Tag Archives: India

Why India is Not Expensive For Tourists

By Rohit Agarwal

Visitors have been visiting India for thousands of years. They have left a variety of comments on their observations. Some reported on the advanced level of civilization. Some reported on the wealth and majesty of the ancient kingdoms. Some reported on the variety in the terrain. And even more reported on the variety in the people. From human-eating Aghoris to God-like Kings, there are reports on the beauty of the women. Always accompanied by more reports of the beauty and lustre of their ornamentation. There is, however, not a single comment on India being an expensive place to visit or live in.

Jama Masjid - Photo by Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0
Jama Masjid – Photo by Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2215082618

This has in fact led to a new trend today. Many expatriates, especially pensioners, have decided to not just visit India, but to in fact spend their lives here. This phenomenon is also seen in many other countries in South East Asia. The availability of all necessities at a reasonable rate is the primary factor. In many of the popular places where you can find expatriates living in India, such as Goa, Jaipur, Agra, Lucknow and many of the hill stations in India, such as Darjeeling, Ooty, Mussoorie, Manali and Naniatal, the cost of living is much lower than in any developed country.

Accommodation

First of all, everyone needs a place to stay or spend the night. The availability of economic accommodation is, in fact, on the rise in India. Although the rents and prices are quite high in the big cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, this has led to smaller cities, which very earlier not so confident, offering much better alternatives. For those on a very short visit of less than a month and wanting to cover as much territory as possible, there are even sites where locals host guests in their own houses for free. Such sites include couchsurfing.com and globalfreeloaders.com. These are very popular in India, with Indians wanting to host guests to learn more about the world through their guest’s experiences.

Asians are very hospitable by nature and Indians are no exceptions. If you are able to strike a real rapport with the locals, they will usually offer you some food and drinks. And if you actually like it and let them know, you will get enough to fill you up and more.

Some useful economical accommodation options:

Salvation Army’s Guesthouse at Colaba, Mumbai. This is a stone’s throw behind the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, which fronts the Gateway of India. YMCA & YWCA have an extensive network in India. Youth hostels are a great option. The added advantage here is that you will get a chance to mingle with locals, as youth hostels are popular with the locals too. You might even end up making a friend or more for life.

Travel

Thanks to the British, and then India’s social politics, travelling in India is easy. Travelling by train is the best and most economical way to transit between one city/town and another. There is a special quota reserved for foreign visitors, so it is usually not a headache to get a seat. But do try to always book your tickets at the earliest, as the trains in India are always full.

The canteens at railway stations are an economical refreshment option. The hygiene is better than in most other small outlets in India. You would usually get some simple western-type food, such as sandwiches or cutlets, and drinks as well as the staple Indian cuisine.

Other common modes of travel include the airlines, buses and taxis. Rickshaws operate in most big cities for travel within the city.

Food & Beverage

India offers some of the spiciest and some of the sweetest food in the world. As anybody who has eaten at any Indian restaurant will know. The Samosa has become our mascot for cultural exports.

The cuisine in India varies with its people. As you move from one social group to another, you will find a different cuisine. And the variety in India beats any other country, hands down.

The variety in the beverages is also just as splendid. From the thick Lassi of Punjab to the refreshing Chaach of Gujarat to the invigorating Nariyal Pani (Coconut Water) of the coastal belts, your thirst will be quenched in India.

Shopping

Almost everybody who visits India wants to take back a souvenir. There are so many monuments in India and all of them would be replicated in small souvenirs that you can buy. India is also famous for its handicrafts. As it has a huge tribal population.

India was also the only source of diamonds in the entire world till about only a century ago. It has again become the largest diamond cutting and polishing centre in the world. Gems and jewellery is a very popular shopping item in India. Many tourists buy things in India which they can sell in other countries for a profit. This is a smart way to reduce or even totally compensate the cost of your trip to India.

As you can see, coming to India is never a question of money. It is only a question for the heart. India beckons; will you answer the call?

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First Time in India? How to Get a Prepaid SIM Card as a Foreigner?

This post from our travel writer based in India, Rohit Agarwal, is very useful for travellers needing to get a SIM card in India. We found the process a bit daunting when we were there in November, so these hints are very useful. Thanks Rohit!

All set for a holiday to India!
Of course you like to stay in contact with your family and friends back home, so while planning your trip do not forget to pack a handset that does not restrict you to one service provider. Certain makes and models of handsets are restricted to use SIM cards of particular service providers or are locked. This could be a strong barrier to cheap communications during your trip, so it is a good idea to pack an unlocked handset which is either dual, tri band or quad band so it can work in India.

