India (Hindi: भारत or Bharat) is the largest country in the Indian subcontinent and shares borders with Pakistan to the northwest, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan to the northeast, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. Nearby island countries in the Indian Ocean are Sri Lanka to the southeast and the Maldives to the southwest.
India is the seventh largest country in the world by area, and the second most populous country with over a billion people, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth. It's an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity.
India is administratively divided into 29 states and 7 union territories. The states are broadly demarcated on linguistic lines. They vary in size; the larger ones are bigger and more diverse than some countries of Europe. The union territories are smaller than the states—sometimes they are just one city—and they have much less autonomy. India has two island chains off the mainland – the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea.
The 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.
|The Plains (Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh)|
The plains, India's breadbasket, are watered by the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna and their tributaries. The region also features the country's capital, Delhi, Agra of Taj Mahal fame and the holy cities of Allahabad, Mathura, Varanasi and Bodh Gaya. Many of the events that shaped India's history took place in this region.
|Western India (Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan)|
Home to the vast Thar Desert; the colourful palaces, forts and cities of Rajasthan; the country's most vibrant and biggest city, Mumbai; the mesmerising rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra; pristine forests; the wonderful beaches of Goa; the Asiatic lions of Gujarat in Gir jungles; and the rapidly developing cities of Ahmedabad, Surat, Jaipur and Pune.
|Southern India (Andaman and Nicobar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, Telangana)|
Features famous and historical temples, tropical forests, backwaters, beaches, hill stations, and the vibrant cities of Bangalore, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Hyderabad. The city of Mysore is world renowned for its palaces, especially the Mysore Palace. The island groups of Andaman & Nicobar (on the east) and Lakshadweep on the west, included in this region for convenience, are far from the mainland and have their own unique characteristics.
|Eastern India (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Sikkim, West Bengal)|
Economically less developed, but culturally rich and perhaps the most welcoming to outsiders. Features Kolkata, once the capital of British India, and the temple cities of Puri, Bhubaneswar and Konark. The region stretches from the mountains to the coast, resulting in fascinating variations in climate. It is also the mineral storehouse of India, having the country's largest and richest mines.
|North-Eastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura)|
Insular and relatively virgin, this is the country's tribal corner, with lush, beautiful landscapes, endemic flora and fauna of the Indo-Malayan group and famed tea gardens. Consists of seven states popularly known as the "Seven Sisters". The state of Meghalaya is depicted as the "Scotland of India" because of its mesmerizing environment.
These are nine of India's most notable cities. Other cities can be found under their specific regions.
- 1 Delhi — the capital of India and the heart of Northern India
- 2 Bangalore (Bengaluru) — the beautiful garden city, once the sleepy home of pension takers, now transformed into an IT hub for high-technology companies and sprouting pubs.
- 3 Chennai (Madras) — the main port in Southern India, cultural centre, automobile capital of India and a fast emerging IT hub
- 4 Hyderabad — known for pearl and diamond trading, now with major manufacturing and financial institutions and a growing IT sector
- 5 Jaipur — the Pink City, a major exhibit of the Hindu Rajput culture of medieval Northern India
- 6 Kochi (Cochin) — the Queen of the Arabian Sea, historically a centre of international trade, now the gateway to the sandy beaches and backwaters
- 7 Kolkata (Calcutta) — the cultural capital of India, known as the City of Joy, and home to numerous colonial buildings
- 8 Mumbai (Bombay) — the largest city and the financial capital of India, the city that never sleeps, home of "Bollywood", the Hindi film industry
- 9 Varanasi (Banaras or Kashi) — considered the most sacred Hindu city, on the banks of the Ganges, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world
India has many outstanding landmarks and areas of outstanding beauty. Here are some of the most notable.
