India (Hindi: भारत)  is the largest country in the Indian Subcontinent and shares borders with Pakistan to the west, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan to the north-east, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia lie to the south-east in the Indian Ocean. It is the seventh largest country in the world by area and, with over a billion people, is second only to China in population. It's an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity across its expanse, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth.
Befitting its size and population, India's culture and heritage are a rich amalgam of the past and the present: From the civilizations, fascinating religions, variety of languages (more than 200!) and monuments that have been present for thousands of years to the modern technology, economy, and media that arises as it opens up to a globalised world, India will never cease to awe and fascinate the visitor.
Indians date their history from the Vedic Period which scholars place in the second and first millennia BCE continuing up to the 6th century BCE, based on literary evidence. This is the period when the Vedas, the oldest and holiest books of Hinduism, were compiled. The earliest archaeological traces are from 7000 BC in Mehrgarh, which grew to be the "Indus Valley Civilization", which, in 3300 BC had well-planned towns and well-laid roads, but gave no evidence of weapons or fortifications. This declined and disintegrated around 1900 BC, possibly due to drought & geological disturbances. There is a major dispute over whether the textual descriptions in Vedic literature match with the archaeological evidence found in the Indus Valley. The majority of the historians claim that they do not match, which means that Vedic people were not the same as the Indus Valley people. The theory is that the Vedic people were later migrants, who encountered a civilization in decline and perhaps hastened that decline. The minority view challenges this Aryan Migration (or invasion) theory, claiming that the Indus Valley people were in fact the ones who compiled the Vedas.
The Vedic civilization influences India to this day. The roots of present-day Hinduism lie in them. Some rituals of Hinduism took shape during that period. Most North-Indian languages come from Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, and are classified as part of the Indo-European group of languages. In the 1st millennium BC, 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 recognized as separate religions.
Many great empires were formed between 500 BC and AD 500. Notable among them were the Mauryas and the Guptas (called the Golden Age). This period saw a gradual decline of Buddhism and Jainism. The practice of Buddhism, in particular, disappeared from the Indian mainland, though Buddha himself was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Jainism continues to be practised by a significant number who are ambivalent about whether they consider themselves Hindus or not.
Islamic incursions started in the 8th century in the form of raids. Gradually the raiders started staying as rulers, and soon much of North India was ruled by Muslims. The most important of the Muslim rulers were the Mughals, who established an 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. Eventually the Mughal empire declined, partly under attack from the Marathas who established a short-lived confederacy that was almost as big as the Mughal Empire. The Rajput and Mughal period of North India was the golden age for Indian art, architecture, and literature, produced 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, either due to force, to escape the low social status that the caste system imposed on them, or simply to gain the benefits of being aligned with their rulers. Today, some 13% of the Indian population and an overwhelming majority of Pakistan is Muslim.
South India followed a different trajectory, being less affected by the Islamic invasion. The period from 500 AD to 1600 AD 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. Tamil, Kannada and Telugu literature flourished during this time and has been prolific ever since. Among them, the Cholas 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, which were less subject to Muslim religious prohibitions.
European traders started visiting India beginning in the late 16th century. Prominent among these were the British, French and the Portuguese. By the 19th century, the British East India Company 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 make India a part of the empire. 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, when the British Government took over from the East India Company, 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 state of India and the smaller Islamic 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.
Free India under Nehru adopted a democratically-governed, centrally-planned economy. These policies were aimed at attaining "self-sufficiency", and to a large extent made India what it is today. 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 25% remain in poverty.
Relations with Pakistan have been frosty. They have fought three (or four, if you count the Kargil conflict of 1999) wars, mostly over the status of Kashmir. The third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. China and India went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. An unprepared India was defeated by China. Viewed as a "betrayal" in India, the defeat still rankles. 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 (but not tourists). The 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 throughout its 60 years as an independent country, except for an 18 month interlude in 1975-1977, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspending elections and human rights.
Current concerns in India include the ongoing dispute with Pakistan, terrorism, over-population, corruption, environmental degradation, continuing poverty, and ethnic and religious strife. But the current obsession, at least among the educated elite, is over whether India will be able overtake China in economic growth.
India is a republic, with the President as the Head of State. The President is elected by an electoral college, which consists of all elected members of parliament and all elected members of the various state assemblies. Each elector is given a different number of votes, such that the national government and the state governments have an equal say in the appointment of the president, and less-populated states are not at an unfair disadvantage.
The parliament is based on the British Westminster system, consisting of two houses. The lower house, known as the Lok Sabha (House of the People) is popularly elected by the people. The upper house, known as the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) is largely elected by the people through popular vote, though several members with expertise in specific fields are also appointed to it by the president. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the majority party in both houses.
In practice the Prime Minister is one who wields the most authority in government, with the President being the nominal head of state.
Indian Standard Time (IST) is 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+5.5). Daylight Saving is not observed.
Mountains, jungles, deserts and beaches, India has it all. It is bounded to the north, northeast and northwest by the snow-capped Himalayas, the tallest mountain range in the world. In addition to protecting the country from invaders, they also fed 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. It is bounded by the Sahyadri (Western Ghats) range 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 called the Dandakaranya which 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 tribals. 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 (and therefore the economy) will do. It lasts from June to September. It 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 which cause much devastation every year. The only region that gets rains from both monsoons is Northeastern 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, Shishira - Winter, Hemanta - "Mild Winter") they had divided the year into.
India has a very rich and diverse mix of culture and tradition, dominated by religious and spiritual themes. There is no single unified Indian culture, and it's probably the only country where people of so many different origins, religious beliefs, languages and ethnic backgrounds coexist. There are 3 main sub-cultures: North, East and South. Most of the ancient Indian culture is preserved in the South which is famous for its classical arts, such as Carnatic music and classical Indian dance.
The Northern part of India has a rich heritage of Hindustani Classical Music and vibrant dance forms. Art and theatre flourish amongst the bustling cities of the country, against the backdrop of the ever expanding western influences that flavour life in the large metropolises of India.
The East is popular for its many forms of folkdances and music. These art forms are enriched by a strong east asian influence.
"Atithi Devo Bhavah"
India's tourism ministry has started a program to encourage people to show more courtesy and to display sensitivity to the needs of tourists. It has named the initiative Atithi Devo Bhavah, which is an ancient Hindu dictum meaning "Guest is a God". The term will develop as a brand, to certify that a service provider ensures a certain minimum level of quality. Look out for the badge or sticker with these words when you are searching for taxi drivers, tour operators, etc .
There are three national holidays: Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15), and Gandhi Jayanti (October 2) which occur on the same day every year. In addition, there are three major nationwide festivals with shifting dates to be aware of:
- Holi, in February or March — The festival of color is a major festival celebrated mainly in North, East and Western India. On the first day, people go to temples and light bonfires, but on the second, it's a colored waterfight combined with showers of colored powder. This is not a spectator sport: as a visible foreigner, you're a magnet for attention, so you'll either have to barricade yourself inside, or put on your most disposable clothes and join the fray. Alcohol and bhang (cannabis) are often involved and crowds can get rowdy as the evening wears on. Celebrations are rare in South India, though private celebrations occur among North Indian communities residing in major South Indian cities
- Durga Puja / Navarathri/Dussehara, Sept-Oct — A nine-day festival culminating in the holy day of Dasara, when locals worship the deity Durga. Workers are given sweets, cash bonuses, gifts, new clothes etc. It is also new year for businessmen, when they are supposed to start new account books. In some places like West Bengal, Durga Puja is the most important festival. In the north Dussehara celebrations take place and the slaying of Ravana by Lord Rama is ceremonially reenacted as Ram Lila. In Gujarat and South India, it is celebrated as Navarathri where the festival is celebrated by dancing to devotional songs and religious observances like fasts extended over a period of 9 nights.
- Diwali (Deepavali), Oct-Nov — The festival of lights, celebrates the return of Lord Rama to the capital of his kingdom, Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years. Probably the most lavish festival in the country, reminiscent (to US travellers at least) of the food of Thanksgiving and the shopping and gifts of Christmas combined. Houses are decorated, there is glitter everywhere, and if you wander the streets on Diwali night, there will be firecrackers going off everywhere including sometimes under your feet.
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.
