India Retreat FAQ
What are the fees and deadlines?
Tiruvannamalai Program Fee:
Washoe Valley Center Resident: $1,850
Commuter: $1,350 (must have prior approval of Sat Shree, limited number available)
Retreat fee DOES NOT INCLUDE: any flights, food, personal toiletries, insurance of any kind, local transport.
Rishikesh Retreat Fee:
Retreat fee DOES NOT INCLUDE: any flights, personal food, personal toiletries, insurance of any kind, local transport.
Please do not make travel plans until you have been accepted into the program.
August: applications available
September 30, 2018: application due
October 10, 2018: approval of applications
November 15, 2018: program fees paid in full or financial arrangements made
December 1, 2018: flight information provided to New Dharma
December 15, 2018: all payments made to New Dharma
What are the arrival and departure dates?
- The 2019 Tiruvannamalai retreat begins on January 6 and ends February 16.
- Arrive no sooner than January 2, when accommodations will be available, but no later than January 4, to give yourself time to adjust to the time difference and a new place.
- You will want to fly into Chennai International Airport. We will ask for your flight information and arrange for you to be picked up and driven to the retreat center, which is about four hours southwest of the airport.
- The 2019 Rishikesh retreat begins on February 24 and ends on March 10
- Lodging will be available on February 23rd. If you plan to arrive sooner or stay after the retreat then you are responsible for your own lodging.
- You will want to fly into the Jolly Grant airport at Dehradun. We will ask for your flight information and arrange for you to be picked up and driven to Rishikesh, which is about a 20-mile drive.
- If you are planning on just attending the Rishikesh retreat, you will fly first into New Delhi and then on to Dehradun. We advise you to check luggage requirements for your flights from New Delhi to Dehradun or plan to pay additional fees for luggage.
- For those of you who plan to shop in Rishikesh, you can easily mail home your purchases so that you don’t have to worry about baggage weight.
Will I need travel insurance?
There are various kinds of flight and travel insurance if you want to buy a plan. Look at the offers from your airline when you buy your tickets as well as those from the many companies that offer insurance. Before buying your tickets with a credit card, contact your credit card company to see what protection it already includes. Also contact your health insurance company to see what coverage you already have.
• Vacation plans include coverage for canceled trips and events, interrupted trips, medical emergencies, emergency evacuation, delayed baggage or trips, lost baggage, 24/7 assistance
• Travel medical plans focus on coverage for medical expenses and emergency evacuations
What about passports and visas?
CONTACT IN INDIA: The India visa application requires an address and a contact while in India.
555 Vedavalli Nagar
Tamil Nadu, India
List Venkatesan (our local facilitator) as the contact.
India Phone: 011 9443969167
PASSPORT: If your current passport expires within a year, you should renew it now to ensure you can get a visa for India.
U.S. citizens apply for a passport online at https://pptform.state.gov or check with your local Post Office to see if you can apply through them.
How do I get there?
The nearest airport is Chennai International (approximately 3.5–4 hours away). All major airlines fly into Chennai, including Emirates, Singapore, Cathay Pacific, and Etihad. Expect a minimum of 24 hours flying time from the U.S. plus another 4 hours via taxi to arrive in Tiruvannamalai.
Airport transportation to and from Chennai International is included in your program fee as well as the driver tip. New Dharma will arrange your taxi pick-up once we have your flight times. The taxi driver will be waiting for you outside of baggage claim with a sign with your name on it. (If you want A/C, then you will need to pay the driver additional funds on your own.)
Tip: Past participants have had good luck with Air Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, British Air, Qatar, or Lufthansa.
The nearest airport is Jolly Grant airport at Dehradun, which is approximately 20 miles (35 kilometers) from Rishikesh. New Dharma will arrange your transportation to and from the airport, which is included in your program fee.
Tip: Popular carriers like Air India, Spice Jet, and Jet Airways often have daily flights from New Delhi. Apart from Delhi, there is a flight from Lucknow to Dehradun as well. There is also a good network of buses from New Delhi and elsewhere. https://www.makemytrip.com/travel-guide/rishikesh/how-to-reach.html
Where will I stay?
New Dharma rents several retreat properties. The program fee is for a shared room, with twin beds, clothing storage, a shared bath, laundry facilities, basic household cleaning supplies, utilities, a refrigerator, and cooking facilities. You will get your room assignment shortly before the retreat, when Sat Shree makes the final determination for all housing.
