Friday, February 09, 2007 India India

Taxi to Jaipur

Agra Fort Station [Enlarge]

We are beginning to think that India is not for us. Maybe we're missing something, but the amazing architecture and must-see sights just don't seem worth the hassle.

Anyway, another train ride was scheduled for today, from Agra in Uttar Pradesh to Jaipur in Rajasthan, starting early at 06:10. This was not going to be one of the relatively modern Shatabdi Express trains. Instead we would be catching the conventional Marudhar Express which had begun its journey at Varanasi many hours previously.

We left the hotel very early so that we would have enough time to walk to the station if necessary. We found a cycle rickshaw easily enough though, and he quoted forty Rupees—it should probably have been ten. We have a lot more respect for cycle rickshaw riders than their motorised counterparts, because they have to work so hard for their money (cycle rickshaws are large and clunky and they have no gears). So we didn't bargain and confirmed and accepted the quoted price. The ride through the mostly unlit pre-dawn backroads was surreal and the poor rider had to get off the contraption several times to push it uphill. He worked so hard that when we got to the station we gratefully handed him sixty Rupees. At which point he had to go and destroy our new-found good will towards Indian transport workers by saying that his price of forty Rupees meant forty each, so please could we give him another twenty! We could not believe what was happening, and Glenn angrily snatched the notes back from him and told him that because he was dishonest he would be getting only the forty he knew we had originally agreed. In the end he got sixty—we're not sure why we gave in, but we were tired.

Inside the station we found that our train was already running late. Very late. After an hour standing on the platform it had repeatedly slipped, and was now showing on the display as being nearly four hours behind schedule. We had struck up a conversation with the only two other foreigners on the platform, Jeremy and Andy—both Brits. After a while someone suggested sharing a taxi between the four of us, which we calculated should cost about 2300 Rupees, or 575 Rupees each (GBP 6.70 / USD 13.07), since the going rate is 10 Rupees per kilometre which includes the cost of the driver doing the return journey.

As if he had been evesdropping, a shifty little man sidled over to us. From his 'look at me, I'm just a regular passenger' demeanour, we immediately sussed him as a tout of some description, and we wondered what he was going to try to sell us. He started moaning about how the train is late every day, and it only ever gets later and later. Four hours is nothing—it will probably be five or six by the time it arrives. He told us we could take the bus if we were in a hurry, or even a taxi—but they're very expensive, probably well over 3500 Rupees. He wandered off.

And then he came back. He had gone to the trouble of enquiring about taxis for us! And the good news was, he could arrange a Tata Indica (a small hatchback similar to a Corsa with just enough room for four passengers, a driver and some luggage) for us for just 3000 Rupees. We said we would consider it and he left us again. Standing in a dark, smelly station all day with only the promise of sitting on a dark, smelly train at the end of it, was not something that was on our 'must do' list. So we agreed between the four of us that if we could get the price down to 2500 Rupees, and if the car looked reasonably roadworthy, and if the driver wasn't under the influence of any illegal substances, we would take the taxi. It would give us the chance to see more of rural India too.

We walked outside to begin the bargaining process. For once we held all the chips—so far we had invested nothing, but the tout army had called for a taxi and driver. Luckily we seemed to be the only tourists at the station that day, so they couldn't hold an auction either. Glenn said that we had considered the offer, but unfortunately 3000 was too much. We could only afford 2000, but we felt confident that that would give the driver and touts more than enough profit, since it is only around 200 kilometres to Jaipur. The head tout did an excellent job of looking first shocked, then deeply hurt. As expected, he refused outright, and as we had agreed with Jeremy and Andy, we shrugged, looked just disappointed enough, and then walked back inside the station.

The foot soldiers ran after us and called us back. The conversation continued like this:

Glenn: We really can only stretch to 2000.
Tout: Impossible.
Glenn: OK, we'll wait for the train.
Tout: OK, 2700!
Glenn: No.
Tout: OK, what you pay?

We went through the motions of trying to piece together some more funds.

Glenn: We will pay no more than 2300.
Tout: 2500 and we will take you.


Glenn: OK, 2500. We will pay at the end.
Tout: OK.

That is what bargaining should be about. Reach a mutually acceptable price and get on with the deal. Pleased, we tied Andy's suitcase to the roof rack, got in the taxi, and drove off. The Tata Indica is actually quite spacious inside and we had plenty of room. However we weren't quite sorted yet. After about 500 metres and one turn, we stopped outside the driver's office (a travel agency, surprise surprise). He said that he needed to go in and tell them where he was going.

We have learned that the secret to bargaining is to genuinely not care about the product or service you are procuring. If you are prepared to walk away if the price is not right, then they can't beat you. And we were all quite prepared to walk away—we were in no particular hurry.

