Area Codes -- The international telephone access code for India is 91. 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 (9:30am-5pm on weekdays, and until 2pm on Sat). Most museums are closed Monday; the Taj Mahal is closed on Friday, along with all other Muslim sites. Hours of retail outlets vary, but many close on Sunday.
Drinking Laws -- Attitudes toward alcohol vary considerably. In Gujarat, prohibition is in force and liquor can only be obtained from the permit rooms of luxury hotels, a concession made principally for foreigners and out-of-state businesspeople. In most other non-Muslim areas, alcohol is freely available and exceedingly popular. In top hotels, you'll find a full range of imported liquor, available to those who can afford the extravagance. In most cities you will encounter "country liquor" bars and insalubrious liquor "dens"; and somewhere on your travels you may be offered local bootlegged stuff -- all of which you're advised to stay clear of. In a few of the southern states, notably Kerala and Tamil Nadu, stringent alcohol laws are in place: Liquor is found in many hotels and restaurants (but not all, since liquor licenses can be difficult to obtain), but outside these licensed premises, alcohol may only be sold by government-owned outlets (where you'll often see queues forming from early in the morning) -- part of an attempt to prevent the sale of dangerous illicit concoctions that have in the past caused death and blindness.
The legal drinking age differs from state to state, and ranges from 18 to 25; in Mumbai, for example, wine and beer may be consumed from the age of 21, but you must be 25 to drink spirits. Foreigners are unlikely to be questioned about their age in the context of alcohol consumption. Laws concerning alcohol use change regularly, often in response to serious concerns around abuse. It's best to drink modestly and restrict drinking to places where it is obviously permitted. Certain religious sites place restrictions on intoxication or even alcohol use, so best to be on your toes if you don't mean to cause offence.
Electricity -- 220-240 volts AC.
Embassies & Consulates -- For quick reference, here are some embassy numbers: Australia tel. 011/4139-9900; Canada tel. 011/4178-2000; New Zealand tel. 011/2688-3170; and the U.K. tel. 011/2419-2100. 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. 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. 033/3984-2400; fax 033/2282-2335; http://kolkata.usconsulate.gov). The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai is at 220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600 006 (tel. 044/2857-4000; fax 044/2811-2020; http://chennai.usconsulate.gov).
Holidays -- Expect to find a different schedule of public holidays for each state. There are, additionally, just four national public holidays: January 26 is Republic Day, August 15 is Independence Day, October 2 is Gandhi's Birthday, and December 25 is Christmas Day. Expect a host of religious holidays and festivals which may or may not cause businesses or other places of interest to close for the day (or perhaps for a few hours).
Insurance -- While the cost of quality medical care in India is nowhere near as expensive as it is in the West, you're advised to get yourself covered for any major medical emergency. A basic consultation with a specialist doctor costs between Rs 300 and Rs 1,000, so that's not your real insurance concern. Should you need hospitalization, major medical assistance, or medical evacuation, travel medical insurance will help ease the process and cover all expenses. Note: Try to get "cash-free" insurance for major medical expenses, and carry a list of facilities where this is possible; otherwise you will have to pay first and get reimbursed later -- which is the norm in most of India. For travel overseas, most U.S. health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you only after you return home.
It's a good idea to get insurance for any specific valuable items (such as laptops and cameras), and to also cover any luggage that you intend checking in on flights. Most airlines require that you report delayed, damaged, or lost baggage within 4 hours of arrival. Though airlines are required to deliver luggage, once found, directly to your house or destination free of charge, in India they cannot do so because Customs rules require that you clear your bags through Customs personally. Once your lost bags have arrived, you will have to make a trip to the airport to claim them.
For information on traveler's insurance, trip-cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling please visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Internet Access -- Today even small towns have decent Internet connectivity, although coverage may be more limited in remote places such as Ladakh, where the Internet must be accessed via satellite connection. Business centers at luxury hotels often charge exorbitant rates; there's often Internet connection for 10% of the cost just around the corner. 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 iway (www.iway.com) and Reliance Webworld (www.rcom.co.in) 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. Log on to their website to find a list of centers in a particular city. If you're planning on being in India for an extended period, or rely heavily on Internet access while traveling, consider investing in a data card that allows you to connect to the Internet through your laptop while on the road: Reliance Netconnect (www.rcom.co.in) is one of a number of mobile phone service providers that also offers wireless Internet connectivity by means of a USB modem.