- 1 Bodh Gaya — the main temple complex, which includes the Mahabodhi temple, is the place where the Buddha Sakyamuni attained enlightenment
- 2 Ellora/3 Ajanta — spectacular rock-cut cave monasteries and temples, holy place for the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus
- 4 Golden Temple — Sikh holy site in Amritsar
- 5 Hampi — the awesome ruins of the empire of Vijayanagara
- 6 Khajuraho — temple complexes famed for their erotic sculptures
- 7 Konark — Sun Temple, a unique example of Kalingan architecture, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site
- 8 Meenakshi Temple — a spectacular Hindu temple in Madurai
- 9 Taj Mahal — the incomparable marble tomb in Agra, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World
- Forts and palaces of India
- Indian national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
- Indian zoos and botanical gardens
- Natural wonders of India
- Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
- UNESCO World Heritage List (India)
- UNESCO World Heritage List, India section
|Currency||Indian rupee (INR)|
|Population||1.3 billion (2017)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Type D, BS 546)|
|Time zone||UTC+05:30, Indian Standard Time|
|Emergencies||112, 100 (police), 101 (fire department), 102 (emergency medical services), 108 (emergency)|
|edit on Wikidata|
India's heritage and culture is a rich amalgam of the past and present. This vast and populous country offers the traveller a view of fascinating religions and ethnography, a smorgasbord of languages, and architectural masterpieces that were built millennia ago that are in tact today. As the nation opens up to a globalised world, India still has a depth of history and intensity of culture that awe and fascinate the many who visit there.
One thing that foreign travellers need to know is that India is, in many ways, heterogeneous. If they experience one set of behaviours from the locals in one part of the country, it does not mean that the same behaviour is common in another area. To give a very simple example, a taxi driver in Mumbai will without saying a word drop his meter flag and return the exact change, while in Delhi you have to tell the driver to use the meter and hope you get your change, and in other areas taxi drivers or auto drivers don't even have meters and have fixed the rates for even short distances – and you just pay the amount demanded; if you do get an honest driver, consider yourself lucky. India shows extreme variation in most things, and one needs patience and luck to find the best. Never assume you know everything about any aspect of India; be prepared to see completely new things every day.
Humans are thought to have first migrated into the Indian subcontinent around 70,000 BCE and there are some archaeological sites for stone age India. One important one is at Mehrgarh (Pakistan), with the oldest known evidence of agriculture in the subcontinent, around 7000 BCE.
The Indus Valley Civilization (3300-1300 BCE) was one of the world's first Bronze Age civilizations and very advanced for its time. At its peak (2600-1900 BCE) it covered most of what is now Pakistan, plus some of northern India and eastern Afghanistan. The two biggest archaeological sites, both in Pakistan, are Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.
Some time after 2000 BCE, the Aryans, herdsmen from somewhere to the northwest, migrated into the region. At about the same time, related groups invaded Greece (Hellenic Greeks displacing Minoans), Anatolia or Turkey (the Hittites), Persia and other areas. It is believed that all these tribes spoke related languages and many modern languages, including most of those spoken in northern India and in Europe and some in Central Asia, are descended from them. Linguists classify them all in the Indo-European language family.
The Vedic Period is dated to roughly 1500-500 BCE. This was the period when the Vedas, the oldest and holiest books of Hinduism, were compiled. They were in an Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit. Many rituals of Hinduism took shape during that period.
The Vedic civilisation influences India to this day through the dharmic religions. Present-day Hinduism traces its roots to the Vedas, but is also heavily influenced by literature that came afterwards, ranging from the Upanishads and Puranas, to the great epics — Ramayana and Mahabharata. By tradition, these texts are claimed to only expand and distill the knowledge that is already present in the Vedas.
A section of the Mahabarata called the Bhagavad Gita is among the most widely read works. It is a dialogue, just before a great battle at Kurukshetra, between the hero Arjuna and the God Krishna who serves as his charioteer. Today Kurukshetra is a destination for both pilgrimage and tourism.
In the 1st millennium BCE, various schools of philosophical thought developed, enriching Hinduism greatly. Most of them claimed to derive from the Vedas. However, some of these schools, two of which were Buddhism and Jainism, questioned the authority of the Vedas, and they are now recognised as separate religions.
Many great empires arose between 500 BCE and 500 CE. Notable among them were the Mauryas and the Guptas, both with their capital in the city of Pataliputra, now called Patna. Further west, the Gandharan civilisation (an independent kingdom, later part of the Maurya Empire) ruled much of what are now Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their city Taxila was a great center of Buddhist and other learning.
