If you are visiting India, as nice as Delhi is, I am sure you will want to move on at some point as there is so much more to see. We spend a few intensely frustrating days dodging touts, following touts and going around in circles trying to do just that.
We are a mess
Honestly, our first day was a complete farce. We almost got scammed out of hundreds of pounds to take a tour and avoid the hotels in Delhi that were “all booked up”. We were useless, walking lumps of idiocy. I won’t tell you all about it again, you can read that story here.
The touts descend
After checking out of our lovely hotel, and into a cheap and nasty room just around the corner, we decided to walk to Connaught Place, Delhi’s commercial heart. We had heard that there was an official government run travel agency there. We wanted to book train tickets on to our next destination.
I don’t think we quite had a grasp on just how many touts we were facing. Just walking to breakfast, we probably had the same conversation twenty times. There are three variations of this conversation:
Man – “Hello my friend/I like your t-shirt my friend/Hello friend, what is your good name”
Us – “Hello/Thanks, I got it in Primark/Karl (or Rosie)
Man – “Where are you coming from?”
Us – “London”
Man – “Oh very good. Where are you going next?”
Us – “Jaipur”
Man – “My uncle has a travel agency/Let me show you the official Government travel agency”
Us – “OK” (This very quickly evolved into “No, thank you”)
After breakfast, we started out on the epic mission to the massive roundabout that is Connaught Place. Probably not that far but it was roasting hot on the roadside. Fifty more touts appeared. We ended up walking the wrong way, following people into random travel agencies more times than I care to admit. We got so angry. None of these travel agents would help us book train tickets. They only wanted to sell us a car with a driver which is not what we wanted.
“What is your budget my good sir?”
We quickly realised that they would offer us a cost about £5 more per day than we had. We tried different budgets and it happened every time. So if you are after a car and driver, quote them £5 less than you are willing to spend.
We are meanies
By the time we reached Connaught Place we were incensed and confused. Even the official place…wasn’t. Everyone who had spoken to us wanted to show us their shop or travel agency and we were pretty drained.
We met a couple of students who wanted to take us to their friend’s coffee shop and practice their English. We were completely jaded by this point in the day and thought they must be more touts. However, they seemed nice and pretty genuine, and so we hatched a plan. We decided to go to a more expensive restaurant instead. If they were scammers, they would back off. When we told them, they looked uncomfortable but said they would come with us to Parikrama, a revolving restaurant.
I felt pretty guilty when we noticed that they were sharing a main dish. They were lovely guys and even took us to what they thought was a proper travel agent that could help us. They looked heartbroken when we said the place was just as useless as the rest. I realised that we had been too hard on these two genuine and lovely chaps.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Back then, it was a nightmare to book Indian train tickets online. It’s still not easy (although I had a good experience booking with International Rail last time I went 2015). On day two, we had attempted a trip to the station. We looked for the foreigners booking window that lots of stations reputedly had but we ended up being sent in the wrong direction repeatedly. After fifteen minutes, we lost patience and gave up.
And so we kept popping into these little places and ducking out again when they couldn’t help us. It seemed like a never-ending carousel of failure. Our interactions with touts now numbered in the hundreds. Every travel agent claimed to be an official government one. Even the one on Connaught Place still showed their sign.
In desperation, we thought about taking a bus but we had heard such horror stories about road travel in India that we were put off. Plus, I’m sure you all know that we love travelling by train.
Who says Northerners are more friendly…we do
Luckily, we bumped into some friendly people from the UK (I think they were Geordies) in a cafe on Main Bizarre, who gave us the best advice we had the entire time we were in India. We were eating a large breakfast before preparing to spend the day sight-seeing in the sun. They told us of a magical place in Fort Bizarre station; the foreigners booking office. To reach this magical place, we just had to go along the road to the station and head up the stairs on the left hand side as you look at the front of the building.
600th time lucky
Heading back to the station we took the advice of the friendly Northerners and ascended the steps. Across the corridor were some glass doors leading to a room filled with cool air and some incredibly helpful people. We ventured in and took in the huge wall covered in train numbers. A happy ten minutes followed as we filled out forms for each of the trains we wanted. This covered the next two weeks of our travels. We had learnt of a similar office in Varanasi’s train station, which meant we could leave the remainder of our itinerary planning for a little while.
Our turn came and a chap behind a PC screen looked up the tickets we wanted. He found the best options, working with us to pick from what was available. Then he asked us for our passports.
“Oh no, it’s in the hotel room!”
Unwilling to lose our selections, I left Karl sitting at the desk as I dashed back down the stairs. I leapt into a tuk tuk and let the driver grossly overcharge me for tearing back down Paharganj to pick up the passport. Happily, it was a very quick journey and I made it back in enough time to ensure we got all of our tickets.
We walked out, the proud owners of a tickets out of Delhi and on to Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Agra, and Varanasi.
Finally, FINALLY, we found ourselves on the train to Jaipur!