Only a few minutes passed before I was asked for money. It seemed like a reasonable request though. I had hired a man with a rowboat to take me to where the great Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet, a little outside of Allahabad, India.
Lots of people were converging in this sacred area, and many sang religious songs and clapped hands. But soon, other boats came, with wiry young men selling cocoa nuts to offer to the river. No problem, so I paid.
But the same people descended on me when I was leaving. One jumped onto my boat, and asked for more money. I told him to get lost. He stayed and kept jabbering. I told the owner of the boat to start rowing, and the huckster jumped onto the next boat at the last second.
On the way back to the shore, I saw the same men picking the cocoa nuts out of the water with nets so they could sell them to the next batch of pilgrims.
India’s cultural landscape is one of the world’s most beautiful. Its larger-than-life stories (one of which is in a recent post on Indian art) can inspire spiritual devotion, but they also generate a lot of B.S. stories and easy credulity. Many people who pose as spiritual masters are con-artists. Lots of naive Westerners who go there for spiritual purposes get ripped off. Some women have been sexually abused by men posing as gurus.
If you approach India with a guide, be sure you can trust him.