Back in India, and part of me is wondering why! I was having a lovely, relaxed time in Thailand, could have easily stayed for a few more weeks in Prachuap Khiri Khan, relaxing and working on some programming projects. And my return to India felt a little unwelcoming…
My flight to Delhi was good, and immigration was painless. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get my SIM card for my usb-modem (or ‘dongle’) recharged at the airport kiosk and the AirTel representative was very unhelpful. Nor did he seem very knowledgeable. Well, I may have to live without ready web access for a while.
I got an only moderately scuzzy room in Paharganj, a bazaar area handy for New Delhi Railway Station, and then headed out to the station to see about a ticket to Simla. I knew that the regular seats were sold out but was hoping to get one on a ‘foreign tourists’ quota. But I was told that, due to construction, the booking office was now located outside the station and a friendly man arranged a tuk-tuk (motor-cycle rickshaw) for me for the low price of 10 rupees.
David, what were you thinking? Or, more accurately, not thinking?
The tuk-tuk dropped me at an office with a big Gov’t of India sign outside, where I quickly learned that nothing was available for four days (four days that I didn’t particularly want to spend in Delhi) and the agent helping suggested some alternative plans: maybe I would be better off starting my trip further north in Kashmir and he could help me arrange that. I begged off and said I would think about it.
Outside the office, I ‘bumped’ into the man who had directed me to this office (come to collect a commission for mis-directing me, I now suspect) who was disappointed that I’d had no luck. He again arranged for the tuk-tuk driver to take me to the Gov’t of India reservation office on Janpath – and I arrived at another office where another very nice man told me there were no trains for four days but he could arrange a bus trip trip to Simla with three night’s hotel accommodation included for a whopping $250. No, I didn’t want that. He, too, suggested a trip to Kashmir first. I clued in that these guys, who were happy to sell bus tickets, weren’t railway employees but thought they might still be, as they claimed, Gov’t of India tourist board employees. It was looking like I wasn’t going to get a train so I settled for the overnight bus to Simla (despite repeated appeals that all hotels were full at this time of year and it would be sensible to have the hotel package) and handed over 2500 Rs. ($50 for an overnight semi-sleeper Volvo bus – er, ‘daylight’ robbery?)
What a dummy I am! I’ve had it too easy, riding my bike through small Indian towns where there aren’t tourists to prey upon and after a relatively stress-free time in South-East Asia (just one crooked taxi meter in Ho Chi Minh City that cost $20 instead of $5). I need to be less trusting of friendly people and remember that most people who appear to go out of their way to help you are more interested in helping themselves. To some of my cash!
Back in my hotel room, I checked the bus prices online and it looked like I’d paid about three times the going rate. Furthermore, the bus left from “near the Ramakrishna Ashram Marg Area.” All I had to do was ask where the DAV bus left from. Right! Whether it does actually leave from there, or from anywhere, I will never know!
This morning, at around 6:00 am, I went to the current reservation office at the station. This is where to buy tickets last minute, within two hours of train departure, if there is space available. But there was no seat available on the 7:40 am train to Kalka. I wasn’t so surprised at that. Another helpful gentleman intercepted me and said I should go upstairs to the International Tourist Bureau if I wanted a ticket in four or more days but a different office for more immediate travel. The process of getting a rail ticket in India can be pretty arcane so this wasn’t totally ridiculous. Of course, he directed me to another unofficial agency just outside the station. But I wasn’t quite as gullible this time. I enquired about availability and was told I would have to wait three days. How much? 1150 Rs. For CC (chair class)? 950 Rs. He also suggested a trip to Kashmir because all the hotels were full in Simla. It seems that they all go to the same scam school. (Of course, it may be hard to find a hotel in Simla at this time of year but I’ll deal with that tomorrow.)
I smiled at him, said I would think about it, and left.
Back in the station, I did find the International Tourist Bureau but it didn’t open until 8:00 so I wandered about for a while and then went for a cup of tea:
Despite getting there only a few minutes after eight, there was already a line of almost one hundred foreigners (mainly NRI’s (Non-Resident Indians – Indians living abroad) who are also eligible for tickets from the foreign tourist quota). After a couple of hours, I reached the front of the line and got a berth for tonight’s Kalka Mail with a change at around 5:30 am for the ‘toy’ narrow-gauge train up to Simla. All is now good!
I do still have a bus ticket but I don’t know if it’s worth the paper it’s printed on. And I didn’t want to try to catch the possibly fictitious bus, find it doesn’t exist and then have to find a hotel for another night. After all this, I’m ready to be out of Delhi!
Scammed or just gouged? I don’t know and it’s nothing terminal and definitely not worth worrying too much about. I messed up, it’s as simple as that. Hopefully, I won’t get a reminder of this lesson too soon.
The rest of the day, though, was good. I walked around the bazaar taking pictures and then found somewhere cool (out of the heat, I mean) to work on them.