Opposite Domestic Airport, Vile Parle East, Mumbai
Band Stand Bandra West, Mumbai
D1-2A,Behind Collectorate, (Via) Bank Road, Jaipur
Sahar Airport Road, Mumbai
Andheri Kurla Road, Andheri-East, Mumbai
C-20 / B-2 Bihari Marg, Jai Singh Highway, Jaipur
New Delhi, India http://www.travelandtransitions.com/destinations/destination-advice/asia/map-of-india-major-destinations/
India (Hindi: भारत or Bharat) is the largest country in the Indian subcontinent and shares borders with Pakistan to the northwest, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan to the northeast, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. Nearby island countries in the Indian Ocean are Sri Lanka to the southeast and the Maldives to the southwest.
India is the seventh largest country in the world by area, and the second most populous country with over a billion people, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth. It's an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity.
India is administratively divided into 29 states and 7 union territories. The states are broadly demarcated on linguistic lines. They vary in size; the larger ones are bigger and more diverse than some countries of Europe. The union territories are smaller than the states—sometimes they are just one city—and they have much less autonomy.
India has two island chains located off the mainland – the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea.
These states and union territories are grouped by convention into the following regions:
These are nine of India's most notable cities. Other cities can be found under their specific regions.
India has many outstanding landmarks and areas of outstanding beauty. Here are some of the most notable.
India's culture and heritage is a rich amalgam of the past and the present. This vast and populous country offers the visitor a view of fascinating religions and ethnography, a vast variety of languages, and monuments that have been present for thousands of years. As it opens up to a globalised world, India still has a depth of history and intensity of culture that awe and fascinate the many who visit there.
One thing that foreign travellers need to know is that India is, in every way, heterogeneous. If they experience one set of behaviours from the locals in one part of the country, it does not mean that the same behaviour will happen in another area. To give a very simple example, a taxi driver in Mumbai will without saying a word drop his meter flag and return the exact change, while in Delhi you have to tell the driver to use the meter and hope you get your change, and in other areas taxi drivers or auto drivers don't even have meters and have fixed the rates for even short distances – and you just pay the amount demanded; if you do get an honest driver, consider yourself lucky. India shows extreme variation in most things, and one needs patience and luck to find the best. Never assume you know everything about any aspect of India; be prepared to see completely new things every day.
Humans are thought to have first migrated into the Indian subcontinent around 70,000 BCE and there are some archaeological sites for stone age India. One important one is at Mehrgarh (Pakistan), with the oldest known evidence of agriculture in the subcontinent, around 7000 BCE.
The Indus Valley Civilization (3300-1300 BCE) was one of the world's first Bronze Age civilizations and quite advanced for its time. At its peak (2600-1900 BCE) it covered most of what is now Pakistan, plus some of northern India and eastern Afghanistan. The two main archaeological sites, both in Pakistan, are Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.
Sometime after 2000 BCE, the region was invaded and conquered by the Aryans, herdsmen from somewhere to the northwest. At about the same time, related groups invaded Greece (Hellenic Greeks displacing Minoans), Anatolia or Turkey (the Hittites), Persia and other areas. All the invaders spoke related languages and many modern languages, including most of those spoken in northern India and in Europe and some in Central Asia, are descended from them. Linguists classify them all in the Indo-European language family.
Indians date their history from the Vedic Period, roughly 1500-500 BCE, after the Aryan invasion. This is the period when the Vedas, the oldest and holiest books of Hinduism, were compiled. They were in an Indo-European language, Sanskrit. Some rituals of Hinduism took shape during that period.
The Vedic civilisation influences India to this day. Present-day Hinduism traces its roots to the Vedas, but is also heavily influenced by literature that came afterwards, like the Upanishads, the Puranas, the great epics — Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. By tradition, these books claim to only expand and distill the knowledge that is already present in the Vedas.
In the 1st millennium BCE, various schools of thought in philosophy developed, enriching Hinduism greatly. Most of them claimed to derive from the Vedas. However, two of these schools – Buddhism and Jainism – questioned the authority of the Vedas, and they are now recognised as separate religions.
Many great empires were formed between 500 BCE and 500 CE. Notable among them were the Mauryas and the Guptas, both with their capital in the city of Pataliputra, now called Patna. Further west, the Gandharan civilisation (an independent kingdom, later part of the Maurya Empire) ruled much of what are now Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their city Taxila was a great center of Buddhist and other learning.
Later there was a gradual decline of Buddhism and Jainism. The practice of Buddhism, in particular, disappeared from India's heartland, though Buddha himself was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Jainism continues to be practiced by a significant number who are ambivalent about whether they consider themselves Hindus or not. Hinduism itself went through significant changes. The importance of Vedic deities like Indra and Agni reduced and Puranic deities like Vishnu, Shiva, their various Avatars and family members gained prominence.
Islamic incursions started in the 8th century. Gradually the raiders started staying as rulers, and soon much of North India was ruled by Muslims. The most important Muslim rulers were the Mughal Empire that at its peak covered almost the entire subcontinent (save the southern and eastern extremities), while the major Hindu force that survived in the North were the Rajputs. The bravery of the Rajputs in resisting invasion of their land is legendary and celebrated in ballads all over the forts of Rajasthan. Prominent among the Rajputs was Maha Rana Pratap, the ruler of Chittorgarh, who spent years in exile fighting Akbar, the third of the Mughals. Eventually, however, the Rajputs were subdued, and the Rajput-Mughal alliance remained strong till the end of the empire. This period of North India was the golden age for Indian art, architecture, and literature, producing the monumental gems of Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal. Hindi and Urdu also took root in medieval North India. During the Islamic period, some Hindus also converted to Islam. Today, some 13% of the Indian population follows Islam.
Sikhism, another major religion, was established in Punjab during the Mughal period. Relations between Sikhism and the Mughals varied over time. The Golden Temple at Amritsar was built and recognised all over the world as Sikhs major pilgrimage center. By the time of its tenth Guru - Guru Gobind Singh, however, relations were hostile, primarily due to the antagonism of Aurangzeb, the most intolerant and bigoted of the Mughals. Conflict between the Sikhs and the Mughals was one of the causes for the eventual decline of the Mughal Empire. The other cause was the challenge of the Marathas in Maharashtra, which were started by Shivaji and carried on by the Peshwas. The Marathas established a short-lived confederacy that was almost as large as the Mughal empire. Marathas lost their command over India after the third battle of Panipat, which in turn paved a way for British colonialism.
South India followed a different trajectory, being less affected by Islamic rule. The period from 500 to 1600 CE is called the classical period dominated by great South Indian kingdoms. Prominent among them were the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Vijayanagara empires who ruled from present day Karnataka and the Pallavas, Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas who ruled from present day Tamil Nadu & Kerala. Among them, the Cholas, who ruled from various capital cities including Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram, are widely recognised to be the most powerful of the South Indian kingdoms, with their territory stretching as far north as Pataliputra and their influence spreading as far east as Sumatra, Western Borneo and Southern Vietnam at the height of their power. Some of the grandest Hindu and Jain monuments that exist in India were built during this time in South and East India.
European traders started visiting India beginning in the late 16th century. Prominent among these were the British, French and the Portuguese. The British East India Company made Calcutta their headquarters in 1772. They also established subsidiary cities like Bombay and Madras. Calcutta later went on to become 'the second city of the empire after London'. By the 19th century, the British had, one way or the other assumed political control of virtually all of India, though the Portuguese and the French too had their enclaves along the coast.
There was an uprising by Indian rulers in 1857 which was suppressed, but which prompted the British government to take over from the Company and make India a part of the empire. This period of rule by the crown, 1858-1947, was called the British Raj. Many Indians converted to Christianity during the period, for pretty much the same reasons as they converted to Islam, though forcible conversions ended in British India after 1859, and Queen Victoria's proclamation promised to respect the religious faiths of Indians.
Non-violent resistance to British colonialism under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led to independence on 15 August 1947. However, independence was simultaneously granted to the secular Hindu-majority state of India and the smaller Muslim-majority state of Pakistan, and the orgy of Hindu-Muslim bloodletting that followed Partition led to the deaths of at least half a million and the migration of 12-14 million people.
India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains by the 1970s, ensuring that the large-scale famines that had been common are now history. However these policies also led to shortages, slow growth and large-scale corruption. After a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991, the country adopted free-market reforms which have continued at a meandering pace ever since, fueling strong growth. The IT and the business outsourcing industries have been the drivers for the growth, while manufacturing and agriculture, which have not experienced reforms, are lagging. About 60% of Indians live on agriculture and around 36% remain in poverty.
Relations with Pakistan have been frosty. The two countries have fought four wars, three of them over the status of Kashmir. The third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. India continues to experience occasional terrorist attacks, many of which are widely believed to originate in Pakistan and be ordered or assisted by its military-intelligence complex.
China and India went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. Though current relations are peaceful, there is still military rivalry and no land crossings are allowed between the two countries, though one border crossing between Sikkim and Tibet was re-opened in 2006 for trade. Security concerns over Pakistan and China prompted India to test nuclear weapons twice (including the 1974 tests described as "peaceful explosions"). India wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear power and is campaigning for a permanent Security Council seat.
India is proud of its democratic record. Constitutional government and democratic freedoms have been safeguarded for most of its 66 years as an independent country.
Current concerns in India include corruption, poverty, over-population, environmental degradation, ongoing border disputes with Pakistan and China, cross-border terrorism, and ethnic and religious strife which occurs from time to time. India's current obsession, at least among the educated elite, is over whether India will be able to overtake China in economic growth and be an economic and military superpower.
India is a parliamentary democracy modeled on the British Westminster system. The President, indirectly elected, is the Head of State, but his position, while not entirely ceremonial, has limited powers. The Prime Minister runs the government with a Cabinet of Ministers, and in practice wields the most authority in government. The Parliament is bicameral. The Lok Sabha (House of People), the lower house, is directly elected by universal adult franchise, while the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), or the upper house, is indirectly elected. The Lok Sabha is the more powerful of the two, primarily because a majority in the Lok Sabha is required to form a government and pass budgets, and the Prime Minster by convention is always a member of the Lok Sabha. India has a vast number of political parties, and currently the BJP party has a majority in the Lok Sabha. India has a strong and independent judiciary and a free press.
India is also a federal republic, divided into states and union territories. Each of these have their own legislatures, with government run by a chief minister and a cabinet.
Street demonstrations and political agitations occur, as they do in any democracy. There is also occasional low-level political violence, but a visitor has a vanishingly small chance of getting caught in that.
Indian Standard Time (IST) is 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+5.5). Daylight Savings Time is not observed in India.
Mountains, jungles, deserts and beaches, India has it all. It is bounded to the north and northeast by the snow-capped Himalayas, the tallest mountain range in the world. In addition to protecting the country from invaders, they also feed the perennial rivers Ganga, Yamuna (Jamuna) and Sindhu (Indus) on whose plains India's civilization flourished. Though most of the Sindhu is in Pakistan now, three of its tributaries flow through Punjab. The other Himalayan river, the Brahmaputra flows through the northeast, mostly through Assam.
South of Punjab lies the Aravalli range, which cuts Rajasthan into two. The western half of Rajasthan is occupied by the Thar desert. The Vindhyas cut across Central India, particularly through Madhya Pradesh and signify the start of the Deccan plateau, which covers almost the whole of the southern peninsula.
The Deccan plateau is bounded by the Western Ghats range (which is called Sahyadri in Maharashtra) to the west and the Eastern Ghats to the east. The plateau is more arid than the plains, as the rivers that feed the area, such as the Narmada, Godavari and the Kaveri, run dry during the summer. Towards the northeast of the Deccan plateau is what used to be a thickly forested area that covers the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, the eastern edge of Maharashtra and the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh. This area is still forested, poverty stricken and populated by tribal people. This forest acted as a barrier to the invasion of South India.
India has a long coastline. The west coast borders the Arabian Sea and the east coast the Bay of Bengal, both parts of the Indian Ocean.
In India, it rains only during a specific time of the year. The season as well as the phenomenon that causes it is called the monsoon. There are two of them, the Southwest and the Northeast, both named after the directions the winds come from. The Southwest monsoon is the more important one, as it causes rains over most parts of the country, and is the crucial variable that decides how the crops will do. It lasts from June to September. The Southwest monsoon hits the west coast the most, as crossing the Western Ghats and reaching the rest of India is an uphill task for the winds. The western coastline is therefore much greener than the interior. The Northeast monsoon hits the east coast between October and February, mostly in the form of occasional cyclones that cause much devastation every year. The only region that gets rains from both monsoons is North-Eastern India, which consequently experiences the highest rainfall in the world.
India experiences at least three seasons a year, Summer, Rainy Season (or "Monsoon") and Winter, though in the tropical South calling the 25°C (77°F) weather "Winter" would be stretching the concept. The North experiences some extremes of heat in Summer and cold in Winter, but except in the Himalayan regions, snow is almost unheard of. November to January is the winter season and April and May are the hot months when everyone eagerly awaits the rains. There is also a brief spring in February and March, especially in North India.
Opinions are divided on whether any part of India actually experiences an Autumn, but the ancients had certainly identified such a season among the six seasons (or ritus - Vasanta - Spring, Greeshma - Summer, Varsha - Rainy, Sharat - Autumn, Hemanta - "Mild Winter"/"late autumn", Sheet - Winter) they had divided the year into.
India's rich and multi-layered cultures are dominated by religious and spiritual themes. While it is a mistake to assume that there is a single unified Indian culture, there certainly are unifying themes that link the various cultures. India's cultural heritage is expressed through its myriad of languages in which much great literature and poetry has been written. It can be seen in its music - both in its classical (Carnatic and Hindustani) forms and in modern Bollywood music. India also has a vast tradition of classical and folk dances. Art and theatre flourish amongst the bustling cities of the country, against the backdrop of the ever expanding western influences.
Indians value their family system a lot. Typically, an Indian's family encompasses what would be called the extended family in the West. It is routine for Indians to live as part of the paternal family unit throughout their lives - i.e. sons live together with their parents all their lives, and daughters live with their parents till they get married. The relationship is mutually self-supporting. Parents may support their children for longer than is common in the West, brothers and sisters may support each other, and sons are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. "Living with parents" does not carry the same stigma as it does in the US. Naturally, the arrangements are not perfect and there are strains and breakups, especially by the time the third generation grows up. Also, it has now become common for children to move away from the parental house for education and employment. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that the joint family is still seen as the norm and an ideal to aspire to, and Indians continue to care about their family's honour, achievements and failures even while they are not living together.
Despite the weakening of the caste system (which has officially been outlawed by the Indian government), India remains a fairly stratified society. Indians care more about a person's background and position in society than is the norm in the individualist West. This attitude, when combined with the legacy of colonial rule, results in some rather interesting, if unfortunate consequences. People with white skin are placed high on the societal totem pole, and they may find that Indians are obsequious towards them to the point of embarrassment. People with dark skin, however may find that they are discriminated against. If it is any consolation, Indians display similar prejudices based on skin colour and ethnicity among themselves and not just towards foreigners. (See more in the Stay Safe and Respect sections)
There are three national holidays: Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August), and Gandhi Jayanti (2 October) which occur on the same day every year. In addition, there are three major nationwide festivals with shifting dates to be aware of:
Apart from these, each state has its own major national festival like Onam in Kerala, Makar Sankranti and Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh, Utarayan in Gujarat, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Baisakhi for Punjab, Bihu for Assam,Rathayatra(Car festival for lord Jagannath) in Odisha,Nuakhai for Western Odisha. India is a diverse nation, and festivals are main part of life for the locals, and they provide holidays for about a week.
Religious holidays occur on different days each year, because the Hindu and Islamic festivals are based on their respective calendars and not on the Gregorian calendar. Most of them are celebrated only locally, so check the state or city you are visiting for information on whether there will be closures. Different regions might give somewhat different names to the same festival. To cater to varying religious practices, offices have a list of optional holidays (called restricted holidays by the government) from which employees are allowed to pick two, in addition to the list of fixed holidays. This may mean thin attendance and delayed service even when the office is officially open.
See also the Wikivoyage article On the trail of Kipling's Kim.
Touts are ubiquitous, as in many developing countries, and you should assume that anyone 'proactively' trying to help you has a hidden agenda to part you from your money. However, in areas hardly or not at all visited by tourists, it is not at all uncommon for people who go out of their way to 'proactively' help you when you approach without expecting anything in return. During your travels in India, you will be deluged with touts trying to get you to buy something or patronise particular establishments.
There are a myriad of common scams, which range from telling you your hotel has gone out of business (of course, they'll know of one that's open with vacancies), to giving wrong directions to a government rail ticket booking office (the directions will be to their friend's tour office), to trying to get you to take diamonds back to your home country (the diamonds are worthless crystal), to 'poor students' giving you a sightseeing for hours and then with pity make you buy school books for them (tremendously overpriced from a bookstore with whom they are affiliated). There will also be more obvious touts who "know a very good place for dinner" or want to sell you a chess set on the street.
