Omigawd...I can't believe I didn't finish my North Indian adventure. Never realised I had left the story hanging in Ajmer till a good friend mentioned about Agra yesterday.
Here I go then...
Traveling by bus in Rajasthan can be an awesome experience if only one can get over this annoying compulsion of the bus drivers to 'play safe'. Lemme explain. Since I had booked tickets in a private luxury bus which boasted of being a Volvo, I had wrongly assumed that it would be a quick journey from Ajmer to Udaipur. A lot of you must have watched Bollywood movies where moms get their sons to make silly promises - on similar lines in Rajasthan, all bus drivers have sworn to their moms never to drive at a speed greater than 50 kmph. And that night, to my utter horror, I discovered that even when the driver makes the rare mistake of revving up the accelerator close to 48 kmph, a swift disapproving look from the conductor sitting nearby was all it took for the bus to get back to that cool 45 kmph. And mind you, the road was empty and it was a bloody NH. Yeah. You got it. I did not sleep a wink that night thanks also to 3 noisy teenagers who kept speaking throughout to god-knows-who using their Reliance mobile fones. Airtel and Hutch kindly note: Whereever our bus went, only the RIL network followed.
Reaching Udaipur at that unearthly hour of 5:15 am with the temperature still in the late single digits, I checked out a few seedy motels before settling down into one where I had a relatively neat bed, provision for warm water and a nice quilt for Rs 125 a day. (There was a room with a TV also for Rs 150 but I gave it a skip since the TV had only 12 channels and most of them were in some obscure language - MAA - Rajasthani ??) Please note: There is nothing more satisfying for a marketeer that a bargain deal sealed in a strange land with strange people at a strange hour.
At a quarter to 8, I woke up and after the usual daily chores, left for the RTDC hotel from where the sight seeing for the day would start. I had no clue where this hotel was and so had to get onto an auto to get there. No sooner was I inside the than the autowalah started pestering me to engage him for the sightseeing. He was quoting Rs 500 for the day whereas RTDC's official trip was around Rs 150. By this time it was 8:30am and I was aware that it was getting late since my motel receptionist had informed me that the bus would leave at 8:30 sharp. To compound my agony the autowalah sensed that he had a great chance to wreck havoc on my plans and drove at an infuriating pace of 10 kmph. Soon cycles were overtaking us and I was getting restless. Just when I thought I should maybe get another auto than we reached the RTDC hotel. To my sheer delight, the bus had not yet left. As I was settling the autofare, I also got a chance to pick up some really awesome foul language that my autowala chose to shower on the bus driver.
I will not bore you much about the actual places that I visited in Udaipur. I will just limit myself to the one hilarious incident of the afternoon session. We had a newly wed Surd couple on their honeymoon trip as part of our party. At one of the Shiv Mandirs which happened to be a sight seeing spot, while the rest of us got down, the couple preferred to stay back. Assuming that they were upto some mischief, all of us magnanimously gave them their privacy and came back half an hour later...And guess what awaited us when we returned. The dashing (he was bloody handsome) Surd was fast asleep in the last seat of our bus and the Sardarni was checking out Punjabi munda ringtones in her husband's jazzy mobile phone. And it stayed that way for most part of the afternoon. For an hour and half, as our super Sardar blissfully slept, his pretty wife amused herself by checking out the snaps in my digicam and asking me innocuous questions like "How can you travel alone ? Aren't you bored ?" (Do I sound like I wish she had asked me this Q with ulterior motives..Cheeeee dirty folks) I could barely contain my laughter for the rest of the journey but if there was one thing that this incident confirmed for me, then its the fact that Surds are...well.. really sweeeeeeeet.
8:30 pm Thursday. I still had the whole of Friday and I was yet to make plans. Though I would have loved to see Chitorgarh, there was no way I could spend the whole of Friday there and then reach Delhi on time for my return journey. Ditto for Jodhpur. Should I go to Agra ? Though I'd been to this heavily hyped tourist spot atleast thrice and didn't find it in the least exciting, left with nothing else to do, I decided on an impulse that I'd leave for Agra. Unfortunately for me, the direct bus to Agra has already left. However the travel guy mentioned that all buses to Agra went via Jaipur and so I could go there and then get a connect. The idea found instant favor with me and I checked for availability of tickets to Jaipur. Here comes the first big lesson for MBA folks.
