At the “government” office we were ushered into a back room. A heavy-set man behind a big desk leaned back and regarded us with gentle concern before informing us that the government was no longer issuing passes to tourists. The situation had worsened. The only option we had was to call our hotel and see if they would send someone to pick us up. We pulled out the hotel’s phone number, and he dialed it on his office phone. He handed the phone over to Patrick, and a voice on the other end of the line told him that things had gotten worse. The hotel employee, who of course wasn’t actually a hotel employee, told Patrick that he would try his best to find someone who would come pick us up.
“Call back in five minutes,” he told us.
So we sat in that dim office for five long minutes. The man behind the desk acted surprised that we hadn’t heard about the riots, showing us the headlines of that day’s paper. We sheepishly admitted our ignorance when it came to foreign affairs. He played his part perfectly, as did the city of Delhi.
Through our American eyes, Delhi looks like the kind of place where a riot could be happening on the next block over. Everywhere you turn there are men in full military uniform sporting automatic weapons. Police barricades line every corner. Are people at the train station camped out on the floor because that’s what you do in Delhi, or is it because the trains aren’t running? And besides all of that, I had read an article in the China Daily just that morning about Jat riots. I knew that they had cut off water to millions of people in Delhi. I knew that people had been injured and killed. The article had said that the riots were just north of Delhi, but for all I knew the situation might have worsened. It sounded serious enough. In those five minutes our wariness blossomed into full-blown concern.
Then we called the “hotel” again. They couldn’t pick us up. Nobody could get out of the hotel. It was too dangerous. We began to look for other options.
The man behind the desk delivered bad news after bad news. The trains are booked for today. They are cancelled tomorrow. The bus won’t be available until three days from now. All the hotels in New Delhi are booked up – full of tourists who had to change their plans at the last minute. The only option was to hire a taxi. A taxi to Agra would be $400.
“It’s the set government price,” he apologized. “I’m not trying to overcharge you.”
We agonized over it. Tears welled up in my eyes as I frantically tried to get our new SIM card to work. It seemed like there was nothing we could do, but it was just so much money. I thought there must be a cheaper way, but I didn’t say anything. It was my frugality that had gotten us into this mess in the first place, and at this point I believed that there were riots going on so it seemed feasible for taxi prices to be inflated. Patrick tried to reassure me. We couldn’t have predicted this. Sometimes things happen that are out of our control.
“It will be cheaper to hire a car for the full time you are here,” offered the man. It was $500 to hire a car for the full six days we would be in India, and that included two nights of accommodations in Jaipur. He was beginning to sound more like a salesman, but I was too desperate to pick up on it. Finally, we gave in. We could ask our family for help. It was a safety issue. It couldn’t be avoided. We forked over our credit card, signed the receipt, and were rushed to a car waiting just outside the door for the sullen six-hour drive to Jaipur. The rickshaw driver had disappeared, happy with his cut of the scam I assume.
I knew we had been taken, but I still didn’t understand the full extent of the scam. At this point, I honestly believed that there were Jat riots in downtown Delhi. I believed that we had spoken to our hotel, and that that one night was going to be refunded to us. I thought we were just overpaying for a taxi, which was enough to piss me off. The driver tried to make small talk, but my heart wasn’t in it. I mulled. I sulked. I played things over in my mind. I looked up the cost of a taxi to Agra (the SIM card had finally started working). I cried into my soup at dinner. At one point, I punched the car door. I wanted to do something, but there was nothing I could do. So I sat in the back seat of this car and waited to get to Jaipur.
To Be Continued…