February 6, 2020 / Delhi

New Delhi Travel Scam: Why I almost wanted to leave India

New Delhi Travel Scam: Why I almost wanted to leave India

Scam: Delhi is shutdown due to the election

We took the a flight from Bangkok and arrived at the Delhi International Airport. From there, it was a breeze to take the metro to New Delhi and it only costs Rs. 50 for the ride.

As soon as we got out of the airport, it was a struggle getting a ride to our guesthouse. Only auto rickshaws and rickshaws were available and all of them are charging us around Rs 150 for a few kilometers. A vendor told us that it should only be Rs. 10 and I guess this is what they would charge locals. We were just going from the railway station to Main Bazaar in Pahar Ganj.

We tried to walk going to our guesthouse but we couldn’t figure out the offline map that we have and we were stopped when we tried to pass through the railway area. We knew we needed to get to the other side but the officer stopped us and told us we needed to talk to an officer. It was inside the train, and the “train officer” was very friendly and appeared to be helpful. He was giving us information about India.

Fact: There is an upcoming election

And then he revealed the news that most parts of Delhi including the guesthouse area are shutdown due to a political protest. It is true that there is an upcoming election but we couldn’t confirm the protests as we were offline. We planned to buy a sim at a regular price when we get to the guesthouse area so we didn’t have a way to check this. He even added the story that Muslims are creating chaos and it would be unsafe and we will not be allowed to go around without a pass.

He then told us that we only need to pay Rs. 30 to the auto rickshaw driver and showed us the correct area where we should take the auto rickshaw. The driver dropped us off at the “government tourism office” to get a “permission pass” as most of Delhi is shutdown. My travel buddy already knew that this was not the government tourism office as he was checking on his offline map.

Get out of Delhi or stay in the only safe hotel

said the scammer

The “tourism officer” exaggerated the story on how unsafe it is in all of Delhi and that we had to leave for Jaipur soon. A taxi would cost Rs. 15,000 or stay in the only safe city center hotel for Rs. 5,000. We told him that were not options. They were insisting on this and the taxi driver even persisted, bringing down the price to Rs. 8,000 and then to FREE! We insisted the auto rickshaw driver send us back to the railway station but to the Pahar Ganj side. In our minds, we will just walk from there to the guesthouse, we didn’t tell that to them, of course. They refused to get us to that area. The auto rickshaw was calling someone from his cellphone which we couldn’t understand. Later, he dropped us off an area and we transferred to another auto rickshaw driver.

Tourism Offices

The new auto rickshaw driver told us that the previous driver was a scammer. However, he gave us the same “Delhi is shutdown story” and he cannot take us to the guesthouse unless we have a government pass. This time he dropped us at the tourism office that is very near the real tourism office. He even showed us the sign traffic sign that it was the government tourism office. Like others, they have a blue board that that says tourism office.

This time the office looked more professional, he gave us information about India and appeared to be like a tourism officer just there to help. And then he started offering overpriced train tickets to Jaipur. He also gave us the same story that Delhi is unsafe.

We’re playing along too long so we excused ourselves and asked if we can be dropped off back at the railway station but at the Pahar Ganj side. Our alibi was just that we wanted to see that side and we will contact him back for the train tickets. He let us go and told us there’s no need for a pass.

It’s appalling how these fake tourism offices are just near the real tourism office. Why is their government not doing anything about this? This is bad for their tourism.

Changing prices

He sent us with a new auto rickshaw driver as the other driver was nowhere to be seen. Good thing we haven’t paid him, he said that he will just pay him out of his pocket and just take a new one. The new auto rickshaw said that we’re free to set the price so we set it at Rs. 30 same as the previous one. Finally, he dropped us off the Pahar Ganj area but he changed the price to Rs. 50. He acted like it was the real price and wouldn’t accept Rs. 30. I was tired of this shit so we just gave Rs. 50.

So we thought we could finally rest. We found Kiran guesthouse, however, the receptionist was changing the prices. We showed him the price in Agoda but he showed us a different site of their price. We kindly asked for their WiFi and then just paid online, after checking the room condition.

Touts in Main Bazaar

As soon as we stepped out of the guesthouse, there were touts everywhere. They really know their game. They were very friendly and good in establishing rapport. We politely refuse every offer we were given along our walk just to get something to eat. It’s a crazy street. Aside from avoiding the touts, we have to avoid being run over by vehicles that shows up in every space there is. Crazy but fascinating that no one gets into an accident. An organized chaos.

Our solution

1. Get a local sim card

We know that we couldn’t avoid scammers but we can avoid to be scammed. We’re lucky that we just had to play along and they didn’t get to rip us off. We started looking for a sim card which took us time because every shop were overpriced. The prices were double from Airtel and Vodafone’s website prices and they wouldn’t allow us to buy the sim card only. Finally, we found an authorized sim card distributor of Airtel at Vikas Travels and quoted the right prices. It’s in one of the small alleys in Main Bazaar.

2. Book rides thru apps like Ola

Now that you have a local sim, you can avoid getting scammed by auto rickshaw drivers. Aside from overcharging, some drivers drop you off a different place where they can get a commission.

We like booking auto rickshaw thru Ola. It's much cheaper than a car , and you also have other options like bike if you're up to an adventure. There's also Uber but we prefer Ola because they have a security PIN that you provide the driver when he arrives. In that way, you're sure you are with the right driver and they would only start the trip when they pick you up.

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Or click on this Ola download link to get awesome offers from Ola.

3. Pretend you've been to India longer

The next time we were asked, we told them that we’ve been in India for a month so they get an idea that we already know about the scams. Our friend also suggested we say we’ve been in the country for 6 months so we don’t look like newbies. First time travelers in India are their usual targets. I guess I have to read about places “we’ve been to in the last 6 months” to give a convincing story and they leave us alone.

Why I decided to stay

The good news is, being scammed would be the worst that could happen but something life-threatening is unlikely to happen.

My travel buddy also sees these experiences on a positive light and he helped me realize that. India is so big with billions of people and this is just New Delhi which is a tiny part of this sub-continent. A lot of people have also said that it's unfortunate that most travelers have to start with New Delhi (as this is a port of entry). Most people who love India as a travel destination always say that New Delhi is their least favorite because of these scams.

Despite this, New Delhi still fascinated me. The street food were just so good, the sounds mesmerizing, and the chaos is just amazing. I survived the first day. As I write this, we're about to leave for Jaipur. Bring it on, India but please be nice.

This is just the first 24 hours in India, actually less. I’ll be updating this post in case we learn more. I think that this is now a learning process and would make us tougher.

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