Your money’s no good here

Rico Gagliano Mar 21, 2008

Your money’s no good here

Rico Gagliano Mar 21, 2008


Lisa Napoli: Last Monday, the dollar hit an all-time low against the euro: $1.59. It bounced back a bit, but even so, the dollar has been dropping so fast, some European exchanges won’t accept American currency.

Of course, travelers to Europe have long been aware their money isn’t buying as much as before, but how about travelers to India?

Our own Rico Gagliano went there recently. He found even in developing nations, the dollar ain’t what it used to be.

Rico Gagliano: The Indian city of Agra is a maze of snaky roads clogged with traffic — except in one place: the Taj Mahal. Cars are banned in a one-kilometer radius, to keep pollution from staining the white marble.

Not that a walk to the front gates is peaceful. The road is lined with rag-tag shops selling light-up Taj’s, glow-in-the-dark Taj’s, Taj’s in snow globes and anything else a tourist might need.

Street Vendor: Yes sir? You need some memory card batteries?

The prices here are exclusively in rupees except one place: the box office of the Taj itself.

Gagliano: Hello. How much is it to enter?

Ticket Guy: 1 ticket, 750.

Gagliano: 750 rupees?

Ticket Guy: Yeah.

Gagliano: How many dollars?

Ticket Guy: Five dollar, plus 500 Indian rupee.

Gagliano: Five dollars, plus?

Ticket Guy: Five dollar, plus 500 Indian rupees.

Pretty neat. I paid in all rupees — I didn’t have greenbacks handy. But this frequent tourist to India did:

Inez: My name is Inez and I’m from California.

Gagliano: And what did you pay to get into the Taj today?

Inez: Taj was about 500 rupees and five American dollars — and they did take American dollars.

The Taj does this because around five years ago, when the Archaeological Survey of India set admission rates, the dollar was relatively strong. A.K. Sinha is a superintendent at the survey.

A.K. Sinha: We were taking the value of dollar as 50 rupees.

But as of this recording, it’s more like 40. In just the last 15 months, the dollar’s lost around 10 percent against the rupee, so if you pay with dollars at the Taj, you’re getting a bargain. That’s why soon, you won’t have the option.

Sinha: There is likely to be some changes, maybe within a month. The entrance fee which is accepted in form of dollars, no, that would be discontinued and we would be charging only in the Indian currency.

That’ll go for more than a hundred other Indian monuments for which the survey charges admission. Inez from California says it’s just the latest example of how things have changed for Americans in India:

Inez: In the past, people used to be really happy if we had dollars. Oh, they wanted our dollars. Now, no, they don’t want.

Gagliano: That’s sad!

And it can be even sadder if you’re an Indian doing business with Americans. Americans, like say, me. While in India, I employed Prachi Bari. She’s what we jetsetting international reporters call a “fixer.” She worked as my translator and…

Prachi Bari: I also set up interviews for foreign journalists while they are here. Which I have done for you, Rico.

And she was great. But she required cash payment, preferably in rupees, at the end of each day. Now normally, you pay a fixer with a check, in dollars, a week or so after you get home.

Bari: But ever since 2007, we have found that we end up losing a little bit of money — or rather a lot of money — by the time the check gets deposited in our bank. The last time I did this through a check transaction, I ended up losing about $40 because of the decline of the dollar.

Not a budget-busting amount for most of us, but Prachi says 40 bucks is 30 percent of many Indians’ monthly income. Bottom line: she’d rather get paid quickly, in a currency that’s not in free fall.

Now, should the greenback experience an upswing, The Archaeological Survey’s A.K. Sinha says dollars could again be welcome at the Taj Mahal, though admittedly, not that many people actually pay in dollars:

Sinha: The figure is quite negligible — 10 percent — so I mean, it hardly matters, you know, in fact.

Gagliano: It’s more a symbol of the times, I think.

Sinha: Exactly, exactly, I do agree with you.

In Agra, India, I’m Rico Gagliano for Marketplace Money.

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