Touts in India
Smugglers are ubiquitous, as they are in many developing countries, and you should assume that anyone who tries to “proactively” help you has a hidden agenda to separate you from your money. However, in areas where there are few, if any, tourists, it is not at all uncommon for people to go out of their way to “proactively” help you when you approach, without expecting anything in return. During your travels in India, you will be inundated with touts trying to get you to buy something or visit certain establishments.
There are a variety of common scams, ranging from claiming your hotel is out of business (of course they will know of one that is open and has vacancies), to giving you false directions to a government rail ticket office (the directions will lead to your friend’s travel agency), to trying to get you to take diamonds back to your home country (the diamonds are worthless crystal), to getting you to take diamonds back to your home country (the diamonds are worthless crystal), to “poor students” who will offer you hours of sightseeing and then, out of pity, get you to buy textbooks for them (hugely overpriced by a bookshop they are connected to). There will also be more obvious touts who “know a very good place to eat” or want to sell you a chess set on the street.
In the face of such an attack, it is very easy to get into a siege mentality where the whole of India is against you and is out to squeeze you. Needless to say, such a mentality can affect any true appreciation of the country. Dealing with touts is very simple: assume that anyone who offers surprising information (such as “your hotel is closed”) is a tout. Never be afraid to get a second or third answer to a question. To get rid of a tug:
- Ignore him completely and go about your business until he is gone. This may take quite a while, but patience is the key to dealing with India.
- Tell him “NO”, very firmly and repeatedly.
It is also an advantage to have a steady Indian friend whom you can trust. If he shows you around, he will help you ward off such touts.
A basic strategy will help you:
- Don’t let yourself be pressured, consider every problem and every joy as your experience, that’s why you are travelling. Isn’t it?
- Hiring a qualified guide, if you can find a trustworthy one, will sort out most, almost all, problems.
- If you still have questions or want to have a friendly chat with an Indian, find an Indian tourist or another pedestrian or passenger, but never accept unsolicited guidance or help that might turn out to be unpleasant. He/she may be able to help you if he/she knows English, but he/she probably knows less than you about the place you are visiting.
Price discrimination in India
Foreign visitors will quickly come across the special foreigner rates they are charged at some places in India. This applies to some tourist attractions. This may seem discriminatory and unfair to many visitors, but it is practised in most developing countries in Asia and Africa.
Some tourist attractions run by the Archaeological Survey of India have different tariffs for Indians and foreigners. These rates are clearly displayed at the entrance and ticket counters. The rates for foreigners can be five to ten times higher than those for Indians. Even if you book a hotel room or a plane ticket over the internet, paying in US dollars may be much more expensive. You can get an Indian friend to book in rupees and in most cases no one will ask you about it when you check in.