The Case of the Maharaja Mac and the Missing Passport

Yeah, you read that right: missing passport. I left for Agra and the Taj Mahal at 5:50 AM, as you know if you read the last post. My driver, Akaz, and I drove for four hours in his Tata sedan (air conditioning on re-circ, oh thank you Akaz!). After two hours I looked in my purse for some money for breakfast and realized that my passport was not there. I had cleaned out my purse the night before, to remove the loose coins that weren’t Indian, and all the pieces of scrap paper one gets here. I knew for a fact that I had not put my passport anywhere “safe” and that I had not encountered it since my fateful visit to Reliance internet services. They asked for ID when I set up my $8 account and I did not recall getting it back. I remembered asking for it back and they said they were still scanning it, so I started using the internet instead. But I never remembered getting the passport back. I think it got left on the scanner bed, and since they were closing when I left, we were all in a rush and it was forgotten. I called the travel agent in Delhi and asked him to call the place, since I knew the name of the market area where it was, and we went on to Agra since we were already two hours away from Delhi and it was only 8 AM.

The agent called and called, but got no answer from the Reliance café(s) that he called. There are several, which I knew, but I thought only one in the Green Park Market. Still, by lunchtime, no results. It went on this way until 2:30 with nothing. No phone, no one went over there because it was completely across town, etc. Knowing it would take at least another four hours back to Delhi, and that Reliance had closed at 7:45 the night before, I told my guide that sadly, I would have to skip the Red Fort at Agra and get on the road. I was very disappointed to do that, but with a passport on the line, I felt I had no choice.

We skipped lunch to save time so I ate one of the bananas I had brought with me. It was weird eating because it had been in the sun and was very hot (having sat in the sun in the car, the banana was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). At home, they are usually room temperature and of firm consistency. When I said it was odd, Akaz looked at me like I had two heads and said “is this the first time you are eating a banana that is hot?”, and I said “well, yes, it is”. He laughed and shook his head. The bananas here are sold farmer’s market style, and they sit on plywood tables in the heat until they are purchased. Since it’s been over 100 degrees every day for over a month, I think all of the bananas here are eaten hot. Later, not having anywhere else to put it, I rolled down the window and threw out the banana peel. Akaz laughed and told me “now you are having an Indian holiday: throwing trash out the window. Welcome to Incredible India!” His words – not mine!

Since we had skipped a proper lunch, we later stopped at… gasp… McDonald’s for a take-away meal (as they call it here). Please note that this is a country where the cow is literally sacred. Today I learned that for the first 10-15 years of a cow’s life, it is usually owned by someone. But after that, a lot of people set the cow free to roam. They brand it as a free cow and if anyone should take it and slaughter it, they are in a lot of trouble. Once a cow is marked “free”, it really is free. Many of the Indian people are vegetarian and the rest generally don’t eat beef (sometimes just to keep from upsetting the neighbors). Where does this religion leave McDonald’s hamburger establishment? McDonald’s menu in India is largely comprised of chicken, fish and vegetarian options. I was pretty hungry by this time (5 PM) and ordered the Maharaja Mac. It’s like a big Mac except with very thin chicken patties and the special sauce has a hint of curry. The fries were still like the ones at home, though.

On the way into Delhi, the traffic was awful. Akaz drove skillfully and assertively, fighting traffic at every moment possible to get us there in time. I could tell he was really working on it, and it was not easy. We got to my neighborhood at around 7:35, only 10 minutes before the Green Park market Reliance café was to close. Turned out, Akaz didn’t know exactly where that market was and he thought I’d been to the Reliance close to my neighborhood (wrong). Oh no. Somehow, against hope, I managed to direct him the remaining three miles or so, even though it was dark now and I had only been that way once – in daylight. I cannot tell you how proud I am of that accomplishment, by the way. There was a memorable funky U-turn involved, thankfully. I got him to the Green Park Market and I found the café as the metal shop rollers were coming down. As soon as they saw me, they waved and said “Ma’am, we have your passport!”. I said “Thank G-d!”, and commended them on their honesty. They were in the process of emailing the US Embassy to tell them that they had my passport and I should come and get it (I saw the email they were composing). I got there in time, I got the passport, the embassy was not alerted to my stupidity, and all was well.

In twelve years of traveling abroad, I have never made such a stupid mistake with my passport. I was very, very lucky today and I am grateful that the men at Reliance were honest, and as their name says, reliable. I am sure they could have sold my passport for a pretty high price, though it would have been a crime. I wish they’d had an operating phone number because it would have saved me a lot of worry all day. But in Delhi there is a lot of change. The phone number prefixes are changing size so often it is easy to get a non-operating number when you try to call, or a dead land-line (such as the one at the home of my hosts). One cannot just assume that all the connections are going to be present, as they would be at home. I dodged a bullet. Someone up there is looking after me.

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6 Responses to The Case of the Maharaja Mac and the Missing Passport

  1. Meggi Raeder says:

    Wow, what a wild ride! Glad you go tour passport back.
    Hope you are enjoying Africa!!
    Travel safe and stay well,
    Meggi

  2. dannielle says:

    wow, what an amazing story, i’m glad it ended well! i’m sure we won’t be hearing a similar tale this trip!!

  3. Typhanee says:

    Ohmygosh! I wanted to hug you across the world. I was stressed just reading this post. I’m so glad it all worked out!

    • Thanks Typh! Yeah, I was deeply worried all day, but thank goodness it all worked out. I have to send a nice email to the Reliance chain owner telling him about his good employees. They wouldn’t even accept a tip. I am sorry, Typh, I couldn’t take a train while I was there. I kept trying to steel myself up to do it, but I couldn’t handle the disorganization or the livestock long enough to manage it.

      Next time, I am definitely going to get a phone number for any place that asks for my passport for ID. It’ll be a trade: your phone number for my passport!

  4. Gorongo says:

    Honesty is a value in most cultures…and they practice it. I am guilty of this too that we cast suspicion on peoples with whom we are unfamiliar. It’s a good habit to break while traveling…as we are occasionally reminded. Glad it all worked out.

    • I agree that for the most part, people are honest. But with all due respect, trusting strangers blindly with your passport would be as foolish as immediately suspecting them of theivery. For me, it was a toss-up. I figured they were an established business and normal working men, so it wasn’t likely to be a problem, but the money a person could get from selling a valid US passport might be a temptation that’s hard to pass up. But whether it was going to be stolen or not wasn’t the only concern.

      I was equally worried that I would not make the cutoff time for the close of business. Most of all, I wished that someone had been able to telephone them and let them know I would come for it, if not that night then the next morning. That would have been enough to put my mind at ease. I thought that if it were my business, I’d give the person one full day to come back and then consider calling a higher authority of some kind, assuming the owner might have forgotten where he or she left it. In the morning, the passport could have been handed over to another group, like maybe my embassy or the police, to handle, and then maybe I’d have to spend a lot of time tracking it down before I found it.

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