Travelling in TamilNadu

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Language
  • Tamil is the local language in Tamil Nadu (South India) though English is widely understood and spoken.
Weather
About Aravind
  • climate is tropical, generally hot and humid for most of the year. Daytime temperature ranges from 25C (77F) in the winter to 45C (113F) in the summer. The rainy season strikes in May/June and a smaller monsoon once again in November/December. The most pleasant time to visit is during the months of July through February. April and May are the hottest months.
Food
  • Food is generally spicy. So, always specify if you would like your meal to be made less spicy.
  • Tipping at restaurants: A moderate tip of 20 INR is acceptable.
  • Drinks: While it is generally acceptable to get coffee or tea from the local street vendors, other drinks should only be purchased in sealed bottles. This includes bottled water (ask for mineral water), soda, and beer.
  • Do not ask for ice cubes, as they are merely frozen water.
  • Fruit drinks mixed with local water should also be avoided.
  • Sugar cane juice from local vendor should also be avoided.
  • Use bottled water for brushing your teeth.
Security
  • Though incidents of theft are rare, it is advisable to keep your luggage and room locked. Madurai is a constantly bustling city making it quite a safe place to go about.
Photography
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  • Film processing and printing from either film or digital cameras is readily available. The Mini Studio in Madurai is located about four blocks from LAICO and does excellent work at low prices.
  • Generally locals in TamilNadu love to have their photos taken. Please ask first to be sure, but once you take one photo, you will probably be asked to take dozens more!
  • Photography inside temples is sometimes restricted. You may need to purchase a camera pass.
Medical Assistance
About Aravind
  • pharmacy at Aravind carries all the common drugs. However, there are many well-stocked drug stores near the Aravind campus. You should bring your own supply of any special medicines you take, as they may not be readily available in India in the same prescription strengths.
  • In case of any medical emergency, the physician at Aravind is available. Guests who feel ill should not hesitate to see the Aravind physician, as in many cases a simple cure is available for visitors with stomach problems, etc.
Electricity
About Aravind
  • 240 V AC, 50 Hz
  • Sockets: 2 or 3 Round pin
  • If your country uses a different kind of plug, conversion adapters are available.
  • Most computer related devices and chargers will operate on 110 or 220 volt power, but check yours ahead of time to be sure. It is handy to bring one 3-way adapter to plug into the conversion adapter.
Local Transportation
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About Aravind
  • Auto-Rickshaw This is the most convenient way to get around. Auto rickshaw stands can be found all over, or you can simply flag one down if you see one without passengers in the back seat. Typical charges should be from 80 to 100 rupees per trip as an example, from the Aravind campus to the Meenakshi Temple the charge should be 80 rupees. Tipping is not expected. Always agree on the price before getting into the auto rickshaw, and be prepared to bargain with the driver. If the driver insists on a higher price than you feel is reasonable, simply walk away to find another autorickshaw.
  • Buses Most Indian cities have an excellent system of low-cost buses, which are a convenient and inexpensive way of getting around. However, the signs and other information are all written in Tamil. If asked, the bus conductor will usually help you out by telling you when to get off for your desired destination. For finding the correct bus, look for the bus number prominently displayed on the front of the bus. There are three main bus stands in the city of Madurai, namely Periar bus stand, Arapalayam bus stand and Mattuthavani bus stand. If you are taking a long distance bus, ask which bus stand you should go to, to find the bus for your destination.
  • Taxis Taxis are also available, at a higher charge.
Culture / Conduct
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South Indians are mild mannered and are quite open to foreigners. The following tips should help you understand what appropriate behavior is.

