The Ghost Scam that got me to Leh
As always, a chance encounter threw my travel plans for a spin, and I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. There I was, minding my own business on the busy streets of Delhi, walking around looking for a SIM card and trying to kill time before I could escape this hectic environment for the calmer north. Little did I know just how far north I would end up.
I was crossing the street when a local fellow approached me with the all too common phrase “where are you from”. Over my travels, I’ve learnt to avoid these people because no one really cares where you’re from. It’s a clear indication that they’ve identified you as a foreigner and are likely going to try to squeeze something out of you. He then asked me where I was going and what I was looking for, and my alarm bells started ringing. I shot back a dismissive “I’m just looking for a SIM card” and tried to hurry along when he calmly told me not to worry and that he would help me find one. Alarm bells still ringing.
After walking around aimlessly for a bit, he suggested that the best place to find one would be at a travel agency. What? Big Ben of alarm bells were going off at that point, but I reluctantly entered, thinking that they wouldn’t have one and I’d book it the other way before I walked out with an all inclusive package to Kathmandu. To my surprise however, the travel agent did have one to sell. Looks like my local helper knew what he was talking about.
As as the travel agent was loading it into my phone, he started, as expected to prod me with questions about what my travel plans were. Ok, now I get it, lure me in for a SIM card and then get me hooked on a package. Good job team. My alarm bells don’t ring for nothing.
I told him I was just going to Dharamsala and then back down, to which he explained that, seeing as I already made it to India, I can, and might as well, do much more than that. He described the areas further even north, namely Leh and Manali, that have as much, if not more to offer. I countered, telling him that I wanted to get there on a motorbike, and they were too far. He confirmed that it’s a great plan, but that starting from Delhi is boring and pointless, full of trucks and highways and little to see. His recommendation was that I get a bike up north in Leh, and make my way down to Manali and Dharamsala, and hit a few more sights on the way. This guy was good. Motorbike the whole way through the mountains, or start in smoggy Delhi, dodging 18-wheelers? He had me stumped.
All good recommendations, but then he started putting together a package, and I knew for sure that this is where it was going to happen. Guaranteed he was going to throw in a few extras, or hike the price on the line items. He included the flight, hotel and bike, while I frantically googled the prices that these should actually come out to as he was typing every thing in. When I compared the prices I found with the total he put together, I was astonished to see that they matched. I even checked some travel blogs that listed expected bike rental rates in Leh, and those matched too. We then worked out a drop off fee that would allow me to drop the bike off in Dharamsala, which would allow me to road trip it all the way down from Leh, and I just couldn’t find a reason to say no.
And so here I sit in Leh, surrounded by the Himalayas, silent alarm bells still ringing as I try to figure out how I got scammed. But my masala omelette with an aloo parantha breakfast was so good and the scenery so picturesque that I’m starting to think that everything might actually have gone right. Again.
Maybe the scam was that I’m only now adjusting to the altitude. But then again, he even had the decency to warn me about that.