I have a bit of an odd relationship with India. The sites are often sensational, the atmosphere can be unforgettable, and it’s probably the most affordable place to travel in the world. As much as I love it at times, though, India also has an incredible capacity to test my sanity to the absolute limit. A conversation in a Kathmandu pub last night, about the merits of the Nepali capital relative to Delhi, got me thinking about just what it is about India that can be so utterly infuriating. Yes, in part this is just venting, but the fact that Nepal has none of these problems has emphasised them a whole lot more for me. If I think something is bad, I believe that’s just as worthy of mention as if something’s good, and in light of India’s ongoing riots about small scale racism against Indians from a minority in Australia, I think it’s high time they realised how racist their own country is to foreign visitors. I would love a few backpacker travel industry people to get hold of this and realise just how much they damage people’s view of their country, though I doubt that will ever happen. I’ll go ahead anyway… these are the things that drive me – and most budget travellers visiting India – truly insane:
Touts: Touts are everywhere in India, but the problem is not their existence, it’s their intolerable persistence. At times you find yourself with three or four of them following you down the street, each trying to persuade you that their service (usually something ridiculous) is something you can’t live without in an incredibly abrasive way. A few of them have taken to calling you rude if you tell them to go away, which is perhaps the ultimate irony. Trying to sit down somewhere in some cities and you’ll just be bugged endlessly until you walk off. Where they get the idea that asking if you want a guesthouse 30 times when you’re obviously not holding a travel bag, or that you just can’t survive without a peacock feather or a ink stamping kit is beyond me.
Staring: Especially at women, though it’s pretty bad generally. I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t such an aggressive thing – he old men who swivel their heads and glare with pure hostility when you walk past are the worst, though at least they haven’t got up the confidence to act like some of the younger ones. The guy who tried starting trying it on with Helena the second I went to buy a bus ticket a few metres away was terrible – incredibly sleazy (though I’m yet to meet an Indian man who doesn’t fall into that category), and just carried on rambling about her eyes and how his brother lives in Australia (what every woman wants in a guy!) even after I returned.
Dishonesty: This is the worst one for me. Indians who work with tourists are disgraceful, the most dishonest people I’ve ever come across, who are prepared to do almost anything to make a few Rupees. Just a few examples I’ve experienced:
• Hotel price double that quoted when it came to paying the bill.
• Rickshaws taking people to completely the wrong place to make commission. In Delhi there’s yet to be a single occasion when they’ve taken me to the right place.
• Roads, sites and stations being ‘shut down’ and buses ‘not running’ so the tout can make money from something else.
• ‘You must have a ticket to enter the Delhi train station’, despite the fact the ticket windows are clearly inside – ploy used by rip off tour agents.
• The ‘government tourist offices’, again in Delhi, which have nothing to do with the government.
• Hotels that claim to be in a totally different district to the one they’re actually in just to get business.
• Hotels ‘with swimming pool’, though it doesn’t actually have any water in it.
• ‘All inclusive’ tickets that are far from all inclusive.
• ‘There are no train lines in Rajasthan’… what, you mean apart from that whole grid of them on the map on your desk?
• ‘Tickets’ for places that are free to get into.
Delhi: Delhi may as well just give in and rename itself ‘dump’. With every one of the problems mentioned on this page rampant (there’s even a fake train station to try and con tourists out of ticket money!), and very few redeeming features (the few nice tourist attractions are ruined by the rampant touts and guides), Delhi is a city that good for pretty much one thing: getting out of as fast as possible.
Lack of common sense: Like when you get off a rickshaw, and 10 other rickshaw drivers start to hassle you to take a rickshaw. Why do they think I got off, because I haven’t arrived? This pattern repeats itself again and again, with salesman, ticket touts, even ‘religious’ men. The basic idea that if somebody doesn’t want something one second, they’re almost certainly not going to want the same thing 5 seconds later seems totally lost on Indians.
Stupid Extra Charges: If I’m staying in a hotel, I don’t expect to be paying extra to turn on the air conditioning in my room. If I agree a price for a horse ride, there shouldn’t be an extra charge for the horse, or it’s food. Hotel prices shouldn’t include a 25% service charge that mysteriously appears on the bill when you come to pay, having never been mentioned before.
Lack of respect: Once you’ve paid for something, you may as well not exist any more. Advice for those visiting India: pay afterwards, or expect the worst customer service in the world. Not that the service is usually that great anyway…
‘Services’: Following me to a temple is not a service. Rambling in incoherent English whilst following me round a site does not count as a ‘guided tour’, especially when the ‘guide’ has been told to go away on several occasions. Stealing my bag from a rickshaw and dragging it five metres into a hotel lobby is not something worthy of payment. Neither is telling me the platform number for a train that I’ve just read from the information board myself.
Profit through religion: No truly religious person is looking to make a personal profit from their belief. The number of ‘priests’ in India looking for large ‘donations’ in return for a ‘religious’ ceremony is insane. I like to test them by heading towards the donation box with some money instead. Never fails to out them as being in it for themselves, not the temple.
Beggars who turn down food: I don’t mind helping out India’s poor occasionally, in fact I’d say it’s almost an obligation when visiting India. But beggars who turn down food and just repeat ‘money, money, money’ drive me insane. I buy them food precisely because that’s what you need to survive, and I don’t know what they’ll do with cash (plenty are into drugs). If they turn down the food their problems can’t be that bad, and they certainly won’t be getting money instead.