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Gangs of Wasseypur Poster

The Time I Was Nearly Kidnapped in India & How to Avoid Stalking

Stalking. It’s only ever happened to me once in India, that I know of. Once is enough to give you that sickening feeling in your stomach and ask yourself, “What could have happened?”

The sun was setting in Ranchi, the capital of one of the poorest states in India, Jharkhand. I’d just left my hotel at 4:30 pm to pick up some cough losengers from the nearby market.

As I searched the busy Upper Bazaar for a medicine shop a man wearing dark sunglasses that hid his eyes, dark blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a brown leather jacket walked past me singing to himself.

He looked like a typical Bollywood gangster with his hair slicked back. And after all, I was in the state of gangsters as depicted in the bleak crime film Gangs of Wasseypur.

Gangs of Wasseypur movie poster.

Gangs of Wasseypur movie poster.

He looked strange with the glasses on (often criminals try to hide their eyes, just like how we fail to keep eye contact when lying). He stared at me as he walked past, I knew something wasn’t right there and then. I kept walking, keeping an eye on him from the corner of my eye.

That’s when I saw him turn and begin to follow a few meters behind me. My instincts kicked in. Just with that small interaction, I knew there wasn’t something right about him. The way he was conspicuously dressed and his turning immediately after seeing me confirmed it.

Always trust your gut

As I reached the end of the market, I turned around, and he began pretending to look at a clothing stall.

I stared at him, so he knew I was watching him. I took a right turn and began circling the market. I turned around again, to find him still behind me. I stood there staring blankly at him. He knew I was watching him. He passed me and then began pretending to look at another clothing stall.

Mimicking my movements

I quickly made my way out of the small market lanes and onto the nearby main road. I turned around as I walked and there he was, following.

While I was in the busy market with people around I was safe.

While I was on the main road, I was safer as Police often have posts on the main roads. I found some kind of enforcement vehicle that wasn’t Police, so I stood there for a minute, and my stalker disappeared.

A Bazaar in India. Photo by Debajyoti Das.

A Bazaar in India. Photo by Debajyoti Das.

At this point, I knew without a doubt that he was following me. I was creeped out. It reminded me of another traveler’s story where in Amritsar she was followed and ran into a public toilet thinking he wouldn’t enter, but he did. He told her he wouldn’t leave until she paid him.

I’d lost sight of my stalker. But he hadn’t lost sight of me.

I finally found a medicine store and bought what I needed. The store was raised off the road. I looked out from my vantage point over the market for him. Then I looked to my left. It felt like a scene from a horror movie. There he was, two shops away, staring at me.

I kept staring back at him. I thought about taking a photo of him. But I didn’t, I couldn’t see any Police nearby, and I didn’t want to annoy him without them nearby – after all this state is famous for gangsters and violent far-left radical communist terrorists called Naxalites.

Find the police

A second later, as I kept looking across the market for Police, I saw two paramilitary officers patrolling with AK-47s slung across their backs.

I walked slowly down the stairs and ducked through the food stalls in my way and jumped a small fence to get closer to them.

I turned to watch my stalker; he stood there watching me cross the market. He hadn’t put two and two together yet. As soon as he saw me greet the army officers, I watched him casually and methodically escape into the crowd. He didn’t want to be pointed out.

After explaining to the officer I was being followed, he, of course, asked me, “Which man is following you?” But it was too late. He told me to come back to him if he bothers me again.

I wasn’t going to risk bumping into him again, not after dark, so I retired to my hotel for the night. Luckily my hotel was in the opposite direction the stalker went.

What did he want with me exactly?

Terrorists and guns in Jharkhand. From the Jharkhand Police's Twitter.

Terrorists and guns in Jharkhand. From the Jharkhand Police’s Twitter.

I had been warned not to go out after dark in Jharkhand because of the Naxalite tensions. But I didn’t know about the kidnappings there.

I thought this guy just wanted to rob me when I went into a quiet alleyway. But as my friend told me when I got back to Delhi, it was likely more sinister than that.

The Naxalites pay people to monitor the markets for kidnapping targets. Foreigners, politicians and their kin are the targets.

Luckily, following my own travel safety advice for this scenario paid off.

Here’s what to do if someone is following you in India

This advice below is taken from my quintessential India Survival Guide (Quick-Start Safety Guide), it’ll have you prepared and feeling confident about travelling in India as you enjoy reading it on the plane ride over.

  1. Keep calm and breathe.
  2. Verify you’re being followed by turning around multiple times to check if your turns are being mimicked. Stop and see if they pass you or not, then continue and look again.
  3. The moment you’ve verified it, begin making your way to a safe place like a bank, showroom, international brand’s store, or main road – anywhere with people. Do not isolate yourself or go into a place like a public toilet where there may be nobody.
  4. As soon as you’re somewhere safe, inform people you’re being followed.
  5. Call the Police on 100 or ask someone to take you to a nearby officer. The stalker should leave once they see the Police. Have the officer walk you to your hotel or assist you to your next destination.
Shop in India. Photo by Martin Garrido.

