When clients want to visit us they often have a lot of questions about India. This may include what the weather is like, how to dress, if there are tropical diseases to watch out for, etc. In this page we have collected information which hopefully answers most of the questions you may have. We are looking forward to your visit!
CHENNAI OR MADRAS?
One of the most common questions people ask is whether we are in Chennai or Madras. Most people have some idea of where Madras is located but have not heard of Chennai. So here is the answer – in 1997, to mark the 50th Anniversary of India’s independence, the names of several cities were changed to names that are more meaningful in the local languages than the old British names. Madras was formerly known as Chennai in the Tamil language, so it was natural to use this name in both languages. In fact, people still use both names. The airport is still known as MAA, and the export zone, where we are located is a unit of MEPZ, the Madras Export Processing Zone.
HOW TO GET TO CHENNAI?
Many airlines have direct flights from Europe to Chennai. Among them are British Airways (via London), Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), Air France (via Paris), KLM (via Amsterdam) and Jet Airways (via different European destinations). In addition, there are a large number of airlines offering indirect flights to Chennai: Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Air Lanka, Gulf Air, Saudi Air, Malaysian Airlines and Air India.
There are other airlines that fly to Delhi or Mumbai (formerly Bombay), for example, Finnair and Virgin Atlantic. If you fly to Delhi, you can get a good domestic flight by Jet Airways, Spice Jet or Indigo. However, we recommend that you fly directly to and from Chennai, especially if it’s your first visit to Asia. Chennai’s airport is not as congested as Delhi or Mumbai and changing to a domestic airline may be a hassle.
Most nationalities need a Visa to visit India. If you do not have an Indian passport and are not registered with the Indian authorities, then you probably need a visa. Contact the Indian Visa Application Centre in the UK, the Embassy of India in Ireland or Cox & Kings Indian Visa Application Center in Stockholm. If you are going to visit India several times, you can apply for a multi-entry business visa. You also need an invitation from us. The Indian government has announced that it will be possible to get a tourist visa on arrival for most countries sometime before the end of 2014.
For most nationals, it is now possible to apply for a short-term visa to India online. Please read more at https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html
We can recommend and assist with booking hotels in Chennai, for prices that are usually lower than you would pay through a travel agency or by booking online. A good mid-range hotel will cost GBP £50 – £85 / Euro 55 – 95 / SEK 500 – 800 per night. Such hotels usually have a good restaurant, a pub and sometimes a pool. Real luxury hotels can cost much more than they would cost in Europe. Here’s some more hotel information. We recommend Grand Chola, Hablis, Hilton, Park Hyatt and Radisson Blue (near the airport), Residency Towers and Trident. Radisson & Trident are closest to our office followed by Hilton, Hablis and Park Hyatt.
CURRENCY AND EXCHANGE
There is no need to change money to Rupees overseas. Instead, it is usually better to change money at an Indian airport (note that you can usually change money at the airport while you wait for your luggage, but you may not be able to change the currency after you have passed through customs). Note that you normally don’t need a lot of cash. The exchange company may claim that merchants may charge you extra. That may be true for certain souvenir shops, while in normal stores, in hotels and most restaurants there are no surcharges. Credit cards work well in hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, showrooms and most ATM’s can be used to get cash But to pay for a taxi, or to buy mineral water, or to buy souvenirs, you may need rupees. The Indian rupee is nowadays written with the Rupee sign – ₹ the international ISO code is INR; locally it is also sometimes written as Rs. (or Re for one rupee). One hundred thousand rupees equals one “Lakh” and ten million rupees is one “Crore”. The exchange rate is currently about 80 rupees to the Euro and 90 to the GBP. You get quite a lot for your money in India if you are buying food and basic things, but luxury goods may be more expensive.
