Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Countdown is Commencing...

Well, less than a week to go and running about like a headless chicken, trying to get everything I need done for take-off next Monday (24th). I fly down to Luton Aiport then and meet up with Colin, staying with him overnight before an early morning direct flight with BA. Then it's an arrival in the wee sma' hours at Chennai airport, taxi to the New Woodlands Hotel, and (probably) time for a sleep.

This may prove difficult though (i.e. sleep) as it'll still be only late evening to our bodies, perhaps the early start and a few beverages might smooth the path of Hypnos (and maybe Morpheus too). Still, we need that sleep as the 26th January is Republic Day holiday and Navin is coming to escort us round Chennai, buying the things we are cheaper buying than bringing, and seeing a few sights and celebrations into the bargain.

Some of you may recall that the nurse reckoned my Malarone would cost £66 or thereabouts, which was expensive in itself. Seems that nursey was wrong and it's costing me £116! Youch, hurt more than the inocculations!!! Still, what cost my health?!

Okay, now I think last year I promised you a whole load of links and advice on a range of topics, but only got halfway through before life distracted me. Not enough time to do them individually, but here's a few tips and hints I've dug up on my way.

Money Makes ze Vurld Go Round

Since the demise of the dollar and its general instability of late I am taking over £ Sterling Traveller Cheques, a small amount of Sterling cash. I will also be taking an ATM bank card and a credit card for emergencies. I know that some people now just take bank cards and use ATM's or their credit cards, but they charge in excess of 5% for each transaction and I get my TC's free so I'll not be doing so.

If you want to keep an eye on exchange rates try http://www.xe.com/

Come Fly With Me

I ended up booking my flight through the Royal Bank of Scotland Royalties Gold program. You have to have a bank account with them and pay a monthly fee towards the Royalties Gold program, which gives you a load of benefits. I saved about £60 on the lowest fare I could find elsewhere for the flight I wanted (BA direct to Chennai). Worth checking out if you live in the UK - they do free annual travel insurance for the account holder and family too, so I save another £50 or so there.

Apart from that, the best flights I could find were by searching Kelkoo flights. I compared these prices to those from the likes of Trailfinders and they were much cheaper.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Okay, given the vast distances across India, planes are a good option for many internal trips, particularly if you don't have much time on your holiday. Air India and other internal air lines do air passes, but they didn't seem too good value to me unless your idea of "seeing India" is spending a day or less in every city with an airport.

Apparently (and don't quote me on this) it can be quite possible in India just to turn up at the airport and buy a flight ticket for an internal there and then and not be fleeced for doing so.

However, the same cannot be said for trains. Many trains are fully booked well in advance, so book them as early as possible. You can get online information on Indian Trains, or can make a credit card booking online. You can either then uplift tickets from their office in Delhi or have them posted to somewhere (in India) for your arrival. (PS the booking website has 'office hours', so try to check it out in Indian time).

Buses are commonly used too, but depending where you are may be noisy, overcroded, smelly and dangerous. On the plus side they're cheap. 'Nuff said.

Cars, mopeds and bicycles - take your chances!

Fetch Me Some Immodium - FAST!

Okay, a few hints on eating and drinking.

Always drink bottled water, and be sure to check that the cap is still sealed when it arrives (some people refill water bottles to make a quick Rupee). Don't be afraid to send it back if it's not. Water seems to be the main point of entry for stomach bugs, so also be careful in drinks with ice or dishes such as ice-cream.

When choosing somewhere to eat, the key words are fresh and hot. Choose somewhere you can see the food being cooked to make sure it's fresh, and make sure it comes to you hot (even ask for it to be extra hot, as Indians eat food cooler than we do, presumably as they eat with their hands). Also pick somewhere popular/busy, as then the food has no time to be sitting aorund gathering bacteria.

Another hint is to keep your hands/fingers clean, especially under those nails. So taking hygienic wipes, a nailbrush and anti-bacterial soap may pay off in terms of a vomit (or worse!) free holiday.

A final (untested) hint from a long-time India traveller friend was to eat some of the local yoghurt, known as curd over there, on arrival. Apparently the 'good' bacteria helps your stomach adjust.

Bend Me, Twist Me, Any Way You Want Me

Well, there's more yoga in India than you can shake a stick at. So here, without comment or endorsement, are a few links for your perusal:

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore, Karnataka
Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune, Maharashtra
Vivekanada Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, nr Bangalaore, Karnataka
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres (Various Locations)
A load of different yoga courses and ashrams in Rishikesh can be found here
Purple Valley Yoga Centre, Anjuna Beach, Goa
Mysore Mandala Yogashala, Mysore, Karnataka
Atmavikasa Center Of Yogic Sciences, Mysore, Karnataka
Shri Yoga Shiksana Kendra, Mysore, Karnataka

Well, that's a few of the more popular places with westerners, if anyone has others please email me at insearchofdarshan@yahoo.co.uk or simply leave comments below.

A final comment before I'm off, you can all keep track of how wonderful the weather is in Chennai with the weather box I've put at the bottom of the page. As I sit here with a snowstorm raging outside I am sure it will be of great comfort to my Scottish friends ot know at least I am lovely and warm, soaking up the rays by the pool as I cool off with a mango lassi (PS that's an Indian yoghurt drink, not a 'lassie' as we know it in Scotland!!!).

Off now for other things, will try to post before I leave, if not the next one will be from Chennai!!!