India's colorful and diverse culture is like nothing you can experience in the Western World. Home to approximately a sixth of the world's population the sheer size of India means you could spend months travelling and still barely scratch the surface of what the country has to offer. The most frequently visited part of India is undoubtedly the Delhi area and the other two major cities of the "Golden Triangle", Jaipur and Agra. However those not wishing to be too adventurous or those who are visiting India for the first time might find relaxing on the more European flavoured beaches of Goa.
It should be noted that due to the risk of paramilitary, terrorist and criminal activity the fco advises against travel to the contested areas of Kashmir and Jammu. They also advise staying clear of the India-Pakistan border due to consistent skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian troops. Other regions of the country however are generally safe as long as a high level of alertness is maintained against pick pocketing and other criminal activities. In general it is best not to travel the streets alone after dark and women should be respectful of local dress customs.
- Currency: Rupee = 100 paise
- Time Zone: GMT +5.3
- Language: English, Hindi, Urdu
- Telephone Services: Country code +91, International access code 00
- Emergency Numbers: In Deli: Police 100, Fire 101 for other locations contact your hotel
Most regions of India experience hot tropical weather. During winter the evenings are quite cool but the days are hot and dry. The summer months are hot, dry and dusty and many travellers find it uncomfortable to travel at this time of the year. Most regions are subject to monsoon rains between June and September. The Himalayas experience much colder, damper weather in the winter and higher lying places are usually covered in snow.
Things to see and do
Delhi, the country's capital often first strikes travellers as a crowded noisy and polluted city. Western travellers are hassled almost constantly by beggars, shoe shiners and other citizens desperate to earn what amounts frequently to under a pound. Although there is still plenty of redeeming features in Delhi. There are numerous monuments including the impressive Mughal Red Fort, the looming solid stone tower of the Qutub Minar and the India Gate, built to honour the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died during the first world war. Most travellers also spend time visiting the various mosques and temples present in Delhi, some of the most remarkable ones are the Bahai Temple, the Jama Masjid Mosque and the Birta Mandir. It is important to remember when visiting these holy places to respect local customs, particularly that of removing footwear when entering a temple. Delhi also boasts several beautiful gardens such as the Lodi Gardens famed for its ponds and fountains and the Mughal Gardens which is situated in the Indian Presidents official residence. You will of course find plenty of shops, restaurants and museums throughout Delhi and the city is also ideally situated for visiting the Taj Mahal at Agra and Jaipur.
Agra is home to the most famous tourist attraction in India, the Taj Mahal. This Moghul monument was built as a mausoleum in memory of Emperor Shah Jahan's second wife who died during childbirth. Taking over twenty years to build it is one of the most magnificent structures in the world and should be top of any tourists list. Although bear in mind that if you are not a Muslim you will not be able to enter the Taj Mahal on Fridays. You will however be able to see Agra's other main tourist attraction, the Agra Fort. This huge defensive structure is built out of red sandstone and it's walls contain mosques, gardens and various other chambers. Not all of the buildings are open to the public but this is still a site worth seeing. If you are still at a loss for things to do you could visit Akbar's Mausoleum which is a truly unique combination of decorative styles from many of the worlds religions.
The third corner of the "Golden Triangle", Jaipur is often known as "the pink city" for its pink tinged old buildings and walls. Most of the attractions are within the 'pink city' although today Jaipur extends considerably around the old town. There are seven gates into the old city all of which are still intact and within its walls you can find such delights as the Johari Bazaar, a jewellery market, the Iswari Minar Swarga Sul, which is a huge minaret overlooking the city and the Hawa Mahal or "Palace of the Winds".
Many travellers are most comfortable in Goa due to the rather prevalent European Colonial culture. In addition there is a large Roman Catholic presence and a much more Western feel to Goa than elsewhere in India. Of interest to tourists are numerous Goan forts, the most impressive of which is the riverside Aguado Fort as well as Christian religious sites such as the Convent of Santa Monica. Most tourists however come for the gorgeous beaches at locations such as Anjuna, Bogmalo and Miramar.
A truly unique site is the Kanha National Park, the largest and most remote of Indias parklands the forest and grasslands cover nearly 2000 square kilometres of land. There is a myriad of wildlife in the park including tigers, leopards and sambar. Visitors can embark on elephant safaris through the national park which is famously the setting for The Jungle Book. The best time to travel is during the hotter months as wildlife sighting are far more frequent during these times.
The sheer size of India means that unlike most countries internal flights are something worth thinking about. The internal domestic airline is Indian Airlines which operate routes to 70 different cities throughout India. Whats more there are several discount passes available to foreign nationals. The most attractive is the Discover India Pass which allows unlimited travel on Indian Airlines routes for 15 or 21 days. The prices start at $500 for a 15 day tickets so if you want to cover large distances fast to see many different regions this is a great way to do it. Also available are "India Wonderfares" which are cheaper 7 days tickets offering unlimited travel within 4 regions; North, South East and West. Most of these tickets stipulate that no destination can be visited more than once so make sure you plan your route carefully to avoid having to pay for some of your flights.
The rail system is operated by Indian Railand is the second largest network in the world. It covers over 7000 destinations and represents a great way to get around on a budget. There are frequent express trains between all major cities and local buses link up to cover smaller towns not serviced by the rail network. There are six classes of travel all of which are relatively inexpensive so most travellers opt for the second-air conditioned class, which is relatively comfortable and cheaper than first class travel whilst retaining the main benefit (the air conditioning).
Indiarail.co.uk offer various flexi passes ranging from 7 days right up to 90 days of unlimited travel. The tickets are available for all classes of travel and once again we recommend the second air-conditioned class of travel as a relatively comfortable and inexpensive method of travel. These passes can also be bought from main railway stations once in India so don't worry if you forgot or don't have enough time left to book online.
Buses are run by a host of local companies and can be quite useful, if uncomfortable. At this time there doesn't seem to be any central source of information on buses in India so the best bet is to consult local tourist office or tourist information facilities on arrival in India. In general transport is cheap but many of India's cities are extremely congested so buses are probably best reserved for short local journeys outside of main cities like Delhi or Jaipur.
Modern Western style hotels are available in large cities and popular tourist charges and prices, whilst not cheap are lower than in most of Western Europe. You can find more information at the website of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India. There are also often tourist bungalows available in tourist hotspots, most providing kitchen facilities and a general canteen.
For cheaper budget accommodation there is a variety of Hostels spread out throughout each region. The department of tourism moderates these and you will generally be provided with a bed with a mattress, bed linen and a wardrobe with a lock. The standard of hygiene varies so it is often advisable to bring your own lightweight sleeping bag when staying in a hostel. More information can be found at the Youth Hostel Association of India's webpage. You can also find thei address in the useful addresses section.
Malaria is present throughout the year in most parts of India so caution should be observed. Vaccinations are recommended for Polio and Typhoid. These vaccinations can be obtained from your GP and shouldn't cost more than £40.
The tap water in India is untreated and is not safe to drink, you should also avoid dairy products as these are not pasteurised. Fruit and vegetables should be peeled before consumption and caution should be observed when purchasing food from street vendors.
The Youth Hostel Association of India's webpage contains information of youth hostels set up and run by the Department of Tourism.
The Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India can provide information on state approved hotels throughout India.
Indian Rail operate the rail network in India
Indiarail.co.uk offer a range of flexi passes for use on the Indian rail network.
Indian airlines are the domestic airline in India.
Hotel Mount View Scenic accommodation set amongst snow capped mountains in Dalhousie.
Elements Hostel Luxurious, affordable, safe and comfortable place to stay in Chennai for Backpackers and Travellers.