Over time there was a gradual decline of Buddhism and Jainism. The practice of Buddhism, in particular, disappeared from India's heartland, though Buddha himself was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Jainism continues to be practiced by a significant minority who are ambivalent about whether they consider themselves Hindus or not. Hinduism itself went through major changes. Vedic deities such as Indra and Agni became less important while Puranic deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, their various Avatars and family members gained prominence.
Islamic incursions started in the 8th century. Gradually the raiders started staying as rulers, and soon much of North India was ruled by Muslims. The most important Muslim rulers were the Mughal Empire that at its peak covered almost the entire subcontinent (save the southern and northeastern extremities), while the major Hindu force that survived in the North were the Rajputs. The bravery of the Rajputs in resisting invasion of their land is legendary and celebrated in ballads all over the forts of Rajasthan. Prominent among the Rajputs was Maha Rana Pratap, the ruler of Chittorgarh, who spent years in exile fighting Akbar, the third of the Mughals. Eventually, however, the Rajputs were subdued, and the Rajput-Mughal alliance remained strong until the end of the empire. This period of North India was a golden age for Indian art, architecture, and literature, producing the monumental gems of Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal. Hindi and Urdu also took root in medieval North India. During the Islamic period, there were Hindus that converted to Islam. Today, around 14% of India's population follow Islam.
Sikhism, another major religion, was established in Punjab during the Mughal period. Relations between Sikhism and the Mughals varied over time. The Golden Temple at Amritsar was built and recognised all over the world as Sikhs major pilgrimage centre. By the time of its tenth Guru however, Guru Gobind Singh, relations were hostile, primarily due to the antagonism of Aurangzeb, the most intolerant, brutal and bigoted of the Mughals. Conflict between the Sikhs and the Mughals was one of the causes for the eventual decline of the Mughal Empire. Another reason was the rise of the Maratha Empire in Maharashtra, which was started by Shivaji and carried on by the Peshwas. The Marathas established a short-lived confederacy that was almost as large as the Mughal Empire. Marathas lost their command over India after the third battle of Panipat, which in turn paved a way for British colonialism.
South India followed a different trajectory, being less affected by Islamic rule. The period from 500 to 1600 CE is called the classical period and was dominated by great South Indian kingdoms. The most prominent empires included the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Vijayanagara who ruled from present day Karnataka and the Pallavas, Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas who ruled from present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Among them, the Cholas, who ruled from various capital cities including Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram, are widely recognised to be the most powerful of the South Indian kingdoms, with their territory stretching as far north as Pataliputra and their influence spreading as far east as Sumatra, Western Borneo and Southern Vietnam at the height of their power. Some of the grandest Hindu and Jain monuments that exist in India were built during this time in South and East India.
Northeast India was also fairly isolated from the rest of the country until the colonial period. The largest and longest kingdom to rule over the Northeast were the Ahoms who, from the 13th to 19th centuries, successfully defended Assam and neighbouring regions from Mughal expansion.
European traders started visiting India beginning in the late 16th century. Prominent among these were the British, Dutch, French and the Portuguese. The British East India Company made Calcutta their headquarters in 1772. They also established subsidiary cities like Bombay and Madras. Calcutta later went on to become 'the second city of the empire after London'. By the 19th century, the British had, one way or the other assumed political control of virtually all of India, though the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French too had their enclaves along the coast. The British would send Indian labourers, policemen and soldiers all over the Empire, resulting in the establishment of Indian diaspora communities, the most notable ones in Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Kingdom itself.
There was an uprising by Indian rulers in 1857 which was suppressed, but which prompted the British government to take over from the Company and make India a part of the empire. This period of rule by the crown, 1858-1947, was called the British Raj. It was a period in which some Indians converted to Christianity, though forcible conversions ended in British India after 1859, and Queen Victoria's proclamation promised to respect the religious faiths of Indians.
Non-violent resistance to British colonialism led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led to independence on 15 August 1947. However, independence was simultaneously granted to the secular Hindu-majority state of India and the smaller Muslim-majority state of Pakistan, and the orgy of Hindu-Muslim bloodletting that followed Partition led to the deaths of at least half a million and the migration of 12-14 million people.
