Tuesday 23rd of august 2016, Agra.
Im still in India. After 5 hours of train from New Delhi, I arrived to Agra all excited to finally make it to my 6th wonder of the world, The Taj Mahal.
Same story, same old stress of Indian Public Transportation, same fear to get scammed or worse … kidnaped!
An elderly man, probably in his mid-sixties offered to give me a ride in Moto Rickshaw to my guest house for a fair price. He was smiling and for some reason he filled me with a good sense of trust. And believe me, that was something! After spending some days in India, I was literally becoming paranoid about everything and everyone.
( Read here where my paranoia comes from )
However, I was not expecting at all that this Rickshaw ride and this man would have so much impact on my mind set and my way of dealing with difficult situations.
The week I spent in New Delhi was enough to understand the common scams that Rickshaw drivers use with foreigners. I was determined not to get fooled by anyone. Accordingly, I took all the precautions I could to avoid any rip-off. And it is these very precautions, and my paranoid behavior that cost me to live some extremely terrifying moments that made me imagine that worst could happen to me.
The night before my trip to Agra, my fear and anxiety made me contact my host to check with them if the address I received from Airbnb was right. I also asked them to send me the pin of their location on Google Maps. That way I thought that no one could scam me. I would just need to follow the GPS and make sure the driver was on the right path. While the equation seemed easy the reality turned to be much more complicated that I could possibly imagine.
And the story was repeating itself once again. By the time I was getting ready to take this Moto Rickshaw ride I was getting my self into some new scary adventure. But this time what happened was somehow all my fault.
Nevertheless, I only keep in mind the positive impact that this whole story had on me. Thanks to this man, I went back to who I really am and what I strongly believe in.
We were on our way to “Vibhav Nagar”, the neighborhood of the guest house I was staying at.
Ah, “Vibhav Nagar”… Each time this name comes to my mind or pronounce it out loud, it sends shivers down my spine.
Yet, before getting in his Moto Rickshaw Arjun made pretty sure we were on the same page regarding my destination.
After confirming to him that “Vibhav Nagar” was the neighborhood I was going to, we agreed not stop anywhere on our way. (It is very common for Cab or Rickshaw drivers to pretend not to know the right way to go where their clients want to go and make them stop at a souvenir shop or a travel agency to try to sell them products)
It was starting to get dark in the streets already. We were driving into some very gloomy part of the city. I was carefully following google maps to the location my host sent me the day before. And I have to admit, I was scared. I was scared of the unknown, scared of the dark, I was scared of everything! However, being on the right way (according to google maps) made me feel a little more safe.
Doubt is starting to consume me. It’s been more than 10 minutes that Arjun, the driver was out from the path that google maps is giving. And it does not seem like he is heading to Vibhav Nagar’s direction. I kept silent. I was waiting to see if this man was taking some kind of short cut avoiding trafic or simply driving me somewhere else than the address I gave him.
Time was passing by and every minute seemed to be longer than the one before. It’s been already 11 minutes since we went out of path and I started to seriously freak out about it. 11 long minutes already since we are heading to the north part of the city while we were supposed to go west. I could not hold still anymore. Fright was tetanizing me. I did not know what to think.
Where was this man taking me? Why is he taking the opposite direction than the one he’s supposed to take? What are his intentions? What am I supposed to do?
I was so scared that I started feeling dizzy. Then, my common sense took control over my panic and I decided to confront this human being and ask him why were we going in the wrong direction.
An unstoppable and disgusting barf of word came out of my mouth. I was becoming a real blaming machine. I blamed Arjun, that so far has inspired me trust. Worse, I blamed myself for believing in him, for believing that he was different. I felt betrayed, weak, impotent and above all in danger.
“Stop this Moto Rickshaw right now! You are so dishonest!!!!! We agreed to go directly to the guest house! Where are you taking me now? This is not the right way to go to Vibhav Nagar! I’m leaving! And believe me you will not get a Roupie from me! I know exactly what you are doing! Other drivers have done it to me in New Delhi! So, stop all this hocus-pocus right now and take me straight to the guest house! ”
I was screaming at him like a horny donkey. My accusing voice tone, my trembling hands, and my look of reprobation have driven Arjun to exacerbation. I had brilliantly put into place a heavy and unpleasant atmosphere, altered by a zeal of anxiety, a complete lack of confidence and an excess of hasty judgments.
After arguing for a few minutes and gloriously adopting a defensive position towards each other, we started driving again. A moment later, Arjun stopped to explain to me that we arrived to “Vibhav Nagar” the neighborhood where my guest house is supposed to be. He was calm and spoke to me very politely. He explained that he did not know exactly where my hostel was but that we were already in the “Vibhav Nagar” neighborhood.
Yet I felt something was wrong. But how could that be possible? Why does my GPS tell me I am 5miles away from my destination? Why do I see only small villas around and nothing else? Where is the guest house?
