This is an embarrassing post to write. It’s an embarrassing story to tell. This is the story of how we got scammed out of $500 in India.
The day started with a prayer.
“Please, Lord, let today go well,” I begged.
Transition days – the days when we move between countries – are always the most difficult, and, reeling from the culture shock of China, I wasn’t sure that we could handle another bad day. We’d spent the night on the floor of the Jinan airport. We were exhausted. So I asked. I implored, really. It was a desperate prayer and one that was not to be answered with a yes, but of course I didn’t know that yet.
We landed in Delhi at 2:00 in the afternoon. The airport was almost empty. No one seemed to be waiting for flights. It was just the plane full of Chinese tourists, a handful of airport employees, and us. After China, the solitude was relaxing. I used the toilet without having to fight for a stall then let the sounds of Bollywood wash over me while Patrick gave away his winter clothes to a bathroom attendant. I had a plan. I was confident in this plan. All we had to do was take the metro from the airport to the railway station. From there it was a short walk to our hotel. It was simple, and we had the entire afternoon to figure it out.
The metro was easy enough. Walk down the stairs from the airport, hand over some rupees to the attendant at the ticket machine, and board the train. At the end of the line we got off the train and walked up the stairs into the sunlight of a Delhi afternoon only to be greeted by that ubiquitous welcoming committee: the drivers.
In almost every country we’ve visited, the first people we come into contact with are drivers. Some with taxis. Some with tuk tuks. Some wait near their vehicles. Others have a desk or an office. Sometimes they crowd around the door you’re exiting through, each yelling and waving. Some have price lists they shove into your hands. Most just shout, “Taxi! Taxi!” and wait for you to ask the price. Between the Delhi metro station and the railway station they line the road with taxis and rickshaws and wait for tourists to emerge.
“You need rickshaw? You need tuk tuk?” an eager man in a striped polo shirt bounded up the stairs to greet us.
“No, thank you,” we replied in practiced unison.
He followed us for a while, but we continued to turn him down. It was just a short walk, we told him. We didn’t need a ride. He finally gave up, but he did tell us that to get across the railway station we would need to take the stairs to the left. It struck us as an odd thing to say, but we didn’t see how that could possibly be a scam so we shrugged it off and made our way across the street-cum-parking lot to stand in front of the towering Delhi Central Railway Station.
Our plan was to buy tickets for the next morning’s train to Agra. We paused for a moment to decide if we wanted to attempt buying tickets then or to wait until after we had checked into our hotel. Gazing into the chaotic abyss of the railway station we decided to head to our hotel. We turned left to walk up the stairs. Again, we paused. There seemed to be a security checkpoint at the base of the stairs. After a moment’s hesitation our friendly neighborhood rickshaw driver re-emerged from the crowds of people. He instructed us to go inside and turn left. We shouldn’t have listened, but this is a story full of shouldn’t-haves.
Inside the railway station we headed left towards another security checkpoint. A man in uniform asked to see our train tickets. We didn’t have any. All we wanted was to get to the other side of the train station. We turned away, and I was halfway up the stairs to the second floor of the train station before I noticed that Patrick wasn’t with me. Turning around, I spotted him in conversation with the uniformed ticket checker.
Now, we had read about how people in Delhi will try to tell you that the ticket office at the train station is closed. They then send you to a tour company who will overcharge you instead. As we listened to the railway employee explain that we needed to get a pass to enter Old Delhi because of Jat riots the thought did cross my mind, but I dismissed it without saying anything to Patrick. We weren’t trying to buy train tickets, and this was an employee. Surely, he wouldn’t be trying to scam us. Surely, I was wrong.
As Americans, we generally trust people. We especially trust employees. We especially especially trust employees of official-looking places like a railway station. It seemed so far-fetched for this man, who obviously worked for the railroad, to be part of a scam. He has a job. Why would he need to scam people? And, wouldn’t he get in trouble if he did?
Defeated, we headed back towards the metro. We thought we would just go back to the airport. From there, we could hire a taxi. It would be more expensive but less of a headache. Just as we stepped back out into the street another driver appeared. We turned him down a few times.
Then he said, “Thirty rupees I take you to your hotel.”
We both stopped. Patrick turned to me and said, “If 30 rupees gets us to our hotel I will gladly pay it.” It was like he had read my mind. I didn’t want to go all the way back to the airport. I just wanted to get to our hotel.
So we followed the driver to a rickshaw. We showed him the map and address we had printed out and piled in. A few minutes later the rickshaw stopped at what looked like another security checkpoint. Delhi seems to be dripping with security checkpoints. A man ran out and said something to the driver in Hindi. After a short conversation someone explained to us that we needed to get a pass to get into Old Delhi because of the Jat riots.
“It’s free,” they assured us, “Just a safety precaution for tourists.”
It was the same story the railway employee had told us. As the rickshaw pulled away Patrick quietly said, “Well, they couldn’t have organized that.” We were now in their clutches.
To Be Continued…