Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dehlies

Dehli, India

We have collected quite a few travel guide books in the last couple of months. Without fail, the introductory chapters of these books are full of dire warnings of disease, crime, and dirty tricks played out at the cost of the unwary traveller. In general, these warnings have varied between highly exaggerated and downright alarmist. Not so with India. Both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet go on and on about the scams regularly perpetrated on tourists. We have been on the receiving end of almost every one of them. I have itemized them for your reading pleasure:

* Which Hotel? Your hotel.

We hit the first sign of trouble not 1 hour after landing. It is very uncommon to find a Delhi taxi with a working meter. It is even more uncommon to find one with a working meter that the driver is willing to use. Fares are agreed upon before departure. Severely inflated fares for foreigners are so common that the government has had to step in. They operate a pre-pay system from common tourist areas. You buy a voucher from a window, give the voucher to the taxi driver when you arrive, then he gives it back to the tourism bureau to get paid. The necessity for such a system is enough to put anyone on guard, but it did not quite prepare me for the elaborate scamola about to unfold.

We got our voucher and hopped into a charming 50's-style Delhi cab that had actually been built 2 years ago. Everything was fine until we got into the city and the driver declared that he could not find our hotel, despite the fact that I had identified its exact location on a detailed map. We would have to stop at his office for directions. The office turned out to be a tourism company.

In the office, another gentleman explained that there is metro construction near our hotel and that we must phone so they can meet us at the nearest accessible point. I watched him dial the hotel number and he handed me the phone. The voice on the other end told me without reservation that the hotel was full. I asked him the name of the hotel. His answer was "this hotel". I gave him one more chance and he meekly changed his response to "your hotel". I slammed down the receiver in a combination of surprise and disgust.

Two things impressed me about this situation:

1. Someone went so far as to rig up a special "tourist duping" phone that connects to a coconspirator no matter what number is dialed. That is a high level of effort and creativity.

2. They were not at all embarrassed or apologetic about being caught red-handed. In fact, they never acknowledged their lies even when directly confronted with them.

His supply of scam tactics exhausted, the taxi driver took us to the hotel which was free of metro construction and was holding our room as previously arranged. We had been in Delhi for less than 3 hours.

* Proud of My Country

On our first morning, we set out to run a few errands. It was not long before we were approached by very well-spoken gentleman with good English and an easy-going demeanor. He offered to help us locate our needs because he was proud of his country and wanted us to see its best side and enjoy our time there. Our volunteer guide took us to get SIM cards for our mobile phones and mini DV tapes for the camcorder before things started going funny.

First, he steered us towards "his" wholesale silver shop to have a look at the goods. The staff there were busy unloading boxes, so there was little pressure to buy. We looked at a few things, but bought nothing, and were on our way. Next up, we where ushered to a tailor selling everything from complete Western suits to traditional local clothing. I picked up a pashmina and a silk tie at what was later found to be a very inflated price. Jason stayed strong and resisted the intense sales pressure from the store personnel. After that, we had a cup of tea in a local travel office where another gentleman laid out a deluxe tourist itinerary while studiously avoiding any discussion of price.

We escaped from the travel agent with wallets unopened and said goodbye to our guide. Before parting, he asked us to "give him something". That something turned out to be some cash. Some rupees in hand, he left us with one bit of advice: "if anyone approaches you on the street, look them directly in the eyes and clearly say no". Good advice, indeed.

* The Shitbomb

Delhi has famously polite and effective shoe-shiners. Lonely Planet claims that innovative scammers in Delhi will discretely toss feces onto the shoes of foreign visitors then (posing as a shoe-shiner) offer to clean it off at an inflated price. At the time of reading, this seemed to strange and disgusting to be possible. But sure enough, in the afternoon of my first day in Delhi, somebody chucked a big old hunk of poop (hopefully not human) down on my right shoe. Jason noticed the shit-bombing in action, but only because he thought the bomber might be going for my wallet. I vaguely recall a request to clean my shoes, but unsolicited requests on the streets of Delhi are so frequent that I had already (with less than 24 hours in town) started to filter them out. This incident is top of my "Why I Hate Delhi" list.

