We met Salim at the train station outside in Agra. Our train was several hours late and it was a little past midnight when we finally arrived. We were exhausted and just wanted to get into a taxi and to our hotel as quickly as possible.
Salim approached us and we showed him the address of our guesthouse. He charged us 300 rupees, around 6 American dollars – way to much, but w/e we were tired. We loaded into his cab and set off into the night.
Two days ago, in Jaipur, we had met a rickshaw driver outside the train station who was wonderful. We had randomly picked him out of the crowd of other touts and he had quickly and cheaply taken us to our guesthouse. We agreed to hire him for the entire day and had such a great time that we arranged to hire him the next day as well. So, initially we weren’t hugely put off when Salim began offering various tours and driving options.
Many people in India who deal with tourists – drivers, hotel managers, etc- carry books with them filled with recommendations written by other tourists. Salim was different. He eagerly offered Shannon his book and asked her to read out loud a few entires for the benefit of the cheap seats in the back.
Shannon looked uncertain but at his urging she began to read:
“When we first met Salim, he seemed really dodgey, but he proved to not be that bad.” – Andrew, UK
Awkward silence from Shannon, Caroline and I as Salim nodded happily at the ringing endorsement.
Great. Dodgey. I had to agree. He was very Dodgey. Whatever, we only had 15 more minutes.
Then of course Salim suddenly couldn’t find out hotel. He had seemed very sure of the location at the train station but now he drove aimlessly from street to street claiming he had not idea where to go. Obviously, we were equally as clueless and we had stupidly forgotten to copy down a phone number.
It was close to 1 am and our plans were to wake up at 6 am to see the Taj. Despite, our better judgement, we finally accepted his offers to take us to a hotel he knew. We were clear that we couldn’t pay more than 1200 rupees total.
Of course, much like Salim himself, it was the sketchiest hotel of all time. Also, it was about twice as much as we had said we would pay.
“This is my friend’s hotel,” Salim told us proudly.
Salim’s friendliness had an awful slimy edge to it. Most of the people we had met in Indian were very open, genuine people. Even as they took you for every rupee they owned, they did it in a cheerful almost joking way that made it impossible to be angry. Not so with Salim. He was awful. My instant dislike for him had turned to hatred.
Drab, peeling paint hotel aside, the room was a hot mess. It was huge with dark wood paneling. In the middle of the linoleum floor was a giant, ROUND, bed with a thick, curved, tile headboard. There was no other furniture. Every inch of the room was aged and extremely dirty. There was also an attached bathroom with large, dirt lined bathtub. It was the hotel’s luxury room but in all the wrong ways. Clearly Salem had duped us into renting out the priciest digs in the joint.
With no choice but to bed down for the night, we accepted the room and got on with the business of sleeping.
Caroline took the spare cot they brought in for three people while Shannon and I got the round king bed. It was covered in hair. Hundreds of little black hairs all over the white sheets and pillows. I couldn’t imagine what would have happened to make this bed this dirty.
Actually I could. And it wasn’t pretty. The round bed combined with the sheer abundance of air combined to lead my imagination in the most horrible of places. You know that scene in High Fidelity where he discovers that Laura is dating Ian and lies in bed imagining them together?
That was me. I was John Cushak. Except replace the happy couple with Salim and some salacious Indian music.
Eventually, we got a few hours of sleep. Enough to allow the various insects who were apparently living within Salim’s love nest to feast on my feet. (Those of you who follow my blog will be excited for ANOTHER photo of my feet!)
We woke up bright and early the next morning – itchy and hardly refreshed – to visit the Taj. Little did we know that our adventures with Salim were just beginning.