Sunday, 25 April 2010

India summary

Get over the sweet stench of sun-dried piss, men urinating in public, both sexes spitting and littering, the filth and the constant ear-piercing honking of horns, lame dogs, crippled and limbless beggars, the hassle from rickshaw drivers and street traders - get over these and you will love India. Or, like me, if you can't quite then you'll be delighted and distressed in roughly equal measure, but never bored.
Water: Bottled mineral water is cheap and readily available.
Drinks: Wine - expensive but reasonable quality from Sula and Grover's vineyards. Beer - Kingfisher Strong my preferred taste but Black Label is also okay. Depending on the state licensing laws beer comes as more than 8%, less than 8%, more than 5% or less than 5%. All beers fall into the same strong and premium categories. The price (mfp) for a 650 ml bottle also varies by state, regardless of strength, from 45 Rupees (less than 8%) to 80 Rupees (less than 6%) in Tamil Nadu. Hotels and western-style bars can charge double this - chai (sweet masala tea) is available everywhere, black tea less so and milk tea primarily just in tourist resort areas and in the northern tea producing areas. Coffee - popular in the south and at branded coffee bars in larger cities.
Toilets: Mostly upright in hotels, upright and/or squat in places to visit and trains.
Rupee (currently £1 = 70 Rp).
Language: Various and state dependent - Namaste is hello in Hindi (the official national language) but hello English goes a long way in most states, especially in the south where Hindi is considered foreign. Most educated people and those in the tourist trade can speak English, many preferring it to Hindi.
TICs: Helpful with free local town maps and guides if available.
Accommodation: Room only is the norm
Food: Pure veg fare is available everywhere. Egg breakfasts, toast, jam, banana pancakes are available in most places but vegetarian breakfasts can be good - fresh fruit salad or non-egg omelet or puri anyone? A mixed veg thali lunch and a
dinner of fish (on the coast) or chicken tikka (marinaded, skewered and baked in a tandori oven) tick most of my boxes.
Supermarkets: The only chain to speak of is spencer but others exist like Grand Bazzar in Darjeeling.
Transport: Trains are cheap, comfortable and safer than buses, especially for overnight journeys. Sleeper class with open windows and fans is good option day or night as seats can be reserved, book ahead if possible.
A/c sleeper is more expensive, can be cold and you can't see out the windows very well so probably best only used in extremes of hot, cold or dust (e.g. across the Thar Desert to Jaislemer). India rail food is generally good cheap and wholesome - mostly veg biryani, chai and sweet coffee.
Medical: Good quality medical and dental care can be available for a smaller fee than their western counterparts.

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