India Retreat FAQ
What are the dates of the retreat?
Download the India 2023 Schedule
Retreat dates: January 25-February 25, 2023
Required dates of attendance: January 22-February 27, 2023
Extended stay dates: February 27-March 15, 2023
What are the fees?
Main Program: $2,500
Cost includes: program fee, shared lodging from January 22-February 27, bed, clothing storage, bath, kitchen, laundry facilities, basic household cleaning supplies, utilities, and transport to and from the Chennai airport.
Cost DOES NOT INCLUDE: food, personal toiletries, insurance of any kind, or local transport.
Extended Stay: $20/day or $250 for total period. Please indicate any additional days you wish to stay in your application.
What are the application/payment deadlines?
Please do not make travel plans until you have been accepted into the program.
- Upon approval of application full payment for the program ($2,500) or a non-refundable deposit ($500) will be required by December 20, 2022
- Final payment: January 5, 2023
- Payment plan: a payment plan can be made for those in need
What are India’s travel guidelines?
What are the arrival and departure dates?
Participants must arrive on January 22 and depart on February 27, 2023.
It is possible to extend your stay from February 27 through to March 15, 2023. Please indicate any additional days you wish to stay in your application.
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
You can compare the coverage features at a website such as Square Mouth.
What about passports and visas?
India Contact: 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: +91 94439 69167
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.
Visa: U.S. citizens can apply for an India Tourist Visa online at https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html
It may also be a good idea to create an account and list your travel dates with the U.S. Embassy in case of emergency at https://step.state.gov/STEP/Index.aspx
Note: citizens of some countries such as Canada and the UK may be unable to apply for visas through the e-visa system and must apply in person. Check the application guidelines for your country.
Are there any COVID-19 requirements?
To attend the 2023 India Retreat we ask that you:
- Conduct a Covid test within 24 to 72 hours prior to the start of the retreat and share the results with New Dharma. It can be a rapid test.
- Follow all requirements imposed by the India government for entry and exit from India.
Masks will be optional to each participant. The use of masks or additional tests may be requested during the retreat under special circumstances for safety reasons.
How do I get there?
Chennai International is the nearest airport to Tiruvannamalai (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.
Where will I stay?
New Dharma rents several retreat properties in Tiruvannamalai. The program fee is for a shared room with either a full or single bed, 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 car, but for many participants the morning and evening walk together with your housemates quickly becomes a lovely and meaningful ritual.
What will I eat?
Eating In. All 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.
Eating Out. There are many safe, delicious, and inexpensive restaurants. In Tiruvannamalai we recommend Shanti Café, Tasty Café, Dreaming Tree, Sparsa Hotel, Sathya Café, German Bakery, Hotel Arpana, and Hotel Ramakrishna. Be prepared to relax and wait for your food.
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 scooter or motorcycle. It’s very easy just to call a rickshaw to pick you up and drop you off.
Tip: Be prepared to take responsibility of petrol, maintenance, and repairs for all rentals.
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: Rickshaw fees quoted are PER PERSON, so be sure to ask the fee per person before getting into the rickshaw and leaving. You can also ask your rickshaw driver to drop you off and agree to a pick-up time and place.
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 have to 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 than use the slightly condescending nickname, “tuk-tuk.”
Bicycle. You can rent or buy a brand new bicycle for about $130 or rent one very cheaply in Tiruvannamalai. It’s a great way to get around. The land is very flat.
“Scooty” or motorcycle. The price of a motor scooter or motorcycle depends on the condition of the vehicle. You can rent these in downtown Tiru, or at Shanti café. Be sure to compare prices among vendors. You will be responsible for any repairs/maintenance. While it’s always nice to have your own transportation, if you are not experienced on a moped or motorcycle, Indian traffic may not be the best learning environment.
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.
How's the weather?
You can track the average temperatures for Tiruvannamalai 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.
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.
• 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 should I budget for in India?
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:
- Groceries (minimum $30 week)
- Clothes shopping
- Donations at temples or at local events
- Communications. See the FAQ on Phone and Internet access
- Transportation: 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.
- Rickshaw: 250 to 350 rupees one way per trip to town (can be split with other riders)
- Bicycle rental: approximately 30 rupees per day
- Bicycle purchase: You can negotiate the price of a used bike. You can also buy a new one for about $130 and then leave it with Venkatesan at the end of the retreat as a much-appreciated donation to a local student.
- Motor scooter rental: 150-200 rupees per day
- Motorcycle rental: approximately 150 rupees per day
Optional side trip to Auroville and Pondicherry. Many retreatants enjoy a side visit to Pondicherry before or after the retreat. You can visit and meditate in the ashram where Sri Aurobindo and The Mother lived and 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, or you can make it a longer stay at a beach cottage. 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?
Cell phone is how we communicate during the retreat. Also, rickshaw drivers have a cell phone so can arrange or call for transportation.
Option 1: Use your existing phone. The best bargain is to buy a SIM card for your existing (unlocked) smartphone. You can do this at Shanti Café for about 500 rupees. That includes about 10GB data plus international calling. If you use that up, you just buy another block of data.
Option 2. Buy a cheap phone and plan 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.
Option 3. Check with your current provider. You may prefer a seamless experience using your existing phone with an international plan.
Option 4. Check into an international plan through Google Fi which is handy if you do a lot of international travel.
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, one or maybe two recharges should be sufficient. You can also share hotspot passwords.
Get temporary Internet at restaurants. You can get cheap, short-term Internet access while sitting at many restaurants and cafes.
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 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?
This retreat 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.