India!

Guides - India

India!

India is the greatest adventure one can think of, Mysterious and unsolved although the hundreds of thousands travelers who visit the subcontinent every year and comes back, each one of them with a private smile that hides the inability to explain those who were not in India why is he or she smiling.

It is a riddle of magic and colors that shocks the visitor and turn her (or him) into an addict – hidden valleys in the Himalayas, palaces and painted cities in Rajasthan, full moon in Goa, spiritual supermarket in Puna, Holiness & death in Varanasi, the south with the wonders of Madurai, Rameshwarem & Mamalapuram. Ganja in Prvati valley. India



* Health
* Climate, weather
* Visa
* Literature.
* Transport
* Flights

* Train
* Train types
* Buses & Taxis, Rickshaws all types, Camels, Horses, Yaks & Elephants
* Motorcycle
* Food
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Juna Akhara Kumba Mela Allahabad
Health

India is known as the filthiest, dirtiest and suck place in the world. It is not.
Most of it is exaggeration, intimidations.
There are of course dirty places, quiet a few in the Ganges valley and on the big cities perimeters and these are the sorry and depressing sites of India but one can find much worst places in the world. And in these places – there is no India to take refuge.
The advantage of these virtual threats is that people tend to be cautious and vaccinate themselves before going to India. They do it because what is stuck in the collective memory is the British colonial vision of India - mostly the density and the garbage.
But, to take it on the bright side - one can easily find whatever he wants in India.
The are maladies you can get from food and water, others from insects bites and rough hygiene.
A separate issue is periodic epidemics that erupts every now and then.
Food: the Indian food is diverse, hot and spicy in many cases, fresh, different nourishing and excellent.
It is not like western food at all and in many cases the travelers body reacts naturally till it grows accustom to it.
One of the best ways to avoid problems with the food is to start eating it immediately and not to try searching for a "western" kitchen. The Indian cuisine is one of the best diverse cuisines with a long (longest?) tradition of cooking that uses fresh natural ingredients which are the opposite of the "like western" Indian cooking which is dull boring imitation cooked poorly in a bland of unrecognized materials.

Liquids
It is recommended to drink bottled water (Mineral or purified), boiled water in all forms (the Chay family) is quiet safe and bottled soft drinks.
In the Himalaya regions and in countryside areas where you know the source of water its less of a problem. There are cities in India – like Chandigar – where the water system is good enough to drink tap water.
It is more likely to get one of the stomach malfunctions because of water then by eating.
The diseases associated with stomach problems are: Typhoid, Cholera, Hepatitis (some of them are spread by mosquitoes) and it is possible to get vaccination beforehand.
Diseases like Dysentery and parasites have no vaccination but can be done with several days of aggressive antibiotics.
These Stomach (rather intestine) diseases appear mostly in form of diarrhea in various stages, blood in it, stomach aches, vomiting, general weakness and drop in functioning and energy.
Apart from medical care it is essential to drink a lot and to add salts because the salt is responsible on the electric functioning of the body and losing it through the diarrhea is dangerous. It is wise not to be in hot places and to get as fast as one can to a Dr in order to check the cause and to get the proper treatment.
But, not every diarrhea, stomach ache and weakness are sure indicators of these diseases. It is wise to wait a day or 3 to see if it goes away.
There are many Drs and many clinics and hospitals in India. The public medicine is cheap, developed and on good standards. There are many private Drs one can call at any hotel. There are many pharmacies and medicines are easy and cheap to get.
It is important to get an Anti – Tetanus vaccination – it is good for 5 years and prevents severe contamination in case of injury.
If it is possible , vaccination for rabies is recommended – the first 3 which are given in a span of a week and only in case of bite or scratch by an animal the 2 push injections are given.
Malaria: Is a mosquito bite generated desease . a parasite called Plamodium is injected into the blood by the Mosquito. The prevention is by a tablet that shold prevent the life cycle of the parasite. Till recently the tablets were known to cause side effects and were not recommended for children or for long use. There is a recent development which Drs claim has no side effects.
Malaria is not widespread in India. It is more spread during the monsoon times (June – October) and mostly in the south.
The old and effective ways to prevent Malaria is to dress in trousers and long sleeves, to use mosquito repellants and to sleep under mosquito net.
There are exalent repellents in the local pharmacies coils to smoke mosquitoes and nets.
All the above can not replace consulting Drs who specialize in tropical medicine.

