Thursday, March 07, 2013

North Indians and South Indians

It was my first visit up North - beyond the obvious big cities and the 'tourist circuit'. Sure, I have been to Jaipur, Delhi, Shimla and the like, but Allahabad, Lucknow and Varanasi were a first.

Now, in general, we tend to believe that South Indians are a genial lot and North Indians are the aggressive lot. And by and large that might be true and it has held true across my previous visits, though I would only keep Delhi on the list. Or if you take the average Bangalorean and the average Delhiite. And the average Chennai autodriver might be an equal to the average Delhi autodriver. And an occasional Bangalore auto driver might give both of them a run for their money.

But on this trip, we found the roles slightly reversed. Especially, when it came to fares. Most rickshaws quoted a fairly reasonable fare for the destinations we wanted to go. Sure, there were a couple of them that quoted some random numbers that can give a shiver to googol, but by and large, they were in the range of the numbers we know and recognize as auto fares.

A common thing in Bangalore if you get off a bus is autodrivers who will offer to drive you to some nearby destination at the price of a plot in that destination. Or business class airfare. Or a 5 star room equivalent. And then you walk away and settle for the price of a smaller plot. Or economy class. Or a 3 star room. And the auto driver is happy. And so are you, because you bargained and won!

All of these places were not like this. The rates were reasonable and quoted within an acceptable range - by rickshaw drivers, cycle rickshaw drivers. But the best were the Vikram drivers - same fares for all accents, skin types and gender. Sure, one has to be smart, know the language and keep ones wit about themselves and bargain a bit, but that is required anywhere.

So, the typical stereotype that we associate with South versus North was seriously challenged this time, atleast for us. And Lucknow was an absolute revelation - the auto driver was as good as any guide and very happy to wait with us. As was the sweet shot chap (Raj Sweet house) who was better than any sweet shop chap we have met anywhere.

Was it the negotiation experiences with Bangalore autodrivers over the last many years that prepped us for it? Or what you seek is what you get, perhaps? Or perhaps it was the magic of the Kumbh?

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