Beware of these scams while traveling in Varanasi

Banaras best ghats

Googling Mark Twain’s quote on Varanasi is a sure shot way of finding links to all the travel bloggers from India. Every article presents Banaras as the city of mystics and enlightenment. Everyone talks about the golden sunrise and the never ending lanes while always missing the fact that the thugs of Banaras hold a reputation that exceeds borders.

For starters, you’ll never know if the baba you meet on the ghats of Varanasi is a genuine one or just a potential convict trying to escape the clutches of laws by masquerading as a saint.

Banaras Ganga Aarti timing

In the winters of 2014, I got a chance to spend a few months in Banaras. An opportunity that got me a job of a life coach (and I was pretty good at it). My work required nothing but to hear the plight of these lost souls. A trait, I still carry with me and yet it doesn’t get me any dates.

My multiple visits to Banaras made me realize that making a quick money in Banaras is very easy. While I never went into anything illegal but got a fair knowledge about these scams that you may end up facing while you are traveling here, especially for the first time.

Cremation wood scam

Manikarnika ghat

Every foreigner who wanders around Manikarnika ghat is a potential victim of this scam. The fraud is simple, Manikarnika is the pyre ghat where the Hindu dead bodies are burned and are said to attain the ultimate moksha. When you visit this ghat in the curiosity of seeing the rituals, you’ll be approached by people who’ll ask you to make donation to help a poor buy woods. After a small persuasion most of the foreigners end up making a donation of 100 or 200 bucks. This money never serves its purpose and is never used to help a poor. If you are feeling so much generous then you should find out the relatives of the dead and make the donation at the right place.

Hotel shut down

I cannot start to explain the number of people have told me about this problem. From the pre-paid taxi drivers at airport to Ola and even the local rikshaw-walas all practice this scam. It is simple, you get down at the station or airport and hire a vehicle, the driver will take you to the area where your hotel is supposed to be, will ask someone from a nearby shop who is an associate of his and they’ll tell you that the hotel is shut down. They’ll take you to another shitty property and will ask you to pay whatever they feel like charging.

There are two ways to evade this problem. Always confirm with your hotel and ask them to send a pick up. Most of the reputed hotels in Varanasi provide this service for an extra charge. If not then take the contact number of the hotel manager and ask for their assistance once the driver starts making these excuses.

You can also book a pre-paid taxi service at the airport or railway station itself. The pre-paid booth gives you a receipt that you are supposed to return to the driver after reaching your destination. If your driver asks for the receipt in the middle of the trip, then simply refuse.

Guided boat tour

This scam is usually carried on with the involvement of the guest house owner. The owner will tell you that they have group departures for boat tours which will start in the evening. This tour is said to take you through all the ghats and will end with Ganga Aarti. While it is an interesting offer and you may get a chance to learn about the history and significance of many ghats and buildings, you’ll end up paying more than you should. The hotel owner counts his personal profit in the booking and overcharges on the fee.

Boat Tour Banaras

A better way to find a guided trip is by visiting the ghat by yourself and then bargaining with the boat owners. You should skip the boats at Assi and Dashashmedh Ghat as you’ll find a cheaper deal at one of the nearby ghats. A group tour won’t cost you more than INR 30 (for Indians) and INR 300 (for foreigners) on a per person basis. I will never understand this huge margin or the reason of the automatic assumption that foreigners are so rich to pay more.

Incorrect food bill

Dhaba and local restaurant owners are famous for charging for extra number of roti (breads). I once caught them charge for individual meals even after I ordered a thali (which is way cheaper). On both occasions the restaurant staff got away with the excuse of sending another customer’s bill.

Banaras food

You should make sure that your bill is correctly charged. Go through the number of items that are listed in the bill. Make sure that how much an extra serving in the thali will cost you. A lot of times the hotels that offer unlimited thali keep only a few items as the part of unlimited menu as free and the rest are chargeable.

Even while you are purchasing sweets, make sure that the number of pieces you have asked for is exactly what is in the box.

Varanasi Nepal bus scam

Banaras is one of the few stops in India from where frequent buses run to and from Nepal. It is a convenient idea for the travelers to board a bus and then start your journey instead of traveling all the way to Gorakhpur or Raxaul and then taking another bus or train, the only problem is that a majority of bus operators don’t actually go to Nepal.

The scam is simple, you board the bus, it goes to a certain distance and then stops. The bus driver tell you that the bus broke down and from here you’ll have to change another bus from here. This comes with another huge ordeal of transferring all your luggage into another bus without being sure that the facilities on the new bus are exactly similar to the one you booked.

