Taking the net to India -part 1
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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
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
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.
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
Rail ticket online by credit card, and collect the ticket on
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.
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
the comparative cost is minimal, like 5 rs instead of 60.
1 page 2: what computer?>>