Paying a fee to pet a donkey, Lil gets a job at a local travel agency, and shooing people on the bus.

Day 149: Mandawa, India. We were up and about early, eagerly anticipating the arriving of Jim’s replacement credit card, which had a promised delivery time of 10am.

After breakfast we sat in the courtyard keeping a beady eye on the hotel gate. The hotel staff seem to come and go as they wish, and the last thing we wanted was for the delivery man to arrive and then go away again without anyone signing for the delivery.

While we waited, a man with a donkey and cart came through the hotel gates, delivering what looked like floor tiles. Lil went over to pet the donkey, and a little embarrassingly, the guy refused to leave the hotel courtyard until she paid him some money for the petting privilege. She shook her head, wandered off to the bathroom, and when she came back he was still standing there waiting. (Meanwhile Jim sat at a nearby table grinning his head off, wondering how she was going to get out of this one). The hotel staff couldn’t shift the guy, though we’re not sure they tried very hard and probably also thought we should pay a petting fee. In the end Lil handed over some money just to get rid of him. Jim’s summary of the event was “Don’t touch what you can’t afford”. Alrighty.

10am came and went, and there was still no sign of the delivery man. At 10.30am, Lil called to ask where he was and he said he’d be arriving in 20 minutes. 40 minutes later, he came sidling through the gate.

Out of sheer frustration, Lil explained that his decision not to deliver the package as scheduled yesterday had cost us a decent chunk of money on wasted bus tickets, plus an extra night’s accommodation. He said ‘sorry mam’ but didn’t look like he could care less. And unbelievably, after the package had been signed for, the guy stood waiting, looking very hopeful that he might get a tip. No chance. “And he didn’t even let you tickle his ears”, remarked Jim.

Instead of catching an overnight bus, we thought we might catch a bus to Fatehpur, about 25km away, and then an overnight train to Agra from there. A quick check online showed that there were no train tickets left, so our only option was to walk into town and book another set of overnight bus tickets. Oh joy. We can see availability online, but international credit cards aren’t accepted as payment.

Late morning, we walked to Happy Travels, the same travel agent as yesterday. A young guy was sitting behind the counter and after a quick phone call to someone, turned to us and said “you come back at 3pm”. By which time there probably wouldn’t be any bus seats left either.

Luckily we found another travel agent who said they could help (though we had to wait 20 minutes until someone returned from buying vegetables at the market). Their approach to helping was to get Lil to jump behind the desk and use their computer to book the tickets, while they stood and looked on. Then they handed her a local credit card made out of cardboard, and asked her to enter the details. After the booking was confirmed, we paid them in cash for the booking, along with a pretty hefty service fee.

We managed to get the last two sleepers, at opposite ends of the bus. The bus departs from a town before Mandawa, so we anticipated that by the time we boarded, there would no doubt be large families camping out on our sleepers.

We went for another coffee on the stone verandah where the guys play cards every day. A guy came over and stood staring at us for a bit, then announced he used to be a school teacher and that he could see we were very happy together. Whether those two statements are linked or not, we’re not entirely sure, but it was lovely of him to come and chat to us. After a bit he got distracted by another conversation happening nearby – he explained that there are by-elections happening soon and his friends were speculating on the results.

Jim popped over to a food cart to buy some roasted peanuts, and we settled down for a while on the verandah, shelling nuts and watching the world go by.

A cow parked itself right in front of us, and somewhat alarmingly, ate a cow pat it found on the ground. As Jim remarked “No wonder they have bad breath”. Then it had an enormous wee, after which it thankfully decided to move along.

With bus tickets confirmed, we headed back to the hotel and booked accommodation for a couple of nights in Agra. Lil is also waiting for a replacement credit card, so she called Visa International to provide the hotel address in Agra. Fedex (rather surprisingly) is closed on Sunday so they couldn’t confirm if they will be able to deliver to Agra within the timeframes, but we’ll find out tomorrow, and meantime we’re keeping fingers crossed.

Then we headed out for a long walk in the sun to clear the cobwebs and frustrations. It was a searing hot afternoon, but glorious to walk through some of the surrounding fields and pastures around the south of the town.

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel, ordered a cold beer followed by dinner, and got ourselves psyched up for the long overnight journey to Agra.

We left the hotel just after 9pm and walked down to the bypass, which we were told was the bus pick up point, and not the bus stop in the middle of town as printed on our tickets. We assumed that we needed to stand roughly where we were dropped off when we arrived by bus in Mandawa, though there was no information anywhere to clarify. Lil walked down the street to ask a few guys outside a restaurant and they insisted on walking back up with her, showing us exactly where we needed to stand (on a well lit but pretty desolate corner), waited with us, asked for some selfies and made sure we boarded the bus safely before they left. What lovely people.

Lil climbed onto the bus ahead of Jim and so got the job of shooing lots of people out of our sleepers. The bus driver took off at speed as soon as we were onboard, so Lil nearly wiped out a bunch of people as she dragged her backpack down the bus to her sleeper, squeezing past and climbing over heaps of people sitting and sleeping in the aisle.

We tucked ourselves up into our tiny spaces, messaging each other to say goodnight, and settled down for what was undoubtedly going to be an interesting and very bumpy night.

Tomorrow, assuming we’re not too wiped out after the nine hour bus trip, we’ll do some exploring around Agra. And at least tomorrow night we won’t need to message each other to say goodnight.

More then.

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