Simon Calder: Times have changed for travellers to India


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The Independent Travel

Which sentence in the first edition of India – a Travel Survival Kit is the most redundant in the 21st century? I reckon it is the authors' complaint that "Indian Airlines would only provide a list of their office addresses and numbers with the greatest reluctance and bad grace". In the bad old days when it seemed the unstated aim of state airlines was to prevent people flying, Indian Airlines had a monopoly on domestic aviation. Only rich tourists and very rich locals could fly. Prospective passengers needed the airline's addresses (which, in the book, run to two pages) to re-confirm a flight or to get a place on the "chance list", as the waiting list for flights was known.

Today, thanks to a proliferation of low-cost airlines and the web, the notion of visiting an airline office is endearingly antiquated.

Back in 1981, just two Delhi-Calcutta flights departed each day. The one-way fare was fixed at 895 rupees – £50 at the prevailing exchange rate, and more than a week's wages for the average British visitor. Now 17 flights depart each day from the capital to the city now known as Kolkata. The standard fare on Spicejet or Indigo is still the equivalent of £50 – a day's work at the UK national minimum wage.

Reaching India is also much easier and cheaper: fly out to Mumbai a month from now and you will pay barely £400 for a return on Swiss via Zurich, or less than £500 for a non-stop on Jet Airways. In 1981, you had to book four months ahead to get the lowest official fare of £466; cheaper deals were available on Ariana Afghan Airlines via Kabul and Iraqi Airways via Baghdad.

One aspect of visiting India has got much tougher: the visa rules. The first line of "Facts for the Visitor" in 1981 observed that "If you're from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada or Ireland, you do not need a visa". Today, the red tape for a passage to India is tangled, time-consuming and expensive.