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INDIA 
The Mystical India - FAQ

With such a varied itinerary and so many aspects to touring India's signature destinations, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for the Mystical India tour. We are here to help. Below you'll find some useful information you'll need as you get ready for your Indian adventure.

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), but since we'll be traveling during daylight savings time, which is not observed in India, the difference between New York and Delhi will be 10 1/2 hours. So when it is noon in New York City it is 10:30pm in India.

New York

Delhi

PACKING 

There are many great souvenirs to bring back with you from India, so make sure that you have enough space left in your suitcase. For domestic flights in India, we will be flying with several different airlines. Most of these local airlines will allow a checked bag weighing a maximum of 33lbs. For carry-on luggage, weight should not exceed 15lbs and the sum of its dimension (height + width + length) should be 45in. at most; otherwise, you will be responsible for paying the overweight luggage fee. You do not need any formal clothing for this trip. Some people like to dress up if they are visiting high-end restaurants, but this is optional. Since we'll be walking quite a bit in India, you should pack your most comfortable walking shoes. Although it will be fall in North America, we expect the weather to be mild in the locations we will visit in India. Expect the daytime temperatures to reach 75 - 85 degrees (F), dropping to 50 - 60 degrees (F) at night. You should bring adequate sun protection and a light jacket, layering is best to accommodate the varying temperatures. You will probably be most comfortable in cotton, breathable clothing in white, beige and khaki, and it may be useful to carry a scarf to cover your head when visiting Temples.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS   

Most foreign visitors, including those from the US, Canada and Australia, need a passport, valid for at least 60 days past the expected date of departure, as well as a visa to enter India. India offers an electronic tourist visa on arrival (TVoA). Applicants may apply online no later than 4 days prior to arrival in India and no sooner than 120 days prior to arrival at: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html. The electronic visa allows for a one-time entry valid for 60 days from the arrival date and costs $160US for Americans and $165CND for Canadians. You will need to complete an online application, upload a photo of your passport, a passport sized photo and after submitting an online payment, you can expect to receive your electronic visa (by email) within a week. Expedited processing is also available.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION  

This tour starts at 7:00PM on Saturday, November 7, 2020 in Delhi, India (DEL), and your flight should arrive no later than 4:00PM. If you are prone to jet lag and travel fatigue or if you want to acclimate to the warmer climate and time change, we recommend arriving a day early. We have arranged for individual airport transfers in accordance with your flight arrival time in Delhi. You will be met by a private airport greeter as you exit the plane. This person will help you with Immigration, getting your luggage and will escort you to your chauffeured car to take you to the hotel.

This tour ends on Thursday, November 19, 2020 at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in Delhi, and we will schedule individual airport transfers in accordance with your flight's departure time. If you need help with finding your flights for India, please feel free to give us a call.

SINGLE SUPPLEMENT AND ROOMMATES  

To avoid paying the single supplement, we offer guaranteed roommate matching and will try to match you with a roommate of similar age. Otherwise, there are six single rooms available on this tour, though single rooms on our tours tend to fill-up early. Please keep in mind that all shared rooms are non-smoking.

THE TRAVEL GROUP   

The Mystical India tour group is limited to a maximum of 16 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. In addition to the tour director, the travelers will be assisted by professional local guides and bus drivers, who will accompany the group throughout the tour.

INSURANCE 

While the cost of quality medical care in India is nowhere near as expensive as it is in the U.S., you're advised to get coverage for any major medical emergency. A basic consultation with a specialist doctor costs between 300INR ($5US) and 1,000INR ($15US), so that's not the real concern, but should you need hospitalization, major medical assistance, or medical evacuation, travel medical insurance will help ease the process and cover the expenses. For travel overseas, most U.S. health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage. Travel insurance also covers trip cancellation or interruption, flight delays and luggage delays. We recommend getting travel insurance from one of the leading travel insurance providers, such as Travel Guard.

HEALTH   

Immunizations are not required to visit India, but certain vaccinations and/or medications are suggested. All travelers should be current on routine immunizations, and both the Tetanus and Hepatitis A vaccines are recommended. For detailed information, please contact your physician or visit the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/travel/

Most people traveling to India are nervous about the food. The best precaution is to use bottled water, avoid ice and make sure your fruit and vegetables have been washed.

You should protect yourself against sun exposure and use a high-SPF sunscreen liberally. It's also advisable to wear a hat during the day, and try to avoid midday sun whenever possible. 

Air pollution levels in many Indian cities are very high and contain high levels of suspended particulate matter. It's mostly from vehicles, but in places like Varanasi it is compounded by the use of diesel generators. It's best to always carry a cotton handkerchief with you to hold over your mouth and nose as a mask to breathe through until you are past the offending area.

WATER & FOOD 

It’s best to avoid drinking tap water and ice in drinks. We will be providing bottled water on days when we travel by bus, and each hotel also provides bottled water in rooms. When purchasing bottled water outside, it's a good idea to check that the seal on the bottle is undamaged before you purchase it. Many local brands are available, but it's recommended to use the major brands like Bisleri, Aqua 100 and Kinley.

