Ready to discover the most common Indian Scam!
I just landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. The sky is grey, and the air we’re breathing is heavy. It is extremely hot outside. It is so hot the heat wave fogged up my glasses’ lenses.
The pollution, the heat and the high humidity are making me feel weak, extremely weak.
I started looking for a way to get to my hotel when a guy on his twenties, wearing a white shirt, a pair of jeans and some flip flops started to follow me. He was all covered in fake jewelry and perfectly filled the Indian stereotype that grew up in the ostentatious state of mind of the Bollywood dream.
The guy would not leave me alone. He would frenetically repeat: “My friend, my friend, welcome to India welcome to India”, “My friend, my friend, taxi, taxi”. I did not answer him and headed directly to a small stand that was, at the same time, a police station office and a prepaid Taxi office. An officer asked me for 400 rupees to get to my hotel. I gave him what he asked for, and in return, I received two receipts in different colors: a yellow one for me and a pink to give to the taxi driver.
I barely had time to think about where to go to find a taxi when the same ostentatious young man aggressively snatched the two papers of off my hand. He showed me a car parked across the street. I took back the two receipts, but for some reason that I can’t explain I got into the car.
This young man will be referred to as “My Friend ” through the rest of my story.
The First Huge Mistake I Made…
And this is how my adventure began in New Delhi. I was in an old shitty car with My Friend and a driver. At the beginning of the trip I really freaked out. Hundreds of negative thoughts were messing with my head. What if this was not a real taxi? And if these people kidnap me and hurt me how would I defend my self? What am I doing here?
I finally started to calm down when I realized we were driving to Connaught Place, the neighborhood where my hotel is located.
On the way I was watching monkeys jumping on trees in a park and My Friend started to ask me so many questions. Where did I come from? Why India? How long will I stay?
His demanding way of asking scared me a little bit and did not make me feel comfortable about his intentions. Then he started talking about some Hindu festival that was taking place currently in Delhi, and he just would not stop talking about it all the way. I coldly replied to him to make him understand that I was not in the mood to talk. I remained polite and kept a small rictus drawn on my face to avoid any tension.
After 20 minutes, the car stopped on an avenue that seemed blocked by the police. My Friend left the car explaining to me that the only way to access the hotel is through this avenue. He volunteered to go down and ask the police if we could walk through, and yes people… I was naive enough to believe him.
Few minutes later, he came back wearing a fake sad face. He explained that he did not know exactly what to do, and that he would take me to some travel agency where I could call my hotel so that they can find me a solution.
The Second Big Mistake…
I was not an amateur, and I am used to taxis at airports, yet I didn’t do what I should have done. I should have got out of the car with him and asked the police officer myself if truly the only way to get to my hotel was through this avenue.
We arrived at “Delhi Tourism” travel agency.
Picture this: A seedy office, a rancid smell of tobacco mixed with a stinking sewer smell. You’d think the last time they cleaned was probably before the collapse of the Golden Temple.
A strong, large man welcomed me. I explained my situation to him and he kindly offered help. He asked me to give him my hotel phone number, and I did.
He then called them, talked in Hindu to the receptionist before passing the phone. The receptionist said that the hotel is closed because no one can access. I did not believe a word of what he was saying. He tried to find some realistic explanation. He ended up telling me that for the next 4 days, there will be a Hindu festival, and for safety reasons, the center of Delhi and Connaught Place are prohibited to access. I told him that I called yesterday to confirm my reservation, and that no one mentioned the festival. The receptionist confirmed my reservation, and I paid for it 24 hours ago. I asked him to quickly find me a solution.
He replied, stammering in some Indian English that made our communication very difficult, that I could go to the hotel after the festival ends to ask for a refund. I did not let him talk more. It was now clear in my head. All of this was just a scam. The owner of the agency was calling someone in the office next door that pretended to be the hotel’s receptionist.
I was very frightened, but I managed to keep my calm. My neutral face was on so that I could hide my feelings. I politely thanked the owner of the agency and My Friend before walking out. Both of them followed me to the door and My Friend aggressively told me that he needed the two receipts for the Taxi ride so that he could get paid.
Honestly, I still do not know to this day where I found the courage to tell him with a very firm voice: “Once you drop me at the hotel I’ll give you your receipt. I did not pay to come here. I paid to go to my hotel, so no receipt for you. ” As the words came out of my mouth, a little voice in my head was whispering to me: “Aida, are you out of your mind? They look like gangsters. They can actually hurt you. Give them the receipts and just run away”.
My Friend was surprised. He surely did not expect such a reaction from me, and believe me, neither did I.