- The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters, William Dalrymple; A fine travelogue, actually a collection of essay papers  published over time in the media. (ISBN 1864501723)
- India: A History, John Keay; "A superb one-volume history of a land that defies reduction into simple narrative... Without peer among general studies, a history that is intelligent, incisive, and eminently readable." -- Kirkus Review (starred review) (ISBN 0802137970)
- India: A Million Mutinies Now, V.S. Naipaul; "With this book he may well have written his own enduring monument, in prose at once stirring and intensely personal, distinguished both by style and critical acumen" -- K. Natwar-Singh, Financial Times (ISBN 0670837024)
- In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce; an exceptionally insightful and readable book on the unlikely rise of modern India. (ISBN 0316729817)
- No Full Stops In India, Mark Tully; "India's Westernized elite, cut off from local traditions, want to write a full stop in a land where there are no full stops. From that striking insight Mark Tully has woven a superb series of stories which explore everything from communal conflict in Ahmedabad to communism in Kolkata, from the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad (probably the biggest religious festival in the world) to the televising of a Hindu epic." (ISBN 0140104801)
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 area's 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 without expecting anything in return. During your travels in India, you will be deluged with touts trying to get you to buy something or patronize 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.
Indians, in general, are a friendly lot, and people will be forthcoming in their questioning and offer suggestions, which may be helpful, may not be warranted at that point of time. Indians tend to be friendly with visitors and most of them will be pleased to assist tourists.
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: first, assume that anyone doing something for you or offering something without being asked is a tout. Second, 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:
- Completely ignore him and go about your business until he goes away. This may take quite a while but patience is key to managing India.
- Tell him "NO", very firmly, and repeatedly.
India is administratively divided into 28 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.
These states and union territories are grouped by convention into the following regions:
| Himalayan North (Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand)|
Mountainous and beautiful, a tourist destination for the adventurous and the spiritual. This region contains some of India's most visited hill-stations and religious places. Includes the exquisitely scenic states.
| The Plains (Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh)|
The country's capital Delhi is here. The river Ganga and Yamuna flows through this plain. Many of the events that shaped India's history took place in this region. Madhya Pradesh is in Central India and is densely forest. Most of the tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries are created in MP for wildlife conservation. The River Narmada originates at Amarkantak in MP enters Jabalpur and then Gujarat. It submerges at Arabian Sea at Bharuch. Virgin River Narmada is holiest river for the Hindus and is a major center of pilgrimage and spiritual tours in India.
| Western India (Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan)|
Miles and miles of the Thar Desert. Home to the colorful palaces, forts and cities of Rajasthan, the country's most vibrant and biggest city Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), wonderful beaches and pristine forests of Goa and Bollywood (Indian film industry in Bombay).
| Southern India (Andaman and Nicobar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu)|
A strong bastion of indigenous culture, South India features famous and historical temples, tropical forests, backwaters in Kerala, equally great coastal line and country side infused with rich heritage in Andhra Pradesh, beautiful hill stations in Tamil Nadu, beaches and cosmopolitan cities in Pondicherry, Karnataka and the wonderful lush island groups of Andaman & Nicobar (on the east) and Lakshadweep on the west.
| Eastern India (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Sikkim, West Bengal)|
India's mostly rural region, its largest city is Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), the temple cities of Puri of Lord Jagannath fame and Bhubaneswar are both in Orissa.
| North-Eastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura)|
remote and sensitive, the country's tribal corner, with beautiful landscapes and famous for Tea Gardens. Consists of seven tiny states (by Indian standards, some of them are larger than Switzerland or Austria) popularly nicknamed as the Seven Sisters.
Below is a selection of nine of India's most notable cities. Other cities can be found under their specific regions.
- Delhi — the capital of India for a thousand years and the heart of Northern India.
- Bangalore (now Bengaluru) — The garden city, once the sleepy home of pensioners now transformed into the city of pubs, technology and companies.
- Chennai (formerly Madras) — main port in Southern India, cradle of Carnatic Music and Bharatanatyam, home of the famous Marina beach, Automobile Capital of India and a fast emerging IT hub.
- Jaipur — the Pink City is a major exhibit of the Hindu Rajput culture of medeival Northern India.
- Kochi (formerly Cochin) — Historically, a centre of international trade, now the gateway to the sandy beaches and backwaters.
- Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) — the cultural capital of India, Kolkata is home to numerous colonial buildings. It is known as The City of Joy.
- Mumbai (formerly Bombay) — the financial capital of India, "Bollywood" (Indian Hindi Film Industry) hub.
- Shimla — the former summer capital of British India located in the Himalayan foothills with a large legacy of Victorian architecture.
- Varanasi — considered the most sacred Hindu city, located on the banks of the Ganges, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities of the world.
India has many outstanding landmarks and areas of outstanding beauty. Below is a list of nine of the most notable:
- Bodh Gaya — the place where the Buddha Sakyamuni attained enlightenment.
- Ellora/Ajanta — spectacular rock-cut cave monasteries and temples, holy place for the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus.
- Goa — an east-west mix, beaches and syncretic culture.
- Golden Temple — Sikh holy site located in Amritsar
- Hampi — the awesome ruins of the empire of Vijayanagara
- Khajuraho — famed for its erotic sculptures
- Lake Palace — the Lake Palace of Octopussy fame, located in Udaipur
- Meenakshi Temple — a spectacular Hindu temple in Madurai
- Taj Mahal — the incomparable marble tomb in Agra
Many visitors expecting maharajas and fabulous palaces are shocked when their first impressions are dominated by poverty instead. Prepare for the following:
Most visitors get inured quite fast and start seeing the good sides too, but take it easy on your first few days and schedule some time to get away from it all.
Citizens of most countries with a few exceptions like Bhutan and Nepal need a visa to get in. Depending on your purpose of visit, 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 (US$150, business and tourist) is available to US citizens only. An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued, not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on January 1 will expire on June 30, regardless of your date of entry. There is a minimum two month gap period between consecutive tourist visas.
As of 1 January 2010, India has introduced a new visa-on-arrival scheme, which is available to citizens of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Singapore at the airports in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata for a stay of up to 30 days. The visa-on-arrival costs US$60, is valid for a single entry and is not extendable. In addition, there is a minimum two month gap between the expiry of one tourist visa and the issuance of the next.
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, you must submit your visa application to Travisa , not the embassy. Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee, above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offers visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home, instead of trying to get in a neighboring country (although, as at August '09, 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 neighboring countries. However, even on multiple entry visas there is supposed to be a two month gap between leaving India and coming back into the country. If attempting to reenter the country before two months have passed, you will be asked for details of your flight home and be made to pay a bribe (up to 50USD) to get them to sign you back in to the country. This is true at smaller land entry points. More convenient is simply to visit the Indian embassy in the country from which you plan to enter India and complete the paperwork authorizing the early entry. The embassy will then paste a cool endorsement sticker in your passport, and you'll be set to reenter India.
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 while 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.
Customs and immigration
Clearing customs can be a bit of a hassle, though it has improved vastly over the 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. If you are a foreign tourist and you aren't Nepali, Bhutanese or Pakistani and you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan, you are entitled to bring in your "used personal effects and travel souvenirs" and Rs. 4,000,- worth of articles for "gifts". If you are an Indian citizen or are of Indian origin, you are entitled to Rs. 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 grams of tobacco and 1 liter (2 liters 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 Rs 5000,- maximum, but on trips to Nepal, this cannot include Rs 500,- and Rs 1000,- notes.
The major points of entry are Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. If you are flying in from a Western country, chances are that you will get in through one of these cities. There are also many connections to to Bangalore, Kochi and Hyderabad from other Asian countries. However in recent years, to accommodate the increasing traffic, many other airports have been upgraded to take in international flights. Among these are Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Calicut, Coimbatore, Dabolim in Goa, Guwahati, Jaipur, Mangalore, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram, Tiruchirappalli and Varanasi. Hyderabad recently have got direct flights setup from Amsterdam, Frankfurt by airlines like KLM and Lufthansa.
India has homegrown international airlines like Air India   (the merged airline formed by merging Air India and Indian Airlines). These provide good connectivity within the country. In recent years, the government has allowed Indian private airlines like Jet Airways  and Kingfisher  to go international. There are daily flights to major hubs around the world from the New Delhi & Mumbai airports.
Air India often offers the lowest rates for long haul flights to India. In recent years, it has steadily improved and has even been invited to join the Star Alliance, but there is still some ways to go until it can be considered world-class. Air India suffers from rampant corruption and there have been documented cases of Air India personnel pilfering through and stealing customer's items.
