American Express -- Report lost or stolen cards by calling tel. 0124/28-1800 from anywhere in India; or call tel. 98109-00800 (Delhi) or tel. 98926-00800 (Mumbai). Individual branches are listed in the "Fast Facts" sections of individual cities.
Area Codes -- The international telephone access code for India is 91. Area codes for principal cities and towns are listed in the "Fast Facts" sections in each chapter. All numbers listed in this guide include the local area code (which you would dial from another Indian town or city); this is separated from the actual telephone number by a forward slash (/).
Business Hours -- Banks are usually open weekdays from 10am to 2pm and Saturday from 10am to noon, though banks in larger cities have much longer hours. Most museums are closed Monday, and the Taj Mahal is closed on Friday. Hours of retail outlets vary depending on where you are, but many close on Sunday.
Cameras & Film -- You can purchase film just about anywhere in India, but it's best to buy it from high-traffic areas. Remember to store your film in transparent baggies, so if necessary you can remove it easily before you go through airport scanners (now often film-safe). Always place your loaded camcorder on the screening conveyor belt or have it hand-inspected. Be sure your batteries are charged, as you will probably be required to turn the device on to ensure that it's what it appears to be. Film Safety for Traveling on Planes, or FSTOP (tel. 888/301-2665; www.f-stop.org), can provide additional tips for traveling with film and equipment.
Electricity -- 220-240 volts AC.
Embassies & Consulates -- Embassies of major English-speaking countries are listed in the "Fast Facts" section for Delhi. For quick reference, here are some embassy numbers: Australia tel. 011/5139-9900; Canada tel. 011/5178-2000; New Zealand tel. 011/2688-3170; and the U.K. tel. 011/2687-2161. The U.S. State Department encourages American citizens visiting India to register at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi (Shantipath, Chanakyapuri; tel. 011/2419-8000; fax 011/2419-0017; http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov) or at one of the U.S. consulates in India; a booklet entitled "Guidelines for American Travelers in India" is available. The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai is located at Lincoln House, 78 Bhulabhai Desai Rd., 400 026 (tel. 022/2363-3611; fax 022/2363-0350; http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov). The U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata is at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, 700 071 (tel. 033/2282-3611; fax 033/2282-2335; http://calcutta.usconsulate.gov). The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai is at 220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600 006 (tel. 044/2811-2000; fax 044/2811-2027; http://chennai.usconsulate.gov).
Emergencies -- Refer to "Fast Facts" sections for police, ambulance, and emergency contact numbers.
Internet Access -- Although they're not always fantastic in terms of connection speed (or cleanliness), cybercafes are a roaring trade and usually cheap, albeit frustratingly slow. Keep an eye out for Sify i way (www.iway.com) and Reliance Webworld (www.relianceinfo.com) Internet centers, both offering much faster broadband connections than average stand-alone establishments. Sify, for instance, has some 2,500 Internet browsing centers around the country, half of which also offer Internet telephone services (about Rs 3/7¢ per minute for international calls). Log on to their websites to find a list of centers in a particular city. Avoid checking your e-mail in small towns; there's simply no point in spending hours behind a computer screen in Darjeeling trying to send a single message when you could be admiring Mount Everest. Tip: Business centers at luxury hotels charge exorbitant rates; there's often Internet connection for 10% of the cost just around the corner.
Language -- You shouldn't have to battle too much if you speak English with a clear accent. Don't assume, however, that everyone in India understands or speaks English. Also don't feel affronted when you run into locals who seem to smile in acknowledgement, only to reveal much later that they haven't the foggiest notion what you're talking about; they are simply trying to make you feel more at home. Hindi is widely spoken throughout North India, while all the states are divided linguistically. For example, Tamil is spoken in Tamil Nadu, Kannada in Karnataka, Telugu in Andhra Pradesh, Malayalam in Kerala, Gujarati in Gujarat, and Konkani in Goa; and there are literally hundreds of local dialects.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to contact your credit card companies the minute you discover that your wallet has been lost or stolen. Also file a report at the nearest police precinct, because your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number. Most credit card companies have an emergency number to call if your card is lost or stolen. They may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's U.S. emergency number is tel. 866/670-0955. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 905/474-0870. MasterCard holders should call tel. 636/722-7111. If you need emergency cash over the weekend, when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (in India call tel. 1-600-44-1851 or 1-600-111-911, or go to www.moneyintime.com ; in the U.S. call tel. 1-800/435-2226; www.westernunion.com ). You can call all these numbers collect by using the access code 000-117 (see "Telephones: Toll-free numbers" below).
