I waited until I got back home to the USA to write this post. Why? It’s because many Indian’s consider complaining about a service, or anything in India for that matter, “anti-nationalism.” They don’t like anyone talking bad about anything in India, and if it’s a foreigner spilling the beans, that’s even more taboo. It’s a major cultural difference between the west and the east that I just couldn’t get used to.
It’s my belief that if you pay for something you should get what you paid for and be happy with the service. In India, it’s a toss of the dice, and you had better just shut up and get used to it. If you complain, it’s usually met with indifference. People roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders, while they say “It’s India.” Here are several real life examples of poor service and how I was treated.
Applied Yoga School
Last time I went to Rishikesh I agreed to partner with Applied Yoga School. The agreement was that I would attend a two week Tantric yoga class free of charge in exchange for blogging about the experience. This is something I do quite often and is pretty standard for travel bloggers. They insisted that I pay a $100 registration fee anyway and that sounded reasonable to me. I paid it and showed up for class only to find that it was cancelled due to lack of attendance.
Applied Yoga School tried to get me to take a class on therapeutic yoga instead of my scheduled Tantric course. I sat in on a one hour overview for therapeutic yoga and decided I wasn’t interested. So, I left during the first break. I was really disappointed that I wasn’t given any notice about the cancellation because I could have scheduled another yoga courses during that time. The next day I asked for a refund of my registration fee and they refused. In fact, they even got a bit hostile with me. I put in a complaint with PayPal, but even PayPal couldn’t help me. The lesson here is this. Never pre-pay for anything in India!
During my last six weeks in Rishikesh I stayed at a place called Hari Palace in Ram Jhula. I paid for it in advance because the winter is the busy season and I was concerned that maybe I wouldn’t be able to find accommodations. During my e-mail exchange I was crystal clear about my expectations. In Rishikesh many ashrams and places that house yoga students tend to lock their front gate at night so the yoga students can’t get out and party. I find the idea silly. Who is going to pay over $1,000 for a yoga school and then sneak out at night to get drunk during the course? Even if they want to, so what? We’re adults. There’s no alcohol sold in Rishikesh anyway. The entire town is dry. So, it’s really kind of a ridiculous notion. I made it clear from the beginning that I wasn’t enrolled in a course and therefore I wanted to be able to come and go at my own leisure, and they agreed.
Everything was fine for the first month, but all of a sudden one night at 9:00 I heard them locking the front gate. Keep in mind that this is a four story building with no other exits. By no exits, I mean not even a fire escape. They only have one egress, and the gate is immediately beyond it. It’s a giant steel gate about two feet in front of the front door and about seven feet tall. Never mind the inconvenience. If there was an earthquake, or fire, I would be trapped, along with every other guest. I told the manager locking the gate that they had promised me not to lock the entrance and that it was unsafe. He yelled at me and told me to just check out immediately. Since I had pre-paid I asked for a refund. He said no, and the pissing match began. I’ll spare you all the details, but I eventually won only because I had a network of people in the yoga community that came to my defense. Still, it was a major hassle and I would never recommend anyone stay there. The lesson here is that if you are staying at an ashram and are concerned about safety, ask about their door locking policy and emergency exits, and NEVER EVER PRE-PAY!
Even Your Safety Doesn’t Matter
The last example (and I have many more) was a taxi company that I hired to drive me from Delhi to Rishikesh. It’s about a seven hour drive and costs around $60 USD for a private car. There is a popular Facebook group called Rishikesh Community where people post questions and events concerning Rishikesh. As a member, I posted that I needed a taxi and I got a number of recommendations from the group. I was very clear that I needed picked up at noon from Delhi because I didn’t want to arrive after dark in Rishikesh and have to wander the streets looking for my hotel room alone, with all my luggage. in the darkness. That simply is not safe for a single woman in any part of India.
At 1:00 there was no sign of my taxi driver so I called to inquire as to what was going on. I was told he would be there shortly. I continued to call every half hour and every time I was assured he was just a few minutes away. He finally showed up at 4:00! As a result I arrived in Rishikesh just after midnight. My worst nightmare had come true. Fortunately, I had a friend help me out so that I didn’t end up wandering the streets looking for my hotel, dragging around all my luggage through the cobblestone alleys, in the dark…alone!
The next day I went on to the Rishikesh Community Group and posted about my bad experience with the taxi company. Guess what. They immediately blocked me from the group. Apparently it is okay to purchase things on the group, but it is not okay to post a complaint.
I know one foreigner that was living in Rishikesh for years. In fact, he had even married an Indian woman and had a young son. One day the police showed up at his door and gave him 48 hours’ notice to leave the country. They revoked his visa and there was nothing he could do. If he didn’t leave he would go to prison. When he asked why, they said someone had filed a complaint against him, but they would not reveal the details. He left and spent the next 18 months working with an attorney so he could eventually return to his wife and son. My point is, foreigners have no rights in India. Hell, Indians don’t have any rights either. The lesson here, be very careful about speaking out or complaining about anything. It’s just not considered acceptable in India.