Getting scammed is everyone’s travel nightmare. We headed back to the big sign we had seen earlier that said ‘Cafe Teenino’ but couldn’t really figure out where it was. Under the sign was a door to a movie theater. While we stood there confused and in need of caffeine, a sharp looking dude dressed like an Italian, in a fitted saffron shirt and skinny trousers came up to us. “Are you looking for Cafe Teenino? It’s here, come here around the corner.”
I have to admit that my paranoid meter gets activated when someone is like “follow me” – it instantly puts me on the defensive. But he walked around the corner to a little doorway with a handwritten sign “Cafe Teenino” above the doorway. We talked for a few minutes. He asked where we were from and told us that after we had coffee we should go to the handicraft market and then he left – presumably to tell more people how to get to what must have been his cafe.
When we looked in the doorway we saw a steep set of wooden stairs and a man dressed all in white with a white skullcap sitting on the steps, holding his head in his hands. Somehow a dark doorway and steep stairs didn’t look welcoming enough, so we kept walking.
Not even 10 steps later a tuk-tuk driver starts yelling at us from the road. “Handicraft market? I can take you to the handicraft market.” We say ” No thanks” and wave him off but he jumps out of the tuk-tuk and starts to walk down the road with us. “Where are you from? Where are you headed?” He suddenly looks at us closely, squinting his eyes. “Hey this is your mom!”
If you know anything about the history of my son and I, you’ll know that this guy was very observant. People often awkwardly mistake us for a couple- which makes me feel youthful and uncomfortable and my son feel aged and uncomfortable.
He tells us about the handicraft market- he says “Connaught Place has a 28% tax so that they can make money from tourists. My Indian Government” he says sarcastically. “You should go to the CCI market. They have handicrafts- everything, very cheap – no tax. It’s sponsored by the Indian government and has no tax.”
As we are walking there’s a place called “Chai Wallah” and since we missed coffee we duck in. The tuk-tuk driver goes his merry way and we have tea. Zach gets a turmeric tea – much like a golden milk – incredibly sweet ( to cover the distinctive turmeric flavor I think) and I get saffron tea. The ingredients are innocuous (saffron, milk, sugar). When my tea arrived it was in a small flowerpot looking terra cotta cup. Not a glazed terra cotta mug- a literal flowerpot without a hole in the bottom. The edge was rough and when I ran my finger along the side, it came back orange with clay.
So, as one does, I just drank it.
Back on the street we try to find this market. A friendly western-dressed gentleman starts talking to us. We tell him we are looking for the CCI market. “Oh yes,” he says, “that’s a good one. I have to go but let me tell you how to get there- you can walk but it’s a bit far and all the vendors will hassle you as you walk by. Better to take a tuk-tuk . “
We walk to the corner and there’s a tuk-tuk. Then he asks the driver for us “…CCI market hain. Thirty no, too much. Twenty, no. Ten, twenty no ten ten yes? Ten” he says. “Okay he will take you for ten rupees” then we thank him as we jump in the tuk-tuk.
This was our first ride in a tuk-tuk and not a car. It’s a totally different experience. We felt like we were right in the traffic as the cows walked past, the trucks billowed hot petrol fumes and the motorcycles edged their way thru the tangle of vehicles on the road.
The market wasn’t a “market” like we think of things in the west. It was a 3 story building. And when we came in they said, “Tell us what we can help you find.” It reminded me of the department stores in old tv shows. You know the ones- where the elevator operator says things like “6th floor, Ladies Goods.”
Zach looked at long shirts and I looked at salwar kameez. They were so bright, and none of them were cotton. I was kind of shocked at the prices. 5400r for a cheaper set? 7500r for another?? But I was already in a well oiled machine and without the previous experience of shopping for this stuff, I had no idea of what the prices were even supposed to be.
After paying, the tailor came to take measurements for Zachs custom pants and my sleeves that had to be added. We looked around the rest of the store checking out the statues and the rugs and chatting with the staff. There was no question in our minds that we were not buying a rug or tchotchkes. Not only would it blow the budget, we literally couldn’t fit anything else in our backpacks. At each section they graciously offered tea and conversation.
INDIA TIP – CHAI
When you go to store and they offer you tea- don’t take the tea. You are not in their house and they are using it to endear themselves to you. You will feel as if you owe them something. Never take the tea- it’s emotional bribery. They will use this ‘connection’ to guilt you into spending money if you let them. If you are at someone’s house though- always take the tea. To refuse the tea is not only insulting but literally robbing them of the opportunity to be generous.
Got it? Never take the tea from strangers ALWAYS take the tea from friends.
Isn’t it odd how 3 “random & friendly” people recommended the same place out of the blue? The hustle is done SO well and SO naturally that only 3 days later as I wrote this down, did I see that these guys MUST be getting kickbacks from this market.
They talked about it in the same way and all did their best to get us to the front door. I’m really impressed it is done so well and so seamlessly.
As if everyone wandering around Connaught place wants to be so helpful to tourists and they are all big fans of this one store. Why would an Indian even care about a store for tourists? Full of rugs and jewelry and Chinese produced statues of Hindu deities??
Just the realization about this bit of theater might be worth the $150 I spent there on the ‘silk and cotton blend’ clothing that obviously was polyester. I wore it on our next plane ride and kept smelling a horse, until I realized that the horse was ME sweating in polyester. In an airport bathroom, that outfit went into the trash.
Don’t feel stupid if you get scammed. There are people who make it their vocation- and likely not out of spite. I like to tell people when something goes wrong so that they can know what to look out for.
Seriously- check TripAdvisor for the areas you are visiting!