Welcome Pack - A Journey To Women's Empowerment in India: Eastern India
Whether you have travelled in India before or not, you will no doubt have plenty of questions about your upcoming trip. We have prepared this welcome pack specifically for our trip to North India this November.
Nirmala Rani will be your guide on this trip. Nirmala heads up Secret Projects operations in India and has worked side by side Fritha, the founder for 4 years. Nirmala is Indian and has led many trips and volunteer experiences for international guests during her extensive career in charities.
Who You Will Meet
During our trip you will meet the Secret Pillow Project India team, friends of Secret Pillow Project India and our inspirational Makers. We will be visiting their communities and you are likely to meet their children too. We are excited about giving our Makers the opportunity to host you for tea in their homes.
Two Top Tips Here:
- Please don’t share your mobile numbers with the people you meet in the Maker's communities. This can lead to them having expectations of you that are unachievable after you have left.
- You will be offered either black tea or tea with milk and biscuits and snacks. If you don't want to eat or drink but don't like to turn it down, just accept and pass eatables onto one of the children and they might like your tea too once it has cooled. There are always plenty of children around in India.
You will want to take lots of photographs when you're here and we suggest you do! The Makers are used to us taking photos of them but we suggest you check before taking photos of their children.
In North India the sun always shines and the average daily temperature is around 35 degrees. When we travel in November we will miss the monsoon rain so dry weather is almost guaranteed. The temperature can drop unexpectedly at night so bring a standby fleece and a scarf.
The food in North India is delicious. The most famous North Indian dish has to be anything with paneer in it. Paneer is a little like cottage cheese. Delicious! There are veg and non veg selections at most places where we will eat. As seasoned travellers, we do eat street food where we can see it being cooked and will encourage our guests to join us. It is the real India. But there is no pressure at all. Let us assure you that will make sure we only eat in places that we trust.
We will be able to pick up some interesting fruits and snacks to nibble as we travel and of course, bringing a bag of snacks you like from home is not a bad idea.
We advise that you drink only bottled water which is completely safe and is available throughout all our trips. Always check the seal on the bottle when you are buying. If you are not sure then ask for it to be changed.
Many of the hotels have filtered water in the rooms, so do bring a small reusable bottle to decant into.
Plastic is a huge issue in India as well as everywhere else, so if you don't want to leave plastic bottles, please invest in a water purification bottle. We suggest you give it a proper try out before you come away.
Remember to drink 1-2 litres of water a day.
You will be most comfortable in loose cotton or linen clothes. Most women in India dress conservatively and cover their shoulders. The salwar kameez with leggings or baggy pants is the most common outfit and, in our opinion, the most comfortable! Your hotel in Kolkata is close to some nice and inexpensive clothing stores, such as Biba, Aurelia and W and they are open in the evening. If you want to put together a capsule Indian wardrobe for your trip, you will be able to do so there.
Restaurants, and the car in which we will be travelling, will be air conditioned so we suggest you bring a shawl or a jumper.
In India it is the custom to remove your shoes before you go inside a home or a shop. If you wear lace up shoes or ones with a buckle you can find yourself spending a lot of time fiddling with your shoes. Often there is nowhere to sit to do that either. We would strongly advise wearing shoes that you can slip on and off, for example, flip flops. If you are buying a new pair, please wear them in before you come out. Having a blister is no fun and it is hard to keep a wound clean. Fritha has many stories to share about this misery! Also if you have big feet, it is impossible to find flip flops big enough in India so definitely buy before you come. Again Fritha has many stories to share on this too.
This is our first customer trip to North India so we have not stayed in hotels but they come recommended by the Oxfam India travel desk. Nirmala worked at Oxfam has many contacts in the area. Everyone will be sharing a twin room unless a single room as been requested (this will incur a higher cost).
We will be adding to this list of hotels and resend the link whenever it is updated.
The most important hotel you need is your arrival hotel, because this is the hotel that you need to put on your visa application and on your arrival form at immigration.
The Senator Hotel – Camac Street, Kolkata
Full address is as follows:
The Senator Hotel
15 Camac Street
Kolkata, West Bengal, India
The Indian currency is the Rupee. It's a closed currency, which means that you will not be able to bring rupees into India with you. We do not recommend exchanging money at the airport due to a poor exchange rate. There is a Bureau de Change at every airport and there will be opportunities to change money at or near the hotel.
You can also withdraw money from an ATM on your first day. ATMs are commonplace throughout India and money is usually easily drawn at most of them. We recommend letting your bank know that you are travelling to India and bring some Sterling/USD cash with you in case your cards don’t work. Again, Fritha has many stories of being in India with no bank cards working and now she will never come to India without plenty of Sterling or American dollars.
You will need cash for personal shopping, tea/snacks on route and drinks in the evening. Some shopping may be able to be done using a card but there is no guarantee.
Often the way we organise tea/snacks for everyone is to take it in turns to buy for the group. The prices are minimal and it tends to speed things up and makes it all the more fun!
We recommend setting up a drinks/snack kitty on day one (with a fixed initial contribution of say 3,000 rupees) and getting one of the group to take charge.