Depending upon your housing assignment, plan on a 10-to-40-minute walk to the main mediation hall. You can also bike or share a rickshaw, or share a car, but for most participants the morning and evening walk together with your housemates quickly becomes a lovely and meaningful ritual.
The Rishikesh Retreat will be held at the Samadhi Yoga Ashram. Rooms are shared with bath and AC. Dining will be in the downstairs cafe. Be prepared to walk up and down stairs multiple times a day.
What will I eat?
Eat In. All the New Dharma housing has cooking facilities, filtered water, storage shelves, and refrigerators. If you cook with special ingredients, bring them, but there are reasonably well-stocked grocery stores that cater to Westerners, which we will point out when you arrive. You can buy fresh produce from street vendors selling local fruits, vegetables, bread, and eggs.
Eat Out. There are many safe, delicious, and inexpensive restaurants. In Tiruvannamalai we recommend Shanti Café, Tasty Café, Sivana, Dreaming Tree, Sparsa Hotel (within walking distance), Sathya Café, German Bakery, Hotel Arpana, Hotel Ramakrishna, and French Bakery. Be prepared to relax and wait for your food.
Breakfast and dinner are included with your program fee. However, there are a number of popular restaurants within a 3 or 4 minute walk or on the other side of the bridges. There are 3 German bakeries, one just a minute from our accommodations. There are hundreds of westerners here so the food is excellent.
What do I wear?
Pack light summer clothing and a light sweater or shawl for early mornings and evenings. No need to over-pack, as you will likely want to do some shopping there and clothes are very inexpensive.
Sturdy sandals such as Chacos or Tevas are great. You may also want some lightweight walking shoes and socks, or flip flops. Bring nothing fancy, as everything will get dusty and dirty.
Clothing for women. This is a very modest society, so when you are outside the New Dharma housing choose loose clothing that flows over items that accentuate the body, like tight tank tops or scooped necklines. You can be sleeveless at New Dharma locations, but always pack a light scarf to cover your shoulders and upper arms where and when more modesty is appropriate, such as at temples or in town.
Clothing for men. You can wear T-shirts with sleeves to New Dharma gatherings and for going into town, but for visiting temples button-up shirts and long pants are what the locals wear. Shorts may offend at temples you want to visit. Don’t be shocked or surprised if locals talk harshly to you even if you can’t understand their language.
Removing your shoes. Always remove your shoes and leave them outside when going into a building or store. In temples, it is considered rude or may even be prohibited to carry your shoes with you.
Laundry. Although we have a couple of New Dharma washing machines, they really don’t get your clothes very clean, so avoid whites and only bring items you won’t mind washing in a bucket. Either way, however, you will hang your clothes to dry. You can also coordinate with other participants in your house for inexpensive pick-up and drop-off laundry services.
Should I bring cash or credit cards?
We recommend that you bring enough cash for your trip and use your credit or debit card sparingly.
India is still a cash economy, although it is in a rapid transition toward the use of credit cards. Many shops that cater to tourists and some grocery stores will accept credit cards, but you must have cash on hand. Of course, there are ATM machines in Tiruvannamalai and Rishikesh, but they are not reliably open or functional.
Tip: Call your debit and credit card companies to let them know you will be out of the country.
Tip: Take photos of your credit/debit cards, license, visa, and passport and mail or email them to your emergency contact. Keep either electronic photos or hard copies or both with you in India.
Bring US currency: We request participants to bring brand new $50 or $100 dollar bills because these are the easiest to exchange anywhere for India rupees. Worn or torn bills are not accepted, and US currency printed before the year 2000 will not be given a preferable exchange rate. DO NOT BRING US $20, $5, or $1 notes, as even India banks do not exchange these lower denominations.
Tip: Keep a small amount of money in your purse or wallet, but keep most of your money in a money belt and lock it in your suitcase once you arrive, along with a photocopy of your passport and credit cards.
Exchanging dollars and other currencies for rupees. Learn what the going rate of exchange is for your national currency so you can bargain for it and not be overcharged. Rates can change daily. In Tiruvannamalai the most convenient and fair exchange for most national currencies is Shanti Café. Also, some merchants are glad to accept dollars instead of rupees for your purchases.
Tip: A worn or even slightly damaged paper rupee note is worthless, so ALWAYS look closely at any money you get, from anyone. Refuse to accept a paper note than is worn thin, torn, or has writing on it, even if they say it’s fine. Indians expect pristine foreign currency, fresh from the ATM, and will sometimes refuse older US bills.
