Disclaimer – I am not putting up the names of these establishments because that will present them as places that cater only to high-class, luxury seeking clientele. It will only help increase their popularity among a certain class of consumers. This is a rant and I would like to keep it that way.
I visited Khajuraho in the year 2014. I had booked a hotel in advance. Upon reaching the manager offered me a refund citing the reason that it would be really uncomfortable for their guests to stay in the premises with a solo traveller. I took the refund, moved out and took another guest house. During a conversation with my new guest house’s manager, I got to know that I was denied entry to that hotel because of my skin color as they cater particularly to the clients from abroad. Again, I never went into researching the authenticity of the statement. I would rather enjoy my holiday than go cribbing about the intentional or unintentional discrimination I faced somewhere.
The human nature is that we don’t tend to believe something until we have a first-hand experience of the said incident. So when the issue of a café in Kasol not allowing Indians went viral on social media, I rejected it calling it a publicity stunt.
My first-hand experience of feeling discriminated by a fellow Indian was when I was at a posh restaurant in Colaba. The patron kept us waiting outside, telling us that the seats are not available while they let a group of white-skinned customers enter inside even though they had come after us. This was more rampant in Nainital where they didn’t allow solo travelers inside posh restaurants because it would make their wealthy guests uncomfortable. This sounds funnier when you realize that Nainital is located distance of a few hours from Rishikesh that is popular as one of the hotspots for backpackers and the locals accept the visitors irrespective of colour, race, and appearance. Last year my visit to Amritsar was almost spoiled because of a restaurant staff’s rude behavior. I had only gone there after multiple recommendations in food blogs and returned disappointed. The waiter kept telling me the price of the kulcha I was ordering as if I couldn’t afford it. The owner kept coming to my seat as if I would run from the establishment without paying my bills.
Fast forward to 2017, I have left my job, I am on a backpacking spree across India and currently residing in Leh. I am staying in one of the cities where the residents accept you as one of them. Every café I went to, I have met smiling happy hosts. This notion continued until I walked into a café that prides itself as a hub for backpackers and travelers. After waiting for half an hour, no one came to take my order. I didn’t even get the wifi password. I assumed that they must be understaffed or something so I walked out. On my next visit, the behaviour of the staff stayed the same. They kept sitting in a corner playing carom while I asked around if someone could take my order. I get no service but as soon as a group of foreigners walks in, the entire staff forgets everything and make sure that they are given the most royal treatment possible. This is one of the few cafes in Leh that is not run by Ladakhis or Kashmiris.
As a long-term backpacker, I often end up giving a wrong impression because of my appearance. Long, messy hair, uneven beard are not a sign of a person who can be a big spender. At least, this is what the Indian standards say. You cannot enter a posh pub in Saket wearing your chappals, the guard would stop you at the door. The waiter in a Shahpur Jat café will show audacity to tell you what pasta is and then they’ll make sure that your order is not served until you voluntarily decide to leave the place.
My latest ordeal happened when I had booked a hostel in Delhi. The owner started showing the sign of discomfort the moment I arrived. He asked the pending amount upfront as if I was going to run away with his 300 bucks in the morning. I was given a bed away from rest of the bunks in that dorm for some reason. The first question that I was asked upon my arrival was that when am I leaving. I have stayed in a number of hostels and no one has ever asked me to sign up their visitor’s sheet without showing me the room and the bed. This was a very first incident.
From my experience of working at a digital media agency, I can understand the fact that every brand and property comes with its own set of target audience. What I don’t understand is that why they can’t make it clear that people like me are not welcome on their property. Just like it is obvious that you cannot enter five or seven star rated property at Delhi Aerocity or Janpath looking like a hippie, the guard would certainly check you twice or thrice, the waiters will obviously cater to the more sophisticated looking guests before they serve you. But if, you are running your hostel with the intention of getting more Non-Indian guests then it should be made clear from the beginning. Anything that is sold in the name of a backpacker hostel will attract travelers from every walk of life.
I have stayed at hostels in cities like Rishikesh, Varanasi, and Jaisalmer and never faced this issue ever but somehow it feels that it is more prevalent in metro cities where business works more on face value and the belief that a posh setting and appearance would get you more customers is a mentality running here since ages. No wonder, shops of Chandni Chowk frequently display the photos of their customers from foreign countries so that quality of their establishment increases. I don’t count the foreigner only beaches in Goa and Pondicherry in this list because no one actually stops Indians from going there. Accessing these beaches requires small hikes, these places lack luxury hotels and other holiday amenities that tourists seek so they choose not to go there. Moreover these beaches are relatively unknown than Calangute and Baga so are missed by the casual tourists. A hostel’s kitchen chef in Varanasi once told me to have food outside because I’ll get meal in my budget. I was infuriated until I realized that he told the same to everyone to help himself save from extra work. Moreover, places like these in Goa have welcomed me more as a solo traveler compared to the tourist friendly beaches.
From my travels, I have learned that foreigners who come to India do not have problem with sharing a hotel space or a dorm with Indians. It is the Indians who assume that way and end up discriminating their own people. I know, even after this rant, there won’t be a solution to this issue. That is the reason that I have not named these establishments. The more you call them out for their discriminatory practices, the more they become popular between people of the elite class who start visiting such places assuming that it comes with a posh and luxurious setting.
Have you ever faced an issue like this while traveling or in general? Share below in the comments.