On the subject of spending, the main shopping opportunities are in the Kolkata and Shantiniketan, and most proper shops will take cards. When we are more off the beaten track visiting maker groups, you will need very little money (but do ensure that you have cash on you at these times!)
The national language is Hindi however a large percentage of the Indian population speak very good English. India has many different local languages and dialects however the first Hindi word you need to learn is simply “Namaste” (Hello). We will be traveling in one Indian state, West Bengal and the main language is Bengali.
You will be required to have a current valid Passport before you can enter India. You need to make sure that it has a minimum of 6 months left to run when applying for your visa.
Visas for India are easy to get and are not expensive. Most people opt for a e-tourist visa which can be applied for online. Depending on which country you are travelling from, some can be gained upon entry to India, however please check your particular visa requirements well in advance of your travel as each country has different requirements.
You will need to give an arrival address for your visa, please use the following:
15 Camac Street
Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Top tip: Be careful to time the application of your visa with booking your flight. Most tourist visas expire after 6 months so you need to ensure that your visa is valid throughout the entire length of your stay. Apply too early and you risk it expiring before or during your travels. If you have recently visited in India and you are planning to use your 2nd entry entitlement, please check the restrictions on 2nd entry very carefully. There is a lot of confusion about the validity and many tourists are refused entry into India because they have not properly understood the restrictions over the 2nd entry.
We will be travelling by train, taxi and at one point a Tempo Traveller which is like a small mini bus. It can carry 14 people. It is a perfect way to travel because you can all talk together or sit back and enjoy looking out the window. Our luggage will be stored on the roof of the vehicle. As you can imagine, the roads are busy, congested, full of pot-holes, and in India people use their horns a lot! If you are prone to car sicknesses, it's a good idea to bring something with you to ease any potential discomfort.
Please bring a light rucksac for day trips on the train and in taxis. It is a great way to carry water, snacks and anything else you might need.
The airport you need to fly in and out of is the international airport in the city of Kolkata in the state of West Bengal. The airport is called Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport. Please use this information when you are searching for flights or when speaking to your travel agent. We will organise your airport transfers. It is essential to provide details of when you will land and fly out. If you find flights and want to chat with us before you book, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s essential that you have adequate travel insurance when travelling to India. It’s always a good idea to check with your insurance company before you travel with us to make sure you are covered.
Medication and Medical Conditions
If you are taking any kind of medication it’s advisable that you bring a supply with you. Medication is fairly easy to get in India over the counter and you may find that many prescription drugs are available in this manner also. You must inform us prior to your trip of any medical conditions or allergies that you have. These will be treated in the strictest of confidence.
You may or may not require vaccinations for India depending on the vaccinations you already have. To find out more information about vaccinations, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic. We can't give any advice on this matter, it is best to seek expert advice.
We will travel with a basic first aid kit and have experience and awareness of what do should there be a medical emergency.
We will ensure that there are opportunities to take comfort breaks when we are out and about. Most places we visit will have Western toilets but, in some places, you will need to squat! The bathroom floors are often wet because people typically clean themselves with water instead of toilet roll. We recommend you carry a pack of tissues and hand sanitizer with you when you're out and about. If you have never been to India before, you should be aware that the toilets can be a bit of a challenge initially.
You can bring your mobile phone with you and it should work within the network coverage areas. Please ensure that you have notified your provider in advance of your trip so as you have international roaming. Please be aware that data roaming and downloading can be expensive when in India so please check before travelling or you could end up with an expensive mobile bill when you get home. Most of the hotels that we stay in will have wi-fi but a constant connection is never guaranteed.
India works on a 240 volt system and your standard 2 pin travel adaptor should work in most cases.
Most of the hotel and hospitality workers are not particularly highly paid so tipping has become a fairly standard practice if you are happy with the service. When in restaurants the normal tip is around 10% of the bill. If someone is carrying your bags to and from your room I would suggest that you need to pay no more than 50INR. 20INR would be the norm so it’s really up to you.
You will have the opportunity throughout the trip to go shopping. We love Fab India, Biba and Sorch, which are all within 5-10 minutes walk of the hotel on the famous Park Street.
India is a place of wonderful adventure. You never quite know what is going to happen! We may encounter unforeseen issues that affect the itinerary, such as strikes or delays. If we are forced to change the itinerary for any reason we will notify you. We will sending out a revised itinerary in September.
Meeting Children on Our Journey
We will be meeting children en route, they will be incredible and full of life. Giving them things leaves children with the impression that all 'foreigners' will give them things. A smile and a chat is best thing you can leave behind. Some may ask you for a selfie and of course that is always a wonderful thing to give.
Giving sweets are a complete no no because the children don't have access to great dental care and they eat a lot of sweets already.
You may be approached by a child begging, again, please don't give them money, they will be in a gang controlled by a human trafficker. The best thing you can do is smile and talk to them and politely say no.
If you are planning to travel on and would like some help, please ask Fritha to put you in contact with somebody we know that can help you.
Useful Things to Bring With You:
Travel adaptor, packets of tissues, hand sanitizer, mosquito repellent, head torch (for the occasional power cut), loose cotton / linen clothing, flip flops, shawl, snacks (especially if you're squeamish about street food), umbrella, camera!