* Closing Time

These are variations on the same scam:

1. On the morning of day 2, we jumped in a tuk-tuk to the Khan Market to buy some books. On the way, the driver informed us that the market does not open untl 11:30. It was about 10:00. He suggested that we spend the intervening time shopping in a local store he knows. We insisted on going anyway. Shortly before arrival, the driver pointed at a burnt-down building as evidence that the market was not yet open. He even went so far as to indicate a shop that was clearly open and say "See? Closed." We arrived and found the market to be in full swing.

2. After the Khan Market, we decided to walk up to the National Museum. A fellow pedestrian struck up a conversation along the way. He said he was on his way to work at the Bank of India and inquired about our destination. Alas! He informed us that the museum was closed until 1:30 (it was about 11:30) because the Prime Minister was having a meeting there. In the meantime, he knew a great shop where we could get quality Indian goods at low-low prices. We said goodbye to our new friend and carried on to the museum. The museum collection was very impressive, though it did not contain any prime ministers.

3. We spent most of a day (a Saturday) in Delhi on the way to Agra from the Himalayas. As soon as we arrived in Connaught Circle - the commercial center of New Delhi - a local informed us that "everything" there was closed and that we could so some shopping at a great place he knew nearby. We dismissed him pretty quickly as he was making this wild claim directly in front of a row of very open businesses.

These guys get a piece of the action for ever dupe they bring in through the door of the overpriced shops they tout for. They will say almost anything to get you there it seems. I do not care for them.

----

Known side effects of exposure to Dehli include frustration and paranoia. Even now that we are free of the capital, anything I hear from local sources is tainted info and I have only the worst expectations of people that approach without invitation. I am hoping to combat this epidemic of mistrust by mega-dosing on antipodean friendliness in Oz and NZ. I would hate to live for much longer with a chronic infection of suspicion.

6 Comments:

Anonymous cousinjohn said...

I know you're heading to Argentina come January... while there, you can look forward to people throwing shit on your shirt - though your shoes will be safe.

It was my happy experience in BA to have a CIA-style pincer move applied to me, wherin an unseen man (we'll call him 'Nigel') threw bird-hockey onto my shirt (quite accurately, and from a great distance I think), just as I was passing a seen woman (we'll call her 'la Femme Nikita'). She looked alarmed, and graciously offered to help me remove the creamy white ooze from my shirt with a tissue. While she was doing this, Nigel expertly lifted my wallet. Nigel and Nikita then jumped into a taxi that miraculously showed up just when they needed it - something like 5 seconds after I was picked. I succeeded in cancelling the cards within a little more than an hour, but they had already spent almost $7,000. My fault for putting my wallet where it shouldn't have been, of course...

You've really got to be good to spend $7,000 in less than an hour - I'll give them that.

10/19/2005 2:08 PM gmt

 
Anonymous -jen said...

I don't have anything witty or interesting to add really, other than...wow...yucky!

I was just sitting in my classroom wondering what my little brother was up to...maybe I should have looked. :-)

10/19/2005 2:23 PM gmt

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone who's ever lied or taken advantage of anyone else can fucking go to hell. I loathe dishonesty.

I will never become jaded though. It pains me when I meet others who have because of shit like that.

And Mike, stop making words up. "Antipodean?!" WTF does that even mean?

10/19/2005 5:21 PM gmt

 
Anonymous Dre said...

this was one of the most entertaining blog entries so far, i have to say. and it was "entertaining", not "shocking", because i'd heard these things about delhi already, and something similar happened to us last year in bangkok ("oh, the palace is closed until the afternoon, but i now a nice place for you to buy things"). see the positive side: nothing was stolen!

juan: Antipodean :-)

10/20/2005 2:30 PM gmt

 
Blogger jason said...

Funnily enough, Mike forgot to mention another scam-like event similar to cousinjohn's that happened in Delhi. We were on our way back from somewhere in Connaught Circle when we were approached by an Indian ladyboy (not too many of those). He fopped his way up to us and grabbed our arms, asking us all sorts of ridiculous questions. While we were fending him off, his/her friend tried to "expertly" grab Mike's wallet from his back pocket. His amateurish attempt failed completely, and he ran away. The ladyboy was shoved away shortly thereafter.

Did I mention that I love Delhi?

10/21/2005 4:13 AM gmt

 
Blogger Mik3 said...

Juan - Come on, mate. You gonna take English lessons from a German? And don't give me any of that jazz about how you speak Spanish...

Dre - Again you prove yourself a man of scholarship.

10/21/2005 4:32 AM gmt

 

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