Thursday, October 4, 2007

India keeps life interesting......

Steve and I will remember Khajuraho, not only for it's elaborate sex temples and streets lined with aggressive touts, but also as the town where our passports were stolen. Steve, with obvious pride in his voice, will tell you that it wasn't due to laziness, or forgetfulness, or lack of responsibility. We didn't leave them in a restaurant, or forget to zip the backpack and then walk thru a crowded market. They, along with about 8000 rupees (~$200) and our visa cards, were stolen from our tiny hotel room, in the middle of the night while we slept. The thief somehow managed to crawl to our second story balcony, prop open the heavy porch door, sneak into our room, and take our valuables from our daypack. We know this because the porch door was propped wide open when we awoke, and our daypack lay unzipped in front of it, with our money belt of valuables gone. When we had gone to bed the night before, the porch door was closed, and our pack with the money belt inside was lying across the room from the porch.

After the initial disbelief and a bit of discussion, we both concluded that, without a doubt, the hotel manager and/or his friends/brothers/children/random men who hang out and sleep at his hotel every night, were responsible. I can tell you more details later, but we knew that they had our passports and money. It became even more clear when we went downstairs and told him of our situation. He smirked, said it was "not possible" and that it was "not his problem". Infuriated, we marched to the tourist police station, and reported the theft to the female officer inside. She had us write a detailed complaint, then got her superior and the hotel manager and myriad of "staff". They made a feable, very theatrical, attempt to interrogate the manager, then sent him on his merry way. Then we were fed samosas and chai, and told to return in a few hours while the police "did their work".

Being pretty confident at this point that the police were useless, we returned to the hotel, and basically pleaded for the return of our passports. "So, what do we need to do, to help you find our passports?" "What can we give you that might result in our passports being returned to us?" We hinted strongly at baksheesh (Indian monetary bribes), but to no avail. The still-smirking manager, surrounded by his also-smirking floozies, could only reply that it was "not possible" that our passports had been stolen. Had we checked our bags? How could they be sure that we weren't making this up, so we could get insurance money for our stolen items? They also insisted that it was "not a problem" for us to get new passports - just go to our embassy in Delhi, walk down the red carpet, and they'll present us new ones on silver platters. (this was something that the police also told us many, many times) For the third time since arriving in India, I broke down and cried, much to the enjoyment of the growing crowd gathered outside the hotel door. More smirking on the Indian side ensued, and we realized we were helpless, and left.

Back at the police station, we were presented with a copy of our police report, and told to bring it to the main station to get an official stamp on it. I'll spare you the details, but the summary is that pretty much the same events occurred there as at the tourist police station. The hotel manager, this time with the head of the hotel union in Khajuraho, were called in, some discussions in Hindi occurred, and we were once again told it was "not possible" that our passports had been stolen from our hotel. Steve, in a great moment of glory, slammed his fist on the head officer's desk, and began a very animated rant on the corruption of Indian police and their unwillingness to help travelers, and ending by predicting an end to tourists visiting Khajuraho if they are treated so poorly. I don't remember all of the details, but he was on a roll, emotional and emphatic in his phrases. It was quite convincing (and I'm sure he'd be happy to repeat it to you all when we're home).

Two days later, I opened my email account to find a new message from Hotel Jain.

"We have found your passport. My brother is going to Banaras today (Tues.). Please tell me the name of your hotel so we can deliver it to you.
Hotel Jain Manager"

The next morning, our passports and visa cards (minus the rupees) were returned to our hotel. The manager's brother claimed that they were found in the alley adjacent to the hotel. I think he expected a big hug and a cash reward, but all we could manage was a frosty "danyavad" (thankyou). I'm still in shock that we were somehow able to cause enough ruckus in Khajuraho to convince them that their best option was to return our passports. They got our money, so it wasn't a complete victory, but I'll take any victories in India that I can get. It was nice not to feel helpless and vulnerable, if only just for a moment when he reached into his bag, pulled out our passports, and sheepishly returned them.


Phillip said...

So, are we putting our valuables under our pillow these days? Is there some curse you can put on a person that our of fear will make them cooperate. Like tell them their son will marry a cow and all the off spring will have tails. Good luck.

Stephen and Abigail Rideout said...

Actually, funny you should ask. The curse of all curses in India (or at least so I've heard) is to tell someone you hope they have ten beautiful daughters and all marry well. Unfortunately, I was too emotional and worked up to think straight that day, so the hotel manager got away without a curse....

Hannah Yang-Lehman said...

Wow - sounds like India is a crazy, wonderful, terrible place. I feel like I'm following you. Just got back from 6 weeks in Turkey and now i'm heading to India in January for about 5 months. You guys slept in monestaries in Himachel Pradesh? How did you guys manage that? ANY advice would be uber fantastic! your stories are hilarious (and informative, and a little nerve-wracking.) I hear India is hard...but i didnt realize it was that hard. apparently i had some past life (lives) there so perhaps there's a reason why i'm drawn..? xoxo

Anonymous said...

Put your trust in jah white devils.