Monday, January 25, 2010

If You Go...

and I say, "GO!!!"

Here are some thoughts about the trip.

The first thought will be about me.  (me! Me!  ME!!!  it's all about me)

If *I* go again, I think I would fly into Chennai, rather than Hyderabad.  Sarah et al may beg to differ on the happy logistics of this, but it would be fewer plane changes (although I think Erin flew direct to Hyd from somewhere).  The drive to Ongole is shorter and on better roads from Chennai.  Also, I'd just rent a car and driver and get myself to Ongole; I wouldn't need someone from SCH to come down and meet me, so that would make this option more feasible.

Now that's just ME.  If you are going as a first timer, especially as a first-timer to India, a) you need someone from SCH to meet you at the airport, so b) you should probably fly into Hyd.  Sarah and Theresa go frequently to Hyd because that is where they take the kids for medicals.   Also, they have a guest house there so it is much more convenient for them.

Ok.  Back to you.

Fly JetAirways.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Can you say luxury at a bargain price?  At least, we had a good price.  I don't know how much of that was due to our traveling as a group, but wow! What an airline!  Best international flight I've ever had.  LOVE the foot nets!  And headrests.  And food.  And in-flight entertainment including the tv screens on the back of the seat in front of you.  And (while not all that useful, it was darn cute) the fold down cupholder.  Everyone got a blanket and pillow.  Flight attendants WEREN'T snarly!!!!  And the pilots made good landings.

Getting there.  Well, no matter where you land, you have to drive to Ongole.  You want a driver and an A/C car (which Sarah arranged for us).  The roads from Hyd are pretty good, as far as roads in India go.  It's just LONG.  No way around it.  A little part of the middle of the trip is twisty.  If Dramamine will help you, plan ahead!

Here's the beautiful view (and I mean that seriously.  I love driving in India; it's my favorite part!) along the way.

Chair transport

Water buffalo at rush hour

Goats.  Lots of goats.

Rice paddies in all stages of growth.  Andhra Pradesh is the rice bowl of India

Women planting rice

More Rice

If you haven't been to India before, remember that there aren't waysides.  Or rest stops.  Or gas stations.  There are bushes.  (there is one rest stop halfway between Hyd and Ongole which is beautiful.  The bathroom is a little stinky.  You'll have to suck it up.  And bring kleenex)

You're all dying to know anyway, so let's just jump right into the potty topic now.

This is a squatty.

There actually were western toilets every place we went, EXCEPT at Angel Home.  In the airports, the stalls were marked EWC (European Water Closet) or IWC (Indian Water Closet).  I actually prefer the squatties out in public.  The seats on the westerns tend to be very wet and sometimes have footprints on them (from people squatting on them anyway!)  Wear a skirt, hike it up, unders to your knees (Theresa does a great demo of this--ask her for a performance when you're there! LOL) and squat.  Your feet go on the ridges on either side.  You don't put toilet paper (or kleenex) in the squatties.  They clog up You do rinse it out with the cup and tap in the stall.

Children and men take care of business outside.  Men are standing everywhere peeing and if they don't need to pee, they squat, bottoms bared, alongside the road.  Women, apparently, don't ever need to go.  I have never, in three trips to India, seen a woman relieving herself outside.  When we stopped alongside the road for a potty-break, one of our women, who shall remain unnamed, hiked up and over a small hill and did it on an anthill.  She said it was great.  (it wasn't me!)

Ok, onward and upward.

Definitely stay at the Rayma Residency hotel.  The rooms were huge, the beds were comfortable, except for one instance, the rooms were clean.  The hotel restaurant was delicious and not too spicy.  And the prices were very reasonable!  The whole week, for Rose Bud and me, eating in the restaurant 3 times a day, was just over $200. 

Breakfast was complimentary (after the fourth day, we figured out there was a coupon for free breakfast stapled to our daily newspaper--luckily we'd saved all the papers!) and included idly and sambhar (mmmmm!) and a deep-fried savory donut thing called vada.  None of it was spicy.  There was also creamy chai tea (RB drank 3 cups a day) served in tiny dixie cups.  Toast and jelly were available as well and the kitchen would make you an omelet, also complimentary.  (if you order fried eggs, they come out unflipped and raw on top.  Ask for them "cooked 2 sides")  Rose Bud liked her idly with jelly or dipped in her tea, totally non-Indian!   Let the waiters serve you at the "buffet."

