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GUIDE TO INDIA

POST & COMMUNICATIONS


Post

India boasts the biggest postal network on earth with a total of 154,551 post offices.

Postal and poste restante services are generally very good, although mail posted from India can sometimes take up to three weeks to arrive at its destination. Although the Indian postal system is reliable, don't count on a letter or package getting to you if there's anything of market value inside it.

Some cities have courier services (such as DHL Worldwide Express) that can arrange speedy and safe air freight around the world (at a higher cost).

Sending Mail Posting aerogrammes/post­cards overseas costs Rs 8.50/8 and airmail letters are Rs 15. For postcards, it's not a bad idea to stick on the stamps before actually writing on them. This is because post offices don't always have Rs 8 stamps and can give you as many as four stamps per card - a real nuisance if you've already written on it and have only left space for one stamp!

Posting parcels is quite straightforward and prices vary depending on the weight. In the main cities, there's usually a man at the post office who sews parcels up in cheap linen (around Rs 125 for a40cm-cubed box). The post office will have the necessary cus­toms declaration forms. To avoid paying duty at the delivery end it's best to specify that the contents are a ‘gift' under the value of Rs 1000.

Books or printed matter can go by book­post, which is considerably cheaper than parcel post, but the package must be wrapped a certain way: make sure that the package can be opened for inspection along the way, or that it is wrapped with the two ends exposed so that the contents are visible. A customs declaration form is not necessary. Overseas bookpost rates vary depending on the weight; Rs 127 for 500g, Rs 245 for 1 kg.

Be cautious with places that offer to mail things to your home address after you have bought them. Government emporiums are usually fine but in most other places it pays to do the posting yourself.

Telephone

To make a call to India from overseas, dial the international access code of the country you're in + 91 (international country code for India) + area code (drop the initial 0) + local number. See the regional chapters for area codes.

To make an international call from India, dial 00 (international access code from India ) + country code (of the country you are calling) + area code + local number.

Even in the smallest towns, you'll find private PCO/S I'D/ISD call booths with di­rect local, interstate and international dialing; these are invariably cheaper than calls made from hotel rooms. Many booths are open 24 hours and a digital meter means you can keep an eye on what the call is costing. It also gives you a printout when the call is finished.

Throughout most of India, interstate calls from booths (not hotels) charge the full rate from around 9am to 8pm. After 8pm the cost slides, with the cheapest time to call being between l I pm and 6am. Interstate calls are half rate on Sunday.

Direct international calls from call booths (not hotels) cost an average of Rs 30 to 50

Telephone Number Changes

At the time of our research, telephone num­bers in most parts of India were undergoing changes. Although we have implemented these changes where applicable, if you do happen to have difficulty getting through to a local number, first try adding a '2' to the front of it.

In some Indian cities there is an automated 'changed number' facility ($' 1952) or you could try the local operator on $ 197.per minute, depending on the country you are calling. Some Internet cafes (mainly in the larger cities and tourist hotspots) offer international calls Using a service such as Net2phone for as little as Rs 8 per minute to anywhere in the world.

In some centres PCO/STD/ISD booths may offer a 'call-back' service - you ring your folks or friends, give them the phone number of the booth and wait for them to call you back. The booth operator will charge about Rs 5 to 10 per minute for this service, in addition to the cost of the pre­liminary call. Advise your caller how long you intend to wait at the booth in the event that they have trouble getting back to you.

Also available is the Home Country Direct service, which gives you access to the international operator in your home country. For the price of a local call, you can then make reverse-charge (collect) or phonecard calls.

Mobile Phones

The advantages of bring­ing your own mobile phone to India are that local networks are cheap to use and getting hooked up to the mobile phone network is pretty straightforward. On top of that, calls (even international) are cheap by world standards. The downside is that the prepaid system is not national, so your phone won't be operational if you leave the state or re­gion of coverage where you bought the SIM card - you'll need to buy a new SIM card in each state. You should choose a company (such as Airtel) which has a 'roaming' fea­ture, as this has the benefit of enabling you to receive calls outside your area of cover­age (but not make them).

At the time of our research, the main companies offering prepaid mobile-phone accounts were Ainel, BPL, Orange and !dea (formerly AT&T). A S I M card costs around Ks 325 plus you pay for an initial amount of call time. You can buy them practically any­where, such as PCO/STD/ISD booths and Internet cafes, and the vendor will usually help you set it up. Top-up cards come in various denominations, but you'll always pay an additional 'line rental' charge each time you buy a top-up.

The more credit you have on your phone, the cheaper the call rate. Average call rates within India are around Rs 1 per minute and you can call internationally for less than Rs 30 per minute. SMS messaging is even cheaper. Note that calls to your mobile phone are also charged to your account - shop around to find the deal that best suits you.

Fax

Many PCO/STD/ISD booths (described earlier) also offer fax services. The rate for international/domestic faxes is Rs 70/10 per A4 page. Receiving faxes costs Rs 10 per page.

Email & Internet Access

Internet outlets are widespread in India even if it's just one computer in a cramped office. Some places, such as Bangalore, have de­lightfully quick connections, but many other places can be excruciatingly slow. Connec­tions and speed are usually superior in the morning and early afternoon. As power cuts in India are not unusual, if you intend writ­ing a long message you should consider sav­ing it as a text document first.

Internet charges fall anywhere between Rs 10 and 90 per hour and most places en­force a minimum time of 15 minutes.