Jaisalmer Fort India Sadhus

Scams in Jaisalmer India

Jaisalmer rises from the Thar Desert in such a fashion one might think the sand just morphed into a city, complete with havelis, temples and one of the world’s largest forts. Everything is tan colored and dry.

I step out of the general class train from Bikaner and a man immediately approaches me. “You go to Jaisalmer Fort?” he asks, assuming all tourists want to stay at one of the decrepit but beautiful hotels inside the famous Jaisalmer Fort.

Jaisalmer Fort India

“No, no” I say. “I already have a ride, thanks.” I reach for my phone and dial the number I have saved for Rajiv, the kind man letting me stay at his house via Couchsurfing.org. Seconds later, the young taxi driver is again at my side, his ringing phone in hand.

“Excuse me. It’s me you’re calling, ma’am. I have come to pick you up.”

“Let me see,” I say, skeptical, but not enough; It’s 5am and I desperately want this strange man to be Rajiv. At this hour, my brain is too sleepy to comprehend the scams I have been warned about at train stations all across India, and he somewhat resembles the picture from Rajiv’s profile.

He shows me his phone, and sure enough it’s ringing. “You’re Rajiv?” I ask, stupidly.

“Yes, yes, I Rajiv. I come to pick you up. How your trip?” He begins to reach for my backpack and though I haven’t completely relaxed, it feels nice to have my ride be on time and ready to take me to a quiet room for more sleep. The seven-hour journey had been a cold one. The shanty rail car windows refused to close, jiggling their way down and open just minutes after being latched, letting in the night’s brisk air and desert dust while deeming my thin wool scarf worthless as a blanket.

“Rajiv is my brother,” the man says. “He tell me to get you from the train.”

I glance down at my ringing phone and finally know this man is straight-faced lying to me.

“Hello Rajiv,” I answer. “I’ve just arrived.”

He says nothing about sending someone to get me, so I ignore the man still following me with a constantly changing story. I instantly like Rajiv. Even before sunrise he is smiling, welcoming and honest. He shows me to me my room – the best one in the small guesthouse he owns, and I’m not even a paying guest – and offers to make me chai. I politely decline in favor of a few more hours of sleep.

In the morning, I make my way to the rooftop restaurant of Rajiv’s Dylan Cafe & Guesthouse* where bed pads are strewn under a Rastafarian tent and small tables line the middle. I make myself comfortable, sitting Buddha style, and order breakfast from Abdul while I chat with a Rajiv about travels and couch surfing and life.

He tells me a German girl, Sabrina, will be sharing my room as soon as she arrives back from her camel safari. Sabrina and I are fast friends, as travelers often are after a certain amount of time on the road, and she invites me to go on a motorbike tour with her and Jack, a 23 year-old local boy who enjoys showing tourists around Jaisalmer for nothing more than lunch for payment.

I’m skeptical that Jack wants to spend his time with two foreign women for fun. It sounds like another Indian scam; though he’s not the first nice man to go out of his way to proudly show me his country. I decide to stop questioning Sabrina about his intentions and hop on the back of his motorcycle – all three of us on one small seat.

Our first stop is Jaisalmer Fort. Jack has answers to all of our questions, and patiently waits as we take photos of his neighbors. On our way in, there’s a young girl doing tricks on a tight rope, her mother and sister standing below, willing to help her down when she’s ready, and begging for donations.

Jaisalmer Fort IndiaJaisalmer Fort IndiaJaisalmer Fort India

We wander through the brick alleys, snapping away at locals going about their daily business. About 25% of Jaisalmer’s population lives inside the fort, which is rare despite the thousands of fortresses dotted around the country. One woman washes her clothes and hangs them out to dry. Another is scrubbing the sandstone sidewalk in front of her modest doorway with soap and water. Many more are taking advantage of the increasing business from tourism and selling handicrafts, Hindi music, clothes, books and/or jewelry.

Jaisalmer Fort India Sadhus

Jaisalmer Fort India

It’s special to see life continue here, but it’s also controversial. Due to poor building practices, including plumbing that goes directly under the hilltop fort and into the desert below, and more foot traffic than it was designed for in 1156 AD, the original architecture is threatening to deteriorate. When I learn this, I’m happy to be staying just outside the fort. Rajiv’s guesthouse is only a couple blocks away, which means I get to enjoy splendid views without the guilt of contributing to the problems each time I flush the toilet.

Jaisalmer Fort India

However, we do stop for lunch at Jack’s friend’s restaurant where we soak in an endless rooftop view overlooking the entire sandy city. On our way down, I see a shoe repairman sitting on the ground with a tool kit. My $3 black moccasins from China have treated me well until now, but the soles are falling off and he says he can sew them back for 100 rupees ($1.50). I immediately remove them and stand barefoot as he professionally sews my soles. He doesn’t stop with that though. He then polishes both shoes and replaces the insoles with perfectly cut and shaped replacements. When he hands my shoes back, they look brand new.

View from Jaisalmer Fort India

“500 rupees,” he demands without looking up. That’s enough to feed his family for a week, and it’s certainly not the price we agreed on.

“But you said 100,” I reply.