Faced with such an assault, it's very easy to get into a siege mentality where all of India is against you and out to squeeze you dry. Needless to say, such a mentality may affect any true appreciation of the country. Dealing with touts is very simple: assume anyone offering surprising information (such as "your hotel is shut down") is a tout. Never be afraid to get a second or third answer to a question. To get rid of a tout:
It is also beneficial to have a firm Indian friend whom you can trust. If they show you around, they will act to help you ward off such touts.
Basic strategy will help you:
Foreign visitors will quickly encounter the special foreigners' rates that they are charged in some places in India. This applies to some tourist attractions. This may seem discriminatory and unfair to many visitors but is practiced in most developing countries in Asia and Africa.
Some tourist attractions that are run by the Archaeological Survey of India have different rates for Indians and foreigners. These rates are prominently posted at the entrance and ticketing booths. The rates for foreigners may be as many as five to ten times those for Indians. Likewise, if you are reserving a hotel room or an airline ticket over the internet, you may find that paying in US dollars costs significantly higher. You can get an Indian friend to book in rupees and in most cases, no one will question you at the time of check in.
India has 22 official languages at the federal level, namely Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri (also known as Meitei), Marathi, Nepali, Odia (also known as Oriya), Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
There are also hundreds of other less prominent languages like Tulu, Bhojpuri and Ladakhi that are the main spoken language of some places.
A good though not fool-proof rule of thumb is to assume that each Indian state has a different local language.
Hindi, natively spoken by about 40% of the population, is the native tongue of the people from the "Hindi Belt" in Northern India, which includes the capital, Delhi, and the main working language of the Union Government. Many more speak it as a second language. Although many dialects of Hindi exist, the prestige dialect of Hindi used in media and education is based on the dialect of the area around Delhi, and is understood by most Hindi speakers. If you can only afford one phrasebook, pick up the Hindi one as it will allow you to get by in most of India.
Sanskrit was the language of the Aryan invaders who arrived about 1500 BCE, and is the language in which much of ancient Indian literature and religious texts are written. Today Sanskrit survives as a liturgical language, and has a status similar to that of Latin in Europe: few if any people speak Sanskrit as a native language, but quite a few scholars know it. Many modern Indian languages are descended from Sanskrit, and even those unrelated to Sanskrit have been strongly influenced by it.
While most north Indian languages, including Hindi, are descended from Sanskrit, the main languages of the south — Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam — are in a completely different group called Dravidian; these are thought to be descended from the languages of the peoples who inhabited the region before the Aryan invasion. Nevertheless, due to the influence of Hinduism, they too contain many loan words from Sanskrit.
The central government has tried to establish Hindi as a national language, but this has not been entirely successful; in particular it has met with considerable resistance in areas where the local languages are unrelated to Hindi. Avoid speaking Hindi in places such as Tamil Nadu and the Northeast, as Hindi is met with hostility from many of the locals there. Also do not refer to the other languages as dialects of Hindi; they are separate languages, mostly mutually unintelligible with different writing systems, and some (like the Dravidian languages) are completely unrelated to Hindi.
Fluency in English varies vastly depending on education levels, occupation, age and region. English is compulsory in all schools, and is widely spoken among affluent sectors of the population in major cities and around most tourist places, as well as in most police stations and government offices, and acts as the lingua franca among educated Indians. However, if possible, you are better off picking up as many words as you can of the local language of the place you are going to - people are proud of their state's (or region's) culture and language and will appreciate it if an outsider makes an attempt to communicate in it. Code-switching between English and the local language is common among the youth in urban areas, although most educated people would speak standard English (British) when talking to foreigners.
Many Indian languages lack a word for please, just like the Scandinavian languages. Instead, verbs have many forms denoting levels of politeness and formality. As there is no such distinction in English, Indians may also seem commanding to a westerner. You may here phrases like come here which may sound commanding to Anglophones from Western cultures, but this is not meant to be rude.
There are plenty of English language TV shows that air in India (without dubbing) on Zee Cafe, FX, Star World, BBC Entertainment, AXN, Warner Bros and BIG CBS Prime. However, with the exception of BIG CBS Prime, shows are usually a season behind. Nearly all shows are American (except for the ones on BBC Entertainment). There are many other TV channels in English; in fact, there are more English TV channels than in any other Indian language. English language films in cinemas are generally shown in their original language with subtitles in the local language. Cartoon Network, Pogo, Nat Geo, and Discovery may be dubbed in Hindi, Telugu or Tamil in their respective areas. However, this can be changed to English by changing the audio settings.
Non-verbal communication is also important. Much has been made of the confusing Indian head nod for yes and no, but the only important thing to understand is that Indians have different nods for yes, ok and no.
Rules and validity of visas will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commission in your country, found on this list.
Depending on the purpose of the visit, with most passports you can get a tourist visa (six months), a business visa (6 months, one year or more, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10-year visa is available to nationals of certain countries, including U.S. citizens (US$100). An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued, not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on 1 January will expire on 30 June, regardless of your date of entry.
As of 2012, for nationals of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Bangladesh, foreigners of Pakistan and Bangladesh origin, and stateless persons, there is a minimum sixty-day waiting period between consecutive tourist visas or visits on tourist or visitor visas; this rule was abolished for all other nationalities in 2012. Tourist visas valid for 6 months can have maximum duration of stay of 90 days per visit, depending on citizenship. Make sure to check the maximum duration per visit with your local embassy.
India has an e-Tourist Visa (eTV) facility. Electronic visas can be applied for between 4 and 34 days in advance of arrival and are valid for a single entry and a stay of up to 30 days. Travellers cannot receive more than two eTVs in a calendar year. Entry with an eTV must be at one of sixteen designated airports (Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Tiruchirapalli, Trivandrum, Varanasi - check the web link for a current list). The eTV is currently available to citizens of over 100 countries (again, check the web link for the latest list; some EU countries, along with most of Africa and the Middle East, are excluded). Persons of Pakistani origin, regardless of nationality, are not eligible. The fee for the eTV is dependent on nationality.
The eTV facility replaced the limited visa-on-arrival scheme in January 2015; there are no longer any visa-on-arrival facilities in India.
Regular visa applications for U.S. passport holders (for travellers not eligible for eTV) begin at Indian Visa Online before being submitted to a Visa Application Center either by FedEx or in person.
Nationals or former nationals of Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran must apply for a visa a long time in advance (a minimum of 45 days for Pakistanis, and a minimum of four weeks for the others). Contact your local Indian diplomatic post long before making any travel plans.
Many Indian embassies have outsourced visa processing in full or in part to third party companies, so check ahead before going to the embassy. For example, in the USA as of 21 May 2014, your visa application must be submitted to Cox & Kings Global Services rather than the embassy. Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee (in the US to CKGS, this fee is USD20) above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offer visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home instead of trying to get it in a neighbouring country (although, as at August 2009, non-residents are able to apply for visas through the Bangkok embassy for an additional 400 THB "referral fee").
It's wise to ask for a multiple-entry visa even if you aren't planning to use it - they cost the same, are handed out pretty liberally and come in handy if you decide last minute to dip into one of the neighbouring countries.
A business visa may be required if you intend to do anything work related in India. Note that the eTV does permit 'casual business visits' and will be easier to obtain. If you do need a business visa, then be prepared to provide a great deal of documentation about your company in your home country as well as the company you are visiting in India. This will include (but may not be limited to) an invitation letter from the company that you are visiting as well as business registration documents and possibly tax returns and other sensitive documents. It may be worth applying for a short-term visa (such as 6 months) since the criteria may be less in your case.
There are other categories for specialised purposes . The missionary visa is mandatory for anyone who is visiting India "primarily to take part in religious activities". This rule is meant to combat religious conversion, particularly of Hindus to Christianity. There have been cases where preachers have been deported for addressing religious congregations while on a tourist visa. You don't need to be worried if you are just on a religious tour of churches in India.
If you are on a Student, Employment, Research or Missionary visa, you need to register within 14 days of arrival with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office where you will be staying. If the place you are staying at doesn't have one, you need to register at the local police station. All visitors who intend to stay more than 180 days also need to be registered.
Overstaying a visa is to be avoided at all costs as you will be prevented from leaving the country until you have paid some fairly hefty fines and presented a large amount of paperwork to either the local immigration office or police station. This whole process is unlikely to take less than 3 days, and can take much longer if you include weekends, numerous government holidays and the inevitable bizarre bureaucratic requirements.
Clearing customs can be a bit of a hassle, though it has improved vastly over the last decade. In general, avoid the touts who will offer to ease your baggage through customs. There are various rules regarding duty-free allowances — there are differing rules for Indian citizens, foreign "tourists", citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, non-citizens of Indian origin and people moving to India. Cast a quick glance at the website of the Central Board of Excise and Customs for information about what you can bring in. Foreign tourists other than Nepalis, Bhutanese and Pakistanis and those entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan, are entitled to bring in their "used personal effects and travel souvenirs" and ₹4,000,- worth of articles for "gifts". If you are an Indian citizen or are of Indian origin, you are entitled to ₹25,000,- worth of articles, (provided of course you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan.) The other rules are on the web site. If you are bringing any new packaged items along, it is a good idea to carry along the invoices for them to show their value. You are also allowed to bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grammes of tobacco and 1 litre (2 litres for Indians) of alcohol duty-free. If you do not have anything to declare, you can go through the green channel clearly marked at various airports and generally you will not be harassed.
Importing and exporting Indian rupees by foreign nationals is theoretically prohibited, although in practice there are no checks. Indian nationals can import or export up to ₹7500,- maximum, but on trips to Nepal, this cannot include ₹500 and ₹2000 notes.
The major points of entry are Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. The airports at these cities are either new or undergoing development. Delhi unveiled its new international Terminal 3 in time for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and Bangalore launched its new airport in 2008. The Hyderabad airport is rated as one of the top 5 airports in the 10-15 million category. There are many nonstop, direct and connecting choices to these cities from Europe, North America, Middle East , Africa and Australia.
For secondary points of entry to India, consider Goa, Kolkata or the Malabar coast. There are many connections to the Malabar coast region to cities like Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram from the Middle East. Most of the major Middle Eastern carriers offer one stop connections to the coast from their Gulf hubs. Goa is a favourite European tourist destination and thus is connected by many European charter operators like Condor, Edelweiss, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways. Kolkata is served by Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.
India has homegrown international airlines like Air India, Jet Airways, Indigo and SpiceJet There are daily flights to major hubs across the world by these airlines. Note that you must carry a printed air ticket in order to take many domestic flights.
From the United States, United Airlines offers nonstop daily service from Newark to Delhi and Mumbai; Air India offers daily non-stop service to Delhi from New York JFK and Chicago O'Hare and to Mumbai from Newark. American Airlines offers nonstop daily service from Chicago to Delhi. Various European airlines offer connecting service through their European hubs from most major US cities and various Asian airlines offer connecting service from West Coast cities through their Asian hubs.
Entries from Europe and Northern America are possible using many European airlines such as Lufthansa, Finnair, British Airways, KLM, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. For long-term visitors (3–12 months), Swiss Airlines often have good deals from Switzerland with connecting flights from major European and some American cities as well.
To save on tickets, consider connecting via Gulf countries, with Air Arabia (Sharjah-based low cost carrier with some connections to Europe), Etihad (especially if you need a one-way ticket or are going back to Europe from another Asian country) via Abu Dhabi, as well as Emirates via Dubai or Qatar Airways via Doha. Obviously, these airlines are also the easiest way to come from the Gulf countries themselves, along with Indian carriers, Air India, Air India Express, Indigo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet.
From East Asia and Australia, Singapore (which is served by Air India, its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express, Jet Airways, as well as Singapore Airlines, its subsidiary Silk Air and low-cost subsidiary Tiger Airways) has arguably the best connections with flights to all the major cities and many smaller ones. As for the cheap way to or from Southeast Asia, Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia is often the best choice (if booked well in advance, one-way ticket price is normally below US$100, sometimes being less than US$50, they have connections from China, Australia and most South-east Asian countries). They fly from Kuala Lumpur into New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi and Tiruchirapalli. If you're going from/to Thailand, Air India Express flies from Chennai and Kolkata to Bangkok. Jet Airways, Air India and Thai Airways fly from there to a range of Indian cities as well. Silk Air flies from Singapore to Hyderabad as well. IndiGo, an Indian low-cost-carrier,also offers attractive fares to Singapore and Bangkok and is a pretty good option to consider.
India has several international ports on its peninsula. Kochi, Mumbai, Goa and Chennai are the main ones handling passenger traffic, while the rest mainly handle cargo. However, due to the profusion of cheap flights, there no longer appear to be any scheduled ferry services from India to the Middle East. The southern island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep islands is now a permitted entry point.
Some cruise lines that travel to India include Indian Oceans Eden II and Grand Voyage Seychelles-Dubai.
There are two links from Pakistan. The Samjhauta Express runs from Lahore to Attari near Amritsar in Punjab. The Thar Express, restarted in February 2006 after 40 years out of service, runs from Munabao in the Indian state of Rajasthan to Khokrapar in Pakistan's Sindh province; however, this crossing is not open to foreign tourists. Neither train is the fastest, safest or the most practical way to go between India and Pakistan due to the long delay to clear customs and immigration (although the trains are sights in their own right and make for a fascinating trip). Ths Samjhauta express was the victim of a terrorist strike in February 2007, when bombs were set off killing many people. Should you want to get from one country to the other as quickly as possible, walk across at Attari/Wagah.
From Nepal, trains run between Khajuri in Dhanusa district of Nepal and Jaynagar in Bihar, operated by Nepal Railways. Neither is of much interest for travellers and there are no onward connections into Nepal, so most travellers opt for the bus or plane instead.
Train services from Bangladesh were suspended for 42 years, but the Moitree Express started running again between Dhaka to Kolkata in April 2008. The service is biweekly: A Bangledeshi train leaves Dhaka every Saturday, returning on Sunday, while an Indian train leaves Kolkata on Saturdays and returns the next day.
You can see what trains are available between stations at the following sites: http://www.indiarail.gov.in . However, for booking of rail tickets through the internet you should use the Government of India's website http://www.irctc.co.in. For booking through this site, you have to register (which is free) and you need a credit/debit card. You can also take the services of many travel agents that charge a nominal service fee for booking train tickets.
From Pakistan the only land crossing is from Lahore to Amritsar via the Attari/Wagah border crossing. See Istanbul to New Delhi over land. You will need a Carnet de Passage if crossing with your own vehicle. The process is not particularly lengthy - crossing with your own vehicle from/to Pakistan should take a maximum of 3 hours to clear both borders for you and your vehicle. There are also crossing points with Bangladesh and Nepal.
The Nathu La pass in Sikkim, which borders Tibet in China is the only open border crossing between India and China. For now though, only traders are allowed to cross the border, and it is still not open to tourists. Special permits are required to visit the pass from either side.
From Pakistan the only land crossing is from Lahore to Amritsar via the Attari/Wagah border crossing. Despite tensions between the two countries, there is a steady trickle of travellers passing this way. The immigration procedures are fairly straightforward, but note that neither Pakistan nor India issue visas at the border. Expect to take most of the day to go between Lahore and Amritsar on local buses. Normally it's possible to get a direct bus from Amritsar to the border, walk to the other side and catch a direct bus to Lahore, although you may need to change at some point on route. Amritsar and Lahore are both fairly close to the border (about 30–40 minutes drive), so taxis are a faster and easier option.
The direct Delhi-Lahore service has restarted, though it is far more costly than local buses/trains, not any faster, and would mean you miss seeing Amritsar. You will also be stuck at the border for much longer while the bus is searched and all of the passengers go through immigration.
There is now a bus service across the 'Line of control' between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir; however, it is not open to foreign tourists.
From Bangladesh there are a number of land entry points to India. The most common way is the regular air-conditioned and comfortable bus services from Dhaka to Kolkata via Haridaspur (India)/Benapole (Bangladesh) border post. Bus companies 'Shyamoli', 'Shohag', 'Green Line' and others operate daily bus services under the label of the state owned West Bengal Surface Transport Service Corporation (WBSTSC) and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC). From Kolkata 2 buses leave every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday while from Dhaka they leave on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey usually takes around 12 hours with a one-way fare of ₹400-450 or BDT600-800, roughly US$8–10.
Another daily bus service by 'Shyamoli' and others under the BRTC label from Dhaka connects Siliguri, but the buses in this route do not cross the Changrabanda/Burimari or Burungamari border post. Rather, passengers reaching the border have to clear customs, walk a few hundred yards to cross the border and board the awaiting connecting buses on the other end for the final destination. Ticket for Dhaka-Siliguri-Dhaka route costs BDT 1,600, roughly US$20–25 depending on conversion rates. Tickets are purchased either in Dhaka or in Siliguri.
There is also a regular bus service between Dhaka and Agartala, capital of Tripura. Two BRTC buses daily from Dhaka and the Tripura Road Transport Corporation plying its vehicles six days a week with a round fare costing US$10 connect the two cities. There is only one halt at Ashuganj in Bangladesh during the journey.