All destabilized and stressed out, he stopped a random rickshaw (local motorcycle taxi) asking him to take me to my hotel.
And the very elaborated play was still. With fake self-confidence, I told him there was no way I would pay the rickshaw, and that he should find a solution to this whole situation. He gave the Rickshaw driver 100Rps. I pulled out the pink receipt saying that the yellow one was mine and that there was no reason for him to have it. I got inside the Rickshaw very proud of myself, convinced I finally got out from all this “Taxi/ Travel Agency Mafia”.
The Third Big Mistake! 3 is The Magic Number They Say!
I did not realize that my fear and my stress were clearly obvious which increased their desire to rip me off. The more my fear increased, their willing to rob me increased as well keeping the whole horrible situation in a vicious circle that seemed endless.
The rickshaw was going back and forth on the same road, doing it in circles over and over again before taking me to another zone of the city that was blocked by the police. He as well was trying to make me believe that access to Connaught Place is impossible because of the festival. He stopped to ask a police officer, this time in my presence. The officer spoke directly to me explaining that I had to go to the tourists’ information center, and they would be able to find me a solution.
And once again I was dragged in the exact same scam by a simple police officer and a random rickshaw driver. I was dealing with a real Mafia. At this point, I actually started to believe there was a Hindu festival happening, but I could not trust them about the impossibility to access the hotel. After a few more minutes, I arrived to another travel agency pretending to be the tourist center.
The story was repeating itself once again. Ali, a tall dark skin guy with green eyes, was sitting on his desk, watching a Bollywood action movie. He raised his eyes to look at me, scanning me from head to toe before asking me what brought me to him.
I explained my situation. He told me, with a cold voice and total lack of interest, that the festival had a huge impact on the city. He even claimed that Wi-Fi use was limited for political reasons, and that the only thing he could do for me was helping me find a hotel outside of the Festival Area. Then he stopped talking for some seconds before saying: “Aida, the only advice I can give you is to leave New Delhi and come back after the festival ends. For train and bus bookings it is already too late, but I can get you a driver who will take you to Rishikesh for 250 euros”.
A long, heavy, almost unbreakable silence was ruling over the room before Ali interrupted it. In a very humorous tone that made no one laugh but him he said: “This is India you love it or leave it”.
I smiled, took my backpack, thanked him and left.
At the door of the agency, I met a Spanish couple. They were about to get into a car to Agra. I asked them if they were having the same problem as me. They did. They were kind enough to ask me to come with them and share the cost of the ride. However, the driver interrupted them telling them, in Spanish, that it was impossible to take me because the car can only fit two people.
They seemed sorry to leave me there with no concrete solution, but they ended up going anyway. Later on, I was the one who felt sorry for them. They totally fell for the scam.
My pepper spray in hand, I decided to stroll in the dirty streets of New Delhi desperately seeking for a place with an internet connection. A local chain restaurant caught my attention. I decided to rest and have something to drink. I dropped my heavy backpack and thought of a solution for my situation.
The place was not very comfortable, but it had an air conditioner and a broad selection of fresh drinks. I sat down, and remembered the SIM card I bought at the airport. It was supposed to be activated within four hours after purchase. I was almost there. A small research on Google and I would find a solution to my problem. Obviously, there was no festival in New Delhi. I ordered an Uber, and decided to go directly to the hotel without wasting any more time and energy. Fifteen minutes were separating me from a long shower and some comfort food.
I arrived to the hotel feeling all tense and stressed. I explained to the front desk staff what just happened to me.
They were not surprised at all, and simply apologized for the behavior of their compatriots. They tried somehow to calm me down. India is a beautiful country, they said. You should not let this incident ruin your stay.
Now that the fear and panic have faded away, I feel very proud of myself for not totally fall in their trap. But I cannot help myself to avoid thinking of the thousands of tourists and travelers who are misled by these vicious people everyday all over the country.
I really hope that this article could help travelers, planning in India not to fall into this “Festival Scam”.
Now that this little chapter is closed. To you My Friend, I send all my positive energy and a big smile along with a Namaste, which totally makes sense in this context. Thanks to you, I had a good lesson. I am now well prepared to face what is waiting for me for the upcoming weeks.
My trip through India will probably be intense and full of emotions, and I’m looking forward to discover what this wonderful country has to offer me.
Discover the best neighborhood where to stay in New Delhi through my Article “New Delhi: The Best Areas Where To Stay According To Your Need” and travel tips for India through my article “8 Key Travel Tips For Your First Trip To India”
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