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home > hints and tips > internet in India part 1
internet in india getting online graphic

Taking the net to India -part 1

Page 1 2 3

A three part series covering the what, how and why of Internet net access on the road in India. Part one looks some of the reasons to do it, what kind of computer you'll need plus battery power and modems.

India and the internet

  internet cafe mouse and keyboard illustration
©neoncarrot

Modern India is changing and developing at an incredible rate, embracing information technology to fuel economic development, education and social change. Much of the worlds code is written in India, with the industry centred in the southern city of Bangalore, bringing India ever increasing foreign currency earnings. Outside the industry, computers and the Internet are finding their way ever deeper into the fabric of Indian life; many young people from the middle classes spend a good deal of time online and school exam results in Himachal Pradesh are announced first via website. The government has run several projects in an attempt to bring the benefits of Internet access to poor rural areas, including pilot projects to provide weather and agricultural information to farmers.

In a few short years, India has transformed from a largely unwired country to one where internet cafes and 'computer training institutes' are a feature of every major town, and many more isolated areas. In 1997 there were only a very few places to publicly access the internet in Delhi (for the well off only), and most were in 5 star hotels. Now Old Manali village alone boasts at least a hundred publicly accessible net connected computers in cybercafes. Although Old Manali is a big tourist destination in summer, it is nevertheless only a village of 2,000 people.

The impact the internet has had on travellers in India is best demonstrated by a visit to the post restante boxes at the local post office. Until recently a letter was the main way to communicate meaningfully with those at home. A visit to the Poste Restante in 1995 would leave me with a pile of about 100 or so letters, notes and postcards filed under initial "W" alone; on the same visit in 2001 I was handed 6 items; 2 actual letters about 2 months old, and 4 notes left by those using the facility as a kind of noticeboard.

A smaller world

a small world, hands holding globe illustration  
©neoncarrot

The implications for travellers are big, both positive and negative. The ease of almost instant correspondence makes the world a much smaller place, with friends and family at home easily accessible via email, instant messaging or a blog and news from the wider world coming via major news portals. The downside for many people is that home, which many go to India to forget for a while, is now way too close; the isolation and remoteness that a trip to India used to bring is gone forever, even in the remotest of places. It is a unique and pleasant experience to have no contact at all with the world back home for 2 months, especially as it seems almost impossible to remain out of touch in Europe. While its easy enough to say "well don't use it if you don't like it", that is easier said than done for many people.

The ease of access to email simplifies many aspects of travel in India. Planning to meet someone in Goa in 3 weeks used to involve a lot of pre-planned drops for notes, pre-decided hotels, even preplanning which beach area to stay, and a good deal of luck if you didn't know the place already.As planning in India has a habit of coming apart very easily, this was at best a 50-50 proposition of success; changing your mind and taking a 10 day detour is hardly uncommon. Email solves the problem of letting people know exactly which hotel you are in, which beach etc.

Online booking

A wide variety of personal websites offer travellers a chance to pick up first hand accounts of places they plan to visit, discussion boards, and the opportunity to share their own experiences. It is now even possible to book an Indian Rail ticket online by credit card, and collect the ticket on departure.

Why bring your own?

For most people, public internet access via cybercafe in India is enough; an occasional look at the news, email via Yahoo. But if you happen to be a net or email junkie who likes writing long mails without the meter ticking, there are compelling reasons to bring your own device to access the internet, and to buy online time in India.

  computers and cybercafe in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India
©neoncarrot
  A cybercafe in India
 

Cost is one. Depending on where you are, net access in cybercafes can be relatively expensive, ranging from the unusually cheap in Paharganj at 10RS per hour, to the seriously pricey in Leh at 180 RS per Hour (2001 price). Somewhere between 30-60 Rs per hour is the going rate, with 60 more common in tourist areas. How expensive this really is depends on how fast the connection is; obviously a 30RS connection that's dog slow is more expensive to use than a fast 60RS one.

Most places do not offer a lower charge for offline email writing (although some will do half rate) to then send when you log on, so you pay for email writing time in addition to sending / browsing etc. It all adds up. There are plenty of travellers who now want their email / net fix for an hour a day, every day. This will end up costing you something around 150UKP (sterling) during a 6 month trip.

In contrast, using a paid for connection through an Indian ISP works out comparatively cheap - especially if all you're doing is sending emails - and prices are coming down almost every week it seems. Writing emails offline costs nothing except the machine to write on, and online time with the ISP will cost around 5 Rs an hour, with an additional 24 Rs per hour in phone charges. If you use it after 10.30PM, the phone charges are now half (12 Rs per hour) and after 11PM online time is free with BSNL, the Indian government ISP.

Considering (connection dependent) it only takes a couple of minutes to download mail and upload pre-written mail to send using a mail client such as Eudora or Outlook, the comparative cost is minimal, like 5 rs instead of 60.

Part 1 page 2: what computer?>>

Article:  Woody 23 Aug 2003 next >>
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