Other entry points from Bangladesh are Hili, Chilahati/Haldibari, Banglaband border posts for entry to West Bengal; Tamabil border post for a route to Shillong in Meghalaya, and some others with lesser known routes to north-eastern Indian regions.
India is big and there are lots of interesting ways to travel around it, most of which could not very well be described as efficient or punctual. Allow considerable buffer time for any journey with a fixed deadline (e.g. your flight back), and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.
Note that travel in much of the North-East (with the notable exception of Assam) and parts of Andaman and Nicobar, Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal will require obtaining a Protected Area Permit (PAP). The easiest way to get one is to request it along with your visa application, in which case it will be added to your visa. Otherwise, you will need to hunt down a local Ministry of Home Affairs office and battle with bureaucracy.
India's large size and uncertain roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Even India's offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exceptions being Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (although crossing over from neighbouring states is fairly easy). Due to the aviation boom over the last few years, airports have not been able to keep up with the air traffic. Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of boarding gates. Check in and security queues can be quite long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has recently built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, which are modern and well-equipped. Mumbai and New Delhi airports have been upgraded. The newly constructed terminal 3 in the Delhi airport is the 8th largest terminal in the world.
In northern India, particularly Delhi, heavy winter fog can wreak havoc on schedules, especially during Christmas Season and January, leading to massive delays across the country. Flights to small airports up in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh (which is reachable only by plane for most of the year), are erratic at the best of times.
At one time, domestic flights were the monopoly of the government-owned Indian Airlines, but things have changed dramatically and now there are quite a few competitors, with prices a traveller's delight.The main operators are:
In India, air connectivity is not that good considering its vast size, so flying to a city and taking a train is not a bad idea.
The earlier you book, the lower you pay. You will hear a lot about air tickets at ₹500, but those are promotional rates for limited seats which are sold out within seconds. In some other cases, the advertised fare may not include charges such as passenger service fees, air fuel surcharge and taxes which will be added subsequently. Nonetheless, you do get good rates from the budget airlines. Tickets for small cities will cost more than those for the metros, because of the spotty coverage noted above. Indian ticket pricing has not attained the bewildering complexity that the Americans have achieved, but they are getting there. As of now, you don't have to worry about higher prices on weekends, lower prices for round-trips, lower prices for travel around weekends.
There are two complications for non-Indians trying to buy plane tickets:
Checking in at Indian airports tends to be slow, involving lots of queues and multiple security checks. A few pointers to smooth your way:
Don't hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure. Most staff in airports are very helpful to passengers and will take pains to ensure you catch your flight. There are separate queues for passengers travelling light (without check-in baggage) and these queues are usually less crowded. Different airlines have different standards for what they allow as cabin baggage, so err on the side of caution, especially if you are travelling by a low-cost airline. Usually the allowed free baggage limit is 15 kg on most airlines.
Railways were introduced in India in 1853, more than one and half a century ago by the British, and today India boasts of the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and the rail system is very efficient, if rarely on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover first hand the landscape and beauty of India, and is generally more economical than flying domestic. It is one of the safest ways of travel in India. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it's the best way to get to know the country and its people. Most train passengers will be curious about you and happy to pass the time with a chat. If you are on a budget, travelling on an overnight sleeper train will reduce a night's stay at a hotel.
Trains come in many varieties, but the broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:
The 'Rajdhani' & 'Shatabdi' trains are the most luxurious and fastest trains on Indian Railways. They are completely air-conditioned and have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price. The food is served at your seat during travel. Most of these trains also have modern German designed LHB coaches which are extremely comfortable and luxurious The 'Rajdhani' Express trains are fast long distance overnight that connect regional state capitals to the national capital New Delhi. The 'Shatabdi' Express trains are fast short distance daytime intercity trains that connect important cities in a region, for example two adjacent states' capitals. The 'Duronto' Express (introduced in 2009) are fast long-distance "point to point" non stop trains that directly connect, without stopping, two important cities located far apart. These trains have no commercial halts on their way but only operational halts for maintenance and crew changes. The 'Garib Rath' literally means the chariot of the poor, and it is a good option for those who want to use good facilities at low cost.
Although the history of luxury train travelling in India dates back to the time of maharajas during the days of British Raj, the modern history of this mode of transportation dates back to 1982 with the introduction of India’s first luxury train Palace on Wheels. Palace on Wheels was introduced as a joint venture of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and Indian Railways to promote Rajasthan as a global tourist destination. The venture turned out to be a great success among overseas travellers and a few decades later more such train journeys followed.
At present there are 5 trains offering 12 signature journeys across major tourist destinations in India. Operated jointly by Indian Railways and respective state tourism departments, luxury trains in India offer a wonderful way to experience the sights in India without having to worry about the hassles of travel and accommodation. Journeys on board these trains are all inclusive of accommodation, dining, sightseeing, transportation and porter charges. Each of these luxury trains are equipped with state of the art amenities such as live television, individual climate control, restaurant, bar, lounges and cabins with electronic safe and attached bathrooms.
Mentioned below is the brief overview of the Indian Luxury Trains:
Most countries offer two classes of service, but India has no less than seven to choose from. In descending order of cost & luxury, they are:
Not all classes are available on all trains: for example, Chair Cars are usually found only on short-distance daytime trains, while the sleeper classes are only found on overnight journeys.
Full information about this classes is here.
Basically there are five types of trains:
The average fare for a 200 km distance for different classes is given below :
Trains tend to fill up early. Tickets can be reserved up to 4 months in advance. School summer vacation time — mid-April to mid-June — is peak season for the railways, which means that you may need to book well in advance. Other festival days, long weekends or holidays may see a similar rush.
Booking tickets from the railway website can be a frustrating and character-building experience due to its poor user interface, frequent timeouts and crashes. Allow plenty of time and draw upon your reserves of patience. Also, be prepared to see your money get deducted from your credit card or bank account and the ticket not come through. You will have to wait 3 days for the refund. Also, try not to book normal tickets during 09:00 to 12:00, as traffic to the website would be much higher due to tatkal reservation time and cause much higher failure rate.
Tickets are also available from counters at most railway stations. Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes. Details of facility available for tourists from abroad are available at the official website of the Indian Railways
One day before the departure date of a train the Tatkal quota seats become available. Tatkal accounts for about 10% of the total number of seats. This allows tourists who like to plan a trip as they go to book seats closer to the day of departure, for an extra fee. However booking for this service online or in person is an even more fraught experience.
It is sometimes difficult to book Tatkal tickets online because of excess amount of traffic on Indian railway website. Indian railway recently launched E-wallet facility which enables user to keep money on Indian railway website for faster booking of tickets. This facility reduces the time of ticket booking because users skips the payment gateway processing time. It is very fast to book tickets using E-wallet facility. You may also need IFSC Code to transfer fund to Ewallet, but now you can also pay using your debit cards, credits cards, internet banking, etc. IFSC Code generally stands for Indian Financial System code which uniquely identifies bank branches in India, IFSC code is required to transfer money online in India. You can easily find IFSC Code using IFSC Code finder
Most long distance night trains(though not all) have a pantry car and if you are in the sleeper or air-con classes, you can buy meals on board the train. The pantry staff will visit your seat before meal timings to take down your order. However mostly the pantry car meals aren't really good in quality or taste. The Railways are concerned about the bad quality of pantry car meals and efforts are underway to improve things, but do not count on it as yet. If you are finicky, bring enough food for the journey including delays: bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. You can purchase bottled waters, colas, packaged snacks or biscuits from the pantry staff, who keep circulating them going from one coach to another. At most stations hawkers selling tea, peanuts, and snack food and even complete meals will go up and down the train. Most stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff. So you can also get down on the station platform to look for food , but make sure you know well, the stoppage timing of the train at that station. Note that in the most luxurious 'Rajdhani' & 'Shatabdi' trains, meals are included in your ticket price and served at your seat during travel. There are no dining cars in Indian Railways except in select luxury trains.
There was a time when the metered taxi was unheard of outside India's largest cities, and when it could be found, getting one that would take you to your destination and charge you the right rate was a rare event. This situation has undergone a drastic change for the better in the past few years, with many companies offering taxi services. Prominent among these are Meru, Ola, Taxi for sure and Easy Cabs. Uber too can be found in some cities of India.
In central locations of big cities like airports or stations reliable pre-paid taxis are available and will save you money as well as the bargaining hassle. These pre-paid taxi booth are managed by local traffic police officials, prefer to use this facility where ever available to avoid inconvenience. However, beware of touts who would claim themselves to be running pre-paid taxis. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt has two parts - one part is for your reference and the other part you will need to handover to the taxi driver only after you reach your desired destination. The taxi driver will get his payment by submitting or producing this other part to the pre-paid taxi counter. Be aware that the taxi driver may not know how to get to your destination, and will not tell you this beforehand. This may result in the taxi stopping at various points during the journey as the driver gets out to ask for directions. Insist on being taken to your original destination, and not a substitute offered by the driver (e.g. a different hotel).
Normal taxis running by meter are usually more common.
While you can't take a cross-country bus-ride across India, buses are the second most popular way of travelling across states and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network (e.g. Dharamsala).
Every state has its own public bus service, usually named "X Road Transport Corporation" (or XRTC) or "X State Transport Corporation" (or XSTC) which primarily connects intrastate routes, but will also have services to neighbouring states. There are usually multiple classes of buses. The ordinary buses (called differently in different states, e.g. "service bus") are extremely crowded with even standing room rarely available (unless you're among the first on board) as reservations are not possible and they tend to stop at too many places. On the upside, they're very cheap, with even a 5-6 hour journey rarely costing over ₹100.
In addition to ordinary public buses, there are luxury or express buses available, and most have air-conditioning now-a-days. Some state transport corporations have even introduced "Volvo" brand buses on some routes which are extremely luxurious and comfortable. These better class "express" or "luxury" buses have assured seating (book in advance), and have limited stops, making them well worth the slight extra expense. But even these better-class buses rarely have toilets and make occasional snack and toilet breaks.
Private buses may or may not be available in the area you are travelling to, and even if they are, the quality could vary a lot. Be warned that many of the private buses, especially long-distance lines, play music and/or videos at ear-splitting volume. Even with earplugs it can be nerve-wracking. Restrooms are available in large bus stations but are crowded. Unfortunately, the bus industry is extremely fragmented and there are few operators who offer services in more than 2 or 3 neighbouring states. Travel agents usually only offer seats on private buses.
However, long distance bus operators such as Raj National Express and KPN Travels are currently beginning to roll out their operations across the country modelled on the lines of the Greyhound service in the Unites States. Their services are good and they provide entertainment on board.
Regardless of class of travel, all buses have to contend with the poor state of Indian highways and the havoc of Indian traffic which usually makes them slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. Night buses are particularly hazardous, and for long-distance travel it's wise to opt for sleeper train services instead.
It is recommended to book your bus ticket online for your own ease. For searching available bus options between any routes and booking tickets online, use online Indian travel portals like Redbus, Travelyaari, Buskiraya Makemytrip etc.
Our itinerary article Grand Trunk Road describes one of India's major roads, running east-west through the Ganges valley and west across northern Pakistan to Kabul.
In India driving is on the left of the road — at least most of the time. You can drive in India if you have a local licence or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are accustomed to driving on extremely chaotic streets, you probably will not want to. The average city or village road is narrow, often potholed and badly marked. National Highways are better, but they are still narrow, and Indian driving discipline is non-existent. In the past few years the Central government has embarked on an ambitious project to upgrade the highways. The Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four largest cities of Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata with four-laned highways has been completed and is of a reasonable standard. Some of it is of an international standard but that cannot be said for all of it. However, improving the quality of the roads does not improve the way in which people drive and it is very dangerous to drive on the roads in India as people drive as they like without regard to any rules (rules do exist but are almost never enforced).
Instead, if you desire going by a car, opt for driver while renting the car. Rates are quoted in rupees per kilometer and you will have to pay for both ways even if you are going only one way. The driver's salary is so low (typically around ₹100-150 per day) that it adds little to the cost of renting the car. The driver will find his own accommodation and food wherever you are travelling, although it is customary to give him some money to buy some food when you stop somewhere to eat. A common rental vehicle is the legendary Hindustan Motors Ambassador, which is essentially an Indian-made copy of the 1956 Morris Oxford: it's large, boxy, with space for 5 passengers (including driver) and a decent-sized boot. However, the Tata Indica (a hatchback) and Tata Indigo (a small saloon) are now replacing the Ambassador as the cheap car of choice. Imported international models may be available at a premium. If the number of people travelling together is large, popular rental vehicles are Tata Sumo, Mahindra Xylo and Toyota Innova. The larger vehicles are suitable if you are travelling in larger groups or have excess luggage. Many vehicles come equipped with a roof carrier, so one may opt for a smaller vehicle for 2-3 passengers even with excess luggage. (Note: You may need to specifically ask for a vehicle with a roof carrier)
There are numerous advantages to having a car and driver.
It is rare to find a driver that speaks more than a few words of English. As a result, misunderstandings are common. Keep sentences short. Use the present tense. Use single words and hand gestures to convey meaning.
Make sure you can trust your driver before you leave your goods with him. If he shows any suspicious motives or behavior make sure you keep your bags with you. Conversely, if your driver is very friendly and helpful, it is a nice gesture to buy him a little something to eat or drink when stopping for food. They will really appreciate this.
Your driver may in some cases act as a tout, offering to take you to businesses from which he gets baksheesh (a sort of commission). This isn't necessarily a bad thing - he may help you find just what you're looking for, and add a little bit to his paltry income at the same time. On the other hand, you should always evaluate for yourself whether you are being sold on a higher-cost product than you want. Also, many times, these places that supply commissions to the driver (especially restaurants) may not always be the best or most sanitary, so use your judgement. Avoid touts on the road posing as guides that your driver may stop for because he gets a commission from them; supporting them only promotes this unpleasant practice. The driver might ask for a tip at the end of the trip. Pay him some amount (₹100/day is generally sufficient) and don't let him guilt-trip you into paying too much.
If you rent a car for a trip to a remote destination, make sure before getting out that you will recognize the driver and write down the license plate number and his phone number (nearly all drivers have mobile phones). Touts at tourist areas will may try to mislead you into getting into the wrong car when you leave; if you fall for this you will certainly be ripped off, and possibly much worse such as sexual assault if you are female traveller.
Be wary of reckless driving when renting a car with a driver. Do not be afraid to tell the driver that you have time to see around and that you are not in a hurry. Indian highways can be extremely dangerous. Make sure also that your driver gets enough rest time and time to eat. In general as you visit restaurants, the driver may eat at the same time (either separately at the same restaurant or at some other nearby place). He may be willing to work nonstop for you as you are the "boss", but your life depends on his ability to concentrate, so ensure that your driving demands are reasonable; for example, if you decide to carry your own food with you on the road, be sure to offer your driver time to get a lunch himself.
Avoid travel at night. Indian roads are dimly lit if at all, and there are even more hazards on the road after dark — even highway bandits if you get far enough off the beaten track.
Some people point out that the best way to experience India is on a motorbike. Riding a motorbike and travelling across India you get the closer look and feel of India with all the smells and sounds added. There are Companies which organise packaged tours or tailor made tours for Enthusiastic bikers and adventurous travellers for a safer motorbike experience of India. Blazing Trails tours, Wild Experience tours and Extreme Bike tours are the known names in the market.
Another choice, popular with people who like taking risks, is to buy a motorcycle. Not for the faint of heart or inexperienced rider. India boasts the highest motor vehicle accident rate in the world.
The Royal Enfield is a popular (some would say, the only) choice for its classic looks and macho mystique. This despite its high petrol consumption, 25 km/litre to 30 km/litre, supposed low reliability (it is "classic" 1940s engineering after all and requires regular service adjustment; you can find an Enfield mechanic who has worked on this bike for ten, twenty, thirty years in every town in India, who will perform miracles at about ₹100 an hour labour cost), and claimed difficulty to handle (actually the bike handles beautifully, but may be a wee heavy and seat high for some).
Or, one can opt for the smaller yet quicker and more fuel efficient bikes. They can range from 100 cc to the newly launched 220 cc bikes. Three most popular bike manufacturers are Hero, Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants (100-125 cc) can give you a mileage exceeding 50 km/litre on the road, while giving less power if one is opting to drive with pillion on the highways. The bigger variants (150-220 cc) are more powerful and one can get a feel of the power especially on highways - the mileage is lesser for these bikes anywhere between 35 km/litre to 45 km/litre.
Preferably tourists should go for second hand bikes rather than purchasing new ones. The smaller 100 cc variants can be purchased for anywhere between ₹15,000-25,000 depending on the year of make and condition of vehicle. The bigger ones can be brought from ₹30,000 onwards.
Hitch hiking in India is very easy due to the enormous number of cargo trucks on every highway and road. Most drivers do not speak English or any other international language; however, most have a very keen sense of where the cities and villages are located along the road. It is rare for any of them to expect payment. For safety concerns, it is not recommended as all the drivers cannot be trusted. Hitch hiking in cities, highways and crowded places is safe and refrain from hitch hiking on deserted places, less populated areas, forest roads, etc.
