Thursday, April 09, 2009

provisioning for life in india

my friend beata just left for london after a week of intense (and joyful) work here on a polish translation of the prayers used in the annual kagyu monlam prayer festival. beata left, but hopefully not for too long, as she hopes to return to complete this rather hefty project before the upcoming monlam. i too will be bringing this 'year' in india to a close soon, for an intensive dissertation-writing period in a semi-retreat in the states. so it seems to be a time for departures and aspirations to return.

in the time we spent together here, somehow she left without going over as we had planned some suggestions for things to bring from europe for life in india. i am sharing here a list i compiled for another friend who came to india for a long term stay my first year here, so it is oriented towards a stay in sarnath where i then lived. it is also much more cautious and thorough than i would be now if provisioning anew, but these are all things i use regularly. i also add some comments here and there to reflect life in dharamsala - better power supply, greater extremes in weather.

i would also like to request those of you who have spent time here in india to add your observations and suggestions, so we can co-create a sort of open resource for those bound for india long term.

Lighting - Bring some flashlights, because of the frequent power outages. I got one called a Petzl headlamp that you put on your head and then wherever you look, it lights there. I can read and study with it. Others bring ones yo ucan stand up that light the whole room. You will also want another small one to hold by hand and take with you when you are out walking. Street lights are a rare commodity here.

Mosquito net. It is hard to even sleep without one in Sarnath at times, and they are sometimes hard to find here and always of lesser quality than is readily found in the States or Europe. Best to get one that only needs to be hung from one string,usually called Spider style I think. I got one for about $10 from ebay. It works fine.

Rope and clothespins - It is helpful to have some nylon cord and a few plastic clothespin so you can hang your clothes to dry inside during the monsoon. You will also need the cord for the mosquito net. You can get both rope and clothespin here, but again it takes some running around, and you may have some already that you can just bring.

Locks. Bring a good padlock to put on your door. Your computer will be pretty much irreplaceable here, even with everything extensively backed up. I have seen people take a crowbar and open the Indian locks when they had lost their key. You can buy locks here but it is hard to find good quality ones with multiple locks (I live now in a community of four, and we had to wait for a trip to Delhi to find a lock that had more than three keys). Good combination locks are helpful too if you share spaces. A lock with a chain is also good for train rides, so you can chain down your bags. Luggage is routinely stolen from train compartments., especially if you travel sleeper class. A friend of mine found a bookbag that can be locked to anything in your room, and cannot be slashed open. Very handy to have, especially for train rides and staying in dodgy hotels! It is called Pacsafe and you can find it online. Just Google 'Pacsafe.' Again kind of expensive and perhaps overkill, but a lot less than replacing your valuables.

Umbrella. A good raincoat or sturdy umbrella is a good idea. Think monsoon. The ones you get here have very short lifespans. One good gust and they can turn inside out on you, and during the monsoon there are many excellent gusts.

Pens - Nice pens make good gifts. Boxed or unboxed.

Battery recharger. If you have time in Delhi, I suggest getting a battery recharger so you can recharge AA batteries. The batteries you buy in India seem to get used up in a few hours, and there is nowhere to deposit your used batteries where they will be recycled responsibly, so bringing many batteries from abroad is not a great solution either!

Vitamins. Staying healthy is a bit of a challenge. Bring vitamins - especially B- complex and other supplements specifically recommended for vegetarians (assuming you are vegetarian). But I particularly urge you to bring one of the acidopholus-type supplements that basically allow your stomach to stay healthy, by replacing the healthy intenstinal flora. I took it regularly my first two years here and had virtually no stomach problems. Here is the one I use, Jarro-Dophilus. If you bring echinacea, you may also have moments of great self-gratitude.

Water purifier. I am using my own water purifier, and think that it has been an important condition for my staying as healthy as I have. MSR or Katadyn are reliable brands. You will also need to buy and bring along replacement cartridges. I only found I needed to replace the cartridge every 9 months or so, but I proba bly do not drink as much water as I should. This might seem expensive, but so is buying water - even at 12 rupees a liter, that is about $15 a month! Apart from the expense, when you note that most plastics are disposed of here by burning or being tossed into landfill, it is a bit horrifying to think what imprint you leave behind in a year of drinking form water bottles. Boiling is not enough to purify the strains of water-borne diseases here. Here is the one I use. Best prices in the US are at You can also get flashlights here.

