Part one: Delhi
We walk from our hotel through some shady markets to the New Delhi train station. Dodging monkeys, rickshaws and the occasional elephant, we attempt to make our way to the other side via an train station overpass so we can purchase a round trip ticket to Agra for the next day.
We’re intercepted by a man flashing an official looking ID who tells us we can’t go in that way without a ticket (he doesn’t ask anyone else for their tickets). We explain what we’re trying to do, and demonstrating a surprising amount of knowledge of the Lonely Planet India book, he deftly points us to the tourist information office in Connaught Place, where we’re told we can book the tickets. He offers to book us an autorickshaw, we politely decline, then walk over to the government autorickshaw stand to avoid getting ripped off too much. Unknown to us, he sends a friend to intercept our chosen rickshaw.
This friend then plays the part of rickshaw boss man, and after explaining to him where we want to go (LP book again), he organizes a rickshaw to take us there, and also comes along for the ride. We drive at breakneck speeds through the absolute insanity of Delhi traffic as he makes chit chat. The cab drives to the right block, then pulls suddenly into a small courtyard, we pay, and then are ferried by an outsider into the office. The smooth talking tour operator explains that everything is booked except for some very, very expensive buses. We’re shown fake webpages and government documents, and are assured that there is no cheaper fare. We leave, much to their dismay, and notice the actual Tourist office 100 ft from where we were dropped off.
This type of commission based scam is pretty common, apparently. The hustlers who got us to the fake tourist office each get commissions for bringing us there, and the tour operators have a full collection of tools to convince you to buy a 500%+ marked up fare. We were still in sleepy-and-honest-Abheypur mode, and didn’t make the connection that we were being had until after putting all the pieces together.
The next day we’re in the same block, and Dave stops to take a picture of our would-be-scammers office. The tour operator is escorting two tourists inside, sees us and charges. “Is there a problem?!” “No, no problem,” we chuckle. “No problem? Then leave!” He retreats to guard his tourists, who are very confused why we are laughing so hard.
Part two: Agra
After a stress free sunrise trip to the beautiful Taj Mahal, where we managed to beat not only the tourists but the associated Indian hustlers, we head to the nearby Agra Fort. The tour guides swarm us as soon as we start approaching the gate.
“You want tour? I very knowledgeable. 100 rupees.”
“I show you all the best sites, only 150 rupees.”
Seven tour guides are summarily dismissed with hand motions, cold shoulders and stern comments of “Shanti! Nay!” (“Quiet / Peace!! No!”, I think). After ignoring my repeated demands for his silence, the eighth says, “Sir, how can you appreciate such a beautiful fort if you do not have a guide?”
This strikes a chord in me, and I turn to face him for the first time.
“When I go to the forest, I can enjoy and appreciate the trees in silence and by myself. When I go to the mountains, I can appreciate them in silence and by myself. And, in the same way, me and my friend plan on enjoying and appreciating this fort in silence and by ourselves.”
No longer smiling, he stares at me for a moment, mumbles “I see”, then just walks away.
Part three: Jaipur
“20! 20! This beautiful elephant for 20!”
“20 rupees? Sure, I’ll buy it for 20 rupees.” (40 cents)
Blank stare. “Dollars sir. 20 dollars.” (1000 rupees)
“No way. I’ll buy it for 20 rupees.”
“Not possible. 800 rupees.”
“Not possible. 20 rupees.”
We cross the street, at least 5 merchants and hustlers in tow.
“600 rupees, for you, my friend.”
I frown at him. We make it to our car and our driver Ashok jumps up and unlocks the doors.
“20 rupees. I’ll buy two for 40.”
“No sir, 500 rupees.”
I’m trying to close the door, but his body is halfway inside.
“400 rupees!” he pleads.
“20 rupees or get out of my car!” I am physically trying to push him out.
“Not possible! 350 rupees!” he shouts as he resists my pushing.
On the other side of the car, Dave is repeatedly closing the door on a merchant with a similar green elephant.
“Not possible!” I shout as I kick him in the chest in an attempt to close the door. Eventually the kicking works and he backs off enough I can shut the door. Dave has the merchants arm pinned in the door and a green elephant in his lap.
“Look, unless you take the elephant, we’re going to leave. Take it if you want it, I’m not giving you 200 rupees,” he says in between door slams.
Somewhere, through all the noise, my merchant says “50 rupees!”
Dave’s eyes light up. “50 rupees?? Fuck, I’ll buy one for 50 rupees.” He pulls out a note and stuffs it in the merchants hand.
The merchant scowls. “100 rupees.”
“No! You said 50. Fine, give me back the money.” The merchant refuses to let go of the money, and we eventually manage to shut the door and drive away. Watching us go are several very dour green elephant salesman.
Indian hustlers are pushy, persistent and pervasive. They also lie through their teeth about anything and everything. I in turn tell them I’m French, Canadian or South African, that I only paid 50 rupees for the same rickshaw ride yesterday (after having just arrived in a new town), that “Je ne parle pas anglais, je suis francais!” and that I will need to see how many push ups they can do, because “I have already bought one of everything in the market and I need four strong men to carry my suitcase, as it is the size of a cow”.