The currency used in India is the rupee(R) which is divided into 1000 paise (p). The coins in use are 10, 20, 25 and 50p as well as R1, 2 and 5 and notes are in denominations of R10, 20, 50, 100 and 500.
India’s national language is Hindi but there are eighteen official languages and over one thousand dialects. You don’t really have to worry about language barriers, however, as English is widely spoken, particularly in those places which feature on the backpacker trail.
Due to its size and geographical diversity it really is difficult to generalise when talking about India’s climate. Basically, India has three seasons –hot, wet and cool- but once again when one region is experiencing one extreme another will be experiencing the complete opposite. The coolest weather, however, is between December and February with dry, sunny days. You will come across snow in the northern areas, however, but other than that it is extremely pleasant. Between March and May, the weather is extremely hot and can be quite unpleasant for those of you who are not accustomed to it. Finally, the monsoon season takes place between June and September and is particularly bad along the south west coast.
India lies five and a half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Understandably, opening hours vary from region to region but in general shops open between 9.30am and 6.00pm from Monday to Saturday. Banks open between 10.00am and 2.00pm from Monday to Friday and between 10.00am and 12.00pm on Saturdays and post offices open between 10.00am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday as well as Saturday mornings. In the bigger cities, however, these opening hours are often longer.
Electricity in India operates on 230-240V AC, 50Hz.
Taxes are generally applied to the bill in the more upmarket hotels and restaurants in the country so if you do frequent either ensure that you ask beforehand if the price includes tax and exactly what the rate is. Furthermore, if you are staying in the country for a period of longer than 180 days you are supposed to get a tax clearance certificate before you leave the country. To obtain this certificate you will need to go to one of the India’s Foreigners’ Registration Offices which you will find in any of the major cities and take your passport, visa or any other important paperwork which you might possess with you to ensure a speedy process.
With the exception of those visiting from Bhutan or Nepal, a valid passport complete with a tourist visa is essential for entry into India. This must be obtained from the Indian Embassy in your home country prior to your arrival in India. The multiple entry tourist visa is valid for 180 days from the date of issue and a fee of US$5 is applicable. This can be renewed at an Indian Consular office which you will find in any of the state capitals within the country.
Each state is served by both a Government of India tourist office and a state tourist office. Efficiency in either really varies from place to place so it is a good idea to bring a detailed guidebook with you too. And, as well as the above many of the more popular tourist areas also have an office run by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation or the ITDC but this organisation is more involved in organising tours, accommodation and the like while the others operate merely as information providers.
When bringing travellers’ cheques or foreign currency into India, it is recommended that you bring either US dollars or Sterling Pounds as you will find that these are the easiest to exchange. It is also worth noting that no Indian currency can be brought into or taken out of the country with the exception of Rupee travellers’ cheques.
You won’t have any difficulty exchanging foreign currency, however, and there is no restriction on the amount you bring in. If it is in excess of US$1,000, however, it is worth declaring it on arrival and obtaining a certificate from Customs.
When changing currency only do so at official banks or official money-changers. You will find 24-hour facilities in the major cities and at international airports. Other than that banks are open from 10.00am until 2.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 10.00am until 12.00pm on Saturdays. You will receive a currency exchange form for each transaction and keep these in a safe place as you may well need them for re-exchange on leaving the country.
The country code for India is 91 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 52, the local area code and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. Public telephones where you can make local, national and international calls are usually pretty easy to come by, even in the smallest of towns. Calls are at their most expensive between 9.00am and 8.00pm, between 8.00pm and 11.00pm they are slightly cheaper but they are cheapest between 11.00pm and 6.00am.
The more upmarket restaurants and hotels will include a service charge but smaller establishments don’t. The staff in the latter, however, are not paid very well and really appreciate a tip of any size. Nevertheless tipping is entirely at your discretion. If you wish to do so 10% is considered sufficient and you should tip the waiter directly as opposed to leaving it on the table. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped but if you want to give them any small change from your fare this is perfectly acceptable.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In India they take place on January 26th, March 8th and18th, Good Friday, May 7th, June 6th, August 14th, October 2nd, November 14th and 30th and December 20th, 21st and 25th.It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.