Have you ever had a gut feeling that something isn’t quite right, but for some reason you go along with it anyway? Then when it’s all said and done you look back and scratch your head wondering if what just happened was all above board?
Well, I think we were victims of an Indian scam on day one of our trip to the country. Let me replay the day’s events for you and perhaps you can set me straight in the comments section below.
How it started
It all started when Sarah and I decided we were going to walk from our hotel in Karol Bagh to the Red Fort. According to Google Maps it was going to take us about an hour and 15 minutes, and given we are always up early because of Jack, we’d make the most of it by starting the day with a long walk.
We were about 10 minutes into our walk when we were approached by a tuk tuk driver. He said didn’t want any money from us, he just wanted to help us with some advice because his son lives in London so feels compelled to help travellers whenever he sees them walking the streets of Delhi. After introducing himself and asking what we were doing he was stunned to hear we were walking. He offered to take us to the official government run travel centre in Connaught Place (which he pointed out on our map) for only 10 rupees ($AU0.20), because all of the other tour operators were privately run and would rip us off. As a bonus, at least ‘we would get a free map’, if nothing else. We said no, that we wanted to walk, and after a little further to-ing and fro-ing he let us be on our way
About 100 metres up the road he was back again, stressing that it wasn’t safe to be walking in this area and he must take us to the official government run tourist centre. Once again, we said no and walked away.
Not 10 seconds had passed when we were approached by another man, a concerned stranger, who said we really should catch a tuk tuk because it was such a long walk. He too said we should go to the official government run travel centre in Connaught Place (which he also pointed out on our map) because all of the other operators would try and rip us off. He also said we should never pay more than 10-20 rupees for a tuk tuk ride in Delhi. Wow, I was stunned he was giving us the same advice the tuk tuk driver had given us, almost word for word. Could these guys be telling us the truth I thought to myself. Perhaps we should get the tuk tuk into Connaught Place. Then something truly miraculous happened, the tuk tuk driver came over and started talking to the concerned citizen, eagerly agreeing with each other’s advice.
Still, despite their vigourous protestations, we respectfully declined their offer and went on our merry way…by foot. But the concerned citizen decided to walk with us, being friendly, finding out about where we’re from and what we’re doing in India. He seemed nice enough, fairly genuine, on his way to work at a bank not too far away. He followed us for at least a kilometre before we arrived at a major intersection. He told us we shouldn’t go straight ahead and if we were going to walk we should follow the major road into Connaught Place where it is safer for tourists. So we took his advice, said our goodbyes and headed along the major road.
What a coincidence!
As we were walking Sarah suggested we probably should catch a tuk tuk as perhaps it would be better to be safe than sorry. So we approached a tuk tuk driver to take us to the Red Fort, our original destination. Before we could get five words out the original tuk tuk driver burst onto the scene, motioning for us to get into his tuk tuk. He was a familiar face, and he’d already offered to take us into Connaught Pace for 10 rupees, so we went with him. On the way in he told us all about his son and grandson in London, he seemed a really nice guy and we liked him.
We arrived at the official government travel centre and we went inside while our tuk tuk driver waited for us so he could take us to the Red Fort. The man who served us gave us a map and circled the tourist spots we should check out while in Delhi. He asked us how we were going to get around and we said we hadn’t decided. He told us we should hire a car and driver for a couple of days so we could see all Delhi had to offer. He quoted us 3600 rupees ($AU72.00) and for that we’d get the car and driver for as long as wanted for the next two days. He said it was too far for tuk tuks to take us to the southern suburbs where several attractions are, and they wouldn’t take us into Old Delhi because it was too dangerous. We said we’d think about it and get back to him. We left and got back in the tuk tuk.
A tuk tuk driver refusing a fare, that’s a first!
