Travel to India

Travel Information for India

We are very much looking forward to journeying with you to beloved India. Below you will find more detailed information about the trip that we hope will aid you in making arrangements.

Accommodations

Room and board are available at our retreat site, The Center for Bhrathiya Dharmic and Cultural Studies (formerly Suddhananda Ashram). Three daily vegetarian meals are included with your lodging as well as chai/coffee in the early morning and mid-afternoon. You are also welcome to stay somewhere in town and commute to the retreat if you prefer. The retreat site is located about 6 km from Ramanashramam which takes about 5-10 minutes by rickshaw or motorbike or up to 20-35 minutes by bicycle.

Lodging - December 29th, 2018 through January 23rd, 2019

  • Private room or cabin with bath - $700 USD

  • Shared Cabin for two with bath - $465 USD per person

  • Hostel/Separate Room with shared bath - $400 USD

  • Dorm Room with shared bath - $325 USD

You can reserve your room here. If you have any questions, please contact our housing coordinator, Arjuna at arjuna.devaji@gmail.com.

Visas & Passports

You will need a valid passport and travel visa for India. We highly recommend starting the process towards securing these items sooner rather than later as it can sometimes take more time than expected. If you need any help in applying for your visa or renewing your passport, we recommend the website ItsEasy Passport & Visa to help expedite the process.

Please note: Passport Photos & Photocopies
The management at the retreat site requires all guests to provide a passport-sized photo and a photocopy of both your passport and your India visa. It is best to prepare these items before you travel.

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Group Travel

Some members of the sangha will travel together to India from San Francisco on December 27th, 2018 and return on January 23rd, 2019. If you would like to travel with the group or meet up along the journey, you are welcome to book a seat on the same flights:

Departing flight

Thursday, December 27th, 2018
Emirates - flight EK226
San Francisco* (SFO) to Dubai (DXB)
Departs at 3:40 pm (15:40)

Friday, December 28th, 2018
Emirates - flight EK542
Dubai (DXB) to Chennai (MAA)
Departs at 9 pm (21:00)

We will arrive to Chennai very early morning on Saturday, December 29th. A bus will be arranged to pick us up and take us to the Center for Bhrathiya Dharmic and Cultural Studies. The ride is around 4 1/2 to 5 hours with a short stop to use the restroom and purchase snacks along the way. We will arrive likely around mid-morning on December 29th. Bus fare is around $20 USD per person to be arranged upon arrival at the center.

Returning flight

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 - late evening
Depart by bus from the retreat site to Chennai airport

Thursday, January 24th, 2019
Emirates - flight EK543
Chennai (MAA) to Dubai (DXB)
Departs at 3:30 am 

Thursday, January 24th, 2019
Emirates - flight EK225
Dubai (DXB) to San Francisco* (SFO)
Departs at 8:45 am

*Please arrange your own transportation to and from San Francisco airport.

You will be prompted to let us know if you are planning to travel with the group when you reserve your room at the Center for Bhrathiya Dharmic and Cultural Studies. You are also welcome to reach out to our travel coordinator Vidya at vidya.devaji@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Solo Travel

If you are not traveling with the group from San Francisco and would prefer to travel alone, you are welcome to make your own arrangements. A sangha member will greet you upon your arrival to give you an orientation and show you to your room. You will be prompted to let us know your arrival date and time when you reserve your room. If you do not yet know your travels plans, you are welcome to let us know at a later date.

If you need a pick up at Chennai airport, we highly recommend hiring Samy from Bhagavan Travel. Samy has been a great support for our sangha over the years. He lives in Tiru and will arrange for someone to greet you at Chennai airport and deliver you safely to the ashram. You can contact Samy directly at Bhagavan777@gmail.com. Samy has an internet cafe in town and can also give you a good exchange rate for rupees. He can also arrange a SIM card for your phone should you wish.

Dress Code

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Cotton and linen clothing is best for the hot climate in Southern India and can be purchased inexpensively there. Southern India is very conservative and traditional and for this reason participants are required to adhere to a dress code, even on the ashram grounds. Women are asked to cover their shoulders, legs and ankles. Tops should be long enough to cover hips and scarves are recommended to wear over the chest. Men have fewer requirements, but shorts are usually not worn in public. 

Sandals are the basic footwear as you have to remove your shoes before entering the satsang hall and dining hall at the ashram as well as all stores and most restaurants in Tiru. You may want to bring two pairs in case something happens to one. Some cheap shoes are available to purchase in town but nothing with support. 

A sweater or light jacket is recommended as early mornings and evenings can be cool.  

If you enjoy swimming, you might consider bringing a swimsuit as there is a hotel nearby with a swimming pool that some people like to use to cool off after satsang. The hotel charges a moderate fee for day use.

Safety

As a general reminder, it is a good practice to stay aware of your surroundings when not on the ashram grounds. Do not display cash openly and keep money and other valuables safely tucked away. Do not leave your personal belongings unattended (aside from leaving your shoes at the door when entering a building).

We highly recommend as a precaution that women visiting the area travel in groups of two or more, especially after dark. Although most women in our sangha have only ever experienced support and kindness from locals, it is not altogether uncommon to receive unwanted attention when out and about in town. We advise you to stay alert and use your best judgment.

Maintaining Good Health

Drinking Water: It is important to be careful with drinking and eating in India, where sanitation can be an issue. At the Center for Bhrathiya Dharmic and Cultural Studies the food is prepared with filtered water and they provide large bottles from which you can fill your personal water bottles.

When you are out, it is best to drink only bottled water which is easily available, and eat in one of the many restaurants that cater to foreigners and use only filtered water. It is acceptable to bring your own water bottle into restaurants. There will be a list of restaurants we have visited in the past on the bulletin board at the retreat site.

