Episode 2 begins:
Pappuji approaches the group and he and other the men have themselves a little chat. They both motion for us to pile into Pappuji's little car. We're hesitant. We don't trust anyone at this point. But we make the decision that, should the need arise and they were in fact plotting on us, we wouldn't mind attacking Pappuji and end up on the New Delhi nightly news.
I need to describe this scene for you. Looking back, I wish I had taken pictures but I was in no condition to do that at the time. But picture the 4 of us, huddled together, standing amidst what amounts to a back alley, the last year's worth of trash from all the surrounding buildings has spilled over into the street, been rummaged through and pulverized into the ground....then image all the stray dogs in your neighborhood....the sickly, mangy and malnourished ones, roaming around looking for scraps, add them. Alright now, imagine some emaciated looking cows roaming the streets nearby....and then add some men, who are closing in on you from all sides, ambushing you with souvenirs, water, other random stuff, others basically pointing and laughing. You got it? Are you feeling kinda like you would if you showed up on the first day of school topless and then maybe you were kidnapped and dropped of in the middle of the desert with no water and no compass?? Ok, then you're there with me.
We reluctantly squeeze our hips into Pappuji's tiny car. The taxis in Dehli look like this:
And I don't mean the tuk-tuks. I mean actual taxis. So we are 5 deep in this tiny car. Knees in my chest (I'm about 1/4 of an inch shy of 5'10" and the car you see is not made for people of my stature) our hips are touching each other's hips and its getting hotter as the day progresses....more imagery for you.
We're finally on our way back to the hotel feeling down but not out....we only needed to figure out transportation to Agra. We had already scheduled a way back and we figured the hotel could help us...plus, we were exhausted...needed a morsel...irritated.....and were just happy to to be sitting down somewhere. We needed more than help though....we needed some divine intervention to turn the day around.
Pappuji starts making small talk but I was in no mood. So I stared out the window while Jo entertained him. One of us managed to tell him the condensed version of the morning's debacle. Conveniently, Pappauji reveals to us that he could transport us to Agra and back for 12,000 Rupees for the 4 of us (basically $180 RT). We thought he might be kidding. That's a really cheap price so we clarified with him a few times...."that includes gas, tolls, tax, fees and whatever else, right? No surprise add-ons, right? We don't want to have to fight you". He reassured us and we agreed. But there were a few stops we needed to make before getting on the road. I'll explain the stops in a sec.
In the meantime, to convince us that he was the best taxi driver this side of the Yamuna (google the Yamuna River if you don't get it), he told us stories and forced us to read his comment book(s) where his previous passengers had left all these great reviews about his taxi services, between Delhi and Agra and his other routes, how he transported them, stayed with them and catered to them the whole day, etc....dating back to 2008. Ok...this is good news and kinda eased our suspicions a little. We feel we've made a solid decision......then the foolishness begins.
Recall, Pappuji has to make several stops. He explains to us that the quickest way to Agra is the Yamuna Expressway, the new-ish toll road that was built between the two cities to limit traffic and cut down on the travel time. So we're like ok great...we'll get there in a little over two hours and the day won't be a total bust. But first, Pappuji needs to go by his house to pick up the transit permit he needs that allows him to drive on the toll road. Then he would have to stop and pay the road tax and get gas before we left. Here's a list of all the other stuff Pappuji had to do before we actually started driving to Agra.
- Get a pedicure
- Buy a tuna fish sandwich
- Solve world hunger
- Find Jimmy Hoffa's body
- See Casablanca the movie
- Say 3 hail Marys
- Trim the hedges
- Paint a watercolor sunset.
You get the idea right? We spent a full hour or more running errands and doing things that did not include driving to Agra. Silver lining: I got to see more Delhi street scenes but that wasn't on my itinerary for the morning....
So we head to his house (I can't make this stuff up)....when we finally get to the gated apartment complex, Pappuji Jr. is standing outside amidst the roaming cattle with the documentation his father needs for us to get to Agra. He grabs the papers and we're off. Pappuji tells us he drives the taxi for money to put junior through medical school. Sweet, Pappuji. You're a stand-up guy. But can we go??
We stop for gas. Pappuji gets out of the car and then comes back, pokes his head into the car and is asking us for money. We didn't realize that gas was included in the price he quoted....he didn't make that part clear (even though we asked him). So we didn't give him anything until we confirmed that this fill up was included. Again, he assured us that it was, so we forked over the first half of the dough. The gas is pumped by an attendant. We leave....but we still aren't on the road to Agra.