From the United States, Continental Airlines  offers nonstop daily service from Newark Airport to Delhi and Mumbai; Delta Airlines  offers nonstop daily service from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta (formerly, Kennedy International Airport [JFK] in New York) to Mumbai; Air India offers daily non-stop service to Mumbai and Delhi from JFK. The same service now extends itself by having a final leg at Hyderabad as well; and 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 to India through their Asian hubs. Jet Airways  also flies from New York to Delhi and Mumbai via Brussels and from San Francisco to Mumbai via Shanghai.
Entries from Europe and Northern America are possible using many European airlines such as Lufthansa , Finnair , British Airways , KLM Royal Dutch Airlines , and Air France . 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, by Air Arabia  (Sharjah-based low cost carrier having some connections in Europe), Etihad  (especially if you need one-way ticket or 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 Air India and Air India Express.
From East Asia and Australia, Singapore (which is served by Air India, it's low-cost subsidiary Air India Express , Jet Airways, as well as Singapore Airways , it's subsidiary Silk Air  and low-cost subsidiary Tiger Airways ) has arguably the best connections to India with flights to all the major cities and many smaller ones. As about the cheap way from South-East Asia or vice versa, Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia  is usually the best choice (if booked well in advance, one-way ticket price is normally below $100, sometimes being less than $50, they have connections from China, Australia and most of South-East Asian countries). They fly from Kuala Lumpur into New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Tiruchirapalli. One can also fly directly out of Penang to Chennai. 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 the wider range of Indian cities also. Most Recently, Silk Air  started its direct flights from Singapore to Hyderabad as well.
India has several international ports on its peninsula. Mumbai 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.
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 they set off bombs that killed 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 travelers and there are no onward connections into Nepal, so most travelers 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.
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.
- From Nepal buses cross the border daily, usually with connections to New Delhi, Lucknow, Patna and Varanasi. However, it's cheaper and more reliable to take one bus to the border crossing and another from there on. The border crossings are (India/Nepal side) Sunauli/Bhairawa from Varanasi, Raxaul/Birganj from Patna, Kolkata, Kakarbhitta from Darjeeling, and Mahendrenagar-Banbassa from Delhi.
- The Royal Bhutanese Government runs a service to/from Phuentsholing. These buses depart from Kolkata's Esplanade bus station at 7PM on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from the Phuentsholing Bhutan Post office at 3PM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes around 18 hours and costs 300Rps/Nu. The buses are comfortable, but because much of the highway to Kolkata is like the surface of the moon, don't bank on getting much sleep on the way.
- There is frequent service between Siliguri and Phuentsholing.
- 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 Rs. 400-450 or BDT600-800, roughly $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 1600, roughly $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 the Indian state 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 USD 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.
See Kolkata for where to book tickets for journeys originating there
India is big and there are lots of interesting ways to travel around it, few of which could be described as efficient or punctual. Flights get cancelled, trains are delayed by hours or days, buses show up late if at all leading it to be colloquially referred as following the IST (Indian Standard Time) for anything that delays. Allow considerable buffer time for any journey with a fixed deadline (eg. 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 Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh 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'll 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 terribly long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has recently built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bangalore, which are modern and well-equipped. Mumbai and New Delhi airports are being upgraded.
In northern India, particularly Delhi, heavy winter fog can wreak havoc on schedules. Flights to small airports up in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh (which is reachable only by plane for most 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:
- Air India , India's state owned carrier. Formerly two carriers, Indian Airlines (domestic) and Air India (mainly international). These have merged in 2007, the airline is still in transition. Air India has the largest network in the country and provides excellent regional connectivity. Service is generally below any Western standards and on new aircraft which are being deployed on many metro routes personal televisions are provided in all classes. Will be joining Star Alliance in 2010. Air India also operates low-cost carrier Air India Express , which flies mainly on trunk routes and to international destinations in the Gulf and South-East Asia, and Air India Regional, which flies small aircraft to obscure places.
- Go Air  low cost which now offers additional products: Business class at economy fare (GoBusiness), Flexible travelling product (GoFlexi). Mostly flies from their Mumbai base.
- IndiGo Airlines  - another low cost airline, connecting around 20 major cities throughout the country. Their planes are new A320's purchased directly from Airbus a few years ago at most. As usually with low cost carriers, tickets should be purchased well in advance to get the best fares (more often than not under $100 one-way even for longer flights across the country).
- Jet Airways , full service airline with very good coverage. Now services London (LHR) directly from Delhi and Mumbai and flights to/from Toronto and New York via Brussels. Their subsidiary Jetlite , formerly Air Sahara, operates as a value carrier; i.e. some food and beverages are given.
- Kingfisher Airlines , full service, but with high fares. Their service is excellent. Kingfisher Red, formerly Air Deccan, was once India's largest low-cost carrier, but prices have increased since the Kingfisher takeover. Still handy for direct flights to small towns ignored by the majors. Same prices for foreigners and Indians.
- SpiceJet , a third low cost airline, has fairly good network between bigger Indian cities as well as prices comparable to those of IndiGo. Their planes are similarly brand new, the main difference being these are B737-800's and -900's.
Keep in mind, however, that outside of big cities coverage is poor. If you need to get to a small town, low-cost airlines other than Kingfisher Red won't help you. You may have to rely on Indian Airlines or Jet. Flying low-cost to a metro and taking a train is not a bad idea either.
The earlier you book, the lower you pay. You will hear a lot about air tickets at Rs. 500 ($12), 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 etc.
There are two complications for non-Indians trying to buy plane tickets:
- Many airlines have higher fares for foreigners than for Indians. Foreigners ("non-residents") will be charged in US dollars, whereas Indians will be charged in rupees. In practice, you can simply pretend to be Indian when booking online as the check-in desk will rarely if ever care, but you are still running a small risk if you do this. When possible it's best to patronize those airlines that do not follow this practice.
- Many online booking sites and some of the low-cost carriers reject non-Indian credit cards. Read the small print before you start booking, or book directly with the airline or through a bricks-and-mortar travel agency instead.
Checking in at Indian airports tends to be slow and bureaucratic, involving lots of queueing and security checks. A few pointers to smooth your way:
- Arrive at least two hours before departure if traveling from the major airports. (For domestic flights from minor airports, one hour before is fine.)
- Bring a print-out of your ticket and a government-issued id, or zealous security guards will probably not allow you inside.
- Most airports require that you screen your checked bags before check-in, usually at a stand near the entrance. In high-security airports like Jammu, Srinagar or anywhere in the Northeast, even carry-on baggage needs to be screened. In fact all carry on baggage will be screened by an X-ray scanner and at the discretion of the security personnel, physically too. At Mumbai and Delhi airports there is no pre-screening of baggage.
Don't hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure. Most staff in airports are very helpful to foreigners 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.
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 not always on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover the Indian landscape and scenic beauty first hand 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. Travelling on a train or strolling through an Indian railway station while waiting for your train, is in itself an important part of discovering India. If you are on a budget, travelling on an overnight sleeper train will reduce a night's stay at a hotel. Thus travelling on trains in India is highly recommended.
Trains come in many varieties, but the broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:
- Rajdhani Express
- Shatabdi Express
- Duronto Express
- Jan Shatabdi Express
- Garib Rath Express
- Superfast Trains
- Mail/Express Trains
- Fast Passenger Trains
- Passenger Trains
- Local/Suburban Trains
The 'Rajdhani' and 'Shatabdi' trains are the most luxurious trains on Indian Railways and are completely air-conditioned and also have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price and 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. These trains are also faster than any other train in Indian Railways. 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 maintainence and crew changes.
These are akin to five-star hotels on wheels. Operated jointly by Indian Railways and state tourism departments, they are a wonderful way to experience the sights in India without having to worry about the hassles of travel and accommodation. There are four major tourist trains operating in India at present:
- Palace on Wheels, — This train covers important tourist attractions and historical sites in Rajasthan.
- Deccan Odyssey, — This luxurious train transports its guests on a weeklong journey through some of the best places in Maharashtra and Goa.
- Golden Chariot, — This train takes travellers on a weeklong journey through Karnataka and Goa.
- Royal Rajasthan on Wheels - This new train covers the most important sites of Rajasthan. This train has all the facilities which Palace on Wheels has along with International Spa center and other facilities.
Additional trains include:
- Deccan Odyssey - The Indian Maharaja,— This train takes guests on a weeklong adventure through several exotic destinations covering the vast expanse of Maharashtra and North India. Covering Mumbai, Aurangabad, Udaipur, Sawai Modhopur, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. It includes two dining cars with fine Indian and Continental cusine and also includes facilities such as a library, gymnasium and beauty parlor.
