Agra to Delhi – A lesson in how not to run a road system

Day 3

In the morning our only thought was to escape this tout-ridden, tourist-trap of a place and head back from Agra to Delhi in preparation for making like a shepherd and getting the flock out of India. Our driver had other ideas though and it became obvious that even private cars aren’t immune to the ‘slight detour my friend, I know a very good shop with cheap, cheap prices!’ To be fair to the guy though, he’d been really good up till then, and even now

he stopped and told us exactly what was going on, right down to how long we could stay and how much he would get for it. He told us there was no problem if we didn’t want to go but I was interested to have a look anyway so we thought we’d earn him a little commission and have a look.

I almost regretted that decision a number of times as Cat was wandering around the very grand but very UK-priced shop looking at jewellery and spotted a bunch of very sparkly things she liked. We were convinced that Blue Topaz was the thing to have and looked ‘absolutely beautiful’ on madam. I complained that the $400 it would cost looked even more beautiful in madam’s purse and managed to shake the salesman off long enough to bolt from the shop, Cat in hand. With driver’s commission earned we headed off Delhi-ward. Or so we thought. It turned out that, lo and behold, there was another shop which paid even better commission, might we perchance consider having a look? A few groans and sighs later we walked into the shop to be met with exactly the same patter as the last place and this time it didn’t take as much pursuasion to get Cat to leave 10 minutes later. It didn’t end there though – I think the driver realised he’d be pushing his luck with a third place so this time he apparently had to stop to get his papers stamped and ‘Oh, look, there’s a shop here which is very good. Why not have a look while I’m away.’ Well, given that the other option was to sit in the car for 10 minutes with children and beggars pawing at the doors we relented. In we went – bad sales patter – surprising expensive jewels – ludicrously expensive vases – prolonged extrication from salemen – bolt for door. And off we went, this time really for Delhi. Seeya later Agra – the Taj Mahal was amazing but we’re not coming back even for that!

The road home was pretty eventful. First, we’re driving along at a fair clip, avoiding swerving tuk-tuks and suicidal motorbikers as we go. Then suddenly the traffic in front is stationary and we’re skidding to a halt, narrowly avoiding amputating the legs of 4 guys who are calmly sitting on the back of the tuk-tuk in front. All the traffic starts to squeeze into one lane and trundle onwards and suddenly a cow leaps past the car in front and brushes past our window. Next thing we know there’s a herd of cattle being driven the wrong way up the motorway and we’re forcing our way past cars, tuk-tuks and stampeding cows! It turns out that herders have discovered years ago that motorways are nice smooth, straight routes on which to move your cattle, and so they do, wrong way or not, cars or not. Good stuff.

At lunch that day I have my first twinge of the dreaded Delhi-belly, and I had been hoping to get away with it since we were only here for 3 days… It was only a minor bout but enough to make the next 3 hours of driving slightly more stressful. I grabbed a handful of paper from the toilet in case of emergency roadside stops… Unfortunately this wasn’t the last I would hear from the belly gurgle today.

Later on we had an even stranger experience, and slightly more terrifying this time. A little ahead of us a lorry turned over, the driver presumably having seen a herd of cows galloping towards him. Traffic jam time you may think. No chance, not here. The van in front does a smart 3-point turn and starts barelling down the motorway the wrong way. Everyone else follows suit and soon there’s a line of traffic speeding down the outside lane the wrong way, with cars coming the right way scattering in all directions. At the next gap in the middle barrier everyone piles onto the other side of the motorway and a similar scene develops on the other side, the oncoming traffic having no idea that there’s a column of drivers heading towards them in the fast lane! This went on for about 10 sphincter-tightening minutes until we passed the lorry and made it through a gap onto our own side again. I promised myself I’d never complain at a traffic jam again…

Back in Delhi the driver offered to show us some more sights but it turned out they were in connection with yet more commission paying shops so we got tough and just directed him straight to the hotel, despite all protestations. I gave the driver probably too generous a tip, but it got rid of him at least and we escaped into the relative sanctuary of the hotel.

That night we decided just to eat at the hotel restaurant, partly because it was the wussy easy option but also partly because it was a rooftop terrace and actually looked quite cool. You could see out over Delhi in all directions and the place actually looked quite nice from a height. Cat went for a pizza, probably a pretty iffy choice given where we were but we’d never heard of a nut pizza, and I went for a spinach and potato curry. We also got a couple of beers, ‘secret beers’ as the waiter called them, served in long cappuchino mugs. Presumably they were punting the beer illegally and this sly move foxed the pretty lax India police but it just made me think that they were watering it down with disease-ridden tap water. The meal was pretty minging in all, the curry totally luke-warm and the pizza covered in the least cheese-like cheese I’ve ever seen.

The only reason I’m going into detail on the dodgy meal was that it pretty much started off the worst bout of runny-tummy I’ve had in my life and, since you’re reading, I’m gonna put you through it as well. If you don’t want to know then stop reading here!

Only about half an hour after getting back to our room I was feeling proper ropy, my stomach churning like a badly loaded washing machine. I didn’t feel really sick yet but I knew something was wrong and it didn’t take much pursuasion at all to pursuade my belly to part with it’s recently gotten gains. Another half hour later though and I realised that my pre-emptive strike had achieved nothing, things were gonna get worse. I accepted the inevitable, took my porcelein seat and prepared to begin the trial of india – the aforementioned runny tunny, the scoots, the squips and the squelps. The daddy and the master of those that evacuate bowels aroudn the world, the Delhi Belly.

Moments later it was on, I was firing liquid from both ends and losing the same again in sweat. It lasted an eternity and I felt as weak as someone would who’s just lost a quarter of their body weight in an hour. Foolishly I stood up to try to get some cold water on my face and the next thing I knew I could hear Cat shouting and had the strangest sensation of cold tiles against my cheek. It was the weirdest thing, I can’t remember the last time I conked out, and I hadn’t a clue what was going on. The main thing that brought me round was the fact that Cat was freaking out outside the door. Naturally, having a fair idea of what was coming I’d locked the door to try and spare her some of the details but she’d now heard the crash as I hit the floor and thought I’d died or something. I managed to croak an, ‘I’m alright,’ and then crawled to open the door. Apparently I conked out and landed on my ass again after that but I don’t remember it at all. Cat sat on the floor with me for about half an hour trying to force water into my mouth including some weird diarrheoa powder for fluid replacement – one advantage of going to India with a nurse. After I’d managed to identify both her and I without mixing us up too much we struggled to the bed and I lay down. Blessed sleep came on quickly, but just about as quickly followed round 2, and this time I wasn’t even allowed a locked door.

The next couple of hours followed a familiar pattern, but I managed to stem the tide after that and get some actual sleep. I had some weird nightmares but I can’t remember much of the details apart from how disturbing they were, probably for the best!

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