Kolkata was our last destination in India. We had booked our flight to Myanmar from Kolkata, so we had no other chance, but to go there. We were not sure, if we wanted to visit the city centre. We had our hotel booked close to Airport. We wanted to be sure that we can get to the airport without suffering too much from the traffics of big city. It turned out to be a wise choice.
We arrived in Kolkata with a flight from Varanasi. Just 2 nights in the city and then off to Myanmar.
The only thing we had to do – get US dollars, as they are useful in Myanmar. The first night we checked in the hotel and decided not to leave it. We had enough cookies to be able to survive the evening.
The morning came with lousy hotel breakfast. Might have been the worst that we’ve had. We chose to stick with toasts with butter and jam (maybe even that was not such a wise choice). Then we had to face the goal of the day. Getting the dollars turned out to be a real challenge. At least when you do not know where to look for them. First we were making research on the internet. Where to change, what are the rates and the requirements (no – you can not just go to a money exchange office and get the dollars). We found some options, but most of the places where somewhere on the other side of the city. When we started to call the places, just to make sure that we will get the money, it turned out that most of them did not provide the service to foreigners or did not do it at all. We were left only with Thomas Cook, which offered bad rate and was very far away.
Mission one: find dollar bills
I was convinced that there should be an option to do it closer by the Airport. We can not be the only ones with such a need. I did not want to spend hours in the transport, as there was still a pile of work to be done later on. Stijn agreed to check local branches of Indian banks. The first bank we went into seemed very promising. One of the managers explained that we first needed Indian rupees and a receipt from exchange point or ATM machine. We got the money out of our several cards (one withdrawal from ATM can usually be 10 000 Rs – around 150 euros with all the bank charges included) and the receipts. Went back in to the office. This time someone else was dealing with us. A very kind and young Indian woman, but she was not as flexible as her collegue. She made a phone call the branch manager (or someone else in a higer position). She was on the phone for 10 minutes, mentioning discretly “foreigner” few times. Once she hung up the phone we heard bad news – “Unfortunately we don’t have US dollars in our branch”. Oh, well… She suggested to try a branch of another bank, that was close by.
Full with hope we visited another bank, and another, and another… It seemed like we would have to take a taxi to get to the Thomas Cook office.
We tried another bank, just for fun. No luck there either, but by now we had few addresses of main offices of banks in Kolkata, where we might get some money. We were about to cross the huge VIP Road that we had been rading the past few hours, when some clapped on Stijn’s shoulder.
“Excuse me Sir, you want to change money? You have to go to the SBI (State Bank of India) branch close to the Airport,” said a man that also was in the last bank we did visit. Within 15 seconds he had spoken to a police man who was regulating the traffic. In no time the police man stopped a tuk-tuk for us. He arranged that it would take us to the next stop for 20 Rs. Shocked by the speed of the events we just got in the tuk-tuk. We didn’t even know, if the branch was actually changing rupees to dollars. I had seen the branch on google maps, but that was about it. After 5 minutes we got of the tuk-tuk and went searching for the bank. The area looked deserted, but we just followed google maps guidance. With a help of local traffic officers we found the branch. As we entered someone came to assist us. “We would like to buy dollar.” – “Buy dollars? Ok, no problem, please fill in this form…” Thank God!!!
To actually get the money in our hands, we first had to fill in 15 forms and even provide a paper where Stjn’s domestic adsres would be mentioned. Luckily I had copies of our travel insurance in my back pack. The forms were copied and went through several hands before we were taken to the lady that distributes cash. Up until the last moment we were not sure, if we will get the money. There was some kind of a problem with the internal system (that’s what I guessed from the angry typing of the lady). After 20 mintutes of waiting at her window finally the mystery was solved. The needed data was filled in the system and someone else came to unlock the safe, where money was kept. We were about to get our money… Another quest was to get clean and unmarked dollars, as in Myanmar only those are accepted. Luckily the bills were clean and the few suspicious our lady agreed to exchange (with a bit of resistance though). We were happy to have the money in our hands! It only took us half a day.
Kolkata is a harsh city even for us, Indians
– Quote by ?
Mission two: survive
The search for the dollar bills made us hungry. We stopped by some kind of sweet supermarket (first time we saw something like that in India), where they also had a bistro. It did not look great, but we were tired of running around. We went for small thali – two sauces + 4 chappatis for each of us. It was food and it was cheap. All we needed for our last day in Kolkata.
We got back to the hotel ready to get some thing done. We spent some productive hours. Around 8pm I started to feel strange. The whole day I had a little bit suspicious feeling in my stomach, but the dollars were a priority. And then it begun… Diarrhea and vomiting. No medicine that we had taken with us was helping. I was loosing liquid very fast and all I was trying to drink, I had to puke out. I could sleep only in a sitting position, but my back muscles were hurting as hell. Half asleep, half awake, half in bed, half in toilet I spent the whole night. BUT we had to fly the coming morning to Dhaka!!!
Stijn was an angle – he got me water, he gave me medicine. In the middle of the night he went looking for thermomether (btw he had no luck in hotel, nor in the private clinic nearby). Somewhere in the night he called to our insurance company to see what we had to do, if I would not be able to fly. They advided us to go to the best hospital there is and get a doctor. But we had no time for best hospital. Around 6 am we decided to go to the private clinic near by. It is was nothing like one would imagine a private clinic. It was old, dirty and cold. The equipment must have been at least 50 years old. Checking temperature is done by touching the head. But I was not in a state to complain. After a while the doctor came to examine me. He prescribed me a pile of medicines to take the next following week. Luckily they also had their farmacy, so we could get the medicine right away (well within 30 minutes or so…). By the time we were back in the hotel, we had less than hour before leaving to airport. Now the location of the hotel came very handy. Stijn packed my and his bags and arranged all the rest.
In the airport we decided to use the wheelchair facility. I was dehydrated and exhaused. I could not stand on my feet. The wheelchair turned out to be an asset, as we could pass few of the cues in security and migration check without much trouble. It still took quite a lot of time to get to the gate, but luckily the medicine was staring to work and I did not have to vomit anymore. After a crazy last night in India, we were on our way to Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Stijn: Due to the stressful and hectic situation, no photos were taken during our stay in Kolkota.