- Maharajas Express,— This train takes guests on weeklong to 8 day long journeys through Princely India (Mumbai - Vadodara - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Bikaner - Jaipur - Ranthambore - Agra - Delhi), Royal India (Delhi - Agra - Ranthambore - Jaipur - Bikaner - Jodhpur - Udaipur - Vadodara - Mumbai), Classical India (Delhi - Agra - Gwalior - Khajuraho - Bandhavgarh - Varanasi - Gaya - Kolkata) and Celestial India (Delhi - Agra - Gwalior - Khajuraho - Bandhavgarh - Varanasi - Gaya - Kolkata).
Most countries offer two classes of service, but India has no less than seven to choose from. But note that all seven classes of travel are generally NOT present all together in most trains. In descending order of cost & luxury, they are:
- 1st class AC sleeper(1A) (the most luxurious and highly recommended for foreign tourists)
- Executive AC Chair Car(1C)
- 2-tier AC sleeper (2A)
- 3-tier AC sleeper (3A)
- AC Chair Car (CC)
- Second Class - Sleeper (non - AC) (SL)
- Second Class - Seating (non - AC) (2S) (popularly known as "general class")
But note that all seven classes of travel are generally NOT present together in a single train. For example AC Chair Car and Second Class Seating may be present on a short distance daytime train but sleeper classes (AC & non AC) may not be present in it. For a long disance night train, the reverse is true with the former being present and latter absent.
Tickets are available from counters at most railway stations as well as directly from Indian Railways' online reservation service . Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes.
Two days before the departure date of a train the Tatkal quota seats become available. 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. Even with this extra quota (about 30% of the seats on a train) it can sometimes be difficult to get the train you want when you want it.
Most long distance night trains have a pantry car and if you are in the sleeper or A/C classes, you can buy meals on board the train. 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 and bottled water for the journey including delays: bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. At most larger stations hawkers selling tea, peanuts, and snack food and even complete meals will go up and down the train. Most important stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff, but the usual caveats about eating in India apply. 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.
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. 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. 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 (eg. 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 intra-state 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 Rs.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 bathroom 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. Do not expect public restrooms at all, or even most, bus stops. 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. There services are excellent 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.
Driving on your own
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 license or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are used 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 with four-laned highways is nearing completion and its roads almost reach international standards. But it is still some time before the drivers adapt to the new roads, so if you are a foreigner, you'll be wise to put off your plans to drive on Indian roads for a few years.
Hiring driver with car
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 Rs 100 to 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 traveling, 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 trunk. However, the Tata Indica (a hatchback) and Tata Indigo (a small sedan) is 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 and Toyota Innova.
There are numerous advantages to having a car and driver.
- A good local driver is the safest means of car travel.
- You can keep your bags and shopping goods with you securely wherever you go.
- The driver will often have some knowledge of local tourist destinations.
- A car is the quickest and most reliable means of going from point to point. After the initial agreement you needn't spend any time finding travel, haggling over price, etc.
- You can stop anywhere you like, and change plans at the last minute.
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 (Rs 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.
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, 27 kms/liter, supposed low reliability (it is "classic" 1940's 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 a dollar an hour labor 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. Two most popular bike manufacturers are Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants (100 CC - 125CC) can give you a mileage exceeding 50 kms/liter on the road, while giving less power if one is opting to drive with pillion on the highways. The bigger variants (150 CC - 220CC) are more powerful and one can get a feel of the power especially on highways - the mileage is lesser for these bikes anywhere between 35kms/liter to 45 kms/liter.
Preferably tourists should go for second hand bikes rather than purchasing new ones. The smaller 100 CC variants can be purchased for anywhere between Rs. 15000 to Rs. 25000 depending on the year of make and condition of vehicle. The bigger ones can be brought from Rs 30000 onwards.
The auto-rickshaw, sometimes abbreviated as "auto" and sometimes as "rickshaw", is the most common means of hired transportation in India. Most residents usually refer to them as a "three wheeler." 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 Rs 10, and includes the first kilometer 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 for 10km of travel within the city would be about Rs 50, which is around a dollar and a few cents. In most of the cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a rate card that elaborately describes the fares on per kilometer basis. A careful tourist must verify the meter-reading against the rate-card before making a payment.
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. Postal addresses are often stated in terms of other landmarks, as in "Opp. Prithvi theatre" or "Behind Maruti Showroom", etc. Unlike the western system of address, the Indian system uses municipal ward number, plot number, house number, land mark and the location instead of street name and block number. Finding a place will usually involve some searching, but you will always find someone out on the streets to guide you.
India has 22 official languages, namely Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, 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.
Hindi, natively spoken by 41% of the population, is the primary tongue of the people from the "Hindi Belt"(including the capital, Delhi) in Northern India. Many more people speak it as a second language. In addition, it is the main working language of the Central Government, and often serves as a common language among Indians with different native languages. If you can afford only one phrasebook, pick up the Hindi one as it will allow you to get by in most of India. The main exceptions are Tamil Nadu and the Northeast. Avoid speaking Hindi in these places, as the language is often met with varying degrees of hostility from the locals.
However, if possible, you are better off picking up as many words of the local language of the place you are going to - people are proud of their culture and language and will appreciate it if an outsider makes an attempt to communicate in it.
Generally speaking, most official signs are trilingual in the local language(if not Hindi), Hindi and English, with the exception of Tamil Nadu where they are bilingual in Tamil and English.
English is widely spoken in major cities and around most tourist places, as well as in most government offices, and acts as the lingua franca among educated Indians. English has been spoken by Indians long enough that it has begun evolving its own rhythm, vocabulary, and inflection, much like French in Africa. Indeed, much has recently been made of subcontinental writers such as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, and Salman Rushdie. The English you are likely to hear in India will be heavily influenced by British English, although spoken with the lilting stress and intonation of the speaker's other native language. Indians can usually tell regional English accents apart.
One of the most delightful quirks of Indian English is the language's adherence to Pre-1950s British English which to speakers in North America and Britain will sound oddly formal. Another source of fascination and intrigue for travelers is the ubiquitous use of English for cute quips in random places. One relatively common traffic sign reads, "Speed thrills, but kills". On the back of trucks everywhere you'll find "use dipper at night" or "Sound Horn".
Indians are adopting more and more native words into their English. A lot of these are already well known to speakers elsewhere. Chai (tea), Guru (learned teacher/master), cummerbund (literally waist-tie), Nirvana (extinction of the separative ego) and avatar (God in human form) are words that have left their original subcontinental home. However, Indians are using English loan words in their native languages at an even more rapid pace. As India modernizes blazingly fast, it has taken from English words for modern objects that simply did not exist a few decades ago. However, more importantly, bilingual Indians in informal conversation will often switch unpredictably between English and their native language when speaking to similar polyglots, thus effectively communicating in a hybridized language that relies on the listener's ability to speak both languages. A bilingual speaker in Delhi, might for example, say "mera fever bahut bad hai" (my fever is very bad) which mixes English with Hindi 50-50 in spite of the fact that perfectly good words exist for both 'fever' and 'bad' in Hindi. This hybrid is sometimes referred to as 'Hinglish.'It seems that English and Hindi are indeed converging among the bilingual sections of society. While English, as a distinct language, is here to stay for now, it appears that it will eventually over hundreds of years be absorbed into the vast cultural fabric of the subcontinent.
English speaking Indians may also seem commanding to a westerner. You may hear "come here," "sit here," "drink this," "bring me that" which may sound direct and demanding to the point of being rude to northern Europeans and Americans, but is in no way meant to be impolite.
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.
- If they are shaking their head back and forth, they mean yes.
- If they are nodding their head in a tilting motion from right to left, they mean okay indicating acceptance. The movement is in a figure eight, and looks identical to the western nod for "Sort of".
- If they shake their head from left to right twisting it about the vertical axis, they mean no.
- There are differences in the way these signs are used in northern and southern India. The back to forth is yes and a vigorous left-right shift is no in North, though latter may be construed for yes in southern states like Tamilnadu. Look for verbal cues that accompany these sounds in south (like 'aaan' for yes ) in south to get the correct meaning.
- Football(Soccer) Other than cricket, you can come across young boys playing around with a ball on any open space which is available.
The club soccer is more favorite to the Indians than the international games and you will find people getting into heated arguments in public places over their favorite team .Also , many large restaurants and bars offer a view of important European club matches and the World Cup matches.