“No. I do both shoes. I polish. I replace soles. 500 rupees, good price.”

“No, no.” I say. “You said one hundred, but I’ll give you two, for tip.” I hand it to him and he pushes it away, with attitude.

“You money no good!” he yells. “I say 500 rupees!!”

I turn to Sabrina and Jack, questioning. “Well, he did do a good job.” I reach into my purse to grab more money, not knowing which is the right thing to do is. To me, it’s still only $7 and I’m happy with the job. Plus, he probably needs it more than I do. To Sabrina, I’m only encouraging his behavior, and Jack agrees.

Jaisalmer Fort India Shoe Repair

I give him 200 rupees and walk away, feeling terrible and duped all at once. It’s not an unheard of trick in India, to do a seemingly kind gesture and then demand way too much for it. I’d seen it before, but not quite so forcefully, and I’d like to consider it a lesson learned, hopefully for both the shoe man and me.

But now I start to fear our seemingly sweet tour guide will also ask for a ridiculous sum once he drops us back at our guesthouse. I can picture it now – “I take you on motorcycle. Give you tour around fort. I pay for gas. You give me good price, fair price.” I’ve heard it too many times before, and I don’t want to be in that situation again, especially after he just witnessed how soft I can be.

As we walk back to his motorcycle, Jack profusely apologizes for “his people,” saying that many are prone to such scams for two reasons. One, because tourists like me will fall for it. And two, because many people desperately need it. This is why I’m so torn. I don’t want to encourage cheating, but I want to help where I can.

asialmer Fort Sari woman India

When our tour is finished, Jack brings us back to the guesthouse and joins us on the rooftop for chai. He’s friendly with Rajiv and Abdul, and I finally start to relax about him. I see, for the first time, that Jaisalmer is just a small town, filled with small town people, like me. For Jack, a Brahmin (the highest caste) who probably comes from a well-to-do family, he just wants to make friends, learn about cultures and prove that not all Indians are out to scam tourists. Abdul, the deliciously fabulous cook, brings us all veggie koftas and chicken curry for dinner, then sits down to join us in conversation. Rajiv reminds me of the boys back home with his laid back ways – beer in one hand, cigarette in the other – and effortless welcome. He started this guesthouse because he enjoys talking to people from all over the world, and I believe him. I’m staying here for free, and he still treats me like a friend.

As the sun goes down and the streetlights begin to twinkle, turning the yellow sandstone golden, I suddenly feel at home. So far, what I’ve seen of Jaisalmer makes me twinge with glee, and Jack promises to show me more tomorrow. The stars come out with a vengeance, the way they do back home, and I gaze up, soaking in the cool desert night. With this kind of hospitality in the midst of my favorite place in India to date, I find myself questioning why I would ever want leave.

Jaisalmer Fort India

…”many are prone to such scams for two reasons. One, because tourists like me will fall for it. And two, because many people desperately need it. This is why I’m so torn. I don’t want to encourage cheating, but I want to help where I can.”

What would you do?

Jaisalmer Fort India Jasailmer Fort HaveliJasailmer Fort India detailJasailmer Fort India detail

 


Scams in Jaisalmer, India
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

 

*If you’re visiting Jaisalmer, I highly recommend you stay with Rajiv at the Dylan Cafe & Guesthouse. It’s a great location, and the friendliest staff around. (I’m not being paid for this. They let me stay four nights for free, so I want to return the favor by sending business their way, and I would stay with them again in a heartbeat.)

Address: Gandhi Chowk, Amar Sagar Pol, Jaisalmer, RJ 345001, India
Phone:+91 98 28 561818
Facebook.com/DylanCafeAndGuestHouse
Website: http://www.dylancafeguesthouse.com/

Related MissAdventures

15 Comments

  1. As an Indian I know that foreign tourists are fleeced at every turn. You have written that you were caught in the dilemna of whether you were being defrauded and those defrauding you needed the money. The people you encountered look for tourists such as you and consider them fair game. Since you do not know of actual prices, which would be less than dirt cheap from where you come from, you are bound to be cheated by dishonest Indians. And, there are a lot of them around. I shudder to think of women foreign tourists travelling. I do not have the high brow or Taliban mentality that women should not be traveling unescorted. But believe me, it’s not very safe always these days. You should double check backgrounds of where you are staying. Maybe they did not charge you, but those who wanted to show you around did cheat you. Maybe they are hand in glove. The cobbler cheated you too. It should have cost at the most Rs 100 and not Rs 500. He took advantage that you were a woman foreign tourist. For an Indian he would have asked for only Rs 80 or even less. By no stretch of imagination could it be Rs 500. Your dilemna whether he was actually a needy man also did not help you. As a cobbler, he must be getting by. He could not resist the temptation to cheat. That is bad. If you tell such people that honesty is the best policy, they will laugh at you. It is best for people like you to travel in groups if you do not want to use the services of a good and established travel agency. As an Indian I feel helpless that foreign tourists like you are cheated and go away with a bad impression that Indians cannot be trusted. You must also have read about the scams that some people in power, particularly politicians, are alleged to be involved in. It is all over the newspapers each day. How can you have a good impression about India?

