Observations from a Foreigner in India: Sarvaan learning about the Novice Travelers Tax (NTT)
Observations from a Foreigner in India
Written initially in Dec 2008 as a novice traveler, a few months before Dennis had become Sarvaan. Read ‘Giving Osho a Chance‘ which he also wrote in those days.
Today marks the last day of my first full month in India (Pune), so I thought I would write a bit about my observations of life here, good and bad.
They say the longer you stay in a foreign place the less expensive it becomes and no truer words have ever been spoken. Being ignorant always comes at a price, so it’s a good thing that I’m learning about the Novice Travelers Tax (NTT) while in India, where my naiveté doesn’t break the bank.
The NTT has hit me the hardest on accommodation, where for the first 10 days I paid an embarrassingly high 1300 rupees ($26) a day for a shabby hotel on MG Road. Realizing I would go broke at that rate, I packed my things and went to try my luck in Koregaon Park. There a shifty looking rickshaw driver offered me a place for 600 and I took it. He also offered me low quality hash but that’s another story.
A few days later I cut my rent in half once again when I met the owner, who offered me 300 to stay an extra week. After that another traveler showed me a nice guest house near OSHO’s back gate, which I took for only 166 a day and with it came the end of me paying any taxes!
The rickshaw drivers certainly tried to snatch some tax every chance they could. These guys will screw you sideways while smiling at you through shiny white teeth. My first day in Pune, the bus dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. I had an address but no clue how to get there. A sweet looking rick came to my aid with a smile made of gold, saying he knew exactly where it was. We spent the next 3 hours joy riding up and down the same road, while he feigned ignorance and showed me every hotel except the one I needed.
When he finally “demystified” the location of my hotel, which happened to be less than 1 km away, he asked me 1000 rupees for his time. I bargained him down to 700, though I found out later that it should have been less than 50. He wouldn’t make 700 on his best day, if not for a dim-witted tourist like me.
Other drivers pretend they don’t have change, and most will say their meter doesn’t work. All of them triple the fair and cry foul when you refuse to pay. I began undercutting them just as absurdly, in an attempt to keep them honest, while secretly hoping to even the score.
The famous Indian beggars try their best as well. The Dalai Lama has a saying I love – “Never let the misfortune of others be an obstacle to your generosity.” It’s so beautiful, but here it’s just not smart, at least not with money. If you pay them in cash, your NTT goes straight to the pimp, so to speak.
I keep seeing the usual suspects every day, and they are relentless. One night I almost cuffed a 10 year old boy who was walking with crutches. I saw his older sister using them earlier in the day. They were both awful actors. He pestered me the length of the street, several times trying to block my path with a wretched look on his face. When I finally yelled at him to leave me alone, his response was to swing one of the crutches at me on 2 healthy legs. I took them from him and threw it over a fence.
I did come across a young boy the other day whom I tried to shoo away at first, but when he started singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey…” I gladly gave the child some money. He earned it, and warmed my heart by looking at the money as if he had just won the lottery.
The street vendors are a maddening lot too. They follow me up and down the street to sell me useless shit like bongos. When I tell them I’m not interested, they plead for me to buy it for family back home. It just never ends.
I have learned that anyone who wants a second of your time also wants to get into your wallet. On one of my first days, a nice man stopped me in the street and convinced me to see his magic show even though I repeatedly told him I would not give him any money.
I must admit it was pretty good, if you were a 12 year old. I waited patiently for him to finish, then attempted to pass him 10 rupees as a concession. He looked at me as if I was crazy and asked for 500. I explained that he could take the 10 but he was out of his F’ing mind if he thought I would give him any more. I have since seen him in the streets five times and still he tries to get me to see more of his magic show. Unbelievable.
Worst of all however, are the ear cleaning scammers. I was happily walking down the street a few days ago when I felt something cold go into my ear. Shocked and frightened, I jerked my head away to see an Indian man standing in front of me. He pointed to his hand which was holding a small metal rod with a brown grime on the end of it. He had just inserted that disgusting muck into my ear, then attempted to persuade me that he had actually just taken it out and that I needed a good cleaning. I almost cleaned his clock instead!
Onto food. I was expecting to relish some of India’s finest cuisine, but I can count on one hand (more like 3 fingers) the number of excellent meals I’ve had this past month, and one of them wasn’t Indian food at all. I took more than half of my meals at the Yogi Tree, not for the great food, but for the simple fact that I knew it was a safe bet.
One time I went to what looked like a nice restaurant with many patrons inside and a seemingly clean interior. Before I finished my meal however, my stomach started to rumble, and I spent the next 4 days on the pot with the worst diarrhea I ever had. Not fun when you are doing Dynamic Meditation! It’s impossible to say for sure, but I suspect that the person who prepared my meal wasn’t a fan of toilet paper and didn’t quite wash his left hand thoroughly enough. You really never can tell.
The amazing thing, is that I am having a love affair with incredible India. Despite the Delhi belly, pollution, beggars and feckless rickshaw drivers, this place is pure magic. I came here to see how the other half of the world lives and I am amazed at what I have witnessed. And never have I felt such freedom.
On every other street corner I find temples that are dedicated to various Hindu gods. At all hours of the day I see the faithful paying their respects with shoes off and palms pressed. I see Moms being Moms and Dads being Dads, with the children having no shortage of love.
The beggars are a fact of life. The rickshaw drivers go away when I decide to walk and when it comes to food, I may not be experiencing the cleanliness or convenience of Western eateries, but when I do find a gem, I appreciate it like it’s the last good meal I might ever eat. I don’t take these things for granted anymore; I just appreciate it in the moment. I appreciate it even more when I see a kid sifting through trash on the side of the road.
The best part of India however is the people I meet. This is the land of mystics and seekers. They come from all over the planet and from all walks of life. The sheer amount of people I have met who came here in search of meaning and answers, is staggering. We all share variations of the same story and enjoy different levels of understanding.
For me, India is a place of silver linings, where beauty and intrigue are ever present, if partly hidden. Pune has given me a taste of Indian culture and after just 30 days, it feels like home. Soon I will be moving on, to see the overwhelming diversity of this magnificent country. However, it will be bitter sweet as Pune will forever be the city that welcomed me at the start of the greatest journey of my life.
Text by Sarvaan