- Hockey (Field hockey) Despite the craze for cricket and football, the national game of India , HOCKEY retains a prominent position in the hearts of many Indians. Although the viewership has dwindled significantly , (as compared to the golden era before cricket came to the fore in the mid 80's), it hasn't vanished off.
Specially in North India, some eastern parts like Jharkhand, Orissa and the north-eastern states still have a significant base. The introduction of the PREMIER HOCKEY LEAGUE and the Bollywood film Chak De! India(starring Shahrukh Khan) has boosted its popularity. The Gachi-Bowli stadium in Hyderabad has arguably the best facilities in the country.
India is a cricket-obsessed country and cricket is in the blood of most Indians. Seeing kids playing cricket in parks and alleys with rubber balls and makeshift wickets is an extremely common sight. Until 2008, Indian cricket was all about the national team playing against other countries in one-day matches or epic five-day Test marathons, but the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL)  has, for better or worse, brought fast-paced, commercialized "Twenty20" cricket to the fore, complete with cheerleaders and massive salaries.
In international matches, while Australia and Sri Lanka make viable opposition, the biggest rivalry by far is with neighbouring Pakistan, and matches between the two sides are often a very charged affair.
About half-a dozen Indian stadiums have a capacity of over 45,000 and watching a cricket match can be quite an experience. Eden Gardens cricket stadium at Kolkata is Asia's highest capacity stadium with over 100,000 seating capacity. While the facilities in the stadiums may not be too spectator friendly (old benches instead of proper seats with backrests, monochrome scoreboards and lots of litter), the atmosphere of most matches is electrifying. Nearly all international matches have sellout crowds, and it is quite normal for fans to bribe officials and make their way in. Starting ticket prices are quite cheap; they can be as low as Rs 250 to 300 (US$6-8). India and Pakistan are all-time arch rivals, and cricket matches between the two nations attract up to a billion TV viewers.
A strong representation of Islamic architecture and a symbol of eternal love, the Taj Mahal is in Agra, India.Constructed by Shah Jahan, Taj Mahal is the mausoleum in memory of his favorite wife Arjumand Banu Begam, popularly known by her title Mumtaz Mahal, from which the name of the monument is taken. It is open every day from sunrise to 19 hours, entry fee for those above 12 years Rs. 15.00 and Free entry on Fridays.
Fair & Festivals
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 weeklong 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 the Indian Carnivals the Goa Festival is a complete sell out in terms of tourism capacities.
Surajkund Mela-(Febuary 1-15)As spring glides in, full of warmth and vibrancy leaving the gray winter behind, Surajkund adorns itself with colorful 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 known as the Surajkund Crafts Mela.
Holi-The Spring Festival of India, Holi - is a festival of colors. Celebrated in March or April according to the Hindu calendar, it was meant to welcome the spring and win the blessings of Gods for good harvests and fertility of the land. As with all the 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-"Diwali", the festival of lights, illuminates the darkness of the New Year's moon, and strengthens our close friendships and knowledge, with a self-realization! Diwali is celebrated on a nation-wide scale on Amavasya - the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Ashwin, (October/November) every year. It symbolizes 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. Diwali, the festival of lights even to-day in this modern world projects the rich and glorious past of India.
Pushkar Mela-Every November, the sleepy little township of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India comes alive with a riot of colors & a frenzied burst of activity. The Occasion: PUSHKAR FAIR. Very few, if at all any, fairs in the world can match the liveliness of Pushkar. Most people associate the Pushkar Fair with e world's largest camel fair. But it is much more than that.
Depending on the area and terrain National Parks provide ample opportunities to the visitors to have a close encounters with the wilds. But what is so exquisite about the Indian National Parks is the variance that they are equipped with. Whether it comes to the flora, avifauna, and aquafauna, or witnessing various wild forms in their natural surroundings on an elephant or inside a jeep, wild ventures in are simply amazing!
Bandhavgarh National Park- located in Umaria District, Madhya Pradesh.
Ranthambore National Park-located near Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan.
Kaziranga National Park- located in Bokakhat, Assam.
Kanha National Park-located in Mandla District, Madhya Pradesh
Royal Chitwan National Park (Nepal)- located in South West Of Kathmandu, Nepal
The currency in India is the Indian rupee (रुपया rupaya in Hindi and similarly named in most Indian languages, but taka in Maithili and Taakaa in Bengali and Assamese). It trades around 46 rupees to the US dollar, 67 to pound sterling and 57 rupees to the Euro. The Rupee is subdivided into 100 paise (singular: paisa). 5 rupees 75 paise would normally be written as Rs.5.75 and one rupee as Re.1.
Common bills come in denominations of Rs. 5 (green), Rs. 10 (orange), Rs. 20 (red), Rs. 50 (purple), Rs. 100 (blue), Rs. 500 (yellow) and Rs. 1,000 (pink). It is always good to have a number of small bills on hand, as merchants and drivers sometimes don't have change. A useful technique is to keep small bills (Rs. 10 - 50) in your wallet or in a pocket, and to keep larger bills separate. In this way you won't be making obvious the amount of money you have available. In many cases merchants will claim that they don't have change for a Rs. 100 or Rs. 500 note. This is often a lie, as they simply don't want to be stuck with a large bill. Rather than giving up your last 6 ten-rupee notes, it is better to make them give you change.
The coins in circulation are 50 paise, Re. 1, Rs. 2, Rs. 5, and Rs. 10 (recently introduced). Coins are useful for buying tea (Rs. 5), for bus fare (Rs. 2 to Rs. 10), and for giving exact change for an auto-rickshaw.
Indians commonly use lakh and crore for "hundred thousand" and "10 million" respectively. Though these terms come from Sanskrit, they have been adopted so deeply into Indian English that most people are not aware that it is not standard in other English dialects. You may also find non-standard placement of commas while writing numerals. Rupees One crore would be written as Rs. 1,00,00,000. 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're 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 (eg. Dubai, Singapore) can give decent rates. Try to get rid of any spare rupees before you leave the country.
Outside airports you can change your currency at any one of the numerous foreign exchange conversion units including banks. Some of the more common foreign exchange merchants are Travelex  and Thomas Cook .
In big cities, there are now ATMs where you can get rupees against your international debit or credit card (maximum amount is 25,000 - 50,000 rupees depending on the ATM). From October 2009 most ATMs will only pay out 10,000 Rs. in each transaction. State Bank of India (SBI) is the biggest bank in India and has the most ATM's. 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, Standard Chartered etc. have 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 doesn't 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.
In short, India is above cheap. For Mid- to High-Range Travellers: Rs 1500 ($40) is at least needed for a decent room in a good hotel offering cable, air condition and a direct telephone; however, this price doesn't include refrigerator. Apart from this food will cost min Rs 100 (decent two time meal at a stall not at a hotel) to sky is the limit. While transportation will cost approximately bus = min Rs 5 for one way short distance of say 1 km, Taxi / Rickshaw = Rs 22 for one way short distance of say 1-2 km that too without air con. So total for one day would be approximate as below:
- Hotel $40 (good one) per day
- Food $10 good meal per day 2 major and 2 mini meals
- Travelling $10 taxi and bus inclusive approximately
- Total $60 for one day for a couple; for a single you can deduct $10.
For Budget Travellers: Budget travel around India is surprisingly easy, with the savvy backpacker able to get by (relatively comfortably) on as little as $15 to $20 a day. It is generally cheaper than South East Asia with a night in a hotel costing as little as 150 to 250 Rs (though don't expect air-con or room service for this price!). Beach huts in the cheaper places of Goa can cost around 300 Rs a night. A meal can be bought from a street trader for as little as 30 Rs, though in a restaurant expect to pay around 200 - 300 Rs if you fancy a beer or two. Overnight buses and trains can cost anywhere from 600 to 1000 Rs dependent on distance and locations, though if you don't mind roughing it on a government bus (benches only) you can get around for less.
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 "well, it's cheaper than 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 store, 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 have an interest). 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 — preferably so that that the shopkeeper can't hear you! — how much they would pay for an item.
Also, very often you will meet a "friend" in the street inviting you to visit their family's shop. In about 9 of 10 cases this will simply mean that you pay twice as much as when you had been in the shop without your newly found friend.
