Thursday, 31 January 2013

The ticket scam

Somehow Indian shops and businesses have never heard of the concept of a float. You can never get change – even splitting a 10 rupee note is a problem in Agra. So I wasn't surprised when at Fatehpur Sikri, the Archaeological Survey of India ticket office didn't have change for 200 rupees. Could I come back later for the change?

Well, I thought, I'll trust the guy – but just ask him to write '50 rupees change' on the back of my ticket so we both know exactly how much. (He was as good as his word. When I came back a couple of hours later, he had the note in his hand before I had a chance to say anything. An honest gentleman.)

That's how I discovered the ticket scam. When I handed in my ticket for cancellation at the entrance, I got back a ticket that didn't  have '50 rupees change' written on the back. I objected – and saw my intact ticket, off which the guard now proceeded to tear the stub, before handing me the correct ticket.

Okay, a mistake. Or something. But then I remembered all the children in Fatehpur Sikri who had been asking me for my old ticket – for the Fatehpur Sikri Palace, or the Taj Mahal,  wherever. I'd thought at the time that was rather cute and sad, as if they were collecting Archaeological Survey of India top trumps.
Now I realised what was going on. They were collecting used tickets and presumably selling them to the guard for a few annas on the rupee, so to speak. The guard could then retain visitors' tickets uncancelled, and either sell them back to the ASI ticket office man (if he wasn't as honest with his employers as he had been with me) or to touts who could sell them to tourists at guesthouses or outside office hours.

Of course this means ASI isn't getting the money. And though you can easily criticise ASI – it sometimes seems more concerned with nice lawns and municipal flower displays than conserving the monuments, and its archaeological methodology is stuck not even in the 1950s, but in the 1860s – at least it does a basic job of stopping India's heritage falling into decay.

The same scam is being worked at Sarnath. Only this time, I was asked for "Ticket, madam" by a rather official looking gent at the gate as I went out – at least, official looking till I saw the jogging bottoms under his suit jacket. How sad. Somehow I'd managed to lose my ticket...

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