It is customary, even mandatory, that when you go into a bazaar in almost anywhere in the world, that there will be people trying to rip you off. They tell you a price for their products that is ridiculously high compared to what they themselves have paid for it. The thing is, everyone knows this, as well as the fact that it is partly a game and like any other games, it needs two parties to play it. One ends up negotiating the price with the other and at best, both win as they find a common ground. It is completely OK. The seller is only doing his job, trying to get the most profit out of his or her products. Suggesting a price that is too high is not lying, it is only a way to start the conversation. People we have met so far in our travels have always been generally kind enough, no one has been out to get us, and most importantly, people have been honest.
That is, until we came to Delhi…
Sini was sick for the first couple of days we were in the capital of India, so I ended up walking the streets of the ginormous city by myself. I was working my way to Connaught Place, a large roundabout and a park at the very center of the city. On my way there from Pahar Gang, where we were staying at, I was stopped two times by local people telling me that the way I was going was dangerous: a slum area filled with prostitutes and drug dealers. As I gazed onwards, I could see literally hundreds of regular people walking the same street, with food kiosks and tourist shops all around me. I was standing right opposite to the New Delhi railway station. I refused to go the way I was told to go and kept going my own way. It was perfectly safe, I passed the Main Bazaar-street and I was all the time surrounded by regular Indian people.
What was that about?
As I walked around, I was constantly confronted by local people, most of whom seemed friendly enough, and who just came to talk to me about where I was from, how long I'd been in India, what was I planning to do… On the first day I told these things to about ten people. I was a little suspicious about them at first, but none of them wanted money from me or anything like that, so I relaxed a little and had some nice conversations. Except that almost everyone was wanting to look at my map and show me some stuff. Then they would mock my freebie map and tell me to go to a specific, government owned tourist information center, where they could give me a proper map and also some information about what I should see in India. The funny thing was, everyone seemed to give me a different government owned tourist information center. I actually went in to one of them and found it to look very much like a normal travel agency. As I sat down and started talking, stating that I wouldn't be buying any train tickets yet since Sini was sick, they seemed very uninterested in helping me. Then again, that seems to be how it is in tourist information offices, walk into one in the Canary Islands and you'll find people who can't even speak English, when the sellers at the local markets seem to be nearly fluent in English, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish all at once.
However, the worst of it didn't come until Sini was feeling better and we went out to the New Delhi train station to buy tickets to our next destinations. At every entrance to the station, there was a guy telling us that there was no entry there. Only us, the local people were free to go. Two of these guys seemed a little upset with us and started to tell us where we should go. Frustrated, they walked us a little further off to show us on our map (to which they rolled their eyes to) the spot where train tickets could be bought, which was near Connaught Place, at least a kilometer from the station. They showed us their government ID-cards in their wallet, negotiated a 10 rupee fee for an auto rickshaw ride there with the driver. The first one was so rude, that we refused to go and walked to the next gate, only to have the same exact thing repeat. At that we gave up and took the ride to the government place. As we arrived, we were greeted by a very welcoming guy, who sat us down and offered us chai (sweet tea with milk). He asked about our plans for India and gave some good ideas of what to see in addition to what we had planned. Then he started to talk about the easiest ways to get to places, told us about the trains and the busses, etc. He could also make reservations to hotels and seemed almost upset as we didn't want him to help us there. In hind sight, this was a completely normal visit at a travel agency, but for some reason, we fell in their traps and ended up paying them the amount they asked for the train tickets and also for the three nights he insisted on reserving for us in Jaipur and Agra. After that he insisted that we let his driver to take us around the city as he was making all the arrangements.
Things were starting to seem odd.
The driver was supposed to take us where ever we wanted, but instead he took us along a specific route, made us eat in a specific restaurant and was a little annoyed as we insisted on seeing one thing that wasn't in his itinerary. He even took us to this giant "bazaar" called Delhi Haart, which turned out to be a high end tourist trap with fabrics and souvenirs being sold at a high price. Other than the shopkeepers and us, there was no-one there. By this time we had made some accounting in our heads and understood just how much we'd ended up paying for the "services" we had bought. As we were returned to the place where we bought the tickets from, we finally got our receipt. It had even the Delhi sightseeing tour written on it, without specific fee of course.
We were royally screwed. It upset us quite a bit, especially as we started to look back at the happenings of the day. The guys at the railway station who told us that there was no entry there stopped only us and not the locals. They took us a little further off to make sure no-one saw them, showed us their ID-cards, which weren't the same kind, and told us to go to some place called letter.letter.letter.letter.letter. Were they D.D.N.T.I or I.N.N… didn't matter, because they were different places! On the business card we got from our "tourist information center", it said "Diamond Tours (India) PVT. LTD". On the window of the place it said government-something, as did almost every travel agency in town. They didn't show us the prices of individual trips and they didn't tell us exactly what we were paying for before I had punched in the numbers.
It left a really bad taste in our mouths. It didn't help, that as we were sightseeing at Humayun's tomb, a security guard started to blabber us about the mosque in completely incomprehensible English, only to demand payment afterwards. We got rid of him with just 10 rupees, but even that was too much since he didn't do anything useful and we never asked for his "help". Lastly, as we were finally leaving Delhi by train, a guy next to the security gate asked to see our tickets (he didn't ask the locals) and told us that our train was cancelled. We had just seen the timetables, and the train was running on schedule. We told him so and walked right past him.
I HATE being lied to. I want to believe in the good of people, but Delhi showed us that you really can't. They lie and cheat and rip you off. They told us that you couldn't buy the train tickets from the station, that our train was cancelled, that specific areas of the city are downright dangerous, all of which were LIES. I've never had that before on our travels, we've been just fine by looking out for theft and seeing that we haggle for prices when necessary, but nowhere else have the people been this false. It caught us off guard and made us feel bad about ourselves. But as annoying as it is to lose some money, it is even more wretched that I have lost some of my trust in people. It may not ruin the entire trip for me, but it will certainly change how I react to people offering their help. How can you travel the world, if you can't trust anyone, and especially, how can you ever hope to have a good time? And even sadder is the way this affects the people around me. Good, gentle and honest people suffer from the prejudice that the false ones have willingly created. I came to India believing that there were good people here, and of course there are, but sadly it was only the wicked who presented themselves to me. Delhi was a bad place to be in.
Luckily we have moved on to Rishikesh, where it has been pretty much as it was in Nepal. A little touristy, but at least friendly. My hopes and trust for humanity are beginning to heal, little bit at a time. Hopefully the trips we paid too much for end up working out at least. Then I might be able to enjoy my time here once more.