I have been travelling for quite some time now and every time I visit a new destination I make sure to check out the possible scamming and ripping activity which usually takes place in that city or place. This way I am well aware of the possibilities and take enough precautions making my trip relative safe. This, however, does not mean that I totally depend on my self-awareness I do take precautions such as hiding my passport or valuable beyond the reach or sometimes divide cash in different places just as a precautionary measure that in case I lose some I do have backups.
There is something called the Murphy’s Law which roughly states that if something were to get wrong it will get wrong no matter how well prepared you are. Something similar happened to me which till date is the only time Indian Vagabond that is me got scammed during a trip and to top it off it happened in my own city of Kolkata.
It was in the year 2014 and this particular trip included my wife and our then four-year-old daughter to travel to a place called Chaibasa which is an hour from Tatanagar. Chaibasa is where my grandmother in law stays along with some other relatives of my wife. This is a small town and the only train available was the Barbil – Howrah Jan Shatabdi. The train departs at 6.25 AM from Howrah station and has very few stoppages which make it a comfortable four and a half hours ride.
I distinctly remember the date as it was 15th of August and tagged along with a weekend it was a perfect extended holiday for us. The trip was also significant as my own brother in law was getting married in the month of October that year and the groom’s family was scheduled to meet my grandmother in law for the very first time so a big get together was arranged. Being the son in law of the family it was also very important for me to be part of the ceremony.
As a part of the wedding plans my wife had decided to print the wedding cards here in Kolkata since it was cheaper and the choice of design was much better. So we had printed around thousand wedding cards which we planned to give it to my brother in law so that he could start distributing. Even though we travel light with just two trolley bags this time however we had two big shopper bags as we were taking. I would take the two big shopper bags in my hands and my wife would be pulling the two trolley bags. My daughter could walk well so she can just walk in between me and my wife.
We had done similar journey previously so we knew that departing at around 5 AM in the morning would be just fine and would reach Howrah station in just thirty minutes due to the low traffic and would have enough time in hand. What we failed to take into consideration was that being 15th of August a holiday there will be very few taxi plying the city that day. Add a security layer of security check posts due to Independence Day and things can get really wrong.
By the time we managed to get hold of a taxi it was already 5.30 AM and with just an hour in hand, we were still confident that we will reach by 6 AM. As we approached Howrah Bridge to our shock we realised that the entire bridge was in a complete gridlock with traffic standing still. After waiting for fifteen minutes in the traffic we started panicking, initially, we decided to leave our taxi and walk across Howrah Bridge but with so much luggage and our daughter, it was not a good plan. Our only hope was for the taxi to somehow crawl across the bridge.
By the time we reached the other end of the bridge it was around 6.15 AM and with just ten minutes in hand, it was now or never. We got off the taxi in a rush and handed the taxi driver cash and I remember not even bothering to ask for the change. Seeing our panic many Coolies (porters) approached us to help us with our luggage. Some were asking for Rs. 500 Rs. while some as high as Rs. 800 one of them a very lean and thin figured guy approached us with an offer which we would not resist he asked for just Rs. 200. With no other option and with a possibility of a missed train we agreed.
The first thing he did was to grab the two big shopper bags and put them on his head he even wanted to take the two trolley bags but I asked him not to considering that heavy weight might slow him down and we might miss the train ultimately. I had the two trolley bags while my wife picked up my daughter in her arms since wouldn’t be able to walk fast.
Howrah station was jam-packed that day as everyone was travelling to enjoy the extended weekend and the porter was in front of me with the two large bags on his head. The two trolley bags were slowing me down and my wife was equally in a peril trying to run with my daughter hanging around her neck.
The porter then asked me which train and coach I was travelling so as to help us navigate through the maze of people and reach our compartment quickly. As I gave him the details he started increasing his pace and with all the people around it was very difficult for me to keep following him. At one point the porter asked me to hand over the trolley bags to him and take my daughter instead so that we can reach in time to which I blatantly refused.
After a minute I started losing the sight of the porter in the maze of people, as I was shouting on him to slow down he kept repeating he will be standing right in front of the coach and that we need to hurry up. After a few seconds, he was gone out of sight.
In another minute we reached our coach and he was nowhere to be found, I asked my wife to board the train with our daughter and I would run back to the place where I last saw him as I was assuming that he would be waiting for me out there.
After a couple of runs between the two points, I realised that I was a victim of a scam. Neither do I know his name nor do I have is porter number and thinking of a registered porter I realised that none of the porters waiting at the end of the bridge had porter tags and it was all part of a careful scam. The team would wait for a bait like me who would be hurrying up in the last moment to catch a train and throw very high price for portage and one would quote the lowest so that the victim would get enticed and agree.
The path taken by the porter was also planned to take through the crowd instead of the relative empty outer sections. This way the porter could swiftly move out of sight with your luggage and vanish forever. As I realised this the train whistled signalling its departure. With no other option, I got up on the coach in front of me and took nearly twenty minutes for me to reach my coach navigating through waves of people travelling without ticket all on an extended weekend holiday. I kept getting frantic calls from my wife and I had to calm her down by confirming that I was on the train on a different coach and will reach her soon.
As I reached my seat my wife constantly tried to look for the two big shopper bags which she thought were in my hand after some time when she realized the scam she had tears in her eyes. I calmed her by saying these that what we lost were not that significant since we were lucky that I never handed him my trolley bags. The porter is just having two large bags full of printed wedding cards.