India Journal: So this is what it feels like . . .
July 14, 2008, 1:57 pm
Filed under: India, travel

Toward the end of our India adventure, we made the obligatory trip to see the Taj Mahal in Agra.  Before we arrived there, some friends of ours in Delhi had been kind enough to arrange for a hotel and transportation while we were there.  This was certainly helpful, as our train didn’t arrive in Agra until after 2am.  When we got up in the morning, and me0703081029t up with our driver, we discovered that we also had a tour guide for the day.  Wow, o.k.  So we drove to the Taj Mahal, got the tour, pushing litres of sweat through our pores in the heat and humidity.  The Taj Mahal costs 250 rupees (there are about 42 rupees to the U.S. Dollar) per person to get in . . . for Indians.  All others pay 750 rupees.  I will say this, though – the place is extraordinary.  Quite an impressive piece of art, well deserving of the accolades.

We then walked back to our vehicle, and the driver took us straight to a marble emporium, to show us some local craftsmanship.  It was beautiful stuff – very intricate.  And expensive.  Unusually so.  Like, $100 for a set of coffee table coasters.

We then went back to our vehicle, and they drove us to a restaurant – of their choice, not ours.  It was an Indian restaurant.  By this time, we had been in India for nearly two weeks, and were very familiar with the food, as well as what a normal pricing structure should be.  Yeah, this place had an Indian menu, but American pricing.  By the time we had finished our meal, we had noticed that we had seen almost all of the other diners at this place as we were walking around the Taj Mahal.  All were white Westerners.  And, oh, by the way, this restaurant was well off the beaten path – it wasn’t any coincidence that we all ended up there for lunch.

We figured out pretty quickly that this was a racket.  Our tour guide and/or driver were getting kick backs from all the places they were taking us.  They weren’t asking us what we wanted to see or do – they were taking us to their favored places.  It was only when we got pretty demanding about where WE wanted to go that they relented.

The locals knew that they had a power position, exclusive language, and an ignorant group of people that they could exploit.  We were able to see through this, only because we had spent two weeks with actual Indian people, not being tourists, but learning from the culture.

That feeling of being the targets of exploitation was very telling.  Normally, the rich, white Westerners are the ones getting over on others.  We’re not supposed to be the losers.  We’re supposed to be the ones with power.  That’s just the way it is. 

A very brief moment of realization.  I wish this moment on all my rich, white, Westerner friends.


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