How do I get around?
For transportation you can walk, bicycle, or drive a motor scooter or motorcycle. Be prepared to take responsibility of petrol, maintenance, and repairs for all rentals. Some prefer just to call a rickshaw to pick you up and drop you off.
Tip: Traffic is busy and runs on opposite sides of the street compared to the U.S. You need to be very careful when driving or walking. People will not stop for you. The law in India is that you yield to or move out of the way of things that are bigger than you are.
Auto Rickshaw. Auto rickshaw fees varied from 250 to 350 rupees for a one-way ride into town from the New Dharma center. But you can split the fee with three or sometimes four others. A small tip is always appreciated.
Tip: Always negotiate your rickshaw fee to your specific destination BEFORE departing for your destination. You can also ask your rickshaw driver to drop you off and agree to a pick-up time and place. Usually all fees are PER PERSON so be sure to ask the fee per person before getting into the rickshaw and leaving.
Tip: Gopal has been our rickshaw driver since we first began coming to Tiruvannamalai. He is very reliable, fair, and really takes care of his customers. You can call him to arrange for rides. You don’t bargain with Gopal (pronounced Go–PAUL), though it’s appropriate to tip him a small amount. He will work out the cost for each passenger if you all want to go or be picked up at various locations.
Tip: It’s preferable to say “auto rickshaw” or just “rickshaw” when talking to the Indian drivers, rather then use the slightly condescending nickname, “tuk-tuk.”
Bicycle. You can rent or buy a bike in Tiruvannamalai, or rent one from New Dharma, depending on availability. It’s a great way to get around and to get exercise.
Scooty or motorcycle. If you have never driven one before or are not confident riding a moped or motorcycle, Indian traffic is not the place to learn! But it’s always nice to have your own transportation. The price depends on the condition of the vehicle. Many locals will rent their personal vehicles to westerners but you will be responsible for any repairs/maintenance. To rent a scooty or motorcycle, you can take a rickshaw into town once you arrive and negotiate your preferences. Be sure to compare prices among vendors.
Tip: Be advised that if any issue arises during your rental, such as a flat tire, theft, running out of gas, an accident (no matter who is at fault), you are 100% responsible to pay for getting your rental item repaired and must pay for the damage or repair at the time.
Rishikesh is either up hill or down so you will find yourself walking most of the time. You can also rent a scooty if you wish to explore the area. That information is available at the front desk of the Samadhi Yoga Ashram.
How's the weather?
You can track the average temperatures for Tiruvannamalai here:
and for Rishikesh here:
Tiruvannamalai is tropical. So it’s hot, often humid, but tolerable. In the last week of the 2016 retreat, temperatures reached the 100s and it was very humid with mosquitoes adding to the experience. In 2017 and 2018 the weather was much more mild. You can purchase a day pass at the nearby Sparsa Resort pool for swimming and a yummy buffet lunch. Temperatures rise by the end of February, making it the perfect time to head north to Rishikesh.
Rishikesh temperatures are cooler, so you’ll want light sweaters and shawls.
What else should I pack?
Bring personal toiletries, including soap and shampoo, pajamas, slippers, alarm clock, umbrella, flashlight, and clothing suitable for the local climate.
We will set up a Facebook page where participants, and former participants, can share tips. Meanwhile, here are some packing recommendations:
• Adaptor/converter. You will definitely need a plug adaptor. Use it to plug in one device, or a small power strip with multiple plugs for multiple electronics and other devices, such as a battery charger or electric toothbrush. Here’s a great combination adaptor/power converter that works all over the world.
• Headlamp or flashlight. Power occasionally goes out in your housing and you will sometimes be walking or bicycling before sunrise or after sunset.
• Extra batteries and/or chargers for rechargeable batteries. You can buy batteries in India, but they’re substandard.
• Earplugs. We recommend silicone earplugs. Get them at any pharmacy or drugstore before you leave home. Although sound-cancelling headphones can be expensive, they are great for cutting down noise in airplanes and for meditating or sleeping during the many all-night celebrations and holy days happening in India.
• Rain protection. January and February are not in the rainy season, but occasional showers, even downpours, do happen. It is smart to pack a small umbrella or rain parka. An umbrella can also be used for sun protection while walking.
• Sun protection. You can buy cheap sunglasses in India, or pack your own. Pack your preferred brand of sunscreen or buy it when you arrive. It is best to come with a hat, as they can be hard to find. (Locals don’t wear them.)
