Sunday, November 06, 2005

So you want to go to India!

For the past several months, I’ve been “on call,” waiting to hear that India has approved the adoption of my soon-to-be niece, Hope Aradhana. When she gets The Call, Nanette will spin into action, making plane and hotel reservations for approximately two weeks later. It’s good we have more than two weeks to plan for this trip, though, because there are an amazing number of details that need to be managed before going to India, not least of which is to apply for (and hopefully receive) a visa. I thought it might be helpful to blog all the details, for my own future use if I ever return, or for others who might be contemplating going. What to do in preparation? What to bring? What to wear? Here’s what I’ve learned.

First order of business: get your visa! This assumes, of course, that you already have a passport. If not, then get your passport! moves to the top of the list. To apply for a visa to go to India, you will need:

  • Application form for visa, completed.

  • The appropriate fee (at this writing, $60) in a cashier’s check.

  • Your original passport, which must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the date of intended departure from India

  • An extra passport-sized photo pasted on the application. By the way, you don’t need to go to any special place to get this photo. I printed one in the appropriate size from a nice head shot I had of myself.

If you cannot hand-carry these items to an Indian Consulate office, you can mail them. Of course, you will want to send them by certified or express mail, and you will need to include appropriate postage to get them returned the same way. Consult the Indian Consulate website for details. There actually appear to be several Indian Consulates throughout the US; we used the one in NYC. Its website has all the information you need to get your visa. It also can direct you to the other Consulates. Look for their Where To Apply For Consular Services page.
If all this seems to be too hard, search for “India visa” on the web. You’ll find many services that will help you for a fee. I haven’t done that, so I can’t recommend any.

Ok, now you have your visa. Now what?

Next, you want to find a good travel book, which will orient you to the vast complexity that is India. Over 1 billion people as of 2001, compared to just under 300 million for the US. The population of New Delhi is 13.8 million. The largest city in the US, New York City, is around 8 million. It’s home to hundreds of religions and sects, close to 100 different languages. It’s a wiiiiiiiild and crazy place!

Some practical things you’ll want to consider, traveling to India from the US (sorry, that’s the only perspective I can offer):

The electricity is 240v, so you’ll need not only an adapter but a step-down converter if you want to use any of your electronics.They come in a variety of wattages (I say this as if I have a clue what I’m talking about!), so you’ll want to know what appliances you’ll be bringing and what wattage they require. For instance, some hairdryers can pull as much as 1800 watts (more?), so you’ll need a converter that can handle high wattage and also lower wattage for a travel clock radio or an electric shaver.

I found a great converter kit with a set of adapters on Ebay for a total cost of just under $20 including shipping.It can manage 50W to 1600W. That about does it for me! Of course, I haven’t used it, yet, so we’ll soon see if it was a bargain. See an example here.

The flight to India is long, usually with at least one stopover. You might want to consider bringing some snacks with you. In recent years, I’ve found the sound of the engines become very wearying on long flights. This trip, I’ve purchased some excellent headphones and an adapter that will let them fit into the funny little two-pronged outlets in planes, in hopes of finding something to listen to that will engage my hearing without wearying it. The headphones also fit comfortably and closely on the ears (called “closed-design”) and have a noise-cancelling option (requires batteries), so perhaps for once I will be able to watch a movie on a plane without the need for using one or both hands to press the earphones to my ears!

If you’re thinking about shopping in India, then be sure you travel very lightly unless you want to ship some items home. Many airlines only permit 50 pounds per bag now, with a 2-bag limit.

For women, you might want to consider bringing only one or two changes of clothes appropriate to the time of year you’re there. Tailors in India purportedly will take your measurements one day and have the items sent to your hotel for you the next day. You may be more comfortable wearing the sort of clothing Indians customarily wear. If you’re not up for a tummy-baring sari, the pajama-like Punjabi suit might do.

... to be continued ...

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