Monday, February 05, 2007 India India


SpiceJet to Delhi

SpiceJet are one of the new low-fares airlines in India. [IMG_0950]
SpiceJet winglet [Enlarge]

We walked into the village at around 09:00 and booked a taxi to the airport for 11:30, picking us up from the hotel. We had been tentatively gauging what the correct fare should be for the past week, whenever we had seen a taxi driver, and we never got quoted less than 450 Rupees (GBP 5.23 / USD 10.20) for the journey of around 30 kilometres. So when our driver started at 500, we quickly got him to come down to 450, especially when we told him we had very little luggage. He wouldn't go further though. We imagine that the true price should be around 300 to 350 (the going rate for taxis should be no more than 10 Rupees per kilometre), but it was too nice a day to have a big argument—and the problem with taxis to the airport is, they know you don't have many bargaining chips because you absolutely have to get there.

At around 11:20 we were sitting in the garden with our stuff and Glenn walked up to the main gate just in case our taxi was early. There was a taxi there, but it wasn't our driver. "Taxi?" the driver shouted in to Glenn. "Yes, but I booked with another driver, he should be along any minute." "No, he sends me instead. Where you wanna go?" "Well you should know that, given that he sent you." "Airport?" "Yes." "500 Rupees." "No, I agreed 450 with the driver. You should also know that. I don't believe that you are our driver." "I am, you spoke to Devesh in the village this morning, and he sent me." With this, Glenn walked back to the restaurant to wait and see if another taxi turned up.

We are very suspicious of taxi drivers these days, but in this case it seems he was indeed our driver because the one we had made the deal with didn't show up. Glenn apologised for doubting the replacement driver and we walked to his taxi. When we got there the door was locked and the driver told us to wait while he phoned his boss. When he had finished he said "450 is not possible, it is 500." We said that as far as we were concerned we had a deal, and it was 450 or nothing. "Not possible." After a little arguing, and having used our new patented technique of walking off, he agreed to 450—if we would look round a craft emporium on the way! We were annoyed now. We knew there were lots of taxis in the village, but we didn't know whether they would suddenly close ranks if we got too stroppy. Nevertheless we hate being ripped off and we hate people who go back on a deal. We told him we no longer wanted to go in his taxi and we walked off, in the direction of the centre of the village. He left us for a minute to see if we were serious, and then having decided that we were, he drove alongside us and said "OK, 450, no shops. Get in." We told him where he could put his taxi and carried on walking, and he sped off towards his friends at the taxi rank. We were a bit worried about whether we had just blown it completely, when serendipity came to our rescue once again. Another taxi approached from behind us, and the guy pulled over and asked us if we required his services. Glenn, still stubbornly determined to get his 450 Rupee deal, said "Are you willing to take us to the airport for 450?" The driver paused for the briefest moment before saying "Yes", as if sensing that we were in no mood for games. We got in and enjoyed immensely waving at our original driver as we drove past him. The look on his face as he came to terms with the fact that his greed had got the better of him is something we will treasure for a long time.

After we had paused for the driver to get out and put his uniform on over his shirt (he would get fined if he didn't, apparently), the journey to the airport did not take long and we rued the fact that in spite of our victory, we had still overpaid. We needed a ticket to get past the security guards at the airport entrance, but as we had booked on the internet we only had a confirmation number. SpiceJet are obviously used to this problem, since they have a window from their office which opens onto the outside of the airport, from where we were able to turn our confirmation number into a printout. Once inside the terminal we found a chair, bought a wireless internet access card and waited until check-in opened.

At check-in, we read the 'prohibited articles in hand baggage notices', as we always do, and checked in one of the bags, into which we had packed the sterile needles, scissors etc. We still had a while to wait but we decided to wander over to security just to gauge the length of the queue. At the entrance to the security area there was a sheet of paper with a notice printed on it saying "No liquids, gels or pastes are to be carried in hand luggage." Our hand luggage contained toothpaste, hand cleanser gel, shampoo, insect repellant, and a bottle of water. The SpiceJet notice had said nothing about liquids.

We queued up again at the check-in desk and told them about the notice at security. The agent said "Oh yes, you cannot take liquids on board with you!" and she was unable to see why it would be a good idea for the notice at check-in to match the one at security. We were not about to check in our other bag, containing the laptop, malaria tablets and other expensive items. Isla had a sense of humour failure at this point and asked the lady if she would mind very much retrieving our checked-in bag so that we could rearrange our luggage. That's not quite how she put it, but use your imagination. After a while we got the bag back and repacked all our luggage on the floor in front of the check-in desk, before checking one bag back in.

The rest of our time at the airport and on the flight to Delhi was uneventful. But we were not done with scams and tricks for the day.

