Only in India can a quick walk to the bank be interrupted by a scuffle with a petitioner, a negative aura reading, and a near death-by-rickshaw experience…
Notorious for its touts and scams, navigating your way through New Delhi is a learned art. Whether you’re walking to your favorite spot or exploring a new part of the city, the best way to avoid any unwarranted attention is to walk like you’ve had the direction in your mental-GPS since the day you were born… and when you walk past the same street again 10 minutes later, utterly lost, you act like you just wanted to check out the area.
It’s a confidence and an assertiveness that you’ve got a direction, and usually, with the walk, you can avoid some unnecessary ventures into tour shops and rickshaw rides without even breaking your smile.
Usually, I pride myself on my ability to stay out of unwanted situations when traveling, but today, the hawkers were coming on strong, and there was no amount of poise that could get me through unscathed.
At this point, I had been a solo traveler for approximately two hours. My friends took off in the morning and I was left behind in the hotel room with a head cold, an almost empty wallet, and a nearly unplanned itinerary. I took initiative and peeled myself out of bed for a quick jaunt to the bank, but as I was reminded, nothing comes so easily in New Delhi.
I pioneered my way into my alley and was immediately accosted by a woman collecting “signatures and no money”– as usual, “no money” actually meant “some money”– but I managed to decline as politely as possible and escape her sharp-nailed grip before getting seriously trapped into anything.
I had barely strided away when I received a complimentary-yet-unwelcome aura reading from a baba pacing beside me on the road. “Hello ma’am. I want to tell you… You have a good heart but a negative energy from my three very serious problems. Very very serious. Your life is terribly out of balance. I think you are a little insane.” …Thank you? I suppose I could have paid to learn that I am oversensitive and that I lack focus, but I actually already know that, and I really just need an ATM.
“Oh Wow. Thank you sir… maybe I come back later?” I said as I quickly changed to the other side of the road.
Listen guys… I’ve got a head cold and an attitude, do you think we could do this later? I thought. Maybe they would have left me alone if they realized I had less than $8 in my possession.
Finally, as I rounded the corner to the bank, a bicycle rickshaw sharply cut left behind me. I jumped back to find my space obstructed by a mango stall. Luckily, I made it up on my toes, pinned against the steel table and barely avoided getting my feet crunched by the passenger cart of the rickshaw. I didn’t expect an apology, or even wait for some acknowledgement of what just happened. It happens at least thirty times on a good day.
Getting to the bank, the intention of the trip was nowhere near as significant as the trip to get there. When traveling, it always takes a while to find your feet and even longer to grow your teeth. There is a steep learning curve to knowing when to talk and when to walk, when to smile and when to scowl, when to be polite and when to argue.
After today, I suppose even walking like you know where you’re going isn’t always enough, but it’s still worth a shot.
Here are a few quick tips for avoiding touts when traveling:
1. Most important of all is walking with purpose!
2. Throw on sunglasses and look straight ahead in touristy areas. Pretend not to hear the “hellos” and “where are you froms” coming out of nearly every shop if you don’t have the time or interest in buying.
3. When confronted directly by someone, simply say a genuine “No, thank you” and keep walking. If you slow down, it becomes a lot more difficult to walk away without being rude. If they are persistent, it helps to have an excuse about why you’re in a hurry.
4. Ask for information from people with no vested interest. Don’t get directions from a rickshaw driver or shopping recommendations from a silk shop owner! Instead, ask at an upscale hotel, someone on their way to work, or a fellow shopper.
What’s your best trick or tip for avoiding touts when traveling? (Can’t see Facebook comments? Click here to view the full version of the Walking Like You Know Where You’re Going Blog Post)