After our visit to the official government run travel centre our tuk tuk driver asked if he could take us to a tourist souvenir and clothing store for 10 minutes. We knew how this worked, we’ve been in enough tuk tuks to know these guys survive on petrol tickets and lunch vouchers provided by establishments like these. So we said we’d help him out by wondering around inside the souvenir shop, pretending to be interested, before leaving and continuing on with our trip. On the way we chatted with our tuk tuk driver about driving us around for two days rather than hiring a car and driver. Sarah and I definitely prefer tuk tuk travel because you get a better feel for the city and it’s inhabitants as opposed to getting around in a car. He was happy with the idea, including taking us to the southern suburbs and into Old Delhi, and we agreed on a fee of 2300 rupees ($AU46).
After we left the souvenir shop we started discussing the route with our tuk tuk driver when he received a phone call. It didn’t last long, we didn’t think anything of it, and we were on our way. But 60 seconds later he pulled over and felt it wouldn’t be right to subject Jack to the pollution he’d be exposed to after two days in his tuk tuk driving around Delhi, and he felt we were better off taking the official government run travel centre’s offer of a driver and car. WTF? A lowly paid tuk tuk driver is turning down two days work because he has concerns about Jack’s well-being? He explained he had a grandson and didn’t like the idea of driving him around in Delhi’s pollution for the next couple of days.
So he took us back to the official government run travel centre and came inside with us. He and the original guy we spoke to exchange a few words in Indian, then I handed him the 10 rupees we’d agreed on at the very start. To my surprise he insisted I gave him 20 rupees, the original 10 and 10 more for bringing us back. This is after we’d helped him out with petrol tickets and food vouchers, and hadd hired him for two days only for him to change his mind suddenly. I simply ignored him and after an awkward moment or two he left.
The scam complete
We asked the official government travel centre guy what the best price was for the car and he said he couldn’t give us a discount on the 3600 rupee fee because they have to pay the driver, petrol, parking at the sites, and so on and so on. By this stage we’d done nothing more than visit an official government run tourist centre and a souvenir shop during the two hours since we’d left our hotel so we hired the car and driver. We were led to our car, a beat up old shit box, and got in. As soon as my backside hit the back seat I turned to Sarah and said “I think we’ve been scammed”.
So for the next couple of minutes we went back over the events of the morning to see if we could figure out what had happened. Here’s what we came up with:
- The tuk tuk driver was incredibly persistent and the 10 rupee fare to take us to Connaught Place was ridiculously cheap.
- It was remarkable how in sync the tuk tuk driver and the concerned citizen were with how much we should pay for a tuk tuk and we should go to the official government run tourist office.
- The concerned citizen walked with us for the next kilometre or so, telling us he worked in a bank and was on his way to work. Yet he was dressed in shitty jeans, a dirty short sleeved shirt and flip flops.
- The concerned citizen convinced us to take the main road to Connaught Place because the way we were going to go was too dangerous.
- Twenty minutes after leaving the tuk tuk driver he miraculously turns up as we were negotiating a ride with another tuk tuk driver (who had quoted us 150 rupees for a ride into the Red Fort) on the main road concerned citizen had told us to take.
- After agreeing a price with the tuk tuk driver to be our chauffeur for the next to days, he received a phone call then knocks back a 2300 rupee fare because he’s concerned for Jack’s health.
- He then suggests we take the offer from the official government run travel centre and offers to take us back.
- Our tuk tuk man then follows us in and mutters a few words to the original official government run travel centre guy before leaving with his tail between his legs.
- Oh, and I forgot to mention, there’s nothing official looking about the official government run travel centre.
So, were we railroaded into hiring a car and driver from the travel centre via an elaborate Indian scam? It looks like it right? The phone call was definitely from the ‘official government run travel centre’ wasn’t it?
Having a car was a good idea
In the end we were glad to have hired the car and driver. As sad as it is to see such poverty in Delhi, at every intersection you stop at beggars come to the car asking for money and food. In a car you’re protected by a door and window, in a tuk tuk you’re exposed and beggars have been known to steal anything they can get their hands on if given half a chance.
The car and driver have been great, but the whole process has left a sour taste in our mouths. Not that it will bother the guys that run the travel centre, the tuk tuk driver or his ‘concerned citizen’ offsider.