When Things Goes Wrong Abroad : Getting Scammed in India
In July 2018, after dreaming about visiting India for nearly a decade, my dream finally came to fruition… but not without a whole lot of difficulty, that is. Our flight arrived into New Delhi, so I pre-booked our first few nights in a recommended budget area called Paharganj. And- luckily for us, they had an airport pickup service!
When we arrived and the hotel staff failed to show up, I didn’t think much of it, perhaps they hadn’t received my email or were late. So, after a bit of waiting, we headed towards the metro and picked up a SIM card on the way out. Unlike previous countries I had visited, this one didn’t just turn on automatically, but would take up to 4 hours…something that would prove to be quite the mistake.
Armed with only a screenshot of a set of directions and no internet service, my partner and I hopped onto the train and got out at a stop approximately a mile from our hotel. The second we emerged from the station, dozens of rickshaw wallahs pounced on us, insisting we let them take us to where we needed to go.
Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, our massive bags, and not seeing how it would be feasible to walk anywhere on the chaotic, vehicle-filled streets, we accepted. And so our plummet into a travel horror story began.
I was more caught up in the sensory overload around me than our ride until we abruptly pulled up to a large gate, a gate that was guarded by a heavily armed soldier.
He informed us that this was Paharganj, that there had been riots there the night before, so the entire area was closed off and locked down.
The gun definitely added to the fear effect, but for me, it provided an explanation for why the hotel had failed to pick us up. The armed man said we needed permission from a tourist agency to pass through, so off we went.
The tourist agency seemed official enough. It had a large sign on its door, maps, desks, information pamphlets and anything else you might imagine a well-meaning location might possess. Once inside, we were told again by the staff there that Paharganj was dangerous and closed to foreigners.
They insisted that there was nowhere else to stay besides some extremely pricey 5-star western resorts, and then proceeded to make some “phone calls” for us to our original hotel and other alternatives I tried looking up on their computer. Amazingly, every single one was, in fact, full or closed. And without any internet or friends in Delhi at the time, I didn’t see why I couldn’t believe them.
We had only planned to stay in Delhi a night or two before heading up to the mountains, so to avoid wasting time and money at a Marriot, we opted for the taxi service to the north that the agency recommended. The price tag was painful- $350 USD for the 14+ hour ride. Yet, at the time, it didn’t seem like we had another choice.
Once we were finally in the car with our driver, we both relaxed a bit. Talkative and jubilant, he carried on for nearly four hours until we finally emerged from Delhi. All of a sudden, I noticed something truly terrifying in the rearview mirror. Our driver was asleep, like eyes fully closed on a barely lit road well after midnight asleep. It took some insistence, but we finally got him to pull into a motel and stop for the night. It would be over 24 hours before we finally reached our Himalayan destination of Kasol and several days before we learned what had really happened to us.
After meeting and talking with some Delhiites at our hostel, we came to the shocking realization that we had been massively and expertly scammed. Paharganj? Completely safe and never, ever “closed.” Riots? There were none. And the armed guard? That was the entrance to a government building, not a neighborhood!.
As we looked for options to leave Kasol it became clear that everything had been a lie: The phone calls the agency made never actually reached the hotels. The official price of such a taxi ride was nearly a third of what we had been made to shell out. And, we definitely could have had a safer ride up to the mountains then our driver who had been called by the agency a moment’s noticed. All in all, we fell for one excellently coordinated scam.
While the money lost was a bit painful, you really do live and learn. I still love India now I just know what to watch out for upon return. If you’re trying to leave New Delhi’s airport, have your cell service turned on, take an Uber or coordinate and confirm a pickup with your accommodation and never, ever EVER allow yourself to enter a tourist agency the real one is a government office.
Author Bio : Samantha is a 23-year-old American who’s on an intentional backpacking “detour” through the world. A connoisseur of lassis and landscapes, she’s on a quest to see the world’s lesser visited places and by sharing stories and guides along the way, hopes to inspire others to do the same. Read more about Samantha’s travels at Intentional Detours, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram.
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