Delhi is a unique city and you CANNOT go there unprepared. You can get some inspiration from our other article Where to go in Delhi, but first we need to tell you what happened on the very first day of our Asian trip.
Delhi is the official capital of India and therefore the center of political life.
It is a place where you really see the North-Indian culture with places of worship of all religions. The Mughal heritage is very strong and they left Delhi with strikingly beautiful buildings like the Jama Masjid and Humayun’s tumb which – rumor has it – was used as a model for the Taj Mahal. Old Delhi and the Old Spice Market take you back in time whereas you can also find impressively modern business areas, an even-more impressively clean metro system and a direct access to the world of globalised consumption in Connaught Place with stores of all international brands.
Delhi attracts people from all over India, especially neighbouring regions like Panjab, Uttarakhand, Bihar and smaller cities of Uttar Pradesh. Like in all countries, capitals attracts the best and the worst. Most Indian will tell you they find Delhi too aggressive and don’t necessarily like to visit it. And don’t even ask tourists. Delhi is the capital of scams and tourist traps. They often find the city too crowded and polluted, not very pleasant to navigate. Most travelers do not stay long before sailing away to other cities.
Let me tell you what happened to the Princess & the Backpacker a few minutes after they got off their plane, freshly arrived from Paris:
– we booked a prepaid taxi at the Delhi Police Taxi Stand, walked away and were immediately approached by a driver who energetically showed us the way to his taxi,
– we got in and I was surprised that the car wasn’t “decorated” like other taxis that seemed more official,
– he was talking in a very unprofessional way, spitting from his window, stopped once to pick up a friend who got in the passenger seat, he stopped another time to get gas…
– he didn’t realise I understood a bit of Hindi and he was on the phone while driving, telling another guy he would just drop us at a certain place at a certain time,
– at this point I was starting to feel really unsafe, but we were tired from the flight, didn’t have internet and the Backpacker managed to reassure me,
– we were not surprised when they pretended the car broke down and couldn’t go any further. They called a random rickshaw and pretended to make arrangements for this other driver to take us to our hotel,
– we had no clue where we were but the Backpacker instinctively used the offline version of Google Maps to put a pin on the map and have a rough idea of your location,
– this rickshaw took us to…a supposedly friendly Tourist Information Center where they tried to make us feel at ease, offered us a drink and asked us a few questions about where we came from, why we were coming to India and so on and so forth,
– they kindly offered to call our hotel. The guy who picked up the phone pretended to look for our reservation, pretended not to find it, pretended the hotel had work going on and that they could not host us. Little did they know we were actually not going to the hotel but to a friend’s place, in front of this hotel. At this point there was no doubt they were lying.
– I KNEW this guy “Amit” was not working at my friend’s hotel as I had met the entire team a couple of months before. I was SO upset I started getting angry but the backpacker was there to calm me down.They gave up seeing we were not falling into the trap and put us back in the rickshaw who dropped us at a random metro station and who shamelessly asked to be paid for the ride. You can imagine how I responded to his request!
We ended up taking the metro and another rickshaw who got lost, asked his way to everyone he crossed, before he finally found our hotel and asked for more money than what we agreed on at the beginning. Yeah right…
Long story short it took us 3 hours to reach our destination and we lost the money we paid to the taxi. And it could have been worse.
Fake taxi, fake information centre, fake travel agency, fake hotel…
Every single day, from the airport or from Connaught place which is the main place in Delhi, people approach tourists and try to scam them. They make you believe your hotel caught fire, or that the road to go there is closed because of a festival or a local election. Then they pretend to help you by getting you another hotel reservation which is gonna be expensive and good luck when they take you there.
In my opinion, fake taxis are more dangerous. If you are a girl alone they can take you anywhere like it happenned to this Italian woman who was kidnapped, robbed and taken to another province. Sheeventually managed to escape and reach out to her embassy… It even happened to my aunt who’s 100% Indian. When she realised they were taking her the wrong way, she told them and they acted as if they knew better. At a red light she managed to catch a police car’s attention and they rescued her and escorted her until she safely reached her destination.
One of our friends got into a fake travel agency and gave them 3000euros to have his trip organized… They selected cheap train tickets and cheap hotels and made a lot of money out of it ! Another girl we met on the road was approached by a travel agent who sold her a super expensive trip to Agra (Taj Mahal) that cost her triple the amount we paid by taking a train… 2 Italian friends did not organise the logistics of their trip to Rajasthan and ended up hiring a private driver. Not only was the driver unreliable but he was also taking them – without their consent – to restaurants/shops where he would get commissions for bringing in foreigners. On the day they visited the Taj Mahal, the driver decided not to take them. They had to use another taxi and missed the sunset on the Taj…
What to do if it happens to you?
If you are in the taxi, either get the hell out and find another rickshaw or public transportation. You can also try to catch the police’s attention.
Prepare your trip before. Ask your hotel to send you a car to pick you up from the airport or even use a travel agency. Yes backpackers, I am talking to you who like to go with the flow and be free to organize your trip when you want. Some places require a bit more organisation and it can sometimes be useful to go through experts like travel agents. No matter what happens, do not trust random people in Delhi, especially when they come to you.
I am sorry to inform you that if you are walking with a backpack, you can be Indian or a foreigner, they will try to trick you. By the way, they now recognize your nationality by the name of your backpack’s brand…smart assholes (pardon my French)!
I feel sorry to write such a long negative article. I love India and it is such a beautiful country to discover but it is my duty to prevent this from happening to more people, especially solo female travelers. Do not be paranoid, be prepared!
India teaches you that in life, you need to know where you are going, how and how much you should pay. If you don’t know people will decide for you.
Enjoy your trip, be smart, travel safe.
This article is dedicated to our guardian angel Babette !