In India, it's HOT. Give your slim jeans a break: they won't be adequate to the sweaty Indian weather. You may feel better in light pants, made of cotton or linen.
Women are wearing sarees; short pants and low-cuts are not so popular as in Western countries. In respect to their customs, we thus advise you to avoid skimpy clothing that could offend them.
As it is quite warm and sweaty there, mosquitos often come to your place! We advise you to prepare covering clothes in your luggage, so as to wear them in the evening, after spraying yourself with bug spray.
In India, people often take their shoes off before coming inside a house. Rather than big trainers, just take a pair of flip-flops or small shoes that you can easily take off (and that will weigh less in your luggage!) One more advice about shoes: make sure they're water-proof... As the monsoon arrives, they are increasingly exposed to flooding!
Last but not least, for women who want to go take a swim in the sea, you should prepare clothes that you can wet without fear. You may feel more comfortable with clothes on, as Indian women do, depending on the persons you go swimming with. However, if you go among a group of tourists, you may be less subject to the awkward curiosity of Indian men attracted by your charm... We thus advise you to take a swimming suit together with clothes as a prevention.
In India, the money used is the rupee. For further information about exchange rates, please visit our dedicated page about rates.
Many ATM are available all around the town and most credit card are accepted (except VISA cards that can only be used in some distributors, but you should find ones quite easily. Thus, you should be able to withdraw money easily. No need to wander around carrying a lot of cash with yourself, people might stole it from you.
Be aware that if you don't take an agency to manage everything for you, you might have to pay taxes in hotels and restaurants.
Your purchasing power is higher than most Indian people you will come across. This is why tourists are sometimes asked to pay more, in touristic places for instance (to enter the Gingee area, Indians have to pay 5 rs and tourists 100rs...) Don't be surprised if your Indian friends do not have to pay as much as you do! However, almost everything can be negotiated especially in the Pondy market, so do not hesitate to try to lower prices.
What about tips? Negotiate, but not excessively! In India tips are given most of the time and the service is not always included in the price. In hostels, some services implicitly call for tips, approximately 10 to 20 rupees: carrying luggage, room service etc. In restaurants, usually you can leave from 5% to 10% of the bill. It is also expected to give tips to the guide and the driver at the end of a tour, usually it is around 100 rupees per day.
Last but not least, begging is rife in India. We advise you not to encourage it, NGOs are numerous and active throughout the country and it is better to go through them to help making things change.
The easiest way is to use the Internet. You will find lots of internet cafés and phone booths no matter where you are, and the connexion (though not so reliable) is available. It will enable you to phone through the internet or to send messages.
You can also send letters and packages from India, it roughly arrives to your addressee, provided he's patient... the Post Office is open during the week but packages have to be recovered by sewn fabric before being sent. You just need to ask Indians directly where to find the wrapping. Enveloppes can't be found everywhere, but there are some available in small shops. Postal cards are also quite difficult to find, don't hesitate to ask your guest house where to find some around. Finally, stamps are only sold at the Post Office and will cost you 15 rupees per 20-gram envelopes to send it to France.
Whether you're a tourist or you live in Pondy, people will notice you're a stranger even if you try to learn the language. Remembering some basic customs could, however, prevent you from going through quite unexpected or even disturbing situations.
First about the Indian road code. We promise you sensations, you may need some time to get used to it. Driving rules that Indians use, and that they teach to foreign people willing to take the wheel can amount to two: first, avoid buses that go too fast and do not always see what's in front of them. Then, sound the horn to tell people you're here and at the same time check out whether someone is coming behind you, on your right or on your left while remaining aware of what's ahead of you in case someone (or a cow) shows up. Don't be afraid to go in rickshaws though, they're used to it!
Be also aware that Indian people find using toilet paper quite dirty. Therefore, most toilets are stand-up ones, aren't supplied with paper, and are only furnished with water basin and a jug or a shower head. If this idea does not sound so attractive to you, do remember to always take toilet paper along, you will be able to find some in supermarkets or in shops.
As a consequence of this cultural specificity, Indian people never use their left hands to eat because it is considered as impure. Always choose your right hand to receive things, give money, eat etc.
Together with the toilet paper, think about Micropur tablets because the water you will come across is not always drinkable. Often in restaurants you can ask for filtered water, which is always drinkable and free. But if you do not want to take risks, ask for bottled water. Generally waiters will open the bottles in front of you, just check that the cap was well-sealed (sometimes it is filled up from one client to the other). In some restaurants you will be served a glass of water, it is supposedly filtered but if you are only coming for a short time, no need to take risks, choose bottled water.
Here is a list of paper guides which will help you prepare your trip :
The Rough Guide to South India- The Rough Guide to South India ed.2005
South India Travel Guide- Lonely Planet éd.2007
The Rough Guide to South India Map - [folded map] - 2005
South India, 3rd– (Footprint - Travel Guides) – ed2008
India South - Nelles Map [Carte pliée]
ActuPondy publishes a map of Pondicherry with a multitude of practical informations, it is available to the Indian Tourism Office in Paris, you can also have it sent by contacting:
13 Boulevard Haussmann