After 8 days in this fascinating country I’m starting to realise that Rob and I are lucky enough to have a further month in this exotic Indian world. We aren’t here on a short break with a return flight booked. This is a new reality for us that is set to last. After just over a week we have got used to the flip flops, luke warm showers and no price tickets.
India really is a country full of opportunities and also many pitfalls around every corner. As we wonder around opulent palaces, relax by lakes and admire sunrises from train carriages, the meaning of the phrase “A feast for the eyes” has taken on its true meaning and has come alive to me.
The first 8 days have been such a whirlwind I haven’t had the head-space to sit and think about putting pen to paper, so it is only now, on a train from Udaipu to Pushkar that I attempt my first Eastern blog. We have both experienced something similar in sensation to our trip to Morocco. When you first land in India, the only thing you can think of is what is right in front of you at that moment. Whether its gazing over the beautiful planes of Rajasthan, or haggling with a Tuk Tuk driver on the true cost of getting from A to B. You can only Be Here Now, a phrase that was often thrown around while I worked at L’Occitane, but always seemed so impossible to achieve while standing behind a till, day-dreaming of distant lands.
At every moment there is something to occupy your mind, from the delights in admiring the beauty of an authentically decorated room in a guest house, to concentrating on holding your breath and keeping your clothing, feet and everything away from any surfaces as you take on the toilets!
After 8 days we feel as though we have found a bit of a rhythm. We have worked out how to get around, and hopefully how to avoid a scam! This part has been a learning process and my advise to anyone visiting this country would be to go with the flow and not get upset when/if you realise your heart or purse strings are being pulled on a little too hard. Having talked to quite a few other travellers, we have all been in the same boat. All have stories to share of time wasters, overpriced sales, guides leading you astray. Each encounter like this needs to be put down to experience to give you more tools for future bargaining. I think that getting used to being a foreigner in India is something everyone who visits has to do. Now, we feel more confident and seem to be able to spot a scam before it happens, and have developed more of an idea of what is a fair Indian price versus foreigner price. A skill which I’m sure will be invaluable after leaving these shores.
Our most notable close shave with a scam which could have put a real spanner in the works. 5:30am at Delhi train station. After catching a tuk tuk through dark streets from our hotel, peering at an alien landscape of people huddled around fires to keep warm and stray dogs chasing one another, we arrived at a hectic train station. To give you an idea of our confused state of mind at such an early hour, our attempt to withdraw cash from an ATM that morning resulted in us misplacing where the decimal place should actually be when converting Pounds into Rupees. We ended up withdrawing £200 instead of £20… Oops!
The man who had “helped” us by pointing out the ATM machine even though we had already located it, proceeded to offer more “help” in finding our train. Reminding us its very busy and people can make mistakes but not to worry as he was an expert having lived in Delhi all his life, “No problem” he said “I am not asking you for any money.” Which is true, he wasn’t. But he was trying to trick us into an elaborate scam and make us miss our train, which would have then provided him money in the form of a commission.
He asked to see our ticket and we produced a print out of our ticket and seat confirmation. “Oh dear” he said, “you have not got the right ticket”. He asked the person in the queue in front to show us their ticket and sure enough they had a small blue piece of paper totally different to our white sheet of A4!
Stomachs churning, confused and now very concerned we followed him up some stairs where he directed us to another man, who checked our tickets and gave us the same spiel. Only this time the man wrote down an address and told us to take a taxi just a short distance to where a tourist office would print out the correct ticket for us. Back down the stairs we went, asking each other what is going on and what are we going to do?!?! My gut started telling me something was wrong.
The custom here has been for the men to talk to Rob, so this first man continued to talk constantly to Rob not giving him a second to think. Before we knew it we were stood by the taxi rank being told it would cost 500 rupees to get to the destination theses men had advised. A taxi driver who we suspect was trying to help us in some way, laughed when the man asked him to take us to the address now written across our ticket.
I began to feel angry and frustrated that this man was holding the attention of Rob and not letting me speak to him, continually interrupting me and just trying to get us into a taxi. I ended up shouting at him and said. Let me talk to my fiancé, please be quiet for a second!! We then left the scene and agreed to try and get onto the train with our ticket and explain that we are new to India and please be understanding. You know what, nobody said a thing as our bags were checked and we boarded the train. A couple of hours later when the train conductor passed by to check our tickets all he said was “have a nice day“. The tickets were in actual fact valid. Had we fallen for this trick we would have been out of pocket, stuck in Delhi no doubt having to pay a hefty price for new tickets. In Udaipur we got talking to an American man who said he had been advised never to listen to anyone who approaches in a train station. Lesson learned!!!
I really don’t want to portray a negative image of India because that is certainly not how we are feeling. But, our first week has been a learning curve, mixed in with some absolutely amazing experiences. Yes, there are the scams and you need to get comfortable with haggling. A driver we hired for the day to show us around Jaipur told us before we headed off into a local market., if they ask you for 100 rupees, you offer them 10. From here the bargaining can begin. The same driver did also take us to two “factory stores” supposedly offering big discounts, but where he also earns a commission. So this again highlights the contrasts here, of wealth and poverty, beauty and filth, a man who actually really helped us to save money in the future, at that moment happily let us pay above the odds as the cash would end up in his pocket.
Although I have focused on some of the negatives of our experience so far, the positives have been far greater and I will elaborate on these in future posts. But to anyone who is thinking of visiting India, do it! It is fantastic! But be prepared for some tricks when you first arrive. As this is the initial impression foreigners get of India, I decided to focus my post on this topic.
Arriving in Udaipur, with its population of around 500,000 was a welcome break from the big cities of Delhi (population 16 million) and Jaipur (6 million). We took a couple of yoga classes, found our favourite restaurant yet, serving the most incredible pomegranate and mint juice and a Cardamom Lassi. And we were able to walk around the ancient streets and lake Pichola with no tuk tuks required! Next we will visit Pushkar, population 15,000 the resting place of Ghandi’s ashes and a holy place of Hindu pilgrimage. I can’t wait to see what delights Pushkar will bring. Let the adventure continue!!! Love from India xxx