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Travel Tips

Getting there 


From? Who? How  long? Cost?
UK BA / Virgin / Jet Airways / Air India 8 - 9 hours £350+
Europe Air France / Lufthansa / Austrian / Swiss / Alitalia 8 - 10 hours £400+
Australia Qantas / Malaysia Airlines / Singapore / Air India 15- 16 hours £600+
Far East Air India / Cathay Pacific Direct / Thai Airways / Singapore and Maylasia Airways 5 - 6 hours £300+
US Air India / British Airways / Continental / Delta / United / Lufthansa 15 - 19 hours £650+

Note: There are many cheap deals available on the internet that are worth investigating
and it is possible to find flights from London to Delhi for as cheap as £240.  However, 
these are not frequent and are at unsociable times and dates, so prepare to be flexible.

 

Visas / entry requirements

Practically every nationality requires a visa for India and it is essential you obtain one in your country of origin before travel as you will be refused entry if you arrive in the country without one.

Obtained from the Indian Embassy or High Commission in your country of origin, they will be valid for 6 months from the date of issue
(not entry!); choose a multiple-entry visa should you wish to return or visit a neighbouring country at the same time.  Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months. Costs are currently £30 / US$60 / A$55 .  In 2008 they are planning to outsource the visas in UK  to an online issue company so do check when that starts. When this launches it will be much quicker and easier and the fee will increase to £35.

For details of how to apply for a visa from the UK please click on the following link:

http://www.hcilondon.net/visa/index.html

 

Travel Insurance

A policy to cover theft, loss and medical issues is a must.  If you’re the adventurous type you may also wish to consider cover for activities such as diving, white water rafting, cycling and abseiling etc.

We personally use a Nottingham-based company, James Ryan Thornhill, a broker who advises suitable travel insurance for a single-trip or annual cover. Tel: 0115 922 8181 (please mention Boutique India).

It is a good idea to photocopy all relevant documents - passport, travel documents, insurance policy etc.- and leave one copy at home; carry another copy with you separate from the originals.

Travelling around

Personal driver
The first journey on Indian roads can be an experience and our guide’s comment about the three golden rules of driving being “a good horn, good driver and good luck” (all so true) will stay with us forever!



We wouldn’t recommend self-drive to anyone, there is simply no highway code and you certainly wouldn’t want the unfortunate experience of colliding with a sacred cow! 

It is much easier and cheaper to hire a personal driver who will have well-maintained vehicles, know the routes and the location of hotels, and be used to driving in the cities.

A driver will allow you to visit some of the more remote locations off-the-beaten track in the countryside where public transport is limited or often non-existent.

Roads in India are of varying standards, and drive times will vary greatly depending on the route you are taking, with some wonderfully smooth toll highways, pot-holed roads, quiet routes where you will seldom pass another car, to the manic cities where it’s every man for himself – all an experience and all part of the fun!

Trains
With an extensive network, it’s possible to travel throughout India by train, although most tourists would be horrified with a journey of in excess of 24 hours (which there are many).  While we wouldn’t really advise travelling by train for long journeys (unless you have time on your hands), travelling by trains can add to the experience and make a nice change from the car.  Delhi to Agra (for the Taj Mahal) for example can be a positively pleasant journey in the air-conditioned first class carriage.

Booking train tickets can be a difficult process for anyone.  Allow us to book tickets for you to ensure you travel on the quickest routes, at the best timings and to / from the correct destinations.  It’s important to book as far in advance as possible, especially at peak times the trains get fully booked. 

Travel first class A/C for space comfort, second class if you really want to experience the real India and its people (and possibly a host of animals as well!), or somewhere between for a mixture of both.

Domestic flights
The sheer size of India means that domestic air travel is well developed with airports in many of the major cities in each state.  Jet Airways, Sahara Airways and Indian airlines are the most wide-spread carriers linking regional towns to Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay) where most international airlines arrive and depart.

Other modes of transports
We’d advise avoiding buses (you’ll see why once you arrive – there are no limits for the number of people who squeeze on); auto rickshaws or local taxis are a good way to explore a city (ask for the meter to be switched or negotiate a price beforehand); enjoy the leisurely pace of a rice boat in the south, or elephants and camels are by far the most fun, although not quite as comfortable as conventional means.

Health Advice

Pre-departure jabs and tablets 
No inoculations are legally required for India although typhoid, hepatitis A and meningitis are recommended – please seek medical advice and it’s a good idea to check you’re up-to-date with tetanus and polio at the same time.

Malaria
Unfortunately malaria does exist in India and preventative measures are required. Seek medical advice for anti-malarial tablets as side-effects may occur.
The best prevention is to avoid bites altogether: at dusk and dawn when the little fellows are most active, cover well and use plenty of repellant.  Some people swear by eating Marmite to keep them away (perhaps an old-wives tale) but we find that pure Citronella oil works well and is easy to get hold off.  Plenty of branded repellents are also available both overseas and in India.

First Aid Kit
It’s useful to bring antibiotics, diarrhoea “blockers”, citronella, plasters, antiseptic cream, insect sting relief, lip balm, sunscreen.  Most medicines can be bought over the counter without prescription and many doctors speak good English. 

Bring tampons and contraceptives as they’re not easily available to purchase. Waterless soap, tissues or baby wipes are a good idea to carry.

Food, drink and ‘Delhi-belly’ 
In all cases stick to the bottled water and drinks lots of it, especially when it’s hot and humid. 

We use the known phrase “if you can cook it, peel it, wash it – eat it”.  Essentially use common-sense and avoid anything that looks like it has been reheated, decline ice in drinks unless it’s been prepared with boiled water and avoid dairy products made with unboiled milk (eg some ice creams). 