The auto-rickshaw, usually abbreviated and referred to as auto and sometimes as rickshaw, is the most common means of hired transportation in India. They are very handy for short-distance travel in cities, especially since they can weave their way through small alleys to bypass larger cars stuck in travel jams, but are not very suitable for long distances. Most are green and yellow, due to the new CNG gas laws, and some may be yellow and black in color, with one wheel in the front and two in the back, with a leather or soft plastic top.
When getting an auto-rickshaw, you can either negotiate the fare or go by the meter. In almost all cases it is better to use the meter—a negotiated fare means that you are being charged a higher than normal rate. A metered fare starts around ₹13(different for different areas), and includes the first 1 to 2 kilometres of travel. Never get in an auto-rickshaw without either the meter being turned on, or the fare negotiated in advance. In nearly all cases the driver will ask an exorbitant sum (for Indian standards) from you later. A normal fare would be ₹11-12 for the first km and ₹7-8 per km after that. In most of the cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a rate card that elaborately describes the fares on per kilometre basis. A careful tourist must verify the meter-reading against the rate-card before making a payment. Auto-rickshaws carry either digital or analog meters wherein the analog meters may have been tampered with. It may be a better option to go for a negotiated fare when the auto-rickshaw has an analogue meter.
Ideally, you should talk with a local to find out what the fare for any estimated route will be. Higher rates may apply at night, and for special destinations such as airports. Finally, factor in that auto drivers may have to pay bribes to join the queue for customers at premium location such as expensive hotels. The bribe will be factored in the fare.
Make sure that the driver knows where he is going. Many autorickshaw drivers will claim to know the destination without really having any clue as to where it is. If you know something about the location, quiz them on it to screen out the liars. If you do not know much about the location, make them tell you in no uncertain terms that they know where it is. This is because after they get lost and drive all over the place, they will often demand extra payment for their own mistake. You can then tell them that they lied to you, and wasted your time, so they should be happy to get the agreed-upon fee.
If you need to get anywhere, call in advance and ask for detailed directions. Bear in mind that street signs in India tend to be rare or nonexistent outside the cities. Postal addresses will often carry landmark details "Opp. Prithvi theatre" or "Behind Maruti Showroom" or "near temple / church / mosque / bank branch / police station / school" to ease the search. Unlike the western system of address, the Indian system uses plot number or house number, street, road followed by landmark and the location pin code instead of street name and block number. Finding a place will usually involve some searching, but you will always find someone around the area willing to guide you. Unlike many other countries, Indians ask passers-by, nearby shopkeepers or cops for guidance on street addresses. So you may do the same, people would be happy to help. Using Google maps with GPS works well most of the times in major cities but at times may not be accurate due to incorrect spelling of road or incorrect positioning on map.
Inner Line Permit is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside those states to obtain permit for entering into the protected state. The document is an effort by the Government to regulate movement to certain areas located near the international border of India. This is a security measure and it is applicable for the following states:
To see all the places worth visiting in India, even a 6-month visit is arguably inadequate. There are more tourist destinations in India than can be mentioned in a full-length book, let alone a summary. Almost every state in India has over ten major tourist destinations and there are cities which can barely be tasted in a full week. Several Indian states by themselves are bigger and more populous than most of the countries in the world, and there are 29 states and 7 Union Territories in India, including two island chains outside the Mainland.
That said, below are some highlights.
Probably the most famous single attraction in India is the Taj Mahal, which is widely recognized as the jewel of Islamic art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage.
The Qutb Minar and the impressive Red Fort are the two most prominent historical monuments in Delhi.
Jaipur, the capital of the western state of Rajasthan, is incredibly rich in forts and palaces, including the tremendous Amber Fort, beautiful Jal Mahal (Water Palace) and unique Hawa Mahal.
Nalanda in Bihar has the remains of a university of Buddhism that was established in 450 CE.
For a rather different and more modern kind of historical monument, the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, founded by the Mahatma himself, is a repository of all things Gandhi.
No visit to India would be complete without a trip to some of the country's fantastic temples. All regions of the country are replete with temples. The city of Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, has so many temples that it's called the "City of Temples" and is a major draw for Hindu pilgrims. Bishnupur in West Bengal is home to famous terracotta temples. The Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, is dedicated to Vishnu and is also a major draw for pilgrims. The Tantric temple complexes of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh are much beloved for their thousand-year-old sacred erotic wall carvings, considered by some art historians to be the pinnacle of erotic art. The Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is a centre of worship of Parvati, the consort of Shiva. The city of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu known for its grand Chola-era temples.
Hinduism is not the only religion represented among the great temples of India. The world headquarters of the Sikh religion are in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab. Leh and environs, in the Kashmiri region of Ladakh, are one of a number of areas that have splendid Buddhist temples or monasteries. The Ranakpur Temple in the small Rajasthani town of Ranakpur is an impressive and historic Jain temple.
India's second-largest religion in adherents after Hinduism is Islam, and many parts of India were ruled by Muslim dynasties for hundreds of years, so it's not surprising that India is also home to many magnificent mosques. Some of them, like the mosque in the Taj, are part of historical monuments. One impressive mosque that's very much in use to this day is the lovely 17th-century Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Hyderabad in the south has several historical mosques, including Charminar Masjid and Mecca Masjid.
There are also notable churches in various Indian cities, and the dwindling ancient Jewish community of Kochi, Kerala, continues to use their famous synagogue, which is a tourist attraction nowadays.
India is a very geographically varied country. In the north of the country, one can see the Himalayas, the Earth's highest mountain range. There are hilly areas in many non-Himalayan states, too. In India, hill stations — towns in the cooler areas in foothills or high valleys surrounded by mountains, which were favored by rajas, then the British and now Indian tourists in the hot summer months — are considered sights and experiences in themselves. The largest of them is Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, but Darjeeling, in view of Mount Kangchenjunga in the northern part of West Bengal, is very famous for its tea. Other famous hill stations include Shimla, Ooty and Gangtok, and there are many others — most states have some.
India is also a country of numerous rivers. Several of them are traditionally considered holy, but especially the Ganges, locally known as Ganga, which brings life to the Indian Plains, India's breadbasket, and is not just an impressive body of water but a centre of ritual ablutions, prayer and cremation. There are several holy cities along the river that have many temples, but they are often less places of pilgrimage to specific temples than holy cities whose temples have grown because of the ghats (steps leading down to the holy river) and most interesting to visit for the overall experience of observing or partaking in the way of life and death along the river. Foremost among these holy cities is Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where some 5,000-year-old rituals are still practiced; other cities worth visiting to experience the Ganges include Rishikesh and Haridwar, much further upstream.
India also has a long coastline. The beaches of Goa, also an interesting former Portuguese colony; Kochi; and the Andaman Islands are among the most appreciated by domestic and foreign visitors.
Finally, India has a vast desert, the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. Several Rajasthani cities including Jaisalmer are good bases for camel safaris.
India is famous for its wildlife, including the Bengal tigers, Asiatic lions and elephants. The Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh and Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan are the most likely places for you to spot an Indian tiger in the wild, though you will still have to have some luck and persistence. Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat is dedicated to the preservation of Asiatic lions. Sundarbans National Park is the largest mangrove forest and delta in the world, home to the famous Royal Bengal tigers and estuarine crocodiles but also fascinating as an overall ecosystem.
Goa Fair (carnival). February heralds the carnival at Goa. For three days and nights the streets come alive with color. Held in mid February the week-long event is a time for lively processions, floats, the strumming of guitars, graceful dances and of non-stop festivity. One of the more famous of Indian carnivals, the Goa Festival is a complete sell out in terms of tourism capacities.
Surajkund Mela (1–15 February). As spring glides in, full of warmth and vibrancy, leaving the grey winter behind, Surajkund adorns itself with colourful traditional crafts of India. Craftsmen from all over the country assemble at Surajkund during the first fortnight of February to participate in the annual celebration that is the Surajkund Crafts Mela.
Holi. The Spring Festival of India, Holi is a festival of colours. Celebrated in March or April, according to the Hindu calendar, it was meant to welcome spring and win the blessings of Gods for good harvests and fertility of the land. As with all Hindu festivals, there are many interesting legends attached to Holi, the most popular being that of Prince Prahlad, who was a devout follower of Lord Vishnu. It is the second most important festival of India after Diwali. Holi in India is a festival of fun and frolic and has been associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha. The exuberance and the festivity of the season are remarkable.
Diwali. The festival of lights, Diwali, illuminates the darkness of the New Year's moon, and is said to strengthen close friendships and knowledge with a self-realisation. Diwali is celebrated on a nation-wide scale on Amavasya – the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Ashwin (Oct/Nov) every year. It symbolises that age-old culture of India which teaches to vanquish ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge. The festival of lights still today projects the rich and glorious past of India.
Pushkar Mela. Every November the sleepy little township of Pushkar in Rajasthan comes alive in a riot of colours and a frenzied burst of activity during the Pushkar Fair. Few fairs in the world can match the liveliness of Pushkar. It includes the world's largest camel fair, but is much more than that.
The currency in India is the Indian rupee (sign: ₹; code: INR) (रुपया — rupaya in Hindi and similarly named in most Indian languages, but taka in Maithili and Taakaa in Bengali and Toka in Assamese). The rupee is subdivided into 100 paise (singular: paisa). "5 rupees 75 paise" would normally be written as "₹5.75".
Common bills come in denominations of ₹5 (green), ₹10 (orange), ₹20 (red), ₹50 (purple), ₹100 (blue), ₹500 (brown) and ₹2,000 (pink). (Bill denominations of ₹500 (yellow) and ₹1000 were discontinued on 8 November 2016, and are no longer legal tender.) It is always good to have a number of small bills on hand, as merchants and drivers sometimes have no change. A useful technique is to keep small bills (₹10-50) in your wallet or in a pocket, and to keep larger bills separate. Then, it will not be obvious how much money you have. Many merchants will claim that they don't have change for a ₹100 or ₹500 note. This is often a lie so that they are not stuck with a large bill. It is best not to buy unless you have exact change.
The coins in circulation are 50 paise, ₹1, ₹2, ₹5, and ₹10. Coins are useful for buying tea (₹5), for bus fare (₹2 to ₹10), and for giving exact change for an auto-rickshaw.
Indians commonly use lakh and crore for 100,000 and 10,000,000 respectively. Though these terms come from Sanskrit, they have been adopted so deeply into Indian English that most people are not aware that they are not standard in other English dialects. You may also find non-standard, although standard in India, placement of commas while writing numerals. One crore rupees would be written as ₹1,00,00,000, so first time you place a comma after three numerals, then after every two numerals. This format may puzzle you till you start thinking in terms of lakhs and crores, after which it will seem natural.
The Indian rupee is not officially convertible, and a few government-run shops will still insist on seeing official exchange receipts if you are visibly a foreigner and attempt to pay in rupees instead of hard currency. Rates for exchanging rupees overseas are often poor and importing rupees is theoretically illegal, although places with significant Indian populations (e.g. Dubai, Singapore) can give decent rates. Similarly, when leaving India, you are in theory required to change all your rupees to foreign currency before boarding your flight.
Outside airports, you can change your currency at any one of the numerous foreign exchange conversion units including banks.
Most ATMs will pay out ₹40,000 in each transaction. State Bank of India (SBI) is the biggest bank in India and has the most ATMs. ICICI bank has the second largest network of ATMs and accepts most of the international cards at a nominal charge. International banks like Citibank, HSBC, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, ABN Amro and Standard Chartered have a significant presence in major Indian cities. It is always worthwhile to have bank cards or credit cards from at least two different providers to ensure that you have a backup available in case one card is suspended by your bank or simply does not work work at a particular ATM.
In many cities and towns, credit cards are accepted at retail chain stores and other restaurants and stores. Small businesses and family-run stores almost never accept credit cards, so it is useful to keep a moderate amount of cash on hand.
When buying factory packaged food or drinks (e.g. lemonade, cola, etc.) always have a look for a stamp on the packaging. It will tell you the MRP (short for maximum retail price) and you can always insist on paying not more than that.
Costs in India can vary widely from region to region, and even in the same city, depending on the quality of service or product, brand, etc. But usually, India is not very expensive for the foreign traveller.
₹ 5000, at least, needed for a decent room in a good hotel offering cable TV, air conditioning and a direct telephone; however, this price doesn't include a refrigerator. Food will cost at least ₹150 for a decent meal (at a stall, not a hotel), but the sky is the limit. While bus transportation will cost approximately ₹5 for a short distance of about 1 km, a taxi or rickshaw may cost ₹22 for the same distance without air conditioning. There are radio taxis that are available at ₹ 20 to 25 per km in key Indian cities which have GPS navigation, air conditioned and accept debit/credit cards for payments. They are a very safe mode of travel. So the total for one day would be about as below:
Total: US$80 for a couple, US$70 for a person alone
Budget travel around India is surprisingly easy, with the savvy backpacker able to get by (relatively comfortably) on as little as US$25–35 per day. It is generally cheaper than South East Asia with a night in a hotel costing as little as ₹200-1,000 (though there will be probably no air conditioning or room service for this price). Beach huts in the cheaper places of Goa can cost around ₹800 per night. A meal can be bought from a street trader for as little as ₹30, though, in a restaurant expect, to pay around ₹200-300 for a beer or two. Overnight buses and trains can cost anywhere from ₹600-1,000 dependent on distance and locations, though an uncomfortable government bus (benches only) may be cheaper.
In India there has traditionally been little or no tipping, and today tipping is unusual outside of fancier restaurants where up to 10% is appropriate. The fancier restaurants may also levy a service charge of up to 15% apart from government taxes. Some restaurants have also have started placing jars at the cashier for people to drop in some change if they feel so, but this is a rather rare phenomenon. Most clubs in India have a complete ban on its members from tipping. Usually no service industry except the food services industry expects a tip. In India, it is unlawful for taxi or rickshaw drivers to charge anything above the meter.
In India, you are expected to negotiate the price with street hawkers but not in department stores and the like. If not, you risk overpaying many times, which can be okay if you think that it is cheaper than at home. In most of the big cities and even smaller towns retail chain stores are popping up where the shopping experience is essentially identical to similar stores in the West. There are also some government-run stores like the Cottage Emporium in New Delhi, where you can sample wares from all across the country in air-conditioned comfort. Although you will pay a little more at these stores, you can be sure that what you are getting is not a cheap knockoff. The harder you bargain, the more you save money. A few tries later, you will realise that it is fun.
Often, the more time you spend in a shop, the better deals you will get. It is worth spending time getting to know the owner, asking questions, and getting him to show you other products (if you are interested). Once the owner feels that he is making a sufficient profit from you, he will often give you additional goods at a rate close to his cost, rather than the common "foreigner rate". You will get better prices and service by buying many items in one store than by bargaining in multiple stores individually. If you see local people buying in a store, probably. you can get the real Indian prices. Ask someone around you quietly, "How much would you pay for this?"
Also, very often you will meet a "friend" in the street inviting you to visit their family's shop. That almost always means that you pay twice as much as when you had been in the shop without your newly found friend.
Baksheesh—small bribes—is a very common phenomenon. While it is a big problem in India, doing it can ease certain problems and clear some hurdles. Baksheesh is also the term used by beggars if they want money from you and may refer to tips given those who provide you a service. Baksheesh is as ancient a part of Middle Eastern and Asian culture as anywhere else. It derives from the Arabic meaning a small gift. It refers as much to charity as to bribes.
Packaged goods show the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) right on the package. This includes taxes. Retailers are not supposed to charge more than this. Though this rule is adhered to at most places, at tourist destinations or remote places, you may be charged more. This is especially true for cold drinks like Coke or Pepsi, where a bottle (300 ml) cost around ₹33-35 when the actual price is ₹30. Also, keep in mind that a surprising number of things do not come in packaged form. Do check for the authenticity of the MRP, as shopkeepers may put up a sticker of his own to charge more from you.
Designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Zara, A & F, all are available in upmarket stores.
Indian cuisine takes its place among the great cuisines of the world. There is a good chance that you'd have tasted "Indian food" in your country, especially if you are a traveller from the West, but what India has exported abroad is just one part of its extraordinary range of culinary diversity.
Indian food can be spicy: Potent fresh green chilis or red chili powder will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated, and can be found in unexpected places like sweet cornflakes (a snack, not breakfast) or even candies. The degree of spiciness varies widely throughout the country: Andhra food is famously fiery, while Gujarati cuisine is quite mild in taste with the exception of Surti food (from Surat).
To enjoy the local food, start slowly. Don't try everything at once. After a few weeks, you can get accustomed to spicy food. If you would like to order your dish not spicy, simply say so. Most visitors are tempted to try at least some of the spicy concoctions, and most discover that the sting is worth the trouble. Remember, too, that while "spicy" is a convenient short-hand for "chili-laden," the spiciness of food in India doesn't always mean lots of chili: Indian cuisines often use a multitude of different spices and other aromatic ingredients in highly creative and flavourful ways.