Image by Ramesh Lalwani, CC BY 2.0
Image by Ramesh Lalwani, CC BY 2.0

There are certain things to note while you hunt for a prepaid SIM card in India.
1. Documentation
To purchase a prepaid SIM card, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • 2-3 coloured passport size photographs,
  • A photocopy of your passport, specifically the page containing your personal details,
  • A copy of your Indian Visa,
  • Proof of your stay in India – a letter from the Hotel or guest house confirming your stay as a guest, and
  • A photocopy of the proof of address for your place of residence back home.

On providing the above set of documents you should be able to access a prepaid mobile service in India.

2. Which service provider should you choose?
There are a range of mobile prepaid service providers available in India such as Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Reliance, BSNL & MTNL. Apart from the ease of availability, also consider good network coverage and data connectivity. Though all the service providers boast of good network coverage, the challenge is to provide uninterrupted 3G and 4G connectivity. The larger carriers here are Airtel, Idea, Vodafone and Reliance. If you travel  to rural areas or inland regions, then MTNL or BSNL would be the best option as they have better coverage in these areas.

3. SIM cost and running expenses
Buying a SIM will cost you somewhere between 150 to 250 Indian Rupees, and you may need to pay extra to recharge it. Recharge options are customised for different parameters like local calls, STD calls, ISD packages, data packages, SMS packages, etc. When you choose the recharge option consider convenience and optimal usage that suits your needs. Recharge choices also come with validity options. Packages are available for day, month and even annual use. You should be very cautious while selecting these packages. On average, an international call is charged at approx. Rs. 7 per minute and an international SMS might cost you Rs. 5 per SMS. On the other hand, calls or SMS within India would cost you around 1 rupee per minute or 1 rupee per SMS. Also, many coffee shops, bus stands, museums and hospitals provide free Wi-Fi access.

4. Calling from an Indian prepaid SIM
To make outgoing calls from your Indian prepaid mobile service to any city within India, you need to dial the STD code of the city when dialing a fixed line number. If you intend to make a call to a mobile number within India, you need to dial +91 (country code for India) prefixed to the 10 digit mobile number. Similarly while making an international fixed line call, dial the country code + area code + phone number, and for an international mobile number call dial the country code followed by the mobile number.

Many airports in India have kiosks or desks that provide you with prepaid SIM cards. If you have all the required documents handy, using this facility at airports would be a viable option for all foreign travellers looking for a means to connect back home.

Edited by Martin Drury

Some Tips To Deal With Touts In India

Contributed by Rohit Agarwal

Introduction by Tracey Benson, Editor: Rohit’s article about avoiding touts in India is extremely useful for travellers not just to India but to many parts of the world. The article underlines that just by following some simple guidelines you will be more aware and able to enjoy your journey, with an understanding of how to manage some tricky situations. We welcome Rohit to Geokult Travel and hope that we will be able to share some more of his insights in the future.

Some Tips To Deal With Touts In India
Vacation in a country like India has its own pros and cons. The advantageous aspect of it is, being a spectator to the natural world of beauty and serenity and on the contrary being a prey to the wrongdoings of the touts that target the tourists from outside India. One of the major “tout-abused destinations” in India is Agra – which manifests the Taj Mahal.

A lot of wrong practices being followed by the natives of this country have created a horrifying image for foreign tourists. But these practices are not only phenomena in India, but have been evident at many other tourist destination countries. So, should one stop travelling? No! The better answer is to be alert and aware of these practises and prevent yourself from falling prey. Below are some tips that you should keep in mind while travelling to India:

Street Vendor in India Trying to Sell Product - Photo credit Rosipaw, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Street Vendor in India Trying to Sell Product – Photo credit Rosipaw, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

1. Do not rely on ticketing agents
India is a developed country with equipped cybernetics! One should thus not fall prey to some touts who ensure confirmed reservation tickets for travelling through flights, trains or buses in India. It is always a better option to either book your travel tickets online or manually receive tickets from ticket windows available at every airport, railway station and bus stand in India. Generally, tourists avoid the long waiting queues outside these windows and fall an easy trap to these touts who ensure confirmed tickets at some nominal extra charges. These touts are mostly fake and one can be easily duped during peak tourist seasons.

2. Beware of being guided to a cloak room
Wherever you travel, the Indian railway stations provide with cloak rooms for your luggage to be deposited. These cloak rooms are also available at some major bus stands and places of tourist attractions like monuments, temples, etc. One should thus avoid being guided by a tout to a separate cloak room which seems abandoned or is at a faraway place from the tourist attraction. It is always safe to lock your luggage properly before depositing it at any of the cloak rooms. These public cloak rooms take a minimal amount for luggage deposit and give you tokens or slips in return.

