That Moment: Delhi Deception

By: Ross Doyle

The international tourism office was situated in a dilapidated alleyway in New Delhi. In an office at the back of a narrow hallway, a man in a business suit was awaiting my arrival behind a desk. Neatly-styled jet-black hair with speckles of grey; a precisely trimmed black moustache lined the top of his grin; he appeared professional. “Take a seat, don’t be scared” the man said. “Would you like a masala chai? Don’t worry, the tea is free.”

Earlier, I had arrived in India’s densely populated capital city in the middle of the afternoon; the temperature and humidity were unbearable. I was exhausted after a long journey from Toronto, but I was excited to be here: this had been my dream vacation for many years.

An obvious tourist with my backpack displaying Scotland and Canada flags to signify my country of birth and my place of residence, I was a business opportunity for the many taxi drivers surrounding me. I chose to walk.

I had read about tourist scams around this station; but here I was, compliant to anyone wearing a badge, dressed in a suit and tie, or wearing any form of uniform which signifies authority.

The rail tracks separated me from my hotel in the backpacker district of Paharganj. A busy pedestrian bridge crossed the tracks, with a security check at the entrance to the stairs guarded by police.

“Can I see your passport?” asked a man in a shirt and tie equipped with a broadsheet newspaper, standing adjacent to the flimsy-looking body scanner. I naively obliged. “I am sorry Sir, you will need a special stamp to pass through here; it’s Holi”. Tomorrow was the beginning of the Hindu celebration also known as the Festival of Colours, attracting thousands of people to the city. I was swiftly moved on, directed to another man in a shirt.

That Moment: Delhi Deception

I had read about tourist scams around this station; but here I was, compliant to anyone wearing a badge, dressed in a suit and tie, or wearing any form of uniform which signifies authority.

Two men directed me in to an auto rickshaw, also known as a tuk tuk, heading to the “only international tourism office in Delhi” to obtain a stamp to enter Paharganj. After driving in what appeared to be a large loop, I nervously inquired, “where are we going?” The response from the driver was a brief chuckle. We finally arrived at the office.

After I politely rejected the free tea, the tall moustached man sifted through some folders behind his chair in a filing cabinet and typed on his computer for a few minutes. He concluded, “I am sorry, we can’t provide access to Paharganj and all hotels in the area are closed for four days.” He phoned my hotel to confirm and passed the phone to me to listen; I was suspicious that the call was staged.

“I can help you find another hotel, but it will be expensive.” He offered to rebook my whole vacation, offering a stop at Agra to see the Taj Mahal before continuing to Rajasthan to visit Jaipur, “all for a very good price,” he exclaimed buoyantly.

I took a moment to compose myself and analyse the situation. I stood up, and began to walk away. “If you leave now you will not find anywhere else to stay, we close in twenty minutes.” I had to be brave; it was time to trust my instincts.

After utilizing the large number of maps I meticulously planned out and printed, I found my bearings and walked to my hotel enjoying the last thirty minutes of daylight, I was actually quite close. There were no barriers, no more police checks, I had avoided the railway bridge and successfully checked in to my hotel.

I walked past several other international tourism offices along the way: I had learned a valuable lesson about Delhi.

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