Need To Know Facts
New Year's Day*
Eid ul Zuha or Adha
Baisakhi, Vishu/Bahag, Mesadi, Maghi*
Sri Rama Navami*
Milad un Nabi or Eid ul Milad (The Prophet's Birthday)
Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday**
Eid ul Fitr*
Guru Nanak's Birthday*
Festivals and holidays differ in different regions. Hindu and Muslim festivals are scheduled according to the lunar calendar and don’t fall on the same day every Gregorian year.
*Restricted holidays - Given at the discretion of the organization/employer.
Weekend - Sunday
Health & Safety
The entire Indian sub continent has the same health hazards so one line of defence should cover you on all territories. The major risks to your health from the armies of mosquitoes are malaria, encephalitis, kala azar and dengue. Cover your arms and legs; be liberal with the repellent and in problem areas sleep under a mosquito net. Traveller’s diarrhoea is another running problem and year after year traveller after traveller gets the ‘loosies’. Ensure it’s nothing nastier by avoiding green salads, uncooked food, and water that you haven’t sanitised by dropping an iodine pill into.
Slightly more serious is the risk of contacting AIDS, Hepatitis B and other sexually transmitted diseases. For your sake and the sake of the people you’re visiting always use a condom. Have safe responsible sex.
For climbers and mountaineers: look out for symptoms of altitude sickness/acute mountain sickness. If you ascend above 3500meters too fast you might feel nauseous, sleepless, and your head may ache. In this case your body is telling you that you’re having acclimatisation problems so let’s descend, buddy. Jokes aside, this is a very serious situation to be in and the only thing to do is to descend. Also carry sunscreen with minimum SPF 20 to escape sunburn.
The quality of health services is not consistent. Urban centres, particularly metros, have good hospitals, well stocked late night/all night chemists, highly competent doctors and top of the line medical services. Conversely, rural and semi-rural areas have very limited facilities. Stick to the larger cities if you are anticipating trouble. Medicines are fairly cheap in India. Though chemist shops in the cities are well stocked, it is always a good idea to take along prescription drugs.
Travellers from yellow fever areas are required to have an inoculation certificate. Prior inoculation for poliomyelitis is recommended.
India is a reasonably safe travel destination. Political disruption is usually localised and everyone’s aware of there being potential trouble days ahead. Areas that may be avoided are Jammu & Kashmir and parts of the Northeast, which in any case have restricted tourist activity. Cases of mugging, theft and worse aren’t completely unheard of but by and large serious crimes against travellers are few and far between.
Basic precautions :
Keep your money and travel documents close to your body (perhaps in a pouch slung around your neck, tucked out of sight under your shirt),
Keep several photocopies of your passport, insurance, travellers’ cheques etc. scattered through your luggage,
Do not use a waist pouch, it may as well be a transparent plastic bag: it’s that fragile and that obvious!
Do not put all your money in one place,
Be extremely alert in the dark. One of the things that protect travellers to India is the vast crowds in any place. The multitudes however, disappear into their homes at night, and you go from having a huge thick safety quilt to a flimsy sheet! Try your best to be in a familiar area when it gets dark. If you are not, at least know how you can get to that area from wherever it is that you happen to be.
Many women travellers wear the long tunic and loose pyjama dress of Indian women called the salwar-kameez and find that it substantially dissuades unwanted male attention.
If you are travelling alone, do not advertise it.
If you lose your passport lodge a First Information Report at the local police station and contact your embassy.
Weights & Measures
India uses the metric system where 100cm=1meter; 1000meters=1km, liquids are measured in litres and solids in kilograms.
220volts/ 50 hertz is the frequency at which electricity is available WHEN it is! Power cuts and ‘load shedding’ is a regular feature all over except Mumbai. Another reason for visiting in the colder months would be that not only do power cuts become fewer but you’ll also feel the pain of them less! If your electric razor has flat-pin plug then carry a combination plug that will feed into a round-pin socket: across the sub continent plug point sockets are round rather than flat.
Customs & Duties
If you are above 17 years you may import the following in without attracting duty:
200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco, a litre of alcoholic drink, 250 ml perfume, gifts up to a value of Rupees 4000 (foreign passport holders), gifts up to a value of Rupees 6000 (Indian passport holders) and articles of personal use. But its best to check with the authorities for the specific details.
It is illegal to bring in drugs, gold and silver bullion, plants and coins that have gone out of use.
Post & Communications
Postal services in India are quite efficient. Letters overseas must be marked "Air Mail" or "Par Avion". It takes a week to 10 days for letters to reach the UK and the US from Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and other major cities. Have letters for you (surname first) addressed to the GPO (General Post Office) of the city, ‘Poste Restante’. The post offices hold letters for 30 days, and you’ll have to show them your passport for identification.
Parcels are a bit tedious to send or receive and often when they do finally arrive, they’ve been tampered with. Courier services are widely available in the cities and small towns.
"Cyber cafes" are an increasingly common fixture in India’s urban landscape, in major cities and even in smaller towns. At a fixed rate that varies from city to city, locality-to-locality, you can check your mail and surf the net. Very often the Internet business is an extension of what used to be a just a "PCO".
In loopy lanes, beneath shady peepul trees, in busy markets....all over India, little yellow boards spill out of little kiosks with the cryptic letters "PCO-STD-ISD" (..... huh?) 15 years ago the telecommunications miracle swept India and today, proud bearers of that legacy, ‘Public Call Offices’ bring to the streets the services of ‘Subscribers’ Trunk Dialling’ and ‘International Standard Dialling’. Most offer fax services, and more and more now, Internet facilities too.
Country code for India: 0091. Codes for the metros: Delhi-011, Mumbai-022, Calcutta-033 and Chennai-044. When calling from overseas omit the zero in the city code.
It is customary to tip 10% of the bill at restaurants, but you may tip less if service charges have been included in the bill. At hotels tip 10 bucks to the bellhop, the same to the doorman ‘durban’; if the service is particularly good, substantially more to the concierge and housekeeping.
Black and yellow cab drivers do not expect to be tipped. The opposite is true if you have a hired a cab for a long period. You’ll find some of the most friendly and colourful service at tiny nondescript roadside stalls called ‘dhabas’. A small tip, even if it is only loose change, will be appreciated tremendously.
Coolies (porters) at railway platforms have to be paid; negotiate the payment before you hire one.
English Language Media
No matter where you are in India it is never going to be difficult to find an English language newspaper. All the major dailies, and there are many in this country where the fourth estate is startlingly independent and strong, have multiple editions with at least one from every region and one on the net. There are two major weekly newsmagazines and both are easily available at kiosks all over. Even international fashion glossies have an edition coming out of India now though these are available only in the bigger cities.
Cable TV has reaped a rich harvest. Even small town India has a skyline that blooms with electronic blossoms of dish antennas and these are only going to proliferate further. BBC World Service and CNN beam the latest news; ESPN and Star Sports keep you up to date with how your club is (or is not) thrashing its rivals in UEFA; and Star (elsewhere known as Sky) beams an entire stable of entertainment channels.
The more widely accessible national channel too has some English programmes, and a daily English news segment.
FM in the metros means Music like in the rest of the world. BBC World Service and Voice of America are on the MHz bandwidth but the frequency is variable.
» A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
» Swami and His Friends by R. K. Narayan
» The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru
» Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa
» India Unbound by Gurcharan Das
» No Full Stops in India by Mark Tully
» The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor
»English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee
» The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple