Agra Diary by Martine Clausen PSM teacher from Holland

31st October, 2.50 Delhi
Arrival in Delhi. As it is pitch dark I do not see anything of Delhi, but I do not mind. Now the part I dreaded so much begins. First of all I wait for my suitcase. It shows up, so that's one concern less. As I stand waiting for it, I notice some people with "How to Know God" labels on their luggage. Unfortunately I do not dare speaking to them. I head in the direction of the "prepaid taxi booth". There is a woman who also has the HTKG-tag. I ask her where she is going. She tells me she is also on her own, but that a group of people are going to the hotel Intercontinental. I, in my infinite naiveté, still think that the American girls will join me at the Radisson, so I decline her offer of accompanying her. I take a taxi. I have no clue whatsoever about the Rupee, so I just pay 350 rupees to get to the hotel. The person who takes me to the taxi does not leave, nor does the taxi. As it is now 3.15 in the morning, I just want to get to the hotel. Then I understand, I need to give the man a tip, of course: baksheesh. I give him a tip and he still lingers on. I tell him to go away and in a decisive voice tell the driver to take me to the hotel real quick. I surprise myself… The Radisson is not 10 minutes away from the airport. It is an enormous hotel, and I am rather in awe before its splendour. Just a simple girl like me, staying in such a hotel… I go to the desk and tell the man I am to share a room with Mrs. Barbara Black. He looks her up and says that she has not arrived yet. I can understand that, my flight was delayed, so I figure hers was also delayed. The man is reluctant in giving me the key to the room. I ask him what's wrong. He wants a credit card number. I am at a loss whether this is the way to go about things, and am hesitant in giving him my number, but finally I give in, I suppose everything will be arranged with Barbara in the morning. As a staff of the hotel takes up my luggage and shows me the room, he tells me that all British Airways flights have been cancelled. On closing the door I realise that I am on my own in Delhi, India, about 8000 kilometres away from home, at 4 o'clock in the morning, and that all arrangements planned in advance have been to no avail because of the weather. What's this Universe? Why does this have to happen this way?
The room is so luxurious, I am awestruck. I decide to shower and then try to get some sleep. The bed is just enormous, in it is room enough for 5 adults, tall ones too! I do not dare to turn off the lights. I feel frightened and tired. I wake up every hour.
In the morning I wonder what to do next. First of all I call Avis, to find out whether they can get me a cheaper ride. They cannot, so I cancel the car. 300$ is almost 750 guilders, I just can't afford this, especially as I will have to pay for this room myself. I decide to call the Jaypee Palace in Agra to ask them advice. They tell me that I can do 3 things: either I get an expensive taxi, or I go by train, or I go to the Hotel Intercontinental and join the group which will leave for Agra today. So I call the Intercontinental only to learn that the group has just left for Agra by coach. As I put down the phone, it's 10 o'clock. What to do now? My mind goes blank. Suddenly I start by the sound of the phone. When I pick up and answer, a woman with a beautiful British accent says: "Hello there, Martine, this is Sheereen. I'm down at the lobby of the Radisson. I decided to arrive an hour early as you might want to leave early for Agra…" How about that for an orchestration of the Universe! As Sheereen had taken a very early flight, the weather conditions were not quite so bad as to prevent her flight from leaving London, so she had arrived safely in Delhi and was now here to pick me up. She wanted to have some breakfast. Can you imagine? I had not even thought about food as I was completely absorbed by my predicament, and this made me land to earth. So we had breakfast, and then Sheereen had a shower in my luxury room and then we took a taxi together for Agra. Sheereen had been to Pakistan last year and knew all about bargaining and so I was now in the company of a travel companion who could not be cheated and thus I was in safe hands.
