Tag Archives: #tips

Publisher Vandana Kumar and Managing Director Vijay Rajvaidya, traveling to India.

Experiencing Two Lockdowns: Traveling to India During a Pandemic

My mother lives in Jamshedpur, India. I live in San Jose, California. For the past many years, my siblings and I have made multiple trips to Jamshedpur every year to spend time with our mother.

And then 2020 hit and travel came to a screeching halt.

Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible. When COVID cases seemed to have declined sufficiently, Vijay and I decided to travel to India once again. We read extensively about the new travel guidelines, spoke with friends and family in India about COVID norms. 

Then COVID cases started exploding in India. We were in a quandary – although we were now vaccinated, should we still make this trip or postpone it? When would be a good time for this? Realizing that no one could give us any definite answers – we decided to move ahead with our travels as planned.

Since I’ve arrived here I’ve been asked by dozens of friends about my travel experience, so I decided to document some useful tips for travelers to India:

Before the start of travel

(i) Passengers need to have a negative RT-PCR COVID test (not antigen test) report in order to board flights to India. The test must be done NO MORE THAN 72 hours before the start of travel. This is important. Make sure and schedule this ahead of time.

You may not have a reliable internet connection when you land, so make a hard copy of the report and have it handy. 

(ii) Fill out the Air Suvidha self-declaration form, mandatory for all international travelers to India. You will need to upload a soft copy in pdf format for yourself and the rest of your travel party. You need to submit only one form for the whole family. 

Make sure you print and carry a hard copy of this form and carry it with your passport, VISA/OCI.

During the flight:

I had booked a direct flight from San Francisco to Ranchi on United, so was able to check in the baggage all the way to my final destination.

Passengers and flight crew were masked for the entire flight. Crew reminded folks to wear the masks even while sleeping. Sanitizers were available for all. We felt safe.

Tips:

(i) Wear masks that are comfortable for the long haul

(ii) Fill out the disembarkation card before landing

Vijay Rajvaidya
Vijay checking out the snacks at the airport lounge

Arriving in India:

We were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone at Delhi airport was masked – airport staff, officers, passengers

Upon disembarking: we had to show proof of the COVID test at two separate desks, staffed by two different entities. We were not sure who they were, but our boarding passes were stamped by each.

At the immigration counter: We were asked for our stamped boarding passes, Disembarkation card, Passports, OCI cards, and the Air Suvidha form. 

By the time we were done with immigration and arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage had been removed off the carousels and lined up for passengers. I was rather shocked at the speed with which this had happened!

Customs: this channel is usually open, but this time there was a queue, so it took a few minutes to walk out and into the domestic transfer area at T3.

Transfer to domestic: Those who have traveled through T3 know this – this is the most ridiculous design for an international airport like Delhi! There is ONE elevator that takes ALL international passengers transferring to the domestic terminal on T3. The signage in this area is nonexistent, so you have to ask folks staffing the counters. 

There was much confusion about where to drop off our baggage, but eventually, we found the right queue. We were disappointed that we could not just drop off the luggage but had to line up for check-in by Vistara yet again along with all other passengers. We pointed out that we were already checked in, had our boarding passes, and just needed to drop off the luggage – but it was of no use. There was no convenient drop-off or handover organized by Vistara.

Vandana & her Mom
After a LONG journey, Vandana gets to hug her mom

Waiting at the airport: There are several lounges on the domestic terminal and we made our way to the Plaza Premium Lounge that has a partnership up with Vistara. Seats were blocked to create distancing inside the lounge. We rested there till it was time to board the next flight. We felt safe.

So after a 16-hour flight from San Francisco, a 6-hour wait at Delhi airport, a 2-hour flight to Ranchi, followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Jamshedpur – I was finally able to hug my mom – masked!!

UPDATE: It’s been a week since I got here and today the Jharkhand State government has announced a “Complete Lockdown.” As someone who experienced “Shelter in Place” in California last year, I know what that means. I just didn’t think that I’d experience this in two countries. 

The US says that one should not travel to India right now. But I’m already here. I’m considering what I should do now. Follow my Facebook profile for developments.


Vandana Kumar has been serving as the Publisher of India Currents since 2004.