One more note on our bill--we actually were only charged for 6 nights although we stayed 8, I think.  I don't know if they forgot because we settled the bill the afternoon before we left, or if it was really as they claimed, that we got a discount for staying so long.  Either way, yay!

The restaurant was quite popular and busy for both lunch and dinner and many people not staying at the hotel ate there.  Our favorites on the menu were
Chicken (or veg) soft noodles
Chicken 65
Shanghai rolls
Veg Rice Biryani
Chicken Corn soup
Kalmai Kebab (two drumsticks)

I also orderd the Deluxe Thali one day and it was a good way to sample many different things.

You can buy waterbottlechilled at the restaurant for 16 Rs. a liter (about 33 cents).  After the third day, they pretty much brought them to us automatically.  At the end of your meal, they bring the bill and you sign it and write down your room number.  It all gets billed to your room.  DO tip the waiters 15 to 20%.  You can leave it on the table after each meal.  Our bill, each meal, averaged 225-250 Rs. for 2 waterbottleschilled, rice or noodles, an order of naan and one other entree.  About $5-6.

A couple of hotel notes: 
Keep the windows closed to keep monkeys out.  
Mosquitoes will be flying around because there are openings to the outside world, so sleep covered and with your fan on at least medium (they can't fly in strong wind). 
To turn on your lights, you need to put the card on your keychain into the slot on the wall next to the door and leave it there. 
To turn on lights (or outlets!) flip the switch DOWN. 
Bring an outlet adaptor.  India has round prongs on their plugs.  It will be loose in the outlet.  It still works.  Make sure whatever you are plugging in can handle 220 volts and 60hz.  Read the back of your appliance.  We charged batteries, ipods and used my laptop without issue.
The water stinks.  I don't think it's a hotel issue--I think it is the city water at large.  Suck it up. (well, not literally!  Keep your mouth CLOSED in the shower and brush your teeth with bottled water)
There is no tub.  The shower is the whole bathroom.  The bucket under the shower is for your bath if you don't use the showerhead.  Fill it and pour water from the bucket over yourself with the cup. 
The bucket by the toilet is for washing over there.  Ditto the hose.
To get your room cleaned, leave your card in the electric slot and your door unlocked, then turn on the maid switch.

Happy with the hotel now?  Oh, one other thing...if you keep going up and up the stairs, you end up on the roof (duck!)  You get a great view of the city from there.

There is an ATM across the street from the hotel.  It's safe to cross if you pay attention and wait for gaps in the traffic--then hustle!  Use your debit card from home or get a Visa Travel Debit card.  I got one from AAA and it cost me $4 to get the card, then $3 plus 3% each time I used it in India. Obviously, it's best to change large amounts at once, to minimize the fee.  I used it just to obtain cash while in India (although I used it to buy things while still in the US--no fee).  It was VERY difficult to get to a bank to change American cash.  You need a ride to get there, they are closed on holidays and Sundays (which accounted for 4 of the days we were there) and they are picky if your bills are not crisp and perfect.  No one takes traveler's checks anymore.

We paid the hotel bill with a credit card, although cash would have worked as well.

Internet is out the door and left, then down the "alley" under the building.  The place we used was 20 Rs./hour (10 if you were less than 30 min.) and the proprietors English was good.  Connections were fast, photo upload was slow, you can use their computers or plug in a laptop.  They'll even go through with mosquito spray and fumigate the room.  I promised them I'd tell everyone who stays there to come to them for internet.  They are open 7:30 am to 10:30 pm and are located ALL THE WAY to the back of the alleyway on the right.  We didn't use the place located closer to the front on the left.  Shorter hours.

It was safe to walk up and down the street.  There is a small grocery out the door to the right and up about 3 shops.  There was a sweet shop out the door and to the left, then about 1/2 a block.  They also have an ice cream shop.  It is better, if you have a male along, to take him with you when you walk on the street, but we did it without, too.  There are more stares and some comments for women alone.  Watch for cars.

Ok, this has gotten long enough.  I'll do another post later.


Recovering Noah said...

Love it, love it, love it! You've done an awesome job blogging this trip.

Sim has his vacation days scheduled (last week of April and first of May) but we discovered his green card is about to expire. Great. So if we can get it sorted out, he'll be there in 3 months.

Will have him read your blog post when he gets home from work. You rock, Sandwich!

David and Sarah said...

Wow! Very helpful if we ever make it there!!


Kristi W. said...

Great post! I'm planning a trip to SCH for this Sept. Glad to have found your blog, it is already a great resource.

:) Kristi W.