How to Avoid Being Overcharged in Stores in India

I never used to think twice about the change I was being given or the prices I was being charged in New Zealand, besides we barely use cash so any overcharges on my cards can be disputed at the bank. Unfortunately, I took that bad habit to India.

One day while I was staying in a hotel off the busy main market in Karol Bagh, New Delhi, I went to the store with just 100 rupees in my pocket. That was my budget to get a few drinks. I picked up 5 Tropicana juice packets worth 20 rupees each and went to the cashier. He said, “120 rupees.” I knew the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) printed on the drinks was just 20 rupees each. “Why are you charging me 20 rupees more?”, I asked. He quickly said, “Oops, sorry.”

I realised that same week that the same thing was happening at the Mother Dairy store at the end of the road. The cashier was charging me 20 rupees for 500 ml of milk when the MRP was 15. When I told him, he just looked at me and handed me my 5 rupee change. From then onwards he began charging me the MRP.

Check your receipts! Photo by Leon Brocard.

Check your receipts! Photo by Leon Brocard.

That’s when I realised I’d probably been getting overcharged for weeks. Since I started scrutinising my bills and change, I’ve found countless cashiers trying to give me incorrect change. Sometimes it’s small, sometimes it’s hundreds of rupees. It’s so frequent that it happens every couple of days to me in Delhi.

Now when it happens, I stand there and keep looking at the cashier, and then they re-open their cash drawer and hand over the rest of the change. They know what they’ve done, they’re just trying to make a quick buck off an unsuspecting foreigner. Not anymore though, and not from you either now!

How to Avoid Being Overcharged in Stores in India

  1. Always check the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) printed on products. By law, retailers can’t charge above them!
  2. Always know, at least roughly, what your total bill will be.
  3. Always check that the change given is correct.
  4. If you’re at a store with a computer system, make sure you take the receipt and double check it while leaving the store.

You also need to avoid counterfeit money in India too. Check out my India Survival Guide (Quick-Start Safety Guide) book for full info and photos on how to do that.

Is PDA (Public Display of Affection) Safe in India. Photo by tjollans.

Is PDA (Public Display of Affection) Safe in India?

Yesterday I was shocked to read that two Swiss tourists had been attacked by 3 teen and 2 adult men near the impressive Fatehpur Sikri fort. The reason they were severely beaten shows the risks of PDA (Public Display of Affection) in India.

In large Indian cities, it’s common to see couples holding hands, hugging, and in nearly all large parks hiding behind trees or bushes doing more. People are more liberally minded in the cities. But in smaller rural towns like Fatehpur Sikri (near Agra and the Taj Mahal), the mentality of people, especially men, is very conservative.

Youths harass Swiss couple in Agra, then thrash them brutally

The Swiss couple being treated at a local hospital.

You can see their mentality in attacker’s explanation, “We saw them getting intimate… We thought that the couple was doing something which they shouldn’t.” They thought they saw the Swiss couple doing something they shouldn’t, like kissing or cuddling, so they took it upon themselves to thrash the couple until they were lying lifeless on the dusty ground. In India, this is called moral policing.

The man suffered a blood clot and fractured skull and the women a broken arm, amongst the bruising and bleeding.

Their reasoning most likely makes absolutely no sense to foreigners. To them though, they saw people doing something they consider morally wrong, so they took it upon themselves to police the issue. They were also offended that the couple would not take selfies with them after they’d passed comments at the couple. Mob rule and moral policing still happen in India. The good news is the attackers were caught quickly by Police.

This is one of the reasons you don’t see PDA in India. As a foreigner in India, it’s certainly best to avoid PDA, especially outside of the main cities.

5 Common Problems Foreign Travellers Face in India. Photo by Miraage.clicks.

5 Common Problems Foreign Travellers Face in India

India is both an incredible and challenging place to travel. Luckily, the incredible blows your mind and the challenging makes you a stronger and more street-smart person. That’s why so many people find India such a rewarding place to travel. You see amazing sights, and you’re put in situations that allow you to learn and grow as a person. This is something we as humans thrive on and enjoy.

Below are 5 of the common problems/challenges you’ll learn to overcome in India.


Always bargain when shopping in India. Photo by Ramnath Bhat.

Always bargain when shopping in India. Photo by Ramnath Bhat.

In India everyone bargains. If you don’t join in and bargain too, you’ll be paying 3 or 4 times more than locals. Fixed priced shops exist but are few and far between and often overpriced. Instead of price tags locals also simply know how much things costs. For example, I paid 100 INR for a kilogram of mangoes and after talking to a friend found out the going rate is 70 INR. The fruit seller expected me to bargain or know the going rate.

While I was in Amritsar recently, a rickshaw driver approached two local friends and m and asked us where we wanted to go. We were just going 1 km away and we knew that such a short distance should only be around 30 INR. He quoted us 150 INR! 5 times the actual amount. We laughed and didn’t even bother to try bargain with him because often these guys are just targeting unprepared tourists and won’t bargain. We walked a few more metres down the road to the rickshaw stand where the drivers quoted less crazy prices and we bargained them down near enough to the local rate.