Cuisine in India varies greatly from region to region. The "Indian food" served by many so-called Indian restaurants in the Western hemisphere is inspired by North Indian cooking, specifically Mughlai cuisine, a style developed by the royal kitchens of the historical Mughal Empire, and the regional cuisine of the Punjab, although it has been Britainized and the degree of authenticity in relation to actual Mughlai or Punjabi cooking is variable at best and dubious at worst.
North India is a wheat-growing area, so you have Indian breads (known as roti), including chapatti (unleavened bread), paratha (pan-fried layered roti), naan (cooked in a clay tandoor oven), puri (deep-fried and puffed up bread) and many more. A typical meal consists of one or more gravy dishes along with rotis, to be eaten by breaking off a piece of roti, dipping it in the gravy and eating them together. Most of the Hindi heartland of India survives on roti, rice, and lentils (dal), which are prepared in several different ways and made spicy to taste. Served on the side, you will usually find spiced yogurt (raita) and either fresh chutney or a tiny piece of exceedingly pungent pickle (achar), very much an acquired taste for most visitors — try mixing it with curry, not eating it plain.
A variety of regional cuisines can be found throughout the North. Tandoori chicken, prepared in a clay oven called a tandoor, is probably the best-known North Indian dish, innovated by a Punjabi immigrant from present-day Pakistan during the Partition. For a taste of traditional Punjabi folk cooking, try dal makhani (stewed black lentils and kidney beans in a buttery gravy), or sarson da saag, a yummy gravy dish made with stewed mustard greens, served with makke di roti (flatbread made from maize). There are also the hearty textures and robust flavours of Rajasthani food, the meat-heavy Kashmiri dishes from the valley of Kashmir, or the mild yet ingratiating Himalayan (pahari) cuisine found in the higher reaches. North India also has of a variety of snacks like samosa (vegetables encased in thin pastry of a triangular shape) and kachori (either vegetable or pulses encased in thin pastry). There is also a vast constellation of sweet desserts like jalebi (deep-fried pretzel with sugar syrup- shaped like a spiral), rasmalai (balls of curds soaked in condensed milk) and halwa. Dry fruits and nuts like almonds, cashews and pistachios are used a lot, often in the desserts, but sometimes also in the main meal.
Authentic Mughal-style cooking, the royal cuisine of the Mughal Empire, can still be found and savoured in some parts of India, most notably the old Mughal cities of Delhi, Agra and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. It is a refined blend of Persian, Turkic and Subcontinent cooking, and makes heavy use of meat and spices. The names of some Mughal dishes bear the prefix of shahi as a sign of its prestige and royal status from a bygone era. Famous Mughal specialties include biryani (layered meat and rice casserole), pulao (rice cooked in a meat or vegetable broth), kebab (grilled meat), kofta (balls of mincemeat), rumali roti (flatbread whirled into paper-thin consistency) and shahi tukray (saffron and cardamom-scented bread pudding).See also: Southern India#Eat
In South India, the food is mostly rice-based. A typical meal includes sambhar (a thick vegetable and lentil chowder) with rice, rasam (a thin, peppery soup), or avial (mixed vegetables) with rice, traditionally served on a banana leaf as a plate. Seasoning in South India differs from northern regions by its ubiquitous use of mustard seeds, curry leaves, pulses, fenugreek seeds, and a variety of souring agents such as tamarind and kokum. There are regional variations too — the coastal regions make greater use of coconut and fish. In the State of Kerala, it is common to use grated coconut in everything and coconut oil for cooking, while someone from the interior could be surprised to learn that coconut oil can be used for cooking. The South also has some great breakfast dishes like idli (a steamed cake of lentils and rice), dosa, a thin, crispy pancake often stuffed with spiced potatoes to make masala dosa, vada, a savoury Indian donut, and uttapam, a fried pancake made from a rice and lentil batter with onions and other vegetables mixed in. All of these can be eaten with dahi, plain yogurt, and chutney, a condiment that can be made from practically anything. Try the ever popular masala dosa, which originated from Udupi in Karnataka, in one of the old restaurants of Bangalore like CTR and Janatha in Malleswaram or Vidyarthi Bhavan in Basavangudi or at MTR near Lalbagh. South Indian cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, though there are exceptions: Seafood is very popular in Kerala and the Mangalorean coast of Karnataka; and Chettinad and Hyderabad cuisines use meat heavily, and are a lot spicier. Coffee tends to be the preferred drink to tea in South India.
To the West, you will find some great cuisine groups. Gujarati cuisine is somewhat similar to Rajastani cooking with the heavy use of dairy products, but differs in that it is predominantly vegetarian, and often sweetened with jaggery or sugar. Gujaratis make some of the best snack items such as the Dhokla and the Muthia. Mumbai is famous for its chaat, as well as the food of the small but visible Irani and Parsi communities concentrated in and around the city. The adjacent states of Maharashtra and Goa are renowned for their seafood, often simply grilled, fried or poached in coconut milk. A notable feature of Goan cooking is that pork and vinegar is used, a rare sight in the rest of India. Vindaloo originated in Goa, and is traditionally cooked with pork, and in spite of its apparent popularity in Indian restaurants abroad, it is not common in India itself.
To the East, Bengali and Odishan food makes heavy use of rice, and fish due to the vast river channels and ocean coastline in the region. Bengali cooking is known for its complexity of flavor and bittersweet balance. Mustard oil, derived from mustard seeds, is often used in cooking and adds a pungent, slightly sweet flavour and intense heat. Bengalis prefer freshwater fish, in particular the iconic ilish or hilsa: it can be smoked, fried, steamed, baked in young plantain leaves, cooked with curd, aubergine and cumin seeds. It is said that ilish can be prepared in more than 50 ways. Typical Bengali dishes include maccher jhal, a brothy fish stew which literally means "fish in sauce", and shorshe ilish (cooked in a gravy made from mustard seed paste). Eastern India is also famous for its desserts and sweets: Rasgulla is a famous variant of the better-known gulab jamun, a spherical morsel made from cow's milk and soaked in a clear sugar syrup. It's excellent if consumed fresh or within a day after it is made. Sondesh is another excellent milk-based sweet, best described as the dry equivalent of ras malai.
A lot of food has also filtered in from other countries. Indian Chinese (or Chindian) is far and away the most common adaptation: most Chinese would barely recognize the stuff, but dishes like veg manchurian (deep-fried vegetable balls in a chilli-soy-ginger sauce) and chilli chicken are very much a part of the Indian cultural landscape and worth a try. The British left fish and chips and some fusion dishes like mulligatawny soup, while Tibetan and Nepali food, especially momo dumplings, are not uncommon in north India. Pizza has entered India in a big way, and the chains such as Pizza Hut and Domino's have Indianised the pizza and introduced adaptations like paneer-tikka pizza. There is an Indian chain called Smokin Joe's, based in Mumbai, which has mixed Thai curry with pizzas.
It is, of course, impossible to do full justice to the range and diversity of Indian food in this brief section. Not only does every region of India have a distinctive cuisine, but you will also find that even within a region, castes and ethnic communities have different styles of cooking and often have their signature recipes which you will probably not find in restaurants. The adventurous traveller is advised to wangle invitations to homes, try various bylanes of the city and look for food in unlikely places like temples and Gurudhwaras in search of culinary nirvana.
While a wide variety of fruits are native to India, including the chikoo and the jackfruit, nothing is closer to an Indian's heart than a juicy ripe mango. Hundreds of varieties are found across most of its regions — in fact, India is the largest producer, growing more than half the world's output. Mangoes are in season at the hottest part of the year, usually between May and July, and range from small (as big as a fist) to some as big as a small cantaloupe. They can be consumed in their ripe, unripe and also a baby form (the last 2 predominantly in pickles). The best mango (the "King of Mangoes", as Indians call it) is the "Alphonso" or Haapoos (in Marathi), in season in April and May along the western coast of Maharashtra. Buy it from a good fruit shop in Mumbai or Mahatma Phule market (formerly Crawford market) in South Mumbai. Dushheri Mangoes are also popular in north india. Other fruits widely available (depending on the season) are bananas, oranges, guavas, lychees, apples, pineapples, pomegranates, apricots, melons, coconuts, grapes, plums, peaches and berries.
Visiting vegetarians will discover a culinary treasure that is found nowhere else in the world. Owing to a large number of strictly vegetarian Hindus and Jains, Indian cuisine has evolved an astonishingly rich menu that uses no meat or eggs. The Jains in particular practice a strict form of vegetarianism based on the principles of non-violence and peaceful co-operative co-existence: Jains usually do not consume root vegetables such as potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, cassava, sweet potatoes and turnips, as the plant needs to be killed prior to its end of normal life cycle, in the process of accessing these . At least half the menus of most restaurants are devoted to vegetarian dishes, and by law all packaged food products in India are tagged with a green dot (vegetarian) or red dot (non-veg). Veganism however is not a well-understood concept in India, and vegans may face a tougher time: milk products like cheese (paneer), yogurt (dahi) and clarified butter (ghee) are used extensively, and honey is also commonly used as a sweetener. Milk in India is generally not pasteurized, and must be boiled before consumption.
Even non-vegetarians will soon note that due to the Hindu taboo, beef is generally not served (except in the Muslim and Parsi communities, Goa, Kerala and the North-Eastern states), and pork is also uncommon due to the Muslim population. Chicken and mutton are thus by far the most common meats used, although "buff" (water buffalo) is occasionally served in backpacker establishments. Seafood is of course ubiquitous in the coastal regions of India, and a few regional cuisines do use duck, venison and other game meats in traditional dishes.
In India eating with your hand (instead of cutlery like forks and spoons) is very common. There's one basic rule of etiquette to observe, particularly in non-urban India: Use only your right hand. The left hand is reserved for unhygienic uses. Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the spatula with your left hand to serve yourself and then dig in. Needless to say, it's wise to wash your hands well before and after eating.
For breads for all types, the basic technique is to hold down the item with your forefinger and use your middle-finger and thumb to tear off pieces. The pieces can then be dipped in sauce or used to pick up bits before you stuff them in your mouth. Rice is more challenging, but the basic idea is to use four fingers to mix the rice in curry and pack a little ball, before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb.
Most of the restaurants do provide cutlery and its pretty safe to use them instead of your hand.
Eating by hand is frowned on in some "classier" places. If you are provided with cutlery and nobody else around you seems to be doing it, then take the hint.
Indian restaurants run the gamut from roadside shacks (dhabas) to classy five-star places where the experience is comparable to places anywhere in the world. Away from the big cities and tourist haunts, mid-level restaurants are scarce, and food choices will be limited to the local cuisine, Punjabi/Mughlai, "Chinese" and occasionally South Indian.
The credit for popularizing Punjabi cuisine all over the country goes to the dhabas that line India's highways. Their patrons are usually the truckers, who happen to be overwhelmingly Punjabi. The authentic dhaba serves up simple yet tasty seasonal dishes like roti and dhal with onions, and diners sit on cots instead of chairs. Hygiene can be an issue in many dhabas, so if one's not up to your standards try another. In rural areas, dhabas are usually the only option.
In Southern India, "Hotel" means a local restaurant serving south Indian food, usually a thali—a full plate of food that usually includes a kind of bread and an assortment of meat or vegetarian dishes—and prepared meals.
Although you may be handed an extensive menu, most dishes are served only during specific hours, if at all.
One of the sweetest and safest beverages you can get is tender coconut water (naryal paani). You can almost always find it in any beach or other tourist destinations in the south. In summer (Mar-Jul), you can get fresh sugarcane juice in many places and even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties.
India is famous for its Alphonso variety of mangoes, generally regarded as the King of Mangoes among connoisseurs. Frooti, in its famous tetra-pack, is the most popular processed drink, followed by Maaza (bottled by Coca-Cola) or Slice (bottled by PepsiCo), both of which contain about 15% Alphonso mango pulp. Both cost about ₹30-50 for a 600 ml bottle.
As for bottled water, make sure that the cap's seal has not been broken; otherwise, it is a tell-tale sign of tampering or that unscrupulous vendors reuse old bottles and fill them with tap water, which is generally unsafe for foreign tourists to drink without prior boiling. Bottled water brands like Aquafina (by PepsiCo) and Kinley (by Coca-Cola) are widely available. Local brands like Bisleri are also acceptable and perfectly safe. Tastes may vary due to the individual brands' mineral contents. In semi-urban or rural areas, it may be appropriate to ask for boiled water as well.
One can get tea (chai in most North Indian languages) of one variety or the other everywhere in India. The most common method of preparing chai is by brewing tea leaves, milk, and sugar altogether in a pot and keeping it hot until it's all sold. It is sweet and uniquely refreshing once you get the taste for it. Masala chai will have, added to the above mix, spices such as cardamom, ginger or cinnamon etc. For some people, that takes some getting used to. While Masala chai is popular in Northern and Central India, it must be noted that people in Eastern India (West Bengal and Assam) generally consume tea without spices, the English way. This is also the part of India where most tea is grown.
In South India, filter coffee replaces tea as the standard beverage. Indian filter coffee is a coffee drink made by mixing frothed and boiled milk with the decoction obtained by brewing finely ground coffee powder in a traditional Indian filter.
Drinking alcohol can either be frowned upon or openly accepted, depending on the region and religion of the area within which you are drinking. For example, Goa, Punjab, and Pondicherry tend to be more free-wheeling (and have low taxes on alcohol), while a few southern areas like Chennai are less tolerant of alcohol, and may even charge excessive taxes on it. Some states such as Gujarat and Bihar are legally "dry" states and alcohol cannot be bought openly there, although there is a substantial bootlegging industry. Bootleg alcohol is unregulated and could kill you or make you sick, and you could also be in legal trouble if you are caught while drunk in a dry state.
Favorite Indian tipples include beer, notably the ubiquitous Kingfisher (a decent lager), and rum, particularly Old Monk. Prices vary by state, especially for hard liquor, but you can expect to pay ₹50-100 for a large bottle of beer and anywhere between ₹170-250 for a 750 ml bottle of Old Monk. Mumbai tends to be the most expensive, due to local taxes, which can be three-times as much as Meghalaya.
Indian wines, long a bit of a joke, have improved remarkably in recent years and there's a booming wine industry in the hills of Maharashtra. The good stuff is not particularly cheap (expect to pay around ₹500 a bottle) and selections are mostly limited to white wines, but look out for labels by Chateau Indage or Sula.
Illegal moonshine, called tharra when made from sugar cane and toddy when made from coconuts, is widely available in some states. It's cheap and strong, but very dangerous as quality control is nonexistent, and best avoided entirely. In the former Portuguese colony of Goa you can obtain an extremely pungent liquor called fenny or feni, typically made from cashew fruits or coconuts.
Cannabis in its many forms — especially ganja (weed) and charas (hash) — is widely available throughout India, but they are all illegal in the vast majority of the country, and the letter of the law states that simple possession may mean fines or years in jail, depending on the quantity possessed.
However, in some states (notably Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Orissa) the one legal and socially accepted way to consume cannabis is as bhang, a low-grade preparation sold at government-licensed shops that is not only smoked, but also made into cookies, chocolate and the infamous bhang lassi, an herb-laced version of the normally innocuous yogurt drink. Bhang lassi is usually available at varying strengths, so use caution if opting for the stronger versions. It's also occasionally sold as "special lassi", but is usually easily spotted by the ₹30-50 price tag (several times higher than the non-special kinds). An important point to bear in mind is that the effects of "Bhang" are slow and heighten when consumed with something sweet. Also, first-time users may want to wait a while before consuming too much in an effort to judge their tolerance.
Choices vary widely depending on your budget and location. Cheap travellers' hotels are numerous in big cities where you can get a room for less than ₹450. Rooms at guest-houses with a double bed (and often a bathroom) can be found in many touristic venues for ₹150-200. Good budget hotels in India are not hard to find. You can find accommodation in clean dormitories for as little as ₹50 in many Indian districts.
Most Indian train stations have rooms or dormitories, are cheap, relatively well maintained (the beds, sheets, not the showers) and secure. There are also the added bonus of not being accosted by the rickshaw mafia, getting your bag off quickly and, for the adventurous, you are highly likely to be able to jump on a cheap public bus back to the train station, just ask. Keep in mind you must have an arrival or departure train ticket from the station where you intend to sleep and there could be a limit on how many nights you may stay.
Midrange options are plentiful in the larger cities and expanding fast into second-tier cities as well. Dependable local chains include Treebo, Country Inns, Ginger and Neemrana, and prices vary from ₹1,000-4,000 per night. Local, unbranded hotels can be found in any city, but quality varies widely.
If your wallet allows it, you can try staying in a maharaja's palace in Udaipur or modern five-star hotels which are now found pretty much all over the country. The top-end of Indian luxury rests with the Oberoi, Taj , and ITC Welcomgroup hotel chains, who operate hotels in all the major cities and throughout Rajasthan. The usual international chains also run major 5-star hotels in most Indian metropolises, but due to India's economic boom availability is tight and prices can be crazy: it's not uncommon to be quoted over US$300/night for what would elsewhere be a distinctly ordinary business hotel going for a third of the price. Also beware that some jurisdictions including Delhi and Bengaluru charge stiff luxury taxes on the rack rate of the room, which can lead to nasty surprises at check-out time.
