Indian Journey Part XIII: Getting Ripped Off

July 6, 2010 in India, Travel by pacejmiller

This dude showed us how they made the Taj Mahal...well, kind of...

…in my opinion, as long as we think we paid a decent price (compared to our home country), it doesn’t really matter if you get ripped off a little.  Everyone’s still happy.

As a tourist, no matter where you go, you have to look out for scams and people trying to rip you off.  I’ve heard plenty of horror stories, such as where people offer you something on the street for free, but once you take it, they say it costs $X and they won’t take the good back.  The best one I heard was in China, where they offload buses of sightseers at a souvenir shop and lock the doors until they’ve all made at least one purchase!

We didn’t experience any such extreme problems in India, but I would like to offer a warning about these “private tours”.  From what I hear, most of them are the same — that is, they will take you to a lot of places not on the itinerary or places you didn’t ask to go to for the sole purpose of making you spend more money.

It’s pretty much unavoidable, so if you don’t like that kind of stuff, make sure you tell them up front or else it can get a little frustrating.  Your guide may get pissed off (because that may mean they get a smaller cut or commission), but don’t forget you’ve already paid for his services, and they still need to treat you decently if they want a tip at the end.

(to learn how to avoid being ripped off in India, click on ‘more’ to read on)

After our visit to the Taj Mahal (and the near heat stroke) and a so-so lunch at a restaurant entirely dedicated to tourists (we had actually asked to go to a 5-star hotel to get some air conditioning and cold drinks, but they took us there instead), our guides drove us around some narrow streets until we arrived at a workshop of some sort.

Here, we will find out how they made those beautiful jewels in the Taj Mahal, our guide said.  Okay, whatever, we’ll go take a look.  Inside, an on-site guide with near-perfect English took over, and explained to us the arduous process in colouring the white marble with red clay, sketching over it, carving it out, shaping jewels of different colours into the same size, sticking them into the grooves, and then washing the red clay off.  The craftsmen working in front of us were the direct descendants of the builders of the Taj Mahal, and only they have perfected the art.

We were very impressed (I more so than my wife), and the guide led us into the next room, a comfortable storeroom of sorts with comfortable sofas and cool air conditioning.  It was there where the sales pitch began.  You see, the place was essentially a souvenir shop that sold these marble plates decorated with the same jewels as the ones we saw in the Taj Mahal.  They showed us one design after another, one size after another, and explained that if we wanted to purchase it we’d get a free stand and a free chair which we can put the marble plate it — all that kind of stuff.  They flashed lights underneath (as they were translucent) and out came pretty colours.  It was a well-rehearsed routine.  They could even mail it over to us, wherever we live in the world, at no extra charge.  They had a whole book of people who purchased such items, even those who lived in our city.

Lastly, came the prices.  They had a calculator ready for any currency conversions.  A nice piece of jewel decorated marble…the price?  Roughly AU$400, depending on the level of craftsmanship, the jewels used, and so forth.

The plates were very pretty, and as the dude said, it would be like taking a piece of the Taj Mahal home with you.  Nowhere else in the world made these things (or so they say).  It would be a fine gift to my parents.  But $400 was far too expensive for my liking, and I told the dude as much.

A room full of jewel decorated marble plates

Okay, no worries.  The price then came down to $350 — it wasn’t peak season and the world economy stunk, so they could give us a discount.  Nope, still too much.  No problem.  They’ll lower it to $320.

By this time I was starting to get tempted, but my wife didn’t think it was worth it.  “It’s just a piece of marble,” she said, unimpressed.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was genuine or if she just wanted to get the price down further (it was the former).

“Okay,” the dude said.  “What is the most you’d be willing to pay for this?  Don’t be shy.  Don’t think we’ll be offended.  We won’t be offended at all.”

“$160, max,” my wife said, and I thought that was it.

To my surprise, the guy ended up agreeing to sell it for $180, after we purchased a couple of little jewel decorated marble elephants for around $50.  The guy still ripped us off a bit with the exchange rate, saying that the Australian dollar had gone up and it definitely wouldn’t cost more than $X once converted on the credit card.  He lied, but it wasn’t a lot more.  Nevertheless, we still got the marble plate for less than 50% of the original price he offered it at.  I wondered how much those blonde girls sitting on the other couch paid for their piece.

Well, that wasn’t the end of it.  We were then led to an adjoining room where they sold more jewel decorated marble products, such as saucers, jewellery boxes, little decorative pieces.  No thanks.

But wait, there’s more!  We were then led upstairs where there was an entire room of pashmina products (primarily scarves).  My wife likes comfortable neckwear, so we ended up perusing for quite some time.  The salesman there was very very patient, allowing us to go through dozens and dozens until we found what we liked.  The price, again, was negotiable.  We ended up getting about half a dozen for roughly half the original quoted price.  To be honest, we still probably paid too much — but in my opinion, as long as we think we paid a decent price (compared to our home country), it doesn’t really matter if you get ripped off a little.  Everyone’s still happy.

We thought that was the end of it, but no.  There was another tiny adjoining room that sold tea and leather goods and shoes.  We gave it a quick browse, but there was nothing we wanted to get.  Finally, we left the place after almost 2 hours of shopping and purchasing.  We had fallen for exactly what they wanted us to do!

Before the entered the car, they made us walk halfway down the street, where there was a jewellery shop.  Not more!  We went in for a bit of air conditioning and promptly came back out.

I thought they would then take us to a few more touristy places (as specified on the itinerary), but our guide said the Agra Fort (our next destination) wasn’t worth paying admission to look at inside, and it was sufficient just to take a free glance from the exterior.  That was fine with us because we were sick of the heat, but after taking a look at the impressive fortification, our guide wanted us to go to some carpet making factory to see how those impressive rugs were made.  Alarm bells!

Agra Fort from the outside

We finally put our feet down and said no thanks, enough was enough.  We weren’t interested in seeing the carpets and just wanted to head back to Delhi.  With a 4-hour drive ahead of us, we didn’t want to get back too late.  It had been a taxing day.

Our guide was visibly disappointed and tried to persuade us a few more times, but we had made up our minds.  Kumar (our driver) dropped him off at the next street corner and we were on our way back to Delhi.

We actually experienced more such behaviour the next day from Kumar himself.  But I’ll have to leave that for my next post.