India had always been a place I wanted to visit, partly because I’m just so attracted to places that are so wildly different than my home country of Canada. India is one of those places and in fact, very few countries contrast with my homeland so heavily. With a population of fewer than 40 million people and a landmass that’s the second largest in the world, Canada is about as wild and free as one can get. India, on the other hand, has a population of more than one billion people and is 3-4x smaller. This, combined with mass poverty, means extremely high pollution, congestion, and a not-so-clean environment. On the other hand, their deeply long history and culture is so riveting to experience and is so incredibly colourful and entertaining.
Our experience there was similar to what many other experience in India. We loved parts, hated parts, and were challenged in various ways. Most travellers will say you’re guaranteed to get sick on your first visit to India, and while we didn’t get very sick in the country itself, we did bring home a parasite, which took a month to get rid of. We saw some incredibly beautiful historical sites, met some wonderful people, went on many adventures, and ran into a fair number of scams. Let’s start with Delhi, one of India’s most populated cities.
Delhi, “Demons”, and Our First Taste of India
We arrived late in the evening. Thankfully, I had read some blogs beforehand and was recommended to contact our hotel and have them send a driver to the airport. This turned out to be one of the greatest tips we could have received, as it avoided one of the biggest scams plaguing Delhi visitors. Our driver was waiting with our names written on cardboard, and we spotted him as soon as we grabbed our bags. We then scurried into his small truck, though not before getting ripped off on a SIM card at the airport (hint: don’t buy a SIM card at the airport). We then made our way to our hotel for the night. Located on a street that looked like a very seedy area by Canadian standards, we met the owners, got our room key, ordered some food, and tried to rest. Unfortunately, there was some sort of festival going on outside and all of a sudden, a firecracker went off so loud that it shook our bedroom. My rib-cage literally vibrated as my heart began to beat fast. It took us by surprise and it sounded like a bomb. They kept coming and coming and coming, all night long. For a while, we took amusement to it, but when it’s all noise and no colours, it’s less tolerable. I really thought our room window was going to shatter at some point. They were that loud. With so many beliefs, it was likely one of the many festivals you’ll stumble upon when visiting. Welcome to India!
In the morning, we woke up, ordered some breakfast from the hotel, and decided to buy our train tickets before exploring Delhi. Having been told that trains can sell out, we wanted to make sure we had them for our hopeful departure three days from now. This is another area where most travellers get scammed and so with the advice of our hotel, we jumped in a rickshaw and told the man to bring us to the government tourist office where we were told we could buy train tickets. After agreeing to a price, we jumped in and began our journey. As the bike approached a busier street, a tuk-tuk screeched in and closed us off. He jumped out and began yelling at our driver. He then approached us and said that this man was trying to scam us. He then pulled out a map and showed us where the tourist office was and that our rickshaw driver was taking us somewhere else. In all honesty, we had no idea what was happening, but we took his word for it and jumped in with him. A few minutes later, we rolled up to a more posh side of the city and low and behold, a government tourist office was there, just as noted on the map.
Phew. For a moment, we almost got scammed…or so we thought. As we walked into the tourist office, we noticed other travellers sitting at desks discussing travel plans as testimonials, written in pen and marker, decorated the walls around us. So far, it seemed legit. We went into an office and met with one of the sales reps. We sat down and told him that we were looking for a train ticket to Agra and then from Agra to Jaipur. The agent told us that the train was sold out and that we would need a private car, which would cost around $200 USD.
Just like that, we knew this was a scam. He then proceeded to try and book our whole 30-day trip for us. As he talked and talked, I looked at my wife and gave her the reassuring look that I knew what was happening. We both knew this guy was trying to pull one over on us. Luckily, with over 30 countries under our belt, we’re not easy to fool. Rather than cause controversy, however, I just politely told the man that we would think about it and come back. My wife, on the other hand, began to share how she felt about the situation, but I stopped her before it got too heated. As we stepped outside, I couldn’t believe that this massive tourist office, which even had a mark on the map, was nothing more than one giant scam, ripping tourists off for hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
For our ride back to the hotel, we chose to avoid the tuk-tuk, even though he had the nerve to wait there for us. Instead, we walked back to our hotel, which took over an hour. Along the way, we had taxi’s trying to stop for our business, but with the day we were having, we decided to continue walking. Once back at the hotel, we continued to ask both locals and tourists where we buy train tickets until someone finally said to just go to the train station, which was walking distance from our hotel. It was disappointing that our own hotel didn’t even tell us this, but I guess they were part of the problem.