Mail -- Buy stamps for letters and postcards from your hotel, and have your concierge post them for you. International postage is extremely affordable (letter, Rs 15 first 20 grams), and the Indian postal service is generally efficient. However, sending a package or parcel abroad involves a tedious process of wrapping it in cloth and sealing it with string and wax (again, ask your concierge); you'll also have to complete a Customs declaration form. All this may cost you a great deal of time at the post office (9am-5pm). Also, bear in mind that surface mail runs the risk of spending months in the system, or of never arriving at all. You can spare yourself a great deal of torment by having a local or international courier company deliver important packages or by using registered mail.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Major English dailies include The Hindu (www.thehinduonnet.com), The Indian Express (www.expressindia.com), The Times of India (www.timesofindia.com), and Hindustan Times (www.hindustantimes.com), as well as Kolkata's The Statesman (www.thestatesman.net) and The Telegraph (www.telegraphindia.com). These make for interesting reading and will keep you up-to-date on local and international events. You may find that much of the writing assumes a great deal on your part, however. If you haven't been following certain stories for some time, the latest update may be impossible to fathom. For our money, The Economic Times provides the most news-intensive articles, written in a language that's less colorful but easier to follow. Each week you can pick up fresh issues of The Week, India Today, Outlook, and Frontline (which provide quite venomous analyses of the nation's social, political, and economic situations. These are available at newsstands and railway stations and not only help you pass travel time but add immensely to your understanding of India. If you're looking for general travel features, the monthly Outlook Traveller (www.outlooktraveller.com) features colorful articles from an Indian perspective.
Passports -- For residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. For general information, call the National Passport Agency (tel. 202/647-0518). To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center (tel. 900/225-5674); the fee is 55¢ per minute for automated information and $1.50 per minute for operator-assisted calls.
For residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/passport ).
For residents of the United Kingdom: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency; or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410; www.ukpa.gov.uk .
For residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525) or at most main post offices.
For residents of Australia: You can pick up an application at your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au .
For residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or tel. 04/474-8100; or log on to www.passports.govt.nz .
Police Emergency and police contact numbers are listed in "Fast Facts" sections for major cities.
Restrooms Avoid public restrooms in India. Always carry toilet paper or tissues with you, since they're not always provided. Walk into five-star hotels to use their facilities even if you are not staying there.
Smoking -- Whatever curbs the government has tried to place on cigarette usage, there are no signs of society giving in to concerns about the hazards of smoking. Nearly every male in India seems to smoke something. An exception is Trivandrum City, where, at press time, smoking in restaurants and public places was banned (and enforced). Smoking is also forbidden on all trains, so if someone is smoking on your train, you are well within your rights to ask them to stop. Most luxury hotels have introduced nonsmoking rooms; if you don't smoke, request one when you book your reservation.
Taxes -- According to a new tax law, the luxury tax (VAT) on hotel accommodations, restaurants, and hotels is a flat 12.5%. Additional taxes on alcohol vary from state to state. Imported liquors attract a similarly disagreeable sin tax, making local brands far more attractive than their quality might suggest. In Tamil Nadu, for example, a whopping 73.5% tax is levied on imported liquor. Restaurant bills often include additional charges (such as a service tax) that usually account for between 10% and 15% of the total cost of your meal.
Telephones -- Phone numbers in India change at the drop of a hat, and businesses are slow in updating contact information, including websites.
To call India:
1. Dial the international access code: 011 (from the U.S. and Canada); 00 (from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand); or 0011 (from Australia).
2. Dial the country code: 91.
3. Dial the city code omitting the first zero.
4. Dial the telephone number.
Note: To call a cellphone number in India, follow up to step 2 above and then dial the 10-digit cellphone number, which should begin with "9."
