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The hardest place to get to in Delhi is the place that all tourists are encouraged to visit when they arrive: the Government Tourism Office.
The Government Tourism Office will give you free maps, brochures, and friendly guidebooks recommending things to do and how to do them. The people there will tell you how much you should pay for a taxi, who to contact if a rickshaw driver won’t turn the meter on for you, and where the best places to book tours are.
The Government Tourism Office is located at 88 Janpath, in Connaught Place, and the reason it’s so hard to get to is that there are literally dozens of places in Connaught Place which just so happen to have the same name (one of them has cleverly posted its address as “Behind 88 Janpath”). These places, unlike the real GTO, will sell you tours, bus tickets, or book taxis for you. And unlike the real GTO, each one has an army of touts located throughout Connaught Place, each one willing to take you to “the real Government Tourism Office.” Each will discredit the others, telling you that they are touts, and that only he has your best interests in mind. The others are all on commission.
Nathaniel and I have been taken to several of these already, on days when we were bored and decided to be friendly and accept the advice of strangers. On Tuesday, on the verge of purchasing a tour of India, we decided it was time to visit the real thing.
Our first course of action was to map the address on Google to see what landmarks were nearby. We picked out an intersection, and set out in search of a rickshaw willing to take us there. Nathaniel told the driver the intersection. “Can you take us there?”
“Connaught Place? Yes, of course!”
And we set out with high hopes.
But the rickshaw driver did not drop us anywhere near the intersection we had asked for. 88 Janpath is a few blocks south of the circular Connaught Place, and we were (it turned out) at the northernmost point. So we sighed and started walking around the circle, trying to spot street signs as we went. Meanwhile, we were bombarded with questions from people we passed. “Sir! Where are you going sir!”, “Government Tourism Office, you are looking for?”, and even some “You are going the wrong way, sir!” We breathed a sigh of relief when we finally stepped through the doors.
We were glad we had gone. We asked about reliable tour agencies, and were told that there weren’t any on Main Bazaar. (“Main Bazaar not approved area. Impossible to be approved on Main Bazaar.” Somehow, this was not surprising to us.) The man behind the counter instead directed us to a tour agency just around the corner, who he promised would take good care of us.
This tour agency was very professional. We booked our tour that afternoon and promised to come back in the evening for our tickets and hotel vouchers.
This time, we were armed with a map. We showed it to the rickshaw driver, and pointed to the spot we needed to go, near Janpath. He nodded enthusiastically and we were off. But we stopped at what looked suspiciously like the same place we’d been dropped earlier that afternoon. I pulled out the map. “Can you show me where we are? We want to be on Janpath.”
Sorry, he couldn’t read, but weren’t we looking for the Tourism Office? No, we were looking for Janpath. Okay, he would take us directly to the Tourism Office.
He proceeded to drive us across the street to a shady-looking office marked, “Government of India Tourist Information.” We sighed, growing more annoyed by the minute, and started our long walk for the second time that day.
At this point we were not feeling particularly trusting of anyone, so when an Indian man fell into step beside Nathan and asked where we were from, he answered brusquely and didn’t make eye contact. “Sorry, sir,” said the friendly man, “I am not following you. I am going my own way. My house in center. I do not mean to harass you.”
Nathaniel relented a little. “Sorry,” he said, “we’ve been harassed a lot today already.”
We made a little small talk, and the man apologized for all the untrustworthy characters lurking about. Where were we going?
I told him we knew where we were going, thank you. He asked again. It would be no problem for him to take us wherever we were going. We told him the name of the building where both the GTO and our tour agency were located. “Ah,” he said, “The Government Tourism Office. I can take you there. Lots of false ones. Janpath, All India Tourism Office.” We assured him we knew where we were going, but to no avail. I did refuse to put away my map, though.
We arrived at our destination before our guide had delivered us to his GTO of choice (which was, predictably, not the correct one). We got a particular satisfaction out of waving goodbye to him as he turned around to see where we had gone.