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Varanasi, India

Having traveled for some time now, I had led myself to believe that I was immune to scams. I never give money to beggars, I never get into a cab without an ID or permit, and I never ever trust a local vendor who speaks English too well. I know all the tricks in the book, all the dangers and signs. But somehow this sneaky Indian with a turban managed to trick us anyways.

Here’s how…

MORE INDIA TRAVEL TIPS: GET MAPS, ITINERARIES AND INDIAN PHRASES

35 HOURS WITHOUT SLEEP

When we arrived at Varanasi airport, we hadn’t slept for 35 hours. It was late, cold and it rained. Longing for a nice, warm bed at our hostel, we got our backpacks and quickly went to the arrival area to locate a taxi into town. Being a rather small airport, the choices were limited, but then I saw a young guy with sleek hair sitting behind a “TAXI” counter, so we went for him. Being under the impression that downtown was only 20 km away (and this being India), it couldn’t cost a fortune, right?

Wrong.

Not only did he demand $35 for a trip into town, but he left no room for discussion whatsoever. We were tired, hungry and jetlagged, so we let him win the argument.

That was mistake #1. 

Varanasi, India

Having paid him a minor fortune in Indian standards, we expected no less than a nice car or at least a decent-looking driver. When we got to the parking lot, however, we were met by a dodgy taxi driver and three scruffy men with ragged clothes.

“This way, marm.”

Ehm, I don’t think so!

Desperate to find alternative transportation, we searched the lot, but no taxi was to be found. We were out of options and ended up following the men on the condition that only one of them would be in the car with us. After a huge argument, we settled on two.

THE DEAL WAS SIMPLE.

So, the deal was to get driven all the way to our hotel, but we had already given him the taxi voucher. Mistake #2. 

Small tip: You should never give the driver the voucher before arriving at the agreed location. Why? Because then he won’t be able to pull a stunt like this:

When we got to the city, the driver stopped and told us to get out. It rained, and the streets were crowded with people to the extent that you had to jostle your way through the huge mass. “Is this… No it can’t be?” We looked around in puzzlement, as there was nothing obviously resembling a hotel in sight.

“Yes, yes. Hotel that way. 15 minutes,” the driver said and made a pointy movement with this index finger.

Silence.

Scammed in Varanasi

“Is he kidding?!” I mean, we’d paid for the whole trip there, and we had no idea where the hostel was at. But the driver was not kidding. All the way from the airport, he had been oh-so chatty, but at this point he just grunted and shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly before finally striking the deathblow:

“You pay us more. 500 rupees.”

LABYRINTHS, COW SHIT AND SLIPPERY SLAPS

After arguing for another ten minutes and being on the verge of a mental breakdown, we reluctantly agreed on his terms. That was mistake #3.

To rub it in our already scammed faces, the driver then hollered at a random guy, said a few words in hindi and turned to us: “He show you.” Well, gee, thanks! We had kinda hoped that he would show us, since he actually knew where the hostel was and all. But at this point, we were so exhausted that we didn’t even bother to object. Now, the stranger, aka our newly appointed guide, just started making his way through the crowd, and we grabbed our bags and tried to keep up.

Varanasi, India

One of Varanasi’s many narrow, winding alleyways, called galis.

In an awful hurry, he led us into the narrow, dimly lit alleyways of the city, with beggars, cripples, dogs and cows around each corner. It was dust-raining, and the slabs were flooded with water puddles and cow shit which made them extremely slippery. Between all the animals and beggars, we could only glimpse the back of our ‘guide’, which by no means was the patient type, and the faster he went, the more the both of us slipped in our attempt not to get left behind. Since he had already been paid, he could easily just run off and leave us stranded.

At first we called at him to slow down but he ignored us, so Pernille practically had to roar at him to “WAIT” before he stopped and slowly led us to the hotel. There is no way we would’ve found it on our own.

THE DO’S AND DON’TS

Rule #1: When asking you if this is your first time in India (because he will), say no. Tell him that you’re visiting friends or relatives.

Rule #2: Be persistent and insist on being taken to the place that you planned on going to.

Rule #3: Don’t give the pre-paid taxi voucher to the driver until you’re at the location. He requires this voucher to receive his payment from the taxi office.

Rule #4:  If you find a good taxi driver, hang on to him! Get his mobile number and call him later on – he will be more than happy to come pick you up!

HOW TO STAY SAFE IN VARANASI

Rickshaw and taxi scams are a norm in Varanasi, and the driver will inevitably tell you that the hotel that you wish to go to has burned down, is flooded, or closed. Don’t believe him. Drivers receive commission from hotels for bringing in new guests, and this is one way to trick newcomers to going to these places. These links will let you know what to look out for when visiting Varanasi:

Have you been scammed on your travels?

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How to avoid getting scammed in Varanasi, India.