Train Ticket Fail

train_fail


Author: Gwendoline Van Doosselaere

Location: Delhi to Agra, India

I had a sneaking suspicion that given how dead tired I was before conking out, I would miss my 6:05 AM train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. But, when I actually wake up at 5:59 AM despite having set two alarms, I curse my unlucky stars.

Naive in my logic that missing a train in India is akin to missing a train in Europe, and that, surely, I’ll simply be able to hop on the 10:30 AM train Ali mentioned, I forego the mad dash to the train station and instead, linger under the shower.

La, dee, da, it is now 6:45 AM by the time I arrive at the New Delhi station, the bazaar pleasantly quiet at this waking hour, and the same man dressed in official looking duds listens to my woes and sends me off to a special government bureau down the street capable of reissuing etickets. I saunter into the ramshackle office, explain my problem to the gruff looking boss man, and wait.

“No trains this morning,” he tells me.

“What?” Panic. Silence. Pindrop. Expletive.

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“No trains. All full. But, there might be a bus leaving this morning with room. At 7:10 AM. Or, a taxi ride.”

Forewarned by my Belgian comrades about their hourslong bus trip, I wince, especially when boss man confirms the duration. I hover in nervous anticipation on the edge of my chair as he calls the bus company to inquire about additional seats.

It is now 7:02 AM, and I think that if I’m about to go on a five hour bus ride, food might be nice. I ask boss man when he’ll know, to which he responds ten minutes. Bus is late.

Suddenly, a strange feeling in my gut tells me that that these men play me for a fool. I am actively being swindled. There will be no bus. And, no matter the truth, there will be no train, either. My only option will be the cab.

Intuition confirmed, boss man stretches my wait time a full ten minutes extra, and at 7:20 AM, announces that the only bus for the day is full, the train is full, and since I already have a return ticket from Agra to Delhi, my only option is the taxi.

“How much?”

“Almost $100,” he deadpans, barely pausing to look me in the face.

I want to screech at him that he’s fucking dreaming if he thinks I am about to fork over one-hundred-USdollars, but instead, I tell him no way and ask for a better price.

“No less than $60,” he counters.

Exasperated, I storm out of the office, fuming. Screaming obscenities at the corrupt Indian tourism bureau in my head, I pause in a quiet corner of the morning bazaar, caught between boiling over and breaking down. I must be emanating pure rage, because I find myself pleasantly left alone, no one daring to shout to me to, “Buy something, miss! Sunglasses, miss! Look here, miss!”

Thoughts racing, I bounce through my options: Do I buy the cab ride? Do I try to see the Taj Mahal at another point in my journey? Do I simply not go to the Taj Mahal?

Now nearly 8 AM, it’s too early to inquire with other travel bureaus, but it’s the perfect time to return to my inn to cool off over breakfast and reassess. Almost back to my hotel, I realize that I left my train tickets with boss man and turn on my heels to retrieve them from the tourist stand.

Boss man stands outside smoking a cigarette, and when he sees me, he presses me to pay the cab fare. “I do not have the money. End of story,” I enunciate coldly.

I peer inside to retrieve my tickets, and as I go to leave, boss man’s cohort tells me that they may have a shared cab for me, the fare split two-ways. “Of course, we are the government,” he assures me when I inquire about my safety traveling with a couple. Rationalizing that $30 is worth a trip to the Taj, I calm and warm my insides with thoughts of complimentary tea the cohort offers while he makes the arrangement.

Then, Mr. Cohort surprises me.

Instead of tea, he slips me a piece of paper saying to go to the train station and check these two upcoming trains for availability the original 10:30 train and the 11:30 Kerala Express.

“Don’t tell,” he says, nodding to boss man. “He is my boss. Talk only to the police.”

Bingo!

At the train station, I nearly assault a young policeman, eager to figure out how to do this for myself. All the while, another conmanI know them now for what they are interjects with malintent, priming me as his next victim. His ploy is so transparent, I can’t believe how blind I’d been to fall for the first one. The policeman confirms the depth of this trickery, looking at me helplessly, as if he is nothing more than a facade, food for the prey from which the vultures feed. I block the conman and his attempts with my body, insisting that this police officer do his job and help rather than funnel me to this intruder.

Success!

Here I am, filling out a form that puts me on the train with 30 remaining empty seats, the 11:30 AM Kerala Express, and I bound with triumph, ready to celebrate this mini accomplishment over travel cons and cultural snags with other travelers.

Perfect. Breakfast time!

I make it to the inn’s rooftop patio at exactly 8:15 AM, just in time to share my victory over the treacherous tricksters. Hearing my morning conundrum, one of my fellow travelers gives me a nugget of gold: The ONLY tourism bureau in Delhi is located at the train station proper.

Those across the street, says Lonely Planet, are nothing but tourist traps.

The dots connect. The smoke clears. My eyes emerge from the woolen blanket of gullibility and misplaced trust. Somehow, someway, missing this morning’s train is a blessing in disguise.

I’ve been duped on a much grander scale than a missed train to Agra. Instead, I realize that the entire travel package I purchased yesterday is a fraud. It’s not $60 I stand to lose, but hundreds.

No, no, I see, this morning isn’t about getting replacement train tickets. It’s about making room for grander lessons, for more important self discoveries and probes into my psyche and sense of self and morality. This is about rediscovering trust, both in myself and in others.

And, it’s about standing up for myself.

 

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