How to Avoid the Scams and Survive your First Time Backpacking Delhi
India’s capital Delhi is a fascinating city with so much to offer from Mughal ruins to modern, cosmopolitan city life and most travellers and backpackers in India either start their trip here or end up in Delhi sooner or later. Unfortunately India has more than its fair share of scams and Delhi is the worst. Many backpackers start their Indian adventure for the first time visiting Delhi. Your first time in India can be a culture shock and arriving in a hectic city of over 25 million people can be overwhelming and it can be all too easy to fall victim of a scam which isn’t the best start to your Indian backpacking adventure.
How I got scammed on my first time backpacking Delhi
On my first visit to India I had been in the country for 1 month already before my first time backpacking Delhi and even though had overcome the initial culture shock by that point and was quite accustomed to India I still managed to fall for a classic scam when trying to get from the airport to my hotel. You can read about my experience getting scammed when I visited Delhi for the first time and it’s not just me being stupid even Hippie in Heels got scammed in Delhi too. These scam artists are well organised and can be pretty convincing.
So to help you here’s my run down of some of the common scams to be aware of when backpacking in Delhi and how you can avoid them.
Scams at Delhi airport: Getting from the airport to your hotel
First thing you need to do when you arrive for your first time backpacking Delhi is get from the airport to your chosen hotel safely. This is not such an easy task in Delhi as the taxi and rickshaw drivers are notorious for not only overcharging tourists but the most common scam in Delhi is where the taxi driver join forces with some other touts (they could be security, police, doormen or any official looking person) and they try to convince you (often quite aggressively) that the hotel you’ve booked is closed, burnt down or full so that they can take you to another hotel that pays them commission or to a fake tourist office.
And these con artists can be very convincing, sometimes they even pretend to phone the hotel to check, they dial a different number for you and their friend, the ‘receptionist’ will confirm the story. Other times they will take you to a travel agent that claims to be the official tourist office who will also collaborate with them. The aim of the scam is to get you to go their friend’s hotel where you’ll be ridiculously overcharged and they will earn a commission.
How to avoid getting scammed at Delhi airport
This is probably the most annoying scam in Delhi as backpackers are tired and disorientated after a long flight and it really creates a bad impression when this scam is your first impression of India. To reduce the risk try to arrive in the daytime, ask to be dropped at a landmark for example New Delhi railway station as its not far too walk from there if you are staying in Paharganj – one of the most popular areas for backpackers to stay in Delhi.
The best thing to do by far though is to book a decent hotel and ask for them to send a car to the airport to pick you up. You’ll be meet by trusted, reliable, safe and professional driver to pick you up from the airport and he will know where your hotel is so you can avoid the hassle, scams and ensure peace of mind when you arrive in Delhi. See here for my pick of the best hotels in Delhi.
Many of the more upmarket hotels will also offer an airport pickup, even if you’re on a budget some of the hostels in Delhi will provide this service. As I was scammed trying to get from the airport to my accommodation on my first time visiting Delhi I didn’t want to take the risk again, especially as this time I was traveling solo, so I booked to stay with Smyle Inn Hostel in Paharaganj and they had a really good system for the airport pick up where a friendly driver picked me up with a board with my name and a clever password so I could feel totally safe knowing that it was the right driver!
More taxi scams and tips for taking a taxi in India
Taking a taxi in India can be one of the biggest headaches for backpackers. It’s very common for taxi drivers to try to overcharge foreign tourists and also to take them to shops where they get a commission. I always assume that taxi-wallahs who accost me on the street are dodgy so I ignore them and hail a rickshaw myself and firmly tell them to take me straight to my destination and track the journey on google maps.
In the major cities apps like Ola or Uber are really helpful because the driver and journey are tracked making the whole getting a taxi in India experience much safer, easier and less hassle.
Delhi also has a great metro which can get you to most attractions in Delhi in air conditioned comfort and often quicker as it avoids the traffic congested streets. There are also women only carriages. It’s quite easy to do most of your sightseeing using the metro but if you would rather have a taxi then its worth taking the time to negotiate a day rate if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing in one day.
Most airports and train stations in the rest of India taking a prepaid cab is usually a safe, hassle free and cost effective way to travel but don’t trust the pre paid cabs at Delhi airport especially if its your first time visiting Delhi. When you do take a pre paid taxi don’t give the voucher to the driver until you reach the destination because he requires this voucher in order to receive his payment from the taxi office for the trip.
Scams at New Delhi Railway Station
Booking trains in India can be a bit difficult for foreign tourists but luckily the Foreigners Reservation Office at New Delhi railway station is really good, they will sort out all your train bookings and you can even get special tourist quote tickets here allowing you to get a seat on a train even if its full.
Unfortunately though you have to get to the office first and New Delhi railway station is full of touts and scams. The ticket office is located upstairs inside the station but there are many touts, including people in uniform (who may or may not be railway officials) hanging around trying to lure tourists to the fake tourist offices nearby opposite the Paharganj entrance, where you’ll end up being over charged often for tickets that are unconfirmed or simply don’t exist.
How to avoid the scams at New Delhi railway station.
The better hotels and backpacker hostels, like Smyle Inn where I stayed, often offer a train ticket booking service for a small commission which saves you the hassle of the going to the station but if you want tourist quota tickets for a fully booked train the best way to get them is to go to the foreigners booking office.
The best thing to do is just walk confidently, straight in and ignore anyone that approaches you to help, to direct you to the booking office, even if they are uniform. Don’t believe anyone who says it has moved or that it is closed – the booking office is open 24 hours every day but remember to bring your passport with tourist visa to get the tourist quota tickets. You also don’t need to have a ticket or pay to get into the station either and there is also a 24-hour rail booking office at Delhi International Airport.
Scams at Connaught Place and fake tourist offices
Around Connaught Place and along Janpath tourists are often approached by touts who will try to take you to fake tourist information offices that will overcharge you or sometimes I’ve even heard of tourists buying whole package tours that don’t even exist.
How to avoid the scams at Connaught Place
Again, it’s best just to walk confidently and ignore anyone who approaches you and be careful who you trust. A common way that they entice you to do this is to inform you which block you are on and then start talking to you and try to take you to a tourist office so its worth being suspicious of anyone who comes up and tells you that sort of information when you haven’t asked for it.
The only official government tourist office is in 88 Janpath near Connaught Lane.
But not everyone in India is trying to scam you!
It’s such a shame that so many backpackers first impressions of India are blighted by these scams on their first time visiting Delhi. India’s capital is a fascinating city but one that many backpackers hate because of this and it’s something that I feel the authorities really need to sort out!
While it’s good to be aware of the common scams and how to avoid them for your first time backpacking Delhi but don’t let this tarnish your impression of India as a whole, Delhi isn’t the easiest city, especially at first, but don’t worry India gets a lot better than this!
Also, whilst you do need to be on your guard, don’t think that everyone in India is out to scam you. Having a local Indian sim card with internet is really useful as you can cross check information, navigate with google maps and call for help if you need to.
It could even be a good idea to arrange to stay with a local if you can, for example in a homestay as they will help you get accustomed to Delhi and to avoid the scams and having a friendly face could really make your first time visiting Delhi a much more pleasant experience.
The majority of Indian people are wonderfully kind, generous and hospitable, many will treat you like a celebrity and just want to talk to you and take a selfie with you and many will also go out of their way to help you – once you’re aware of the scams and have been in India for a while you’ll soon be able to realise who is trying to scam you a mile off and who is a genuine and kind person.
I haven’t been scammed in ages and have been constantly humbled and delighted by the kindness of strangers – don’t let worrying about scams put you off visiting India!
How was your first time visiting Delhi? Did you get scammed or do you know of any other scams I haven’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below and help other travellers to avoid the scams in Delhi!
Top 27 scams in India to avoid – don’t fall for these tricks – Asher Ferguson
Scamsters’ paradise: Why tourists love to hate Delhi – Times of India
India: Scams and Schemes – Trip Advisor
Top 6 Most Common Scams in India – About India Travel
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