Baksheesh -- the giving of small bribes -- is a very common phenomenon. While it is a big problem in India, indulging in it can ease certain problems and clear some hurdles. Baksheesh is also the term used by beggars if they want money from you, and also can refer to tips given those who provide you a service. Baksheesh is as ancient a part of Middle Eastern and Asian culture as anything 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 (300ml) is priced around 11 to 12 Rs when the actual price is 10. Also, keep in mind that a surprising number of things do not come in packaged form. Do check for the authenticity of the MRP, sometime so it happens that the Shopkeeper may put up a sticker of his own to charge more price from you.
What to Look For/Buy
- Wood Carvings: India produces a striking variety of carved wood products that can be bought at very low prices. Examples include decorative wooden plates, bowls, artwork, furniture, and miscellaneous items that will surprise you. Check the regulations of your home country before attempting to import wooden items.
- Clothing: It depends on the state / region you are visiting. Most of the states have their speciality to offer. For example go for silk sarees if you are visiting Benaras; Block prints if you are in Jaipur
- Paintings: Paintings come on a wide variety of media, such as cotton, silk, or with frame included. Gemstone paintings incorporate semi-precious stone dust, so they have a glittering appearance to them.
- Marble & Stone Carvings: Common carved items include elephants, Hindu gods/goddesses, etc.
- Jewelry: Beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry are very inexpensive in India.
- Pillow Covers, Bed Sets: Striking and rich designs are common for pillows and bed covers.
Indian cuisine is superb and 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 has well-deserved reputation for being hot, owing to the Indian penchant for potent green chilis that will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated, and 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 Bengal cuisine is generally not.
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.
Cuisine in India varies greatly from region to region. The "Indian food" served by restaurants around the world is North Indian, also known as Mughlai (the courts of the Mughal emperors) or Punjabi (the people who popularized it). Mughlai cuisine makes heavy use of meat and spices. It has been heavily influenced by Central Asian cooking, hence you will find pulao (rice cooked in broth), kebab (grilled meat), kofta (balls of mincemeat) etc. Tandoori chicken, prepared in a clay oven called a tandoor, is probably the best-known North Indian dish, but for an authentic Punjabi dining experience, try sarson da saag, a yummy gravy dish made with mustard greens, with makke di roti, a roti made from maize.
North India is wheat growing land, so you have Indian breads (known as roti), including chapatti (unleavened bread), paratha (stuffed chapatti), naan (cooked in a clay tandoori oven), puri (deep-fried and puffed up), 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), a very acquired taste for most visitors — try mixing it with curry, not eating it plain.
A variety of cuisines can be found throughout north India, like the savory Rajasthani dishes, more akin to the Gujarati cuisine, the meat heavy Kashmiri (Wazwan) dishes from the valley of Kashmir or the mild yet gratiating 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), halwa, etc. Dry fruits like almonds, cashews and pistachio are used a lot, often in the desserts, but sometimes also in the main meal.
- See also: Southern India#Eat
In South India, the food is mostly rice-based. They also make greater use of pulses. The typical meal is sambhar (a watery curry) with rice, or avial (mixed vegetables) with rice, traditionally served on a banana leaf as a plate. There are regional variations too — the coastal regions make greater use of coconut and fish. In the coast, particularly in the province of Kerala, it is common to use grated coconut in everything and use coconut oil for cooking, while someone from the interior could be surprised to learn that coconut oil, can in fact, 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, fried idli 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 (rice crepe)in one of the old restaurants of Bangalore like CTR and Janatha in Malleswaram or Vidyarthi Bhavan in Basavangudi. South Indian cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, though Chettinad and Andhra cuisines use meat heavily and are a lot more spicier. Coffee tends to replace tea in the south.
One of the top rated restaurants in the province of Kerala is Harbour Restaurant. Harbour Restaurant is on Beach Road in Alleppey, Kerala and looks out over the Arabian Sea. Tourists have ranked it at decently priced.
To the West, you will find some great cuisine groups. Gujarati cuisine is mostly vegetarian, sweet, and makes heavy use of milk products. Gujaratis make some of the best snack items such as the Dhokla and the Muthia. Rajasthani cuisine is similar to Gujarati, but somewhat spicier. Maharashtra and Goa are famous for their seafood. A notable feature of Goan cooking is that pork is used, a rare sight in the rest of India. Vindaloo originated in Goa, and is in fact traditionally cooked with pork, and in spite of its apparent popularity in Indian restaurants abroad, it is not common in India itself.
A great restaurant for amazing seafood in Goa is Viva Panjim. It is located Panaji, Goa. Dinner for two will run about Rs 300. An amazing restaurant to experience Rajasthani cuisine in the state of Maharashtra is Chokhi Dhani Pune. It is located at Nagar Highway, Wagholi and is moderately priced.
To the East, Bengali food, like South Indian, makes heavy use of rice and fish, though Bengalis prefer freshwater fish. The iconic Bengali dish is Maccher jhol, a watery fish curry spiced with mustard, which literally means "fish in sauce". Bengal is also famous for its sweets, and sondesh is excellent.
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 food, especially momo dumplings, are not uncommon in north India. Pizza has entered India in a big way, but chains like Pizza hut and Domino's have been forced to Indianize the pizza and introduce adaptations like paneer-tikka pizza. Remarkably, there is an Indian chain called Smokin Joe's, based out of Mumbai, which has gone and 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 in search of culinary nirvana.
While there are a wide variety of fruits native to India such as the chikoo and the jackfruit, nothing is closer to an Indians' 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. It can be consumed in its ripe, unripe as well a baby form (the last 2 predominently in pickles). Other fruits widely available (depending on the season) are bananas, oranges, guavas, lychees, apples, pineapple, pomegranate, apricot, melons, coconut, grapes, plums, peaches and berries.
Know your vegetarians
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. 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). Vegans, however, will 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 south and the north-east), and pork is also uncommon due to the Muslim population. Chicken and mutton are thus by far the most common meats used, although beeflike "buff" (waterbuffalo) is occasionally served in backpacker establishments.
In India eating with your hand (instead of utensils 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. Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils 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.
Menus in English... well, almost
Menus in Indian restaurants are usually written in English — but using Hindi names! Here's a quick decoder key that goes a long way for understanding common dishes like aloo gobi and muttar paneer.
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.
Tipping is unusual outside of fancier restaurants where 10% is appropriate.
One of the sweetest and safest beverages you can get is tender coconut water. You can almost always find it in any beach or other tourist destinations in the south. In summer (March to July), you can get fresh sugarcane juice in many places and even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties. Be careful as fresh juice may contain many germs besides unhygienic ice! The juice vendors do not always clean their equipment properly and do not wash the fruits either.
India is famous for its Alphonso variety of mangoes, generally regarded as the King of Mangoes among connoisseurs. So do try the Alphonso mango-flavoured beverage Maaza (bottled by Coca-Cola) or Slice (bottled by PepsiCo), both of which contain about 15% Alphonso mango pulp. Both of these brands will sure provide some needed refreshment during India's scorching hot summer. Both cost about 30 to 50 rupees 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.
Everywhere you can get tea (chai in most North Indian languages) of one variety or another. Most common is the "railway tea" type: cheap (2-5 Rs.), sweet and uniquely refreshing once you get the taste for it. It's made by brewing up tea leaves, milk, and sugar altogether in a pot and keeping it hot until it's all sold. Masala chai will also have spices added to the mix, such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper. 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, coffee (especially sweet "filter coffee") replaces tea as a standard beverage.
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 and Pondicherry tend to be more free-wheeling (and have low taxes on alcohol), while few southern areas like Chennai are less kind to alcohol, and may even charge excessive taxes on it. Some states such as Gujarat are legally "dry" and alcohol cannot be bought openly there, although there is a substantial bootlegging industry.
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 Rs 50-100 for a large bottle of beer and anywhere between Rs 170-250 for a 750mL bottle of Old Monk.
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 Rs 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 Portugese 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 years in jail.
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, a 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 Rs.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 Rs 450 ($10). Rooms at guest-houses with a double bed (and often a bathroom) can be found in many touristic venues for Rs 150-200. Good budget hotels in India are not hard to find. You can find accommodation in clean dormitories for as little as Rs 50 ($1) in many Indian districts.
Most Indian train stations have rooms or dormitories, which are cheap, relatively well maintained (the beds, sheets etc. not the showers) and secure. There are also the added bonuses 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 Country Inns , Ginger  and Neemrana , and prices vary from Rs 1000-4000 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 Bangalore 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 tub, etc. — 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: engineers building a bridge in the area, a team of doctors vaccinating the villagers, whatever.
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. This is especially true in Delhi.
