Avoiding touts, beggars, street vendors in India is truly an art. It involved me saying “No, thank you!” with a smile, a “No!” with stern eyes – sometimes even scared eyes (oh trust me they are intimidating!). Even sometimes an escape plan is needed because a tout follows you around relentlessly.
Our first encounter is in Masjid Jama’ or the Great Mosque in Delhi. People asked for money, followed us around. My husband’s goatie was one hell of a problem. People noticed it, they instantly knew we were Muslim. So then they said, “Muslim brother, give me one rupee.” The only thing that we did was putting a blank face pretending that we did not speak English.
Even from the first day since we arrived, we could see how life was so difficult in India. I come from Indonesia, a country that is so far below in the Human Development Index rank. But from what I see, life in my country is not that bad. I have visited other developing countries such as Cambodia and Laos, although I understand that life is harsh in both countries but it is just not as apparent as in India.
Homeless people were everywhere and it was winter. Competition has drawn many unlucky ones to become touts and beggars. Many maybe play scams.
Our Delhi experience was nothing compared to those in Agra. Having arrived in Agra Cant Station we were welcomed by tens – if not more than a hundred – touts offering service to go to Taj Mahal. All were yelling, waving their hands, grabbing, so far intimidating all foreign tourists.
I was trying to escape the crowd while protecting my belly (I was nearly 5 month pregnant). Once we were out, a tout kept following us around. We were a bit overwhelmed and try to lose our stalker by walking zigzaging. Apparently we walked to the wrong direction. It took us over ten minutes to escape from that particular tout, and jumping to another one.
Long story short, we got ourselves an autorickshaw. The supposedly driver asked us to wait in the auto. Suddenly another man came, and said to my husband – again because of the goatie, “Oh you’re Muslim, are you from Malaysia?” He got a blank look from us. Annoyed he said, “You are sitting in my auto and you don’t want to talk to me!” We were like, please we want to go to Taj Mahal, like, now. Finally the first man arrived and brought us to the magnificent monument.
Children selling souvenirs were as bad as the adults, I must say. Coming out from Taj Mahal, an approximately 12 year old boy followed us to sell keychains. First, he said one is ten rupees. Then he said 10 rupees for two. We kept say no. He kept on trying. Ten rupees for three, four, five. When finally he said ten rupees for ten, we could not help but giggling. But still, no!
The driver of autorickshaw taking us from Taj Mahal to Agra Cant tried to scam us. He said that the negotiated price was for one, meaning we had to pay double for two people. Puput said, “No, you are trying to cheat!” And we just walked away.
Taxi scamming is a major problem in tourism industry. Not only in Asia, but also in the European countries. We do understand that cabbies want to make extra money from these supposedly wealthy tourists (many are actually far from wealthy, like we were and still are), but it was just plain annoying. To be fair, we did not experience so much trouble with taxis and autos in Delhi, not as bad as in Vietnam. We even met a beat up auto driver – a real gentleman – who insisted on using his meter instead of haggling.
When I said that avoiding touts in India is an art, I meant it. In touristy places there were just so many. You basically need to do whatever it takes to avoid – or more precisely to run away from them.
Here are some tips that may be useful for your future visit to India and other places:
- Plan you trip accordingly. Once you get of from the train/bus, you must know where you are going.
- Study the guidebooks or maps before departing or while you are still in your safe haven – anything from your home to plane to train.
- Do not look confused, and even worse panicking.
- Don’t study the map or guide in open area (do number 1 and 2). It will attract touts to come and try to scam you.
- Say a stern “NO” and walk away. With strong gesture, if needed. And yes, it sounds mean if you do it to children, but you have no choice.
- Pretend you don’t speak English.
- Ignore them. They may taunt you behind your back or even in your face but just don’t listen.
- Never looked interested to whatever they say. If you want to make conversation with locals, do it in restaurant or other places where you feel it safe. Or where people are not trying to sell you things, or asking for money.
Dealing with touts and scammers is an horrifying experience. A American friend of mine visiting India with her husband and two teenage daughters was appalled by the experience. One of her daughters said, “Mommy, don’t ever take us here again!”
Terrible as it sounds, this should not stop one visiting India. India has so many beautiful places. And at least once in your lifetime, you should visit this one great country with great history.
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