I was often warned while in India that Indian people are very clever, by which usually people meant that they were tricky. it was curious to hear people talk about fellow countrymen like that but undoubtedly this is to build some rapport and open up the opportunity to scam you themselves. Now to be fair, the majority of the people I met in India were really generous, honest and humble. More often than not they’ll leave you alone but they might stare.The people on the street that do approach you don’t do it for no reason or because they want to help; often it is because they might want to sell something or offer you a service, occasionally at higher than normal prices.
As in a lot of places, India’s taxis are one of the easiest ways to get around but admittedly they can be pricey. Add to that the fact that you can have taxis with broken meters or drivers that specifically go through longer routes and the price can be much higher than anticipated. It is illegal to not have a working meter so bringing up the police is a good way of calling attention to this or simply don’t take a taxi with out a meter.
A common thing to avoid when it comes to scams is having taxi drivers recommend places to stay or eat. Whereas in other places these drivers are usually the most reliable when it comes to these topics, in India the reality is they will often take visitors to places that are much more expensive and more inferior in quality than where Indian people go.
Why you might ask? Well money is hard to come by so taxi drivers often partner with these places and receive commissions for the amount of people that they take. But how do you identify what is a good cheap restaurant versus an expensive one? The fact is that high prices mean people won’t be able to afford them so if you want good but less expensive food then go where you see other people. Chances are if its crowded and busy then there’s a good reason why people are there.
While we’re on the topic of commissions let’s talk about other places that you may be taken to under the guise of just looking around. One popular place to stop is souvenir shops especially jewelry stores where the jewelry might be cheap but whether it is genuine is another question. I’m no jewelry expert so I can’t speak of authenticity but I can speak however about how you’ll often be pressured to buy something on impulse with salesmen lowering the price “just for you” or because you’re the “first customer of the day”. If you’re not looking to buy I’d say avoid taxi drivers but if you do want to look around then go for it, personally I’d go because at the very least I would get some chai (tea) out of it as it is customary to offer it to anyone. So just look around and enjoy a free tea while you maneuver your way out of getting sold a product; it can often be trickier than you think, don’t say yes to a price unless you are dead set on buying something because this can cause anger.
More on this anger, salesmen use anger as a way to intimidate you into saying yes. Usually this is a tactic employed by companies that try to sell you a tourism package at exorbitant high prices; often they claim to be the official government approved tour company but be aware if the office is nice and well-kept, they are not. Raising their voices and screaming is used to get you to relent and say yes, so be calm and keep repeating that you are not interested. Buses and trains are cheap though not always comfortable, as are accommodations and it is not all that difficult to find well-priced options yourself because there is a decent level of English use in the country. The packages sold by these companies might seem good but depending on who you take, you may end up in low-quality hotels while the package won’t include entries to parks, temples, museums..ect; so really what you’re being sold is an expensive fee for booking low quality accommodation. Be aware and read reviews beforehand, they’ll give you an idea of whether or not to trust your tour and never feel pressured to book something without the details of what you’re being sold on the spot.
In crowded tourist places, you’ll often find people offering free gifts. Bracelets, trinkets …ect are some of the favorite items for this but the reality is once you accept them you’ll be charged. In my time in India I met several people who accepted a simple string bracelet later to be charged 100 rupees. After paying the man that gave them these bracelets says “no you misunderstand, not 100 total, 100 each”. So they end up paying 300 rupees in all. Mind you 100 rupees is only about $4 but even so a simple string in India is nowhere near that expensive.
If you’re lucky and have darker skin like me then you may not be much of a target to begin with and generally be treated as an Indian with the inclusion of Indian prices. Of course not everyone can be so lucky thus be aware, calm and if need be assertive.India is a great place full of amazing flavors and spices as well as some of the most breathtaking architecture and landscapes imaginable. But due in part to longstanding inequality, people do what they have to to survive and unfortunately many times the burden falls on tourists and foreigners who are perceived to have money or at least more than the average Indian. Thus understanding the possible negatives of a visit to India and how to you can minimize issues is just as important as recognizing the positives and in that way your visit can be even more successful.