India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains by the 1970s, ensuring that the large-scale famines that had been common are now history. However these policies also led to shortages, slow growth and large-scale corruption. After a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991, the country adopted free-market reforms which have continued at a steady pace ever since, fueling strong growth. The IT, Business Process Outsourcing and other industries have been the drivers for the growth, while manufacturing and agriculture, which have not experienced reforms, are lagging. About 60% of Indians live on agriculture and around 36% remain in poverty.
Relations with Pakistan have been frosty. The two countries have fought four wars, three of them over the status of Kashmir. The third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. India continues to experience occasional terrorist attacks, many of which are widely believed to originate in Pakistan and be ordered or assisted by its military-intelligence complex.
China and India went to war in 1962 over a Himalayan border dispute. Current relations are peaceful but edgy. There are no land crossings allowed between the two countries, though one border crossing between Sikkim and Tibet was re-opened in 2006 for trade. Security concerns over Pakistan and China prompted India to test nuclear weapons twice (including the 1974 tests described as "peaceful explosions"). India wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear power and is campaigning for a permanent Security Council seat.
India is proud of its democratic record. Constitutional government and democratic freedoms have been safeguarded for most of its time as an independent country.
Current concerns in India include corruption, poverty, overpopulation, pollution and forms of environmental degradation, ongoing border disputes with Pakistan and China, cross-border terrorism, and ethnic, political and religious strife which occurs from time to time. India's current obsession, at least among the educated elite, is over whether India will be able to overtake China in economic growth and be an economic and military superpower.
India is a parliamentary republic and democracy modelled on the British Westminster system. The president, indirectly elected, is the head of state, but this position, while not entirely ceremonial, has limited powers. The prime minister runs the government with a cabinet of ministers, and in practice wields the most authority in government. The parliament is bicameral. The Lok Sabha (House of People), the lower house, is directly elected by universal adult franchise, while the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), or the upper house, is indirectly elected. The Lok Sabha is the more powerful of the two, primarily because a majority in the Lok Sabha is required to form a government and pass budgets, and the prime minister, by convention, is always a member of the Lok Sabha. India has a vast number of political parties. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) forms the government, and the centre-left Indian National Congress (known as "Congress") is the main opposition party. India has a strong and independent judiciary and a free press.
India is also a federation, divided into states and union territories. Each of these has its own legislature, with a government run by a chief minister and a cabinet.
Street demonstrations, protests and agitations occur, as they do in any democracy. There are also occasional low levels of political violence, but a visitor has an extremely small chance of getting caught in that.
Indian Standard Time (IST) is 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC+5.5). Daylight Savings Time is not observed in India.
Mountains, jungles, deserts and beaches, India has it all. It is bounded to the north and northeast by the snow-capped Himalayas, the tallest mountain range in the world. In addition to protecting the country from invaders, they also feed the perennial rivers Ganga, Yamuna (Jamuna) and Sindhu (Indus) on whose plains India's civilization flourished. Though most of the Sindhu is in Pakistan now, three of its tributaries flow through Punjab. The other Himalayan river, the Brahmaputra flows through the northeast, mostly through Assam where it is known by different names.
South of Punjab lies the Aravalli range, which cuts Rajasthan into two. The western half of Rajasthan is occupied by the Thar desert. The Vindhyas cut across Central India, particularly through Madhya Pradesh and signify the start of the Deccan plateau, which covers almost the whole of the southern peninsula.
The Deccan plateau is bounded by the Western Ghats range (which is called Sahyadri in Maharashtra) to the west and the Eastern Ghats to the east. The plateau is more arid than the plains, as the rivers that feed the area, such as the Narmada, Godavari and the Kaveri, run dry during the summer. Towards the northeast of the Deccan plateau is what used to be a thickly forested area that covers the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, the eastern edge of Maharashtra and the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh. This area is still forested, poverty stricken and populated by tribal people. This forest acted as a barrier to the invasion of South India.
India has a long coastline. The west coast borders the Arabian Sea and the east coast the Bay of Bengal, both parts of the Indian Ocean.
