From Rishikesh, our long transit to the small, quiet Himalayan village of Chopta started out with just the sort of scammy behavior we’d grown accustomed to in our travels (especially in India). Our hired private taxi picked us up at our guesthouse an hour later than scheduled, and we were off… well, so we thought. First, we’d need to make an unplanned stop to pick up his “brother”, who needed a ride for an indeterminate portion of the way.
Now, I admit this may sound innocent enough, and had it been the first time a taxi driver had decided to pull this one on us, we would have let it slide. But it wasn’t the first time. Sometimes it’d be the driver’s friend or relative, but either way, it was rare that we’d hire a taxi and find ourselves alone in the car, and the tagalong would rarely need to go the whole distance – it was never just to keep the driver company. This happened so commonly in India that we envisioned people throughout the country, knowingly awaiting taxi rides that would take them where they needed to go, just as soon as a tourist paid a driver to make it happen. The idea that they would share the cost of our ride seemed as foreign to them as cows walking in city streets did to us.
What was usually a minor annoyance was pretty costly this time around, though. We had trouble finding a cab to take us at the standard rate (the price is different for locals and tourists, but even the rate we were told to expect was much lower than anyone would agree to), and we were paying 70 dollars for the day’s ride. On top of that, his “brother” was a chatterbox, meaning our nice, quiet ride into the Himalayas would now be spent trying to tune them out. We were agitated. I gathered the hubris to lean forward, “So is this a shared taxi for part of the way? If so, you need to pay us for your share of the ride.” They both laughed and shook their heads, “haha, no no, this is my brother”, then turned to resume their chat. I persisted. “Well, I’m asking because we paid a very high rate for this taxi and we were told it would be private. We don’t mind if it’s not private, but it makes sense that he should pay, just like us, for the ride.” Our driver looked puzzled and laughed again, “Sorry, I don’t understand. English not good.” Hmm… it sure as hell was good a half hour ago, I thought. Sigh. I decided to give up for a while.
Another half-hour passed, then a little more. Eventually, we stopped so “his brother” could get out at his stop. I asked his brother once more – purely on principle, not for the money – since we’d grown really tired of this trick. Once more, a laugh and a shake of the head. His brother shut the door and left.
We started to drive again, and awkward silence filled the car between the driver and us. I leaned forward, thinking I’d have a last word… after all, relations were shot at this point anyway. “Sir, I just want to say that we felt what you did was wrong. We don’t like being cheated, and it happens to us here every day. It’s not about the money, it’s that you’re not being being fair to us.” I then lost my cool and added something about bad karma, which I immediately felt embarrassed to have said to a Hindu man. He half-way apologized, and said it wouldn’t happen again. A few miles later, he stopped the car and got out, “breakfast!” Oh no thanks, we ate already this morning (during the hour we were waiting for the taxi to show up…). “I didn’t,” he said, while walking away to sit down in a restaurant. We sat in the car while he ordered and ate.
I looked over at Steph, fuming, and worried more delays would mean we’d be driving on these dangerous cliffside roads past dark. Are these the moments that will stand out in our minds when we think back on our time in India? We really hoped not. The great things we’d heard about our next destination had better be true…