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India > India Travel Basics > India Travel > Scams and Annoyances in India
| C'mon the Hoops
I have never been to India when it was raining.
| Grandad of Four
Hawkers and scammers and touts ... Oh my!

I think I've told these tales before but they bear repeating:

The first incident happened to me in Istanbul, but could have just as likely happened in India:

Near Hagia Sophia, the carpet touts are everywhere. Every few steps, a very polite and well dressed young man approaches you with a different angle all designed to get you to go to this or that carpet shop. One afternoon, I had really had it. When the 25th guy started walking toward me and before he could say a single word, the following exchange took place:

I snapped, "NO CARPETS!!"

He looked hurt and replied incredulously, "But sir, I am not selling carpets."
"But if I were, they would be beautiful carpets .... But I am not selling carpets".
"But if I were, they would be fine, antique carpets .... But I am not selling carpets".
"But if I were, the price would be very special just for you .... But I am not selling carpets".

Me: "Too bad you are not selling carpets ... Now I am looking for carpets"!

Tout: "Oh sir! It is your lucky day .... NOW I am selling carpets!"

We both had a good laugh and went our separate ways.

My favorite hawker experience happened one night in Varanasi. There is a young street hawker who always finds me within 15 minutes of my arriving in Varanasi. Actually, he has become my friend in a magically Indian way - our friendship of 5 years is a long and interesting story involving a scam complete with paid actors to hustle me for his "school money", an encounter with his drunken father, and a visit to Mother Teresa's.

He accompanies me on my wanderings in Varanasi and serves as my self-annointed "guide". He calls me his "second best friend in America" - his best friend being a gal from New York who gave him a watch that he claims caused all his bad luck including the scam referred to above - I warned you, it is a long story. Nevertheless ...

The first time I met him, he was ten years old and selling post cards. By the time I arrived in Varanasi on my first visit to India, I was worn out with hawkers. When he approached me with his sales pitch, I decided that no matter what he said or how long he pestered me, I wasn't buying and I told him so. He followed me for about a mile down to the Ganges where I boarded a boat. He assured me that he would be waiting for me when I returned. I assured him that "I wasn't buying even if he waited the whole damned day!"

Sure enough, there he stood waiting when I disembarked about 2 hours later. When I again told him that I would never buy from him, he looked up at me and with one tear rolling down his little cheek, his chin quivering, and his voice breaking, he said, "Baba .... You ... Are ... Breaking ... My ... Heart." (I thought ... Damn, this kid is good!)

I walked about another hour to my hotel with him following me every step. I heard about his desperate need for school books, medicine for his sick mother, an operation for his infant sister, his abusive father, etc., etc., etc.

As we walked along the darkening gullies, he suddenly grabbed my arm, pointed at the ground, and exclaimed, "Baba, do not step in that ... That is cow shit ... You do not have that in America!" (Note that I'm from Texas). Well, that did the trick. I could no longer hold out. Not only did I buy his postcards but I gave him money for a movie and dinner.

Take the advice of an old traveler, NYTim ... I know how angry and frustrated you can get with touts and other tourist pesterers. (Been there ... Done that ... Have the t-shirt!) But there is humanity among the hustle. Keep your guard up but try a little humor ... A little kindness - once in a while, the hustle turns out to be worth it.
"I am in love with India...where I find the heat and smells and oils and spices, and puffs of temple incense, and sweat and darkness, and dirt and lust and cruelty, and above all, things wonderful and fascinating innumerable." Kipling 1893
| Clueless

Originally posted by: Big Texan View Post

Me: "Too bad you are not selling carpets ... Now I am looking for carpets"!

Tout: "Oh sir! It is your lucky day .... NOW I am selling carpets!"

We both had a good laugh and went our separate ways.

I love your stories...

Maybe you need to start a story thread in Masala Chaat and Chai.
| Maha Guru Member
If a tout can get you something cheaper than you could get it for yourself, is it really so bad if he makes a bit of money in the process.

One (and only) time I went to Pondicherry I had booked a room and paid an advance for a room at a hotel quite a way away from the promenade. On the way to the hotel the auto driver says he will show me another place, told him no thanks as I had already paid the advance.

In the end ended up checking out the place he recommended, the place was great right next to the promenade, clean rooms clean towels sheets, plenty of hot water and a fridge in the room all for between Rs400 - 500 per night (can't remember exact cost).