We are questioning this man every step of the way because this has become like an episode of Punk'd. So, when he pulled over on the side of a busy highway, turned off the engine and left us there to suffocate and die, we were baffled (I'm not sure that's an adequate word to fully describe what was happening at that time). He hopped over the curb and disappeared into some small building...and reappeared about 10 mins later and informed us that he had just paid the tax. I will never forget the stupid grin that was plastered on his face. He knew we were skeptical...but he was happy to make this money for junior's tuition so he didn't care. It was kinda like this:
FINALLY....FINALLY....we get on the road that leads to Agra. At this point I feel like Agra is a mystical land that only exists in my imagination. We are driving, but this still isn't the Yamuna Expressway. It's another bumpy highway on which the drivers have no regard for the marked lanes or other vehicles shared with the tuk tuks, motorcycles, families with small children on scooters and livestock, don't forget the livestock.
Remember that this is day 3 of our trip, we haven't slept more than 4 hours at one time, there's jet lag, we took the red-eye to Delhi, it was hot and we hadn't really eaten. In times like this, all I can do is sleep. It's the best way to protect others from my attitude. But also keep in mind that this is the smallest car ever so I'm having difficulty sleeping b/c I can't rest my head comfortably, my head is bobbing and my knees are hurting from being cramped for so long. Between naps I open my eyes to see the beautiful country side. There are women working in farms dressed in saris, there's cattle and other livestock roaming around and its really green and quiet beautiful. We stopped to pay the toll a few times....whatever.
At some point, I wake up fully and I'm starting to think that it must have gotten much hotter outside because it's rather warm inside the car. Then, I'm looking at the clock on my phone and trying to calculate how long we've been driving and how much farther we have before we arrive at our final destination. But the math isn't adding up. According to my calculations, we should only have about an hour left. But from the looks of things, we're in the middle of nowhere. Then I notice that the few other cars on the Zamuna are speeding past us....even the cow I saw trotting along side the car when I first opened my eyes the car is still within eyesight. I was confused. Are we standing still? I must have said it out loud b/c someone answered me/ No, we're just driving at the slowest pace possible.
The speed limit on the Yamuna Expressway is 140km per hour (about 86 mph). I peek over Pappuji's shoulder to read the speedometer. He was going about 80, which I thought was fine until I realized that we weren't in the US and it wasn't 80 mph, I did a double take. Pappuji was driving 80km per hour. 80 km per hour is the equivalent of just under 50 mph. Basically, we were standing still. I thought to myself, I can get out and run faster than this!
So I start asking questions. How much further do we have, why are we driving so slow, what going on? No one has the answers, Sway, and it seems that my friends were already agitated so my questions didn't help. Joseph speaks up for the group and tells Pappuji to speed up because it's taking forever for us to get there and we need to preserve what's left of our schedule. Pappuji looks over at Joseph, confused, maybe he thought we should be grateful for his slow driving. After all, he was giving us a chance to take in the surroundings and marvel at the wonders that were India. But our patience for this journey had worn out hours ago. He never went any faster. He basically ignored all our pleas and demands. A journey that should have taken 2 and half hours or so, is now taking more than 4 hours.
But wait....there's more. Pappuji is driving so slow it's making me want to cry and it's hot in the car. Real hot. It gets hotter...................................................the air conditioner in the car has stopped working. Not kidding. In the middle of the Yamuna Expressway, with a cow on one side and the huge rice fields of Nowhere on the other, heat beaming down on us from above, reflecting off the concrete from below and radiating through the car windows, this man's air conditioner goes out. I could have cursed....I probably did. To make matters worse, we still have about 1.5 hours left to drive, no end to this journey in sight, no way to ask for help....
We. Are. Suffocating. In this tiny coffin on wheels. It has to be 100 degrees outside. This is my nightmare.
Pappuji is completely unphased. We are in his car fanning, loosening our clothes, gasping for air, sweat dripping everywhere (creating quite a scene)..........his eyes never left the road. We roll the windows down and the hot, stank outside air floods the car, but at least we can breathe. Needless to say, the last leg of the trip was a true test of my faith in humanity.
Meanwhile, Pappuji has been telling us that we'll stop at a restaurant, where we could buy water that has clean bathrooms, that also doubles as a mechanic who can fix the fuse for his a/c while we are touring the Taj Mahal. We could barely hear him. The heat was so thick it stifled the words as they came out of his mouth.
FINALLY, after what seemed like an eternity of torture, we see a sign that says Agra >>>>,m like a beacon of light from the heavens, but Pappuji turns <<<<< and my dreams of this horrific experience coming to an end are shattered as we drive further and further into what we think is the wrong direction. We all kind of lose it and ask him why he's not following the signs. He tells us that he knows of a shortcut....I wished was had gone the long way. This shortcut took us through a town...more cows and stray dogs, then we fight traffic, tuk tuks, motorcycles and bicycles, all of whom were completely disregarding conventional traffic laws and aimlessly driving all over the street. Straight chaos. We were within an inch of our lives more times than I care to recall. I was sure we were going to run over several bikers and we cut off a family of four riding on a scooter, with a baby hanging off the back who was no more than 2 years old. The hot car comes to a stop....we've reached the rest stop. Amen.
See Episode 3 for the rest of the story.