Location: Jaipur, finally
Hotel: Chillout Hostel
I have a Citibank debit card. I deposit $AUD and can withdraw local currency from ATMs anywhere in the world. Exchange rates are reasonable (3% fixed spread) and zero fees. It is perfect for travelling and it is all I use the account for. I pretty much only use it in ATMs.
One day I noticed a transaction for $1.36 from January 29th. No big deal, hardly worth the effort of disputing but if these people do it 1 million times it is lucrative, so plan to dispute when I get back.
February 1st a transaction for $71.48. on the 2nd $74.05 but I don’t notice at first because I don’t need to check the balance ever. But now they have my attention.
I am unable to put the card on hold via the app so need to call Australia which is harder than you think…at first.
Did you see my call for help on Facebook? I have since deleted it to stop people responding, but it was a shout out to someone who had some time who could call the bank for me. Thanks Aaron and Megs for the ideas and willingness to help.
It wasn’t until Alecia was going to ask me some questions to be certain it is me that I remembered the scam that is likely still going but I haven’t seen for a while.
Your Facebook or email is hacked and they send a message “I am in (somewhere) and have been robbed. I need some money to get to the embassy and have my passport replaced”. Except the person who sent it from (somewhere) was sitting with me. It sounded just like my situation.
Eventually I find the Rebtel app that gives free calls anywhere in the world for a week, then $5 a month. I call the bank and have 2 options: block the card or leave it and end up with no money in the account.
Blocking it there and then was not possible, I had little money. It took a few hours to find an ATM that worked and I withdrew what I thought I would need for the 10 days left: R1000 for a bed plus R500 for food per day + some travel plus some breathing room.
I call back and get the card blocked. Later I check the transactions and there is one more for $322.51. Crap. I will get it back but not having a card and now having something to sort out is a hassle.
Cut to Rishikesh. Specifically leaving. How am I going to buy a ticket online without a card?
A couple of people offer to pay and I will give them cash, but a weird thing is that many Indian web sites won’t accept foreign credit cards.
Eventually an Indian guy in our dorm at Live Free Hostel offers, we buy a ticket for R1210 and I give him the money. Sweet. The train leaves at 1840hrs, arriving in Jaipur at 0700hrs. This is why a comfy bed is a good idea. But, unfortunately, it is just an idea.
I am 9th on a wait list with a suggested 74%+ chance of getting a ticket. Good odds I reckon.
With plenty of time to spare, I am on the back of a Royal Enfield motorcycle heading for the bus station. Still on the waitlist, now 3rd in line.
A 40 minute ride to Haridwar and the train station. Still 3rd.
In a miracle of modern India the train is going to leave on time. I am still 3rd in line. If I don’t get on board, I am stuck in Haridwar again and I know the train is full tomorrow night. I get on board and innocently sit in the 2AC car where I have booked.
There are several different classes of rail travel. 2nd class is cattle class – it can be crazy. Here is a video from a previous trip.
Up one level is Sleeper class. Three high, no AC or any frills. On the way to Haridwar I was in Sleeper and it was freezing at night. Windows didn’t close. Everyone was wrapped in blankets.
Next is 3AC. Three high but with AC and you get linen.
Better is 2AC which is 2 high, AC, linen and curtains for compartment privacy.
There is also 1st class, but not on every train. Small private compartments with doors.
Since I don’t actually have a ticket I don’t have an assigned seat, so I plonk myself down in an empty one and hope for the best. Pretty soon a bunch of Uruguayans show up and I have to move. This is to become a recurring theme.
The train departs, I am on board, on.my way. I breathe a sigh of relief that turns out to be premature.
It isn’t long before the conductor comes around and I play dumb tourist who can show the app saying “booked” and that I have paid. But he says I am not on his list.
He is genuinely as confused as I was pretending to be. One would have thought he would have this down pat, but he was looking up my PNR (ticket reference) on a commercial site rather than India rail. It wasn’t working.
A passenger comes to the rescue and it is determined that my ticket hadn’t been issued, so it was cancelled. I feign shock and disbelief and stop short of outrage. None of it works.
What about the money I have paid? He doesn’t care, I will get a refund. But I paid it to someone, not my card. If it is possible, he cares even less and I am banished to a hard wooden seat outside the heat in the area between carriages. This was not going to be fun for 10 hours.
Uruguayan tour guide is cool. He comes out and says he had overbooked and I can have a spare seat. I am back in on the same one I left earlier. Soon, so is the conductor and he explains that because of the no shows, the seats have been reassigned.
However I can have it until Delhi, where the people are boarding, for R1350. I only paid R1210 all the way to Jaipur. I don’t have money, can you take a card? (I don’t have one) Of course not. Is there an ATM on board? I actually said this with a straight face. Did I mention how much he cared?
Now I am sent to 2nd class. His care level had plummeted. My survival instinct had increased inversely proportionally and I stealthily grabbed a blanket as I don’t have one.
I walk along the train in that direction and 3AC is absolutely full. But there is an empty compartment in Sleeper. Not perfect but by now it is getting late and I am tired.
At some time during the night, not late enough to have had a lot of sleep, the people whose seats they are get on board. I move to the next compartment. This was fortunate because it isn’t often you get to hear people having a loud mini party through the night.
All along I am.doing my best to cover the railway blanket with my own stuff as I reckon conductor will kick me off the train if he spots it. At least this is successful and I am quite warm.
In Delhi most people get off along with the pressure I feel. Conductor prods me every time he passes and I say I am here in 2nd class and he moves on until next prod.
I am at the bottom of 3 high and an easy target. Someone gets off and I climb to the top berth. My only fear now is sleeping though Jaipur, there are no announcements or indication of any sort. Thank you google maps for helping out.
There is no need for this adventure to end yet. I am so fearful of missing my station I get off one too soon in Jaipur. It is only 10 minutes to Chillout Hostel. I estimate R100 tuk tuk ride is generous. Interestingly autocorrect first suggested rude instead of ride which is appropriate since driver said R300. I laughed and started looking at Ola where I was quoted R102.
Now he was down to R150 and would do it for R100. Too late. Ola was on its way and instead of an open tuk tuk I would be in a car for the same price.
Uber and Ola are a big problem for tuk tuk drivers and normally I only use them, they don’t make a lot of Rupees. But he has tried to rip me off, I was tired and keen to get there.
Which I did.
Now what? Maybe Pushkar for a night or 2. Maybe hang here until I fly out in Friday.
I don’t know yet. Stand by.