Climate, weather

India is a big place (3.4 million square Kms) that stretches from the big Himalayas in the north to Kenya Kumari in the south, from Calcutta in the east to Dwarka in the west.
The sub continent is effected both by the seasons of the northern hemisphere and by the Monsoon – this seasonal phenomena that takes place every year between June to October.
The hottest months in India south of the Himalayas are April and may , prior to the Monsoon. June can be just as hard. In these months it is hot and stiffening throughout India south of the Himalayas (with the exception of the southern ghats ). The only consultation in these months is the Mango which ripens throughout the sub-continent.
The Monsoon starts in June, breaking the heat and dryness, though the days before it arrives are characterized by dramatic rise of heat and humidity which are unbearable.
The arrival of the Monsoon is beautiful and exiting and the Monsoon is considered (rightly so) as one of the most erotic and sensual times and during the first weeks of the monsoon one can find Monsoon parties along the beaches of Kerala & Goa.
It is possible (and sometimes even nicer) to travel in the Monsoon time because it doesn't rain all the time (it is more so in places in the Himalayas and in the south and less so in the Deccan & Rajasthan). It is always advisable to look at Indian papers websites to get information about the course of the Monsoon (there is a course and time and it depends on the year for the strength and wetness).
The best time to travel is of course right after the Monsoon – October onwards.
The low and mid- Himalayas (up to 3000 m') can be wet cloudy and dangerous with many land slides during the Monsoon – Monsoon is really not the time to travel in the eastern Himalayas – Darjeeling, sikim, the lower areas of Nepal and in all the western side – Almora, Badrinath, Flower valley, Dharmasala.
On the other hand- the rain curtains the land slides and the huge moving arena are beautiful full of energy and sensual – not for the faint hearted.
But – moving above 3500 m' changes everything and the rain stops as above this height the Himalayas are high empty beautiful desert..
There are also much dryer areas – micro climates that are less rainy then others like the Parvati & Kulu valleys which are considered as "holes in the clouds".
October to June is the dry season south of the Himalayas.
The good time to travel in the Ganges valley and the Deccan is October to March although July-September are not out of the question – hotter and wetter but possible.
The good season for the south is October to March - it is never cold in the south and it is around 30 C throughout the year in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka & Goa except in the western Ghats in places like Kumili, Kodaikanal and the Nilgiri (OOti) that are hill station in heights between 1500 to 3000 m' and are good places to hide during the hot days – excluding Monsoon times. The weather is pleasant and cool at nights and fleece & shoal is a good idea.
Walking tours in the Himalayas is recommended between September to mid-November as the snow on the passes is light and the weather is more stable. Spring time (April-June) is less comfortable as there is a lot of snow on the passes and walking could be hard and even dangerous due to penetration of rains and snows into the ranges. The elevation between 2000 to 3500 could be bordering danger during the height of the Monsoon (June-August) .
In winter – mid November to March, the climate in the mid and high Himalayas (everywhere above 1500 m') could pose a real danger although there are those who walk the high picks in February – March because the clearness of visibility. Cold.

Times of India weather site
Map and dates of the Monsoon

Visa

Is obligatory to most passport. You must leave India after 6 months even if your visa is good for 1 year. The standard Indian shall be for 6 months double entry. Prices vary according to passport.

Maps
It is not easy to get a good map in India. It is advisable to get one before you arrive. The closest place to get good maps is Hong Kong.

Guides:
Plenty – Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Blue Guide and the Foot print (the best choice).
Most of the books are easy to get in India, in Delhi's bookshaops and on the pavements and in the used book shops of Pahaganj (main Bazzar).
There is no need of a new guide. Most of the hotels have been there for years and a 2-3 years old guide shall do the work. Most of the sites are even older.
On the restaurants & hotels information – other travelers will be much more helpful then any book.

