Once, just once in my life, I want to visit one destination in India where I won’t get ripped off, cheated, abused, intimidated and generally made to feel like concentrated crap.
Just once, I want to walk into a place, relax and listen to what it has to say to me, and walk out in one piece. Just once.
Mahabalipuram, near Chennai, is a UNESCO heritage site that has been on my bucket list since many years. When I took a day off to visit this temple town that dates back to the 7th century, I thought it would be a memorable experience. It is after all, a UNESCO site.
Memorable it certainly was, for all the wrong reasons.
The instant I got off my car, a horde of hawkers and touts descended upon me. Buy this, try that, come with me and I’ll give you a good time … they just would not leave me alone. And then I made the enormous mistake of hiring a guide to take me around. And I wound up paying him Rs.750/- for no particular reason. He took me around in my own car, to monuments that were easy to locate anyway, and gave me information that I had already looked up in Wikipedia anyway. But he did ensure that the right hawkers ripped me off.
The arrogant moron at the ticket counter gave me a nasty shock, as he refused to issue a normal ticket to me. The fee for Indian nationals is Rs.10/- only. For foreign nationals, it is Rs.250/-. I never understood why foreign tourists must cough out at least ten times what Indians do, wherever they go. Do they get anything more for the huge amount of extra money they pay? I hardly think so.
For some absurd reason, the afore-mentioned arrogant moron at the ticket counter was convinced I was a foreign national, and demanded Rs.250/-. And then demanded to see my ID. I offered my driver’s license, and he felt it was forged. I told him I’d rather go back to Bangalore than pay Rs.250/- to that arrogant jack-ass. Finally, he relented and gave me a Rs.10 ticket.
Hawkers, hawkers, everywhere. Every nook. Every corner. Every turn. And they will not leave you alone. They go on and on. They chase you. They harass you. Until you buy something. And my friendly guide ensured that I did buy a lot of worthless artifacts, at astounding prices.
The day ended with my taxi driver ripping me off, and forcing me to pay an extra Rs.500/- for a speeding ticket that he got on the way back from Mahabalipuram.
I had it coming to me. A fool and his money, after all. Should have just stayed at home.
Why do these hawkers and touts think that tourists from another land owe them a living? What value do they provide to the places that they infest? They did not build any of the magnificent monuments that people like me travel hundreds of miles to admire. They do not maintain the place, they in fact soil it with their presence.
They abuse the law with impunity. They loot tourists blatantly. They harass, they harangue, they intimidate. And the local custodians of the law simply stand by and watch.
And then we wonder why India’s share of the world tourism market is less than ONE PERCENT. That’s right. Mera Bharat Mahaan has less than 0.72% of the global tourism market.
Bottom line: Mahabalipuram is strictly avoidable. Admire this ancient temple town in the safety of the Internet.
Mahabalipuram was certainly the experience of a lifetime. That’s because I will never go there again in my lifetime.
Ah well, I did take some good pictures. Enjoy my pictures, and be happy you didn’t get ripped off, unlike me.