When crossing the border from Nepal, don’t let anyone grab your bag off of the bus and offer to carry it across the border. If you get into a shared jeep, be prepared to be squished in with as many people as possible (it’s doubtful you’ll get a seat to yourself, despite paying for one). If you take the train, don’t accept cookies from strangers. They might be laced with drugs that will knock you out until you wake up without your bags. If you need a ride from the train station, find a pre-paid rickshaw stand. Don’t get into a rickshaw unless the price is agreed to before you climb in.
In Varanasi, don’t be surprised when a Sadhu grabs your forehead to put some tikka powder on it for luck and then presents his offering tray before you have a chance to say “no.” In Agra, don’t let anyone take you anywhere, you’ll only be paying their commission to bring you there. In Delhi, if someone flings poop on your feet, it’s only so you can pay them to clean it off. If someone offers to take you to the tourist agency to get a free map of India, politely decline, for there are only two government tourist agencies in town and the rest are scams with a storefront. If you want to buy something in a market, under no circumstances agree to their first price. My new “Bay Ban” sunglasses: No. way. would I pay 600 Rs ($10.82) for them, but I will pay 150 Rs ($2.70) and care less about how obviously fake they are. Oh, and watch out for the young men who “just want to practice their English with you…” These are a few of the many scams of India.
We’ve been doing pretty well, that’s not to say we have a clean record free from the scams of India… We paid double for our first rickshaw driver in Varanasi- a whopping $0.75 more than we anticipated for an eighty year old man to bike us (and all of our bags) to our guesthouse. We figured he earned it. I might have paid a little more for some shipping than I would have at the post office in Varanasi, but I was sick, and overwhelmed with gratitude that I didn’t have to deal with a separate visit to the post office. We bought Vodaphone sim cards in Varanasi that lasted aproximately two days. In a Vodaphone store in Delhi, we were told they were used sim cards, something that is not uncommon for small phone stands to sell to tourists. This scam, we learned all on our own.
India is… a lot. Walking down the street is like walking through a gauntlet. A gauntlet that consists of, but is not limited to: eager-comission-seaking-beavers, men demanding you come into their shop “Looking is for free!” they call after you, women with one arm wrapped around a baby, and the other grabbing onto you to ask for money, barefoot children waiting for your spare change, rickshaw drivers asking if you need a ride, men spitting betal juice on the street, or urinating against a wall if there’s no public open street stalls around. There’s garbage. everywhere. Cows meander through the streets and leave pies that I’m only used to dodging when walking out in the fields at home. Dogs are calm by day, but form packs by night. It’s intense. Delhi is intense. Some travel books advised to start in Delhi and give yourself a few days to adjust to India- but after starting in Varanasi and traveling to Delhi, I could not disagree more. Delhi, in my own opinion, is “all. of. India.” without the charm of what’s under the surface of the sub-continent. We heard it was nothing special, but it’s one of those places you have to experience so then you can tell others the same.