• Daypack. Good for short excursions, as a purse, or for groceries. You can also buy a muslin bag at the nearby Ramana Maharishi ashram.
• Water bottle. Bottled water can be purchased almost anywhere. Purified water is provided at all New Dharma lodgings.
• Mosquito repellent. Get something strong that works. Patches aren’t effective for everyone. You can get repellent in India if you don’t want to pack it. Some people bring a mosquito net for over the bed, but it’s generally not necessary, and you can buy them there for less.
• Spare prescription glasses. A spare pair of glasses or contacts is essential if you cannot do without. But you can get glasses made quite inexpensively. Bring a copy of your prescription.
• Toiletries. These are much cheaper in India, so pack a minimum, unless you use specific brands you can’t do without: toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, hand sanitizer, floss, etc.
• Miscellaneous supplies. Razor, band-aids, nail clippers, emery boards, safety pins, Q-tips, wet wipes, toilet paper in your purse/flight bag for airline toilets and international bathrooms.
• Bedding/linens. You can buy whatever you need in India inexpensively or you can bring your own sheets and pillowcases. The twin size beds in India are often wide so it’s better to bring double size sheets. Also bring towels and washcloths and a light blanket for meditating/bedding. Bed pillows can be purchased in India but they might not suit your preferences.
• Cushion. If you have favorite cushions for meditating, bring them.
What's all this going to cost?
Along with the cost of your plane ticket, plan on $125 a week for food, transportation, essentials, shopping, and incidentals. Of course, the total cost of your trip depends depending on your own spending habits.
Here is a standard list of additional, flexible, and optional expenses:
- Plane tickets
- Groceries (minimum $30 week)
- Clothes shopping
- Donations to other teachers or attendance at local events
- Communications. See the FAQ on Phone and Internet access
- Rickshaw: 250 to 350 rupees one way per trip to town
- Bicycle rental: approximately 30 rupees per day or $100 for a ND bike during the retreat
- Motor scooter (Scooty) rental: 150 rupees per day
- Motorcycle rental: approximately 150 rupees per day
- * If you rent a bike, scooty or motorcycle, you will be expected by the owner to take responsibility for maintenance and repairs as well as fuel.
- Optional side trip to Auroville and Pondicherry. Sat Shree recommends visiting BEFORE coming to the retreat. In Pondicherry you can meditate in the ashram where Sri Aurobindo and The Mother are interred. You can also spend time in nearby Auroville, a city dedicated to the ideal of human unity based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. This can be a day trip, and you can hire a taxi for the day. Be sure to get tickets online in advance if you want to spend time in the inner chamber of the Matrimandir, the large golden sphere inspired by The Mother symbolizing the birth of a new consciousness. See: https://www.auroville.org/categories/43
What about cell phones and Internet?
We highly recommended having a cell phone with you because that is how we communicate during the retreat. All rickshaw drivers have a cell phone so that is how you arrange that transportation.
Can you use your existing phone? Check with your current provider to see if you can get an international plan that lets you use your existing smartphone in India. This is generally much more expensive than options available there but may be easiest for you.
Also, check with your provider to see if you can just unlock your phone to insert an Indian SIM card. This would be the cheaper option.
Tip: Do not count on being able to unlock your phone no matter what your provider has told or emailed you. But don’t worry; you can easily purchase a cheap phone in India.
Buy a cell phone and SIM card in India. You can buy a phone in Tiruvannamalai for about $40-$60 USD. You then buy cell time for 30-day increments, which usually run about 500 to 1,000 rupees per month depending on your usage. International plans are cheap, just pennies per minute for international calls and texting. You can do all this the day you arrive or at any point thereafter.
Tip: The best bargain in Tiruvannamalai last year was to buy a SIM card at Shanti Café for about 500 rupees that included 10GB data and international calling; after 30 days you will need to purchase another block of data.
Get your own hotspot. You can buy a personal hotspot device when you get to India that lets you connect your device (phone, laptop, tablet) to the Internet. Hotspots cost approximately $45 US dollars and recharges are about $20. If you stick to text and email, keep Skype calls to a minimum, and abstain from kitten videos on Facebook, one or maybe two recharges should be sufficient. You can also share hotspot passwords. Like water and electricity, hotspots are not 100% reliable in India.
If you want to get a hotspot in advance and have continual access from when you leave home, you can check out any number of companies that sell them, such as Sky Roam.