 

6 Tips For a First Time Trip From India to San Jose

When traveling abroad, there are many important steps to ensuring that the trip goes perfectly. A trip between two countries so culturally diverse and far apart requires a lot of planning and research. If you are a cultural native of India, there will be many customs and attributes to American culture which will be surprising and take some getting used to. The below six simple steps will allow you to plan and enjoy a successful and beautiful trip to the United States. 

1: Visa Process – The dreaded United States Visa application is one of the most difficult and important processes when planning a trip to America. You will most likely need to acquire a business and/or personal visa (labeled B1/B2) which is valid for 10 years. Unlike most other countries, the visa application process for the states requires the attendance of an in-person interview. You will need to fill out an online application on the US government website to get started first, then pay the initial visa fees, and apply for an interview date. You will then need to attend your interview date with the correct and required documents. I would also suggest bringing some cash, but nothing else is allowed into the interview. Once this process is completed, payment must be made for the visa to be delivered, and it usually will arrive within a week after it has been approved. 

2: Travel & Health Insurance – One major difference between healthcare in India and the United States is that the whole system is very procedural. Though the privatization of the whole system has made healthcare expensive in the US, it is necessary to have the correct documents and insurance in case of emergency. You cannot simply walk into a pharmacy and ask to be treated; you must have the correct paperwork, and without insurance; an emergency could leave you with a very deep hole in your pocket. 

3: Pick your Priorities – The United States is an exceptionally large country, and even state by state there is simply too much to see and do! However, it is important to pick your priorities. Figure out a certain number of things that are ‘must-dos’ for you and write them out into an itinerary of sorts. I would recommend not booking more than one ‘big’ thing in a day, and not to simply stay one night in each hotel before moving on. If you do this, you might see everything; but you will be too exhausted to genuinely enjoy it! 

4: Space out your Trip – Similarly to the aforementioned ‘picking your priorities’, spacing out your trip is equally as important. As travel writer Asana Thala at Australia2Write and Write My X said, “Ensure that your trip is well-spaced out and that you are not rushing between your ‘big’ priorities, and actually enjoying them.  It is better to do less, well.”

5: Be Aware of American Customs: American customs are vastly different from Indian customs, and the cultural norms are remarkably diverse.  Lifestyle Blogger from Britstudent and NextCoursework, Harriet Amy noted, “One major difference is the tipping culture. Waiters at restaurants, doormen at hotels; basically, everyone who ever does anything for you will expect to be tipped.” Another divergence is fashion, you will be shocked initially at some of the clothes that people wear; it will take some getting used to. 

6: Enjoy! – The last step is simple! Just enjoy. Take all your research and planning, all the prep work that you have done, and just enjoy. Take in all the sights and try not to stress about anything too much. 

As long as you make sure that you plan ahead and organize all visa, travel, and medical pieces before you leave, and have researched your travel plans and written out a draft itinerary; the basic structure is there. There will be a transition period for you to get used to American customs, and find your ‘feet’ in the USA, but hopefully, these six simple steps will be stepping-stones to you enjoying your trip to America!


Michael DeHoyos is a lifestyle and travel blogger and editor at the Thesis writing service and Write my case study. He often helps companies in their advertising action plans and sales strategies and enjoys contributing his talents to numerous sites and publications. He is also an author for Origin Writings.

A Fresh Start: 30 Food Prep Shortcuts

Dig-In MealsA column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

The advent of a New Year harks new beginnings, a way to do things better, faster. Check out some tips and quick hacks—creating better habits around cooking more, saving more—to shift your behavior in the kitchen.  