Mammalapuram or Mahabalipuram as the town used to be known as – and the old name is still often used – it was the port for the Palava region. It is a small fishing village about 60km south of Chennai. There are several luxury hotels there and lots of interesting archaeological remains have recently been discovered, several square kilometres of the seabed is covered with remains from the 600-700 century AD. Mass tourism has not yet found the village. Aside from a relaxed atmosphere, great surf, nice little fish restaurants, there is also surprisingly interesting archaeology. The most famous is a stone temple on the beach which dates to the 670s AD. We recommend Ideal Beach Resort, Radisson Temple Bay and Taj Fisherman’s Cove. Radisson Temple Bay is located within walking distance of the archaeological sites. If you book in advance, you can also go to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands – a group of islands between India and Singapore which must be some of the most unspoiled paradise islands left. There are plenty of good reefs for scuba diving and pristine beaches.
Restaurants are very cheap compared to the UK and Scandinavia. You can get a good meal for less than 10 Euro. Even at luxury restaurants, prices are affordable (except perhaps for wine and spirits, where the state imposes high luxury taxes.) At the better restaurants in the town, a meal may cost GBP £8 – 20/ EUR 9 – 22/ SEK 80 – 200. Indian food tastes good, so why not take the opportunity to try something you can’t get at home? But remember that South Indian food is very different from the food you find in Indian restaurants in Europe. While the nightlife may be somewhat calm compared to European cities there are some pubs which are well worth visiting. Among them, we can mention the Irish pub the Moon and the Sixpence and 10 Downing Street.
HOW DO YOU GET AROUND?
Nowadays Uber or the local Indian Ola is easy to use and if you just download the app and book your trips. You can pay with cash and prices are very moderate. For short distance, you can use three-wheel taxis which are called auto-rickshaws. They can also be booked by Ola. The advantage of using the app is that you can give your pickup place and your destination via the app and since it can be difficult to communicate with the drivers, you don’t have to explain where you are going or negotiate the price. If you prefer to rent an air-conditioned car with a chauffeur, it costs GBP £6-£25/ Euro 7-27 / 60-250 Swedish Krona per day, depending on how many miles and how many hours you want to travel.
WHAT CAN YOU BUY?
The prices of Clothing and fabric are very competitive. If you plan to stay more than a week, you can get clothes made by a good tailor. Branded clothing is available and generally costs much less than in the UK or Sweden. Among the brands sold here are Benetton, Lacoste, Levis, Lee, Louis Philippe, Van Heusen, Arrow, Nike and Reebok. Aside from the original outlets, there are also factory outlets where you can buy things for even less. But in some places, you should take care, because there are fakes. There are also plenty of traditional handicraft products in wood, marble, stone and basket work. In some small craft shops, you can haggle, which you would never do in normal shops.
Chennai is much more traditional than Delhi, Bangalore or Mumbai. Most women dress in traditional Indian clothing, the Sari or the Shalwar Kameez (tunic). A lot of men you see on the streets wear a dhoti or a lungi, although at least the men but also some women from the IT generation usually wear western clothes. It is not always easy to get around in Chennai, apart from the main streets (Mount Road, Nungambakkam High Road, Poonemale High Road, etc,) as there is virtually no pavement, making it difficult to walk. But it is easy to get around with an auto-rickshaw, so actually, we recommend using these exotic three-wheel taxis in the local area.
Chennai is a colourful city with lots of beautiful and happy faces. You will find Hindu temples on most street corners, but there are also significant religious minorities of Christians, Muslims, Jains and Sikhs. People from different religions live peacefully side by side. Religion is important in India, but everyone respects each other. Chennai appears to have less poverty than some cities in North India. The city of Chennai has a population of more than 6 million, but with its suburbs, it probably has a similar number of people to the entire country of Sweden. But Chennai doesn’t feel like a huge city apart from its rather frustrating traffic. Most people live in village-like areas and you see a lot of palm trees. Public transport while looking chaotic at first is actually surprisingly well organised for commuters with frequent buses, though they may be on the fuller side during rush hours. The new, air-conditioned Volvo buses are more comfortable and popular even though they are more expensive. Some buildings you may like to explore are Madras High Court, Chennai Art Museum, Fort Street, George Street, St. Mary’s Church, Chennai Railway Station and Pasture Kottam. There are also some Hindu temples such as Kapelaswaram and Marundeeswarar and the old British Colonial buildings. But the buildings are not the main attractions in Chennai; it is the people, the colours, the dynamism, and the beaches to the south of town.