Literature.

Plenty. The classics are found on the pavement. Travelers about India, Indian writers about India and good prose.
It’s a good place to buy English books – cheap & up to date of all sorts – about India & else – History Philosophy, Yoga and everything that deals with the many faces of the Indian culture.
Some good shops are around Connaught place in Delhi
Travel:
City of Djeens/ William Delrimple
The Age of Kali
Calcutta chromosome/ Amitav Gosh
Suitable Boy / Vikaram Seth
Red Earth and Pouring Rain/ Vikaram Chandara
The Romantics/ Pankaj Mishra

Transport
Flights

To India
All major airlines are flying to Bombay and most of them to Delhi. Some others to Calcutta, the Uzbekies fly in and out of Amritsar and from the Gulf and Sri lnka you can fiond several airlines flying directly to the south – Chennai, Bangalore, Goa, Trivindram and other major cities.

Inside India
There are quiet a few excellent Indian carriers that fly to growing number of destinations but most of the prieces on the main lines are the same.
The major ones are : Air India, Jet, Air deccan, Kingfisher, Spicejet and more. All of them have website and it is easy enough to do everything on the internet and to arrive directly to the boarding.
Most of these companies offer Vuza for a few weeks that sometimes cover neighbouting countries like Sri Lanka ' Myanmar& Nepal.

Train

The Indian train is a wonder. Because it is the backbone and the net that connects India south of the Himalayas. It is more then 60,000 Kms long and the no. is growing every year.
The trains leave on time and most of the times arrive on time. The train and its stations is an inner kingdom within India full of life and treasures. Every journey is fascinating, inspiring, curious and adventurous – even for the food and the drinks. A journey worth taking in its own.



Classes
The best class is called 1A (the A stands for Air condition) – a separate cabin for 2, air-condition, sheets, towel. The price is equivalent.
2A is for the middle upper class. The recommended class for those traveling more then a night. 4 beds in a cabin that can be sheltered by a curtain. Across the corridor there are 2 more- 1 above the other. The beds are wide and not to fold and you get blankets sheets pillow and towel. In most trains there are 1-2 coaches.
3A used to be till a few years ago the class for the middle class, but as the beginning of the 21st millennium is the rise in the Indian middle class – it has become very crowded and it is not easy to find a place. It became the popular class as it is good enough for long traveling you are provided by sheets, its air conditioned and comfortable and its only crowded by 2 beds (6 in a cabin) compared to the 2A.
No curtains for privacy. The upper bench secures more privacy as it is not folded and the rest of the passenger do not sit on it during the day. Ticket between Varanasi & Delhi (12-14 hrs) is about 800 Rps in this class. 2A would cost 50% more. Flight on this line (1.5 hours) is 100-130$, which put the train journey in a good position.
Under the 3A is the sleeper – its more or less like the 3A but not air conditioned and without sheets. This is the truly popular class but the sleepers are reserved and the place shall be the traveler's. But there is no privacy and it is less protected and safe and not recommended for young lonely female travelers although sexual harassment are rare on the general scale. This class is for the budget traveler and its good for a journey up to 12 hrs – you come in at dusk – sleep the night (have your sheet or sleeping bag for the cool winter nights) and off the train in the morning.
Most Indian trains are sleepers and therefore it is very probable to find sleeping space.
As a rule – you can always find a place on Indian train even if the computerized office is saying its full – the way is to buy the cheapest ticket (it is an offence to get on train without a ticket!) – to go to the conductor (ticket collector) and to upgrade yourself. Sometimes its possible to do it on the platform if this is the place the train originate – or to ambush him the minute arrive at the platform you are on if this is not the case.
There is no need to bribe. In most cases.
The Indian Rail company is 3.5 million strong, very hierarchic & hierocratic. But it works!
Another solution is to go to the head collector in the station and to ask for a place from the foreigners quota – there is a quota in all classes for foreigners. It works on most trials. In the big cities there are special offices in the train station that caters for foreigners. It cost the same. You only need to show a passport.
Toilets, generally, in all classes are ok.

