 of stuff (sodas for us and some chips) in order to make change. So, technically now the ride was costing us Rs 350, but who’s counting?
The new driver was younger and less sickly, and his rickshaw was much newer and prettier. Let’s call that the luxurious rickshaw ride, taking into account our basis for comparison.
So, finally, probably an hour after it began, our journey ended at the front door of our friend Sanjay’s uncle’s house. We were greeted with drinks and biscuits, and were ready to begin our tour of Delhi.
While Delhi is wonderful and I have a lot to share about it, its no coincidence that I chose to write first about this ride. It just proves what so many people eventually find out for themselves…its not about the destination, its the journey.