Two important factors to keep in mind when choosing a place to stay are 1) safety and 2) cleanliness. Malaria is alive and well in certain areas of India - one of the best ways to combat malaria is to choose lodgings with air conditioning and sealed windows. An insect-repellent spray containing DEET will also help.
Dak bungalows exist in many areas. These were built by the British to accommodate travelling officials and are now used by the Indian and state governments for the same purpose. If they have room, most will take tourists at a moderate fee. They are plain — ceiling fans rather than air conditioning, shower but no bath. — but clean, comfortable and usually in good locations. Typically the staff includes a pensioned-off soldier as night watchman and perhaps another as gardener; often the gardens are lovely. Sometimes there is a cook. You meet interesting Indian travellers this way.
Don't count on having a reliable electricity supply if you aren't staying in an upmarket hotel. Brownouts are frequent, and many buildings have unsafe wiring.
Make sure to bring your passport wherever you go, as most hotels will not rent out rooms without you producing a valid passport.
There are many things to learn that interest foreigners all over India, but there are a few destinations that have become particularly well known for certain things:
There are many Universities imparting education but at the helm are Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) for technical undergraduates, Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) for management postgraduates and National Law Universities/Schools (NLUs) which are world class institutes. Most of the ambitious students who want to get a good high level education thrive to get into these institutes through admission processes which are rather very difficult ones both due to nature of test and the prevailing competition. For example, the 6 top IIMs (Including the 4 oldest - Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Bangalore & Lucknow plus newly established Indore and Kozhikode) together select only about 1,200 students from 350,000 students who appear for CAT exam. But still students have a great desire to get into these institutes. These institutes offer degrees to foreign students also.
Apart from undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses, there are many training and diploma-level institutes and polytechnics that cater to the growing demand for skill-based and vocational education. Besides conventional educational institutes, foreigners might also be interested to study with Pandits to learn Hindi and Sanskrit in genuine settings as well as with Mullahs to study Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. They might also like to live with famed Ustads to study traditional Indian music. Whether people are interested in philosophy or religion, cuisine or dance, India will have the right opportunity for them.
Foreigners need a work permit to be employed in India. A work permit is granted if an application is made to the local Indian embassy along with proof of potential employment and supporting documents. There are many expatriates working in India, mostly for multinational Fortune 1,000 firms. India has always had an expatriate community of reasonable size, and there are many avenues for finding employment, including popular job hunting websites.
There are many volunteer opportunities around the country including teaching. India has a reasonable presence of foreign Christian missionaries, who for the most part form the non-local religious workers, since the other major religions of the world either grew out of India or have had a long term presence.
A living can be made in the traveller scenes by providing some kind of service such as baking Western cakes, tattooing or massage.
Previously, an AIDS test result was required as part of the work visa application process. It is highly recommended that applicants obtain test results in their home country beforehand if at all possible.
As a rule India is quite safe for foreigners, apart from instances of petty crime and theft common to any developing country, as long as certain basic precautions are observed (i.e. women travellers avoiding travelling alone at night). You can check with your embassy or ask for local advice before heading to Jammu and Kashmir in northern-most India, and to Northeast India i.e. (Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh). These areas have had serious law and order problems since a long time, though the situation has improved a lot recently. The same applies while travelling to what used to be a thickly forested area in East-Central India, which covers the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, the eastern edge of Maharashtra and the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh. Though the problem is only in the remote areas of these states and normal areas to visit in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh are completely safe.
Unfortunately theft is quite common in places visited by tourists, but violent thefts hardly ever occur. More likely a thief will pick your pocket (see pickpockets) or break into your room. So it is better to take precautions to firmly lock the door while indoors, and be on guard while outside.
Some people handling your cash will try to shortchange you or rip you off. In Delhi particularly, this is a universal rule adhered to by all who handle westerners' cash. This does not exclude official ticket sellers at tourist sites, employees at prepaid taxi stands, or merchants in all but the most upscale businesses. Count your cash before handing it over, and be insistent on receiving the correct change.
It is advisable or better to agree on the fare before getting inside an auto or a taxi. This avoids any further unpleasant fare-related arguments. If you can take the advice of a local friend or someone manning your hotel's front desk to know how much it should cost to travel in between two destinations, you will be a smart traveller.
Overseas visitors, particularly women, attract the attention of beggars, frauds and touts. Beggars will often go as far as touching you and following you, tugging on your sleeve. It does little good to get angry or to say "No" loudly. The best response is to look unconcerned and ignore the behaviour. The more attention you pay to a beggar or a tout — positive or negative — the longer they will follow you hoping for a donation. Women travellers are advised not to stay out late and roam on their own, and also to be a little sensitive about how they dress in public. There have been some recent rapes of foreign women as well as highly publicised rapes of Indian women, some of whom have been murdered.
Travellers should not trust strangers offering assistance or services; see Common scams. Be particularly wary of frauds at tourist attractions such as the temples of Kanchipuram, where they prey on those unfamiliar with local and religious customs. If a priest or guide offers to treat you to a religious ceremony, find out what it will cost you first, and do not allow yourself to be pressured into making "donations" of thousands of rupees — simply walk away if you feel uncomfortable. However, don't get too paranoid: fellow travellers on the train, or Indian families who want to take your picture on their own camera, for example, are often just genuinely curious.
While travelling in public transport (trains, buses) do not accept any food or drink from any local fellow passenger even they are very friendly or polite. There have been instances in which very friendly fellow passengers offered food or drinks including tea or coffee that contained substances that put the victim to sleep whilst all their possessions, including even their clothing, were stolen.
Homosexual intercourse is illegal in India, with a theoretical maximum penalty of 10 years in jail. However, the law is hardly enforced, and past prosecutions are no longer in public memory. There is a vibrant gay nightlife in metropolitan areas and some (but very few) openly gay celebrities. On the other hand, the law has been used as a tool by policemen to harass gays cruising on the streets. By the way, you will often see Indian men walking hand-in-hand in the streets. But this is a sign of friendship, not to be misjudged as a sign of homosexuality.
Whereas Indian men can be really eager to talk to travellers, women in India often refrain from contact with men. It is an unfortunate fact that if you are a man and you approach a woman in India for even an innocuous purpose like asking for directions, you are putting her on the defensive usually, especially the ones dressed traditionally. It is better to ask a man if one is available (there usually will be), or be extra respectful if you are asking a woman.
Black people may encounter prejudices from the police and general public about being drug dealers. This is not always necessary but the reactions stems from the fact that more often than not, foreign born drug peddlers in India have been found to be of Nigerian nationality. As Indians find it hard to differentiate between Nigerians and other Africans or Afro-Americans, this behaviour is towards the whole race and not just to any specific country. That said, this behaviour is still considered publicly unacceptable when Indians are confronted by Indian themselves. It is hence wise to keep passports handy at all times, avoid going to areas notorious for illegal activities and maintain contact with respective embassies and, if possible, with other support groups that can vouch for them.
Driving in India is generally considered to be a dangerous undertaking. Irresponsible driving habits, insufficient highway infrastructure development, wandering livestock and other hazards make travelling on the country's roads a sometimes nerve-wracking undertaking.
More than 118,000 people died on Indian roads in 2008, the highest figure in the entire world, and that's despite having only 12 cars per 1000 people (vs. 765 in a more developed country like the United States). A first encounter with a typical Indian highway will no doubt feature a traffic mix of lumbering trucks, speeding maniacs, blithely wandering cows and suicidal pedestrians, all weaving across a narrow, potholed strip of tarmac. To minimise your risk of becoming a grim statistic, use trains instead of buses, use government bus services instead of private ones (which are more likely to force their drivers into inhuman shifts), use taxis instead of auto-rickshaws, avoid travelling at night, and don't hesitate to change taxis or cars if you feel your driver is unsafe.
Of significant concern is that much of the road network is significantly underdeveloped. Most roads are very poorly built and they are full of rubble, large cracks and potholes. Most road signs are not very reliable in the country, and in most cases provide drivers very confusing or inaccurate information. If you are in doubt, ask the locals, normally they are very helpful and willingly provide people with appropriate guidance to a location. Of course the quality of information and willingness to provide it varies, especially in the larger cities.
India is more of a conservative country and some Western habits can be perceived as dishonourable for a woman. But India is coming out of its conservative image rather quickly especially in big cities.
The India-Pakistan conflict, simmering for decades, has in recent years manifested in terrorist attacks on India's main cities: since 2007, there have been bombings in New Delhi/Delhi, Mumbai and other big cities. The targets have varied widely, but attacks have usually been aimed at locals rather than visitors. The exception was in 2008, when a shooting spree targeted and killed many foreigners along with Indians, in Mumbai's posh hotels and railway station, etc. All the terrorists involved in this were from Pakistan, and were killed in action except one who was captured alive and later hanged. Realistically speaking, there is little you can do to avoid such random attacks, but do keep an eye on the national news and on any travel advisories from your Embassy.
Going to India, you have to adapt to a new climate and new food. However, with precautions the chance and severity of any illness can be minimized. Don't stress yourself too much at the beginning of your journey to allow your body to acclimatize to the country. For example, take a day of rest upon arrival, at least on your first visit. Many travellers get ill for wanting to do too much in too little time. Be careful with spicy food if it is not your daily diet.
Tap water is normally not safe for drinking. However, some establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water should be safe to drink from them. Packed drinking water (popularly called "mineral water" throughout India) is a better choice. Bisleri, Kinley, Aquafina, Health Plus are popular and safe brands. But if the seal has been tampered, or if the bottle seems crushed, it could be tap water being illegally sold. So always make sure that seal is intact before buying. On Indian Railway stations, a low-priced mineral water brand of Indian Railways is generally available, known as "Rail Neer".
Fruits that can be peeled such as apples and bananas, as well as packaged snacks are always a safe option. Wash any fruit with uncontaminated water before eating it.
No vaccinations are required for entry to India, except for yellow fever if you are coming from an infected area such as Africa. However, Hepatitis (both A and B, depending on your individual circumstances), meningitis and typhoid shots are recommended, as is a booster shot for tetanus.
Diarrhea is common, and can have many different causes. Bring a standard first-aid kit, plus extra over-the-counter medicine for diarrhea and stomach upset. A re-hydration kit can also be helpful. In case you run out and cannot get the re-hydration solution widely available at pharmacies, remember the salt/sugar/water ratio for oral re-hydration: 1 tsp salt, 8 tsp sugar, for 1 litre of water. Indians have resistance to native bacteria and parasites that visitors do not have. If you have serious diarrhea for more than a day or two, it is best to visit a private hospital. Parasites such as Giardia are a common cause of diarrhea, and may not get better without treatment.
Malaria is endemic throughout India. CDC states that risk exists in all areas, including the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, and at altitudes of less than 2000 metres in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Kashmir, and Sikkim; however, the risk of infection is considered low in Delhi and northern India. Get expert advice on malaria preventatives, and take adequate precautions to prevent mosquito bites. Use a mosquito repellent when going outside (particularly during the evenings) and also when sleeping in trains and hotels without air conditioning. A local mosquito repellent used by Indians is Odomos and is available over-the-counter at most medical stores.
If you have asthma, carry enough supplies as dust, pollen or pollution may cause some trouble to your breathing.
It is very important to stay away from the many stray dogs and cats in India, as India has the highest rate of rabies in the world. If you are bitten it is extremely urgent to get to a hospital in a major urban area capable of dealing with rabies. You can get treatment at any major hospital. It is very important to get the rabies vaccine after any contact with animals that includes contact with saliva or blood. Rabies vaccines only work if the full course is given prior to symptoms. The disease is almost invariably fatal otherwise.
If you venture to forests in India, you may encounter venomous snakes. If bitten, try to note the markings of the snake so that the snake can be identified and the correct antidote given. In any event, immediately seek medical care.
Although virtually all Indian doctors speak English fluently, public hospitals tend to be unsanitary, overcrowded, understaffed and underequipped. Consequently, the standard of care leaves much to be desired. There are also reports of vaccinations and blood transfusions in low quality hospitals increasing your risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Therefore, you are highly advised to avoid government healthcare facilities and make use of private hospitals instead. Private hospitals, on the other hand, are usually of an excellent standard and among the best in the world, making India a popular destination for medical tourism. The downside is that they are usually much more expensive than public hospitals, though still reasonably priced by Western standards. Many private hospitals accept international health insurance; check with the hospital before you go to be sure. Many rich Indians travel to Singapore for more serious issues, such as those requiring major surgery, and you might want to consider that as an option too.
Finally, there are a few travel clinics in India, that can be checked out by visiting the ISTM website in the larger cities. Most CDC recommended vaccinations are available in many of these travel health clinics in larger cities. Large corporate hospital chains like Fortis, Max, Apollo and similar places are your best bet for emergency medical care in larger cities, and they have better hygiene and generally well trained doctors, many from even US & UK institutions.
The country code for India is 91. India is then divided into area codes, known locally as STD codes. See individual city guides for the area codes.
In acronym-happy India, a phone booth is known as a PCO (Public Call Office) and they usually offer STD/ISD (Subscriber Trunk Dialing/International Subscriber Dialing), or national and international long distance respectively. These are usually staffed, and you dial yourself but pay to the attendant after the call is over. Metering is done per pulse and a service charge of ₹2 is added to the bill. Larger cities also have Western-style unmanned public phones, which are usually red in colour and accept one rupee coins.
Local phone numbers can be anywhere from 5-8 digits long. But when the area code is included, all landline phone numbers in India are 10 digits long. Cellphone numbers usually start with '9', '8', or '7'. The following table explains how to dial:
Toll-free numbers start with 1-800, but are usually operator-dependent: you can't call a BSNL/MTNL toll-free number from an Airtel landline, and vice versa. Often, the numbers may not work from your cellular phone. Other National Numbers that start with 18xx or 19xx may attract special charges.
To dial outside the country from India, prefix the country code with 00. E.g. a US number will be dialed as 00-1-555-555-5555. Calling the USA/Canada/UK over the normal telephone line will cost you about ₹7.20 per minute. Calls to other countries, particularly to the Middle East, can be more expensive.
India uses both GSM and CDMA and mobile phones are widely available, starting from ₹500. (3G networks are only starting to be rolled out.) Major operators with India-wide networks include Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL, MTNL, Reliance Mobile (both GSM and CDMA), TATA DOCOMO (GSM), TATA Indicom (CDMA), Idea Cellular, Uninor, Aircel, MTS (CDMA), and Videocon Mobile. Not all operators have Pan-India operations but have tie-ups with other operators to provide pan-India coverage via roaming, though roaming charges are higher. You will not be able to use your mobile in Jammu and Kashmir since the local government does not allow any roaming and restricts foreigners from buying SIM cards there. Local calls could cost as little as ₹0.10 per minute (typically ₹0.50), although going to a different state within India is considered roaming and additional charges of ₹1-3/min for both incoming and outgoing calls may apply. International calls are comparatively cheap, with most destinations under ₹10/min, the same as you'd pay at a PCO booth.
Fully loaded prepaid starter kits are available for around ₹500 or less, including several hundred rupees of call time. Plain SIM cards are sold for as little as ₹10-15 while they are given out for free in many cases. You will need identification and a passport size photo, although some shops will also insist on a local address in India; try the next one if they're not accommodating. Although the best option is always buying a SIM card from the phone company's own store, that way you can verify the SIM card is working and you have been allocated your credit before you leave. Buying from smaller vendors will often mean a delay of a few hours to a few days before they call to get the SIM working, and you risk your SIM being cancelled if they never send in your identification paperwork.
Beware that talk time (unexpired minutes of talk time) and validity (the date that the SIM card expires) are considered separate and you have to keep both topped up, or otherwise you may find the ₹500 you just recharged disappearing in a puff of smoke when the one-month validity expires. Usually, when you extend the validity, you will also get extra minutes but you can buy minutes for less without extending the validity. Alternatively, if you are in India for a reasonably long time, you can buy a prepaid SIM with lifetime validity and then topup with talktime as per your needs. Please note that in most such cases, you will need to topup at least once every six months to keep the SIM active. And the term lifetime is slightly misleading as it refers to the life of the license issued to the operator by the Government of India to provide mobile services. If the license is renewed, your services shall continue without any additional charges but if the license is not renewed, your lifetime SIM also becomes defunct. Licenses are awarded to operators for a period of 20 years.
Beware that whilst large telecommunications companies, such as Airtel are technically the same company throughout India, and your SIM card will work anywhere have reception or a partnership, their sales and support teams are often outsourced and franchised. Meaning a SIM bought in one state (even from an official store) does not only attract a roaming charge when used in other states, it will also mean that your support numbers will not work. For example, if you buy a SIM in Goa and something goes wrong whilst you are travelling in another state, local stores will not be able to help you, nor often will your support number that came with your SIM. They will simply tell you to go back to the state you bought it in for support, or give you other numbers to try and call back in your purchase state.