Making calls within India: Hotel telephone costs are exorbitant, even when you make a domestic long-distance call. All over India, you'll see illuminated yellow ISD/STD signs indicating a privately operated "International Subscriber Dialing" and "Standard Trunk Dialing" facility; these are very reasonably priced. Your call is monitored by a computer system, and you pay at the end of your session. Make sure you have the correct phone number with you -- and check that the phone is in a quiet spot, or you run the risk of not hearing a word during your conversation. To call a mobile phone number that is not in the city in which you are based, dial "0" before the 10-digit number.
Making calls from cellphones: When making calls from cellphones, you'll need to punch in the full area code of the city and telephone number irrespective of where you are calling from. In other words, even if you are in Mumbai and want to call the city's Taj Mahal Hotel, you'd need to dial 022/5665-3366 from your cellphone. To call a cellphone number within a city, just dial the 10-digit cellphone number; to call a cellphone outside your city, add a "0" before the number.
To make international calls: Dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area code and number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., dial tel. 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial 197 if you're looking for a local number within India, and dial 183 for long-distance numbers within India. Don't hold your breath for accurate or up-to-date assistance, and speak slowly and clearly. There's also every chance you won't be able to get through to the number at all, or that your question will not be correctly answered. In the "Fast Facts" sections for some cities you'll find listed numbers for private, talking Yellow Pages services; these are more helpful in giving up-to-date information.
For operator assistance: If the phone you're using is not an International Subscriber Dialing (ISD) facility, you'll need operator assistance and must dial 186. Using an ISD facility without the need for an operator will save you a great deal of time. Toll-free numbers: To call a 1-800 number in the U.S. from India, first contact the international operator through the Direct Access service. For a call to the U.S., call tel. 000-117 (AT&T Direct Access), which gives you an AT&T operator, through whom you can make your toll-free or collect call. Note, however, that these Direct Access calls cannot be made from everywhere; to ensure you won't be charged for the call, check with your hotel before dialing.
Time Zone -- Despite India's vastness, the entire country operates according to the same time zone, 5 1/2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. That's 9 1/2 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (New York) or 10 1/2 when daylight saving time comes into effect in the U.S. Note: You may find your sense of time threatened while you're in India; the rule of thumb is don't panic. Remember that there's no point in getting worked up about delayed trains and such. In fact, when you arrive on time or ahead of schedule, be thankful. Use "wasted time" to chat with locals.
Tipping -- Tipping in India is an industry unto itself, and it's a relief to find yourself in an environment like the Oberoi, where individual tipping is not encouraged, for this very reason. Money certainly speeds up most processes, and you're treated with a certain degree of dignity and respect the moment you produce a wad of cash -- don't tip and you'll more than likely have to deal with a disgruntled and/or depressed porter/driver/guide. Bear in mind that many of the people who serve you are possibly living on the bread line, and your monetary contribution will be greatly appreciated; handing over an Rs 10 (25¢) or Rs 20 (45¢) note will hardly dent your pocket. Obviously it's not worthwhile to tip someone who hasn't eased your journey, but do reward those drivers, guides, and hotel staff who go out of their way to make your stay an enjoyable one. A driver or guide who's been with you an entire day will be most grateful for an extra Rs 100 to RS 150 ($2.30-$3.45).
Tipping is but one strain of India's all-pervasive baksheesh system, which is apparently an accepted means of distributing wealth to the lower echelons of society. As a foreigner, you will be regarded as wealthy, and your endless charity is almost expected by those who are less fortunate. It's therefore an excellent idea to always keep a stash of Rs 10 notes in an easy-to-access pocket, so that you can hand cash to the person who has just carried your bags or given you an unsolicited tour or looked after your shoes (the list is endless), and is now hanging around hopefully. Occasionally, someone will bluntly demand baksheesh, which is the same term that may be used by beggars, religious mendicants, and barefoot children looking for a handout. You are not obliged to pay anything, of course, but your conscience and irritation level will probably sway you either way. Tip: In Hindu temples, priests will happily encourage you to hand over huge sums of cash, often insisting that the money is for the poor. Be wary of such scams, and bear in mind that many temple officials have grown wealthy on charity intended for the poor.
Source: Frommers on India