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Wednesday
Dec162009

Opportunism

I have now been in India for nearly a month. I still remain a novice, but now an intermediate novice as opposed to taxi driver fodder. I have a friend who is also visiting India early next year, and this collection of thoughts might be of use.

India is a wonderful country, and I don't suppose that there is any more, or any less, crime than there is in any other densely populated country. What crime I am aware of had mainly been opportunistic crime, and the attitude tends to be that, if you create the opportunity, then you deserve what you get.

Changing money is the classic example. I changed 100 pounds at my hotel reception. I should be fairly ok there, I thought. No, I had presented an opportunity. The rate was 75 rupees to the pound, and the guy duly counted out 75 X 100 rupee notes. Or that is what he counted out. What he gave me was 73 X 100 rupee notes. He was fairly confident that I wouldn't check it there and then, and I didn't. I checked when I got back to my room - far too late. Result, a nice opportunistic 200 rupees for the reception guy. (Incidentally, there is little reason to change money, or travellers cheques, as the ATM machines work fine in major towns)

When choosing a hotel, the first essential is that you find one away from a major road unless you want to listen to the honking of horns all night. The next thing, whatever your budget, is to ensure that your room is 'opportunistic secure'. By that, I mean that the doors lock, and that you can secure the windows. An unsecure window is an opportunity, and someone will climb through it even if only just to have a look around. The final thing is to ensure that the safety deposit arrangements (normally in reception) seem relatively safe. The normal drill is that it will be a locker for which you will (obviously) be charged. Additionally, you will have to pay for a brand new (still sealed) padlock with which to lock the locker.

(This would apply anywhere). Keep your valuable valuables in the locker - passport, travel tickets excess currency, credit cards etc. Unless you are going shopping or travelling you rarely need more than 1,000 rupees on your person. I would suggest it is sensible to have 2 different ATM cards and never (unless moving base) carry more than one of them with you. Minor valuables (headphones, phone chargers etc) you store in your suitcase in your room. Lock the suitcase. An opportunist will nick your headphones, but is unlikely to go to the trouble of lugging your suitcase away. If worried about that, buy a chain and chain the suitcase to the bed.

It is a good policy to arrive in India with photocopies of your passport/visa and an additional half dozen passport type photographs. If this seems a lot of trouble to take, trust me, and take it. For example, it makes a lot of sense to buy an Indian SIM card for your mobile phone. This means that you don't have to pay UK roaming, and your friends and family can call you on one of those 'phone India for two or three pence per minute' phone lines. It would therefore be 'opportunistic' for an unscrupulous retailer to sell you an Indian SIM card without completing the paperwork properly. That means, copy of passport, Indian address, and a photograph. What happens, if you don't have all of that, is that your phone will work, for a few days till the paperwork hits head office, and then they will cut you off. If I have heard 'My phone has stopped working', once, I have heard it a dozen times.

The principle Indian banknotes. Unless indulging in a major transaction, the 1,000 rupee notes are pretty well useless - nobody wants to change them

The final piece of advice, for this post, is a grudging endorsement of one of the dubious policies of J A R Swanson. Make sure that you have plenty of small denomination bank notes. They come in 1000's (useless) 500's, 100's, 50's, 20's, 10's and even 5's. The point being is that outside of reasonable sized bars and restaurants, no-one will have any change. Sorry, they will have change but it is opportunistic to tell you that they haven't. You can be the best haggler in the world, and negotiate a 325 rupee price for something. If you then have only got 4 x 100 rupee notes, tough luck - that is what it will cost you