A better idea to avoid or even get refunded on a mishappening like this is that you make your booking online. Check out reviews of the bus operators and go with the most trusted one.

Also, you should make sure that the bus will take you all the way to Nepal and not drop you in the town right next to the border telling you that your trip has ended. From here, you’ll have to pay extra to go all the way to Kathmandu or Pokhara on another bus.


This is not a scam but Banaras is filled with the most experienced pickpockets ever. These pickpockets don’t take out things by pulling out the wallet from your pocket. Instead they run a blade so smoothly on the bottom end part of your pocket that makes the wallet or cellphone fall out without you noticing.

These pickpockets are very active at Varanasi and Mughalsarai stations.

I don’t know what can be a solution to this problem. May be you’ll save yourself from these pickpockets by ditching trousers and wearing jeans or go almost cashless with your cards left in the hotel.

If Varanasi offers peace and serenity then it also offers a great opportunity to get cheated and lose the same peace and serenity. Staying a little vigilant will help you experience a holiday in the best way possible.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Amber

    Oh dear, I’ll be sure to keep these in mind if we go. I tend to check everything over whenever we travel though to be safe. You just never know!

  2. PaulaMS

    Wow! They sure don’t mention any of this in the travel guides or on sites. Thanks for the great tips that can be used anywhere you travel.

  3. Vũ Thanh Hà

    OMG I must write those information down in case I visit Banaras. I’ve never thought of this before traveling to a place. Now I need to be more cautious. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  4. Mayank

    Detailed information on all the scams! That’s really great for the people who are going to visit Varanasi

  5. Anupriya

    Haha, quite an informative post. And, I agree that all those posts which rank Varanasi at the highest level really don’t go deep into the problems with the place. I have been to Varanasi multiple times while growing up, that was the only happening place close to where I was living then. When I went there last (it’s been a couple of years), I found the place over-crowded and filled to the brim. I can’t get peace there, but I usually make do with the mouth-watering samosas 🙂

  6. Andrea

    This is so cool how raw and honest you are. You really do go into detail on how to avoid all of these weird scams. I really don’t think about it until you read post like yours or you hear stories. Thanks!

  7. Sondra Barker

    Wow I had no idea! Thanks for these information regarding all the scams there!
    xo, Sondra

  8. Hey Sharonoox

    After reading this, I would try to avoid this place at all costs should I visit India. I like to travel in peace without worrying about any potential scams. Thanks for sharing this!

  9. They sure don’t mention any of this in the travel guides or on sites. Thanks for the great tips that can be used anywhere you travel.

  10. lavandamichelle

    Wow, I would have never guessed! I’m always a bit suspicious but this was just ‘eye-opening.’ Thanks for sharing, I hope this makes people think twice because it sure made me!

  11. Ally Jones

    These are such good tips. There are so many scams when traveling.

  12. mrscaudle1011

    It’s a shame that you can’t visit without having to worry about people scamming you. I’ve always wanted to travel here, this won’t stop me of course.

  13. Claudia Krusch

    What a great and useful post for anyone trying to Varanasi! I will definitely keep it in mind.

  14. Kiwi

    Gosh so many scams here. I hope this will really help out people who look to visit here in the near future.

  15. Julie

    India is one of my dream destinations! Really want to go and spend a couple of months traveling around. Great to read about scams. Some are the same in every touristy place, but there are always some new once. Crazy price difference for foreigners and Indians btw!

  16. Cara

    Wow! I had no idea and am so thankful that you shared these scams so travelers know what to look for!

  17. Amy

    Oh my goodness! I had no idea! Your pictures are beautiful, but it is wise to be wary.

  18. Mayuri Patel

    thank you for sharing such information about scams, next on list is banaras.
    good pointers here

  19. rajasthanleaf

    Amazing tips ! This is very important point to take care wen you visit varanasi or any other place !

  20. Pradeep Sritharan

    We just visited Kashi last week……For Hindus who come here to perfome the Thitthi or prayers for the dead ones ……when u go the river Gangga Bank you will be offered a priest and price is.:
    100 indian rupee to buy things
    As u wish for the priest

    Towards the end of the rituals the priest will tell you to make a donation to the bramins as according to him this is a must……and its not how much u want to donate……its all fiexes
    10500 INR
    5500 INR
    3500 INR

    Well after aome bargaining we paid 2500 each…( the priest followed us to the hotel to collect it))

    Mystical Varanasi