Welcome to India
Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
273Trip End Oct 08, 2008
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So we scanned the row of drivers holding up signs and determined that we would have to find our own transportation to our chosen hotel.
We got a ticket from the prepaid taxi stand and bypassed the craziness outside and jumped into the car. The Delhi airport is actually quite a ways outside the city and there's traffic. As we sat in the car our driver befriended us with polite smalltalk. He subtly positioned himself so that he was on our team. It was us against Delhi. He even shooed away the little kids that fastened themselves to our window.
We had shown them the address to our hotel at the airport. Apparently all that information wasn't helpful- what they needed was a block number. Don't worry, they assured us, your driver will ask when he is close.
When we finally made it into the city, he pulled down a road and asked us to look for our hotel because there were 600 hotels in this area and it was difficult to find. When this didn't work he pulled over besides another hotel and went inside with the address. The "hotel owner" came out and asked if we had the block number. He said it was impossible to find the hotel without the block number and we should go to a tourist agency and have them look it up.
He tried to go to a certain place nearby but the road was closed off so he went a couple streets down to a building marked "Tourist Information." He indicated that I should go inside.
I was getting out of the taxi when I was hit by a man on his moped. He came flying out of nowhere and hit the ground while the moped clipped my leg and put a rather large dent in the taxi. The man got up, looking quite confused, retreived his moped, and zoomed off. Taxi driver was not happy. I limped inside.
I was seated by a guy who emerged from the back. He asked how he could be of service. I gave him the address. He asked if I had the block number. Then he asked if I had the phone number so he could call and get a proper address.
He took the phone number and said it out loud as he dialed. He asked it he had the right number, and then whether it was the Smyle Inn Hotel. He asked me if I had a reservation and I told him that we did. He took my booking number and name. He asked if we had already paid some money (we had, about 10% or a dollar). He dismissed this as inconsequential, as if it didn't even matter. He then said that they had received the reservation but a group had stayed longer than expected and the hotel was full.
We went on in this vein for a couple minutes, at which point he handed the phone to me and I got the same story from the guy on the other line. He said he could offer me another hotel, a little more expensive, for only $20. The guy in the office told me that it was very difficult to get a hotel during the next couple of days. There was a big festival in Delhi and most hotels were full. The only places you could get were upwards of $60 a night.
At this point he changed tactic and started to ask me about my plans. How long I was staying in Delhi, where I was going next? Why not just skip Delhi and get a tour to Agra or to Rajastan perhaps? At this point things had gone far enough so I had to demand the address of the hotel and get out of there. I was going to the hotel to get my reservation money back if nothing else.
I got in the taxi and told the driver to take us to the hotel. He had a word with the tourist agency guy, then drove us to a random street and pointed off down the road. He said taxis couldn't go down the bazaar road. We didn't like this and told him to take us to the train station, our point of reference. But apparently he had decided that he wasn't going any farther. We did walk in from here. We were picked up by people trying to get us to go to their hotel, but eventually we did find our way to the Smyle Inn.
I had to see and hear it for myself. The guy at the front desk was not the guy I had talked to on the phone. In fact, he didn't have our reservation. But he had plenty of rooms. He even took off the booking fee from our room.
Going back, it's hard to separate the lies from the truths. But I'm pretty certain that the entire thing, from the very beginning, was one elaborate scam.
We didn't have a guidebook at this point. Here's a quote from "Dodging the dodgy":
"The driver may claim that he's lost and stop at a travel agency for directions. The agent (also in on the scam) supposedly dials your hotel and informs you that your room is double booked. The seemingly concerned agent promptly finds you another hotel, where he and the taxi driver both earn commission."
I'm pretty sure the block number was the beginning. The taxi driver was the ring-leader. The guy at the hotel was definitely in on it. At the tourist agency the phone must have been hardwired to a phone in the back, maybe even the guy from the first hotel. Of all of them, I am fairly confident only that the man who hit me with his moped was innocent. I still can't believe that I talked to a fake on the phone. Of all the things I have seen this is the most underhandedly deceitful.
We managed to get through the scam without any damage but a lot of people fall for it because it's so hard to believe that someone would lie to your face like that. So be warned.
It's pretty hard to like India when this is what happens to you right after getting off the plane.