Sanju and I started from Salem, Tamilnadu an early time of 6 AM. Except for one stop for coffee at 7AM, the journey was done non – stop, while keeping the car at a steady and slow speed of 80 to 100 kmph. We reached Coimbatore at 8:!5 AM, had breakfast at ‘Aanandhas’ a delightful restaurant recommended by ‘TripAdvisor’, then headed straight for the airport. I dropped Sanju there with the bags, and proceeded to park the car at one of Aravind Eye Care’s hostels which was right next to the airport. This was mighty convenient, and soon, I was back inside the airport in just 20 minutes. Entry, baggage screening, check – in and security clearance went unhindered, and the flight was on time. Fortunately found a few minutes to spend at Cafe Coffee Day inside the airport for a yum Devil’s Own topped with fresh cream and coffee beans. It was nice to see many other doctors who I knew headed for the same conference in our plane. Our flight took off and landed on time at Delhi at around 2:45 PM.
Our friend Anuj was already there in Delhi and had arrived two hours ago with his sister – in – law Soumya. We had fortunately hired a taxi through a retired friend from the army earlier, and all four of us managed to pile in with our luggage. The journey to Agra was uneventful, except for interference at every single toll gate on production of the free pass from the Defense Section. Near the first toll plaza, we found a highway – restaurant where we stopped for tea at around 5:15 PM and took a few photos there.
We reached Agra at 7:30 PM, then proceeded to drop Anuj and Soumya at their place which was in a totally different locality from ours. I was a little nervous because they were the only ones with us who knew Hindi, while Sanju and I were only proficient in Tamil and English. The taxi driver then suddenly said he wanted Rs. 8000 for fare (which was quite outrageous). A call was made to the taxi owner, and the matter was settled saying the fare was actually Rs. 5500, and the extra Rs. 2500 was for advance for the return journey, which was not required. With that put behind us, we dropped off Ponnappa and Soumya at the ‘Pyrenees’ lodge and were back on the road.
Then came the second heart – attack. My phone had only 15% battery charge, and the taxi guy switched to full comedy – mode by saying he had no idea where I wanted him to go and that he definitely required my GPS to get us there. I tried to convince him to talk in broken English, but failed horribly, as he kept cutting me off unceremoniously with a string of words in Hindi. Praising God for my ‘roaming – enabled – phone’ I proceeded to give him instructions. But… time for the third heart – attack? The car was out of fuel but our super driver and his mate were not interested in stopping at the nearby fuel stations. When Sanju interrogated them with her broken Hindi phrases, they replied that they needed LPG gas and that the station was not nearby. Getting to the gas station took ten minutes through narrow desolate roads lit by sparse street lamps. I looked silently at Sanju, who was now getting the jitters. Once at the bunk, we both were ordered to get outside (without any reason as to why), and the car was taken into the station.
My mind was now working at lightning speed for different ways of escape, in case things turned nasty. Six guys conferred with one another, then finally one of them came over to ask us the address where we were supposed to be going. We repeated for the twentieth time that the address was Bhavna Towers – Clark Inn at the bottom of Guru ka Taal flyover. Then after a few heart wrenching moments, we were back in the car, and driving out of the slum area. The driver was still in love with my GPS, so I had to switch the phone back on (charge was now down to 12%). Fortunately, the remainder of the journey was done sticking to main roads. There were a few worrying moments when the driver insisted that no such flyover even existed. But when we stopped at a tea shop, the localites there were kind enough to point out to our driver that there was definitely such a flyover, and it was just around the bend. We reached it in a minute and our breathing, heart rates and other vital – signs returned to normal when we climbed the flyover and saw our hotel marked with a bold red – and – white sign, just as the phone exclaimed that the battery was down to 4%. The driver and his friend flashed highly attractive smiles and shifted their weight from one foot to another, after helping us with our luggage, and being paid Rs. 5,550. I paid them a hundred extra for God – knows – what, and proceeded to our room. We noted that the time was 9 PM – a full 1.5 hours of traipsing around the town of Agra.
Dinner was spent downstairs at the restaurant, wherein the waiters conveniently forgot to even have the courtesy to fill our glasses with water. We helped ourselves to dinner (which was decent enough) and some ice – cream, and headed back to our room for a good night’s (and might I add, highly deserved) sleep.