There are many things to learn that interest foreigners all over India, but there are a few destinations that become known for certain things:
- Yoga is popular in Haridwar and Rishikesh.
- Ayurveda is popular in Kerala,
- Hindi and classical musical instruments in Varanasi.
- Classical vocal music and classical Dance forms in Tamilnadu.
- Sanskrit at 'Samskrita Bharati' in Bangalore and Delhi.
- Buddhism in Dharamsala and Bir in Himachal Pradesh
- Cooking classes are also popular. The most well-known exported type of Indian food is Punjabi, as the Sikhs have been the most successful in spreading Indian restaurants throughout the western world. However, styles vary a lot throughout the country, so if you have the time and appetite it's worth checking out courses in a variety of areas such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal.
Organisation for Responsible and Community-based Tourism  is a government registered NGO which provides cultural learning opportunities to travelers through volunteer work, workshops, cultural exchange programs etc in different states of India.
There are many Universities imparting education but at the helm are Indian Institutes of Technology(IITs) for technical graduation and Indian Institutes of Management(IIMs) for management post-graduation 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 IIM Ahmedabad (the most sought after IIM) selects 300 students from 300,000 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.
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 1000 firms. India has always had an expatriate community of reasonable size, and there are many avenues for finding employment, including popular job hunting websites like monster.com
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 traveler 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, etc). However, you can check with your embassy and ask for local advice before heading to Kashmir or northeast India (Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur), as both areas have long-running insurgencies. Also take extra caution when traveling at night in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and downmarket districts of large cities.
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. There is little risk of street robbery in India.
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, police 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.
Agree on all fares and payments for services clearly in advance; some people go as far as to write them on paper! Being told that you can pay "as you like" is a sure warning sign. Don't give more than agreed, no matter what explanation is offered at the time of payment. Just take your belongings, pay what was originally agreed and walk away. The first time this happens, on your first taxi ride in India, this may be awkward, but the fifteenth time it happens, on your fifteenth taxi ride, it will be second nature. When travelling by autorickshaw, never ever get into the vehicle if there is another person accompanying the driver. This always spells trouble for unwary travellers.
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 behavior. The more attention you pay to a beggar or a tout -- positive or negative -- the longer they will follow you hoping for a payback. Giving money to beggars in public is not safe as it will result in a stampede of beggars from all directions. As always in India, patience is required. Wearing local clothes will decrease the amount of attention you receive.
Travelers 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 travelers on the train, or Indian families who want to take your picture on their own camera, for example, are often just genuinely curious.
Travelers should be cautious when visiting villages and rural areas in the night. Bandits occasionally abduct and rob tourists, as it is assumed they possess large amounts of wealth. But this is rare and happens most often in remote areas. Ask at your hotel to see if this is an issue in your area. Also, think twice about taking night buses or driving at night in these areas. Bandits are said to stop night buses with fake checkpoints and rob everyone inside. The frequency of this occurring is extremely low and the state governments are working hard to arrest these bandit groups, but take extra care nonetheless.
Historically, homosexuality has been illegal in India, with a maximum penalty of 10 years. Actual prosecutions were rare. There is a vibrant gay nightlife existing in metropolitan areas and some (but very few) openly gay celebrities. On the other hand, the law was used as a tool by policemen to harrass gays cruising on the streets. In July 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled the anti-gay law unconstitutional. This presumptively decriminalizes homosexuality in India, unless other state high courts disagree or the Supreme Court rules otherwise. Whether this will actually lead to an end to harrassment is to be seen.
Whereas Indian men can be really eager to talk to travelers, 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. 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.
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 the United States). After your first encounter with a typical Indian highway, featuring a traffic mix of lumbering trucks, speeding maniacs, blithely wandering cows and suicidal pedestrians, all weaving across a narrow, potholed strip of tarmac, it's easy to understand why. To minimize 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 autorickshaws, avoid traveling at night, and don't hesitate to change taxis or cars if you feel your driver is unsafe.
India is a conservative country and some Western habits are perceived as dishonorable for a woman.
- Outside of the larger cities, it is unusual for people of the opposite sex to touch each other in public. Even couples (married or otherwise) refrain from public displays of affection. Therefore, it is advised that you do not shake hands with a person of the opposite sex unless the other person extends his/her hand first. The greeting among Hindus is to bring your palms together in front of your chest, or simply saying 'Namaste', or 'Namaskar'. Both forms are equally polite and correct, if a little formal. Almost all the people (even if they don't know English) do understand a "Hi" or a "Hello". Kindly note, however, when unsure, that in most parts of northern India and cities, it is quite acceptable to offer a "Hello" or "Good Day" followed by a handshake, regardless of gender.
- Except in major cities (and only in trendy places or in high society) women do not smoke. Though in some rural areas women do smoke, but discreetly. A woman who smokes/drinks is associated with loose moral character in much of the rest of the country's growing middle class. But doing so in private is not frowned upon.
- Places such as Discos/Dance clubs are less-conservative areas. It is good to leave your things at a hotel and head down there for a drink and some light conversation. Only carry as much change as you think you would require since losing your wallet or I.D. means that you will waste a considerable time trying to get any kind of help in that regard.
- People are fully-clothed even at the beach. So, be sure to find out what the appropriate attire is for the beach you are visiting. In some rare places like Goa, where the visitors to beach are predominantly foreigners, it is permissible to wear bikinis on the beach but it is still offensive to go about dressed in western swim wear away from the beach. There are a few beaches where women (mostly foreigners) sunbathe topless but make sure there it is safe and accepted before you do so. With certain exceptions, especially coastal cities, clothing like shorts and modest versions of tank tops are acceptable, Mumbai being a prime example of this.
- It's not so safe to walk on the street if you are solo female traveller. Sex crime against tourists are occuring in some tourists spots. If you have to, you should wear dress modestly. Never walk on the street or take a taxi or auto-ricksaw with provocative clothes such as tight shorts, miniskirt, sports bra, tanktop, or other clothes which expose much skin. This holds especially true if you are travelling at night. Tourists are easily distinguishable and hence targeted during night time. If at all possible, refrain from areas that other tourists avoid.
- In local/suburban trains, there are usually cars reserved only for women and designated as such on their front. This reserved car is usually (but not always) the third last compartment.
- In most buses (private and public) a few seats at the front of the bus are reserved for women, Usually these seats will be occupied by men and, very often, they vacate the place when a female stands near gesturing her intention to sit there. In many parts of the country, women will not share a seat with a man other than her spouse. If you sit near a man, he may stand up from the seat and give the place to you; this is a sign of respect, NOT rudeness.
- Street parties for holidays are usually filled with crowds of inebriated men. During festivals such as Holi, New Year's Eve, and even Christmas Eve, women can be subjected to groping and sexually aggressive behaviour from these crowds, particularly in the northern and some western parts. It is unsafe for women to attend these festivities alone. Best to avoid these altogether unless you're part of some group which has Indians.
- Friendly conversation with men you meet on trains, etc. is often confused with flirtation/availability. In some scenarios, this can lead to unexpected sexual advances (this happens to Indian women as well, not just Westerners). Befriending Indian women, however, can be a wonderful experience for female travelers, though you might have to initiate conversation. An easy topic to get aid on is clothes.
- It's not disrespectful for a woman to tell a man eager to talk to her that she doesn't want to talk - so if a man's behaviour makes you uncomfortable, say so firmly. If he doesn't seem to get the hint, quietly excusing yourself is a better answer than confrontation.
- Dressing in traditional Indian clothes, such as salwaar kameez (comfortable) or saree (more formal and difficult to wear) will generally garner Western women more respect in the eyes of locals(though not always the case). Show some enthusiasm for the traditional Indian way of life and you may find that men will treat you more like a 'lady' than an object. The idea is to portray yourself as a normal person, instead of a distanced tourist
- "Eve Teasing" is the most common term used in Indian English to refer to anything from unwanted verbal advances to physical sexual assault. The simplest way to avoid this remains the same as in your home country. Anything overt, should be treated in a firm manner and if needed, ask the local populace(women in particular) to try and get the message across. Avoid confrontation if at all possible. Sticking to the area is not recommended.
Police and other emergency services
- Unfortunately, corruption and inefficiency are present in all Indian police forces, and the quality of the police force varies by officer. For emergencies, throughout most of India, you can dial 100 for police assistance. For non-emergencies, go down to the police station to report a crime.
