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Wednesday 16 Mar 2011
Agra, India

Taj Mahal ...Part two

Once you leave the front entrance of the Taj Mahal you fall prey to countless touts that want to drag you to their shop. Particularly persistent are the young kids that actually remember you saying "Yeah yeah, whatever" on your way in then, despite several thousand people passing by through the day, they remember you: "Sir sir, remember you say you come to my shop?".

It's particularly bad when you're one of the last people to leave the outer gate as they see you as their last attempt to make any cash that day.

Normally I'd just brush all these aside and march on, eyes straight, but the marble trays and elephants that were on display in all the shops caught my eye so I thought "What the hell", and ventured into one place (all of the shops were pretty much selling the same stuff).

I should have known what I was in for. The Indian approach to selling you tourist tat, is much the same as that in Marakech: they try to sweet talk you by giving you tea and even bringing a new 1 lt bottle of water with "absolutely no pressure to buy anything". Yeah right. I *was* intrigued by the marble trays though, with their Pietra dura inlaid stones. The particular merchant I went into regailed me with stories of how he was a descendant of an artisan that worked on the Taj Mahal centuries ago. Could be true, but the initial prices he quoted me for the pieces were a bit outrageous. 150-180 euro for small trays that were barely 6 inches by 3 inches.

I was well aware that, of all places to buy marble, Agra was going to be about 30% more expensive than that which I could buy in a market in Delhi or Rajasthan, but it would be nice to say that the piece I bought was from a shop directly outside the Taj Mahal so I didn't mind forking out a little extra. Nevertheless I persisted with my usual haggling methods and got the price down to around 110 euro (7400 Rs) INCLUDING two small marble elephants. Not cheap, but later investigations on the internet showed that it was actually a good price for the said piece, considering how much work had gone into it.

I was happy enough to pay the price, and started counting out the cash, but alas I only had about 100 euro (6500 Rs) with me (setting aside some extra that I would need for dinner and taxi etc). So, assuming that the sale couldn't go through I got up to leave, only for the guy to say he'd accept the 100 euro (only minutes earlier it had been like getting blood from a stone trying to make him drop the price by 5 euro). "I should have told him I only had 80 euro" I later thought.

This approach to haggling would serve me well in India, and I would often hide the rest of the cash I had from view professing that I had no more. It worked to get me an extra 20% off some purchases after the price had been haggled down!

My train seat back to Delhi was in the "CC class", which I asumed stood for "Crowded and Cramped" but in fact was very comfortable with extra-spacious reclining chairs and full food included. The food was very good and freshly cooked, served in an airline style. In my limited experience of Indian trains, I found them to be very comfortable, with reasonably clean toilets and large seats plus a never-ending supply of food/drink from passing traders who get on at each stop.

Got back to Delhi around midnight as the train was 1.5 hours delayed leaving Agra(!)

That night I wanted to pay my hotel bill. "The Pearl" hotel  had nice staff, and though the rooms were a bit noisy (earplugs are advisable), I enjoyed my stay... up until this point. The fun ensued as the receptionist tried to charge me 600 Rs for the "complimentary shuttle" (I had to show him the Tripadvisor description which said it was included.. at which point he said it meant "complimentary breakfast", after which I point to the line below which lists "free breakfast included" as WELL as the shuttle). He also tried to overcharge me for a few other things but I stood my ground and paid the price that was agreed on originally. It's unfortunate this happened as it turned me off the place and I refused to go back there when I was due to return to Delhi in 3 weeks.

Overcharging for services was quite common in India and it's one of the few things that really bugged me during the visit. Always check those bills before paying!

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Mum Says:

6 May 2011

Taj sounds like it was worth the long trip! But that was a bit of an expensive piece of marble! Train sounded fun, none of that crowds hanging on the outside, maybe that's for the short distance ones.

peterforan Replies:

6 May 2011

Nah, it might have been back in the 80s ... regarding the marble, it was worth it as it looks really good when lit up :)

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  • In the...

    Agra

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    In the sleeper carriage on my way to Agra
  • Taj Mahal...

    Agra

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    Taj Mahal entrance
  • Taj Mahal

    Agra

    India

    Taj Mahal
  • Taj Mahal

    Agra

    India

    Taj Mahal