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful and honest comment. However, I did walk away with a good impression of India. I know that while many are out to cheat tourists, it doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. We know this before we enter the country – and it’s not just India where it happens. I met many friendly, wonderful Indians during my six weeks there, and I managed to fall in love with your country. In fact, I’m already eager to return.

      As a solo female traveler, I do travel smart. I have to. I know that being new anywhere means I don’t know what things should cost, but this is another good reason that I tend to befriend locals and they can help me. I paid the cobbler 200 rupees, and I knew it was too much. He originally asked for 100, and I gave him a ‘tip.’ I knew from the beginning that a local would get a different price, but that’s how it is in any third world country with a history of tourism. It’s rather smart thinking, as unfair as it is.

      I stayed for free at the guesthouse because I use a popular website called Couchsurfing.org, and my hosts are members on there. It was not a scam at all, and they were genuine nice people.

      One of the problems I found with India is how quick everyone is to talk bad about others, their own people. It only adds to the fact that it’s hard to know who to trust, for even those who tell you not to trust anyone can come across as untrustworthy. I think it only increases the fear that foreign tourists have in India, and it doesn’t make one guy look better by talking down another. In fact, it makes them all look bad. Fortunately, I choose to look past all of that and make my own decisions. I trust my gut almost entirely as it’s never led me astray, and I can sense a bad man from a good one, despite the words coming out of his mouth. I think a more positive outlook on mankind is needed these days.

  2. I am finding your stories from India so inspiring! Tony & I will be heading there at the tail end of this year and while I’m nervous, I’m also getting really excited. I know there will certainly be struggles, but based on your pictures, it really looks as though there is nowhere else in the world like India and I’m excited that I’ll get to see so many of these incredible places with my own eyes.

    As for how to deal with scams, I’ve spent enough time in this part of the world that I take a pretty hard line with that kind of thing. I think that when we just hand over money that this just makes the situation work because then people come to feel that all tourists are an easy mark and may even start to feel they are entitled to an unfair share of our money. I found this to be particularly bad in Cambodia where people will tell you to your face that they are not asking the right price but you should just pay the extra because the money means more to them. While I wouldn’t say they’re wrong, I find the attitude of some that they are entitled to my hard-earned money really offputting. I don’t mind paying a little extra here and there, it’s the price of traveling in this part of the world after all, but when I start getting charged double or more what the locals do, that annoys me. If I had been quoted 100, that’s what I would have paid, maybe a bit more as a tip. After all, you didn’t ask for all those additional services to be performed and the starting price he had asked you was already inflated to begin with!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Steph! You’re right – there really is no place else like India. It’s one of a kind in so many ways, and it’s special for each one. However, it took me about a month before I fell in love with the country because I received so much unwanted attention and the culture is just so different than anything I was used to (I spent about a year in Southeast Asia before). It will probably be an easier adjustment for you since you’re going with Tony – I found that I was approached far less when I was with another person, especially a male – and I wish you two the best for your trip! Can’t wait to read about it. How long will you stay there?

      You’re probably spot on with the scams. It irks me when they feel entitled to our money, especially because we’re said to have a lot of it based on the color of our skin. I think it’s safe to say that most backpackers probably don’t have an excessive savings account and we like to travel as cheap as possible, which only makes that attitude even worse. I try to remind myself of this when I’m in these situations, but sometimes I get a weak moment and feel bad! I was pretty tough when I first arrived, having been warned about all the scams, but I softened out about the time I had a swift change of heart about India. I found myself wanting to make a difference, even in one person’s life. I know the cobbler is not the one, as it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if I had given him 1,000 rupees with the attitude he had (he probably would have spent it all on booze or something), and money isn’t necessarily the way to do that. But I did find myself giving more, hoping it would help. If I go back, I’d love to do some volunteer work, especially after reading Nicole’s stories at Third Eye Mom. Do you follow her?

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Bhuwan says:

    Well if it is any consolation, the scamsters do not differentiate between a foreigner or an India tourist, they try similar tricks with both. A little bit of carefulness is warranted. Have empathy, but do not try to compensate with monetarily. I follow the principle of paying if I feel it is worth the value I am getting or just walking away, not worrying about whether I am getting cheated or being labeled as stone-hearted.

    • jessicajhill says:

      That’s great advice! You’re not the first person to tell me that Indians will also scam other Indians (such a shame), but at least that’s more difficult since you know what things should cost, or the general ballpark anyway. For us, we’re usually still getting a deal in comparison to the USA or Europe, but that doesn’t make it right. Thanks for your insight.

  4. Frank says:

    Great article and fantastic photos Jessica!
    Frank (bbqboy)

  5. These are great scams to know about. Thanks for sharing these.

  6. Megan says:

    Such beautiful images! INCREDIBLE!

  7. Nick says:

    The key is to find out from locals how much you should pay for rickshaws/taxis/goods etc and then stick to that price, it might be quite cheap compared to the Western countries but its a fair price and thats why we can and do travel in India due to the lower prices.

    Also make a fair offer and walk away 99% of times you will be chased down the street by the seller agreeing.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers