I am back from Delhi and obviously, there will always be one or more tales around frayed nerves and flaring tempers. This time I got royally duped, almost. I couldn’t believe three years of staying abroad has made me naive again and blind to the guile of Delhi touts.
With Kingfisher Airlines building a hole in its coffers while at the same time monopolising the Delhi- Dharamshala route, we decided not to take a chance of being stranded last minute. So we went to the train station to book tickets to go to Dharamshala. But mind you, going to the moon would be easier than getting a train ticket reservation in India. What fascinates and boggles the mind about Indian railways is that even two months ahead of schedule, you will never find a confirmed seat. The ‘it’s a billion population’ theory does not quite do the job, because those with contacts still get them.
Well, we did manage to get our return tickets from Pathankot to Delhi but we did not get a confirmed onward ticket. ‘Summer holiday time,’ was the lame excuse of the guy at the counter. Now, we decided to try travel agents, who we assumed would at least get us confirmed tickets through their quotas or network and also save us the headache of queues in the sweltering heat.
After our trip to Mumbai and before heading off to the north east, we went to Connaught Place to find a decent travel agent. We walked into a pigeonhole office, (the others we walked into were the same) where a certain Mr Sharma was so pleased to see us. I think the stars were not favouring his business of late. “Why do you want to go by train? Take the car with driver and AC, stop at Amritsar, Dalhousie, beautiful places...only Rs 18,000 and Rs 17,000 minus an aircon,” he pleaded. ‘But, yes, can you first try the train tickets?” we asked. “Golden temple, Wagah border, so many places Sir to see,” he continued his impassioned plea to Lolo. He was literally on the fence about us taking the train. Finally, he admitted that getting confirmed train tickets were next to impossible. We tried two other agents. They used the same tactics and at steep prices. The last we wanted was a 20-hour road drive, so we walked out.
Lolo, after having gone through the railways website, discovered a certain international tourist quota system which had its counter at the main New Delhi railway station. He was, for some reason, convinced that he would get a confirmed ticket because chances were there could be few tourists at this time of the year. When we reached the station, we approached the first guard manning entrance B and as per his direction veered right to get to the first floor where the counter was. Just before we got to the first floor, a clean, decent-looking young man intercepted us in chaste English.
“Are you looking for the international tourist counter?”
“Yes, first floor, isn’t it?”
“No, no, they have just shifted the office, it is in the ITDC building just round the corner near the inner circle.”
“Yes, yes.. I will help you. Just take this government auto, pay him only Rs 20 and he will take you there. Don’t take autos from outside, they will cheat you.”
We were dropped right outside the same line of travel agents we had been to earlier. Only, the pigeonhole was different this time. Once inside, I saw big posters of Incredible India, the tourism ministry’s slogan. The young man at the counter greeted us with a frivolous ‘hi’ and was trying to act so cool that he was my first point of suspicion. No government servant in India wears that attitude. They wear their ‘babudon’ in their sleeves. So I kept asking about five times if this was the international tourist counter to which he kept nodding YES. Even interesting was the fact that he wanted us to fly Kingfisher, and this was supposed to be a railways counter. Suddenly, my roving eyes noticed a frame on the wall that had the name of the office as PC Lal & Company. It had framed a certification which said PC Lal is authorised to conduct some computer training. The man was lying to us with such impunity. He was a travel agent and not even remotely connected to the international tourist quota. The bastard at railway station was probably minting commissions by conning many other tourists and sending them off to travel agents.
I was ready to kill the first bastard in the chain of bastards I was meeting, when a man stopped us again. “Tell me honestly, is that the international tourist counter or just a travel agent?” I asked. He could see my agitated self. “Madam we are all travel agents but we are authorised by the government to reserve some quotas (railways).” Wanting to get over the whole episode as soon as possible, I asked him if he could get us confirmed train tickets. He offered us tea and water in his slightly bigger office and under the cooler temp of his air-conditioned office, he was already machinating his grand ideas to dupe us. I was still unsuspecting. Lolo was a mute witness to all this, India is too complicated for him at times.
The man showed us the website of the railways and under reservations for foreigners there were indeed 2/3 seats available for first class on the dates we desired. But it came with a rider: he said we had to pay 180 dollars and give a copy of our passports, etc. Everything was believable; the price chart was there on the website. We agreed because we were just too happy getting a confirmed ticket. And before I realised he had swiped my card and thrown us a bill of more than 10 grand adding a few taxes here and there. Where is the receipt, I yelled. “Madam you have to trust us, I will give it to you.” But how could you just make the transaction without showing us the break-ups etc? I asked. Another smart cookie, too quick to dupe and too smooth an operator. After a few heated moments of argument, I decided not to cancel. Lolo tried to pacify me with, ‘It’s only a few hundred dollars, forget it.” He hates such scenes where I am agitated and yelling at people.
The drama round Dharamsala finally came to an end when we decided to actually join my sister and her friends in their car ride as they were driving down the same day. We kept the return ticket safe. When I called the travelled agent for cancellation, he said the cost of the ticket was Rs 1,800 each (but he had charged us Rs 5000 or 90 dollars) and would refund that with a 25 per cent cut. That was enough for me to storm the office. My temper shot through the roof that day and believe me, hell hath no fury than a woman duped! I walked out triumphant, I got most of my money back! Later that night, Lolo whispered, “It is exactly after 10 days that you have got angry.” He knows my otherwise sanguine expression alters the moment I land at IGI. Delhi, you still manage to bring out the worst in me.