Two posts in two days, how is this possible? I have to write about the scams in India and I already have so many stories it needs it’s own separate post. And I mostly need to write this down so I can get it out of my head.
Dustin and I knew, going in, India would be full of scams. That we couldn’t trust anyone and that there were countless ways that the local artists would try to squeeze money out of us. However, with our combined travel experience we had hope in our abilities to sniff out a con artists. After 3 days, Dustin and I are laying on our bed completely wiped out from weeding our way through all the lies and fake connections we thought we made on various occasions. Early on we decided on the code word ‘peanuts’ in order to warn the other individual if we were getting wiffs of a scam on any occasion. So here we go with all the peanuts here in India.
It alllllll started on the first day. Dustin and I exited the pee street on which our hotel resides and were making our way down Main Bazaar Road. Just wandering aimlessly, it was still early and we just wanted to get an idea of our surroundings. A boy approaches Dustin. (By boy I mean probably twenty years old). He strikes up a conversation. The classic, “where are you from?” Plummets us into unknown territory of conversation with a seemingly innocent Indian boy. Seems harmless. He recommends a place for shopping and points out a couple things. It’s 8am and Dustin and I are still jet lagged and want to get out of this conversation so we duck into a bakery and pretend to intently study the selection of bread until we decide he has gone (make no mistake, nobody has anywhere to go on the streets in India….they’re always there…waiting for you). Luckily he actually wasn’t. It’s not 10 minutes before we make another “friend”. Eventually we shake him too, but we were left with a weird feeling in our gut. They all seemed really friendly, but they all had different feelings about this and that tourist office and where we should and should not be shopping. Smells slightly of peanuts in here, no? The first day we tried to take a rickshaw to the Red Fort and the drivers INSISTED we needed an entry pass from the tourist office. Dustin and I knew this was total bullshit but the first driver refused to drive us if we refused to go to his tourist office. Fine. We found another that took us to some dodgy office. I know from my research there is only one tourist office in Delhi and the rest are tour agencies trying to sell you stuff and the individual who brought you in would get a commission. We didn’t buy anything but this was our first clue into how fishy all our new “friends” are.
There were other people that first day who approached us with the same lines, but in my fatigued state, I couldn’t be bothered to recall them. Here comes day 2. Dustin and I decided to take it reeeeeal easy yesterday. We went shopping and just hung out. As we are exploring the market close to our hotel, 1 man approaches Dustin. “Hey, nice beard man.” Dustin obviously melts as all men do when receiving compliments on their facial hair. They begin chatting. He makes a recommendation on how we should be going to a certain emporium to shop and right there is also a tourist office! “Just for information and maps.” Ya ya, we brush him off. NOT EVEN 2 MINUTES AND ANOTHER HUMAN APPROACHES TO COMPLIMENT DUSTIN’S BEARD. I’ve stopped making eye contact with everyone at this point in fear of more beard compliments. Again, a conversation begins. Dustin and I are both wary and quite sure of the peanuts this guy is trying to sell us on but whaaaatever, we entertain him for a while and continue walking. Little do we know we are walking right into his lions den. All of a sudden we are standing in front of his tourist office of choice and he is saying goodbye, telling us to go inside for all the information and maps one could ask for. Dustin and I try, at this point, to brush him off and continue walking. The man moves into our path and is now standing in front of us. Looking back this was kind of aggressive and I’m not very pleased. He was still acting pleasant enough and asking why we don’t want to go in, blah blah blah, the charade continues. We finally convince him we will NOT enter his peanutty office and OF COURSE the emporium he had been trying to tell us about was next door! Where else would it be! It’s just basically this weird shopping mall building that we decide to go in just to escape the guy in the yellow shirt. We wander around for 10 minutes and then try to make our escape but do you think the man in the yellow shirt left? Of course not! Yay! I’m pretty sure I just grabbed Dustin’s hand and kept my head down and power walked away, but it’s all a blur.
