Our first day exploring central New Delhi, or ‘Lutyens’s Delhi’ after the architect responsible for planning out its wide tree-lined avenues, huge open roundabouts, and colonial-style buildings. Also, the start of our constant battle to obtain hard cash, despite having plenty of available funds at our disposal.
Firstly, an explanation of the currency situation for travelers. It’s not possible to obtain Indian Rupees outside of the country in advance of travel, as you would do for most destinations. So we kept our options open by taking a significant amount of sterling with us in addition to a good selection of bank cards. Changed some sterling in the arrivals hall at the airport, but it turns out there is currently a restriction of just £55 per week for foreign currency exchange, noted against your passport details. Nowhere near enough for our travel plans, so one avenue effectively closed down to us! To compound the cash problem, shortly before Christmas the Indian government took the decision to withdraw old 500 and 1000 Rupee notes overnight as part of their measures to clamp down on a black economy. Old notes could only be redeemed by depositing into bank accounts, and the supply of new replacement 500 and 2000 Rupee notes has failed to keep up with demand. So there have been massive queues at ATM machines ever since, with machines often being quickly emptied then remaining out of service for days until refilled.
During the morning we walked round Connaught Circus, down Janpath, and along Rajpath to India Gate. We encountered a few beggars in the street, but they were generally no trouble at all. Far more annoying though were the likely lads and chancers who were continually pestering us, either touting for business at some local emporium, or trying to befriend us and become our guide for the day. Several firm “No thank you”s eventually gets the message home. Cash continued to elude us, with all of the ATMs we visited either being empty or not recognising our UK cards. Finally, we located a working ATM on the Outer Circus not far from the hotel. Government measures mean there’s a daily maximum withdrawal limit of 10,000 Rupees (about £120), but at least we are solvent for a while!
In the afternoon, we walked to New Delhi railway station to buy our train tickets between all the major cities on our itinerary. This was our most essential cash purchase, to ensure we could travel between each of the pre-booked hotels on our itinerary. If necessary, food and drink could be charged to our hotel rooms on credit cards. India is still largely cash-based, with only hotels and high-end shops and restaurants equipped for card transactions.
Anyway, back to the tickets! The hassle factor from touts ramps up considerably as you approach the station. It seems almost everyone wants to see your ticket (presumably to declare it ‘fake’ and sell you another) or take you to their own ‘ticket office’ if you haven’t got one. But perseverance pays off, if you hold firm and follow the signs for the International Tourist Bureau on the first floor above platform one. Take a ticket for the queue, deli-counter style, and fill in a form for each of your required journeys. A certain percentage of tickets are held back for foreign tourist reservations, and can only be bought on production of a valid passport and used by the person named on the reservation. We managed to secure all of our journeys on the desired days, thanks to the really efficient and helpful staff at the bureau.
Tomorrow, exploring further afield in Delhi.