This also impacts recharging when you're outside the state you bought your SIM card. Due to local taxes and company pricing, recharge cards (or the amount people pay to get the same about of talk time) differs from state to state - even though your per minute call costs will be the same state to state. Take note of the recharge options and prices in the state that you originally bought your SIM, because as you move to other areas in India, the local recharge options vary and will not apply to you (they'll only apply to SIM's bought in that state). For example, if you bought your SIM in Goa and to get ₹100 talk time credited to your account, you actually paid ₹120 (₹100 talk time + ₹20 local taxes), but then travelled to another state where they had a promotion where ₹100 talk time only costs ₹100, you are not eligible. You still have to pay the rates of where you bought your SIM, even if local signage says differently. The important thing to remember is that you always recharge based on where your SIM card is from, so take a note of the recharge options when you buy your SIM, and use them (not the local rates) to recharge. As an added complication, many local vendors do not like to recharge out of state SIMs (which they can tell from your number). This is because the way they recharge phones is by crediting a certain amount of rupees to your account, and then your carrier recognises the amount and transforms it into a service. For example ₹120 rupees may mean your account is recharged with ₹100 talk time, whereas ₹121 may mean you get a cricket SMS updates pack. Consequently, because local recharge shops do not know the prices to recharge in the state your SIM is from, they may not want to risk giving you something you do not want. The way to get around this is to, as mentioned, make a note of your recharge options when you buy your SIM and politely insist to local recharge merchants that you know that amount works. 2G and 3G Internet prices are usually the same from state to state, making this process slightly easier.
Internet kiosks are everywhere nowadays and they charge as low as ₹10-20 per hour (the cost being a compromise for speed). Beware of using your credit cards online as many cases have come forward regarding credit cards thefts using keyloggers. More reliable chains include Reliance World (formerly Reliance Web World) and Sify iWay.
Calling overseas is also very cheap if you use the many booths that advertise Net2Phone service. The quality ranges from tolerable to excellent, and the price is very good, with calls to the USA ranging from ₹2-5 per minute.
Wifi hotspots in India are, for most part, limited. The major airports and stations do offer paid wifi at around ₹60-100 an hour. Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai are the only cities with decent wifi coverage. At Mumbai and Delhi airport, you get to use WiFi internet free, for an hour or so. Note that many free WiFi services will require entering a PIN sent to an Indian cell phone number.
Most internet users in India do not rely on WiFi too much. 3G datacards/USB modems are widely used, but require signing a contract with an operator and may thus not a practical option for short-term visitors without a residential address in India. The better companies such as Airtel (GSM) and Tata indicom (CDMA) do not rent datacards, which means that you have to buy them outright. Reliance charges ₹650 per month (1GB downloading free, ₹2/mb) for a datacard/USB modem. The cheap price also means a 256 kbit/s connection, by the way. Airtel are the cheapest 3G data (for phone or data card) providers, at 10GB (valid for a month) for ₹1250, and also much lower quantities. They have one of the largest networks and free India wide data roaming, but the drawback is particularly poor customer support, that often manages to make the problem worse.
Internet censorship in India is considered “selective”. There are occasional random, inexplicable and arbitrary attempts by the government to block some sites it considers as carrying hateful propaganda, but enforcement is spotty and the decisions are often forgotten after a few days of being made. You are unlikely to find any useful site blocked.
The Indian Ministry of Tourism has started a 24/7 Tourist Helpline: 1363 (Toll Free Line) / +91-94900 69000 (Mobile).
Hear about travel to Hyderabad India as the Amateur Traveler talks to Sean Whiting about the city he has called home for more than 4 years.
The Amateur Traveler talks to David Grenewetzki about his first trip to India. His itinerary covered Mombai, Bangalore, Rajasthan, Delhi and then ended at the Indian wedding of friends. They started in Mumbai where they saw sites like the arch of India and Elephanta Caves. Near Bangalore they made a side trip to see the Jain pilgrimage site of Shravanabelagola and the palace of Tipu Sultan at Mysore. In Udaipu they splurged and stayed in both the City Palace and the Lake Palace Hotels.
“I’m sorry I have to ask you this, but are you a ‘sir’ or a ‘madam’?”
The security guard at the Taj Mahal looked at me earnestly. He was helping me figure out where to store my daypack. The lockers were at another entrance, I’d found out. I couldn’t bring in my computer that was tucked in the depths of my bag.
But first, he had to know this one thing.
When I left for India, I had all the intentions of passing as a man. I was worried about safety. Boyeon and I bought matching rings so we could pretend to be a married (heterosexual) couple, if necessary. I was totally prepared.
Except that I was also totally silly. All those things I read online made it seem like Indian men would be leering at and harassing us constantly. Our experience couldn’t have been farther from that (highly-shared stereotype). (That said, Boyeon and I covered a lot of ourselves, didn’t go out late, etc. Yeah, nothing causes sexual assault/harassment except the assailant, but we wanted to abide by local customs and cautions, too — and not draw more attention to ourselves than we already did.)
Granted, men populated the streets, especially at night. They were the shopkeepers, hoteliers, and waitstaff. There was a pervasive presence of masculinity and a notable absence of women in lots of places. Group members of a tour I took in Northern India were encouraged “not to make eye contact with men” because it could be considered a come-on.
So all of that is also true, but I never felt the need to pass as a man for protection.
Besides, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to even if I tried.
In Korea, it was everywhere. No matter where I went, what level of tomboy I offered in my clothing choices. It was [accusing glare] “This is the women’s restroom,” “Are you her boyfriend?,” or “Men this way, please.”
When we walked the streets of Kolkata, it was almost immediately “madam-madam-madam” (though that would change to about a 50-50 split later on in the trip).
I wondered what the difference was. What gendered markers had changed from there to here? How did I fail to fit onlookers’ expectations of “male” or “female” from one day to another? What was the equation?
That’s not to say I didn’t elicit confusion. At the hotel where I was staying in Agra, I was one of the only guests, and so I ended up having long conversations with a couple of the staff members (who just happened to be men). Both had initially mistaken me for a man when they saw me from behind. “That’s smart,” one told me. “You probably get bothered less on the streets. Much safer. Do you just dress like this when you travel?”
“I dress like this all the time,” I said.
Or while having tea on the rooftop of the hotel, I got into a deep conversation with the other staff person. “Did something happen to make you dress like a man?” he asked.
I shook my head. Sure, I cut my hair off after a bad breakup, but I knew my gender expression was something totally separated from that.
“I just finally gave myself permission to be who I am,” I said.
When he made a comment later about how I could probably find a nice man or woman dressed like that, he laughed, but the joke hit a little too close to home, especially since India isn’t really known for its queer-friendliness.
“No, no,” I demurred, and I laughed, too, to cover whatever truth he had inadvertently unburied.
He apologized, his face sincere. “I didn’t mean any offense.”
I was in the subway in Delhi, and I was going through the ladies’ security line.
Security stations like that were everywhere — metal detectors and pat-downs by gender-specific officers. The thing was, these women’s spaces made me feel safe in a geography dominated by men and masculinity. Two rows in the center of the Kolkata subway cars had signs over them — “Ladies Only.” Boyeon had accidentally sat there once, and we were surrounded by the bright saris and light laughter and kids on laps and students with backpacks and an invisible line that kept the men to the sides. That said, “this is a women’s space — one that had to be created because the terrible things that have been done to us by men.”
And yet, in that subway car, I stood as close to the edge of that invisible line as possible. I felt like a lurker, an interloper. I didn’t want to be called out, to have to explain myself, to have to stick out my chest or raise my voice to prove that I belonged.
Because I don’t. And yet I do.
When given two options, what else can I choose?
Back in the Delhi subway security line, the female officer doing the pat-down looked at me as if scandalized. “Are you a woman?” she asked sharply, loudly, stepping back.
I sighed. “Yes, yes, I am,” I said.
She patted me down and sent me on my way.
I was on my way to lunch with a friend of a friend. She’d suggested meeting on the platform at Karol Bagh, the nearest stop to where I was staying, and then taking the women’s car. One or two cars on each train is designated women-only in response to the high rates of sexual harassment on Delhi public transportation, and it was an easy enough place to find each other. I’d said sure, knowing what might happen — but also knowing what might happen in the general cars. And after all, my passport said “F,” so I reasoned that I had every right to be there.
We got on the car and within minutes, I was gently reproached by a concerned young Indian woman (who, to her credit, probably thought she was being helpful to a wayward foreigner). “Excuse me. This is a women’s only car,” she said.
“I’m a woman.”
“Oh, sorry.” She gave me a brief smile that seemed to offer both an apology and a recognition of our kinship. Our shared womanness. Our shared right to this space.
Or maybe I’m just reading into things.
Regardless, the same thing would happen on the subway ride back.
The next day, when I rode the subway with my tour group and the other women piled into the women-only car, I hesitated. The other general cars were full, so our tour leader sent the women on ahead and told them to meet us in two stops. I waited with our guide and a couple other guys until the next train came.
While the risk of causing confusion brings problems of its own, I think being masculine-of-center has its benefits while traveling. I honestly think that part of my ease as a solo traveler in India (for the times when I went solo) was bolstered by my knowledge that I don’t look particularly feminine.
That walking alone during the evening, lit by only headlights and the glow of restaurant windows, I might be mistaken for a man (and thus left alone).
Or in restaurants, when mistaken for a “sir,” I’d try to drop my voice to its lowest alto when ordering. I’d let the misgendering slide, knowing that that misidentification might give me an extra layer of comfort in a restaurant full of men.
But that can also backfire. In a yoga class near Rishikesh (yoga capital of the world!), I think the (male) instructor felt more comfortable physically adjusting my body than that of the other six (female) practitioners because he perceived me to be a man. It wasn’t until about halfway through the yoga session that he must have had second thoughts, at which time he said, “Women, roll over to your right. If you’re a man, roll to your left.” After that, he stopped adjusting me almost entirely.
I wish I had rolled forward to backward on the mat instead (which a friend later suggested on Facebook). But I didn’t. Internally disgruntled, I rolled to my right. And in gaining that recognition, I lost a bit of it also.
And for some reason, I was embarrassed and annoyed, knowing that I was the source of confusion in that pointed question. That there was something in me that was not enough of something. And it reminded me how it was that lack of “enoughness” that made it so I didn’t belong in the women’s car or the women’s line or whatever bathroom I went into to do my business. That made me raise the pitch of my voice when someone looked at me in shock in women’s restrooms in Seoul. That caused me to forego wearing my most masculine clothes when going to the sauna so I wouldn’t be directed once more to the men’s section.
In this class full of (more feminine-than-I-am) women, I felt the red arrow pointing directly at me — another you do not belong here or you are Other.
Not from the other women (who were in my tour group and were fabulous), but from the very question that had implicitly been raised — What are you?
It wasn’t until I came to Nepal a few weeks ago that I started wearing my binder again. With so many gender-segregated entrances and security lines in India, it didn’t seem safe to go more masculine. I had to convince people every day — in all these small ways )) that I was the right person in the right place that I didn’t want to push my luck.
Still, after being “madamed” through all of Kolkata, when I walked the streets of Bangalore weeks later, I heard a familiar refrain from vendors, something that reminded me of the reaction I often elicited in grocery lines back home — the blurring of something definitive and the closest naming of my lived identity that I might get on this journey:
“Madam—brother — could you please — ”
I couldn’t help but smile as I walked on by.
This article originally appeared on You are (queer) here and is republished here with permission.More like this: Why the LGBTQ community will thrive in 2017
India doesn’t have a great reputation for safety—especially women’s safety. While it’s true that the enormous country does have serious problems regarding violence against women and patriarchal social structures, as a foreign traveller, you’re unlikely to encounter the worst of this. With a few common-sense safety precautions that you’d take in any destination—not walking around alone at night in unknown places, erring on the side of modesty when it comes to clothing, and trusting your instincts when it comes to men you’ve just met—India can be one of the most exciting and rewarding travel destinations.
I’ve been seven times in eight years, and am always looking for another excuse to plan my next trip to this colourful, crazy, beautiful and hospitable country. India is hands-down my favourite travel destination in the world. Here’s why.
Sure, many people in the big cities like Delhi can come across as abrasive. But the same can be said of big cities everywhere—do New Yorkers have a reputation for friendliness? Not exactly. Travel around India and you’ll find the majority of people are very friendly and welcoming of foreign tourists, and will go out of their way to help you.
In Gujarat—a ‘dry’ state, meaning you can’t buy alcohol—my boyfriend and I were invited back to a guy’s place for ‘a drink of milk’! While taking a fifteen-hour train trip across the country, an elderly man made everyone in the compartment move over so that my boyfriend and I would have more space. Why? Because we were from New Zealand, and as a former employee of India’s dairy development programmes in the 1960s, he appreciated all the help New Zealand had given India at the time. He wanted to repay the favour. Only in India!
On my first day in India back in 2008, I remember sitting down in the shade of Mughal-era Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and being amazed by how beautiful the country was. I had expected it to be interesting, challenging and memorable, but I hadn’t quite expected it to be so beautiful. The more I explored, the deeper this impression became. From the barren, Tibet-like landscape of Ladakh, to the lush rainforests of Kerala; from the mangrove-filled swamps of the Sunderbans to the palace-filled deserts of Rajashthan; from the church-dotted beaches of Goa to the Himalayas: India is simply drop-dead gorgeous.
With an enormous railway network that covers practically the whole country (except much of the mountains), and zillions of state and private bus networks, it’s so easy to get around India. If you want a first-class train ticket or are travelling during major holidays, it’s a good idea to book in advance. Other than that, you can usually make your travel plans a day in advance and get anywhere you want to go. Normally you can show up at a bus station and you’ll be put on the right bus. Those infamous stories of riding on the roof of the bus, or sitting arm-to-wing with a chicken, do still occur in the countryside, but you’re more likely to be impressed by the quality of the Indian roads and the punctuality of the buses. (For true chicken/goat-on-bus and roof-riding experiences, head to India’s northern neighbour Nepal instead!)
India also has a bit of a reputation for schemers, touts and scams intended to part you from your money. But in seven extended trips to the country, I’ve never even come close to falling for one. Most scams happen in the big cities—Delhi is notorious—but even then, they are very isolated, mainly around the New Delhi Railway Station and the traveller hang-outs of Paharganj and Karol Bagh. Stepping away from the places where most tourists congregate will eliminate the majority of shady characters. If you know what to watch out for—people telling you your hotel is closed/fake tourist information offices etc—you’re unlikely to encounter any problems.
Anyone with even a passing interest in ancient, medieval and more contemporary history will be blown away by India. There’s Varanasi–first settled over 3,000 years ago—which is situated on one of the holiest points of the River Ganga. In Delhi you can see the archaeological remains of the eight ancient cities of Delhi, all within the modern metropolis. In Ladakh you can witness Tibetan-style cultures practicing their religion the traditional ways, which is not even possible in Tibet any more. In Goa you can experience the layered history of Portuguese, British and postcolonial Indian influence. Everywhere you go, the people, cuisine, architecture and landscape tells a different historical story. And it’s all fascinating.
It’s easy to avoid the tourist hoards in India—very easy. If you’re on a whistle-stop ten day tour of the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) then you will definitely disagree. But there are thousands of smaller places in India that get very few tourists. In such places there are almost never any hassles, and people are even more eager to make sure you have a pleasant stay. Tired of the crowds in Rajasthan? Head south to Gujarat instead, where there are desert landscapes, ancient forts and palaces and untouched beaches. Can’t deal with the hassles of Delhi, but are interested in medieval Islamic culture? Then try the south-central city of Hyderabad instead. Want a big-city experience that most tourists skip? Friendly Kolkata is a dream.
As a vegetarian, there is no better place to travel than India. And even if you’re a meat eater, there will be plenty of options. Indian food isn’t all just butter chicken or vindaloo—these are regional specialities that have become popular in the West, but they are a tiny fraction of India’s culinary landscape. From Tibetan-style noodle soup in Ladakh, to banana leaf meals in Kerala; Goan prawn curry to biriyani; Indian food is diverse, delicious and cheap! More like this: 18 facts about India that may surprise you
#1 best-selling guide to India *
Lonely Planet India is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Admire the perfect symmetry of the Taj Mahal, ride a camel through the moonlit desert or cruise the lush backwaters of Kerala; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of India and begin your journey now!
Inside Lonely Planet's India Travel Guide:Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - temples, cuisine, history, art, Hinduism, architecture, politics, landscapes, wildlife, customs, volunteering, yoga, ashrams, trekking Over 199 colour maps Covers Delhi's bazaars, the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan's forts and deserts, Goa's beaches, Kerala's backwaters, Mumbai's colonial-era buildings, Darjeeling's tea plantations, Khajuraho's ancient temples, Himalayan monasteries and more
The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet India, our most comprehensive guide to India, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.Looking for just the highlights of India? Check out Discover India, a photo-rich guide to India's most popular attractions. Looking for a guide focused on Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan, Goa, Mumbai, South India or Kerala? Check out Lonely Planet's South India & Kerala guide, Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra guide, or Goa & Mumbai guide for a comprehensive look at all that these regions have to offer.
Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.
About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.
