21 November 2016

Rajasthan 09.11.16 - 20.11.16

Three things we will never forget - Rajasthan.

Lions & Tigers and ... weddings!?

Ranakpur 13.11.16

At around 8.30pm in the rural village of Ranakpur we had just agreed on an early night when we heard a sudden outbreak of bongo drums and traditional Indian singing. Along with the 6 other guests we rushed out to the hotel gate where we were greeted with a small group of locals who where jamming away on the side of the road; the sound was incredible, we hardly recognised any of the instruments which made it all the more enchanting.  Our wonderful guide Rawat beckoned for us to join in advising that we walk over with 10 RPS between our teeth to show gratitude. Feeling ridiculous, we awkwardly sidled / danced our way into the circle (I hope you have some great imagery) and were immediately accepted into the group. We soon realised this was only a fragment of the celebrations. 100m up the road and we were transported back to our Bollywood experience; bright lights, an explosion of colour and animals dressed to the nines all around us. It felt like we had stepped into a fairytale. As I snapped away at the incredible scenes I suddenly felt intrusive as I remembered this was someone's wedding; but if I've learnt anything from our Indian experience so far it's how welcoming the people are into their magical culture. The guests, the band and the whole load of people working on the wedding were more than happy for us to be there and experience such a joyous tradition - as long as we were dancing. (If you've ever been to an Indian wedding you'll know about the dancing!) We laughed and danced our way through a colourful line of Ox and camel drawn carriages lead by a 20 man (or more) brass band. My words don't do justice to this dreamlike experience, nor how lucky we were to be in the right place at the right time. Even Rawat was amazed by what happened! A raw experience of this magical country, never to be forgotten. 


Al Fresco Sleepover - by Lucy & Dod 

Khuri // The Thar Desert 16.11.16

Of all the amazing hotels Rawat has organised for us to stay in during the last 2 weeks the night we spent outside has come out top! We drove about 50 kilometres from Jaisalmer to Khuri, a small village on the verge of the Thar Desert. On arrival we were shown to a small round hut to deposit our bags in before travelling up to the dunes by camel to take in a beautifully rich sunset. We were informed that after dinner and evening entertainment back at the huts we would be given the option to sleep on the dunes under the stars. After some lovely grub and a few rums we decided it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up on. Along with four other couples we loaded onto a Jeep to embark on our al fresco sleepover! The actual sleeping part wasn't all that fun; it was incredibly cold and one of us (we wont say who) had an unfortunate toilet related incident - without a toilet. We'll leave it at that. However, as the sun rose and we were bathed in golden sunlight it all seemed worth it. Everyone was running around like children, jumping down the dunes and rolling in the sand, it was a truly glorious morning. An unforgettable experience, perhaps more so for one of us!   


The Cash Crunch 

Rajasthan 09.11.16 - present day

You may have seen on the news that Indian tender has undergone a bit of a make over recently. As guests of the country it has been something quite fascinating to be a part of, and at times quite hard to cope with. Our tour of Rajasthan has been an incredible journey, and in a way the cash crunch has become a big part of the experience. With that said and done it felt right that I write about what has happened, our personal encounters and the massive impact it's currently having on the country...

Wednesday 10th November - 10pm

"1000 INR and 500 INR notes scrapped" was the tag line and the only thing we could understand from the screen. Our telly had just automatically switched to the news channel where India's Prime Minister, Modi was giving a speech in Hindi. Panicked, we googled the situation and found an article had just been released stating that the government had decided to scrap the countries main tender (the equivalent of our £10 and £20 notes) in an effort to tackle an increasingly prevalent Black Money issue. A new 500 note as well as a brand new 2000 note were to be circulated around the country, but in the mean time to ensure everyone could get enough cash there would be a 2000 withdrawal limit per card and a total withdrawal limit of 4000 a day per person until the end of the month. Obviously, we were fretting big time. Only hours ago we had withdrawn 15,000 rupees all in 500 notes which were, as of midnight, worthless. As the announcement came in English we learnt tourists could change their notes at airports, and citizens with an Indian bank account had until the end of the year to deposit their old tender. The final blow was that ATMs and banks would be shut for 2 days to prepare for the high demand. We had about 300 RPS legal tender between us, which was do-able if we ate from the street venders and skipped the touristy stuff. We agreed everything would work out, but neither of us really slept that night.

