Yeh Mera Pahale Baar Yahaan Pe Nahiin Hai, Or, This Is Not My First Time Here

I was recently encouraged to write an entry on some scams I’ve encountered in my travels in India. Having been there several times now, I’ve met with a few.

First of all, I don’t want to portray a negative image of India. While it has it’s problems, it has great people, beauty, history, and culture. If I didn’t love it so much, I would have stopped going after my first time there. I’ve been back twice, and it keeps drawing me back.

 I would like to point out that I have met multitudes of genuine, friendly, honest, and caring people in India. Many of them have taken this lone traveler under their wing, fed me, looked after me, and sometimes even invited me into their home. Like anywhere else, one encounters both honest and not-so-honest actions. But India does have a reputation for it’s share of touts, or people out to make a buck off of unsuspecting tourists.

Also bear in mind that even the poorest traveler to India has access to much more money than most of the people trying to get them to part with it. Scads. And many of these scams amount to the sum of only a few dollars. Yes, it’s a pain in the assets. When visiting for longer periods of time, it does get old sometimes, and makes one wary that everyone is out to make money from them. It also discourages many tourists from returning, which in the long run won’t be helpful for vendors. But one has to ask themselves if it’s really worth getting upset over. There are no easy answers. Caution, a big-picture view, patience, compassion, and a sense of humor go a long way.

So that being said, here is a short list of scams I’ve seen, and some I’ve even fallen for:

“Shoe! Shoe” – On my first trip to India I saw a woman in Delhi who was wearing a pair of sandals that appeared ready to disintegrate. She said she didn’t want money. Just a new pair of shoes. She then led me to a shop and pointed out a pair of shoes that cost 500 rupees, or $8 USD (twice the price as what they usually cost). I fell for it, and bought her the pair of shoes. Later I saw her walking around begging with the same raggedy shoes, and was told that she most likely split the proceeds with the vendor (who kept the shoes to sell again).

Taken for a ride – Quite a common thing is to be told by a rickshaw wallah that they will take you to a major attraction for a nice low price. And they will, eventually. On the way, they’ll take you to a rug shop, a carving shop, a sari shop, a jewelry shop…basically  the shops of all their friends, where they’ll earn a percentage of anything you buy. Even if you tell them you are not interested, they’ll say “Just to look”. Walk away and find another driver.

This also happens with hotels. The drivers will tell you that your hotel is full or was just closed down due to a fire, bankruptcy, bubonic plague, or whatever. Or they’ll pretend they can’t find your hotel. They will try to take you to a “much better hotel” run by their uncle. Don’t do it. They’ll overcharge you and get the profits.

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“The meter is broken” – Another rickshaw or taxi driver trick. You’re much better off using the meter, but I’ve rarely seen them used outside of southern India or in Kolkata for people who live there and know better. Usually drivers prefer to give you an inflated price, and sometimes even raise it while you’re riding along. If you’ve just arrived at an airport or train station in India, find the prepaid taxi stand. It’s your best bet. Or learn to either bargain aggressively or be overcharged.

“Change for the worse” – Torn currency is not accepted by most vendors, but if there’s an unsuspecting tourist, they will often unload it on them as change. Be alert.

“There’s no such thing as a free blessing” – If someone wearing orange or in costume (one guy in Rishikesh dresses up as Hanuman) comes up to you and wants to bless you, most likely he or she will want a monetary blessing in return, and tourists are expected to pay much more.

The great jewelry scam – in Rajasthan and other places, I hear it is common to get tourists to buy jewelry to take back to their country, in order to sell it back to “associates”  of the vendor. Sadly, the associates don’t exist, and the unsuspecting tourist has just bought a bunch of fake jewelry that they’re now stuck with.

“First time in India?” – If you hear this from a rickshaw/taxi driver or a store owner, guard your wallet. It’s a good indication you’re about to get scammed.

“Ek selfie, please”Not a scam, at least for the most part. Usually the people who ask this consider it an honor, or at least a novelty, to have you in their pictures. Be prepared to be asked this on a regular basis. That being said, I have heard of young men asking women for selfies and then posting the pics on social media, stating that this was their “girlfriend”.

There are, I’m sure, many other scams. These are the one’s I’ve encountered, or in the case of the jewelry, heard about. If you are thinking of going to India, by all means, go. Just be aware. Many others have written about scams in India. One of my favorite sites for travelers is IndiaMike.com, which has a wealth of information.

So go. Travel responsibly, and remember not to sweat the small stuff.

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And until next time, be well and peaceful.

Author: mettatsunami

In 2009 I was working full time in medicine, and living a life that was alienated from what I truly valued. While volunteering with a local hospice, I began to wonder: "What would I do differently if I had six months to live?". This began the impetus to change direction. While it has been a case of two steps forward, one step back in many ways, there has still been slow movement in the direction of a more authentic life. Since the pivotal decision to change direction, I have been a Buddhist nun, returned to lay life, changed Buddhist schools, returned to medicine part time, and then full time, quit again, traveled extensively, trained in yoga, spent time in several Buddhist monasteries, and am in the process of how to live according with Buddhist and yogic practice and values, and how to streamline this life into something worthwhile. In the Theravadan Buddhist practice, one of the daily reflections is "Has my practice born fruit with freedom or insight, so that at the end of my life, I need not feel ashamed when questioned by my spiritual companions?". That is my practice. My goal in this blog is to share the journey along the way.

8 thoughts on “Yeh Mera Pahale Baar Yahaan Pe Nahiin Hai, Or, This Is Not My First Time Here”

  1. These same scams are used in other third world countries as well. U are correct in saying that travelers are rich in the eyes of these venders if only for the mere fact that we could afford the airfare. .

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a lovely read. These scams are quite common. In fact, even locals are not spared. In my own home city, Kolkata, the taxi drivers constantly try to fleece us. The double dealers think that foreigners would be easy prey, but they also can smell out the possible targets from anyone. The Jewellery scam is best in Bangkok. But the tourist places in India are increasingly being taken over by touts for shops who often pretend to be guides.

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  3. Lovely post, I like your attitude. I especially love this as a piece of advice to bear in mind: ‘Caution, a big-picture view, patience, compassion, and a sense of humor go a long way.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rachel, and for following. One of my first tricks was to make a game of counting the people trying to sell things to the unsuspecting tourists in Varanasi. I lost count on the first day after around 50, but at least it was entertaining. 😃

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      1. Boat trips, silks, opium, we were offered and declined all these in Varanasi although we did buy every day clothes and lots of bananas for the cows!

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      2. I used to feed bananas to the cows in Rishikesh. I was peeling one when the cow grabbed it and ate it, peel and all! Apparently, to a cow, the peel is just as good.
        Speaking of feeding, I looked on your site briefly about veganism in India, but couldn’t immediately find any specific posts. I found it easy to be vegetarian, but am wondering how hard it is to avoid dairy.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes I used to peel them then realised they eat everything! Buying bananas and tomatoes from market people and then feeding cows was one of my very favourite activities in India!

        Liked by 1 person

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