I sailed into Delhi two days ago to finally escape my Goa misery, and ended up sharing a pasable room in Pahar Ganji, across from the New Delhi Railway Station.

Delhi swelled with Holi madness as female foreigners got doused with plastic bag water balloons yesterday.  For some reason, many were aimed at my arse.  Dirty birds.

It was time to get outta the hotbed of Delhi and onto Agra.  I hauled my packs to the New Delhi Station at a sobering hour when the only humans awake were chai wallahs.

You always prepare yourself for who might hoodwink you, but I was still surprised.

Let me give you the lowdown:

They Lie

I decided to compare train ticket prices from New Delhi to Agra at the travel agent attached to my hotel.  The proprietor seemed like a decent guy, offering my Scottish friend and I a clean room with a scalding hot shower for 600 per night.  When it came to booking a train ticket, he balked and claimed there were no trains to Agra, citing some demonstration was blocking the lines.  He then slid across a receipt for a bus ticket to the tune of 500 RS, a signal for me to pay up.

Truth: Agra trains leave every hour from Delhi and lines are never blocked unless a major disaster happens.  Take note of distance when booking trains or buses.  There is no way Delhi to Agra would cost 500 RS, more like 140 to 250 RS (depends on method of travel).  I found out after there is a demonstration at one of the lines, but not the one I wanted.  I’d call his methodology sprinkling the truth with lies.

They Lie Again

After dinner one night we walked back to our hotel and got stopped by a man hovering in front of the train ticket reservation center.  He tried to put the scare into us by stating we should book tickets now because the booking office will be closed during Holi.

Truth: Indian Railways never closes on holidays.  People depend on them to be running in order to visit family during holidays.

Misdirection

I had filled out my reservation request, was about to join the line to buy a ticket when two touts approached.  They pointed to an area around the building and said that’s where I had to buy my tickets, not where I was standing.  “Oh yes miss, you need to buy at windows 65 and 66.”  Hmmm.. around the building??  I sure wondered why the window in front of my face said “reservation”.

Truth: After hassling me twice, I promptly told them to piss off, that I wasn’t born yesterday, and know they don’t work for Indian Railways.  This scam is a tout trying to get you to their office and separate a good chunk of rupees from your money belt.  Don’t fall for it!

Traveler’s Reservation Center

Indian Railways created a tourist quota, setting aside a certain number of tickets for foreigners to purchase.  This area is a usually a separate office upstairs or downstairs at a train station.  Forigners aren’t charged extra for tickets, unless you go through a travel agent, but the ques are excessively long and the procedure complicated.  Not to mention segregating you from the fascinating process of buying a train ticket.

Truth: Okay, the traveler’s reservation center is not a scam, but I managed to buy tickets at the general counter.  I simply filled out a form  and stood in line with locals.  I didn’t have to show my passport, be asked insignificant questions or sign a form in blood.  Going early helps to beat the lines if you decide to avoid buying at the reservation center.

  • Read The Planet D’s post on common scams you will encounter.
  • Check the Internet for reports on rail lines closing or bonafide delays.  I ask around.  I usually find shopkeepers are pretty honest.  Check info with a real tourist office, not just a travel agent.
  • Two great sites to check rail times or get advice:  Make My Trip or India Mike.

It seems like all my posts lately on India are negative, but after encountering this I felt awful for those travelers who might get sucked into one of these.  The frustration you swim in afterwards can color your feelings about a country.

Indian rail travel is an experience not to be missed, knowing what to expect is half the battle.

Photo: Wilson Loo