This isn’t your usual India blog post but if you’re visiting the capital Delhi for the first time you need to read this before you go so you can avoid making the same mistakes as me and getting scammed in Delhi!
Falling for a common Delhi scam – My worst ever experience on my first time in India
It was past midnight and I was completely lost and disorientated somewhere in Delhi that looked like it could have been a set for a post apocalyptic film.
I had fallen for textbook scam and now I was terrified, it was not long after the horrific Delhi rape case, the street was dark and dusty, littered with rubbish, haphazard shacks, stray dogs, discarded rickety cycle rickshaws and hand carts. The sewers and the road merged into one and people dressed in rags huddled around fires in the mud.
The most frustrating thing was that I was aware that Delhi was infamous for scams, I had already been in India for a month and thought I was acclimatized to this chaotic but endearing country. I thought I had make arrangements to avoid getting in this sort of situation, but still managed to get entangled in an elaborate but classic Delhi scam.
How I got scammed arriving into Delhi Airport
The problems started as our flight from Kochi to Delhi was delayed by more than 4 hours so we arrived at midnight. We knew of the taxi scams coming from Delhi airport so, as planned, we took the new airport link metro to New Delhi station had planned out walking route to our pre booked hotel nearby in Parahganj that we thought would avoid the scammers.
A security guard at the metro station told us that it was not safe to walk around at night and made the mistake of trusting this figure of authority. He then made arrangements with a rickshaw driver. We got in the rickshaw and after driving for a while, another man, dressed in a ‘security’ uniform, blocked the road saying it was closed and so were all the hotels. The lesson I had to learn was not to trust anyone – not even those in uniform.
We realised that we had been set up for a classic Delhi tourist scam. They tried to take us to a scam tourist office (after midnight!) and when we protested he drove us around for a while, disorientating us, before dumping us in a ramshackle slum like area and demanding money.
Lost in Delhi
I was half relieved to be free of the scamming rickshaw driver’s control, but half absolutely terrified at being dropped off in this disgusting area where we had no idea of where we were going.
We should have got a local sim card or at least downloaded offline maps but we didn’t know where we were or have any way of contacting anyone.
After walking for ages and not finding anything that looked like a hotel I was worried that I was going to become the next Delhi rape case or at least get mugged of all my possessions.
We meet a man said he would show us to a hotel, I was reluctant to trust anyone after what had just happened but I didn’t want to wander the dark streets all night. Tentatively, we followed him as he started to wind through narrow, dark, stinking alleyways until we came to an unnamed hotel.
The room was disgusting and may have been a crack den or a brothel. We barricaded ourselves in as the door didn’t lock and tried to sleep despite people running up and down stairs, shouting all night and slamming doors but it was better than roaming the streets.
As soon as day light came the next morning we escaped, but not before an argument because the ‘hotel’ tried to scam us to get us to pay for an airport transfer that we obviously hadn’t had!
The area didn’t look any better in the daylight. A smoggy, polluted haze hung over the city and the alleyways were littered with rats, rubbish and human excrement.
We dodged faeces, people and ox carts through the narrow streets and eventually found our originally booked accommodation at Cottage Yes Please in a nicer area of Paharganj.
Paharganj was still pretty grotty but the hotel was clean and felt safe and we took the edge off with a beer at a nearby rooftop restaurant. After, when we ventured out onto the street we saw that at 7pm this part of Paharganj wasn’t too bad and not half as scary.
It was still crowded, dirty, polluted and noisy but there were people from all over the world shopping in the cheap shops and street stalls. Everything was light up and we felt safety in numbers so my faith in Delhi was restored a little. I resolved to explore more of Delhi the next day and was glad that I did as I found many interesting things to discover.
Delhi is a fascinating city and home to many of India’s most impressive and interesting historical monuments. It’s definitely an interesting place to visit but it’s such a shame that this airport scam is still so common as it leaves such a bad first impression of India’s capital city!
My tips on how to avoid getting scammed in India
It’s such a shame that scams and things like this happen, I had been in India for a month so it was not even my first day in India. I had even read up on the scams but made the mistake of trusting someone is a position of authority and because I was tired I probably wasn’t thinking enough.
This whole episode had a very detrimental affect on our impressions of Delhi and it’s something to be aware of when visiting Delhi so that you can avoid this horrible experience.
India is such an incredible country to explore but unfortunately traveling here does bring more than it’s fair share of scams and hassles. After traveling in India for a while you will find it easier to tell who is genuine and who isn’t and learn to trust your gut instinct.
Here’s my top tips to avoid common Indian scams:
- Try to get a flight that arrives in daylight and an airport transfer
- Get a local Indian simcard before you leave the airport.
- Either book a highly rated hotel that offers an airport transfer or pre book an airport transfer, or even an airport meet and greet service, on an internationally trusted platform like Booking,com or Viator. Here you can read reviews from previous guests so you can make sure you choose a safe driver. It’s really worth it to avoid the hassle and stress when you’ve just arrived of a long flight.
- Avoid touts and overly helpful people who approach you at airports, train and bus stations where you are the most vulnerable or around popular tourist spots.
- Don’t believe anyone that says your hotel is closed, full, burnt down and then offer to take you to another hotel, travel agency or a tourist office. These people are on commission with the other company and are scamming you. Don’t trust anyone, not even people in uniforms or positions of authority.
- To make exploring Delhi safer, easier and more enjoyable by booking a private Delhi tour with a well reviewed and top rated driver on Viator. They are very affordable (compared to Western prices) and will ensure you have a great time and don’t have to worry about navigating public transport or dealing with touts and scammers.
- Remember to always research typical prices and to bargain or haggle. Ask a local how much something should be if unsure and always agree on a price before getting in a rickshaw or taxi.
- Avoid paying upfront and always check your change properly.
- Once you’ve found a safe, reliable and reasonably priced driver that you can trust take his WhatsApp number and keep in touch with him should you need a taxi again for sightseeing, tours, or to return to the airport. (It’s safe to use the metro to reach the airport – it’s mostly when you arrive that you need to be wary of scams.)
- Get a Lonely Planet Guide Book so you can read up on your destination and about the common scams.
I hope you’ve found this cautionary tale and my tips on how to avoid getting scammed in Delhi useful and that you have a safe and enjoyable experience that is nothing like mine!
Please don’t let this scare you from visiting Delhi – the city and the rest of India has so much magic to offer, Indian people are generally very friendly, hospitable and helpful.
There’s always a few bad eggs but with the right information hopefully you won’t get scammed in India.
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