New Delhi railway station serves as a great introduction to India in that it combines much of what is annoying about the country into one location. Every visitor to India will have stories of annoying touts and scams and some people will have nothing but. In actuality, only a small part of the country provides the fodder for these stories; unfortunately, that small part is the one almost everyone visits. It only makes sense then, that one of the main entry points to India is also one of the most frustrating locations in the country.
I generally recommend taking the train to New Delhi station, instead of bothering with a taxi, to anyone heading from the Indira Gandhi International Airport to Paharganj, home to the majority of Delhi’s budget accommodation options. You can save a lot of money this way and you don’t have to deal with the annoying taxi drivers at the airport. That said, the auto rickshaw drivers who mob you the instant you climb out of the subway exit in front of New Delhi Station are even worse. And they’re only the beginning.
The second you exit the subway station and step onto the pavement in front of the railway station, a swarm of drivers surrounds you. You tell them you’re heading to Paharganj and they began shouting out prices. I heard a lot of “400 Rupees,” which is more than you would have paid for a taxi all the way from the airport. Considering your destination is directly across the street from the railway station, I’d decline their generous offers. You can bargain if you like, but you’re unlikely to get a fair price. Try not to pay more than 50. If you do pay the quoted rates, you’ll also likely be taken on a nice little detour to make it seem like you’re going further than just across the street.
Naturally, it makes sense to just walk, but there’s a bit of a problem. Paharganj is across the street from the other side of the station, so you first have to cross the 20 or so railway tracks. This is India, so that is much easier said than done. You’ll see a bridge over the tracks directly in front of you, but naturally, you won’t be allowed onto it. That would be too easy. Instead you have to go through security and enter the actual station. On your way there, while standing in the security line and every step you take once inside the station, you will be accosted by guys in fake uniforms demanding you pay a fee enter the station, cross the tracks, breathe air, etc.
The standard advice is to ask them for identification, but I saw a bunch of backpackers doing just that and getting various cards, some laminated some not, flashed in their faces. I’m sure if they allow you time to actually inspect their card, you could easily see how fake it is, but it will quickly vanish from sight to avoid just that. It doesn’t really matter because most of their uniforms look like a three-year-old stitched them together that morning using scraps from a local dumpster. I was never approached by a single person who looked even remotely official. In fact, it was my impression that no actual police officer will ever approach you as a foreigner, unless they absolutely have to. They really have no interest in us.
Just wave off everyone who approaches you and you should be fine. If you do get a guy who insists and won’t leave you alone, invite him to join you in finding an actual police officer—you can recognize them by their single-shade uniforms, i.e. ones that haven’t been assembled from several other outfits. I’m guessing the fake official will forget about the fake “station crossing fee” very quickly.
Apart from the fake officials, you’ll also be approached by countless baggage porters. These guys are legitimate and actually work extremely hard for very little money, but you can be sure the prices they quote are much higher than they should be. Nevertheless, if you haggle with them a bit, you can avoid having to carry your bags and you’ll have someone to guide you where you need to go. I subscribe to the theory that if I can’t carry it, I shouldn’t have it, so I never leave my bags to porters—I don’t even like it when they want to carry them in a hotel—but go ahead and hire one of these guys if you want to make your life a bit easier.
Eventually, you’ll make it up to the second level of the railway station and you’ll find the walkway over the tracks. Crossing all of them is quite a hike and the crossover can get pretty crowded, but once you descend the stairs on the other side, you’ll see your destination just across the road. You’ll also see another swarm of auto rickshaw and cycle rickshaw drivers, but most of them will quickly disperse if you tell them you’re just crossing the street.
If your hotel is a ways down, you might consider hiring a ride, but as always, I personally prefer to avoid the hassle and just walk. Naturally, you will be accosted by an endless string of touts on that walk, but just ignore them. Once you’ve found your room for the night, take a deep breath and know that you’ve just made it through the worst India has to offer—apart from a few places, like Agra or Varanasi, you are unlikely to suffer this much harassment anywhere else during your time in the country.