Ordering a ticket
At the regular booking (or reservation) office in or near the station you need a pen and to fill up a paper with the train name & number, origin and destination your name age and sex. The paper is good up to 6 names. The queue might be long but the minute you get to the counter – it shall take no more then a few minutes – it is always good to plan ahead and to buy the tickets at small un crowded stations.
Nowadays there is Internet – most of the things can be done and tracked on the internet.
In big cities ask from where the train originate as there are several stations. In several cases the targets are not known by the city names but by station names which differs.
A good companion is the Indian bible – the Indian railway book you can buy for 45 Rps in stations and book stalls. Essential.
The Indian railway site is a wonderful site where you can order buy pay in credit card and print your own ticket.
If you are a lazy traveler and don't want the station – there are many (Billion?) agents that shall do the work for you for a price of 50-100 RPS.

Train types

Shatabdi express (Century train) – a most wonderful type that connects states capitals within a day (less then 12 hrs) journey (Delhi- Bhopal, Delhi Amritsar, Delhi Dera-dun).
Airplane sits 2& 3 with an aisle between them. They leave and arrive on time and travels on an average speed of 100 (!) Kms per hour. Breakfast, lunch, newspaper and water included. An Indian treat.

Rajdani express
The big sister of the Shatabdi and connects capitals which are more then a day ride (Mumbai & Delhi, Calcutta & Mumbai, Delhi & Chennai). Full board and the fastest most convenient way if you don’t take a flight.

Intercity express
Like between Guilior % Jaipur – fast and have AC and non Ac coaches.

Among the others you can find the mail and express – they have usually al classes.
Some of them are called "Super fast" – Indian standard.
Local trains – usually host the lowest class – the passengers – wooden benches, non Ac, crowded. Suitable for short (1-3 hrs journey) and Anthropology.
In the south where most of the trips (certainly in Kerala & Tamil Nadu) are quiet short and the trains are mostly passengers – it is part of the journey, the trains are usually cleaner and the people gentler. In the south traveling on this class is highly recommended. And cheap.

Buses & Taxis, Rickshaws all types, Camels, Horses, Yaks & Elephants

Bus
Till this Millennium buses were the lesser choice as Indian roads follow jungle rules and there were almost no good roads. The train is much safer and comfortable but the buses goes everywhere and are cheaper. In the last few years you can find "Sleeper buses" in many places (Goa & Hampi, Mumbay & Goa ) – a lot of tem are very comfortable. The better roads built a long the Ganges valley and Rajasthan makes bus journey better then it used to be.
In the Himalayas there is no other option and the drivers (not the buses) are much better.
Patankot & Dharmasala is 4 hours by local bus. Slow, nice not very comfortable but pleasant. Most of the services in India are Public and therefore cheap and reliable.

Taxis
This is the efficient and inexpensive to go for a day trip or to cover not very long distances in comfort and with a sort of influence over the driver.
The code is 3.5 Rps per Km for an Ambassador – drivers calculate "up & down" Tata sumo will charge 5-6 Rps and newer cars up to 9 Rps a km.
In the Himalayas the prevalent vehicle is the jeep – Mahindra or Tata sumo – it is possible to hire them for any distance and any length of time. Look at the tires and the general appearance of the car.
In many places in the Himalayas these jeeps are the main transportation between cities & villages and travel when they fill up. The way Indians pronounce Full is quiet different then what is considered in other places – its much fuller.

Rickshaws
The way to travel in the city. Motor rickshaw holds any number between 1-5 passengers. Depends on the driver & passengers. 5-100 Rps, depends on the city and distance.
Tempos are bigger Motor rickshaws that operate usually on distances longer then 10 Kms (Haridwar to Rishikes) – bigger and uglier machines that can transport 8 – 20 passengers with their goods on the roof. They look like pigs and behave alike.


Camels, Horses, Yaks
You can rent in Pushkar and go traveling towards Johdpur or Udaipur. Not a bad experience.
In the Himalayas it is possible to hire horses & Yaks for the tracks.

