My first week and a bit in India in 1999, my first time in India, had all been a very whirlwind experience. From the craziness of Delhi, up north to the surreal Chandrigargh and then Jalandhar. I had spent a few days in the last of these living with a very protective local family, and now it was time to get back out on my own and tackle India head on. And so it was that I took a night bus back to Delhi, and then a day bus to Jaipur.
Jaipur is another big city. It’s not Delhi, and in my opinion it wouldn’t want to be, but like most Indian cities it is an absolute assault on the senses. Noises, smells (fumes!), visual splendour of palaces, but also poverty as well. I found myself in a place called the Evergreen Guesthouse. The room was very cheap, which had been my main requirement. Less than ten dollars and serviceable. Nice restaurant, a motley crew of backpackers as guests who all seemed so much more hard-core than I.
On a board in the restaurant was a notice to ignore anyone offering you jewels to take back home. It seems there was a scam going that people would buy from locals these gems to sell when they got home. And then when they got home they would find they were not worth anything at all. I raised an eyebrow briefly. But hey! I had to post a few things home to Australia. Deep breath Andrew! My first Indian post office – sounded like a challenge!
And it was! It was pure chaos in there and I finally got to the front of the queue and to parcel everything up I had to do a series of things with hessian, wax seals and string, getting the parcel weighed, customs approved, getting stamps, applying the stamps… There were various stations to go to and clearly, it was going to take some serious navigating.
Then someone offered to help me. Step one – gain your confidence. He sorted everything out for me and was terribly nice. Then he said I should visit his house and have a meal. I was little hesitant but I thought I might as well. The people in Jalandhar had been so kind, right?
And so I met another guy, and I had a coke and we chatted mostly about my trip. Where I was going, especially directly after India which happened to be Denmark. And then he said I could have a bunch of gems for a very low price and sell them on. Boom! There it was. A really nice house too, expensive, multistorey, a big gate. Could people really get that rich from scamming? Or if it was from something else, why would he bother scamming?
And that’s how I fell into it. But – I got out of it too. With a bit of luck maybe. When I said ‘no’ many times the guys got a bit angry. They were doing such a nice thing for me – what was my problem? The thing that made me worried was that I’d been taken to a place nowhere near the centre of town. In fact, I had no idea where I was.
Thankfully, in the end the same guy drove me back to the post office. I really didn’t think he was going to, but he did and I was very relieved by that! I had to pay for the coke. It was 50 cents or so. Seriously! Nice nice home. That was the thing that made it really bizarre for me.
So a tip for anyone in India. People may offer to help you with things, some people are really friendly, some are kind, some seem kind. Develop an intuition, and go with it. Next time I’ll tell you about another scam I encountered on my first trip to India. This one wasn’t as potentially costly, but this is not one that I got out of either! Also in Jaipur I met a man who took me around by his auto rickshaw to all the places, and then afterwards I met his family, and he was honestly a genuine, warm and giving person. And let me tell you – he had FAR less than the guy who tried to scam me. So, do keep this in mind also when on the alert for scammers.
May the Journey Never End.