3. Be cautious while appointing a tour guide
As a tourist, we all go inquisitive about the history of a tourist place and would love to know the ins and outs of the place we visit. For this we usually hire tour guides, who enable us with a lot of information about the place. As a foreigner, we need to be alert and aware that there are some fake tourist guides in India, who may mislead you and rob you of your money and luggage. It is always a good practise to hire a tourist guide through the ticket window and also ensure to check and take a mobile-picture of the identity card of the tour guide.

4. Stay away from touts ensuring hotel reservations

Tout Warning Signboard at Mamallapuram, near Chennai – Photo by Ashley Bristowe, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Tout Warning Signboard at Mamallapuram, near Chennai – Photo by Ashley Bristowe, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If travelling to India during peak tourist season or during festivals and vacation time, you might face the challenge of getting a hotel check in. It is always a better idea to do your hotel bookings prior to your travel during these days and if you miss to do so, please do not (NEVER, EVER!!!) trust the touts who ensure room availability in a hotel, guest house or a lodge nearby. It would be worth to move on a self-hunt (or online-hunt) for room availability rather than being trapped by these vaunts who either charge extravagant or deceive you of your belongings.

Let your travel to the scenic beauty of this country be a memorable one, rather than being frightful. ‘Prevention is better than cure’, remember this and always plan ahead and be alert during your travel and do not be fooled by touts, who could ruin your beautiful journey. Always be aware in visiting major tourist destinations in India like Delhi, Jaipur, Chennai and Goa where one can encounter touts of different varieties – from a child to an old man/woman trying to make some extra bucks by misguiding/misleading information. Always be smart and enjoy your travel while being alert!

Author Bio
Rohit is an architect by profession and travel blogger by desire; who loves his country and believes that the tourists coming to visit India should only carry the tender feelings of contentment, eyeing the beauty and serenity of this country and not the overwhelming feeling of fear of being duped by touts. He thus shares, through his articles, some basic tips to make your journey worth recalling.

Images attributions
Street Vendor in India Trying to Sell Product – Photo credit Rosipaw, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Tout Warning Signboard at Mamallapuram, near Chennai – Photo by Ashley Bristowe, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

365 Places: Fort Cochin

Day 182, Fort Cochin, Kerala, India

Fort Cochin is such a fabulous place, I don’t know where to begin to describe how wonderful this place really is.

There are many layers of history and culture in Fort Cochin, making it a fascinating visual feast in an architectural sense. Elegant 15th Century Portuguese Mansions sit side by side with English Colonial Style buildings and colourful shacks painted many different colours. There are some beautiful churches, mosques and Hindu temples, again, sitting peacefully side by side.

The thing that is most wonderful is the people. Their warmth and good nature melts religious differences, making this community one of diversity and harmony. Many other countries could learn from Kochi people.

Here are a couple of maps that track some journeys around Fort Cochin, with links to my EveryTrail maps.

Cruising Fort Cochin
Cruising Fort Cochin

This is a combination of an autorickshaw ride and walking around Fort Cochin.
Cruising Fort Cochin at EveryTrail
http://www.everytrail.com/iframe2.php?trip_id=3047286&width=400&height=300EveryTrail – Find hiking trails in California and beyond.

Jewtown
Jewtown

This was an autorickshaw ride to the shopping centre of Jewtown.
Journey to Jew Town at EveryTrail
http://www.everytrail.com/iframe2.php?trip_id=3048045&width=400&height=300EveryTrail – Find hiking trails in California and beyond.

Over the next 9 days we will be exploring this fascinating place in some detail, so hope to share lots with you!

365 Places: Wayanad Forest

Day 181: Wayanad Forest and Dare Nature, Wayanad, South India En route to Kochi, we met our friends along the way and they took us to this magical place high up in the mountains – Dare Nature.

Wayanad © Di Ball 2014
Wayanad © Di Ball 2014

Dare Nature is a place for both adventure activities and for relaxation and meditation. We had a magical time enjoying the beautiful surroundings, fantastic food and good company. Here are some of the pictures from our stay.

There was also some challenging activities at night – fire walking and walking on broken glass. These activities were part of a motivational workshop for MBA students and we we also invited to participate. After getting my toes chewed by fishes earlier in the day, I graciously declined. Here are some great pictures of the fire walking and glass walking challenges:

If you are in South India and looking for something very different, we can definitely recommend spending some time at Dare Nature. Thanks Sajee for being such a wonderful host. We had a great time!