Abode Acrobat or other pdf creator. I had a lot of difficulty printing files in Sarnath. Not all computer places had USB ports, and the one near my room that did not even have Word! Even if you find one with Word etc they are unlikely to have the fonts you use if you work in other languages. They usually do have Abode reader, so the only way I could print was by saving files as pdf files and then printing them like that. So if you don't already, you might want to install a pdf file generator loaded on your computer.

ATM card. If possible, make sure your ATM card does not expire during the time you expect to be in India. You can call and ask them to send one with a longer expiration date if you explain the situation. There is an ATM even in Sarnath these days, and that is by far the easiest way to access your overseas account. and also gives by far the best exchange rate. Some travelers checks and cash are fine to start with, but mainly you can get cash from the ATM every few months as needed.

mp3 recorder. For those coming ot India for research, I highly recommend a small mp3 recorder for when you read with people, especially if you do so in Tibetan or other language of which you are not a native speaker. Also for Dharma practitioners, it is wonderful to be able to record teachings to review later. I got one from iriver ( with 1GB memory that holds 50 hours and runs on a single AA battery.

Memory sticks (USB sticks). For file transfer and as backup. Get two, the more memory, the better. I had one wiped out when trying to download files another student sent me. (Many computer shops here do not have good virus protection.)

Vegan Sandals. Although you can easily get plastic sandals here too, if you have them, you might want to bring any waterproof sandals (ie not leather), so you can rinse them when they get dirty, which is constantly, and also for all those times when you get caught in the rain. Crocs work will in this climate, and if you have time in Delhi they can be bought there for much less than in the West.

Checkups before you go. If you have insurance, get your teeth checked and ask for a complete checkup soon, so you can take care of anything they might find. Tell them you will be in India for a year, and ask them to do your blood work. It is a very bad idea to arrive here with your health impaired in any way. (That said, now in my third year here I finally found a really solid health clinic and dentist in Delhi that can do excellent overall checkups and medical care. But it will mean a trip (and stay) in Delhi. Here is the number of the dentist 011 26152999 and I will try to dig up contact details for the clinic and add it later to this post:

If you wear glasses, you should bring along a copy of the prescription for your glasses, in case they get lost or if you want to make some new ones quickly here. Glasses are cheap to make here but personally I think you might get a more thorough eye exam in the States. (I think I may have related once the story of my appointment with an ophthalmologist in Visakhapatnam whom I found, when I entered his examining room, reading a large illustrated book entitled 'The Eye'. (I had to travel twice some distance to make and then get the appointment, and it is a sign of the state of indifference that I reached after a year here that I went ahead with the appointment. and even as I type here I am peering at the monitor through the lenses he prescribed for me. I should point out that he was not holding the book upside down; I am sure I would have gone elsewhere if he had been.)

Some basic medicine. When I was staying with my Sanskrit teacher in South India, he and his wife both fell sick from colds, and were really delighted to have some cold medicine. In fact, they used all my supply in the matter of two weeks. So when thinking about what to bring, though you might prefer not to take it, it is good to have even to share with others. If there is anything you use, for colds, or headache or stomach upset or anything, definitely bring it with you. The quality here of medicine can be iffy (and in any case meds are seldom stored in refrigerators and even if they are, the electricity supply will be uneven.) Herbal cough drops are very good to have, as our throats seem to get irritated easily by the dust and pollution. It is good also to just have one hand a basic antiseptic cream for cuts. Infections happen easily in this climate.

My friend tsultrim-la adds these excellent suggestions and her explanations why:

earplugs. countless nights of sleep saved due to them and at times i had to wear them continuously for weeks, depending on where i was staying.

ginger tablets for travel sickness. even if you don't usually get car sick in the west, i found the roads (and driving!) in india are usually another story.


damchö said...

Roy, who also did his PhD research in Sarnath and other places, wrote in to add:

I would add an extra computer 6 cell battery, for those long dark nights with no electricity, a protective cover for ones bag.

gujugalpal said...

If you are doing a lot of research, I'd also add an external hard drive for backup. It's good to have in the states too. Lacie makes a good one for travel.

gujugalpal said...

Also, if you are planning on taking lots of pictures, videos, etc. for research or whatever, it is a good idea to have a backup memory card for your digital cameras, as well as spare batteries. Again, with your cameras (assuming they are digital) it's good to have rechargeable batteries.

Anonymous said...

hi Damchoe, after more than a year living in india myself there are two additional items i couldn't contemplate going back without:

1) earplugs. countless nights of sleep saved due to them and at times i had to wear them continuously for weeks, depending on where i was staying.

2) ginger tablets for travel sickness. even if you don't usually get car sick in the west, i found the roads (and drivers!) in india are usually another story :)