After a long journey and a few hours of ambient-induced sleep, I set out to begin my first and only day in Delhi. Even though my hostel was only 1 km from the train station, I ended up taking a major detour en route.
Ignoring the red flags
The original plan was to walk to the station and buy a ticket for Agra for Saturday–round trip should cost about $8 USD. Sounds a simple enough task for someone as well-traveled as me. So, I’m walking down a dirty Delhi street in a seedy part of town (Paharganj), dodging sleeping/dead bodies, pools of urine mixed with piles of feces, loose cows and other riff raff in 110 degree heat, when about the twentieth man in five minutes drives up next to me in his rickshaw and says, “Hello Madam! Hi! I know you!” I’m thinking no you don’t as I ignore him, avoid eye contact and keep walking. But then he says, “Yes, I saw you at the hotel this morning. My brother works there. Where are you going?” I respond, “Oh, hi! I’m Sorry I didn’t recognize you–I’m going to the train station to buy a ticket for Agra.”
Now, clearly, I’m jet lagged, sweaty and confused, but it is still extremely embarrassing that I actually believed him. So I get into the rickshaw, and he says, “no charge–friends over money.” Red flag, which I ignore (IDIOT!). If you are a solo white girl, never trust any rickshaw/taxi driver in Delhi (or, for that matter, anyone trying to sell you something). Anyway, he does this loop around the train station and before I know it, I am not at the train station, but in a grungy albeit air-conditioned office where I am turned over to another shameless tout.
Hypnotized by the glossy laminated maps
As I let my guard down earlier due to my sweaty state of confusion, I was further hypnotized by the glossy laminated maps and pictures all over the office. “Oh, this must be a legitimate tourist office, and I’m sure I can buy my ticket here,” I naively think. So this man warmly greets me, and says, “Welcome to India, Madam.” He was trying to be charming but was really just sleazy, and the more he spoke, the more annoyed and skeptical I became. So, I cut to the chase, “I need a round trip ticket for Agra for tomorrow.” The grease ball types some things into his computer, eyes narrow, types some more and makes this “tuck-tuck-tuck” sound with his tongue. “I am sorry, Madam, all trains are booked until the 9th.” I say, “well, that’s in five days, and I HAVE to go tomorrow, so what else have you got?” I am determined to get to Agra, and my patience is weaning. So he offers me a bus option–no good because it’s five hours one way (a train is only two hours). Then he offers a private car for $100 roundtrip. “Two English girls are going already,” he assures me.
At this point, I am extremely frustrated and starting to lose my cool. I have this gut feeling that transportation to and from Agra–even on an airplane–should not cost $100, and I argue with the man for another 30 minutes before I finally walk out of there with all of my money and no ticket. The driver is waiting and I say, “take me to the train station–that was too expensive.” He tries to take me to ANOTHER such fake tourist office, and so I just hopped off the rickshaw and started walking.
Later, I found out that taxi and rickshaw drivers–as well as ANY Indian, get a hefty commission for bringing unsuspecting tourists into the jaws of these relentless scam artists. I finally made it to the train station after several hours and bought my ticket–of which of course there were plenty–for $8 USD, like I thought.
I spent the afternoon shopping in various bazaars in Delhi and made some excellent purchases; however, despite my conservative dress (long, loose- fitting linen pants and long sleeve, loose shirt, no makeup/jewelry), I was stared at, harassed and when the third man touched my butt and said, “Do you have boyfriend? Will you have sex with me?” I swear I almost kicked him in the face. I went to bed that night sick of India. A few cheap bangles and earrings hardly seem worth all the headache I went through today.