Day 3. Today. Ever since we have arrived various people have told us Rajasthan (the state in India in which we will be for the next two weeks) is better when seen by a private rental car with a driver. Dustin’s brother, Troy, did this so we knew it was an option but hadn’t thought much about it beyond that. Today we went to see the India Gate and again were followed by hoards of young boys wanting pictures with us. As we were making our way back to our hotel, we see a Starbucks. I know I am the classic white girl as I write this but I couldn’t think of anything else other than a coffee from there at that moment. We went in and Dustin went to find a seat while I waited on my coffee. I receive my coffee and go to hunt down my blonde boyfriend (the easiest person to find in a crowd of Indians). As I approach there are two Indian guys also pulling up chairs at the table with Dustin. Immediately I smell peanuts and sit down annoyed that we were again going to have another moment stolen from us by these very friendly scam artists. To my surprise Dustin is making really open conversation and I can tell by the tone of his voice that he doesn’t suspect much of these two. So I lower my guard and we spend the next hour chatting about their lives and ours. No mention of emporiums or tourist agencies. They recommend some places to eat and one was close by so we decided to head there. Tim (that’s what we will call him) is explaining where the restaurant is and then decides it’s easier if he walks us down the block instead. Tom (the other) decides to wait for Tim to return. Tim walks us down the street and around the corner and points out the restaurant. Great, thanks, Tim. Noooooope. He then points to the store we are standing in front of and tells us it’s a government run tourist agency we can go into for information. Dustin and I tell him we are going for lunch and then we will go to the office (bold faced lie). Tim tells us the restaurant doesn’t open until 2 and we should go get information and maps first and then lunch. THIS FEELS LIKE PEANUTS TO ME. But we had such a nice chat, we were so inclined to trust T&T. We go in to this shady office that has paint peeling from the walls and gangs of men hanging out (obviously) and they usher us into a cubicle to give us our information and maps. We get a long talk about Rajasthan and the private car tour and blah blah. We tell him we need to think on it and that we will come back after lunch. Over lunch we discuss the benefits of the private car vs. train and because of this particular season in Rajasthan and how busy it is, that it might make sense to do the car but we are still unsure of whether this office is legit. At lunch a guy at the table next to us chats us up because WHY WOULDN’T HE. As he’s leaving he says there is a tourist office next door (the one we came from) that we should go to for maps and information. 15 minutes later we exit the restaurant and remember how I said everybody is always waiting for you in India? There was our lunch friend standing outside in a gang of men.
I know there is only one tourist office in Delhi that is actually run by the government so that is where I want to make a bee-line for. I want to see whether government offices have paint peeling and if there are gangs of men inside them too. As we are walking towards it, a stranger strikes up a conversation. He sees where we are headed and decides to impart some wisdom upon us. “The government is corrupt and they will try to sell you to a certain agency so they will get a cut as well. I am telling you this because my friend went to Canada and I do not want you to get scammed.” YOU ARE LYING TO ME. As I’m entertaining this guy and his recommendations for a different travel agency, another older gentleman catches Dustin’s attention and is shaking his head gravely as if to warn of the lies slithering their way out of our “friend’s” mouth. AS THIS IS ALL HAPPENING, a third man barges loudly into the conversation and says something about how this is a scam and you cannot listen to anything. I seriously lost my last semblance of sanity during this interaction. We break free from the chaos and get into the actual government office. There is no gangs of men and instead we are helped by a lady. She assures us the last office was a scam and gives us other places where we can book a car tour through. She mentions that safety should be our first priority, especially since I am a woman (I like this lady already). We left feeling slightly more positive and make our way to her recommendation. We ended up booking the tour by car. It will be considerably more expensive but if it is more effective to get around and see all the sites, then we made the right decision.
I am sad that I have this itchy feeling to get out of Rajasthan. I know once we are out the craziness will subside somewhat and we will be headed south where it’s much more relaxed. I really wanted to fall in love with the hustle these first couple days but constantly being wary and not having anyone we can trust in our daily interaction is really exhausting. I know that this is not all of India and Dustin and I are still really positive about the rest of our trip. We are going to remain open for the rest of Rajasthan as well because you can’t close your heart off with one bad experience travelling (especially when you’re only 3 days in haha). Onto Agra to see the Taj Mahal!