If you have been following so far then you know we have travelled:
Heathrow – PLANE – Mumbai – sleeper TRAIN – Udaipur – AUTOMOBILE (bus) – Jodhpur
One of the key reasons that Leo left his iPad on the bus today was because we were ushered off, unexpectedly, before the last stop. There was a Rickshaw driver waiting for us who was a friend of the bus driver and we were told that because the bus didn’t go into the old town, where our booked guest house was, that we must get off now.
Not having the foggiest idea where we were in relation to the centre of Jodhpur and trusting the bus driver (mistake number 1) we got off.
I know enough to know that we must agree a price upfront before getting into the rickshaw and I asked the question before I got off the bus but didn’t get a reply.
We gathered our bags hurriedly leaving Leo’s iPad in the seat pocket (mistake number 2).
Our focus was then on counting bags and ensuring we took everything from the locked luggage hold at the back of the bus.
We then found the four of us and our four backpacks wedged into what felt like a tiny rickshaw and we had still not agreed price. Remember we had no idea how far out of the town/city we were (learning point: if this happens again – breath and use google maps BEFORE making next move)
The rickshaw driver said 400 rupees which is just over £4. I said 200 rupees, which is actually 50 rupees more than we have had to pay so far, but the rickshaw driver was very convincing citing the steep hill, which I knew about, and wouldn’t negotiate.
So there we were faced with a dilemma, after a 5am start and hair raising 4 hour bus journey where slaloming around cows sitting on the motorway 🐂🚌🐂🚚🐂 was required many times. Do we unfold ourselves and our backpacks out of the taxi and negotiate or do we say okay. We said “okay” – big mistake and the one mistake that drove me on to walk out of our hotel at 20:00 with a full refund.
We later found out that the correct cost of the rickshaw journey was 40 rupees and so we paid 10 times more. Boy did I feel we were seen as an ATM machine when I discovered the magnitude of the mistake.
I also now believe that the bus driver would have received a commission from the rickshaw driver for his part in the charade. In India we are discovering that trust is a complex thing.
As an aside, the bus driver further profited from us by locating and then bringing to our hotel Leo’s forgotton iPad. We didn’t have change and were so relieved that Leo was reunited with his iPad that we felt that a tip of 500 rupees (£6) was appropriate to the value of the item returned to us, without us even needing to leave the hotel. Even with the insight we now have, we don’t see this as a mistake just a poor decision fuelled by our huge relief.
I had spent at least 90 minutes researching hotels in Jodphur and settled on ‘Cosy Guest House’ as our best option. With a low price, strong reviews on trip advisor and located very close to the Fort. Upon arrival one of our rooms was upgraded so that our rooms were next to each other, however both rooms were VERY small with sidestepping required to move past the bed and inadequate space for us to access our backpack contents. (Mistake number 4 – we didn’t ask to see the rooms before we ‘moved in’).
We knew in advance that Johdpur had experienced heavy rain a week ago and flooding had killed 3 people. We had been assured from several sources that all problems were over so decided to head to Jodhpur as planned. As a former wastewater engineer it was still a shock to be greeted to Jodhpur Old Town with a stream of water 3cm deep coming up out of manhole covers and flowing down the main streets our rickshaw was negotiating. We also had to negotiate this water each time we entered or left the Guest House which soaked our shoes/boots. But it was okay, we were told by a fellow traveller, the water only had sewage in it before 11am!
For those of you with an interest in these things. This water was caused by run off entering a lake higher up the hillside causing it to overflow, entering the drainage system overland and then exiting through the manhole covers. Our guest house was on a very steep slope, which made for fabulous views of the fort and a work out for our thighs.
But I digress…Adding to our woes both Donald and I has secumbed to ‘Delhi Belly’, Donald suffered yesterday and on the bus journey. My body decided to tell me something was wrong about midday today resulting in me sleeping most of the afternoon not quite knowing what was wrong but knowing that horizontal was the best position for me.
We had booked for just one night, but needed two because our train was a day later than expected. So Donald got on the case and found a hotel close to the railway station. Of course the guest house wanted us to stay both nights with them, but with the growing catalogue of problems (flooding, room size, heat of rooms, peeling ceiling paint falling on bedding, ants in the room and a toilet that squirted at least a pint of (clean) water over the floor every time we flushed it, to name but a few) we were very tempted by the prospect of a night in a mid range hotel.
The guest house showed us two of their other rooms which were significantly better than the rooms we had and were therefore more expensive. Following a good chat with one of the staff members earlier he had suggested that one of our rooms was actually worth 300 rupees when we had actually paid 500 rupees (about £6). So there we were again with ATM tattooed across our white western foreheads!
We had said that we would like to swap rooms tonight and we might stay the second night too, but that we didn’t want to pay the extra 800 rupees the guest house were asking for to facilitate the switch. I was told that the boss was coming soon and I could raise the matter with him, so we waited.
