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Pt 4: no rupees mo' problems

Okay, so now we’ve been shuttled in by Air India, around Amritsar by Pratham, and the wedding by Kunal. Is our group still capable of traveling when we have to do things for ourselves? I haven’t mentioned this yet, but while we were there the entire country was out of currency. This hadn’t mattered much up to now, but it was about to get pretty relevant.

First up is the train trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It’s a pilgrimage made by ~4 million people each year, so should be manageable. After the 1-hour Uber to the train station at 1pm, we weaved our way to the front to find the ticket desk and bounced from window to window, finally figuring out we had to fill out a slip from counter 5 (bookings) and then take it to counter 3 (reservations). Once there though, we found out that contrary to our hotel’s claim we couldn’t use credit card, and didn’t have enough cash. So Nik took my USD cash reserves into a random market a short ride away to trade a sketchy FX shop for more rupees; meanwhile Rob watched the bags while I wandered around the station looking for the girls who had taken a separate taxi and not yet turned up.

This went on for an hour or so. In the meantime we found out about a tourist bureau upstairs, but they also didn’t take credit cards so while more comfortable, we were still missing cash and missing our full group and missing trains to Agra in the meantime. There were a few more left, but most were fully booked which meant we’d have to by a non-reserved ticket and hope to get a seat. Given how confused we were at this point, that seemed unlikely to go well.

Around 6pm things started to come together. Nik got back with cash, we got word from the girls that they were here and had followed a man to a travel agency, and that we could get a van to Agra for $180. More than the train, slower than the train, less comfortable than the train. But we’d get there tonight and see the Taj in the morning. A bit of haggling and waiting later and we were on our way. 6 hours later (1am) and we were there in our sketchy hotel.

I won’t waste much text on the Taj since plenty of others have, but here’s a picture to prove we made it.

Okay, so that’s a monkey stealing a tourist’s snacks on the way into the Taj, which was pretty funny. But also the Taj was pretty damn grand.

Post-Taj, I headed back to Delhi while Nik went for Jarpur and the rest of the crew flew home. I’d spend a couple days there, tour some education groups (post pending), then meet back up with Nik to head north to the Himalayas or south to Bombay for a week. Or, that was the plan.

Instead, I spent my non-education time in Delhi trying not to spend ANY cash, since I was down to 180 rupees and every ATM was out or had a 3 hour line that would run it down before me.

My quick guide on how to survive 3 days on 180 rupees in cash when most places are cash-only (~$2.75):

  • Piss off the hostel. Turns out if your laundry smells bad enough they let you do a load even if you can’t pay for it.

  • Dehydrate between visits to McDonalds, where you can buy water with credit card.

  • Uber. It’s has your credit card on file, which subway doesn’t take. Great, until your phone dies...

  • Walk a LOT. I walked 5 hours back to the hostel through Delhi because the subway was too pricey. This was great though (at least 3-4 hours of it) as I got to wander through random parks and under-freeway markets I never would have seen.

  • When you really get low, buy your flight out because trying to eek out another week in Simla could go from adventurous to painful. Come back another time, and go decompress in Delhi’s polar opposite (Singapore) for now.

  • Stop faux-complaining; about a quarter of the Indian population lives on that budget constantly, without credit cards and Uber as bailouts.

#India #stories