We Made It To The Train Station
After walking a few blocks, there it was. The train station was right in front of us. We let out a sigh of relief, thinking our troubles were over. As we approached the main gate, some men who looked like guards locked their arms and said we weren’t allowed to go by. One of them asked for our ticket, and when we said we didn’t have one yet, he told us we couldn’t go by. He said that this entrance was only for ticket holders. Another man came and said he’d show us the way to the ticket office. We followed him around the building, thinking that he was bringing us to a different part of the train station. Instead, we arrived at his tuk-tuk, where he showed us a map with the same scammy government tourist office. Now we were pissed off. We said we had already been tricked once and weren’t about to be tricked again. We began walking back to the main gate as he tried to talk us out of it. We told him to leave us alone. Once at the gate, the guards tried to block us again but this time we forced our way through, using our arms to break their “arm-chain” and get them out of our way. It turns out that these were just scammers blocking the entrance and not guards at all. What makes it even crazier is that the real guards were standing right behind them. They didn’t bat an eye. Everyone is part of the problem.
Finally, we walked into the train station, walked upstairs, and found the actual ticket office, which had plenty of tourists sitting around. We then waited for our turn and eventually bought our train tickets for the exact ticket price. As we waited, however, we sat next to other travellers and told them our story. Just by chance, the first couple we spoke to were also from Calgary, our home city in Alberta, Canada. As we shared our crazy story with them, they shared theirs as well, which was far worse than ours.
Our story became an adventure. Theirs became a nightmare.
Just like us, they arrived late to the airport a couple of nights earlier. Unlike us, they did not pre-arrange the taxi and instead relied on one at the airport. This was a big mistake. As the taxi brought them into Delhi, they reached a roadblock. The taxi stopped and rolled down its windows to see what was happening. A man who looked like a police officer came up to the window and said that there had been a terrorist attack and that all the streets into downtown Delhi were closed. The taxi explained the situation to the couple and mentioned another hotel he could bring them to. They seemed unsure of the matter and wanted to call their hotel. This is where their second mistake occurred. They asked the taxi to phone their hotel. Instead of calling the actual hotel, he called a friend who pretended to be the hotel. This friend told the couple that the road was closed and that the hotel was unreachable. Being 2 a.m., the couple decided to take the taxi’s offer and go to the new hotel. Just to make it clear, this entire event was a scam. There was no actual roadblock and there was no terrorist attack. Everyone was in on it. The couple paid for their main hotel in advance and did not even arrive. Instead, they paid for a new hotel, which was organized by the taxi driver for a cut of the profits.
But that’s not it. A similar scam convinced this couple the next day to buy a private taxi to Agra, skipping the train that they had already purchased tickets for! That same “terrorist attack” had shut down the train lines, so the couple went with the recommended option – a private taxi – which was charged at a rate of 4x of what one should pay. They lost about $300 with this one scam.
Long story short, we were relieved that we did not fall for any of it. Hopefully, they won’t fall for it again either.
We Were Cautious But There’s Always An Angel
Over the next couple of days, we were much more cautious with anything we were doing. Whether it was a local giving us advice or a simple taxi ride, we made sure to get our information from various sources before making a decision. For example, we almost got scammed again when a taxi told us that a certain street was closed due to a festival. He wanted to bring us somewhere else. “Somewhere” that was giving him a commission. Since our “red flag” radars went off, we decided to ask around and low and behold, there was no festival! You really have to be careful and be cautious about who you trust. On the plus side, we didn’t experience anything dangerous. It’s just about money.
However, there’s always “angels” as well and I want to emphasize that no matter where you go, there are people who generally care about you, even though you’re a stranger. Over the next 30 days, we experienced a variety of loving souls who didn’t want any money. They just wanted to help another fellow human try to experience their country. For example, when waiting at the train station, we learned that our train would be delayed 10 hours. That’s a long time and the train stations in India are not like the ones in developed countries. There’s not really any stores or restaurants or chairs. We knew in advance to pack snacks, but an older man did approach us and asked if we were hungry. We couldn’t communicate much with him, but he called me over and ended up walking with me outside to find a food cart and get some bananas. He generally cared for our well-being and simply wanted to make sure we had food. I’ll go into this more of these heartwarming stories in part 2.
Thankfully, Delhi was the biggest of our problems. Once we left Delhi, the scams became less of a problem, though being overcharged always presented itself in some form. Still, Delhi is a hotbed of culture and offers a lot of things to see and do. We explored the history of the city with places like the India Gate and the Old Fort, as well as Delhi’s new modern side, which included a visit to the beautiful Lotus Temple. We ate at popular local restaurants even though we questioned every bite, and walked around some of the oldest areas of the city, getting ourselves accustomed to the country we’d be exploring for the next 30 days.
All in all, it was an exhausting start to the adventure, but something we were happy to get out of the way. After a few days, It was time to make our way to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal – one of the most beautiful places in India and the main thing to do in Agra, India.
Did you like this story? Have you been to India?