How Indian Travellers Are Coping with the Currency Ban

No change and lack of access to ATMs are some of the problems

File photo

Everyone was taken aback by our government’s decision to ban denominations of 500 and 1000 on November 8, 2016.

I was sitting with some of my relatives when the news came in and everyone just wanted to listen to our Prime Minister explain the ban. Immediately, trolls and memes had started circulating on WhatsApp and other social media platforms and we were laughing at them. Soon, we realized that this is going to be a problem as nobody had cash of lower denominations at home.

I am currently on vacation in Jaipur where my extended family stays, so I don’t have to face any problems to pay for food or even traveling for that matter, but I see them (my family) trying to fit the budget with the amount of change we had left.

If Indians at home are facing such a massive problem, what about the travellers who are out exploring the country?

In Jaipur, the peak season for tourists has begun. People from around the world visit the Pink City November onwards and I am but one of them.

I was at a mall to kill some time; I didn’t have money to shop or eat and I decided to leave when I saw a foreigner passing by. While talking to her I realized that they don’t even know what happened in the past three days. One day their guide was asking for 500 rupees and the other day, he asked for 200, even after they insisted that he keep the Rs 500 note.

Divya Ravindranath, traveling with her parents, husband and child in South-India, says that the currency ban is currently killing her touristy vibes.

“I was in the train when I first read the news and didn’t really know what to do. We were carrying 500s and 1000s only and had only minimum change. Now, we have to think before spending whatever change we have left. Because of this, we are forced to go to places that accept cards and forced to travel by cabs that take plastic money. We want to eat authentic street food, but we can’t. What’s the point of being in Kochi and not go to a beach and eat a bhutta. We are scavenging for chillar. Now that ATMs are accessible there are queues that are a kilometre long, and even we believe that locals have the first right over it. They are being nice to us considering we are tourists. I don’t know how foreigners are facing this.”

Manoj Tholia, who is walking with a group of 50 people is currently traveling barefoot in the remote areas of Rajasthan. He intends to walk 1008 km to reach a pilgrimage site and says, “You’d think that we’d be facing many problems but so far it has been okay. Our only expenditure is of buying groceries, especially vegetables. We don’t have to spend money on our stay because we usually crash in schools or jungles. Right now, we have enough change to buy vegetables at least but I can see that we won’t have that to spend the next day. We will be traveling via jungles and small villages so finding a bank or an ATM machine will be more difficult for us than the regular travellers. To add to this predicament, I lost my ATM card the morning of the currency ban announcement, so I’ll have to rely on other people who are on this journey with me.”

Aishwarya Pattabiraman, who is currently traveling in the hills of North-East with limited resources—didn’t even get the news on time. “Three towns towards the city there are no banks or ATMs. So we have to rely on cash transactions. But it’s becoming a problem now. Army areas are accepting it and so are the petrol pumps, so we try to get change from there. The rest I am negotiating with my pretty face and using my eyes, if it works, it works. So far we were getting food easily, but it is becoming difficult now that change is a big problem. We are just about managing.”