It was dark all around. The little street where Arjun stopped was seriously missing some light. It can’t be “Vibhav Nagar”. “I was deeply convinced we were not in the right neighborhood. But a question remains unanswered until today… Why was I so sure of something I knew nothing about? I had never visited Agra, I did not know anything about this city, and yet I was persuaded that we were not in “Vibhav Nagar” …
The Human being is fascinating and intriguing at times! I preferred to put my full trust into an application rather than a man who knew exactly what he was doing. And I was soon about to discover that I would bitterly regret the stubborn and stupid position I adopted regarding this whole situation.
It has been almost 15 minutes since Arjun has agreed to continue driving and to follow the directions I would give him. We were using my GPS that was taking us outside of the city of Agra. But I was unfortunately not aware of it by that very time. The roads were dark and getting more and more empty. Arjun turned around every five minutes to tell me that soon he would stop driving and that I should look for another way to get to my destination. I replied three times in a very aggressive tone: “Keep driving until I tell you to stop you.”
Total Flop! And presto, Arjun was angry and this time for real. He was screaming deep from his guts in a language I was incapable of understanding. I was facing a furious man who became almost uncontrollable. He slowed down his vehicle and kept shouting at me that this is not what we agreed about and that he does not know where we are.
This beautiful soul who until then was patient with me and had endured my absurdity for almost an hour could’nt take it anymore …
As the Rickshaw was stoping my nightmare was starting in a sort of unpaved and poorly lit chunk of road.
Picture this: nothing around us but few houses in a poor condition and a little local convenience store some feet away from us. Getting down of the vehicle and letting Arjun leave without me was not an option. I was in the middle of nowhere and it was just unthinkable for me to stay there by my self. I started to see in Arjun my enemy and my messiah at once. He was my problem and my solution, my tormentor and my savior.
Then, right when I thought I could not fall further down, a group of 7 young Indians appeared literally from nowhere and started to circle the Moto Rickshaw we were in. They all had their perverse and hateful look on.
Oh boy, I was going to serve as fresh meat to a pack of hungry hyenas …
Fear? Panic? Anguish? Thrill? Fright? Terror?
None of these adjectives seems fair enough, strong enough, relevant enough to actually express what I felt during those few seconds that seemed endless.
To tell you that I had the fear of my life seems to me very euphemistic. I imagined the worst for few seconds and it tetanized me. Then I felt nothing, complete emptiness!
I now lost track of time …
I was probably not the only one to be frightened by all this incongruous and disquieting crowd. Arjun probably felt as much at risk as I did. He eagerly left this unwanted cortege that had been escorting us for a few seconds. And just like that, the person whom I considered almost malicious became my benefactor, my protector, my tutelary angel.
We were now away from these vultures and started to drive on our way back to “Vibhav Nagar”. This time I let myself go. I did not say anything, I could not even dare looking at my GPS anymore. My shame was consuming me. How could I get to this point? I reproduced exactly the same behaviors that were exalting me, exacerbating me and disgusting me in others.
How silly is that?
I put everything and everyone in the same bag. I judged and blamed a person for no reason. Instead of opening myself to this man and trusting him, I poisoned him with my negative energy that harmed him and myself. But why all this?
Yet I was the first to be persuaded that the intention we put into our actions matters enormously. How could I fail to consider that the location my host had sent me could be wrong?
For the past 20 minutes, I could not think of anything else but how stupid I was. I felt small, execrable, miserable and almost evil. My actions were repugnant to me, and I reflected in vain to find a fair way to apologize to this man that I put through so much this past hour.
How could I explain that fear and my past experiences had blinded me? In which way could I possibly justify my stupid decision persisting in following a GPS which was leading me to the wrong address? How could I apologize for all that I have done to him?
We eventually reached the guest house. All these strong emotions exhausted me. I left the Rickshaw with a face full of shame. I tried to apologize to Arjun then coldly said hi to my host. I calmly retreated to my room without even mentioning to my host how he dangerously misled me with the geolocation he had sent me the night before.
Taking a shower was the only I could think of. I was eager to flush all the stress away with hot water and some good rest.
Some hours post my crazy adventure
That night, I was unable to fall asleep. I kept on thinking of all that happened. Then, I realized once more, all the prejudice I had caused to myself and to Arjun. I questioned all my prejudgments regarding Taxi drivers in India and Indian men. It is true that many of them are not always holding good intentions toward women and could easily harm me but this is not a general rule that applies to each and every man in India.
I was telling my self all these words that I had so much trouble getting out of my mouth.
Today I say them out loud to all of you: Ode to you Arjun, my friend, my angel. You probably have no clue about all the positive impact you have had on my mindset while staying in India. Thanks to you I was able to open myself to receive the best from people I met along my way. You reminded me who I really am and what I strongly believe in: Human beings, Others, People. Namaste my friend!
On this positive note my dear friends, I let you discover the city of Agra through some of my pictures I have specially chosen for you.
Click on the image below to zoom and access to the galery
And you? What was your most frightening experience while travelling? Have you ever met a stranger who positively impacted your way of thinking? Leave a comment below telling me all about your stories. I would be happy to read them and answer them.
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