Calling home using SIM cards, seniors and Machu Picchu

by Steve Venables, CTC


DEAR STEVE, I am going to India and am trying to get information about the purchase of a SIM card. Living in New York, I thought one could buy almost anything if one were willing to spend time looking for it. Wrong! You cannot buy a SIM for India in New York. Online it is possible, but the increment is rather large.

As is, universally accepted SIMs are less expensive if bought in the country one is traveling in. I would like to know how easily available SIMs are, in what increments they are available and if foreigners need documentation in order to purchase them (reference has been made to that on several sites).

I have an unlocked phone and it has previously used an international SIM. Calls are expensive — from Tanzania about $8 a minute. I am hoping to avoid this with an Indian SIM. Might an Indian SIM also work in Bhutan? — Mary Ramniceanu, New York, NY


DEAR MARY, I checked with the phone company I normally use and their charge is $3.95 a minute to call the USA from India.

I also posed your question to the wholesale tour operator with which I work in India. Their representative replied, “The handsets need to be triband or at least be on the GSM technology. The person who needs the SIMs would need to fill in a form that we will give. She would need to provide a photocopy of the pages in her passport with her address, etc., and of her visa plus a passport-size photograph. We will issue her an Indian mobile network company’s SIM card. She then can keep recharging it as per her usage. The rate for calling the U.S. from these phones is approximately 25¢ per minute.”

This answer is from a wholesaler. Other travel firms also may provide SIM cards.

I looked up Triband and GSM technology and found that most cell phone makers offer models that will fit this specification. Nokia, for example, offers a 6230, which is a GSM Triband mobile phone, “good for Europe and Asia.” GSM is an acronym for “Global System for Mobile” communications, while SIM stands for “Subscriber Identity Module.”

A SIM card, sometimes called a chip or microchip, is inserted into a handset and is necessary for the operation of your phone. It stores your phone number and other data giving you the authorization needed to use the network, and you can usually switch the card from phone to phone.

I understand that Bhutan has its own cell phone system, which may not yet cover their entire country, so I suspect you’ll need to obtain a different SIM card there.

I’m going to India in a few months, myself, my first visit there since cell phones have become popular. What I’m going to do is wait until I get there and then make a decision on the type of communication best suited for my needs. According to the Government of Indian Tourist Office website (, under “Communications”), the Indian telecommunication network is the fifth largest in the world, with intense competition between four main private companies and two government companies, meaning there has been a significant drop in their tariffs.

In addition to SIM cards, there are prepaid calling cards available that cost about 70¢ a minute for calls to the U.S. from India.


DEAR STEVE, I have been told by many people not to attempt to visit Machu Picchu, as it is a destination for the young. I am in my seventies and in fairly good health, but I am concerned about the altitude and the climb. It has been my dream to visit there, but I have been discouraged throughout the years by friends and relatives. Any suggestions or should I just give up on the idea of visiting the area? — Janet Hellman, Los Angeles, CA


DEAR JANET, do not give up the idea of visiting Machu Picchu. On July 7, 2007, the Swiss-based New Open World Corporation announced the results of their worldwide, several-year-long Internet vote to determine the New Seven Wonders of the World. They received over 90 million votes, and their final list includes the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, Brazil’s statue of Christ the Redeemer, Mexico’s Chichén Itzá pyramid, the Colosseum in Rome, India’s Taj Mahal and Peru’s Machu Picchu.

To get to Machu Picchu, most tours will fly you into Cuzco, which at a height of 11,000 feet can subject you to altitude sickness if you don’t take it easy the first day or two. Tour companies are aware of this necessity and plan their itineraries so that you’ll have plenty of leisure time at first to rest, and the local tourist organization even has greeters at the airport passing out a special tea which reputedly helps you to become more quickly acclimated.

Machu Picchu is actually lower, at about 7,700 feet, so it’s easier on you than Cuzco. I did a little research and discovered that reports claim the oxygen content of the air at 8,000 feet is only about 4% lower than it is at 650 feet. Mexico City, by the way, is only about 350 feet below Machu Picchu, and I’ll bet you’ve already been there.

In 2001 I took a group of 15 to Machu Picchu, and 11 members were about your age. Two were much older, in their mid 80s, and no one suffered in the slightest from the altitude. This “lost city of the Inca” has one of the most spectacular settings of any ruin in the world, and I’d hate to think you’d miss it because your friends and relations discouraged you.

Unless you’re planning to do more than pay a visit to the area, such as hike the Inca Trail, most tour companies welcome seniors.

To paraphrase FDR’s famous quote, the only thing you have to fear in visiting Machu Picchu, in my opinion, is fear itself, provided you take it easy and your doctor gives you the okay.