A week ago the prime minister of India announced that 500 rupees (£6) and 1000 rupees (£12) notes were going to be unusable as of midnight, in an attempt to get rid of the fraudulent money in India.
While this is a good thing, this happened overnight and came with no warning to locals or tourists. The 100rs, but more so the 500rs and 1000rs notes were what you would get when you withdrew money at an ATM so as you can imagine there were a lot of people with the ‘old currency’ as it is now called.
The cash driven country hasn’t got electronic alternatives that would have helped but instead people are frantic to exchange life savings at a limit of 4000 rupees a day (approx £48).
For tourists and locals the maximum withdrawal is set at 2000 rupees (£24) which is enough to exist here but not enough to afford any activity or entrance fees to the many attractions. The Taj Mahal being 1000 per person taking half your daily cash alone. And that is assuming you manage to withdraw any money!
The lines for the ATMs can be hours of waiting to withdraw cash and run out within 20 minutes of being filled. We were fortunate to find an ATM that was just filled to get some cash but later that day queued for an hour to find the people in front had taken the last of the cash.
Banks have been closed, ATMs empty and tourists and locals desperate alike. Small businesses are getting no trade as no one can part with the precious cash, employers can’t pay their staff, and next to no one wants to accept the old notes.
We have 12 days remaining in India and have had to majorly shuffle our travel itinerary to ease the chaos but many travellers we’ve come by are booking flights to leave India for more stable countries, weeks ahead of their planned departure date. With the tourist season just starting, they could not have chosen a worse time to make these changes as an influx of tourists both international and domestic are set to holiday here.
The promise of an improved situation seems far fetched as the newly introduced notes (2,000/500) do not even fit into the cash machines, meaning only 100 notes are dispensed, 20 notes per person (due to the daily limit) means the ATMs are empty quicker. They do not seems to be printing the cash quick enough to supply the struggling population and each bank we’ve visited is a hectic unorganised crowd hoping to be seen to before they run out and close up.
We are very fortunate that this happened towards the end of our trip however it has resulted in our travel plans being compromised. The more rural parts we once hoped to visit are now deemed too ‘risky’ for us to travel too while the ATMs and bank situations are so unstable. We had paid a lot of money to be granted a visa that lasted more than the usual 30 days so that we could see as much of India as we could and now we are left with no option but to stay put for our financial safety.
Looking on the positive side, we are in Goa which is a beautiful place to be based with lovely people who can’t do enough to help us. Restaurants have trustingly let us set up food and drink tabs, allowing us pay with our cards at the end of our stay. We have a room to sleep in and food available which is much better than some of the locals and tourists around the rest of the country.