India’s diverse cuisine and food culture along with the easy availability of international foods and ingredients, makes it easy to cater to all diet requirements. Vegetarian and vegan options as well as food allergies are easily accommodated. 

Indian cuisine has several variations, with each region famous for its own techniques, ingredients and spices. In northern regions, meat dishes are very popular, which are usually made with chicken, mutton or lamb, whereas in southern parts vegetarian cuisine is most favored. In addition, seafood is also readily available. While Indian cuisine tends to be spicy, most restaurants will gladly prepare a milder variation of the meals on the request of the customer. Almost all restaurants offer the western dishes in most towns and cities.

TOILETS   

You will see both Western toilets or squat ones. Hotels and restaurants, places in cities and sights that see international tourists will most likely have Western toilets, but when we stop at a rest area off a highway during one of the drives between the cities, squat toilets will most likely be the only option. Toilet paper will be available at some places, but it's a good idea to carry a pack of tissues just in case if there is none. Please keep in mind that some public toilets may require payment, so you should always have some coins in the local currency with you to pay for them.  

SAFETY 

For its size, India has a very low crime rate and is generally a safe country. However, as with any international travel, you should be aware of your surroundings. Always make sure your purse is zipped and wallets are in sealed pockets. In the markets, be vigilant of pick-pockets and distraction scams. With regards to personal security, India is probably one of the safest destinations. That said, the usual rules apply: no wandering around back alleys at night, no flashing of valuables or wads of cash, exercise caution during festivals and religious processions, where crowds are usually overwhelming and can become unruly. In India, scamming is an art form, and tourists are the prime target. Although it's okay to have a heart, don't fall into the costly pit of naiveté. Most often an unintentional tour will end with a request for payment. Don't pay for services you have not requested. Rude as it seems, often the only way to get rid of a persistent tout, beggar, or con artist is to ignore them and keep walking without pause.

Here is a guide to India's most common scams: 
Street touts: they operate under guises of initial friendship, wanting to practice their English or making promises of cheap shopping. The initial kindness turns sour when you don't comply with a suggestion that you buy something. 
Taxi drivers: they are notorious for telling passengers that their hotel does not exist or has closed for some reason. Never allow yourself to be taken to a hotel or restaurant unless it is the one you've asked to be taken to. Note that any successful establishment will soon have competition opening with a similar or almost identical name. Drivers also moonlight as restaurant and shop touts and receive a commission for getting you through the door. Whenever you hire a local taxi, make sure that no one but the driver is riding with you. Even if you are just one person in the back seat, do not under any circumstances agree to allow the driver's friend to ride along.
Bargains: Beware of unmarked wares, this means the goods are priced according to the salesperson's projection of your ability to pay. Also beware of the ultimate "bargain." Any deal that seems too good to be true, is. If this all sounds too tedious, head for the government shops, where goods are sold at fixed prices that are not a rip-off despite sometimes higher prices.
Credit card fraud: Beware of unscrupulous traders who run off extra dockets, then forge your signature. Never let your credit card out of sight.
Noting your notes: Recognizing the insecurity that comes with dealing with an unfamiliar currency, swindlers will switch your Rs 500 note with a Rs 100 note and then claim that that's what you gave them. When handing out a fare or paying for a purchase, preferably give the whole amount together rather than handing over each note as you dig it up from your purse or pocket. Also, when you hand over a Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 note, state aloud how much it is.

WOMEN TRAVELERS   

Foreign women may perceive India as sexist, but if you are confident, relaxed, and assertive, you are unlikely to experience any serious hassles. To a great extent, Western cinema and fashion trends have helped fuel the legend that women from abroad welcome attention, so you should take precautions, like wearing appropriate (modest) attire. Note that women are excluded from entering certain religious sites and attractions, but this is unlikely to impact too strongly on your plans. Menstruating women are, technically, not entitled to enter Jain temples or mosques.

ACTIVITY LEVEL   

During the Mystical India tour, we will travel by a private bus, and by plane. We also expect to be walking quite a lot, although at a leisurely pace. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 4 miles throughout the day, frequently on uneven surfaces. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you should be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles and manage your own luggage without assistance. Overall, this trip is not strenuous, although it is filled with outdoor activities in warm weather.

CELL PHONE/INTERNET   

All hotels where we're staying in India offer free WiFi to their guests. It is available throughout the property, including in guest bedrooms. Restaurants also have WiFi and will give you the password on request. SIM cards are convenient, cheap, and easy, and if your phone allows for them, they are recommended for India.

ELECTRICITY 

The electricity supply in India is 230 – 240 volts, with three round pin plugs. Most western visitors will require an adaptor. India uses the standard India non-grounded socket, with type D adapter, ungrounded version. The European non-grounded sockets are also used. This adapter is known as type C. 

  

LANGUAGE   

English is commonly spoken throughout India. Most children learn English in school, and it is the most important language for commercial, national, and political status. 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 later that they haven't any idea what you're talking about; they are simply trying to make you feel more at home. Hindi is the national language and primary tongue for 40% of Indians. However, there are 21 other official languages, including Gujarati, Tamil, Punjabi and Sanskrit. 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.