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 (or Hindi for that matter). Also don't feel affronted when you run into locals who seem to smile in acknowledgment, 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. You'll also come across a lot of what is often called Hinglish, where local terms (in Hindi) are mixed with English phrases. This usage is becoming increasingly widespread. You'll notice it immediately in advertising billboards and on television shows, but also in general conversation.
Legal Aid -- The local strategy for dealing with most potentially sticky encounters with the police or traffic department is to offer a bribe (baksheesh). Should you find yourself in any legal tangle, it's best to immediately contact your local consular representative and seek their advice.
Mail -- Buy stamps for letters and postcards from your hotel, and have your concierge post them for you. International postage is extremely affordable, 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 packages (including shopping that can't fit into your case!); it's relatively inexpensive and there are literally dozens of these companies in every town (again, ask your concierge or host).
Newspapers & Magazines -- Major English dailies include The Hindu (www.hindu.com), The Indian Express (www.expressindia.com), The Times of India (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.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. The Economic Times and Mint provide the most detailed business news. 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. In Mumbai and Delhi, the twice-monthly Time Out is indispensable if you're looking for what's hot and happening.
Smoking -- Whatever curbs the government has tried to place on cigarette usage, there are still relatively slim signs of society giving in to concerns about the hazards of smoking. Things are improving, though, and whereas just a few years ago it seemed as though just about every male in India smoked something, there's a marked drive towards health and social consciousness -- this is probably more evident among the upper echelons of society and in cities where people are more regularly exposed to forward-thinking advertising campaigns. On the other hand, the cities are also where high-cool is sometimes defined by cigar toking, so it's ultimately up to the lawmakers to change attitudes. Where they have made changes, they've been pretty thorough: Shimla (in Himachal Pradesh) theoretically forbids smoking in any public place, including on the streets; Chandigarh (the Union Territory from where the Punjab government operates) has been working towards similarly far-reaching legislation; and in Trivandrum (Kerala's capital), smoking in restaurants and public places is banned (and the rule is being 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 -- The tax on hotel accommodations varies from state to state, and sometimes by city; it may be anywhere between 5% and 12.5%, and may differ within the same hotel according to the level of luxury and comfort you're experiencing. On the other hand, in regions like Ladakh, there is no taxation. Additional taxes on restaurant food and alcohol also 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.
Time -- 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. 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 a Rs 10 or Rs 20 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 200 to Rs 300.
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.
Toilets -- Use only toilets in your hotel, in reputable restaurants, shopping malls, airports, and other modern-looking institutional buildings. Tales of toilet horror stories may be exaggerated to some extent, but there's no point exposing yourself to potential shock. If you do feel compelled to use a "local" or traditional toilet, be prepared by carrying toilet paper, as its use is not the norm among the vast majority of the population. However, toilet paper is a major contribution to environmental devastation and, by all accounts, the use of water rather than paper (which often cannot be flushed down the system) is more hygienic and environmentally friendly. If you're unsure of toilet etiquette in any place, simply ask.
Visitor Information -- India Tourism is going all out to seduce international visitors, and has fairly extensive representation around the globe. Access its website (www.incredibleindia.org) for general information, but be aware that some pages may be out of date or permanently under construction. The websites do offer links to all of India's regional tourism departments, some of which provide fantastic coverage of what's on offer.
India Tourism offices may be found worldwide as follows. In the U.S.: 3550 Wilshire Blvd., Room 204, Los Angeles, CA 90010, tel. 213/380-8855; and Suite 1808, 1270 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, tel. 212/586-4901. In the U.K.: 7 Cork St., London W1X 3LN; tel. 020/7437-3677. In Canada: 60 Bloor St. (W), Suite 1003, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3B8; tel. 416/962-3787. In Australia: Level 5, 135 King St., Glasshouse Shopping Complex, Sydney, NSW 2000; tel. 2/9221-9555.
You can access up-to-the-minute news and stories through the websites of some of the country's largest English dailies, including http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com, www.hindustantimes.com, www.expressindia.com, and www.hindu.com, as well as Mumbai-based www.dnaindia.com. For up-to-date news from the two premier English-language 24/7 news channels, and updates on Bollywood movies, visit www.ndtv.com or http://ibnlive.in.com; for travel-related information and features, visit www.outlooktraveller.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.