The dress code is relatively informal. Hardly anyone wears a jacket. Long-sleeved shirts and long trousers are normally worn in office environments. Women should, however, remember that India is very conservative and dress accordingly. Western women who work here usually wear Indian dress or conservative western women’s clothing, but this is slowly relaxing.
English is spoken everywhere and most people you meet will have been educated in English medium schools. Even the poorer groups in the population usually understand sufficient English for the language not to be a big problem for visitors. You could say that it’s easier to speak English here than in a lot of European countries. This is true in large cities like Chennai, but in the rural surrounding, most people only speak Tamil.
Indian friends often joke that there are three seasons in India, hot, hotter and hottest. But we don’t think it’s too bad… The proximity to the equator and the coast means that the difference between the hottest days and coolest days is not as great as in Europe. The table below shows the approximate temperature and typical weather for each season. Contrary to what we are accustomed to at home in the west, the weather is fairly predictable most time of the year and the monsoon of South East India is quite manageable though at times there may be some amount of flooding. The temperatures below are in Centigrade.
|Period||Weather||Day temperature||Night temperature|
|December – March||In December, the weather is usually overcast, but not raining as much compared to the rest of the Monsoon (October-November). In January nights are cool and days are sunny but the weather is quite comfortable. The end of December and January are the best months to visit Chennai. But beach front hotels south of town are usually fully booked if you don’t book early!||25-32°||18-25°|
|April – June||Clearer skies, very warm, peak temperatures in late May can reach above 40 degrees, but normally only for a few days.||35 – 41°||25 – 30°|
|July – September||Summer monsoon, or more correctly the Southwest Monsoon. As the wind from the west drives the clouds over the South Indian mountain range, the rainfalls become fewer and you get overcast weather with occasional showers. Normally this means that the temperature remains within a comfortable range and the weather is not too different from summer days in the UK, though perhaps a few degrees warmer and a bit more humid between the showers.||28 – 35°||24 – 28°|
|October – November||The main monsoon most often starts in mid-October (Called the Northeast Monsoon) is the main monsoon for the Chennai area. It can rain a lot during this monsoon, although normally not as much as on the West Coast of India during the Southwest Monsoon. Nevertheless, one can also get an occasional sunny day. The temperature is usually quite pleasant, but sometimes parts of the town may get flooded.||25 – 33°||22 – 26°|
Our office is located in MEPZ (Madras Export Processing Zone), a duty-free export zone, and is about 6 km from the airport. Our office is on the second floor of SDF11, Unit 27. If you are visiting, call us on 00 91 44 2262 7541 and we will give you directions.
TROPICAL DISEASES AND VACCINATIONS
While visitors often ask regarding health risks when travelling to India, there are actually very few dangerous tropical diseases in South India. Since most food is cooked, it is only water you should watch out for. Aside from the smarter hotels, where the authorities require that all water served shall be treated, we recommend drinking only mineral water. Malaria exists in India, but it is rare in Chennai (in 2012 less than 0.2% of the population in Chennai had Malaria). In addition, the kind of malaria most commonly found here, (P. Vivax) is not the worst kind. If you stay in an air-conditioned room, the risk of getting malaria, even after many years in Chennai, is virtually zero, and the general recommendation is not to take any malaria prophylaxis. In fact, even most visitors staying for years don’t use any prophylaxis. Presumably, the risk of side-effects is significantly greater than the risk of malaria. But by all means, get medical advice on this before you come here. After many years of vaccination campaigns, India has been declared polio-free. Some other tropical diseases such as Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid Fever and Chikungunya still occur but are unusual. The best advice is to try to avoid mosquito bites by sleeping in an air-conditioned room and to use mosquito nets and mosquito repellent. The only thing more dangerous than at home is probably traffic!