MONEY  

You’ll be able to find ATMs in most places. ATMs linked to the international networks are situated in the main cities, as well as an increasing number of the smaller towns. As in other international destinations, ATMs offer the best exchange rates. There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency or travelers checks a tourist may import, provided a declaration form is completed on arrival. This will also facilitate the exchange of imported currency as well as the export of unspent currency on departure. Cash, bank notes and traveler’s checks up to $10,000US or equivalent need not be declared at the time of entry. 

The Indian currency is the rupee, which is made of 100 paisa. You cannot obtain Indian currency anywhere outside India, and you may not carry rupees beyond India's borders. Major currencies such as US dollars, British pounds and Euros are easily exchanged throughout India. Most international airports of the country have the money exchange counters, and also some selected larger hotels and resorts have this facility available to their customers. The most regularly used cards are Visa and MasterCard, neither American Express nor Dinner’s Club cards are broadly accepted in India. 

The Indian rupee (Rs or INR) is available in denominations of Rs 500, Rs 100, Rs 50, Rs 20, Rs 10, and Rs 5 notes. You will occasionally come across Rs 1 or Rs 2 notes, save them as souvenirs. Minted coins come in denominations of Rs 5, Rs 2, and Rs 1, as well as 50 and 25 paise (rarely seen now). There are 100 paise in a rupee.

TIPPING   

Although this tour's cost covers all tipping for guides, drivers and restaurants, don't be affronted if you are asked to tip in addition to the gratuity we paid. Tipping in India is an industry unto itself, and everyone expects a tip for services in India, whether they were requested or not. On arrival in India, you will expect to tip your airport greeter (about 200Rs or $3US) and your airport transfer driver (about 300Rs or $4US). When dining on your own, the tipping standard is normally 10% of the bill. It is customary to tip porters (100Rs per bag) and taxi drivers (200Rs).

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 10Rs 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.

SHOPPING   

India is a shopper’s paradise and has the most dynamic retail industries in the entire world. For the shopaholic, this may prove a problem. Here is a list of things you can bring home from India:

1. Bangles: Almost every woman in India wears them. They come in basic day to day wear to very fashionable ones.
2. Sarees: You’ll find the best sarees in the world. The ones to go for are Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu) silk sarees, they are of exceptional quality.
3. Shawls: The best ones are embroidered Pashmina shawls made of quality cashmere wool derived from the pashmina goats of the Himalayas.
4. Flip flops: Cheap and cheerful at throw away prices available at street stalls.
5. Jewelry: precious stones, gems, sapphire, diamond, rubies.
6. Henna Dye: plant based henna dye is popular for making decorations on hands, so you may wish to buy some packets of powdered Henna Dye.
7. Gamcha: A very thin towel used in Indian villages. Very handy as it dries quickly and takes up little space in the luggage. 
8. Indian tea, including the best Darjeeling loose tea leaves. Assam and Nilgiri teas are also excellent ones to buy.
9. Mango pickles.
10. Saffron: buy high quality saffron in any department store in India.
11. Ayurvedic products with little or no side effects.
12. Yoga DVD’s: yoga works. Two yoga techniques in particular are very popular; Kapalbhati and Anulom Vilom. Get their DVDs.
13. Amrutanjan: A very effective Ayurvedic balm for headaches, cold and cough.
14. Handicrafts and folk art: the whole nation seems to be buzzing with talented craftsmen, and you can support this cottage industry. Some popular ones are: terracotta statuettes from West Bengal, sandalwood carvings of Mysore, carved metal craft wares of Madhya Pradesh, blue gazed pottery of Jaipur. Some places to buy handicrafts are Dilli Haat in Delhi and Anokhi in Jaipur.
15. Rugs: if your baggage allowance permits, buy the beautifully designed handmade oriental rugs made of pure wool and/or pure silk. 
16. Silk paintings: You can buy exquisite folk art and ethnic paintings made by artists from the villages of India.
17. Marble: You’ll be amazed at the throw away prices of marble in India, like a marble jewelry box.
18. Wood carvings: You’ll find excellent wood carvings for decorative purposes.
19. Sandalwood: You can buy pieces of sandalwood or decorative carvings of gods. Not only do they smell nice but will look nice.
20. Indian chessboard: Chess was invented in India and here you will find quality chess boards.
21. Bansuri: An Indian musical instrument made of hollow shaft of bamboo with 7 holes. It’s something that will look good on the wall or on the fireplace.

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Why travel with other women?
Many women do not have families or compatible friends who wish to travel. When going on a main-stream tour, women often find that most activities are geared towards couples and quite often they feel left out. Singles' tours are not always what women are looking for. If you do not have a traveling companion, there is also the issue of the expensive "single supplement", sometimes as much as 50 or even 100 percent of the tour cost. By going on women-only tours, women can easily avoid paying for the single supplement by sharing a room with another woman traveler.
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