Unfortunately ‘Delhi-belly’ is not a myth but certainly not as common as people lead you to believe.  If you have a sensitive ‘system’ take it easy before tucking into rich meat dishes as stomach upsets can occur eating unfamiliar food.  If you do experience trouble take “blockers” before embarking on a journey and drink lots of liquid to replace fluids lost and add rehydration salts.

Useful and up-to-date health advice can be found on www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk and www.malariahotspots.co.uk.

 

 

Money

The 3 C’s – currency, cash, credit cards
Indian rupees (Rs) - can only be obtained in the country. Based on the decimal system, there are 100 paise to the rupee. As at 1st October 2007 £1 = 81Rs, US$1 = 40Rs.


The easiest option is to exchange money at your hotel (travellers cheques and foreign currency will be accepted).  Banks can be time-consuming and opening hours limited (generally 6 days a week, 10am – 2pm weekdays, 10am – noon Saturday, closed public holidays), but there are now 24hour cash machines in the larger cities.  Credit cards are now accepted by many hotels and shops and restaurants (Visa and Mastercard especially).

It’s a good idea to have a combination of travellers cheques, cash (US dollars and pounds sterling most useful) and credit cards in reserve.

Tipping
Tipping is common place in India, and while it’s a personal choice how much to tip based on the service received, we’d suggest the following as a guide: restaurants 10%, hotel porters 20-30 Rs, room service 30-50 Rs; at smaller boutique / heritage properties you will often find a ‘tipping box’ which will be shared out amongst the staff. Drivers / guides between 100-200 Rs / day should you wish.

 
Communications

Time
Surprisingly for the size of the country there is only one time-zone, GMT + 5hrs30mins

Telephone
Country code is 91, outgoing international code is 00 plus the county code (for the UK 0044, Australia 0061, US and Canada 001)
As with anywhere in the world making calls from a hotel is often charged at a premium rate – check rates before making a call. Or look for private telephone services, advertising themselves with STD/ISD signage.

Fax machines are available at most hotel receptions

Internet & email are now very popular and available at most hotels and internet cafes

Mobiles
Internationally recognised networks can be picked-up (check beforehand that you can roam overseas and costs).  If you are visiting for a long period of time consider buying an Indian SIM card and top-up cards to reduce costs as in India calls from mobile are significantly lower than Western countries.

Post 
The speed of the post is difficult to predict, anything from a few days to a few weeks is a possibility. 
Visit a post office to have the mail franked in front of you.  International courier services (DHL, Fedex and the like) have offices in many of the state capitals.

Electricity voltage is 220V AC, 50 Hz, usually two or three round pin (so British plugs will need an adapter).

 

Local customs and dress

General

  • The namaste greeting (with folded hands) is the common greeting and its use is welcomed. Men in the cities will shake hands, however men should not shake hands with a women unless she first offers.
  • Public physical contact between men and women does not occur in India and even holding hands by Westerners can be frowned upon.
  • Men can sometimes be seen holding hands as a sign of friendship. Embrace this if you feel comfortable but please don't apply western thinking to what it may represent.
  • Use the right hand only especially when eating as the left hand is associated with certain unclean activities.
  • Avoid pointing with the soles of your feet or index finger as this is disrespectful.
  • Ask before simply taking photographs of people, particularly at religious sights or in traditional dress and beware of taking photos of anything military.

Visiting religious sights

  • Remove shoes before entering a temple or mosque (and also if you are invited into someone’s home).
  • Wear modest clothing if entering a place of worship: in mosques women should cover head, arms and wear long skirt; in Sikh temples your head should be covered. You may be asked to make a donation which should be placed it in the donation box.

 

 Dress

  • In hot weather, loose clothing, cool fabrics (linen and lightweight cottons ideal) and light coloured clothing.
  • On safari, blend in with the environment to maximise your chances of spotting wildlife and a jumper is a good idea for the chilly early mornings.
  • In the desert, the sand can get everywhere and sunglasses are useful to keep the sand from your eyes.
  • Air-conditioning in restaurants, cars and trains, shops can feel leave you feeling cold and a cardigan or light jumper comes in handy.
  • Good shoes if planning lots of sightseeing and walking.
  • In Delhi and Mumbai, with their thriving social scenes and many fashionable restaurants, linen casuals will be fine but you may feel a tad under dressed in the most “vogue” restaurants.

 

Guides / books

We can arrange for a guide to accompany you throughout your tour: well-educated and highly knowledgeable on all aspects of India, national guides must pass an official exam to obtain the top guiding status. Costs for this approx US$50 per day.

Equally as good is to hire guides at the sightseeing destination; they are very knowledgeable on their given subject, better than any guide book in our opinion, allowing you to fully appreciate viewing the sights without having your head stuck in a book. 

Guide books are great to background reading and pre-departure we would recommend the following for India:

  • Rough Guide to India (latest copy 2005), Rough Guide to Rajasthan, Delgi & Agra (latest copy 2007) and Rough Guide to South India (latest copy 2005). Some hotel addresses and telephone numbers are inaccurate, but still good for general information, hints and tips.
  • Insight Guide to India – Focus on sightseeing & culture. Well written with stunning photography. Perhaps more of a pre-departure, coffee table read so as not to ruin 'out on the road’.

 

Useful contacts

Embassies and High Commissions:

Australia
High Commission of India, Canberra
Tel (616) 273 3774 / 273 3999
www.highcommissionofindiaaustralia.org

UK
High Commission of India, Aldwych, London
Tel 0891 880 800
www.hcilondon.org

US
Embassy of India, Washington
Tel (202) 939 7000
www.indianembassy.org

British High Commission in Delhi – Tel 2687 2161

Tourist offices in India:
Mumbai tourist office – Tel 2203 3144
Delhi tourist office – Tel 2332 0008
Kochi tousit office – Tel 266 8352