“Sorry sir, we don’t have”
“We just ran out. Maybe tomorrow.”
A simple nod that said it all. “No.”
Everywhere we went, the response was the same. Then they would point in another direction and tell me the store up the street would have some. The next place could help me. I believed them. For awhile. Until I started to realize, “How is it possible that every cell phone store just happens to be out of SIM cards? Really?” Something wasn’t right here.
Being a foreigner in India can be tough, especially if you take things personally. You’re going to stand out like a sore thumb, and the Indians that hassle you for rickshaws, in the market, and even phone carriers won’t bat an eye at denying you what you want or charging you exuberant rates. This was evident when I finally found a store that had a SIM card. We didn’t have all the necessary paperwork (copies of passport, miniature passport photos, a local address, etc.) so we purchased the card on the premise we’d come back and finish up. When we did there was a different man working, and as soon as he heard SIM card he said, “No, we do not have.” Well, joke’s on you buddy, we already got one! Seemed to me that the color of my skin was denying me the rights that the locals enjoyed. This was an eye opener.
The “SIM Experience” has been an analogy for travel in India. The easiest part about it was crossing the border. Two simple pieces of paper and a quick jaunt under an archway…and we were in. No questions asked. No bags searched. Man, if India is this simple we’re going to have a great time! ERRRRRH! (buzzer sound) Wrong answer! Since then we’ve seen hotel owners that operate “Indian Only” hotels, auto-rickshaw drivers that charge 4-5 times the price that locals pay, or even tourist standards like the Taj Mahal. Here an Indian entry ticket costs 20 rupees…but the foreign price is 750!
Don’t let me give you the wrong impression. India is a gargantuan country; based on statistics on the CIA’s website, it is second only to China in population. With well over a billion people, and for traveler’s who stick mainly to the touristy routes, you’re bound to run into the crowd that survives off of tourism. It’s cutthroat, and they know how to work the system. Once you find your way off the beaten path (or retreat to the safety of your hotel room) you will find some great times. Non-touristic camel safari’s, motorcycle rentals in the desert, cheap Indian alcohol, older mothers who take you in as their own, and evenings with Couchsurfers are just a few of the highlights that can be hassle-free.
Tomorrow it’s off to Bollywood to find my way into fame and fortune. Rumor has it that Westerners are picked up off the street to act as extras in films. Check back again to hear how this turns out, and to find out more about travels through Nepal, India, and England. Photos to come once Hanson Photography returns to stable ground.