  • Use only your right hand to give or receive anything.
  • Avoid criticism of local customs or traditions.
  • Avoid aggressive behavior.
  • Be a patient guest; the pace may not be as fast as that to which you are accustomed. The formality of sitting at length in conversation is a time-honored custom.
  • Shaking hands: Dont shake hands unless a hand is offered. If in doubt say Namaste with both hands clasped together, especially when greeting women. Handshakes may be longer and could involve both hands at times.
  • Always remove your shoes before entering a temple or someones house.
  • Indians assume that Westerners dislike hot and spicy food, so if you prefer hot and spicy food do tell them.
  • If your host insists on paying for things, dont force the issue.
  • Observe social protocols in meetings - for example, dont force junior people to speak in front of the seniors.
  • The approach to time in India is more relaxed than abroad, so dont be surprised if people turn up late for meetings or just cancel it at the last minute.
  • Its a friendly and common gesture for people of the same sex to hold hands.
  • Smoking, consumption of alcohol, and chewing gum are not permitted within any of the Aravind premises. Smoking in public is also banned.
Shopping
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About Aravind
  • Shop Hours: Most shops are open from 10 am to 6 pm. They generally dont close for lunch. Many shops are closed on Sundays.
  • Credit Cards: Only the larger shops accept credit cards (Master Card and Visa) and travellers cheques.
  • Bargaining: At most of the local shops the prices start out quite high, and you are expected to bargain to get a more reasonable price. If you dont feel comfortable about bargaining, there are some fixed price shops you can go to.
Banking Facilities
  • The current exchange rate is around 50 Rupees per Dollar, as of March 2011 visit www.xe.com to find the current exchange rate
  • Currency Exchange:You can contact any government approved exchange office or hotel to change money, or you may ask the hospital cashier for help.
  • ATM machines are available in plenty and usually handle VISA & master cards.
  • If you change money from your local currency to Indian currency, keept the receipt. You will need it later if you wish to change your extra Indian currency back to you local currency.
Communication
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  • Post and post-related services like courier and FAX are available; ask the hospital receptionist where to find these services.
Telephones
About Aravind
  • There are three kind of telephones, sometimes located inside a phone booth. There are phones for LOCAL calls, Long Distance within India (STD), and international calls outside of India (ISD). They are located on many streets near the hospital. In addition, there is an STD and ISD booth at the hospital.
  • Cell phone service is available at reasonable rates from several local service providers including Airtel, Vodaphone (formerly Hutch), and BSNL. Cell phone reception is generally good in all major cities and even in most small towns. If you want to purchase a mobile phone in Madurai, you will find excellent pricing starting as low as 1500 rupees for a basic phone.
    • You will need an unlocked GSM tri-band or quad-band cell phone for use in India. If you are bringing a GSM style phone with you to India, first call your home phone company to obtain the unlock code which may be necessary to allow you to use your phone with a different mobile phone service.
    • To obtain a local SIM card to insert in your phone, along with your application you will need to submit a copy of your passport and a letter from Aravind saying that you are involved in Aravind related projects.
    • If you will be spending most of your time in Madurai you should purchase your SIM card in Madurai rather than a different Indian city, to be sure of being charged only local Indian rates when using your phone in Madurai.
    • Cell phone service for visitors is usually pre-paid. You purchase air time and validity as required. Extending either is very simple there are numerous mobile phone suppliers who will be glad to assist you and sell you the appropriate card. One such supplier is located only two blocks from the LAICO building.
    • If your home service provider allows it, you can also use your existing SIM card, but you will be paying higher prices as your local and International calls will all become international calls.
Internet
  • Many Aravind buildings including the Aravind Guest House in Madurai and Pondicherry provide WiFi. You can connect directly from your laptop. Simply turn on your wireless search program, and it should find an access point to connect to. Ask the hospital receptionist where WiFi is available. If asked for a security code, ask someone from Aravind to get the access code. Internet service at most Aravind locations is often good enough to allow the use of programs such as skype for free phone calls, although the connection speed sometimes will slow down when the networks are busy. Internet Browsing Centre offers Internet access at nominal charges. You will find quite a few cyber cafs in most commercial areas of the cities.
  • Internet from Mobile Phones - Most newer high-end mobile phones also have WiFi capabilities. You can use these to perform most of the same functions as a laptop computer. A Good way to get an in expensive connection for laptop on phone is to sign up at www.jajah.com.
Festivals (Tamil Nadu State)
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About Aravind

South India celebrates fairs and festivals in a very grand manner. Festivals in India are usually celebrated with the family. These festivals are some of the more grand occasions when the city comes alive

  • PONGAL or the harvest festival, in January, is a thanks giving to the Sun God and is a colourful sight complete with decorated cows!


  • JALIKATTU or bull-taming on the days after Pongal is an impressive show of strength and courage by the village youth. The Madurai Chamber of Commerce organizes tourist visits to the bull taming.
  • DIWALI, the festival of lights in November, is a nation-wide celebration of the conquest of good over evil.
Useful Tips
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  • It is advisable to bring your own supply of toilet paper with you when traveling to India, as it is not always available at public toilets. If you travel away from the hospital area, you should carry your own supply with you.
  • Also bring along some mosquito repellant or use electric mosquito repelling devices.
  • Make copies of your passport and visa, and carry them with you instead of the originals.
  • Be aware that what people in other countries such as America call the second floor is referred to as the first floor in India. Think of the ground floor as 0 and count up from there for additional floors.
  • If you expect to use the autorickshows, have your destination / return address written down in Tamil so you can show the driver. This will make your communication much easier.