Monday, December 28, 2009

Being There

With the busier December holidays behind us, I had a little time to reflect on our efforts to book a hotel room and a flight. We learned a few useful facts about India - and travel to India - and I thought I might share them. Now as Shannon would surely warn you, unless you get a kick out of minutiae, think twice before letting me take you on any kind of tour. I love details, the story behind the story, the whys and the wherefores. Tell me something I don't know - please. I'm genuinely interested. The problem is I sometimes forget not everyone feels the same way. Let me prove that to you.....

Before I begin: In retrospect, could we have just written to Amit Kulkarni - the travel agent recommended by Surrogacy India and mentioned by Shannon - and just trust him entirely to find a suitable hotel? You know what, maybe we could have. His prices were very competitive and he's got lots of happy customers. (In fact, if it wasn't for my ability to get corporate rates through my company, Amit's prices were the best we found.) So for anyone else heading to Mumbai, no shame in starting with Amit. That said, you'll feel a lot better doing your own homework as well. Oh, and Amit only handles the hotels. For flights you're on your own.
  1. What time is it in Mumbai? Well, if you're on the East Coast of the US, subtract 90 minutes then flip am/pm. When it's 8am here in Boston, the Mumbaiers (I just made that up) are heading home from work because it's 6:30pm. And it's later there - they celebrate the New Year before we do.
  2. India's currency is the rupee, currently equivalent to a bit more than two US cents; today it's 46.5 rupees to the dollar. The US has a fairly weak currency right now - our English brother-in-law runs around the streets of Boston laughing, British pounds in hand - so even the rupee is relatively strong compared to past history. Why does this matter? Well it means the fantasy of five star hotel rooms at one star prices is just that - a fantasy. It's not as bad as finding an affordable room in New York City either though. And the fun part is you get to refer to daily room rates in the thousands. "My room costs 5000 rupees?!? What, is it covered in gold? Oh, that's only $110 dollars? Never mind...."
  3. Booking a room in a country you've never been to, a city of 15 million people (that's not a typo) with a heavy mix of the have and have-nots is pretty daunting. Where to look? As Shannon touched on, we favored finding someplace 1) relatively near the hospital we'll be frequenting, 2) in a safe neighborhood (if that's meaningful in such a large city), and 3) near a bunch of restaurants with varied cuisine. We settled on the Hotel Novotel, Juhu Beach. This was not some revelation; the area came highly recommended by other SI patients.
  4. Reading up on the experience of other travelers - not just those on surrogacy missions - taught us to subtract a star for all home-grown hotels. (A 3 star would be a 2 star by our standards.) For international chains, on the other hand, expect some consistency. From what we could tell, at least on Juhu Beach, the simplest room at a true four star hotel starts at $175 a night, not including tax.
  5. Little side note that made sense was to reserve the hotel room at a rupee rate, not a US $ rate. Exchange rates change daily so unless you're an arbitrage expert, why gamble and hope the exchange rate doesn't make things more expensive for you?
  6. Internet access is almost never included in the room price. Worse, it's price tag is clearly meant to milk a captive audience. On average, Internet access costs $18 per day. Some hotels do include it, however, but from what we saw, the nicer the hotel, the less likely Internet access was included. Call it the we-cater-to-business-people-with-expense-accounts maneuver. It's certainly possible that rogue, free WIFI signals can be found drifting through your hotel room but one ought not to expect it.
  7. Sometimes taxes are included in a room rate, sometimes they aren't, and either way it's never clear. Amit always quoted prices that included taxes. If you're doing this on your own or working with some other agent, make sure you know the story.
  8. A visa is necessary for entry into India. Think of it this way - a passport identifies who you are, a visa grants you permission to enter a specific country. Traditionally, visa applications were submitted through a country's embassy; India, and a few other countries, now work through a third party, Travisa. There are quite a few different kinds of visas (business, tourist, student, etc.) and validity duration (6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc.). As a US citizen we could choose from 6 month, 5 year or 10 year tourist visas and settled on the 5 year. That worked out to about $170 per person - not cheap but not negotiable.
  9. There's a whole bunch of routes from the US to Mumbai, some direct and some indirect. As Shannon mentioned, we let price be a guide - turns out this meant a quick hop from Boston to Newark and then a non-stop on Continental from Newark to Mumbai. All told, about $1000 a head. As luck would have it, going direct was our preference anyway even though it does mean sitting in a petri dish for 16 hours straight. (Some folks might prefer a European layover just to break things up.) We did build a long layover in Newark, however, just to be triple sure our luggage and bodies make the connection. Seems the Boston/Newark flight is often quite delayed.
Why be predictable and go to 10? (Or be like an amp and go to 11?) Thanks for letting me get these off my chest and feel free to share questions in the Comments, or email us, if you're hungry for more. And remember, we still haven't set foot in India yet; we hope like hell that after this is all over we can say, huh, we were actually right about that stuff!


  1. FYI, Mumbai locals are known as Mumbaikars. You wll feel like one when you return to the US... :)

  2. I think you are right. You two certainly did more research than Rob and I. I just want to get things booked and done. Rob analyzes everything. So, between both of us we got it figured out. We were at Ramee in Khar and Juhu and they were both very nice. I think they were 4 stars. We aren't sure about other hotels. We are staying at the VITS or an apartment. We haven't got that far yet. Just remember, Keep a clear head and don't go over there based on someone elses opinion. Just go over and see things and come back and tell us. It is not that bad at all. Everyone is friendly and the food is good. Mumbai reminds me of Barbatos. From the people in the streets to the driving to the weather. I know you will love it!

  3. I'm so excited for you both. Wishing you the best!

  4. Wishing you both the best and hoping for a POSITIVE! India is very hard to describe; in fact, when someone wrote it's another planet in itself I tend to agree... There is no rhyme or reason to a lot of things over there so you just have to accept the good with the bad. Once you have gotten a grip of the numbing poverty that surrounds everything (if that is ever possible for those of us who have a conscience?) you can start to venture out and see some of the sights and get a taste of a culture that some say is even older than the Egyptians.

  5. That's a lot of research. I agree, it's better to know and that's part of the fun, the planning. So much of your future with the baby will be unpredictable, so if you can keep your travel under control, it will help. I look forward to seeing the pictures of your trip. Love Dru