Shopping, but not as we know it...
Agra Travel Blog› entry 4 of 8 › view all entries
Well, turns out I'm still in Pushkar. Despite the fact the differnt groups I arrived with all had plans to move on from here quite quickly, in one way or another fate has led us to say here a little longer than intended. I'll explain more later. Please excuse the weird fonts etc. I will sort it out when I can, but right now, it's just not happnening!
Now back to where I left off...
Day 3 (cont.) • Agra
Having had my chai in screen leafy courtyard (I won't mention the loud noise of the power tools and dust being created by the workmen at the hotel, as it really ruins in the romanticism), my tut-tut driver arrived back at the hotel.
The fort was followed a fantastic lunch in a secluded garden, where I invited the tut-tut driver to join me, where we discussed religion, culture & politics. From there, despite protests, he took me to a number of shops. At each one I was given a tour, a different craft was explained to me and a salesman did everything he could to try and make me part with my hard earned cash. I have to say it wasn't an altogether pleasant experience. Sales tactics mainly centered around emotional blackmail, the feeling that you had a free tour, therefore needed to buy something (despite the fact you hadn't asked for the tour in the first place), and reminders of who you left at home, and that it would be selfish not to bring something home for them from that particular shop, which was always the only one in the world that sold that particular specialty, of such particular quality.
Eventually, enough was enough. I had to firmly insist that the diver take me directly to what was to be honest the only reason why I had come to Agra.
Having been striped of everything electrical or edible, I walked down a red dusty path amongst tourists from all over the world. I entered the gates and there it was, one of the seven wonders of the world...The Taj Mahal.
It was quite an emotional moment. We've all seen the building in picture and on telly, but nothing can prepare you for the scale, grandeur and pure beauty of the place. I spent about three hours at the Taj, just wondering around, sitting for a while, a whirlwind of thoughts inside my head. Part of me wished I had been with a loved one to share this amazing experience, but another was glad I was alone with my own thoughts.
The Taj was build by Shah Mahal, as a monument to his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to her 14th child. After two years in morning the Shah demanded the construction of the Taj, which took 22,000 laborers 22 years to complete; Such a profound experience of the power, and insanity of love.
At the Taj I met a young guy studying journalism. His mission to educated the people of India about the nature of tourism, and stop the constant bother they experienced and aggressiveness they encountered (a noble cause in light of my experiences over the previous few days). He invited me to his home to stay with his family - an invitation I now wish I had accepted, but the time my confidence was level and I was practicing a high level of caution.
After the Taj my tut-tut driver asked if I wanted to go for chai and sample some of the local organics. As the say when in India do as the Indians (or was that Rome?). Having done so and feeling quite nice I felt ready to return to my hotel and have an early night. However then my guide asked if I fancied going to a concert. Being quite partial to a bit of food of the soul, my response was 'why the devil not?’ With retrospect I wished the answer to this question has been 'no thank you' as it led to what was probably the simple strangest experience of my life.
Now before I tell you what happened, please take in to consideration the following facts. It was 8.30pm. I had been up since 4.30am, I was still adjusting to culture shock, I had had far too much sun that day, and the organics...
The tut-tut pulled up outside what appeared to be another shop, being night this time there were three security guards at the door. I was led into the shop where my driver announced to the manager (please not I was the stores only customer), that I would like to hear some music. I was led through a labyrinth of rooms, each selling a different product, jewels, carvings, embroidery, ceramics, missionary etc. At the back was a room with the light off. As we entered the room, a switch was flicked to reveal two men sitting in the dark. As I entered the room they jumped to their feet. The room was surrounded by glass cabinets, with hindered of beautifully crated instruments, sitars, tabular, harmoniums, Indian oboe thingies. In the middle was a huge sofa and at the other end a small strange. I was led to the sofa and sat down on my own, as the manager, salesman, driver sat around the side, one of the men who had been sitting in the dark got up on to the stage. The lights in the room were all turned out, and the lighting on the stage came up. What preceded was a private concert lasting around 45mins. First just the tablar player, then a sitartist was introduced. My please for the ground to open up and swallow me reached desperation, as the one guy put down his sitar, and started playing the harmonium. It was bad enough that the song consisted of about 6 bars of music that were repeated for about ten minutes, without the fact the guy could hardly sing, but what made matters worse was when the store manager, decided he would like to join in. Not only was he tone deaf, I'm not entirely convinced he had ever heard the song he was desperately trying to sing along to before in his life.
Finally the music stopped. All I wanted to do was leave. I'd had enough. I hadn't asked for any of this. But of course the manager had his sales pitch to do yet. He offered me several items from around the room, each was declined, this went on and on until eventually I just had thank him for his time, but tell him I would not be making any purchases anymore. Of course this was not enough to perturb a determined Indian 'I have many more beautiful things, let me show you around the rest of my store'. 'Thank you very much sir but I am not interested in anything' was my response. 'I wouldn't want to waste your time' I insisted. 'Oh, but it's not a waste of my time. I would be happy to show you'. Having had these pressured sales tactics all day, I'm ashamed to say I finally snapped. One thing you will learn if you ever come to India is, being all British and polite about situations does not work. 'Yes, but it would be waste of my time' was my final reprise, as I marched toward the exit.
Finally I made it back to the hotel about 10.30pm, where I spent the rest of the night, cooling myself down with a cold flannel, constantly applying aftersun and sipping water, to try and turn my skin back to a recognisable colour from the beetroot red it now was.