A Cool Ten in India20 Apr 2018
For my first time travelling alone, I decided I wanted to go to India. I had wanted to go to India for a long time, mostly because of the food I had eaten in Canada. After travelling to Europe the summer prior, I had the travelling bug and wanted to experience a journey of my own.
I managed to get accepted to an astrophysics (as if) conference in Hyderabad, which would help subsidize the costs of travel. My plan was to show up, check in, and then cruise the town on my own. This trip was planned last minute, like a lot of the things I did during the 2016-2017 school year. I left February 17th, the Friday before our reading week.
Before leaving, even though I was rushed, I called up my bank and Visa to let them know what was going down.
Yo, my guy, I am going to India! Can I grab some rupees? Can I use my always-paid-on-time Visa? - me
Nah we don’t sell rupees, but ANY ATM with a Visa logo will hook you up when you’re there. And thanks for the heads up we won’t lock your card when you’re kicking it in Mumbai. - TD and Visa, loosely
Alright cool! I’ll get my rupees when I land in Mumbai. Wow, banking systems are so worldwide and modernized now. Less cash for me to travel with anyways. India was also in the process of changing their bank notes when I was going. Dad drove me to Pearson International at 2:30 that Friday morning, and I happened to have a crispy purple ten and fiver in my wallet. At Pearson I burned the fiver on a medium dark roast black. Off to Heathrow I go!
I was really nervous and afraid, since I hadn’t travelled alone like this before and I was going across the world with no money or form of communication and I planned this trip last minute and I didn’t have a single plan in India aside from trying to find a vague acquaintance’s wedding and ending up in Hyderabad to check into a conference. This was the adventure I signed up for though, and I wanted to become a stronger traveller. My first fault was that I misread my tickets, and thought I had a layover of an hour or two in Heathrow, when in reality it was about ten hours through the middle of the night. I managed to buy a decent, at best, sandwich before the guards grouped all the ‘overnighters’ in a brightly lit and poorly heated gate to sleep overnight. I didn’t sleep. An Eastern European man asked me to smoke in the washroom with him three separate times. I listened to some new Pusha T and Future most of the night while messing around with some Pokemon on my 3DS. Anything to keep me from thinking I had made a huge mistake in going on this trip. This marked about twenty-four hours without sleep for your cozy boy.
In the morning, they kick you out and send you to your real gates. My flight for Mumbai left and let me tell you that Air India had way better service than Air Canada. Ice cream? I’m down. Another meal? Ok. I also slept half the flight. In Mumbai I come across my first ATM with a Visa logo on it. How many rupees am I taking out to start, a couple thousand? Denied! I got denied on both my debit card and my Visa. I invest a lot of money with TD and they take a questionable 1-2% in management fees (switched off this BS now) and I’m out here in Mumbai (loving it) and they can’t sneak me a couple rupees? Ok, people were in line so I said whatever I’ll catch my flight to Kolkata and try again there. I was trying to get to that acquaintance’s wedding, and also wanted to visit since I went to Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School.
I land in Kolkata and it was even hotter than Mumbai. Three different ATMs tried, all denied. I am nervous, stranded, and without WiFi. All I have is a really vague address and a cool ten CAD. Do I convert it? The exchange offered me 400 rupees (bad exchange since I was a foreigner) - ok let me check with the prepaid cab company - they say they’ll get me there for 400 but don’t really know the address (???) - alright I am not risking getting stranded in Kolkata. I stay put and wait for another eight hours in this airport. Starting to think I might just have to try my Visa to buy a plane ticket back home… let me test this card to buy a water and a sandwich. I was dying of thirst, and I am not supposed to drink the water from the fountains here. Ok the card worked, I will carry on for now. Why won’t it let me take out cash though?
About thirty minutes before my flight to Hyderabad, I run into someone I recognize. My boy Mark. It was so surreal in the moment to finally see someone I knew. I told him what was up - no money. He spotted me a cab ride and meal at Indian McDonald’s once we landed in Hyderabad. I got a spicy Maharaja Big Mac. This was my first time outside of an airport or airplane in over 72 hours. I was so lucky to be staying in this half-star by Canadian standards hotel with a free breakfast buffet - since I basically lived off of that and cheap meals for the first couple days. My mom also made me pack some mini-eggs before I left since Easter was close by. With my really really shotty WiFi, I was able to set up a Western Union transfer with my mom to get myself some rupees. I walked along some shady parts of Hyderabad, looking for a place to pick-up my money, and worried about getting robbed when I finally got it. When I did get my money, I was rich! The first thing I bought was a Pepsi.
I lived three whole days in Hyderabad with only 500 rupees that I ended up converting from that cool ten dollar bill I had. Honestly, I didn’t even live that bad - aside from a lot of walking. It wasn’t until later in the week that I could start wiling out on auto tuk rides. It was on me for not getting my own rupees or at least bringing a fat stack of USD - that’s my recommendation to future travellers. I ripped into TD and Visa when I was back. Turns out TD blocked my debit card and Visa just didn’t come through with the ATMs.
I saw some shit in India, and I will write more about it soon. This early experience with no money nearly crushed me. To be honest, it did crush me at the time. I was near tears every moment that I was alone. But looking back I could probably travel anywhere alone now, can you imagine?