Experience With Delhi Cab Drivers

The Paper Talk: My India trip started out simple enough with filling of the visa application and waiting in the dauntingly long line, where nobody speaks the same language.  So you get to watch a showing of hand signals and listen to an orchestra of slow, annunciated speech for about an hour. By the time I got to the customs counter, I was pretty fluent in the sign language I had learnt by observing earlier encounters of tourist with the officer. Armed with these resources, I handed my paperwork with the confidence of a thousand guppy fish. The officer looked at my papers (all in English) and gave me a hard look.

Photo from Flickr

I smiled.

He stared.

I kept smiling, raised my eyebrows and tilted my head.

He stamped my passport and waved me to the next guy, who took my money without even looking at me. I was through. My parents followed.

The Money Talk: After getting the luggage and leaving the airport front doors, we were swarmed by dozens of men, who claimed to have cars, and oddly enough spoke more English than the custom officer. They besieged us with fare prices and fought among themselves to try and seduce us into their “cars”. However, our driver was waiting for us. The guest house we would stay in had set us a vehicle. All we had to do was find him.

After about 15 minutes of looking, and four people falsely claiming to be our driver, we gave up hope, and looked for a phone. While my mom talked to the guest house, the taxi-men calmly waited in a semi-circle around us. The other tourists had already fallen victim to their charms and where quickly whisked away.

Turns out the guest house didn’t know our flight was switch, so the diver had come and gone. We were alone. Mom turned around with a look of terror on her face, still holding the phone. Impish grins began to spread across the faces of the taxi-men; they knew we were ready for harvest.

Before things got out of hand, I sprang into action, pointed at the nearest taxi-man and said; “Do you know where Maharaja Guest House is?” The man hesitated, seemed taken aback by the sudden outburst. That was his mistake. The man beside him quickly stepped forward and told us he knew the way. We negotiated a price and walked towards his car.

The Tetris Talk: When we reached the so called car we came up against our first obstacle. It was small, very small; not the obstacle but the car. It looked to be older than me and I had to ask for the missing handle (which he kept in the glove box) so I could roll down my window. To top this all, when he popped the trunk, there was a spare tire.

“Our luggage won’t fit.”

“Yes. There’s room.”

He started removing the spare tire and loading the two large suitcases into the trunk. It was full, and we were left with three more pieces. Luckily, the man was a master of tetris. Who would have guessed? He managed to squeeze my backpack (80 liters) between mom and my father in the back seat with the other two suitcases on their laps, and me in the front seat. Now that we were in, the car sat only a few inches off the ground with our combined weight, and we were ready to leave the airport.

Then all eyes fell on the spare tire still sitting on the curb. The cab guy tried his best to squeeze it in. Even trying outrageous places like between himself and the driver’s door. Finally, I offered to hold it on my lap. The man looked over at me – knees bent up to my chest and hunched over so that my head wouldn’t touch the roof. He blinked and handed me the tire.

The Direction Talk: It was getting dark and I was getting scared of the cab travel. I remembered my car ride in Lebanon, which is rather chaotic and a little nerve racking. People drive where ever they can fit. There or no lines on the road, and only stay on the proper side off the road when it was convenient.  India is the same, except the roads are about half the size and cluttered with people, dogs and cows. Yes cows. They are everywhere and untamed. Of course, we have no idea where we are going, so we placed all of faith in the taxi-man, who at this point we found out his name was Deepak.

The first time he stopped, turned off the car and asked for directions, we thought we were there. Only the fact that each of us needed assistance to exit the car stopped us from getting out. A helpful lady pointed us in the direction we came, and the reality of the situation sunk in. This man had no idea where we were going. He returned to the car and turned the key. Nothing happened. He pumped the gas a few times, and then tried again. This time the car made a sound.

Not the sound of an engine roaring to life, or even the depressing stutter when your battery is dead. It sounded like squeak of a mouse. I’ve never heard a car make a noise like that before, and I began suspecting that it wasn’t a car at all, and was really run, semi-Flintstone style, by elves or any small children that Deepak could round up and keep hidden under the thin steel.

After a few more tries, the car sputtered to life and I was pleased by the absence of children. We stopped twice more for directions and insisted that he leaves the car running. Eventually we made it to Gupta Street. A dimly lit side street. I raised an eyebrow at this and prepared for the worst, but sure enough there was the gate to the Maharaja Guest house at the end of the street. Deepak helped us all out of the car gave us his number and told us to call if we needed a taxi again while we were here. We have yet to call him.

Author: Elias Shiber

Traveler and Blogger


  1. Funny, I had the same experience during my last visit to Mumbai. First it was
    irritating to me, then once I understood the system, I kind of expect how to
    avoid those cabbies.

  2. Yes these cabbies (and rickshaw wallas) can be irritating at times.
    Like your style of writing 🙂

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