iDiscern | Travel tips from an auto-rickshaw driver in Odisha

I’ve been asking myself one question a lot in the recent past: What kind of a traveller do you want to be? And the most natural thing I have come up with is: The kind who through her stories can exhort others to want to experience similar, if not the same things.
Honestly, while I do enjoy visiting places of history, art and culture I don’t think I do a good enough job of writing out those pieces. But I try. And that’s what my previous piece on things I did while in Odisha was all about.

Tribal art in Odisha - Gond painting

This one is also about Odisha – but it’s of one that comes from a more personal space. I’ve uncovered the side of me that digs living like a local when I go to new places - be it aimlessly walking through a market place or hoping into auto-rickshaws and buses!

Odisha was welcoming. Unlike before, I wasn’t returning to Delhi from Chhattisgarh. A little over the half mark in my six month fellowship at SocialCops, it seemed alright for me to carry on towards Odisha. I had spent about 10 days with Raipur as my base – my shortest stint so far. It almost felt as if I had left Chhattisgarh in a rush. May be I had.

I’ve lived close to the coast my entire life so perhaps there’s a certain familiarity about reaching a coastal place for me. Of course with all things familiar, humidity and the mugginess on your skin are included. In addition, what I registered instantaneously within my first couple of hours in Bhubaneswar that Sunday was that the locals are among the most genuine and helpful people. Rickshaw drivers included.

Local travel in India can be a bit painful for both the initiated and the uninitiated. If modes of transport exist, then ease of availability is an issue. If availability isn’t an issue, then willingness to ply could be a pain point. And if it’s neither of these, then it boils down to the tariff being charged.
In either case, you cannot win so you may as well play along within reasonable limits of course!

It was my third day in the city of Bhubaneswar and I had stepped out of a meeting with the CEO of an NGO. It was 4 in the afternoon and the sun was at its infernal best. I plodded along as my soles burnt inside my sandals to find me an auto rickshaw. I didn’t think them to be scarce but if they were then this wasn’t a good time to find that out. I hadn’t been able to grab lunch that noon.

Travel tip advisor!

There were a few plying but they were in some mood – the mood to refuse fare. After a while one of them slowed down and enquired, “Where do you want to go?” There were 4 passengers already seated inside. “This is a shared auto madam. I can drop you off along with the rest of them”, he said casting a glance around him, “and you can find another auto to take you to your destination.” Shared autos are what the locals use so the fares are quite cheap. The only thing to note is that you would have to change three and sometimes four autos to get from Point A to Point B – it’s a small price to pay for a ride that’s pocket friendly.

And so I hopped in. I gulped down half my water bottle but it provided little respite as the hot air smacked me in my face. A couple of minutes later, it was time to hop off but the driver turned around and offered to drop me all the way. “Madam I’ll drop till your hotel but will you pay me Rs. 50 more instead?” I did the math. He was still charging me a lot lesser than what I’d otherwise have had to pay. I agreed.

“You must never hop into the first auto. Not especially when you’re taking one from right outside your hotel” he started to say almost without any prelude “It is anyway easy to spot someone when they are from the outside. You will be overcharged. You shouldn’t have to pay all that extra money. Take 10 more steps and ask another driver. Negotiate the rate and only then get in.”
He seemed genuine with his concern. I thanked him and paid him a little extra when I got off. I was happy for the advice.

I’m the sort who feels guilty for bargaining because I’m never sure if my gut is right about someone trying to dupe me. So it goes without saying then that in the days that followed when anyone overcharged me for a ride they didn’t get away with the last word. Or rupee for that matter!

Have you received travel tips from unexpected quarters through your journeys? I would love to hear about them through comments below.

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