Flying to Calcutta via Delhi
Spent yesterday teeth checking, blood testing, and 4 hours in bank lines changing old 500 & 1000 rupees notes for the 'new' 2000 rupee notes...only could change 4000 at each bank, one bank was so short of new notes they only allowed you to change 1000rupees!
We catch buses(4) to Goa airport early even though our flight isn't until 2pm. As it turned out, it was 4 bus rides, 8am - 10am. We were fortunate on the 3rd bus Panjim to Vasco, that a nice lady told us where to get off for the 4th bus to the airport before going all the way to Vasco! Total cost 70 rupees ($1 US vs taxi we used coming from airport...1200 rupees = $20 US)
I would TOTALLY recommend India Air for domestic flights! Our 2+ hour to Delhi AND the 2+hour flight Delhi to Calcutta BOTH included a very good hot meal(veg or non-veg)!! Unlike US carriers which give you a tiny bag of pretzels!
When we arrived at 10:15 pm in Calcutta our bags were waiting just one carrossel/belt away from where Mari came in so easy connecting when she arrived just half an hour later!
Another fortunate coincidence...since we only had the phone # of our booking (Daphne had arranged it before hand), we wondered how we might get in touch with them since they said on line that they provided airport pickup. As it so happened, an Indian fellow living/working in SF as an engineer, was also getting picking up his bags...coming to visit relatives here! He not only let us use his cell phone but did much of the talking for us in Hindi so there was no confusion in communications! Very nice Indian folks most everywhere...
Transit Inn sent a car and we arrived a bit worse for wear but the fellow at the desk arranged a 3rd bed in our room (I was not expected as part of the original booking), and we had a fine reunion with Daphne - lots of chatter/catching up etc. and to bed +/- 1:30 am!
Up and had breakfast (egg, toast, jam, tea) in our room while we attempted to plan the day! With the government withdrawing 500 and 1000 rupee notes from legal tender, country is in a bit of an uproar. We had to get to banks to exchange our old bills for new but everywhere we went there were long lines. First stop where we thought we'd find a bunch of banks nearby was Victoria Memorial Hall which as it turned out after over an hours ride in a tuk tuk was no where near banks. Since we were there, the girls took advantage of the sights and paid entry to see the huge place, a tribute to Queen Victoria Memorial Hall
The rest of the afternoon we spent negotiating or actually, Bon spent acting ignorant about the currency situation at several banks which then took pity on us and took us in front of the lines so we could avoid the long long wait (I waited almost 2 hours and saw 10 fellows enter the bank to complete their transactions! I was number 16 in line by then). We got some food in a local bar...pretty good actually...and then a taxi to the train station where we got information about onward travel into the NE!
As it turned out, going to the main tourist office tomorrow, there are only 3 tickets on the train we need leaving Monday. So, tomorrow is another planning and exchanging $$$ day, and trying to suck $$ out of ATMs that have either been closed or run out of cash today!
Breakfast in shifts since one of us had to stand in line holding our spot at the bank entrance...we were #s 6,7,8,&9 in line an hour and a half before bank opening! When the bank finally opened - half hour late, a 2 hour wait! When we got into the bank they informed us 'Sorry, no money!' They said they'd have money this afternoon at 2! Crazy!
Joey in her blog expresses all our amazement quite succinctly:
"Did I mention india’s population of 1 billion 210 million all needed to cash in some money? That’s a real doozy/ pain in the ass if I ever heard one.
We figured that if it is this difficult here in a very big city like Kolkata to get money, then it will likely be impossible in smaller cities in the North East. We managed to change most of our rupees in multiple banks, with a lot of paper work that no one will ever look at, a lot of passport waving, a lot of signing photocopies and frankly an embarrassing (but also great in a time saving way) number of times we received preferential treatment because we were foreigners."
We got a taxi for the Eastern Railway Foreign Tourist Bureau (500 rupee ride and 45 minutes to get there) where we waited another 2 hours before our number came up and we could buy tickets to Guwahati in the NE state of Assam.
The train leaves tomorrow at 5:30pm, the Kamrup Express #15959 and arrives the next day about 3pm...3 AC bunks and Daphne and Joey said they'll try the 2 sleeper class bunks, hmmm.... Well, we'll see how their first train exposure goes. One thing I can say, we all saw a lot more of Calcutta searching for banks than we ever would have if this minor 'inconvenience' had not occurred. Definitely, Daphne and Joey got a great taste of India in a couple short days!!!