Sure I lost the deposit but taking into account the auto fares saved and the room rent for the rest of my stay, I ended up a winner.

Most likely the auto driver got a kickback, but who cares.
Lord, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill because they pissed me off.
| Delicate Daisy
I agree, JOHNLORD, and I didn't mean to imply that I never use touts. I wanted to buy a stone elephant for someone as a gift, and the shop I was taken to by my guide was selling them - special price for me - at over a thousand rupees. I remembered that I had seen a tout near one of the monuments selling them for much less. I tracked the tout down, and got the exact stone elephant for 200 rupees. The only difference was I had to wrap it myself and hope it made it back home.

I'm not saying that touts are always bad. I've bought postcards and a few other things from them. I had touts put on my henna the first trip. The problem arises when you know the price is way too high or when the touts won't take no for an answer and follow you around. It's not just annoying. It makes people angry.

Not all touts are like that. The touts in Khajuraho all took no for an answer. Well, after maybe one no, but the second time they did. Maybe they are always like that, maybe it was just the time of year I was there, maybe I just got lucky, but it was very pleasant - and I think of Khajuraho as one of the best experiences of my trips.

Agra, on the other hand - I will probably go back because I love the Taj, but the touts there are the most aggressive I've come across in India.
| Maha Guru Member
I don't have a problem at all with a tout making money, after all, that is how they make a living. My problem is when they start making a complete nuisance of themselves. If you politely decline their services and walk away it is pretty irritating when they persist with the sell. And persist they do!
I had a particularly creepy one follow me all over Mysore one rainy afternoon. He was still popping up behind cars, trailing me down parallel roads a good two hours later.
Coincidence? I think not!
I'm sure nobody begrudges these guys their living, but Jeez guys, learn to take a hint...;)
| Naan.tering Nabob
Touts were new to me in India, we don't have them on the street in Canada. I had only known the word used in conjunction with horse racing before. My problem with touts is that they lie, they'll tell you anything you might want to hear. Not all of them though, some are very, very honest - albeit the honest ones are not nearly as successful as the fabricators.

However there can be rewarding serendipitous events that occur through these encounters & I have many - one tout/business lied so badly - that it eventually & unknowingly led me into a new hobby of nature photography.

The connection between was rather obscure, so much so that I only realized it recently. All the tout said to me on that day on Janpath was that his Uncle's shop sold 100% natural dyed carpets. I was curious and took the bate. Although I was doubtful of the 100% natural claim - the old fellows at the shop backed up the claim of the dyes within the carpets they sold. Still uncertain, I questioned the colors one last time before buying a small wool carpet from them. One of the salesman became so upset for not trusting their word - that he slammed his hand down on the table & sending cups of kawa tea flying everywhere. So I bought the carpet.

When I got it back to Toronto, I had it appraised at a Persian rug shop. 100% natural dyes, I beamed, can you tell me anything more about it? They were in fits of laughter, it's a very nice Kashmiri wool rug, they said ... but it's 100% chemical dyes ... not a hint of natural or vegetable dye. And so I began a long educational odyssey of learning about recognizing the differences natural & chemical & mineral & aniline & new & old & antique & British era & Moghul era hues......... I wouldn't say that when I returned to India several months later that I was a color expert or anything ... but was certainly well on my & could spot the difference between a natural dyed & chemical dyed textile in any shop & from 100 meters away.

Fast forward to a few years back & in nature photography, discerning, distinguishing colors is also of the most important skill. With light conditions, habitat & animal/landscape appearances constantly changing, there are literally billions of combinations of colors ..... just like in the textile industry. To discern at a glance is imperative for success. However, once you've trained yourself & your brain on how to look for and recognize the very subtle differences - it's like riding a bike - you never ever forget.

And so I owe my new hobby all to that untruthful little tout on Janpath - whom if he knew I was typing this would certainly appear and demand further baksheesh/commission then for what he managed to pocket on that eventful day.:D
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~
T. S. Eliot
| Loud Noisy Bird

Originally posted by: JOHNLORD View Post

Most likely the auto driver got a kickback, but who cares.
You may know more about this, as it is your patch, but I have heard that, in Kerala, auto drivers will demand a kickback, even with menaces if needbe, and even for visitors who are booked, prepaid and all, into the hotel where they have been dropped.

This is the dark side of the tout business* and is not to be thought of as someone just trying to earn a living.

*wait, did I say the? Among the...
Life gets aadhar every day.

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