The taxi-ride is a tale on its own. I soon found that in India there apparently are no traffic-rules like we know them in the West. The basic rule I could discover was that he who honks the horn loudest has priority. I was much amused to discover that on the backside of the vehicles it often says: please blow horn. It confirmed my ideas about Indian traffic-rules. After a rather comfortable 5 hour drive we arrived in Agra. We had to stop at a railway passage, because a train was coming. Sheereen opened her window and immediately a man who sold necklaces offered her his merchandise. Sheereen had a thorough look at them and the man changed the price of the necklaces every other minute. In the meantime all kinds of people crossed the railway passage, even though the barriers were lowered. Next to us was a rickshaw with two Indian women in it, they stared at me. I suppose it was my blond hair, I smiled at them, but they just kept on staring and did not return the smile. Although I had read about this in the travel guide, I felt a bit awkward. The necklace salesman finally gave up. Another man approached the Jeep and our driver opened his window. They talked and then the newcomer said to us that he was a friend of the driver and could please he share the taxi with us. I must confess I am rather suspicious by nature (or by conditioning), but this just stroke me as odd. On approaching the taxi, the two men did not at all react as friends. However Sheereen did not mind and the newcomer sat in the front. Then he started asking us questions, to which we politely replied. Finally my suspicions were met, he now told us he knew this wonderful marble factory where we could buy marble very cheap. I told him I wanted to go straight to the hotel. Sheereen also expressed her desire in going to the hotel as we were tired and in fact had not arranged for a room. We arrived a day before the seminar and so had to try to persuade the hotel to give us a room for the night. The bumpy Jeep ride had made us tired, we had not eaten and felt like getting out of the car. As it became clear to the man that we were by no means willing to visit all the factories he had been enumerating, he finally left the car. As soon as he went the driver turned round and said in broken English: this man is cheat…
At last we arrived at the hotel. It did credit to its name: Jaypee Palace. It was grand. When we went in a porter took care of our luggage and we went in quest for a room. We ran into Roger Gabriel, which was very nice, at last a familiar face! The hotel got us a room and we went up to meditate. The room was fine, not as luxurious as the one at the Radisson, so I felt more at home here. On the balcony door was a sign: Beware, Monkey menace! Keep door locked! This was very exotic indeed. After meditation we went for a meal. We had a wonderful Indian meal. I now felt much more relaxed. I had safely arrived at the hotel, without any major difficulties. I had made a friend, enjoyed a nice dinner and was ready to start the How to Know God seminar.
1st November 2000
After a good nights rest we decided to have breakfast and Sheereen proposed to go into Agra to do some shopping. I was a bit taken aback, clearly Sheereen was the "taking action" type of girl. I decided that that was just the ticket for me and agreed to go with her. She asked a very nice girl of the staff where we should go for the best shopping. So this girl explained, wrote down the address and off we went. On the way out, busloads of seminar-goers arrived. Everybody got a garland of flowers and a tikal (a red dot) on the third eye. The dot meant: "a warm welcome to the guests whom we will treat like gods". We also got ours. We decided to register for the seminar before leaving. We got our name tags, a beautiful bag with an Indian outfit in it, and the necessities for the course. We started to feel rather excited. The staff from the Chopra Centre were very friendly and by now I felt quite happy.
So we went shopping, outside the hotel were motor rickshaws waiting and we took one. The driver did not speak much English, but he understood where we wanted to go. Sheereen wanted to buy material to get some Indian outfits made. I followed along. We soon fond a material shop and Sheereen had the man show her all kinds of beautiful material. I felt a bit embarrassed when finally she decided this was too expensive after the man had taken out loads of material, but Sheereen did not seem to mind and we continued our shopping. In a bookshop we spent some time. I picked some postcards and a Ganesh calendar. Sheereen was having a conversation with the salesman. When we left she told me she wanted to have her palm read and the man of the shop knew an ashram where this would be possible. We continued our shopping and in another shop I bought 2 beautiful materials for Indian outfits.
After 2 hours we wanted to return to the hotel. On passing by the bookshop the owner came out and called us. Another man in Indian clothes was there. He was introduced to us as the professor who read palms. Sheereen engaged a conversation with him and after a while it was decided that she would go to his ashram the following day. We said goodbye. The rickshaw man was still waiting for us and we returned to the hotel. We saw donkeys, cows, camels in the middle of the street. The people we had met were very friendly. Some children had come to beg for some money. Other people had wanted to know which country we came from and whether we were married and how many children we had. I had really enjoyed myself. On coming back in the hotel we called Prahbat, he was one of the housekeeping staff who had arranged for us that the hotel tailor would make our outfits. This was all due to Sheereen who had asked him this morning where she could have an outfit made. Prahbat and the tailor came to our room. My measurements were taken and Sheereen explained what she wanted made with her material. I thought this was big fun, I had never had a tailor come to me, and I felt very odd. This was all like a dream. Also the price was just incredible: 150 rupees for an outfit, meaning baggy trousers, the top and a dupata (shawl). He would have them ready the following day!
That evening dinner was outside. The temperature was just lovely. I met some people I knew from the residential in Woodstock (GB). We were very happy to see each other again and then in such exotic surroundings!

next page: "The first day of the seminar"