- The emergency contact numbers for most of India are: Police (dial 100), Ambulance (102 or dial the nearest hospital) and Fire (dial 101). In Hyderabad, and several other cities throughout India, you can dial 108 for all emergencies.
The India-Pakistan conflict, simmering for decades in Pakistan, has in recent years manifested in terrorist attacks on India's main cities: since 2007, there have been bombings or coordinated shootings in Delhi, Bombay, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The targets have varied widely, ranging from hotels and restaurants to markets and train stations, and with the notable exception of the November 2008 attack in Mumbai, have been aimed squarely at locals, not foreigners. Realistically speaking, there is little you can do to avoid random acts, but do keep an eye on the news and any travel advisories.
Avoiding Delhi belly
Four quick tips for keeping your stomach happy:
Going to India, you have to adapt to a new climate and new food. Most travellers to India will become at least slightly ill during their stay there - even Indians returning from abroad. 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.
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.
Tap water is generally not safe for drinking. However, some establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water may be safe to drink. Packed drinking water (popularly called "mineral water" throughout India) is a better choice. Bisleri, Kinley are popular and safe brands. But if the seal has been tampered, it could be purified tap water. So always make sure that seal is intact before buying. On Indian Railways, a particular mineral water brand is generally available known as "Rail Neer", which is safe and pure.
Fruits that can be peeled such as apples and bananas, as well as packaged snacks are always a safe option.Eat grapes only after thoroughly washing and soaking them for atleast 3 to 4 hours in warm water.
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 rehydration kit can also be helpful. At the least, remember the salt/sugar/water ratio for oral rehydration: 1 tsp salt, 8 tsp sugar, for 1 litre of water. Most Indians will happily share their own advice for treatment of illnesses and other problems. A commonly recommended cure-all is to eat boiled rice and curd (yoghurt) together for 3 meals a day until you're better. Keep in mind that this is usually not sound medical advice. 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 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 airconditioning. A local mosquito repellent used by Indians is Odomos and is available at most stores.
India is home to many 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.
Getting vaccinations and blood transfusions in low quality hospitals increases your risk of contracting HIV/AIDS- for e.g. in many government clinics.
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 need to visit a hospital in India, avoid small government hospitals. The quality of treatment cannot be to your expectation. Private hospitals provide better service.
If you have asthma India can be difficult, as incense is burning everywhere, even in restaurants and No Smoking areas.
Kissing in India
India can trace kissing back thousands of years in their literature. Indeed, the well-known Kama Sutra has an entire chapter devoted to kissing. However, in most cultures of the Subcontinent, kissing has traditionally been seen as part of sex, and in recent years many have unknowingly gotten into serious trouble for kissing, regardless of relationship or marriage or your nationalit(y/ies). Kissing can lead to fines—an Israeli couple was fined $22 for kissing at their own wedding—or even arrest—as in a notorious incident involving actor Richard Gere. This is not a universal opinion, as many Indians find kissing acceptable, but common enough that avoiding kissing in public is a good idea while in India.
Religion and rituals
- In mosques, churches and temples it is obligatory to take off your shoes. It may also be customary to take off your footwear while entering into homes, follow other people's lead.
- It is disrespectful to touch or point at people with your feet. If done accidentally, you will find that Indians will make a quick gesture of apology that involves touching the offended person with the right hand, and then moving the hand to the chest and to the eyes. It is a good idea to emulate that.
- Books and written material are treated with respect, as they are considered as being concrete/physical forms of the Hindu Goddess of Learning, Saraswati. A book should not be touched with the feet and if it has accidentally touched, the same gesture of apology as is made to people (see above) should be performed.
- The same goes with currency, or anything associated with wealth (especially gold). They are treated as being physical representations of the Goddess Lakshmi (of Wealth) in human form, and should not be disrespected.
- Avoid winking, whistling, pointing or beckoning with your fingers, and touching someone's ears. All of these are considered rude.
- The Swastika is commonly seen in India, as it is considered a religious symbol for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is not widely regarded as a symbol for Nazism in India, and in fact, had its origins in Hinduism long before the birth of Nazism, so Western visitors should not feel offended if they see a Swastika in a temple or in the home of a local. It does not mean the person is a Nazi supporter, and does not symbolise anti-Semitism. The correlation between Swastika and anti-Semitism is mostly not even understood.
- Any give or take of anything important should be done with the right hand only. This includes giving and taking of presents, and any transfer of a large amount of money.
- Travellers should be aware of the fact that Indians generally dress conservatively and should do the same. Shorts, short skirts (knee-length or above) and sleeveless shirts are not appropriate off the beach. Cover as much skin as possible. Both men and women should keep their shoulders covered. Women should wear baggy clothes that do not emphasize their contours. However, if you move to metropolitan cities, there is much more liberalism of wearing western outfits and skimpy clothes though still they may become a centre of stare from men. But they should avoid moving alone at night.
- Keep in mind that Indians will consider themselves obliged to go out of the way to fulfill a guest's request and will insist very strongly that it is no inconvenience to do so, even if it is not true. This of course means that there is a reciprocal obligation on you as a guest to take extra care not to be a burden.
- It is customary to put up a token friendly argument with your host or any other member of the group when paying bills at restaurant or while making purchases. The etiquette for this is somewhat complicated.
- In a business lunch or dinner, it is usually clear upfront who is supposed to pay, and there is no need to fight. But if you are someone's personal guest and they take you out to a restaurant, you should offer to pay anyway, and you should insist a lot. Sometimes these fights get a little funny, with each side trying to snatch the bill away from the other, all the time laughing politely. If you don't have experience in these things, chances are, you will lose the chance the first time, but in that case, make sure that you pay the next time. (and try to make sure that there is a next time.) Unless the bill amount is very large do not offer to share it, and only as a second resort after they have refused to let you pay it all.
- The same rule applies when you are making a purchase. If you are purchasing something for yourself, your hosts might still offer to pay for it if the amount is not very high, and sometimes, even if it is. In this situation, unless the amount is very low, you should never lose the fight. (If the amount is in fact ridiculously low, say less than 10 rupees, then don't insult your hosts by putting up a fight.) Even if by chance you lose the fight to pay the shopkeeper, it is customary to practically thrust (in a nice way, of course) the money into your host's hands.
- These rules do not apply if the host has made it clear beforehand that it is his or her treat, especially for some specific occasion.
- Pakistan is a sensitive subject about which many Indians will have strong views. Avoid getting into a conversation about the whole issue. It's fine to have a chat about your visit to Pakistan, the people, Indo-Pak cricket matches etc. Just don't discuss politics.
- Avoid insulting or questioning religious beliefs unless others are doing so too.
- Be cautious when discussing the caste system, since Western viewpoints on this topic are often antiquated or inadequate (or both). Recent changes in society have meant that in some urban areas, caste prejudice is non-existent.
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 Rs 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 to 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'. The following table explains how to dial:
|Same STD code||Local||number||12345678|
|Cellphone||Local||STD code of the town you are in number||011-12345678|
|Cellphone||STD to Cellphone||number||012345678|
|Different STD code||STD||0-area code-number||022-12345678|
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 starts 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 Rs. 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 Rs. 500. (3G networks are only starting to be rolled out.) Major operators with India-wide networks include Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular Reliance,Vodafone,TATA DOCOMO,BSNL. Local calls cost as little as Re. 0.50 per minute, although going to a different state within India is considered roaming and additional charges of Rs. 1-3/min for both incoming and outgoing calls may apply. International calls are comparatively cheap, with most destinations under Rs.10/min, the same as you'd pay at a PCO booth.
Fully loaded prepaid starter kits are available for around Rs. 500, including several hundred rupees of call time. You will need identification and a passport photo, although some shops will also insist on a local address in India; try the next one if they're not accommodating.
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 Rs.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.
Internet kiosks are everywhere nowadays and they charge as low as as Rs. 10 to 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 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 Rs. 2 to Rs. 5 per minute.
Wifi hotspots in India are, for most part, limited. The major airports and stations do offer paid wifi at around Rs. 60-100 an hour. Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai are the only cities with decent wifi coverage. Most Cafe Coffee Day and Barista stores in the larger cities offer free wifi. This often comes with a cover charge, which may be used on the coffee/drinks/snacks.
Most internet users in India do not rely on wifi too much. GPRS datacards/USB modems are widely used, but these require signing contracts with operators and 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 Rs 650 per month (1GB downloading free, Rs2/mb) for a datacard/USB modem. The cheap price also means a 256kbps connection, by the way.
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