*Best-selling guide to India. Source: Nielsen Bookscan, Australia, UK and USA, December 2013-November 2014
Gorgeously jaw-dropping, India has been beautifully redesigned with 32 additional pages of glorious photos shot by Eric Meola since India was first published.This revised and expanded version of Eric Meola's 2008 India takes the reader on a journey through Mumbai, Rajasthan, Agra, Dungarpur, along desert roads, to the Ganges water's edge, including spectacular ruins, the Taj Mahal, and the Festival of Elephants, capturing the spectacle and vibrant colors of these ancient regions. INDIA is rapidly becoming one of the pre-eminent leaders of the twenty-first century. For more than a decade, Eric Meola has returned repeatedly to India, photographing the people, temples, landscapes, architecture, celebrations, and art of this uniquely exuberant and incredibly diverse country. Meola's journeys took him from the Himalayas and monasteries in the North to the temples of Tamil Nadu in the South, from the color and pageantry of Rajasthan in the West to the tea plantations of Darjeeling in the East. Over 200 photographs (edited from more than 25,000 images) will fill this beautifully printed, large-format book. The photographs will be accompanied by dozens of essays, stories, and poems by contemporary and classical Indian writers.Table of ContentsINDIA: In Word & Image Photographs by Eric Meola Contents 19 Eric Meola My Private India 24 Bharati Mukherjee Introduction 29 Salman Rushdie Midnight’s Children 34 I. Allan Sealy The Trotter-Nama 47 R. K. Narayan Ganga’s Story 52 R. K. Narayan The Ramayana 63 William Buck Mahabharata 67 R. K. Narayan Mr. Sampath—The Printer of Malgudi 71 Gita Mehta A River Sutra 83 Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss 86 Manil Suri The Death of Vishnu 94 R. K. Narayan The Guide 100 Ruth Prawer Jhabvala The Housewife 110 Jhumpa Lahiri Interpreter of Maladies 119 Thomas Byrom Dhammapada 120 Anita Desai Fasting, Feasting 129 Amit Chaudhuri A Strange and Sublime Address 132 Nirad C. Chaudhuri My Birthplace 136 R. K. Narayan The Dark Room 147 Nirad C. Chaudhuri My Birthplace 150 Kiran Desai Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard 163 Salman Rushdie Midnight’s Children 169 Clark Blaise and Bharati Mukherjee Days and Nights in Calcutta 178 Rabindranath Tagore Subha 182 Upamanyu Chatterjee English, August 185 Vikram Seth A Suitable Boy 190 Amit Chaudhuri A Strange and Sublime Address 194 Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things 198 Anita Desai Fasting, Feasting 203 O. V. Vijayan The River 211 Kamala Markandaya Nectar in a Sieve 214 Amit Chaudhuri Sandeep’s Visit 222 Gita Mehta A River Sutra 232 V. S. Naipaul An Area of Darkness 239 Manil Suri The Death of Vishnu 243 Ismat Chughtai The Wedding Shroud 246 Nirad C. Chaudhuri The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian 250 Nirad C. Chaudhuri My Birthplace 254 Anita Desai A Devoted Son 260 Kamala Markandaya Nectar in a Sieve---
India’s population of 1.2 billion is as varied and colorful as the spice markets of Old Delhi. Each region, caste, and community has its own culture, reflecting unique histories shaped by conquest, creativity, and religion, expressed in distinct languages, social customs, art forms, and expectations of life. Despite enormous recent political and economic change, in many ways India remains the same—a total sensory experience. The chaos and beauty of color and sound, the language shifts every ten miles, the household variations of spicy and sharp, sweet and sour, the insistent smells of everyday life lived very much in public, and the invasion of personal space will challenge the most experienced traveler. But it is in surrendering to your senses that you begin to embrace the essence of India and to understand its people. Indians live with paradox. Proud traditions and patriotism commingle with tensions and prejudices rooted in age-old rivalries. Ancient temples may be plastered with signs advertising the latest technologies. The rapid urbanization of the last century has given rise to burgeoning slums and an affluent middle class that was nonexistent a few decades ago. Steeped in tradition, exceptionally fatalistic, and intensely passionate about their culture, the Indians are an ingenious, adventurous, and creative people. Show interest in their country and most will respond with genuine warmth and friendship. But they also have indelible ties to family and community that form boundaries and determine decisions that may not always seem reasonable, or sometimes even ethical, to outsiders. Culture Smart! India will make you aware of basic values and behavioral norms, show you how to navigate cultural differences and connect with real people, and offer invaluable insights into this great, endlessly fascinating land.
UPDATED SEPTEMBER, 2012HOW TO ENJOY THE BEST OF INDIA . . .Enjoying India is the ultimate how-and-why guide for foreigners that fills the gaps left by traditional guidebooks--practical and cultural information no visitor or expat can afford to be without. It will give you the knowledge to navigate this unfamiliar land with ease. Enjoying India offers a wealth of insights into India's culture and style of functioning, covering many important topics that are either dealt with superficially or omitted altogether by other books. Whether you are in India for business or pleasure, this is the one book you need to experience the best of India.Acquire the skills, understanding and confidence you need to:* Stay safe and healthy* Communicate successfully * Understand how yes can mean no* Avoid cultural blunders* Deal with Indian bureaucracy* Accommodate special needs* Bargain effectively* Get a seat on a fully booked train* Use your computer safely * Cope with Indian plumbing* and much, much more . . .
Congratulations! You've Found the Ultimate Guide to India Travel!You are super lucky to be going to India, and this guide will let you know all of the coolest things to do, see, and eat around the country, in places like New Delhi, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala, Kashmir, Varanasi, Himachal Pradesh, Mumbai, Rishikesh, Kolkata, and more.Why You Need 101 Coolest Things to Do in IndiaThis India guide will give you the lowdown on:the very best things to shove in your pie hole, from typical Indian street food like bhel puri through to fancy restaurantsthe best shopping so that you can take a little piece of India home with you, whether that’s in the form of some hand crafted jewellery or fragrant spices bought from a spice marketincredible festivals, whether you would like to celebrate Holi by throwing paint on strangers, or you’d like to witness a tribal snake festival the coolest historical and cultural sights that you simply cannot afford to miss from forts that are more than a thousand years old through to stunning textile museumsunforgettable outdoor adventures, whether you’d like to trek across a frozen lake or go camping in a tiger reserveand tonnes more coolness besides!GET Your Copy NOW!Tags: India, India Travel Guide, Backpacking India, India Budget Travel, Travel to India, India Holidays, India Restaurants, India Accommodation, Rajasthan, Kerala, Goa, Mumbai, Bombay, Kolkata, Calcutta, New Delhi, Himachel Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Varanasi, Tamil Nadu, Indian Temples, Indian History
#1 best-selling guide to South India*
Lonely Planet South India & Kerala is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Admire the regal Mysore Palace, relax on a palm-fringed beach, or cruise through tropical Kerala; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of South India and begin your journey now!
Inside Lonely Planet South India & Kerala Travel Guide:Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - including history, art, architecture, politics, landscapes, wildlife, cuisine, customs, volunteering, yoga, Hinduism and bazaar-shopping. Over 82 maps Covers Kerala's backwaters, Goa's beaches, Chennai's urban villages, Bengaluru's sophisticated city life, Ellora and Ajanta's Buddhist caves, Puducherry's French-colonial streets, Mysore's sandalwood markets, and more
The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet South India & Kerala, our most comprehensive guide to South India, , is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.Looking for a guide focused on India? Check out Lonely Planet India guide for a comprehensive look at all the country has to offer; or Lonely Planet Discover India, a photo-rich guide to the country's most popular attractions
Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.
About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.
*Best-selling guide to South India. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA, December 2013 to November 2014
The late Paul Brunton was one of the 20th century's greatest explorers of and writers on the spiritual traditions of the East. A Search in Secret India is the story of Paul Brunton's journey around India, living among yogis, mystics, and gurus, some of whom he found convincing, others not. He finally finds the peace and tranquility which come with self-knowledge when he meets and studies with the great sage Sri Ramana Maharishi.
As attractive as it is functional, National Geographic’s Classic style political map of India is one of the most detailed and comprehensive maps ever published for India and southern Asia. It includes India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Tajikistan, and portions of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. The India map is punctuated with thousands of place names, and embellished with shaded relief which highlights the region's dramatic topography in such places as the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalaya. Also shown are the country's infrastructures, including airports, railroads, super highways, canals, major oil fields and pipelines, canals, and more.
The map is encapsulated in heavy-duty 1.6 mil laminate which makes the paper much more durable and resistant to the swelling and shrinking caused by changes in humidity. Laminated maps can be framed without the need for glass, so the fames can be much lighter and less expensive.Map Scale = 1:5,625,000Sheet Size = 23.5" x 30.25"
The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.
There are risks of civil disorder and acts of terrorism in many districts of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Indian army has been given special powers in this region. The prevailing security threat remains at a high level. Street demonstrations by the general public can be easily triggered and occasionally become violent; in the past, some have resulted in fatalities. Curfews and other mobility restrictions can be imposed by local authorities on short notice. There are sporadic violent clashes between militants and Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley and Jammu region of the state. Occasionally, there are attacks against security forces, which could also kill or injure civilians.
A strong military presence remains on both sides of the Line of Control (the military control line between India and Pakistan). India and Pakistan have laid landmines along the length of both sides of the Line of Control. Unexploded munitions along the Line of Control also constitute a risk.
You should avoid the immediate vicinity along the border with Pakistan in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab. Landmines and unexploded ammunition may be present. The Wagah border crossing and the towns farther from the border, such as Amritsar in Punjab and Bikaner and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, are considered safe.
The border is unmarked in certain areas, and travellers may accidentally stray into Pakistan illegally.
National elections are expected to be held in the Spring of 2014. Political rallies and possible demonstrations could affect transportation. Explosions occurred in Patna in October 2013, where a large crowd had gathered for an upcoming political campaign rally. Further attacks could occur in the lead-up to the elections. Avoid all political events, demonstrations and large gatherings, monitor local developments, and follow the advice of local authorities.
There is a continuing threat of terrorist attacks throughout India at all times, including attacks targeting public transportation and places frequented by foreign visitors and expatriates. Maintain a high level of vigilance, remain aware of your surroundings, monitor local news reports, follow the advice of local authorities, avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, and take appropriate steps to increase your personal security. Exercise caution around tourist and religious sites, government installations and during public events such as cultural festivals. Be particularly vigilant during the Indian holiday period between October and January, as well as in the lead-up to and on days of national significance, such as Diwali, Republic Day (January 26) and Independence Day (August 15), as militants have used such occasions to mount attacks. If you see an unattended package, immediately leave the area and report the package to authorities.
Terrorist attacks have occurred throughout India, often taking the form of remotely detonated bomb blasts in crowded markets of major centres at the peak shopping time in the early evening. Six explosions occurred in a park in Patna on October 27, 2013, where a large crowd had gathered for an upcoming political campaign rally. An explosion took place near the office of a political party in Bangalore on April 17, 2013. Two explosions occurred in a crowded neighbourhood in Hyderabad on February 21, 2013. Explosions occurred outside the Delhi High Court in September and May 2011. Three explosions took place in Mumbai in July 2011. In 2010, attacks took place outside a cricket stadium in Bangalore and at a crowded bakery popular among tourists in Pune. Attacks also occurred in Margao, Goa, in 2009, and in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Assam, Bangalore, Jaipur, Manipur and New Delhi in 2008. More than 380 people were killed in these separate attacks.
Maoist extremist groups, known as “Naxalites”, are most active in areas identified by the Government of India as Left Wing Extremist states, which include Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Naxalites are responsible for more terrorist attacks in India than any other organization and are usually based in rural and forested areas within the Left Wing Extremist states. In March 2012, two Italian citizens were kidnapped by Naxalites in Odisha State.
There are frequent bombings and attacks by extremist groups in the northeastern state of Manipur. The Manipur-Burma, Assam-Bangladesh, Nagaland-Burma and Arunachal Pradesh-Burma border areas are also affected by insurgency. Trains and railway tracks are sometimes targeted. While tourists have not been specifically targeted, bystanders can be affected.
Violent crime against foreigners is not common. Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, is common. Pay attention to the security of your passport and personal belongings, as passports and valuables have been stolen from luggage on trains and buses. Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.
Foreign women are often a target for unwanted attention. Reports of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreign women have increased. Women should avoid travelling alone, particularly at night, on public transportation, taxis and auto-rickshaws, as well as in less populous and unlit areas, including city streets, village lanes and beaches. Dress conservatively and respect local customs. Should you feel threatened, dial 100 (112 from cellular telephones) to reach police. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.
Political rallies and demonstrations are frequent throughout the country and can turn violent, particularly around elections. Both domestic and international political events can trigger large-scale demonstrations that may include communal violence. Curfews are occasionally imposed and significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation may occur. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities, and monitor local media.
Traffic drives on the left. Travel by road is dangerous. Most roads, including major highways, are poorly maintained and traffic is congested. Drivers have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices. Do not travel by motorcycle or scooter after dark. Helmets are compulsory. Use only officially marked taxis, pre-negotiate the fare, and seek information from authorized service counters at airports or railway and bus stations.
Although there are four land links between India and Pakistan, these routes are highly restricted. Canadians require a visitor visa to enter Pakistan. Border crossings (road and rail) are open on a limited basis only, and travellers should inquire in advance.
Rail accidents are common in India, mostly due to poor maintenance. Air and rail traffic in northern India is sometimes affected by cancellations and rescheduling in December and January due to fog.
Maritime accidents are also common and are often caused by poor safety practices. Do not board vessels that appear overloaded or unseaworthy.
Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.
Pirate attacks occur in coastal waters and, in some cases, farther out at sea. Mariners should take appropriate precautions. For additional information, consult the Live Piracy Report published by the International Maritime Bureau.
Scams involving the export of jewels and/or carpets have occurred. Taxi drivers may approach you offering money to export such items. Do not accept any offer, no matter how convincing. See our Overseas Fraud page for more information on scams abroad.
If you intend to trek:
a) never trek alone;
b) always hire an experienced guide and ensure that the trekking company is reputable;
c) buy travel health insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation;
d) ensure that you are in top physical condition;
e) advise a family member or friend of your itinerary;
f) know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal;
g) register with the nearest Canadian government office in India; and
h) obtain detailed information on trekking routes before setting out.
Dial 100 to reach police, 102 for ambulance and 101 for firefighters.
Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.
Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Risk is low for most travellers. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to mosquito bites (e.g., spending time outdoors in rural areas) while travelling in regions with risk of Japanese encephalitis.
Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
There is a risk of polio in this country. Be sure that your vaccination against polio is up-to-date.
Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.
Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
|* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.|
|Country Entry Requirement*|
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in South Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in South Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
Visceral leishmaniasis (or kala azar) affects the bone marrow and internal organs. It is caused by a parasite spread through the bite of a female sandfly. It can also be transmitted by blood transfusion or sharing contaminated needles. If left untreated it can cause death. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from sandfly bites, which typically occur after sunset in rural and forested areas and in some urban centres. There is no vaccine available for leishmaniasis.
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Southern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.
For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.
Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.
High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect fines and a minimum jail sentence of 10 years.
There are strict regulations on the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, antiquities, electronic equipment, currency, ivory, gold objects and other prohibited materials. The Government of India requires the registration of antique items with local police, along with a photograph of the item. Contact the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi for specific information regarding customs requirements.
If you are travelling to India for the purpose of entering into a surrogacy agreement, ensure that you are well informed regarding both Canadian and Indian laws and requirements before leaving. Consult the High Commission of India in Ottawa and the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi for more information.
Homosexual activity is illegal.
It is illegal to carry or use a satellite phone in India without permission.
Carry adequate identification at all times.
An International Driving Permit is required.
Foreigners have been forced into marriage without their prior knowledge or consent. For more information, consult our Forced Marriage page and our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide.
A number of Canadians have been involved in marital fraud and dowry abuse in India. Some cases involve misuse of India’s Dowry Prohibition Act. This law, which was enacted to protect women by making dowry demands a crime, is sometimes used to blackmail men through false allegations of dowry extortion. Individuals facing charges may be forced to remain in India until their cases have been settled or to compensate their spouses in exchange for the dismissal of charges. To avoid such problems, register your marriage in India along with a joint declaration of gifts exchanged, and consider a prenuptial agreement as well.
The currency is the rupee (INR), which is non-convertible. Traveller's cheques are widely accepted and can be exchanged at banks. U.S. dollar traveller's cheques are recommended. Credit cards are accepted. Automated banking machines (ABMs) are available in larger cities. Consult your bank to find out whether your debit and credit cards will work in India.
The rainy (or monsoon) season in western and southwestern India extends from June to September. Severe rainstorms can cause flooding and landslides, which can cut off affected areas.
India’s coastline is subject to cyclonic storms. Storms can result in significant loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, and can hamper the provision of essential services. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities. Consult our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.
India is located in an active seismic zone.
Many cities in India frequently experience high levels of air pollution. Dust storms, which can occur across northern India, may cause various irritations and exacerbate existing health problems. You can monitor air pollution levels for many Indian cities on the websites of the System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
In the summer, northeastern India periodically experiences heat waves. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.