Lesson learned: Know how much things cost so you can bargain accordingly. Ask the price of something from a local or hotel staff before going shopping.


The king of Delhi street food, the Raj Kachori. Photo by Sonal.

The king of Delhi street food, the Raj Kachori. Photo by Sonal.

Eating food from the street stalls is like playing Russian roulette. It tastes amazing, but eventually, it lands you with a stomach infection. If you want to eat street food, and you should because it’s a highlight of Indian cuisine, then head over to one of the very clean Bikanervala or Halidrams restaurants that serve it. You can find all of the best Indian food in clean and economical (or not) restaurants. Don’t take risks.

There are some easy to follow rules to avoid contaminated food in India, here are 3 of the less common ones you should know:

  1. Don’t drink drinks you suspect are made with tap water. Avoid Indian tap water like the plague. Always ask if the restaurant uses filtered water.
  2. Check the eating utensils you’re using are clean and if not ask for different ones or clean with a serviette.
  3. India mainly serves meat with bones in. Be very careful to not swallow the bones as the larger and sharper ones will scrape your throat as happened to me with a fish curry in Kolkata. A scraped throat feels like a bone is still stuck in it – not very pleasant.

Hygiene & Pollution

A bad day at the Taj Mahal. Photo by Kathleen.

A bad day at the Taj Mahal. Photo by Kathleen.

When you visit India, you’ll discover there’s a very different hygiene level here. Streets and dirty and you’re overall going to be exposed to a lot more nasties than back home. Here are three things I do everyday to stay clean:

  1. Wash my face every night. You’ll be surprised at what it’s collected that day.
  2. Clean my shoes with a paper towel to stop the dust from building up.
  3. Always sanitize or wash my hands before eating and after getting off public transport or touching items that aren’t clean.

If the pollution levels are high while you’re in a big Indian city, pick up a filter mask. I only use mine if there are warning that levels are going to be bad.

Touts & Scam Artists

Usually what touts look like. Somewhat smartly dressed. Photo by Connie.

Usually what touts look like: smartly dressed young local looking men. Photo by Connie.

Touts are probably the biggest annoyance in India. Coming to India we’re a bit naive and happy to talk to anyone who approaches us. Afterall, it’s nice to talk to inquisitive locals. That’s what touts and scam artists use as their strategy. They open up a conversation with you by saying “Where are you from?” Then eventually after a little chit-chat, they get to their sales pitch, “My friend has a great sari shop/travel agency/taxi/restaurant nearby. I will take you there.” They’re not really inquisitive locals, they’re undercover touts trying to “help you.” Wherever he takes you to will rip you off and he’ll earn a commission. Touts even get paid just for bringing you to a store sometimes.

Lesson learned: As soon as a friendly stranger starts bringing something to do with money into the conversation, they’re a tout or scammer. Say “No thank you,” and walk away. After encountering a few touts you’ll know how to spot them.

Language Barrier

This isn’t a common problem anymore, but I still get asked. I’ve never had a problem using English in India. You’ll always be able to find an English speaker nearby. In fact, I faced more issues with finding English speakers in Europe than I ever have in India.

If you want to find out the secrets of bargaining, all the tips on how to avoid contaminated food in India, how to avoid all different types of scams in India, and much more about staying safe while travelling in India then check out my full but to the point India Quick-Start Safety Guide.

Girl texting. Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography.

How To Avoid Bag & Mobile Phone Snatchers

Last week a local friend of mine, Mohit, was walking in along the road in the busy tourist area of Karol Bhag, New Delhi when he checked his phone. As he did a motorcycle stopped next to him and the passenger swiped his phone from his hands and sped off. They caught him off-guard and by surprise.

I had a similar experience on the Delhi Metro with pickpockets. These days I hear more and more stories like this. In fact, the Delhi police recovered one batch of 735 phones earlier in the year – the tip of the ice berg. Protecting yourself from these annoying snatch-and-run thieves is not hard luckily:

How to protect yourself from bag & mobile phone snatchers

Girl sitting next to her bag. Photo by Harold Navarro.

Girl sitting next to her bag. Photo by Harold Navarro

  1. Don’t use purses, they’re quickly pulled down your arm. Use a backpack or hidden money pouch instead.
  2. Don’t walk and text. Stand away from the road when using your phone.
  3. When travelling keep your phone locked in a security pocket in your backpack. Keeping it in your front, or worse, back pocket it can be easily pickpocketed.
  4. When resting in public, if you have valuables in your bag make sure you keep it in sight and if possible a hand on it. When I’m sitting on the Metro, I have my bag on my lap and an arm through a strap.
  5. If someone grabs your phone or bag, let them take it. Chasing or aggravating these thieves is not recommended as these guys are desperate and have nothing to lose. Go to the nearest Police Station and file a FIR, travel insurance will cover your loss.

For insurance, I’ve always used World Nomads, they’re cheapest & you can buy and extend insurance even when overseas already.

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