Getting cash in India can be quite an adventure at times. Finding a functional ATM is not always easy, even in the big cities. Finding a functional ATM that also has cash is even more difficult. On top of that, most visitors seem to prefer a cash machine that actually accepts whatever card they may have, narrowing their options down to about one machine per large city.
Never was this made more apparent than in Jaipur. You’ve probably heard of this city; it’s the largest in Rajasthan and part of the so-called “Golden Triangle” along with Delhi and Agra and thus one of India’s most visited cities. With the abundance of overpriced tours, inflated-price shopping opportunities and endless scams, visitors to Jaipur will undoubtedly need some cash; I even saw many of them spending their cash with my own eyes. But where did it come from?
Certainly not from an ATM, at least not in Jaipur. I spent a good 2 hours walking from bank to bank, sliding my card into numerous ATM slots, always fully expecting to never see that card again. And let’s be clear: when I say bank, I mean places like this:
Most of the ATMs simply didn’t work. Others gave me hope as they spent several minutes flashing advertisements at me on the screen before finally spitting my card back at me and informing me that this particular machine was currently out of cash. As you might imagine, I was getting a little annoyed with this. Going from one bank to another involves a lot of walking and anyone who has done any walking in Jaipur, or any other Indian city, knows just how miserable that experience can be.
Cars come at you from ten different directions, honking continuously and enveloping you in clouds of dust and exhaust fumes, as you try your best to avoid spraining an ankle on the uneven, gap-filled sidewalks while squeezing past cows and waving off aggressive touts, sad-faced child beggars and countless other people who all claim to be your new best friend.
I’m sure you can imagine how happy and relieved I felt when I spotted an ATM across the street from me with a customer who very clearly had just pulled a few bills out and stuffed them in his pocket. This particular machine was even being guarded by a bored-looking cop holding a large shotgun and wearing a ragged uniform that looked like it hadn’t been washed after the previous officer died and was buried in it. If an ATM has a guard, you have to figure it actually works. It turns out the guard can bring a very different problem.
The machine did appear to work, but the second I inserted my card, the cop was standing directly next to me, staring at the screen with me. I turned to look at him and he looked back with a huge grin. When I didn’t turn away, he pointed at the screen and informed me that I needed to enter my PIN. I informed him that I was aware of the general procedure for using a cash machine, given my years of experience with both ATMs and with reading instructions on a screen and I asked him if he would mind giving me some privacy.
“I help you!” he answered with another huge grin as he stayed put next to me, his shoulder glued to mine. At this point, it was clear to me he wasn’t going to leave on his own and his grin wasn’t so much saying “I know you’re a foreigner in a strange land and I want to help you” as “I’m going to steal your PIN and, because you’re an idiot, you’re going to be blinded by my charming smile and not notice.”
I also doubted he was actually a cop, although in India, a fake cop is generally more honest than a real one, so that didn’t really matter. His being fake might decrease the chances of his shotgun being real, but Indian cops don’t general carry shotguns anyway, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
Nevertheless, I once again asked him nicely if he could not stand next to me like we’re posing for a photo together and then I asked him a little less nicely and less and less again. After “discussing” his giving me some privacy for several minutes, I ended up having to grab him and physically move him a few meters away.
Surprisingly, he actually stayed there. He didn’t stay quietly though, as he began waving his shotgun-shaped piece of wood and metal and screaming at anyone who passed by, no doubt recounting the grave injustice he had been forced to endure. No one cared. When he started grabbing people and ranting at them while pointing at me, they basically did the same thing I had done and shoved him back onto his spot.
As for the ATM: it worked! It was a little difficult to figure out at first, all on my own without any help, but luckily I was carrying my copy of “Cash Machines for Dummies” to guide me through the process. My hard-earned dollars were converted into Rupees at a less than desirable rate, but I left happy anyway, knowing that I could now afford to eat actual food for dinner.
If you are planning a trip to Jaipur in the near future, don’t panic. As I mentioned above, it is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, so I am sure there are plenty of ATMs that will work, have cash and even accept your foreign card. I just don’t know where they are, but I’m guessing you’ll find at least a few in the main tourist area with all the pink buildings and the bazaar. Alternatively, just get yourself a uniform and a piece of metal resembling a gun and “assist” other tourists in their ATM use.