Us mob at Wayanad © Mahin Manu 2014
Us mob at Wayanad © Mahin Manu 2014

Details How to get there From Kozhikode: Kozhikode- Thamarassery – Old Vythiri, from here your take a right turn-travel up- almost 7 kms of which approximately 2 kms – off road. From Bangalore: Bangalore – Mysore – S Bathery – Kalpatta- Old Vythiri, from here your take a right turn-travel up- almost 7 kms of which approximately 2 kms – off road. Contact Dare 5000 Nature Campz & Resorts Vythiri, Wayanad Kerala, South India Pin: 673576 Tel: +91 8606500033 +91 8606500032 +91 9447951192

365 Places: Wedding at Bangalore Palace

Day 180: Wedding at Bangalore Palace, Bangalore, India

Today my post features some images and a video of an Indian wedding we saw at the Bangalore Palace.

It was so colourful and noisy – had it share!

365 Places: Bangalore Palace

Day 179: Bangalore Palace, India

Today we started our fabulous South Indian Mystery tour, curated by our dear friend and artist Di Ball. Our first destination was Bangalore Palace and we were very lucky that there was a wedding on when we visiting. Mr Wikipedia has this potted history:

Bengaluru Palace, a palace located in Bengaluru, India, was built by Rev. Garrett, who was the first Principal of the Central High School in Bangalore, now known as Central College.

The construction of the palace was started in 1862 and completed in 1944. In 1884, it was bought by the then Maharaja of Mysore HH Chamarajendra Wadiyar X. Now owned by the Mysore royal family, the palace has recently undergone a renovation.

The palace is full of very interesting (albeit questionable) objects and well as having beautiful architectural features. It is not a cheap place to visit by Indian standards – 440 Rupees for foreigners and you have to pay extra to take a camera or smart phone for pictures. It was worth it though to have a glimpse into Royal life in Bangalore.

Here are some of my photos.

10 Tips for catching an autorickshaw in Bangalore

Catching an autorickshaw for the first time can be quite scary, but is a cost effective alternative to taxis and is great fun if you are prepared for a lot of noise, traffic chaos and the challenge of trying to communicate with local drivers with very limited English. Here are a few tips that may help to make your first autorickshaw journey a pleasant experience:

Autorickshaw
Autorickshaw © Martin Drury 2014
  1. Make a mud map. Just on a piece of scrap paper make a rough map of the destination, you can hand this over to the driver. It doesn’t matter too much if he doesn’t hand it back or you loose it.
  2. Record the destination address accurately, make sure that you include the suburb or area name. If the driver doesn’t know the area that well they can always pull over and ask for further directions from a local shop keeper when they get there.
  3. Record the phone number of your destination. If possible write down the phone number of the destination so that if the driver gets lost you can ring up and ask for directions.
  4. Record major landmarks. On your mud map record any major landmarks or major cross streets close to your destination if you happen to know of any
  5. Ask a local, who uses autorickshaws on a regular basis, what they would expect to pay to go to your destination. This gives you a rough idea of what to expect as a fair deal.
  6. Agree a price beforehand, or insist that they use the meter. Autorickshaws are equipped with a meter but are not always used. If you have a rough idea of a fair price, or of what you are prepared to pay you can agree on a price before you accept the ride. However an agreed price will usually be more than the metered price, unless you are an exceptional negotiator. If you are after the cheapest option insist that they use the meter.
  7. Track the route. If you have a smart phone it is useful to track your progress to maake sure that you are heading in the right direction.
  8. Do not hand over your phone. Unless you really trust the driver, it is best not to hand over your phone as you may not get it back.
  9. Flag down a driver rather than picking one from the queue, if you choose an autorickshaw from the roadside queue (the equivalent of a taxi rank) it seems that you are charged an extra fee for the time that they spend waiting in the queue.
  10. Keep your stuff secure, hang on tight to your personal belongings as it is easy for a passing motorcyclist or pedestrian to reach in and grap what they want.

Hang on and enjoy the ride!

365 Places: Pushkar

Day 87: Pushkar, India

I am still continuing my daydreaming about India and today will have a look at Pushkar – a town famous for its annual two-week camel fair.

Image Credit: http://www.pushkarcamelfair.com
Image Credit: http://www.pushkarcamelfair.com

A website promoting the event says:

Held each November at the time of the Kartik Purnima full moon, Pushkar Camel Fair is one of India’s most highly-rated travel experiences, a spectacle on an epic scale, attracting more than 11,000 camels, horses and cattle and visited by over 400,000 people over a period of around fourteen days.

