How quickly would it take on my second visit to India to be in strife again? Well, as it turned out, not long!
The flight from London was, to say the least, ‘bouncy’. I’d taken dozens of flights in 1999, but somehow I must have missed any sort of decent turbulence. Not so in 2000-01, the BA flight was all over the place for a few hours. I’d left in the morning London time, to arrive at around midnight in Mumbai to start 16 days in Mumbai and Goa. Despite getting ill and a few issues the first time around, I had saddled back up for India on the very next trip. You know, I swore I would never go back after leaving India the first time. I think it’s fair to say that that threat coming from me in the future about any place should be ignored. Completely!
I got off the plane in a pretty groggy state. It was after midnight, and took a while to get my bags. Customs – no problems, however I was planning on going to the prepaid taxi booth, and guess what? Closed. Well, it was early in the morning but then again, plenty of flights arriving at that time!
Deep breath required! I would have to negotiate a taxi into town, at 1am, by myself. But… tiredness did not help at all. I left the airport to the amazing scenes of an Indian airport. Behind a wire fence are literally of thousands of people watching, clamouring to see who is leaving the airport. I never really understood it but I presume it’s pretty normal for the whole family to come out to collect someone from the airport in India.
A taxi driver came up to me, and before I knew it I was headed towards his cab. I just wanted it all to be over and find myself in my hotel. No negotiations over price, I just figured there was only so much he could overcharge me. The standard fare back then, according to my research was around 250 rupees, less than ten dollars (American).
Into the cab, backpack into the car boot, and what’s this? There’s a second guy in the cab. Now that’s a no-no! Don’t get into a cab with a second person already there. But I did. My bag was already in the boot! We moved off and on a laminated piece of paper was a price list that this second guy handed me.
It worked out at about $90 for the ride into town! They tried to push further and for $350 I could go all the way to Goa there and then, driving all through the night. At least I avoided that. I said that the price was unfair, I was told they would be happy to leave me on the side of the highway. Hmmmm no, that did not appeal. There was no opportunity for negotiations. I wasn’t going to get my backpack until I’d paid them. It amounted to all the rupees I had plus some spare cash.
Nevertheless, I paid it. I was cornered and that’s the way they have success with the scams, when the alternative looks dodgier than paying up. But by goodness me, never made that mistake again!
So, I spent the rest of my time in India trying to get my budget back into the black, which amazingly I did with a day or two to go! I headed back to the airport to fly out, and I took a train to a nearby station which I think was less than 20 rupees. Then there was an auto-rickshaw to take me to the airport. He had no issue actually using his meter, and the total for that was 15 rupees or so. All in all, less than $1.50 to get back to the airport. Unfortunately, not possible on the way in.
In 2004 I returned to India for about a month, and nothing like these scams happened to me. I’m thankful to say. Once bitten, twice shy, three times I’m not sure but it made me wary enough. Mind you – I don’t want to give the impression that India is a country of scammers. Some of the friendliest, warmest and genuine people I’ve met whilst travelling, I met in India. And it is a country with so much for the visitor.
Take care when you go there, keep your wits but also keep your heart. And May the Journey Never End!