Car rent
Self drive is not really an option – its possible but not common. Much better is to take a car with a driver – change him if he is not a good one. There are many drivers I India.
In Goa, Pondicheri, Andaman, Puri & Almora you can rent a scooter or an automatic one like the Honda Kinetic and drive – 100-200 Rps a day. Fun.


Himalayas
Motorcycle

Some of the travelers buy the Enfield – the classic that was born tn the 30's of last century and is alive and noisy in the sub continent. For 300-700 US dollars it is possible to find one to model it (it is then called "chopper") and drive around. Agood place to look for one is Goa – it is also a good place to start as the roads are good, less crowded and the drivers patient.
The advantages and the disadvantages are quiet equal. So its more a story of love affair then anything else.

Enfield in Goa
Food

This is a very limited and partial list of Indian foods. Being one of the best and grandest cuisines.
The food is always fresh, filling and in many places – more then tasty. It can be very hot – gentled by the curd served with it.
In most places it is possible to feel the influence of the Moghul kitchen that was brought by the Muslims some 1000 years ago – mostly chicken & mutton.
The South and the coast supply the kitchen with sea fruits, fish & coconut milk.

Alu gobi – Potato & cauliflower
Alu cham – hot Potato cutlets served with hot liquid chickpeas in a Ficus leaf plate.
Biryani – Rice plate often with vegetables or mutton
Bhang lassi- curd based drinl mixed with Ganja or Charas that stone the drinker – legal in every holy city like Varanasi, Puri, Jaisalamer or Pushkar.
Dhal – lentils – the basic staple food of India served with rice or chapattis.
Chay – Indian tea based on milk. Masala chay is fool of spices, Kali chay is without.
In the south there is wonderful coffee.
Chapatti – staple bread made on hot iron
Chicken tika – Chicken skewer in curd and spices cooked in clay oven (Tandur)
Chicken Masala – Spicy chicken – most chicken mutton and fish curries shall be in deep sauce that differs only in ingredients and therefore shall be sweeter, hotter or else – in the south the coconut milk is added.
Chicken Korma – slices of chicken in rich gravy. A Nun or rice is essential.
Faluda – Persian origin. A drink based on milk spaghettis, ice cream and sweeteners and rose water. The best are to be found in Ahmdabad & Bijapur
Gulab Jamun – The diamond of India's milky sweets – brown ball in a syrupy sweet liquid.
Ghi- The most excellent and expensive of the Milk oils – it is the lightest part of the melted boiled butter that float above all the other oils that separate from the milk when its boiled. Considered light and good for digestion and used a lot in the Ayuverdic medicine.
Gulgaka (called also Pani – puri – bread water) – street food , dough balls fried in hot oil and filled in hot - sour water and chickpeas. Good! 1 ball 1 Rupee . As many as you can eat.
Idli – Southern rice cutlets.
Kulfi – milk based ice cream. The best is probably in Chaopati beach in Mumbay.
Ladu – white sweet ball made of milk.
Lassi – drink made of curd , crushed rice salt or suger, fruits or Hash – (Bhang lassi)
Massala dosa – south Indian pancake filled with mashed potatoes and served with 2 suaces.
Navartan korma – Deep brown sauce with 9 types of fresh and dry fruits
Nan – Bread baked in the oven
Pan – not food but is chewed all over India – Betel nut served with other ingredients raped in a leaf chewed and spat everywhere.
Puri – Street food of 4-5 small fried pancakes served with mashed potatoes in dry Ficus leaf plate – typical to train stations.
Plau – rice with beats of chicken or mutton – Plof in central Asia – Persian origin.
Ras Gulab- spongy white sweet from the milk family
Roti – a kind of bread
Tali – the cheapest full Indian meal – an aluminum or plastic tray separated into niches that holds Dhal, rice, Sabgi (vegetables), chapatti & curd. 20-80 Rps. Depends on the place.
Vandalu – A Portuguese donation to be found in due and Goa- pig in heavy red sauce. Eh.