Just writing a blog entry for the sake of the map below. I'm hoping that at the end of our trip the map will show all the key places we visited, but in order for it to work, we need to post these things from all our locations. Or, like in this case, lie a little. We're currently in Agra, but I'm setting the location to Jaipur.
So what have we been up to? We spent a total of three nights in Rishikesh, more specifically Lachsman Jhula, and had a great time. We stayed in a hotel called Shiv Shakti, a nice clean place with double rooms for 650 rupees per night. Only, we had a deluxe room, for the same price. The owner was really nice and helpful and let us stay in the better room for half price since there wasn't any other ones available and he'd promised us accommodation. That was just great, we'd highly recommend the place. We ended up doing some yoga also, Sini more than me, as suspected. Sini even bought her second souvenir from this trip (the first were loose red pants from Kathmandu): a pink yoga mat and a black cover for it.
We had a train to catch at 6.00 a.m. from Haridwar, so we couldn't spend a fourth night in Rishikesh. We haggled a rickshaw ride to Haridwar, it cost us another 300 rupees. After the 50 minute ride with two other passengers we arrived in front of the train station and ended up taking the first room we were offered. Stern negotiations got us a windowless room with attached bathroom for 400 rupees. There was no hot water in the shower, but luckily the stuff came in buckets when asked. Luckily we'd read that this could be the case and asked for it, otherwise we would have gone without. We spent the day walking around Haridwar, ate maybe the best vegetarian thalis (typical set in Nepal and India, with rice, different sauces and flat breads) so far, at 50 rupees per person.
We got an early start as we got on the first train to Delhi. We had bunks in 3AC-class, both of them top ones. We put our backpacks at the far end of the bed, where the pillow should be, and laid on them for most of the trip. Not the most comfy way to travel, but we both got some sleep anyway. Hopefully the next night train will be something similar… As we arrived in Delhi we were greeted by a guy holding a paper saying Mr. Thomas. He introduced himself as our driver and took us to his car. We were told at the infamous travel agency in Connaught Place that we'd be taking a minibus from Delhi to Jaipur and then to Agra. However, it turned out that we had paid for the driver and the car for a total of four days. Not quite what we ordered, but at least it explained something about why we ended up paying so much. The car was comfortable and safe and all that and we didn't have to worry about how to get to the places we wanted to see, but there were a few drawbacks. First, we were pretty hungry after the train ride so we asked to stop for lunch. Something cheap, we said. He drove us to a place that was pretty obviously a tourist trap, too fancy looking for the side of the road and with outrageous prices. Vegetable chowmein (noodles) that usually fall between 80-120 rupees were 280 and a stuffed parantha (a flat bread) that would normally cost abot 40 rupees was 150. Best of all, normally you can have bottled mineral water at restaurants for the same price they buy it, it's stamped on the bottle. The going rate for one liter is 18-20 rupees, they asked 50. To top it all, they had scratched out the shop price with a knife! All in all, with hidden taxes added, we paid 600 rupees for one chowmein, one parantha and two bottles of water. Not cool man…
The problem with the driver was also that we lost our feeling of freedom. He had a plan for us and we were nearly forced to follow it. It wasn't a bad plan, but it wasn't ours either. However, we decided to make the best of it and to see the sights he wanted us to see in Jaipur. Luckily they had student prices in Amber Palace (á 100 rupees vs. 200) and City palace (á 250 vs. 400).
We stayed two nights in Jaipur, in hotel Saijjan Niwas, that looked pretty neat but turned out to be quite basic. The travel agency had booked it for us… The room was big and had a balcony, but the hot water in the shower was unpredictable and it lacked some basic things, like a trash can and another sheet for the two blankets. After those nights we continued on towards Agra, stopping on the way on another tourist trap even though we had announced that we didn't want to eat but only to stop for water and a toilet break. The toilet was free, but they asked 65 rupees for their water! The label said 20… They also had 20 rupee bags of chips going for 120… We ended up getting the water for 50 and got our 20 rupee chips for 40 rupees from the local store next to the restaurant. I get that restaurant prices are different, but too much is too much. I also get that our driver is either told to stop at specific places or that he gets a percentage of our spending at these spots, but it was still pretty annoying that he took us there. Especially as we'd told him after the first place that it was a bit too expensive. And even more so, because we had to drive about 300 meters on the wrong side of the freeway to get there!
But, now we are safely in Agra. We saw the Fatehpur Sikri on the way and are going to go see the famed Taj Mahal next. After that it's off to the night train to that place, the name of which I simply can't remember, where they have those Kama Sutra temples. Only one night there and then another night train to Varanasi, where we'll catch our breaths for a few days.