South India is well endowed with guidebooks – most offer useful and practical advice. Probably the most important advice about South India is NOT to attempt to do too much. This is a very common mistake, aggravated by the illusion of what seem to be small distances between destinations. However the roads in South India are extremely slow, and an average speed of 60mph, and less if you are going through towns, is to be expected. Also the roads are often poorly maintained, and, coupled with South Indian driving (see below) can make a long drive exhausting. So do not try to do everything in one trip. Plan on relatively short days driving and your holiday will be much more enjoyable.
Do think about travelling by rail, even if you already have a car and driver. Many South Indian roads have been disfigured by four laning work in progress this has not affected the railway and the views are usually a good deal better than from roads. Although slow, rail travel is approximately the same speed as roads and is extraordinarily cheap so even if you send your driver and car ahead with your luggage, the extra cost is minute.
It makes a great deal of sense to hire a car with a driver – the cost of the driver is built into the car cost and South Indian “driver-guides” are usually well educated; well versed in history; politics; geography; wildlife of South India, and normally provide excellent company. Also the system is well-established where by MOST hotels give free accommodation to the driver, and indeed most restaurants will feed your driver, while you eat in the main restaurant.
Money and credit cards
Our advice is to avoid credit cards, whose operators can be rapacious in their charges, and to change money into rupees and pay with cash. If convenient to do this on arrival at the Airport, which avoids queuing in local banks and relatively quick.
Do keep a small pile of 10/20/50 rupees notes and small change – the sums are small, and everyone is expecting a tip; it also helps to deal with beggars efficiently.
The Indian mobile network is relatively efficient, and those who want to make or receive internationally calls (or indeed make local calls) when in India, should consider getting a local sim-card. In our view BSNL is the best, and buying a sim card is considerably cheaper than in Europe or in most other countries.
Visitors often assume that, by virtue of having been a British Colony, people in India will all speak English. Unfortunately some fifty years ago, the government in Tamil Nadu made the decision to only educate people in Tamil, and generally the tamilians have a low standard of literacy, this decision has led to many South Indians being unable to speak English. Also South Indians are typically very keen to please, and, particularly when being asked for information or direction, will often say what they think the tourist wants to hear rather than what is actually the case, which can lead to complications!
India is extremely relaxed in terms of dress, and, for a tourist, a jacket is never needed. The Yercaud Club in Yercaud makes a point of asking men to wear a tie and jacket, but this is probably the only place in Yercaud with such a dress code. In addition, all you will need is a light jersey in the evenings. In winter you might need a heavier sweater.
Many tourists imagine that Indian food is always hot and spicy, which is certainly not true. Because of this many hotels and restaurants tend to offer either western or “oriental” dishes, but we would urge people to try curries, which can be very varied and delicious. Unfortunately the food in the larger hotels does tend to cater for the mass-tourist market, and, in our opinion should be avoided. There is much more creativity in smaller hotels and restaurants.
Indians are very relaxed, and few things happen with any urgency. Remember that if you are a tourist, it is a holiday and time does not matter and in this way the slowness with which many things happen simply will not matter!!!