Ajmer to Jodhpur; In which India - temporarily - wins

It’s a funny thing about India. People are comfortable demanding tips for no reason at all, as if merely existing is sufficient reason for a tip. As we were checking out of our Ajmer hotel in the early morning, some guy standing beside the desk said “Tip?” Surprised, I said “What?” and he repeated “My tip?” I think I might have seen this guy around the hotel before - once - but never actually standing up or doing anything. Certainly he’d never done anything on my behalf. So I said “Sorry mate, afraid not.” He looked to the desk clerk for translation and as I left I heard the desk say “No tip” and snicker. I have no idea if the guy asking for a tip was a opportunistic (and lazy) staff member, an opportunistic friend of the desk clerk, or an opportunistic fellow guest.

We showed a rickshaw driver the address on our bus ticket and he told us 100 rupees. Mental, we thought - the private bus stand is only 200 meters further than the government bus stand, and it cost us 30 to get here from there a few days ago. The driver said 10 kilometres, but rickshaw drivers always lie about distances. We laughed and walked away, but the next driver said 70. Something’s wrong, we thought. We got him to take us to the travel agency where we’d bought the bus ticket, and the agent gave him directions to where the bus picked up. It was a completely different direction from what I’d thought, and not at the private bus stand at all. Not ten kilometres, but 3 or 4 at least. When we got there the driver looked around, and dropped us beside a busy traffic circle. There was no bus stand. There were no buses. There were no signs, even - just a bunch of people, trucks and little shops. I’d seen a sign on the traffic circle that matched the back of the ticket, so I knew we were in the right general area, but we had no idea where to actually catch the bus.

We lifted the packs and went to investigate. No sooner had we taken twenty steps than a guy stopped us and told us to go back to where we’d been. A nice old man at a call-shop waved us over and made us sit down on benches outside his shop. He explained to us that he has “no interest n our tickets” but wanted to “alleviate” us because we were foreigners. Definitely in need of some alleviation, we let him call the agency for us. After he got off the phone he told us that the address on the ticket was wrong, but that we were actually in the right place. Oh, and the bus isn’t coming until 9:30 now - an hour to wait.

I was still a bit concerned and took a walk around. I found another travel agency with the same name as our ticket (the name on the ticket, that is, not the name of the agency that had actually sold us the ticket). Maybe they were related and maybe not, but it couldn’t hurt to ask, I figured. This agent pointed down the street directly at Sheryl and said “sit there”. Okay, so good. I still had no idea what the bus looked like or how we’d know it when it came. Not long afterward, some other guy showed up on his scooter. Out of boredom I made conversation with him, and then he asked to see my ticket. I handed it to him and he tore it in half, gave me half, and put the other half in his wallet on top of a wad of other multicoloured ticket stubs. “My office”, he explained. Okay, so either he’s above-board or he’s some kind of serial ticket thief. In either case we had no option but to wait.

Finally a bus came and he waved us over The bus was mostly empty, and we found our assigned seats (assigned seats on a bus in India!) and sat down. Inside, it was like no other bus I’ve ever seen. The aisle was wide, with two seats on one side and one on the other, and there were ladders leading up to sleeper compartments like long cupboards with sliding glass doors and curtains above the seats. There were a few people already in the sleeper compartments, and a few more climbed up now. Nobody checked tickets. There were no luggage racks and no luggage compartments outside to put the packs in, so we had to put them in the aisle. I relaxed a bit, thinking it would be a pretty nice ride.

Wrong. For the first couple of hours of the five-hour trip it wasn’t so bad, except for the annoying spastic behind me who kept hanging all over the back of my seat and putting his feet up on the ladder right beside my face. I foiled him by putting my seatrest up and holding onto the ladder so he couldn’t put his feet up. I couldn’t do anything about him hanging off the seat-back, but this is something you get used to in India - there’s always someone hanging off the back of your seat. Things got very bad after the first two or three hours, though, and it turned into the trip from hell. They packed more and more and more people onto the bus. There was no room to breathe. Sheryl was stuck with four people in the seat beside her - one skinny guy and three kids. There were at least sixty people sitting and standing in the aisle. I’m so glad we didn’t pay for a sleeper compartment, because men started climbing the ladders and squeezing in one after the other until there were 4 or 5 in every compartment. One jackass stood on our packs to get up into the top level. It was at this point that I completely lost my mind. I was already in a vile mood and had been grinding my teeth for an hour so hard I thought they were going to crack to pieces in my mouth, and this just pushed me over the edge. I saw red and realized I was snarling “NO!” and punching the idiot’s leg as hard as I could. It worked - he got off the packs instantly and I even had a little space after that, though the rest of the passengers looked askance at me, as at some sort of unpredictably savage wild animal.

The bus was so crowded that we missed getting off in central Jaipur like we’d planned, and had to ride a couple of kilometres down the road to a big traffic circle. This was a lot better than I was afraid of - I was thinking we’d be stuck until the next city. A couple of kilometres is no big deal, since the hotel we’d so thoughtfully booked ahead of time offered a free pickup service. We called the hotel and someone came on a motorcycle, paid for an autorickshaw and took us to the hotel. The hotel was exactly as advertised, lovely and breezy with gracious people, staff and guests all smiling at us in welcome. What a good choice we’d made, we thought - this was perfect. It had been a long day, but our troubles were over now.

Also wrong. Our escort, having vanished inside, came out and brusquely muttered “Full”. What? Full? We have a reservation! Maybe that doesn’t mean shit anywhere else in this country, but we booked this place through a website and we paid god-damned money for a reservation and now you’re telling us “Full”? What is wrong with the hotels in India?

The guy told us not to worry and led us next door to another guesthouse, muttering “Same”. It turned out to be run by a son of the family that runs the first place, and it was decidedly not the same. Dark, dingy, very noisy, run-down and just no fun. Instead of the first place’s welcoming smiles, there was a group of sullen men in the lobby who grunted and had to be forced to move to let us through. But guess what? It was the same price as the first place! What a surprise! I felt completely defeated and disgusted and just gave up and took the room. It was clean, at least. Sheryl was not quite as defeated and went and fought to get back the deposit we’d paid for the reservation and to try and get the room rate reduced (she was told “we’ll see”). In the end we paid 700 for three nights, which is a weird number and possibly a mistake, so I’m not sure if we got a reduction or not. There was one good thing about the room, though - hot water from the shower! We hadn’t seen hot water since - when? South Africa?

That was the hotel’s only good point, though. There was a screeching, smashing family in the room beside us, who we could hear clearly through the screened window that joined our bathrooms. They were so loud the walls were shaking, and their kids were yelling all the time in the hall outside our door. The staff kept trying to open our door - we had to keep it locked from the inside after the first intrusion. Seriously, it felt like we were under siege.

I made up a bad joke:

 
PERSON ONE: What’s the difference between an Indian family hotel and an insane asylum?
PERSON TWO: I don’t know!
PERSON ONE: Exactly!

Well, it was funny inside my head, anyway. Get me out of this country.

Flourish

One Comment on this Dispatch:

November 20th, 2012

Chris, I really need to stop reading your India posts now… I am certifiably terrified at this point

¬ Kendall
Flourish
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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