Supplements and Your Immune System: We highly recommend meeting with your doctor or naturopath (or other trusted health practitioner) to hear their recommendations on how to stay in good health while traveling as well as how to boost your immune system prior to making the trip. There are many strains of bacteria in India that your body may not be accustomed to fighting that could cause sickness, particularly gastrointestinal. They will likely recommend particular supplements that will work well for your body. 

First Aid: If you get a scratch or cut, you will want to be careful to keep it cleaned and covered. Band aids and triple antibiotic cream are available at the pharmacy in Tiruvannamalai. 

Hygiene: Indian bathrooms do not have toilet paper so it is good to carry packets of tissue with you. Toilet paper will be provided for your initial arrival at Suddhananda ashram. After that, toilet paper can be purchased in town. Also, carrying hand sanitizer is recommended as there are often no sinks available. The ashram is equipped with Western toilets, as are most restaurants that cater to Westerners. At the ashram, each cabin has its own shower, some with hot water. The hostel and dorm rooms have shared bathrooms. 

What to Pack

Toiletries: Remember that any liquids or creams you take in your carry-on luggage must be a maximum of 100 ml or 3.38 oz or less per container and all containers must fit into a quart sized zip lock bag. Most general items like toothpaste, soap, women’s hygiene products, face cream, etc are readily available in the markets so there is no need to bring a large supply unless this is your preference.

Insect Repellent: The mosquitoes can be aggressive at this time of year, especially in Southern India. There is a local natural insect repellent which can be quite effective and can be purchased at the market in town. Or you may want to bring a trusted brand from home if you prefer. Socks, long pants, and long sleeve cotton shirts are very helpful, especially in the early morning and evening. Some kind of soothing balm for bites can helpful such as calamine lotion or After Bite.

Sun Block: Although your body will mostly be covered while adhering to the dress code, you may want to bring some sunblock for your face and arms as the sun can be quite strong even during the winter months.

Laundry: You will need to hand wash your clothes and can buy detergent there. There are clotheslines at the ashram but you may want to bring a few clothes pins. A few hangers can come in handy, but again, these can be purchased there. Buckets will be provided. A heating coil can be purchased inexpensively in town to heat up water.

For Meditation: You may want to bring or purchase a meditation shawl or light blanket. Chairs will be provided and there are inexpensive cushions for sale at local shops if you would like to be more comfortable. You may like to bring your preferred meditation cushion from home.

For Walking/Hiking: Hiking boots are not necessary for walking on Arunachala, however some people like to have something more substantial than sandals, like tennis shoes. A small backpack comes in handy as well as a hat. If you plan to summit the mountain (which can be a difficult hike even for seasoned hikers) you may want to consider bringing hiking poles. 

Electronics: You will need a converter to plug in anything electrical you bring from home. They sell them in the markets in Tiruvannamalai or you can bring one from home.

Sleeping:
Mattresses and pillows there are very hard by Western standards. A blow-up camping pad like a Thermarest and a small soft pillow are very helpful. Covered one-inch foam pads can be purchased at the markets for around $15-$20. The Center for Bhrathiya Dharmic and Cultural Studies will provide clean sheets and a light blanket, however you may choose to bring your own sheets as theirs are not very soft by Western standards. One queen or king sheet folded over can work well.

Towels and wash cloths:
These are not provided by the ashram and you will need to bring them from home.  

Flash lights: Power outages are a regular occurrence and can last for hours. A hand held flashlight and a headlamp are recommended. Avoid extra weight in your luggage by purchasing extra batteries inexpensively in India.

Phones & Computers: If you have a smart phone, you can likely get an international plan from your provider, which would allow you to use your current phone number in India. Or you can ask your provider to unlock your phone as you can get a SIM card in India for approximately $12 USD which gives you a local number with free local and, depending on the plan, international minutes. You can also purchase an inexpensive Tracfone to use while traveling.

What's App is a great app to have on your smartphone for easy communication with family and friends back home. 

Wifi access and computers are readily available for a small fee in one of the many internet cafes in town. There is no Wifi available at Suddhananda Ashram.

Exchanging Money

You may wish to convert some money before arriving or there is a currency exchange counter open 24hrs at Chennai airport. You can exchange money there after picking up your baggage if you wish. 

There are several ATM machines in Tiru where you can withdraw cash in dollars or rupees. 

One is located across from Ramanashramam near the market. Also, you will get a good conversion rate from our contacts, Samy and Kumar. Their contact info is listed below:

Samy    +91 4175 237268 - Bhagavan777@gmail.com
Kumar  +91 4175 236035 - Kumar@shantionline.com
 
Here is a link to a currency converter

Non-resident Indians or foreigners are not allowed to take Indian rupees out of the country and are asked to convert rupees into another foreign currency before boarding flights. There are other items you cannot take out so you may want to refer to this website.   

If you are not staying at the Center for Bhrathiya Dharmic and Cultural Studies:

Food:
You will likely be tired when you arrive and may want to just take it easy for a while so bringing snacks is recommended. There are two markets very close to Ramanashramam. One is considered a ‘health food’ store and sells a variety of nuts, oatmeal, juices, etc.  

Food containers
It is recommended that you bring food storage containers with tight lids as most restaurants do not supply to-go containers. Tight lids are a must to keep ants out of your food, even for packaged foods such as energy bars and the like.

Eating/Cooking Utensils:
You can buy forks, bowls, plates and other utensils there. A flexible cutting board and sharp knife are useful if you plan to cook.

If you have any other questions that have not been addressed here, please contact the retreat registrar Diana at diana@devaji.org. We are looking forward to this time with you in India. Namaste.