December 19, 2007

Fun with touts, scammers, and rickshaw drivers

Jodhpur, the blue city, is the chilled-out sister to Jaipur. Dwarfed by a the massive Meherangarh fort that towers over the city, Jodhpur suffers from a light bout of pollution, traffic, and noise. However much she tries, though, she remains much more charming and relaxed than her sister to the east. That said, she has been suffering from problems with touts, corrupt rickshaw drivers, and scam artists, despite a recent police crackdown (that includes a large sign in front of the historic clock tower that says "do not listen to these bad boys who do DRUGS and PROSTITUTION TRAFFICKING along with stealing from tourists").

After a sleepless night on the train from Jaiselmer on which the LOUDEST snorer I have ever come across (he was worse than my boyhood friends, The Thugs) terrorized a full carriage, we arrived in Jodhpur, bleary-eyed and confused. We had been promised a train-station pickup by the guest-house owner, but we didn't find him. So, we walked to the guesthouse. There, at the bottom of the stairs, an unshaven man in a dirty cap claimed to be the manager.
"Guesthouse full, but I have your booking at my sister hotel. Come with me, I have ride waiting for you."
He was blocking our way up the stairs, suspiciously nervous.

"Yes, yes, come I have room for you at my hotel. No problem. I wait for you at train station, but you no come."

Although I almost fell for it, alarms were going off, so after a bit of interrogation, I squeezed past him, despite his best efforts to stop me from doing so. Sure enough, he was a scam-artist rickshaw driver, hoping to lure us into his cab and take us to another hotel where he could cash in on a commission.

Anyways, the guesthouse turned out to be disgustingly filthy, so, at 6am we called another one that had been well-recommended by other travelers.

"Do not take rickshaw here, or I will have to pay commission," the owner the Haveli Inn Pal implored. "Give me your name and I will come get you."

So, we stood on the side of the road, waiting for our ride to show up. Sure enough, within 5 minutes a rickshaw had pulled up. But I was wise to the game now. "Where you taking me?" I demanded the driver, who claimed to be there to pick me up.
"I take you to guesthouse!" he declared happily.
"Which one, which special one?"
"Oh of course I take you to special guesthouse. Come with me, quickly."
"Which special guesthouse?"
"Yes, yes, very special!"

"Please go away."
"No sir, I take you to special guesthouse. Trust me sir. Get in."

As we had this ridiculous, circular conversation, another rickshaw pulled up and a boy no older than 12 hopped out, bearing a sign with my name on it. Perfect.

The Haveli Inn Pal is a gorgeous guesthouse. It is right in the historic part of town, in a 250 year old mansion that dominates the square. The descendants of the original merchant owner still own it, but the two brothers are "having misunderstandings" so the mansion is now two separate, lavish guesthouses, in which each brother has tried to one up the other, while still competing on price. Good for us, bad for them.

This afternoon, we took a rickshaw to the modern, lavish Umaid Bhawan Palace, hoping for a drink. The corrupt driver was more focused on collecting some sort of commission, and tried twice to stop off at some "Tourist Emporiums" hoping that we would bite and go in and buy useless trinkets. Instead, I insisted we continue on to the palace. There, the foolish driver drove right by the open gate around the corner, where he parked in front of a locked side gate.
"Palace closed" he declared.
"Look. Palace closed."
"You've got to be kidding me."
"No. Look. Closed. We go to restaurant Kashta? Very good. Very delicious." Obviously, this restaurant payed some delicious commissions.
"Bugger off. We'll get out here and take our chances."
"Oh. I wait for you here?"
"Bugger off."

We walked around the corner, through the front gate, and headed for the bar. Sadly, the bar had been booked out by a private party, but we did enjoy poking around the over-the-top hotel, where they claimed "It is minimum $50/person cover charge at the bar."

To top off the day, we dined at the ridiculously named "On the Rocks" restaurant (which boasts a bar called "Rocktails"). Despite the name, the food was delicious - we feasted on Seekh kebabs, Mutton kebabs (Z declared them some of the best "mishkaki" she has ever had), and channa massala. Yum.


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