For visitors it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the colour, spectacle and carnival of one of the last great traditional melas, which brings livestock, farmers, traders and villagers from all over Rajasthan.

What is really interesting is that during the camel fair, the town’s population swells from 15,000 to 200,000 during the two weeks. Visitors are accommodated in tents, though from what I understand, this is glamping at its best. For those initiated to glamping, it is camping with style – a lot more effort to set up but usually with all the comforts of home, just under canvas.

Image Credit: http://blackandwhiteflowerspictures.weebly.com
Image Credit: http://blackandwhiteflowerspictures.weebly.com

I also love the etymology of the word Pushkar. Wikipedia says:

Pushkar in Sanskrit means blue lotus flower. Hindus believe that the gods released a swan with a lotus in its beak and let it fall on earth where Brahma would perform a grand yagna. The place where the lotus fell was called Pushkar.

Pushkar is also one of the oldest cities of India. The date of its actual founding is not known, but legend associates Brahma with its creation. It is also one of the few places in the world where they are temples to Brahma and the Brahma Temple in Pushkar is very famous, being built during the 14th century CE . Although Pushkar has many temples, most of them are not very old because many were destroyed during Muslim conquests in the region, causing many to be rebuilt. Pushkar is also considered one of the five sacred dhams or pilgrimage sites for devout Hindus.

Image Credit: Redtigerxyz  http://www.flickr.com/photos/vasantv/291184069/
Image Credit: Redtigerxyz http://www.flickr.com/photos/vasantv/291184069/

We are very much looking forward to visiting Pushkar, it sounds like a paradise for photographers and the thought of the camel fair with its colour, movement and dust is really enticing.

References

Al-Hind: The Slavic Kings and the Islamic conquest, 11th-13th centuries, p.326

Where would you like to go today: Pushkar Camel Fair http://www.kashgar.com.au/articles/where-would-you-like-to-go-today-the-pushkar-camel-fair (accessed 27 August 2014)

365 Places: Kochi

Day 86: Kochi, Kerala, India

Today, I am staying in the region of Kerala to explore the coastal city of Kochi. Although Thiruvananathapuram is formally the capital of Kerala, Kochi is considered the financial capital of region. Kochi has a population of more than 2 million, making it the biggest urban centre in Kerala. It is also one of the major tourist destinations in India.

The Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi are an icon of the city, Image Credit: http://wikitravel.org/en/Kochi
The Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi are an icon of the city, Image Credit: http://wikitravel.org/en/Kochi

One of the events I am drawn to is the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, held in December. I am also curious the explore Kochi as one of my good friends loves it so much she spends 4 months a year based in Kochi.

The Biennale sounds like a fabulous event. Here is some information from the website:

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is an international exhibition of contemporary art being held in Kochi, Kerala.

The first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale was set in spaces across Kochi, Muziris and surrounding islands. There were shows in existing galleries and halls, and site-specific installations in public spaces, heritage buildings and disused structures.

Indian and international artists exhibited artworks across a variety of mediums including film, installation, painting, sculpture, new media and performance art.

Through the celebration of contemporary art from around the world, The Kochi-Muziris Biennale seeks to invoke the historic cosmopolitan legacy of the modern metropolis of Kochi, and its mythical predecessor, the ancient port of Muziris.

I love the idea of the engaging the ancient world and culture through contemporary art and emerging media, very appealing. I think it would be an amazing experience to witness the biennale.

St. Francis Church, Kochi, Image Credit: http://wikitravel.org/en/Kochi
St. Francis Church, Kochi, Image Credit: http://wikitravel.org/en/Kochi

The story of the ancient city of Muziris is also fascinating. Located 30 km from Kochi, Muziris was a prosperous seaport and financial centre in the 1st Century B.C. It is believed the city was washed under the sea during the 1341 AD Periyar river flood. Muziris was a key link in the Indo-Roman Empire and Indo-Greek trade routes and drew legions of Roman, Greek, Chinese, Jewish and Arab traders.

Something else I find really interesting is that Kerala and Kochi are world-famous for the ancient healing art of Ayurveda. This 5000 years old healing tradition is known to heal chronic illnesses naturally. Apparently there are hundreds of government-run and private Ayurvedic hospitals and treatment centres are spread across the state that offer Ayurvedic treatment for almost every health condition. This is also something that I am drawn to as I have had an interest in Ayurveda for many years and would love to learn more about this natural healing tradition.

The more I learn about India the more curious I become, I can’t wait to experience some of these places for myself. I am sure it will be an incredible journey.