Don’t get scammed in Delhi
Delhi is home to countless fascinating historical sites, but it’s also home to countless frustrating scams. Read India travel expert Mariellen Ward’s top 5 tips and stay one step ahead.
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Delhi is one of the world’s most historical cities. It has been the capital of at least eight major civilizations, stretching back thousands of years — and all of them have left behind monuments, tombs, forts and other treasures. It is also a very green city, low-built and sprawling; criss-crossed with wide, leafy boulevards, parks and many fascinating areas from Raj-era Connaught Place, the commercial centre, to the crammed markets of Old Delhi; and from funky enclave Hauz Khas to the elegant bungalows of New Delhi. So there’s lots to do and see!
But as the starting and ending point of many tourists’ travels in India, Delhi is also home to Pahar Ganj, the seedy traveller’s ghetto near the New Delhi Train Station, and a colourful travel and tourism industry that, unfortunately, includes more than its fair share of shady characters. There’s a steep learning curve to getting “your India legs,” and these tips will help you get on them faster.
Many travellers and tourists head to Pahar Ganj when they land in Delhi, or in nearby Connaught Place; Karol Bagh is the customary third favoured location. These busy, commercial areas are close to the centre of the city and filled with the least expensive accommodation in Delhi. But the problem is, they are also filled with the most cunning con men. My top Delhi tip is to stay away from the hustle and bustle; stay instead in the leafy, upscale neighbourhoods of South Delhi, or even Gurgaon, in a home stay, guest house or small boutique hotel. The spanking-new metro makes it easy to get around the sprawling city in air-conditioned comfort, so you no longer have to stay in the centre of town.
2. Getting your India legs
My second top tip is to take a tour, stay in a homestay or travel with a friend who is familiar with India. You need help to get over the culture shock and learn how to successfully navigate travel in India. This is very hard to do if you just land, on your own, and start travelling without any orientation. It can be done — but you will use up a lot of time and energy feeling lost, overwhelmed and frustrated that could be used for better things. Like enjoying yourself.
3. Travel under the radar
It may not seem possible for a blonde Canadian woman to travel under the radar in India, but I do. I wear Indian clothes, and travel with a suitcase not a backpack. I don’t flash expensive purses, jewelry or watches. I even bought a cheap Nokia phone to use in India, so I’m not taking a smart phone out of my purse. It helps that I have a lot of travel experience in India and feel comfortable enough to not attract undue attention — but fake it ’till you make it. It works, you will be surprised.
If you want a vacation, go to Belize. If you want to be transformed, go to India. You don’t visit India — you experience it. And the best way to experience India is with the right attitude — an attitude of openness, trust, surrender. If you view everything that happens as a learning experience, as something meant to teach you about yourself and about life, you will fare much better than if you try and control your travel experience. Tattoo the words “go with the flow” on your brain and your arm if you have to!
5. Perspective is everything
Most of the time you are being conned or scammed in India, it is over 5, 10, 50, or 200 rupees. It is when the train station porter quotes you double or triple the regular price, or the shawl-wallah sells you a pashmina blend scarf and lets you believe it is pure pashmina, or when the taxi driver covers the meter. There’s even a name for it: the “foreigner tax.” Most of the time the difference amounts to no more than 25 cents, $1 or $5. To a middle-class westerner, this is not a lot of money. To a working class person in India, it is significant. If you find yourself in the middle of a heated argument over a few rupees, ask yourself if it’s worth it … or if it’s just better to relax, pay the “foreigner tax” and think about how it might go towards much-needed school books or health care.