What the heck is happening right now?
That is a pretty accurate way to describe everything I’m feeling about India. Don’t get me wrong. I love it here. It’s just absolute chaos. I am writing this as I sit in a train. Our space has eight seats. There’s fifteen of us jam packed in here like sardines. Only sardines don’t play cards and yell at each other about the rules, and I doubt they ever put extra sardines in a can on purpose. This type of thing is just becoming standard and all I can do is laugh.
There’s something about my first couple days in India that has just made me feel alive. I’m so joyful here. It is such a mess here that it’s hilarious. You just have to laugh when an auto rickshaw you’re riding in is holding his horn down even though there’s no way any of the cars, rickshaws, bikes, or cows in front of it could even possibly move an inch forward.
You can’t get mad when fifty rickshaw drivers or people on the street try to take you to scam travel agencies or markets for a cheap price so they can make a commission. If you got mad each time that happened, you’d just go insane. You just call them out and ask them which travel agency they are working for with a smile on your face and they usually shove off.
On the first day, we were walking when a man who seemed nice enough came up to us telling us we should wear our backpacks on our front because it wasn’t safe to walk without a rickshaw. He told us he’d get us a special cheap price for a rickshaw and offered us a few tips. We needed a ride so we took him up on it. The auto rickshaw brought us to the “government” travel agency. We had a pretty good idea this wasn’t the legitimate one. Inside we were greeted warmly in a fancy modern shop. We were served Chai tea. Some smooth talking guys with perfect English showed us how all of our trains were booked up, but if we booked all of our tickets and accommodations with them they’d magically be able to pull tickets out of somewhere, I’m assuming their rear ends. It would only cost us $50 per day for both. Wow! What a deal! Not really. We could get everything way cheaper than that here. We told them we need some time to think it over and that we were going to grab something to eat. “No problem! We’ll drive you to whatever restaurant you want and then bring you back here”. We couldn’t possibly burden them with all of that. We were happy to walk.
Once we got around the corner we magically found the official government tourist office. The bland office building hosted a couple desks and some folks who barely noticed us as we came in. We found a lady and she kindly asked us if we had been scammed by the other agencies. We told her no but that we’d been there. She told us to not listen to anybody! She said once we got to the train station there was a foreigner office where we could book our tickets and to push everyone out of the way who tried to stop us.
Along the way to the train station, I started to accumulate in my mind all of the scams we had been told within the last couple hours. My favorite occurred while I was thinking about all of that. A man came up to me and the conversation went a little like this:
“Excuse me ma’am. You’re not allowed to be walking here”
“What? Yes I am, it’s a road”
“No no. This is a platform”
*laughs* “No, its a road”
“No you’re not understanding me. This is a platform in the train station. You need a small ticket to be walking on here. You have to go back there to buy one. If you keep walking here you’ll be fined by the police”
“Well if one comes, I’ll take my chances”
*throws hands up, scoffs, and walks off*
*walks off triumphantly and giggling*
An update now there’s over twenty of us in the train seating and everyone is yelling at each other.
Anyway, so we got to the foreigner office and ran into two girls who got scammed. They were kicking themselves and felt pretty stupid. We told them that we’d have possibly been in the same position if we hadn’t been travelling for over a month. We empathized with them and we tried to give them some good advice. Here’s what our wise selves came up with:
1) If you’re in a touristy place and someone seems super nice and helpful and speaks perfect English, they’re probably trying to scam you.
2) If you’re in an office and people seem bothered by your presence, then they’re probably a bunch of pencil pushers and you know you’re in the official government agency.
3) If you get scammed, get angry. You don’t have to be nice and accommodating to everyone. If something isn’t what you want, then you need to shut it down and not be worried about hurting someone’s feelings. This doesn’t mean get pissed at people on the street, but if you see something taking a bad turn, don’t be scared to be firm.
Their tickets and accommodations were probably real. They just paid way more than they needed too. They were also going to be staying at places that probably scream, “Hey I got scammed! Scam me some more with tours”. It wasn’t the end of the world for them, but we told them to go raise hell anyway and make sure they got all their tickets printed or their money back.
There’s still a long road ahead of us, but I’m glad we were exposed to all of that in the first few days. By now we know what to look for. Sure we’ll probably be scammed and end up paying a few dollars more than we should from time to time, but at least we are smarter and more confident now from seeing a lot of this stuff first hand.
I can see why people are worried about traveling in India. You are exposed to absolutely everything you could imagine, which can be difficult to deal with at times when it’s unpleasant. The other side of that is that you’re exposed to all the amazing things that have even more significance here.
I am diving into India with a sense of optimism. One wouldn’t be able to enjoy a trip here without it. There will definitely be more stories to tell of India, good and not so good. In the mean time, I’ll get back to this chaotic, hot, lively, music-filled, jam-packed, rolling chaos mobile.
Onward and upward,
P. S. I counted 22 people in our little area now, no indication of what the heck is happening. This is going to be a long 17 hours.