Two hours later and no boss had turned up. We whiled away the time watching a sky full of small kites being flown from rooftops and a setting sun while chatting to an Irish travelling mother and adult daughter. Awesome spectacle and good company.
I went down to check when the boss would be coming and was told I needed to speak to him on the phone. I said what we needed and was flatly refused the room move without paying extra with no suggestion of negotiation or any attempt to reach a compromise. So I said we would change hotels tonight and the boss said fine.
Because we had already paid for the rooms online we needed to assure ourselves of a refund before moving on. However after 15 minutes negotiating the booking website’s automated system it was clear that a refund was not going to be straightforward.
By this time I had spotted that this booking website clearly listed EVERY room in our guest house as having air conditioning, a TV and a balcony, our rooms had none of these. Neither room even had a window so air circulation was poor even with ceiling fans. This information was all I needed to decide to fight further.
In this time Donald had phoned a hotel near the station that had availability and he negotiated a rate so we knew we had somewhere to move to.
Getting no where with the hotel I rang the hotel booking site (Cleartrip) that we had used relying on their professionalism to get our money refunded. The booking site set up a 3 way conversation with the Guest House’s boss and me and when we got to an impasse, put us on hold for over 10 minutes. In this time we ended up discussing the situation with the boss putting all the blame on Cleartrip for the inaccurate listing.
Eventually the boss said that he would come to the guest house and we both put the phone down with the hold music still playing. The boss arrived within 2 minutes giving me enough time to work out that we had spent 650 rupees with this guesthouse today on food and drink, the refund we were seeking was 980 rupees (£10!) and therefore if we just walked now we would be just 330 rupees (£3.50) out of pocket.
When the boss arrived we went back over the situation and options and I explained that all it would take for us to leave quietly was a refund for them of 330 rupees. And eventually the boss agree and handed over the cash.
The time was then 20:00ish as we four, rucksack on backs, set off into the dark and still water logged streets to find a rickshaw that would transport us to our new hotel.
Determined not to be scammed again, adrenaline pumping we hailed a rickshaw and started to negotiate. We knew the right price to be 40 rupees, so when the 1st rickshaw driver refused to go below 80 rupees, me having walked away once, we said ‘OK’ and started to get in to the rickshaw until I spotted that there was a meter on this rickshaw. When the driver wouldn’t use the meter we, and our bags got out and carried on walking.
The second rickshaw had a meter and the driver said he would use it, his English was almost nonexistent and a couple of well spoken Sikh gentlemen stepped in to help us explain to the driver where our new hotel was. We and our bags got in with reassurances from the Sikh men that the driver would use the meter. However metres into the journey and I spotted that although the flag was down there was no reading on the meter and the driver said ‘broken’. With all of us shouting ‘stop’ and gesturing to him to stop, Alfie riding pillion jumped out first and held onto the rickshaw with Donald exiting shortly afterwards. The street was very narrow and by this time we had created quite a traffic jam which helped us get out (into flowing water) and step into a doorway to wait for the traffic to get moving again.
Our third rickshaw driver, nickname Alex, was a blessing. Alex was about 20, spoke good English, admitted his meter was broken and agreed to a rate of 50 rupees. He didn’t know our hotel but took us opposite the railway station as per the Hotel’s directions and waited with us until he spotted our hotel just behind us. We paid Alex his 50 rupees and an extra 50 rupees tip as a thank you for his honesty.
Our new hotel is everything we hoped it would be and, so far, the customer service has been excellent. Donald had done a great job talking to the front desk over the phone and we were greeted like friends with our requirements understood and the discounted price agreed on the phone honoured face to face. With either two deluxe rooms or one room sleeping 4 on offer we opted for the one room and all revelled in the cool from the air conditioning. We wanted two singles for the boys so housekeeping were called, we were brought toiletries, bottled water and eventually towels once we realised we had none. When we couldn’t turn off one of the lights the front desk manager came up to reveal Leo’s bag was shielding one of the switches from view. And best of all there was hot water so we all had showers, paying particular attention to wash our flood water/sewage sodden feet and wrapped in large soft towels we got ready for sleeping in our comfy beds with white linen and good quality pillows.
My favourite quote of the day was from Leo when we were in the 3rd rickshaw and he said “Mum, you are a strong women!”
Today I felt strong, empowered and powerful.
Today Donald, Alfie, Leo and I all pulled together to make the move happen.
Together we were an awesome team. I am proud of who we are and the role each of us played in facilitating the move. Today feels it will be incredibly valuable learning and we all now feel able to say no and walk away when a situation is not feeling right, especially if faced with a stubborn rickshaw driver.
Although it takes a lot to say it, “I am especially proud of me”
p.s. Does anyone know where I can buy a t-shirt that says “I am a tourist not an ATM” in Hindi.