We had booked our hotel, the Hotel Tara Palace, on Hostelworld, and as usual, paid a 10% deposit, the balance being payable directly to the hotel. One of the benefits of this hotel was "free airport transfers", so we had called them and arranged a pick-up from the airport. When we arrived we found our man, holding a sign with our names on, and we got into his car. He is a student from Kashmir, and during the holidays he works for the Hotel Tara Palace—he has been working there for six years. We got a bit of a free tour of Delhi (or "Dally", in his thick Kashmiri accent) on the way into town, and our man pointed out the landmarks and made general conversation. And then out of nowhere, he launched into his spiel: "There is something I need to tell you. We need to stop off somewhere before we get to the hotel. It's a travel agent, and they handle payments on the hotel's behalf. Nothing to worry about, but you will need to pay them in full before we go to the hotel, otherwise they will not check you in. While you are there, the agent will be able to help you with your onward travel arrangements, or any tours of the city that you want. I can give you a tour tomorrow for 400 Rupees—if you go with a taxi driver in the street it will cost at least 800. By the way, do not take any taxis or rickshaws in Delhi as they will rip you off. Call me and I will take you wherever you want to go. Be very careful in Delhi, and do not set foot outside your hotel on your own. The touts are terrible and you will lose all your money."

In other words: Welcome to Delhi.

We have learned to go along with things when we sense that we are being scammed, at the same time being totally non-committal. It gives us time to work out what the hell is going on: what's the scam, how does it work, who is working with whom and what do they all get out of it, and finally what is our best strategy for getting away with our wallet intact while still getting what we want out of the deal. So, we agreed to go to the travel agent, so that we could see what they would try to do. When we got there, we insisted on getting the bags out of the boot and taking them in with us, despite the driver's protestations that they would be just fine where they were.

The boss man was expecting us. He asked for full payment and Glenn asked him why we couldn't pay the hotel directly. He replied that he handles their marketing for them, and there was really nothing to worry about. And would we like a tour tomorrow? What time should his driver pick us up? Glenn replied that: (1) No money would be moving from our wallets to his hands until we could at least see the hotel room and speak to them; (2) We didn't know what our plans were in Delhi yet, and so we were not ready to book any tours; (3) We were tired and could we please go to the hotel right now.

It was now clear that the hotel had no idea that we were coming, or that Hostelworld even exists. This guy promotes the hotel on the site, and who knows how many other hotels, suckers guests into thinking that they are phoning the hotel to arrange a pickup, and then takes their money before presumably passing some of it on to the hotel. The hotel asks no questions and gets a steady trickle of guests coming their way. We checked later, and the mobile number that we had been given by Hostelworld was the same as the number on the agent's card. He agreed to let us see the hotel but that we must come straight back to his office to pay.

We set out again and started driving slowly and doing lots of U-turns. Our driver had no idea where the hotel was, despite telling us earlier that he had worked there for six years (he hadn't, he was employed by the travel agent). After three stops to ask for directions, he found it. It was clean and spacious, and staffed by very friendly people. Something told us that they were afraid of the boss man though. We agreed with reception to pay them directly on check-out, and sent the driver back to his office to tell Mr Big the bad news that we wouldn't be coming back to see him. But the driver wasn't quite finished. Before leaving, he said "I'll see you at 09:00 tomorrow for your tour then?" We replied that we would be sure to call him in the morning if we wanted a tour.

Map of Day 073

Day 073
Benaulim to New Delhi

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.

5 Comments:

griffjon said...

Is this the same Tara Palace by the Red Fort (http://www.tarapalace.com/)? Would you recommend it as a place to stay? Any tips on avoiding the scam entirely?

blaster said...

hi griffjon,,

nice to see a fellow traveller and i agree with glenn's post but bot fully as i.ve been to many parts of india quite alott of time and there is no place for fraud as such untill you giv someone a chance to do so.

yes i think glenn is talking about the same Hotel Tarapalace near red fort and my experience has been great there though i have stayed in other hotels too but the hospitality was the best at tarapalace.

so dude go ahead. and a nice insight into delhi life glenn...CHEERS !!

Glenn Livett said...

Hi, sorry for not replying sooner but Blogger's comment notification didn't work for griffjon's comment so I only found it when blaster replied.
Yes you're right it is the Tara Palace by the Red Fort. It's a nice place, and you will avoid the scam entirely if you book direct with the hotel (www.tarapalace.com) and don't use Hostelworld. It's clean, comfortable and the staff are helpful.
By the way I contacted Hostelworld about the scam and they ignored me. From the description, and the most recent review on the site, people are still booking through Hostelworld and not realising that they are dealing with a travel agent rather than the hotel. I feel sorry for the hotel that they are getting a bad name for this but they don't even know it's happening.
Cheers!

Ajay said...

What about 10% deposit that you paid at hostelworld.com?

Glenn Livett said...

The scamsters told the hotel to charge us just the balance that we were expecting to pay. So I guess they kept the deposit for their "commission".