It was as soon as I descended into the underpass connecting Janpath that things started to go horribly wrong.
Everybody is green in tourist India. There are so many potholes for independent travel and in a place like Connaught Place or Paharganj which survives on the tourist rupee there can be various traps for the unwary traveller. The vast majority of Delhites are honest and hardworking but the toughness of the tourist scene often means numerous scams thrive. And I blundered into two today with ease..
Hotel Palace Heights is a basic hotel overlooking Radial Road six with views of the Victorian buildings across the way and at the end of the road is the bone dry Connaught Circus. 300 rupees gets me a box room where a basic airconditioner moves hot air around. But it is central and the staff are courteous and I only intend being here a few days. My mission that morning was to find the Aeroflot offices on Janpath to reconfirm my flight home (something recommended to me to while I was in Delhi) and set off south through the radial roads to Janpath.
As soon as I stepped out I was accosted with cries of "Where you going! You want rickshaw!" which followed me to Janpath. Dodging the travel touts, shoeshiners and beggars I found out that Aeroflot was south of Janpath on Tolstoy Marg. I therefore descended the underpass to reach the other side.
"I clean your shoes! I clean your shoes!"
A nut brown boy of about ten was following me. My shoes arent dirty. I looked down and there was a glistening brown piece of excreta on my new boots. I groaned I had fallen for the oldest scam in the book.
I felt my anger rise and told the little sod to go forth and multiply! I wasnt going to pay 500 rupees for him to get rid of it. Back in the sunshine I tried to wipe my boots on the pavement. A nearby Delhi travel tout noticed my discomfort and took me to a shoeshiner who removed the offending piece of faeces for 30 rupees. A combination of the heat and the smell had me dry retching in the street. India was beginning to get to me.
Sensing my near hysterical state the travel tout took me to his nearby office and sat me down with a cold coke. Of course I knew he wasnt doing this out of charity - he wanted my business. He was taking advantage of someone in a weakened state. Thats good business practice in some peoples eyes. I had the idea of using an agency anyway to get me an overnight rail ticket to Udaipur but he could do one better. A six day tour with personal driver and four star accomodation for £350. They cant do it for that cheap? Can they?
To be honest I dont think I could face queueing for tickets and braving the rickshaw scramble at each destination so a car and a driver might be the best way to do it. Certainly the destinations seemed tempting - Agra, Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur etc. He showed me his comments book where each one seemed to be positive about his tours. So we worked out an itinery and as a sign of good faith would give me a tour of the sights of Delhi this afternoon. So I left the agency in a good mood and went back to Palace Heights for a rest.
About 2.30pm I descended and hailed an autorickshaw off the street. I didnt know there was a rank around the corner and a big scary Sikh tried to stop me getting in as he saw it as his ride. I went to HSBC bank on Connaught Circus which was the only cashpoint in Delhi then showed my driver the address for Highland Travels.
He threw up his hands in horror! "These Kashmiris are crooks! Many complaints about these people!"
This was the last thing I wanted to hear but I stuck to my guns
"They are fine, please take me to the address.."
"These Kashmiris are bad people. They will rip you off. I take you to Government of India tourist office to check them out.."
I was fed up arguing with him and I didnt suppose it would hurt. The driver thought he was doing me a favour looking after a green tourist. But doubts of how they could do all this entered my head. At the tourist office the officer agreed with him.
"Did you hand over any money?"
I miserably said yes and he got on to the tourist police. It was at that moment that a fat jolly Englishwoman called Jenny entered and joined in. She was an old India hand. I explained what was going on and she shook her head - no, they were genuine. Often these small outifits operated on minimal profit just to build up customers. Did I still want to go? Yes, so she came with me back to Highland travels. Unforunately the tourist police had got there first.
Two officers were with Nazir and brother Abdullah who were clearly nervous. I apologised profusely for wasting their time and to Nazir for getting them involved. It had all been a big humiliating mistake. I still wanted to go on their trip. Nazir and Abdullah were gracious enough with me.
There was a sting in the tail. The two officers wouldnt go without bribes. Which meant the cost of my trip would go up. What could I do? Cancel? Not after all this. I could afford it - just. And to be honest I wanted to forget the whole episode.
As Jenny said the eagerness that the Hindu autorickshaw driver and the tourist officer condemned the Kashmiri brothers showed an anti-muslim side to Delhi.
And Lordy,this was only the first day..