In Tamil Nadu, as a rule, private luxury buses are much costlier than Govt buses. To give you an example, Trichy to Chennai which is 324 kms is Rs 300 by KPN whereas a SETC bus would cost you Rs 150. Udaipur to Jaipur is around 410 odd kms. So what do you think is a fair rate ? Go on.. Guess.. Hahahaha..Wear your specs NOW. A ticket in a " private luxury bus without push back" (??) was Rs 120, "private luxury bus with push back" was Rs 150 and a sleeper was Rs 200. I first didn't believe my ears but when I checked with a couple of other travels, they were all consistent. So I bought a sleeper ticket and settled into the bus which was scheduled to leave at 10. It was 9:50 and the bus was still only half full. When we finally left at 10:15, I asked the person who got into the bunk oppsite mine how much he had paid for his sleeper and got the shock of my life. Guess.. Go on... Rs 120. And it seems he had got pushback seats for Rs 100 but had felt the sleeper would be more value for money. Trust me when I say that I never felt more STUPID and CONNED in all my 27 years of existence in this planet. I felt like howling. People in Rajasthan actually bargain for bus tickets. I cannot, for even a second, ever imagine someone trying to pull such a trick with KPN. This incident however got the Marketeer in me curious. In the travel business, does it make more sense to discount and ensure occupancy or should one risk low occupancy rather than diluting the brand's image and premium ? Think about it.
Neway, I reached Jaipur slow and safe on Friday morning from where I proceeded to Agra, just for the heck of it, by a Government luxury bus. The only noteworthy incident in this journey was the fact that we got held up in Fatehpur Sikri in a huge traffic jam which was also compounded by an absent minded truck driver who had left his vehicle in the middle of the road and gone for a leak only to return 20 minutes late. And all we did was wait and wait...If this had happened somewhere in Tamil Nadu he would have been lynched but in Agra, people didn't even swear at him.
I arrived in Agra only to be greeted at the bus stand by someone who seemed all too familiar to me.
"So you're back, eh ?
"Yeah.. but who are you ? Haven't I seen you somewhere ?"
"I am Shah Jahan"
"Oh, that lovelorn bugger ;-)"
"Cut the crap. Why are you here ?"
"To see ...er...man's greatest erection for woman"
"You still haven't lost your sarcasm, have you ?"
"You swine.. You eavesdrop !!!"
"Whadever.. remember the disparaging comments you made last time"
Jai So how was the trip to Agra ?
Jai: And 'the teardrop on the cheek of time' ?
Me: Duh ?
Jai: Ufff..the Taj re..
Me: whats the big deal man...That building - its a huge waste of time and money..
Jai: Cmon, love's worth it
Me: Bullshit...Mumtaz must have been a nympho ;-)
Cut to present
"So you still maintain your opinion of my wife ?"
"Well.. I guess I was a little harsh on her"
"So, you're in love and thats why you came back ?"
"Nooo.. no such crap.."
"Cmon tell me the truth"
"Ok bugger.. maybe I came coz I thought I'd be able to appreciate your monument better this time"
"Tough luck, son. We are closed today"
"What, you son-of-a-gun..I came all the way.. and...."
"Sorry. We are closed on Fridays"
"So, what do I do now ?"
"Hmm.. there is a seedy motel which lets people go upto their 5th floor where there is a room which probably has the best view of the Taj in this whole city. Maybe you can pay Rs 5 and see it there."
"Please tell me you are kidding"
....and thus ended my sometimes-awesome-sometimes-awful trip of North India. Of course, there is that uneventful return journey I can talk about but then isn't it always a nice thing to end a story on a real high or a real low. Audiences always like happy endings or Greek tragedies, never something which is middle of the road.