Get the right ticket for a trip around India

My husband and I are hoping to visit India in December and January for around five weeks, flying into Delhi. We want to visit friends in Jaipur and then Goa and Trivandrum. How easy and safe is travel within India, particularly by train? Would we be better off pre-booking flights ?

John Smith

by e-mail

The Travel Editor replies: Travelling by train in India gives you an insight into the country and is an unforgettable experience - for different reasons, depending on which ticket you decide to buy.

Carriages for unreserved second-class tickets can be nightmarishly crowded and hot as hell. But reserve a seat or sleeper in advance and you should find things fairly comfortable. If you go first class, you will have more space and a lockable compartment door.

On major routes you may have to pay more and could even get air-conditioning. (But note that some travellers find first class relatively dull. And in winter the air-conditioning offers little advantage.)

Prices are extremely cheap by Western standards. Even the most expensive sleepers on the longest routes are unlikely to cost you more than pounds 50, and cheap seats are very cheap.

The only snag is queuing for tickets, although in major city stations you can book tickets by going to a separate tourist section in the booking hall - but here you must pay in dollars or pounds or show an official exchange receipt with your rupees. As a general rule, try to book sleepers several days ahead.

If you want to organise your travel before you leave Britain, SD Enterprises (tel: 0181-903 3411) can make all your reservations in advance. If you plan to travel a lot, buy a 30-day, first-class, air-conditioned rail pass for pounds 166, including sleepers.

For pass-holders, SD Enterprises can also reserve your journeys (if you subsequently miss any train you can book a place on the next one locally at no extra cost). For those without a pass, the company will charge pounds 94 for your entire journey in first class in an air-conditioned train from Delhi to Trivandrum.

If you don't have time for train travel, consider flying, which is a far more relaxing experience in India these days than it used to be. Jet Airways (tel: 0181-970 1555) offers a 21-day air pass for $800 (this is the maximum period for air passes in India).

So you could spend one week in or around Delhi, then use your air pass for three weeks to visit Jaipur and Goa and to get down to Trivandrum, where you could then spend your final week.

Can I poison myself trying to cure diarrhoea?

Is it true that Imodium should only be taken a few days after the onset of upset-stomach symptoms? I heard of a case where someone who took Imodium too quickly was poisoned as a result. How might this have happened?

Mary Cheevers

Bournemouth

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: It is quite safe for adults to take products containing loperamide, such as Imodium, as soon as there are symptoms of traveller's diarrhoea. But, as with all medicines, follow the manufacturer's directions.

The main rule with products containing loperamide is not to use them continuously for more than a few days at a time - or you may risk a bout of constipation. Also, on rare occasions, the diarrhoea may be due to organisms that cause dysentery or giardia; then the symptoms will last more than a week and you may find blood in the stools. If you use loperamide for too long in these circumstances you could make matters worse.

The key is to pay attention to rehydration, especially in hot climates. In a healthy adult, this may just mean drinking more, providing the diarrhoea only lasts a day or two.

If the diarrhoea is particularly intense or of long duration, it is a good idea to use rehydration sachets such as Dioralyte. These help the body absorb fluids much more efficiently. They are essential for children with diarrhoea, where in certain situations they can be life-saving.

My general advice is to take the recommended measures regarding rehydration, reserving medicines such as loperamide for occasional use when it would be inconvenient to keep stopping for the lavatory, such as on a long bus journey.

Dr Larry Goodyer is a lecturer in clinical pharmacy at King's College, London. Contact the Nomad Travel Health Helpline (tel: 0891 633414; calls cost 60p a minute).

Visit northern Spain on a tight budget

I want to go to a conference in San Sebastian in northern Spain. Please can you help me find the cheapest way to get there and back? I don't want to fly - but I am too old to hitch!

Mary Harris

By e-mail

The Travel Editor replies: Your cheapest option will be to go by bus. Euroline (tel: 01582 404 511) runs coaches from London Victoria direct to San Sebastian. They are comfortable enough but you may get an urge to can-can in the aisle after the first eight hours of sitting still. For those over the age of 60 or under 26, a return ticket costs pounds 99 in June, pounds 109 in July.

The outward journey takes 21 hours, leaving London at 9.30pm. The coach takes breaks in Calais, Tours, Saintes and Cestas, but, obviously, these stops are more about getting sandwiches and a drink and stretching your legs, rather than cultural stopovers.

Alternatively, Rail Europe (tel: 0990 848848) which offers a return ticket for people over 60 and under 26 for pounds 180. Take the Eurostar to Paris, then change to a TGV which goes to Irun, then change again for the last part of the journey to San Sebastian. You will spend a night on the journey, but there is always the option of breaking the trip.

Finally, and the slowest option of all, P&O (tel: 01705 301000) sails from Portsmouth to Bilbao, on a 35-hour voyage leaving on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8pm. A 10-day return ticket for a foot passenger costs pounds 110 in the summer, a longer return costs pounds 140.

You must also book a bed. A two-berth cabin costs pounds 62 per person each way in June, and pounds 72 in July and August. Or you can share the cabin with someone else for pounds 38 in June, or pounds 44 in July and August. Travelling out in June and returning in early July, and also sharing a cabin, would cost you pounds 192.

Having arrived in Bilbao (if you are not planning to stop over and visit the Guggenheim museum), go to the Termibus bus station. The journey to San Sebastian takes half an hour.

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