Once in central part of Delhi, somewhere in between Connaught Place and New Delhi Railway station, you will notice, that you are surrounded by tourist offices. One official tourist office here, and next one around the corner. One in a bigger office, another one in a smaller.
But what you need to know is that in Delhi there are only few government tourist offices, one of them being The Government of India Tourist Office, and few reputable travel agencies. Bunch of the rest is there only to trick you. People working there will use whatever methods needed to get out as much money from you as they possibly can. They will lie about everything, just to sell you their services. Often over priced, and sometimes even non-existent ones.
Would we spend 10 minutes on Google, reading about most popular scams in Delhi, India, we may not encounter it by ourselves. But we didn’t. As it was our second time in India we thought, that there is no need for it anymore. We thought, that we know India well enough. Not well enough, as it turned out.
Here is our story, about how we almost got scammed in Delhi on our very first day in India.
Official Tourist Office Scam in New Delhi – Our Experience
It was early morning of January 1. Our first day in Delhi. We went out of the metro, and headed to the New Delhi Railway Station. We needed to go through it, to get to Pahar Ganj or as a lot of people know it – backpackers district of New Delhi. Pahar Ganj is an area in Delhi packed with hundreds of cheap and medium class hotels. It’s just by the railway station, easily accessible by metro and thus popular place among budget travelers.
We didn’t know this area. And we had not been to New Delhi Railway station either. But here we were, standing in front of the station, looking on Here Maps (navigation application), and seeing, that Pahar Ganj and Main Bazaar Road is exactly on the opposite side of the station.
We went into the station. Looked around. And went to the left, in direction where a lot of people were heading. They should be going to their platforms, that’s what we thought. And there should be some kind of bridge, leading to these platforms and to the other side of the station as well.
Near the stairs, we were approached by, as it looked, employee of the train station, who asked us do we have train tickets. We explained, that we just want to go through the station to get to Main Bazaar road in Pahar Ganj.
He then pointed at another stairs, blocked at that time, and said, that now it is not possible to get there through New Delhi Railway Station. Because whole area of Pahar Ganj is now closed.
And to get in one needs to acquire special permit from Official Tourist Office. Ok,… But where is this office? And how to get there? Seeing that we are confused by all this situation, man offered to show us how to get there.
We went out of the station all three together. Outside he with his hands showed to us where is this tourist office and how to get there. He said it’s about 2 kilometers away from here. And some 10 seconds later, as we were still standing there, he recommended us to take a tuk-tuk, which, as he said, will cost only 30 rupees. It sounded like a great deal. After two flights we were tired and wanted to sort out this thing as quickly as possible.
So we followed him. Waited a minute until he talked with driver. And here we were, sitting in a tuk-tuk and driving to official tourist office.
We passed Connaught Place, a place which we knew from previous time in Delhi. We knew it also as a place, where there is an official tourist office. Last time we visited it to get a map of Delhi. Driver noticed us talking about our surroundings, and that’s when he said, that this is central part of Delhi. But what surprised us for a short moment was, that he continued to drive.
Ok, we thought.
Some 10 minutes later, and few blocks away from Connaught Place, we stopped by the tourist office. We went inside, told them about our situation, about what we have been told in New Delhi Railway station, and asked for more information. First of all we wanted to understand, what’s going on in Pahar Ganj. Why is it closed? And is it safe for us to go there now?
And his explanation made us only more confused.
Central part of New Delhi now is under red alert. It’s not safe for anyone to go there. If you don’t have a hotel booking, then you can’t get a permit to enter this area now. Government has closed almost all hotels and hostels in Delhi. Only 5 star hotels, where rooms cost about about 500 dollars per night, now are accepting new guests. I recommend you to leave Delhi for few days, until this situation clears out, and to come back then.
That is what we were told. And it sounded pretty scary.
Ok, if everything is so bad now, we could rent some Airbnb appartment away from the city center… (thinking, and speaking with Una in Latvian).
- Can you recommend us some place in city, where we can use WiFi? We need to get in touch with our friends to find the best solution for this situation?
- Everything is closed today, because it’s 1st of January. If you want, I can help you to buy train tickets, for example, to Agra or Jaipur. Should I look?
- Yes, please!
He checked something on computer. And then he asked us, maybe we are interested to buy a package, which would include transportation and hotel? And this is the moment, when I started to think, that something here is not clear. Maybe it’s a tourist scam?
We were not sure about it still, but, when soon after it he started to speak about his best offers and all of them cost like 150-200$ per day or more (even after we said, that it’s way over our budget), we knew – whatever is the situation in Delhi, we are not going to buy any tour from this man. Simply because there is a better solution. We can go to airport by ourselves and fly anywhere in India (or even abroad for that matter) and pay less than he is asking for his bus or car service.
We left the office, saying that we need to think about his offer, and started to walk in direction of Connaught Place. Our tuk-tuk driver was still outside by the office. But we refused his offer to go with him. We just felt, that something here was not clear.
At that moment we didn’t really know, what are we going to do next. But first of all we wanted to get to an area, which we knew better and where we thought we could find WiFi.
If it really wouldn’t be possible to find WiFi there, we could go to McDonalds or KFC, sit inside, away from anyone trying to “help us”, and wait until our Airtel prepaid SIM cards with mobile internet are activated. Guys at Airtel office at the Airport had said, that SIMs will be active in 4-5 hours.
That was our plan.
But as we were standing and looking on the map, few hundred meters away from this official tourist office, thinking in which direction to go, another tuk-tuk driver approached us.
- Did they say to you, that Pahar Ganj is closed? It’s a lie. If you want, just for 20 rupees I will take you to the real official tourist office near Connaught Place. There you will get all the help you need.
Ok, let’s go! We need to get to Connaught Place anyway.
15 minutes, of what felt like driving round and round, later tuk-tuk stopped… by the same official tourist office, where we were before. Sh***, is it happening for real? Not willing to make it any harder I just gave 20 rupees to the driver, and we started to walk away, in the same direction as we walked before, when leaving this place. Or that’s how we thought. Because soon we realized, that, no, it’s not the same place and not even the same street, even thought it looks SO MUCH like it.
It turned out be another tourist office. I’m not sure anymore, if it was the official one or not, because I don’t remember exact location of it now, but at least there we received confirmation to what tuk-tuk driver told us. It was all we needed. To know, that there are no any dangers in Pahar Ganj and that it’s absolutely safe to go there.
1 hour later, after hearing the same lies again and again, we were in Pahar Ganj, in a hotel room.
And all of it what happened in last few hours was just like a bad dream, and new lesson learned.
What we would recommend to you is always to have someone, whom you can contact at any time, just to double check something you have been told. For example, if you get in a situation like this. But if you need help here and right now, be proactive and ask people passing by, ask police or security guards. But be careful, when someone approaches you and offers help. There are good people, and there are also bad people.
Safe travels, friends!
P.S. Address of The Government of India Tourist Office is 88 , Janpath , Connaught Place, New Delhi 110 001.
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.