In my gap year I lived in India for two months and revisited for a three-week travelling trip over Christmas and New Year 2013. During my time in this beautiful country I have encountered only one pitfall – the scams.
Whether it is a tuk tuk man trying to drop you off at the ‘cheapest’ travel agents, a driver trying to take you to the wrong (usually run-down) hotel to get themselves a hefty commission or a taxi man lying to you about your train being cancelled, it can be a frustrating and tedious task to overcome.
However, as long as you are prepared for the possibility of being scammed and are firm, there is no reason for these experiences to ruin your trip. Here are a few examples of scams I came across on my travels through India and ways to avoid or overcome such situations.
Scam number 1 – drivers telling you that your train has been rescheduled or cancelled
It was 2am and my mother and I had just arrived in Delhi. We hopped into a pre paid taxi (definitely advisable when you first arrive) and were happy to be en route to our next leg of the journey – a 7 hour train to Rishikesh.
However, we were soon to realize that we were going to have to jump a few hurdles before we made it to our intended destination. Firstly, our taxi driver claimed that his car ‘could not fit down the road which approaches the station’. Naively (and very tiredly) we agreed to take a tuk tuk for the last part of the journey.
We drove around the same road for a good 5/10 minutes whilst the tuk tuk driver exclaimed that ‘he didn’t know where the train station was’ (funny joke).
Following this, he pulled over to speak to a man on the side of the road. He told us that we were at the train station and that all of the trains had been cancelled due to the fog – at this point my mother and I were tired, frustrated and understandably, we lost patience. Voices were raised, a white lie was told and finally the driver realized that the two vulnerable women in the back of his tuk tuk were not going to be fooled (again).
Finally, we made it to the train station, we caught our train, and our first lesson had been learnt in India… Do not believe the taxi and tuk tuk drivers, be firm and do not back down.
A good lie I have learnt – ‘I’ve been to India 4 years running and I know where (your destination) is’. Use this line and you should eventually make it to where you want to go.
Scam number 2 – a tuk tuk man trying to take you to ‘their friend’s’ hotel or to a hotel which is supposedly the one you booked – but isn’t
After a five hour delay in Rishikesh and a thirteen hour train journey to Varanasi my mother and I were ready to pass out in our pre-booked hotel room (booking.com or hostel world/hostel bookers are great for booking a room as you pay on arrival (although hotel world/bookers charge per person rather than per room). We had read about the scams in Varanasi so were feeling confident that we could knock each scam that was thrown at us to the floor. However, we were sorely mistaken.
As we stepped of off the train a tuk tuk man bounded up to us asking where it was we wanted to go. We gave him our hotel name and reiterated that we did not want to be taken to the ‘knock off’ version of our hotel.
He ensured us that he wasn’t ‘that kind of person’ as it would give him bad karma. Well – karma is on its way back to bite him. We arrived at a hotel which was rather rough around the edges – it was most definitely not the Yogi Lodge which had been so highly recommended by Lonely Planet.
After realizing that we had once again been fooled by the ever so friendly tuk tuk man, we stormed off to find our way to the correct hotel. Eventually, after a strenuous ride on a rickshaw (strenuous for the man who was cycling – not us), we arrived at ‘the’ Yogi Lodge which was friendly, welcoming and definitely worth the long trip to get there.
Lesson learnt – Contact the hotel you have booked via email or phone to request a pick up service from the train station. Most hotels are willing to do this and will charge a standard rate.
Scam number 3 – being taken to a travel agents
Luckily, on both of my visits I have managed to avoid this scam however, I have met many people who have not been so lucky.
It is a common scam in India for tuk tuk men or drivers to encourage you to go to a travel agents to book ‘the cheapest trip’ or the ‘cheapest train/bus fares’ – do not be fooled by the drivers convincing charm and persuasion.
On my first trip to India, on a 7 hour bus journey from Delhi to Rishikesh, I met a young man from Germany. I had decided to get a local bus, which although was not the comfiest of options, did get me to my intended destination without any qualms and was extremely cheap (approximately £3.50).
The guy boarded the bus in a confused fluster in a city one hour outside of Rishikesh called Haridwar. Spotting that we were the only two tourists on the bus (as you do) we got chatting – he explained to me that he had bought a ‘VIP’ bus ticket from a travel agents in Delhi which was supposed to drop him off in Rishikesh.
However, the bus driver stranded him in Haridwar. I couldn’t help feeling a little smug that I had paid so much less than he had and had got to Rishikesh without the stress and disorientation he had experienced.
However, learning about his experience did reiterate that public transport in India seems to be the easiest option – you are treated as a local. It is unbelievably cheap and you even get to experience travelling as an Indian – what more could you want?
Although some of these scams may seem daunting – don’t be put off. As long as you keep your wits about you, stay calm, are firm, act confident and exclaim at the door of arrivals that you have been to India every year since you were born, you will soon discover the magic which may initially be hidden underneath the scams of Incredible India.