  1. To preserve the color of your homemade ginger-garlic paste add some oil and salt to it.
  2. Make a big batch of fried onions in your air fryer or stovetop. Add mint while frying onions enhances their flavor. Use as a pizza topping, on biryani’s, pastas, etc.
  3. While grinding coriander chutney, add some ice cubes in the blender. This will help to reduce heat buildup and preserves the vivid green color of the chutney.
  4. Keep your unused avocado fresh. Take any Tupperware or a bowl filled with just enough water to submerge the exposed side of the fruit. Then, simply place the avocado half in the bowl, cut-side-down, and the next time you’re ready to use it, the avocado should look like it was just cut.
  5. To reduce the spice in any dish, add a few drops of lemon juice milk, or yogurt in the dish. 
  6. Perfect fluffy scrambled eggs: whisk them with whole milk before cooking 
  7. To achieve optimal firmness for your sautéed vegetables (eg: broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus) is to blanch or boil them briefly before sautéing
  8. To make a perfect batch of French toast soak your bread in an egg and cream mixture overnight in the refrigerator. This will keep the bread from falling apart, resulting in a rich and crispy toast when cooked.
  9. No more dry chicken: Brine your bird in salt and water (and lemon juice and herbs if you’d like the additional flavor) for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
  10. Keep extra salad greens fresh and crisp by adding a few paper towels to the bag or container. Store in a tightly wrapped bag with just a little air.
  11. Recipe calls for onions? Chop, slice, or grind them and freeze in labeled freezer bags.
  12. At the end of the day, sprinkle some baking soda and vinegar in your sink. Take dishwashing liquid and coat the entire area. Leave the solution for half an hour, rinse to get a disinfected and clean sink!
  13. To remove the food smells from the kitchen, add the peels of lemons and oranges into a pan filled with water. Bring to a boil. As the water boils and releases the essential oils, it will neutralize the smells.
  14. Sharpen the blades of your blender by adding dry salt and whirring it for a couple of minutes.
  15. The stems of coriander and mint can be used in chutneys and stocks to flavor chicken/veggies.
  16. To increase the shelf life of fresh green chilis, remove the stem part of chilies before storing.
  17. Extra oil in your dish? Wrap a few ice cubes in a paper towel, then skim them across the top of your sauce/soup. The ice cubes will encourage excess fat to solidify, making it much easier to scoop out and discard! 
  18. While making paratha dough, adding milk helps softens the dough 
  19. To make gravies rich and creamy use beaten curd or a cashew past in lieu of cream.
  20. If you add extra salt to a dish, add a small ball of dough or drop a peeled potato into it, it will absorb the extra salt.
  21. Can’t seem to keep your potatoes from sprouting in storage? Just drop an apple in the bag or basket where you keep the potatoes
  22. Make your paneer last longer, store in water with few drops of vinegar in it.
  23. Want your butter to reach room temperature faster? Grate it. 
  24. While sautéing onions or aromatics for a curry/gravy, add a pinch of turmeric and salt. It speeds up the cooking process.
  25. Wrap the end of the banana bunch with plastic wrap. The skins won’t turn black and the fruit will remain fresh for longer.
  26. Freeze herbs like mint, thyme, rosemary, or coriander with melted butter or olive oil in an ice tray. Pop into any sauce.
  27. Microwaving whole garlic for around 20 seconds helps it to peel faster
  28. Use left-over whey after making paneer to make buttermilk for kadhi, add to gravies, or dough
  29. Everyday ingredients like eggs and potatoes can be boiled in advance and refrigerated for later use. Peel and quarter your potatoes before boiling or roasting them. The more surface area is exposed, the faster they’ll cook.
  30. Love lasagna but hate the long preparation time? Egg roll wrappers are a good substitute for lasagna sheets because they don’t need to be boiled. They come in small, easy to use squares

Perfectly Fluffy Basmati Rice in the Instant Pot

The ratio is 1 cup rice to 1.5 cups water. Close the lid. Valve to sealing position. Select pressure cook (high). Set time to 7 min. Once done, quick release the pressure after 10 min.

Optional: You can add 1 tsp ghee and 1tsp salt to the raw rice and water mixture before closing with the lid to enhance the flavor.

PS: Don’t use the rice option. 

Perfectly Dried Herbs (mint, cilantro, parsley, basil)

Sprinkle on just about anything.

The key to drying herbs is to eliminate moisture content without burning the leaves. Too much moisture left behind can result in mold growth, while high heat can scorch your leaves. Always thoroughly wash and blot before setting it out to dry. You can air dry or use the oven (my preferred method).

Low heat is critical to prevent burning leaves to a crisp. Set the temperature on your oven to the lowest possible — at most 200°F. Evenly spread out leaves to ensure everything dries at the same pace. Don’t layer leaves atop one another.

Bake at low heat for approximately 20/30 minutes. Keep an eye on your herb to avoid burning it. 

After 20/30 mins, turn off your oven and leave the herb to continue drying overnight. After about 12 hours in the dry, warm oven you should have easy-to-crumble bits of your herb ready to store.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com