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Thursday – Saturday, 28 – 30 Dec 2006: The Cochin Sojourn & How to haggle in India January 12, 2007

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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Went to Cochin (Ernakulam) on the 7229 Trivandrum – Hyderabad Sabari Express. Took a video of a metregauge train overtaking my train just as we left Kollam Junction Railway Station. Sabari soon kicked up a storm, notched up and exacted sweet revenge by overtaking its puny cousin a few minutes later. Indulged in taking lots of snaps on the way. Reached Ernakulam Town Railway Station in the afternoon. Stayed at the Railway Quarters, Ernakulam Junction with a railway guard friend and his family. Watched the Malayalam film ‘Notebook’ at Kavitha theatre.

Spent the next two days there, snoozing most of the time. Always peeked out of my window which overlooked platform 1 to see which train was entering or the leaving the station. Took lots of snaps, always had a WAP4 or WAM engine parked in the backyard. Hung out with the local kids, roamed around in Ernakulam with the ‘railway kids gang’. On 30th, left for this place called Njheerur in Kottayam District. Watched Ernakulam come to a standstill for three hours in the evening, owing the strike called by local political parties to protest against Saddam Hussein’s execution in Iraq. Stayed at a friend’s place. Picked up my second dhol (drum), this time a really big one, for 150 Rs from a group of travelling salesmen outside the Railway Station. Felt that could have got it for a much cheaper price. This is how bargaining goes with such people. You: How much does this dhol cost? He: 250 Rs. You: I will take this for 150. He: OK.

From my experience buying things from various places, I find that settling for half-the price of an item is a good rule of thumb, as these hawkers generally tend to hike prices when it comes to tourists. Another good strategy is to buy in bulk, as the seller will bring down his prices so that he can clear off his goods. In Goa, I got beaded chains that were selling for 20 Rs for 10 Rs because I agreed to buy out his entire collection. Last but not the least, this sounds weird, but chose your vendor / hawker, just like the way they chose their customers to haggle. You can always make out who is having a good or bad day and who is eager to sell-off their stuff. Usually you quote a price and then feign disinterest or walk-away, especially if the vendor initially murmurs disagreement. Seven times out of ten, the vendor will chase you, and still agree to sell the stuff, sometimes even at a much lower price. It always helps to remember that goods and curios always sold on streets always cost quite cheap, or else hawkers wouldn’t afford to buy them in bulk and sell them on the roadside. Haggle in India, especially if you are new to a place, whether you are taking an auto ride or a jet-ski ride. Put on your best smile, and even try it with a tour operator, like I did in Bangalore and got a discount. Do it with second hand booksellers, dhol sellers and tattoo artists. Just don’t try it at restaurants, railway stations or in buses. Will put you in a real bad light or get the day lights knocked out of you!

To view more snaps from Kerala or view trains, click on http://new.photos.yahoo.com/schmoozeby/
Type ‘Kerala’ or ‘trains’ in the ‘search tags’ field in the top right corner and click ‘Go’.

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