Thursday 9th - Saturday 11th November 

The next morning we met Rawat at 9am worried that our Rajasthan tour would be cut short as there was no way we could get enough cash for him before the trip was over.  He confirmed that no one had a clue this was coming but also seemed completely laid back about the situation. We were feeling pretty stupid for losing sleep over it! En route to Pushkar we stopped at a service station, "WE ACCEPT 500 & 1000 NOTES" was hand written on signs everywhere. Relieved we filled a basket with drinks and snacks which we assumed would come to the usual 100 - 150 RPS; 520 the cashier said after clearly pretending to add the amounts up in his head "but you can give me 500 because we can't give change". It was already very clear tourists were a prime target for exploitation of the situation. When we arrived in Pushkar there were similar signs up amongst the markets, cafes and restaurants. However, a restaurant bill was much more likely to come close to 500 RPS and so thankfully the next 24 hours were pretty plain sailing for us. However, towards the end of our stay we learnt businesses were beginning to suffer. We were denied the use of a 500 note of the first time by a market stall owner; although we knew it was illegal we were surprised as all the small independent businesses had been more than happy to take the notes off our hands up until now. He explained to us that businesses were only allowed to bank 4000 RPS a day in the newly illegal tender up until the new year when it wouldn't be accepted as real money. With this in mind he had already taken his limit, if he took any more then he wouldn't have enough time to bank it all. We actually ended up paying for our things in sterling; in the ten minutes we were in there he lost three customers and was so desperate he agreed to take our English money. 

Sunday 12th November - present day

But things were about to get worse. On the 12th November the banks and ATMs re-opened and the 'cash rush' began. Since then not much has changed; queues are up to 5 hours long, nowhere is accepting old notes and almost everyone is struggling. The new 500 and 2000 notes haven't really been circulated yet, which means the cash machines are only churning out 100 notes. That's 40 notes per person each transaction, meaning the machines are empty within a few hours of being restocked. 
At most cash points we've been urged to the front by locals despite them queueing for hours, sometimes because I am a woman (women usually queue separately) but also because they understand as travellers we can't really be without cash. Although, as time goes on and people get more desperate these queue jumps are understandably becoming less favourable. 

People are now frustrated and scared; but from speaking to Rajasthan locals most seem surprisingly understanding of the government's decision. On paper it makes total sense, articles say the move might actually have a positive impact on fighting terrorism as India's black market trade extends right across the border. But the real issue is how unprepared the country has been for such a drastic decision that is of course going to impact absolutely everyone. Yes there's new tender, but it seems there either isn't enough to go around or the banks haven't received the new notes in time. Whatsmore when these 2000 notes really hit businesses are going to struggle to give change without the existence of a 1000 note. Although we have mostly encountered positive feedback there is of course protest in other parts of India as Prime Minister Modi seems to be shying away from the publics' struggle. 

So far we have been pretty sheltered from what's happening around us; in the care of our amazing driver Rawat all our hotels have been pre-paid for with breakfast included for the last 2 weeks - luxurious back-packing! But today is our first day without him. We attempted to withdraw cash yesterday but there's also a 20,000 weekly limit which we had of course reached. We had 200 RPS between us (not even £3.00), so last night was a packet of crisps for tea kind of night.  For the next week we're staying at an art retreat where breakfast lunch and dinner is included in the price of our room, thankfully they have kindly let us transfer our payment online. Hopefully by next week the cap will be lifted - but at this rate, who knows what's going to happen in this crazy country! Nonetheless, what an experience this is; we have been given the opportunity to understand and connect with the people of India on a level we never imagined. Thank you to all the kind faces who have helped us to front of a queue, understood when we couldn't tip and even offered for us to pay for our meal the next day! You are truly amazing. 

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