I got chatting to a guy in Peru back in 2011. We exchanged a few tales and then he told me about a chap he had met a few weeks previously. This guy had been at an ATM somewhere in Peru when a bag was pulled over his head. He was then bundled into a car and abducted.
Some time later he was led from the car into a building. The captors demanded that he provide his pin number for his credit card, with death no doubt being the punishment for providing a incorrect number. His captors then left with his wallet and the car drove away. When the bag was removed from his head he found himself in the company of a an old couple and some children.
He was fed and the children seemed happy with their new guest. He however was understandably petrified and confused.
After 3 days though he had started to relax. He had even begun to teach the kids English and he was cooking meals with the grandmother. He was high up in the Andes in an isolated village, and the scenery was outstanding. As he couldn’t really leave he was free to wander around as he pleased. He even shared a beer or three with the old man one night. For the most part he was relaxed in his rather strange predicament.
Then the bag was put back on his head and he was driven back to the town from which he had been snatched.
His captors had withdrawn around £100 for each of the 4 days he was held. On the 5th day his account had been blocked, which presumably was the reason he was freed.
In the days after his return, this guy really couldn’t shake the feeling that £400 was an absolute bargain for one of his greatest travel experiences.
As we walked back to our hotel on our second night in Delhi this story came readily to mind.
After the long day of touring we decided to walk to Connaught Place to eat. As we hunted for a restaurant that didn’t seem to exist a local guy dropped a pen in front of us. Tom picked it up for him. He was a fairly old guy and smartly dressed. He asked us how long we had been in Delhi and we exchanged a few pleasantries.
We were about to part ways when I thought to ask him if he knew any good restaurants. He did, and he told us about a restaurant that some of his students frequent. The old guy was a University lecturer,and after trying to give us directions for a while he gave in and just hailed a cab.
We jumped in. I would never normally do this, but he was so friendly and pleasant that we both just went along with it. Had I been with Claire I certainly would have declined, but between Tom and I we had the measure of the old guy and the driver.
When we arrived at the restaurant he even paid for the taxi. I tried to give him some money but he refused. After saying our goodbyes we both concluded he was a lovely chap before enjoying a very good meal.
As we were calling for the bill things started to get weird. The old man reappeared, explaining that his wife and family were in the cinema close by. He explained that he wanted to make sure that we enjoyed the food.
Five minutes later all three of us were back in a cab and heading to see a Hindu temple. I was feeling a little uneasy, but still didn’t feel in danger. These days it’s easy to use Google maps to track one’s location, so I always knew where we were.
The Hindu temple was mildly interesting and very busy. We were asked to do some sort of praying to one of their gods. We clearly looked stupid.
Then we were back in the taxi and driving to the local Sikh temple. Sikhism is a minority religion in India, but this temple was immense. It had a parade of food outlets, various outbuildings and the temple itself was huge in comparison to the Hindu temple.
Our guide accosted a Sikh monk, who was dressed in blue, looked about 80 and had a long white beard. The monk fortunately didn’t speak any English because our guide introduced him as follows :
“He’s a monk. He may look like a terrorist but he’s not.”
Admittedly he did have a rather impressive curved knife on his belt. Though such a knife wielded by a 4 foot tall 80 year old man in a fetching blue jump suit is never going to be terrorising.
As we walked back to the taxi I explained to our guide that we needed to get back to our hotel as we needed to be up early. Undeterred, he took us next to a street popular with backpackers. This was pointless. We were offered drugs by a local shopkeeper who kept whispering in my ear conspiratorially. Then our guide ran off and returned with some bread. We fed it to some cows and then I looked at my phone to see how far it was to walk back to the hotel.
Or guide assured us we were nearly finished but he had one last thing to show us. I considered getting firm with him, but as it happened he left the best to last. New Delhi Railway Station.
To explain, roughly speaking Old Delhi is the city that existed before the British arrived. New Delhi is what the British built. Together they are Delhi, but the differences are obvious.
The station is huge. It has 16 platforms and handles over 400 trains each day. We strolled in unheeded, which was troubling as every other place we visited in India had security in place to frisk everybody and scan luggage at entrances. India has had some recent terrorist attacks sadly.
We arrived at an escalator down to one of the platforms. Some locals were struggling to board the moving stairs, particularly as they were doing it whilst balancing huge parcels on their heads.
This guy’s parcel fell from his head and tumbled down the escalator, nearly decapitating me in the process. He then sat down to enjoy the ride.
I am pretty sure this was his first time on a escalator. Our guide reveled in the situation, urging me to video and photograph everything whilst guffawing with laughter.
We walked onto the platform and our guide seemed surprised. He explained that he wanted to show us how much human excrement was on the tracks. But there was none. He seemed genuinely disappointed at the lack of shit. Then he led us on to a train and through a 3rd class carriage. It was crammed full of people and it stunk. The occupants of the bunks all watched us with a puzzled look. As we left the carriage I noticed that the train was so long that I could not see either end.
We found our way back to the waiting taxi and then, at last, our totally random tour came to an end. By this stage I was very confused. My suspicious mind refused to accept that this guys intentions were completely honorable, even when he presented us with gifts. A marble carving of Ganesha and a fridge magnet. My suspicions were confirmed when time came to pay the taxi driver. A scam was undoubtedly afoot.
We each paid around £15 for the taxi, and our guide also paid £15. He made a good show of explaining that the driver had had to wait so long at the various stops. I thought to point out that we wanted out at the Sikh temple, but we paid up instead.
As we walked away our guide walked with us. I asked if he would pose for a photo, but he spun some yarn about his religion not allowing him to be photographed on a Thursday or something.
The final act now began. Our guide, with his generosity in paying for the taxis and for the gifts and the bread for the cows, was now completely penniless. I once again considered making the very valid point that we had wanted to bail out at the Sikh Temple. But instead we chucked him £15, about half of what he wanted, and that was that.
Our guide no doubt then went to find his taxi driver mate for his cut.
Claire and I have been scammed before and it always leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, so to speak. But no matter how much we tried, Tom and I couldn’t shake the feeling that £45 was an absolute bargain for one the most random evenings our lives.