There is a cash crisis in India.
November 8 the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced 500 rupee (~$7USD) and 1000 rupee (~15USD) notes would no longer be legal tender. The surprise announcement took effect 4 hours later. The purpose of the demonetization is to reduce corruption and and tax evasion.
Now is a fascinating time to be a tourist in India! Daily I have conversations with travelers and Indian people about the rupee situation. I have queued for 20-90 minutes to withdraw or exchange limited amounts of money. To hoard cash I think carefully about which tourists sites, restaurants, and hostels to visit. I pay extra to book train tickets online with a credit card instead of in-person with cash. In India, only fancier local establishments or international chains accept payment via credit card. Because I have minimal cash, I am now a customer of these fancier establishments and chains, places I would avoid in normal circumstances. I am spending more money but my impact on the local economy is less.
I am fortunate though. For many Indian people banking and plastic money are a luxury. It is estimated that 95% of the transactions in this country are cash only. As much as the demonetization is a hassle for me and other travelers, we recognize this experience is a novelty for us. It is local people, and especially the poorer local people, who are struggling.
Daily sites include signs saying “no cash” and “500, 1000 notes are not accepted.”
Lines are a good sign because it means the ATM or bank has cash. No line, no cash.
Once at an ATM, it is a crowded environment. The man on the left wearing white was pressing the buttons for each person to expedite the withdrawal process.
Officially ‘bad’ tourists: eating at Costa Coffee because they take credit cards.
We felt energized at 1:30am after 90 minutes of queueing at the Delhi international airport to change money. Peter and I each changed the legal maximum of $100 USD for 6,000 rupees.
Interested in reading more? Here are a few articles:
- Forbes, November 25: On the ground impact of India’s ‘earth-shattering’ currency purge
- BBC, November 17: India’s cash crisis explained
- Vox, November 29: India pulled 86% of its cash out of circulation. It’s not going well.
- The Telegraph, November 29: Tourists in India hit by currency crisis ‘forced to busk for cash’ (note: I saw this performance live!)
Because of a UNESCO World Heritage holiday, visiting the Taj Mahal was free on the afternoon Bryana and I arrived in Agra. We quickly set down our bags and walked 1km from our hostel to the Taj to see sunset at the monument. Here we are at the gates outside the palace.
The gates are massive and ornate. If not for serving as a wall around the Taj Mahal, they would be a site on their own. It is through the archway in this gate that visitors first glimpse the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by a Mughal emperor to honor his late wife who died in 1631 giving birth to her 14th child. It took 21 years to build.
I spent a lot of time staring at this monument, including during lunch at a classy hotel (credit cards accepted!) a few kilometers from the Taj.
All visitors must wear shoe coverings or walk barefoot when entering the mausoleum. The marble was cool feeling and clean under my feet.