I told myself early on that I was going to get scammed, or have something stolen, or suffer some sort of unfortunate fate at some point. You can’t travel for an extended period of time through 25 countries without such a thing happening, so if this is the only one (fingers crossed) – I’m pretty happy with it overall.
After my lovely 27 hours of travel from Horsham to New Delhi, I sailed through customs, got my bag in no time, and was outside ready to meet with the driver that I hired from Bloomrooms with great timing. One could almost say it was too good. And apparently it was. So I exited the baggage claim area, looked around, couldn’t see a sign with my name on it (I was pretty excited for this too, btw!). I took another loop or two just in case I missed it, then I noticed that there were more people outside the terminal itself with signs and things like that.
So I went out.
Did you know that at this particular airport, there are armed guards at the door who don’t let you go back in once you go out? I didn’t. Well that’s not true – he told me that I could leave all my bags with him, and he’d watch it for “maybe 10 minutes” but no longer. I just couldn’t take my bags in.
That didn’t seem like an option to me. So I asked where a pay phone was OUTSIDE the terminal.
Good start to the country. Wandered around a bit until someone approached me – red flag, right? Do I need a taxi? No. I just need a phone. He generously offered to call Bloomrooms for me, and then put me on the phone at which point I was told, to my despair, that the hotel was closed because of the protests, police had closed off the streets nearby, and my money was being refunded.
I only spoke to them briefly then he spoke to them again. Of course I didn’t dial, he did, and when he dialed he said “Hello Bloomrooms” and said the address. Should I have given this a bit more thought? Duh. Red flag or two there, but I’m tired, I can’t go back in the terminal, there’s TONS of people everywhere, and at the moment, this guy is my only connection to the world. So I trust him… he says he’ll take me to a tourism centre where they can find me a hotel. Red flag again, right? We walk, he tells me it’s in the city, not at the airport – red flag again. But whatever – I get the cost, 300 rupees (about $5), and I agree – at this point I’m not seeing too many options, and I haven’t really collected my thoughts all that well – obviously.
He’s asking me questions on the way, and my mind is starting to wakeup again. All the questions that I’m not supposed to answer… are you traveling alone? Are you meeting anyone? First time in India? Half way through something clicked and I started saying I was meeting someone blah blah, but whatever. He was a “nice guy”, wasn’t threatening or anything at all, and there was an older guy beside him in the front. It was a 30 minute drive, about 15 mins in I started playing everything back and thought how easy it would be to scam someone by dialing the number of a friend, having them say the hotel was closed, and then driving the sucker to a fake “tourism office” to be booked into a more expensive hotel where they get a nice cut of the profits.
Arrived at the “tourism office”, it wasn’t a government building. You’d have to be an idiot to think it was. Down some alley. I was finicking with my iPhone as we were driving and convinced it to pickup service somewhere and use what little prepaid credit I had left from Australia… thankfully. Once he sat me down in the “office”, while I was waiting for the other guy to come in and help me find a new place to stay, I got a hold of Bloomrooms, who assured me that they were still very open, and that their driver just left the airport after waiting around for an hour.
I wasn’t exactly shocked.
I got a little irritated with all involved parties, but seeing as how I had no real idea where I was, and though I’ve heard nothing to make me think that these guys were going to hurt me, I decided that the loss of $5 and an hour of my time wasn’t quite worth losing it over, so I gave him his money (while he tried to convince me he didn’t have any change – at least I didn’t let that one go), listened to him stupidly say “but they said they were closed”, and got myself directed to the nearest taxi / rickshaw.
Found a rickshaw, $4 and 30 mins later got myself to the hotel, checked in, and had a nice, long, hot shower. The hotel apologized, the rickshaw guy told me that the tourism office was a fake and hey at least I was safe, and I certainly don’t blame the hotel (though it would have been nice if their guy was there for me on time and clearly visible).
So in the grand scheme of things – not a big deal. $9 and a couple hours of my time, some irritation, a bit of worry and concern, but also a nice lesson on vigilance here early in. I’m glad I got out before I got duped into a new hotel or something stupid like that, so I feel like I had some sense.
Not going to lie, I was sorely tempted to jump back on a plane and boot it out of here for Turkey for a good while there – despite it not being a huge deal, it’s not the best way to start a few days in a new country, it’s a really shitty way to wrap up 27 hours of vacation, and it’s a bit of a shock going from a totally safe environment with friends to a totally foreign environment where I have no idea who, if anyone, I can trust.
Next step today is to grab a SIM so at least I’ve got ready and easy access to a phone/internet, find some food at some point because I’m getting hungry, and try to stop being quite so pissed / feel quite so sorry for myself. The hotel is very nice and clean, it’s a discount hotel so it doesn’t have a pool or any of that stuff but the shower works great, the room is clean, I’ve got my own bathroom for the first time in a while, and from my understanding the location is pretty good.
So that’s India day 1. Or really just half a day – it’s 3pm now. But I thought I’d jot this down while it was still fresh. So if you come to India… don’t do what I did.
I’m gonna do something… or nothing… for a while. Will probably add more tomorrow, no pics yet – too busy being scammed!