A few minutes passed and then the tout army from the station turned up! A lot of heated discussions took place outside the taxi and then the head tout opened the door and promptly raised his price again to 2700. Presumably they thought that they now had some leverage as we were no longer at the station. So the negotiations had to be re-opened.

Tout: Sorry, but 2500 is not possible. It is 2700.
Glenn: No, we agreed 2500.
Tout: Not possible. We have to pay road tolls on the expressway.
Glenn: Road tolls are not our problem, we agreed 2500.
Tout: No.
Glenn: OK, we will take the train.

We all got out of the taxi and started to untie Andy's suitcase from the roofrack.

Tout: OK, OK, you stay. Get in. 2500 is OK. But we need 600 from you now so that we can buy petrol.
Glenn: Petrol is not our problem either. Do you want to take us to Jaipur or not?
Tout: You listen to me. We need to buy petrol so you must pay 600 now and 1900 at Jaipur.
Glenn: No, you listen to me. We will pay 2500 at Jaipur, as we agreed, or nothing at all.
Tout: OK. But you give us your train tickets so we can get a refund on them. This will be our commission.
Glenn: Absolutely not!
Tout: OK.

We beat them! The tout handed some cash to the driver, and after a brief stop at the nearest petrol station, where a lot less than 600 Rupees' worth of fuel was dispensed, we hit the highway.

The Last Known Location Guide to Cross-Country Driving in India

  • In theory, keep to the left.
  • When overtaking, there is no need to look ahead at whether anything is coming the other way. The car you are passing will expect you to push him onto the verge, so he will drive up it by himself to save you the bother.
  • On a dual carriageway, you can drive on either carriageway—whichever looks like it will get you there faster.
  • You can swap carriageways any time, crossing the dirt central reservation whenever it suits.
  • You may come round a bend and find a line of rocks blocking your carriageway with no warning whatsoever. These are Indian traffic cones, and they mean that the road ahead is closed, either because there has been a horrific accident, or because it hasn't been built yet. Refer to the previous bullet point for the correct course of action.
  • The bigger you are, the higher your priority. If you are lucky enough to be driving a truck, you have total domination over the road (unless you meet a bigger truck coming the other way). So, trucks trump buses trump 4x4s trump cars trump cattle trump motorbikes trump bicycles trump pedestrians. Rajasthani camels seem to take quite a high priority, especially if they are pulling large, heavy-framed carts. But we didn't have enough data to work out exactly where they fit in.

The consequences of failing to observe the guidance above can be catastrophic. In a journey of just 200 kilometres, we saw the wreckage of three serious accidents strewn across the middle of the road. We presume they had happened recently, as older wreckage tended to be pushed over to the verges. In one, a bus had met a truck head on and the bus was half its original length. In another, a tractor had been pulling an overloaded trailer and had literally disintegrated. In the third, another tractor had overturned, throwing bricks across the whole road. We briefly detoured into the jungle to pass at that point.

Our driver dropped us at Jaipur station about four and a half hours later and he didn't even demand any extra cash! (By the way, we didn't see any road tolls.) We parted company with Jeremy and Andy, but not before getting Jeremy's email address: he lives in Bangkok some of the time and we thought it would be good to meet him there for a beer (if we ever make it) and swap Indian war stories. We got a tuk-tuk to the Hotel Shahar Palace, and for once we couldn't be bothered to argue over the price.

Map of Day 077

Day 077
Agra to Jaipur

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.

1 Comment: said...

Much of the world wide web is full of sarcasm & mocking of driving on Indian roads.

This site has been created with the purpose of providing driver education and training rather than criticism.

At present I have produced and made available 17 driver education videos aimed at changing the driving culture on Indian roads are available. To watch the videos, please visit:

The videos cover the following topics:

Video 1: Covers the concept of Blind spots
Video 2: Introduces the principle of Mirrors, Signal and Manoeuvre
Video 3: At red lights, stop behind the stop line
Video 4: At red lights there are no free left turns
Video 5: The Zebra belongs to pedestrians
Video 6: Tyres and Tarmac (rather than bumper to bumper)
Video 7: Merging with the Main road
Video 8: Leaving The Main Road
Video 9: Never Cut Corners
Video 10: Show Courtesy on roads
Video 11: 5 Rules that help deal with Roundabouts
Video 12: Speed limits, stopping distances, tailgating & 2 seconds rule
Video 13: Lane discipline and overtaking
Video 14: Low beam or high beam?
Video 15: Parallel (reverse parking) made easy
Video 16: Give the cyclist the respect of a car
Video 17: Dealing with in-car condensation

Many thanks