Money & Costs
Currency: Indian rupee
Budget meal: US$1
Moderate restaurant meal: US$2-5
Top-end restaurant meal: US$10 and up
Budget room: US$3-10 (double)
Mid-range hotel room: US$15-25 (double)
Top-end hotel room: US$100-200
If you stay in cheap hotels, always travel 2nd class on trains and learn to subsist on dhal and rice, you could see India on just US$10 a day. If you prefer a few more creature comforts, like a simple private room with a bathroom, a varied diet, and occasional 1st class rail travel on long journeys, count on around US$20-25 a day. Staying in mid-range hotels, eating in decent restaurants, and occasionally hiring a car and driver will cost around US$30-35 a day. If you don't want to trespass beyond converted maharaja's palaces, and five-star international hotels, budget as if you were travelling comfortably in the West.
You are not allowed to bring Indian currency into the country, or take it with you when you leave. The rupee is fully convertible so there's not much of a black market, even though you'll constantly be haunted by offers to 'change money'. In cities you can change most major foreign currencies and brands of travellers' cheques - but you'll widen your options and save yourself hassles if you stick to US dollars or pounds Sterling and either Thomas Cook or American Express travellers cheques. In fact it's wise to bring a couple of different brands of cheques in different currencies since some branches of some banks have particular idiosyncrasies, such as refusing to handle X-brand of travellers' cheques in pounds Sterling denomination or Y-brand in US dollars.
When changing money at a bank you'll need the patience of a saint and the paperwork skills of a ledger clerk, especially in smaller towns. The secret is to change money in large amounts as infrequently as possible and preferably in big banks in big cities. You are supposed to be given an encashment certificate when you change money at a bank or an official moneychanger. Some hotels insist you show an encashment certificate before accepting payment in Indian rupees. If you stay in India more than four months, you'll need to keep a handful of these certificates to get income tax clearance.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Indian cities and larger towns, particularly American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Credit cards can also be used to get cash advances in rupees. The Bank of Baroda seems to be the most efficient bank at handling such transactions.
Indian currency notes circulate far longer than in the West and the small notes in particular become very tatty - some should carry a government health warning. You may occasionally find that when you try to pay for something with a ripped or grubby note that your money is refused. You can change old notes for new ones at most banks or save them and use them creatively as tips. Don't let shopowners palm grubby notes off on you as change - simply hand them back and you'll usually be given a note slightly higher up the acceptability scale.
Tipping is virtually unknown in India, except in swanky establishments in the major cities. Baksheesh, on the other hand, a term which encompasses tipping and a lot more besides, is widespread. You 'tip' in India not so much for good service but in order to get things done. Judicious baksheesh will open closed doors, find missing letters and perform other small miracles. In tourist restaurants or hotels a 10% service charge is often added to bills. In smaller places, where tipping is optional, you need only tip a few rupees, not a percentage of your bill.