The hotel in Jaipur wasn’t bad, but I didn’t sleep a wink. I spent the entire night online discovering the depth of the scam. There were no Jat riots in downtown Delhi. The trains to Agra were running fine. I scanned forum after forum of people who had been fooled by the same ploy. They used whatever the current disaster was (bird flu, west nile virus) to scare tourists into buying expensive tours. Worst of all, though, I read comments from other travelers saying that we should have known better. We should have researched more. We should have been smarter, more wary, better.
In that dark room, illuminated by the screen of my tablet, I felt stupid and helpless. I felt embarrassed and angry and confused. I had spent the better half of the day going over should-haves and what-ifs, and those comments stung. So to anyone who is reading this, if you have been scammed by anyone anywhere, I am sorry. I know it sucks. I’ve been there, and so have so many other people. It doesn’t mean you are stupid. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad traveler, and I hope it never happens to you again.
When Patrick awoke I explained everything to him. He was distraught. After commiserating we decided to skip Jaipur and just go to Agra as we had originally planned. We needed to feel like we were in control again. So we packed up our belongings and headed downstairs. Our driver and a local guide were there to meet us. The driver and the hotel staff were confused when we informed them that we wanted to go straight to Agra, but we were adamant.
It’s worth noting that this scam wasn’t entirely a scam. They didn’t just take our money and run. There was actually a tour sold to us, just under false pretenses. We actually did have a driver at our beck and call for six days, and in Jaipur and Agra we had English-speaking guides who took us to all of the sights in the city. Our driver suggested that we take a quick tour of Jaipur since the guide was already there before heading to Agra.
So we sat through a whirlwind tour of Jaipur. Now, I’ve heard that Jaipur is a lovely place to visit. I couldn’t tell you, though. We were so upset that it was difficult to describe anyplace as lovely, and we experienced the shortest tour of Jaipur possible before heading to Agra. Our guide tried to stop us.
“The road to Agra is closed,” he said but we weren’t listening to anybody who told us anything was closed. We were unmovable. So the driver dropped off the guide and headed to Agra.
A few hours into the drive we stopped at a restaurant designed for tourists on their way between Agra and Jaipur. Inside the restaurant, a handful of other groups were eating lunch. Patrick approached the nearest table and asked if the road to Agra was closed. Our driver kept insisting. It felt like déjà vu, but our fellow travelers confirmed the driver’s story. Every person in that restaurant was trying to get to Agra. Jat riots had actually shut down this highway.
Word spread through the drivers of a detour, and soon we were all caravanning through the rural countryside of India. The five hour detour took us through villages so small that westerners were a novelty. Towns of people lined the dirt roads to wave as we passed by. Women in sarees, surrounded by filth and poverty, posed for photos when we stopped. Our driver braved rocks and mud pits and paths not fit to be called roads, following directions dispensed by bewildered farmers. It was a long drive, but we made it to Agra and to the hotel we had originally booked.
Walking into that hotel was like stepping through the gates of heaven. Everything was bright and clean and welcoming. We settled into our massive room while the staff cooked us a delicious Indian dinner. We barely left for two days, and it was perfect.
We did spend a little time visiting the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, which we had come to see in the first place. Once again we had a guide, and once again he spent half of the day trying to shame us into buying something. At the end of the day we said thank you. As we shook his hand he asked, “Something for my service?”
That is how people ask to be tipped in India, but we didn’t know it at the time. Confused, we got into the car to leave. He had the driver stop, climbed into the car and blatantly asked us for a tip. In case you’ve forgotten, we paid a horrendous amount for this tour. So, needless to say, we were not in a tipping mood.
“Didn’t you get paid?” we asked, incredulously.
“Well, yes,” he said, “but not until the end of the month.” He had spent most of the day talking about how poor he and everyone else in India is. Now, we understand that we are in a better position than many people in the world, but it’s tiring having everyone assume you are rich. We spent most of the day talking about how we are not as well of as he assumed we were.
He would say, “This shirt would cost $80 in the United States, but it is only $40 here.”
We would say, “Yes, but we wouldn’t spend $40 on a shirt in the United States.”
He would say, “You know, here in Agra people buy used clothes that are sold for cheaper than new clothes.”
We would say, “We do the same thing in the United States. Nothing I am wearing right now was new when I bought it.” And this seemed to be a theme throughout our visit to India. If l had to sum up our experience of the country in one word it would be ‘Greedy.’ Every person we encountered was looking for money.
We spent our final day in India being driven first to a monument that we knew or cared nothing about then to a shop so the driver could get a kick-back. Then another monument. Then another shop. At the end of the day we dashed out of the car, trying to get to the Delhi Fort (the only monument we had actually wanted to see in Delhi) before it closed as our driver desperately begged for a tip. We didn’t tip. India had been terrible to us. So we were terrible to it. Looking back, I can’t help but think that the scammers took advantage of not only us but also everyone we came into contact with. Those guides and drivers and hotel staff probably did need a tip, but after being taking advantage of we were not tipping anyone.
In the end it was a tour, but it was not a tour that we enjoyed. Maybe if we hadn’t been tricked into buying it then we would have. As it was, we could not wait to get out of India. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back, but I know it won’t be anytime soon.