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Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Wheeling and dealing

I had arranged to meet Nazia near her place and went out from the youth hostel to see if I could find a taxi and negotiate a reasonable fare. There was only one auto there but another guy was standing chatting to the driver. This guy asked where I wanted to go. When I told him he said he could arrange a taxi for me and quoted a fare. It was very reasonable but there was a catch. I had to let the taxi driver take me to three shops. I was not required to buy anything but had to browse in an interested fashion for ten minutes in each shop. The explanation was that the driver gets fuel coupons (whatever they are) in return for bringing prospective customers to the shop.

I'm usually wary of touts but from my angle this seemed a reasonable deal. I could play the game in the shops and have no difficulty saying 'no' when needed. As an experienced traveller I also have an idea of what prices really should be in an Asian country.

I agreed to the deal, a taxi was called and off we went. I didn't even have to lie in the shops. I simply told them I was looking for some shirts for my grandchildren but I wasn't buying today. If they had what I wanted I'd be back before I left. I asked for business cards and jotted down notes. But the reality is that there was no chance I'd go back to those shops. They had some nice stuff but prices were similar to what I'd expect to pay in Australia. Let's face it, there had to be a big mark up to pay commissions to the taxi driver and the tout. There were not many customers in any of the shops and those they had were Westerners. If you buy where Westerners buy, you'll pay Westerner's prices.

The system worked for me if not the sellers who tried hard to entice me to buy. But I eventually found the souvenirs I was looking for in Rishikesh and I paid Indian prices.

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