Get temporary Internet at restaurants. You can get short-term Internet access at many restaurants and cafes. You just pay for hourly use of a password.
USE OF YOUR PHONE AND COMPUTER IN INDIA
So now that you know how to get access, here’s the deal:
DO NOT USE YOUR PHONE OR COMPUTER EXCEPT WHEN TRULY NECESSARY DURING YOUR RETREAT.
You are giving yourself the amazing opportunity of retreat, a time away, a time apart, a time to discover who you are when you are not in your familiar environment with your habitual, egoic structures, and familial, professional, and social relationships. Be in integrity and in alignment with your intention. Don’t cheat yourself or dilute this opportunity by checking emails, calling home, and scrolling Facebook or checking the daily news.
What if I get sick?
Tip: Try to drink 32 to 64 ounces of water daily to keep properly hydrated while on retreat. Filtered water is available in all New Dharma facilities, and you can buy bottles of water anywhere.
Shots/vaccinations. Check your own country’s official advice on this. Here’s the U.S. government’s recommendation. Some U.S. towns have local travel clinics that know what you need and have it all in stock. The earlier you get this off your To Do list the better.
Get your personal doctor’s advice on prescription medications for infection, respiratory, skin, sinus, and digestive issues. You can either bring those drugs or just bring the prescriptions. Pharmacies in India do not require prescriptions, but you’ll need to know what to ask for.
Check your health insurance for coverage abroad. Call your provider to see if you are covered or if you need to purchase temporary travel insurance. (Medicare does not cover expenses outside the U.S.) If you do need medical attention in India, keep your receipts and detailed invoices to submit directly to your provider upon your return.
Electrolytes can be purchased from pharmacies in India. Electrolytes will help replenish the salts you lose through sweat and ease dehydration headaches. Some people use products like EMERGEN-C and Airborne, but others just make sure they eat enough salt, or add a pinch to their drinking water. Electrolytes can make you sick if you don’t need them, so use them wisely.
Additional health products to consider packing:
Probiotics (optional) can build and protect your intestinal flora for improved digestion and to combat unwanted invaders.
Grapefruit seed extract, found in health-food stores, is a multipurpose, strong antibacterial that helps zap amoebas and parasites. Add it to your drinking water. Use it for washing vegetables and fruits or kitchen counters. Add it to a small amount of water to disinfect your toothbrush.
Imodium for sudden diarrhea
Bacitracin and alcohol swipes to disinfect skin abrasions
Throat lozenges to keep near your meditation cushion for when you want to cough. Available in India.
Your favorite painkiller, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin.
Skin rash powder, even if you don’t normally use it. Heat rash can occur when sitting for hours in meditation when it’s hot. Recommended: cortisone cream or Gold Bond medicated power (USA).
Tip: Carry a medical alert card in your wallet (and a copy in your passport) that lists your emergency contact, healthcare proxy, allergies, and medications you are taking or need.
Here’s more advice on travel emergencies from the U.S. Department of State.
Is there someone there who can help me?
The India Program would not be possible without Venkatesan (pronounced Ven–ka–TESS–un).
Venkatesan is our man on the scene, the one who makes sure you are picked up at the airport and your luggage is delivered to your house if it is late. He’s our fixer, our advocate, who barely sleeps the whole two months we are there, who responds immediately if the water or electricity isn’t working, if the sink doesn’t drain, if someone needs a doctor or just had an accident and doesn’t know what to do, or if their stomach aches…you get the idea.
Venkatesan is always on call. He can find you a phone, pick up your Amazon order, recharge your hotspot, help you rent a scooty, find an icepack in 100-degree heat, change your money to rupees, and much, much more. BUT PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT LIKE EVERYONE YOU WILL WORK WITH IN INDIA, THIS IS HIS BUSINESS. This is how he makes his living and supports his family. He will add a surcharge to these requests for his help. So if you don’t want to pay for the convenience of this “concierge service,” then please don’t ask for his help or expect it to come at no charge.
He also runs two private charity programs. One is to help cover tuition costs for local school children. Financial donations are greatly appreciated. The other is a charity for widows, so it’s nice to donate clothing, food, and other items when you leave India. He will tell you what is most needed and desired.
Most of the individuals you will do business with in Tiruvannamalai make most of their yearly income from the spiritual tourists between December and March. So we ask that you consider giving Venkatesan and Gopal an additional tip at the end of the retreat. New Dharma will collect these toward the end of the trip.