Posted by: adventuressetravels | June 5, 2012

Impromptu Couchsurfing

The train pulled into Delhi at 10:15.  Late. 3-hours after it’s scheduled arrival of 7:00am.  I patted myself on the back that I hadn’t bought the train ticket to Agra.  The trains were always a little late but this was ridiculous.  Well, if I rushed through the Taj Mahal, then maybe I’d have enough time to make it to Jaipur that night.  After hearing some pretty sketchy things about Agra I did not want to spend the night there.

Walking past tuk tuk drivers offering to drive me, I made my way over to the bus station.  Luckily the man who helped me at the tourist ticket office in the Delhi train station informed it was adjacent to the train station or the tuk tuks might have tricked me into accepting their offer.

The “bus station” was little more than a dusty, unpaved parking lot with a few geriatric busses parked at odd intervals.  No waiting room, few customers, and no other foreigners: this was bus station at its most basic level.

I walked up to an empty bus with several uniformed men standing outside of it and asked, “Agra?”

I sat down on one of the thinly-padded seats, it wasn’t the nicest bus.  In fact it made old-fashioned school busses look sumptuous, but for 150 rupees ($3 USD) it got you there.   I was the only person on the bus.  How long would it take to fill up so that we could we leave?  I should have remembered that time in India moved at a pace that made sloths look like distance sprinters.

I pulled out my kindle and buried myself in Sense and Sensibility.  No use worrying.  Everything would work out.

A few people climbed on the bus, and to my surprise and delight, before it was anywhere close to full we started to move.  My happiness was short-lived, though we were getting started earlier; we were also stopping to pick passengers up at what seemed like every corner.

Before long the bus was almost full and a polite young Indian man with a winning smile asked me if he could sit next to me.  Wearing a t-shirt and jeans, the man looked like the star quarterback from some high-school movie, the kind protagonist who secretly likes ballet, reading, and would rather spend his free-time painting than at keg parties.  But he had kind eyes and a gentle manner and was utterly without the predatory stench that emanates from many Indian men.

He introduced himself as Love (though I misheard the name) and told me that he was a boxer and had just come from a competition in Delhi.  His father was a tailor and a pacifist and not happy about the fact that his son was a boxer, but he loved the sport.  Studying English, boxing, and helping his family, Love was always busy.

After talking for a while I went back to my Jane Austin.  Though he seemed extremely nice and quite interesting, his English wasn’t fluent and my Hindi was nonexistent so carrying on a lengthy conversation was out of the question.  He seemed fascinated with my kindle and from time-to-time I would catch a glance of him reading over my shoulder.

I had thought that the bus from Delhi to Agra was supposed to take 3-4 hours, and possibly it does with a different bus, but I clearly had gotten on the slow bus.  We only stopped for one toilet break, but still time seemed to be creeping by.

The sun was creeping dangerously close to the horizon when I asked my neighbor how much longer it was to Agra.  We had two hours to go.  I had to resign myself to the fact that I would need to find a room.  I really didn’t relish searching for a room at night.

When I asked Love if he knew of any guest houses or hotels in Agra he gaped at me.  The fact that I hadn’t reserved a room was incredible to him. “I will arrange a room,” my neighbor said, gallantly and in a moment he was on the phone.

After a brief phone call he proclaimed that a room was arranged.  I marveled at my luck.  What a wonderfully kind man to make sure I had accommodation and protecting me from the mean streets of Agra.  A suspicion tickled the back of my mind, “how much is the room,” I asked?

“1,000 Rupees,” Love replied smiling.

It was only $20, but that was a little expensive for me, I explained.

I shouldn’t worry; he could definitely find something else more in my price range. How much did I want to pay?

I’d been paying around 200-300 Rupees for hotel.

Love looked a bit uncomfortable.  He could probably find something around 500, but Agra was a tourist town.  He wasn’t sure if there were places in my price range.  (I later met travelers who had found places in Agra for 200 Rupees).  He would find something though, he promised.

It was dark by the time the bus pulled into Agra; this was not the time of day I liked arriving in strange cities.  I was thankful that I had a local with me.

Love asked me if I was hungry.  I wasn’t terribly hungry but I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so food probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.  Maybe I should find a place to stay first though?  The boxer didn’t seem concerned that he hadn’t found a hotel yet though, so I decided not to worry.

“You will eat at my house,” he replied confidently.

After a short tuk tuk ride we turned down a dark street and pulled up to a warmly-lit house.  This was his parents’ place.  They wanted to invite me to their house for dinner.

We walked through the cement-floored downstairs up a flight of steps and opened the door on the heated family-area.  Bold greens, blues and yellows gave the room a cheerful, welcoming feel.  A slightly-built man, with glasses and salt and pepper mustache was the first to greet me.  He was Love’s father, and he certainly looked like a tailor. Almost before he was done speaking, a plump motherly woman, her face wreathed in smiles welcomed me enthusiastically to have some food – I must be hungry after the long bus ride!

The svelte boy, who had been studying on the large bed that filled the far side of the room, introduced himself as Love’s brother, Manshul.  He was a professional dancer and just starting university, he told me.   The girl rolling out puri bread to fry was their sister, but she didn’t really speak English.  We smiled and waved, but she seemed busy so I let her get back to making bread.

They were Christian, his father told me delightedly and it was so good to have me in their home.   He took me on a tour of the room.  They were middle class Indians, he informed me. They owned the whole house but mainly stayed in this room.  In the corner he pointed to a sewing machine:  this was his work area.  Beside the bed was a little puja, or alter.

While showing me he lit incense and started to ring a bell.  Manshul indicated that I should this was a holy time and remain silent during the bell.  30 seconds later it was over.  This was a very Indian tradition, they informed me, they paid respect to Durga, but were Christians.  I wasn’t quite sure why being Christian was important, but the man was emphatic about his religion.

Before I knew it the mother, a long ponytail hanging down her back, brought out a small chair and table on which she placed a sumptuous feast.  My mouth watered as steam from the delicious spiced food  wafted my way.  But I felt rude eating alone.

No, eat, eat, the mother told me.

When I protested that I would wait until they ate she just smiled.  The family would eat later, Love told me.  I wasn’t quite sure why, but at last hunger got the better of me and I tore off some puri and started eating the delicious meal. The puri kept coming and before I knew it I wasn’t eating out of hunger, and still they brought more.

Finally when I couldn’t stuff another bite in my mouth, I thanked them profusely for the scrumptious food, but I really couldn’t eat another thing.

PujaI had almost forgotten that I still didn’t have a place to stay.  Love told me not to worry.  I could stay with his parents.  They had a room downstairs for me.

That night I slept soundly snuggled up in the bed in the family’s downstairs room.

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Responses

  1. When did the family eat?

  2. I assume that they ate together after they got me set up in the room.

  3. …or ..maybe never eat because you ate all they had to eat jaja

    Ojalá que no :-p


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