In India, it rains only during a specific time of the year. The season as well as the phenomenon that causes it is called the monsoon. There are two of them, the Southwest and the Northeast, both named after the directions the winds come from. The Southwest monsoon is the more important one, as it causes rains over most parts of the country, and is the crucial variable that decides how the crops will do. It lasts from June to September. The Southwest monsoon hits the west coast the most, as crossing the Western Ghats and reaching the rest of India is an uphill task for the winds. The western coastline is therefore much greener than the interior. The Northeast monsoon hits the east coast between October and February, mostly in the form of occasional cyclones that cause much devastation every year. The only region that gets rains from both monsoons is North-Eastern India, which consequently experiences the highest rainfall in the world.
India experiences at least three seasons a year, Summer, Rainy Season (or "Monsoon") and Winter, though in the tropical South calling the 25°C (77°F) weather "Winter" would be stretching the concept. The North experiences some extremes of heat in Summer and cold in Winter, but except in the Himalayan regions, snow is almost unheard of. November to January is the winter season and April and May are the hot months when everyone eagerly awaits the rains. There is also a brief spring in February and March, especially in North India.
Opinions are divided on whether any part of India actually experiences an Autumn, but the ancients had certainly identified such a season among the six seasons (or ritus - Vasanta - Spring, Greeshma - Summer, Varsha - Rainy, Sharat - Autumn, Hemanta - "Mild Winter"/"late autumn", Sheet - Winter) they had divided the year into.
Many visitors expecting maharajas and fabulous palaces are shocked when their first impressions are dominated by poverty instead. Prepare for the following:
Most visitors quickly get inured to these things 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.
India's rich and multi-layered cultures are dominated by religious and spiritual themes. While it is a mistake to assume that there is a single unified Indian culture, there certainly are unifying themes that link the various cultures. India's cultural heritage is expressed through its myriad of languages in which much great literature and poetry has been written. It can be seen in its music - both in its classical (Carnatic and Hindustani) forms and in modern Bollywood music. India also has a vast tradition of classical and folk dances. Art and theatre flourish amongst the bustling cities of the country, against the backdrop of the ever expanding western influences.
Indians value their family system a lot. Typically, an Indian's family encompasses what would be called the extended family in the West. It is routine for Indians to live as part of the paternal family unit throughout their lives - i.e. sons live together with their parents all their lives, and daughters live with their parents till they get married. The relationship is mutually self-supporting. Parents may support their children for longer than is common in the West, brothers and sisters may support each other, and sons are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. "Living with parents" does not carry the same stigma as it does in the US. Naturally, the arrangements are not perfect and there are strains and breakups, especially by the time the third generation grows up. Also, it has now become common for children to move away from the parental house for education and employment. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that the joint family is still seen as the norm and an ideal to aspire to, and Indians continue to care about their family's honour, achievements and failures even while they are not living together.
Despite the weakening of the caste system (which has officially been outlawed by the Indian government), India remains a fairly stratified society. Indians care more about a person's background and position in society than is the norm in the individualist West. This attitude, when combined with the legacy of colonial rule, results in some rather interesting, if unfortunate consequences. People with white skin are placed high on the societal totem pole, and they may find that Indians are obsequious towards them to the point of embarrassment. People with dark skin, however may find that they are discriminated against. If it is any consolation, Indians display similar prejudices based on skin colour and ethnicity among themselves and not just towards foreigners. (See more in the Stay Safe and Respect sections)
There is also a community known as the Siddis, who are descended from East African slaves brought to India by the Arab Slave Trade, and mainly found in remote rural villages. Although they speak Indian instead of African languages these days, they still retain many African customs including African dance and music. Although they are Indian citizens, due to a lack of awareness from the general Indian population of their existence, they continue to face much discrimination, and are often presumed to be illegal immigrants from Africa. The British colonisation also gave rise to a mixed raced population known as the Anglo-Indians, and while most them migrated to Western countries following independence, pockets of these communities remain in India's major cities.
Holidays and festivals
There are three national holidays: Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August), and Gandhi Jayanti (2 October) which occur on the same day every year. In addition, there are three major nationwide festivals with shifting dates to be aware of:
- Diwali (Deepavali), Oct-Nov — The festival of lights, celebrates the return of the Hindu God Rama to the capital of his kingdom, Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years and victory of justice over injustice when Narakasura was killed by Satyabhama with the help of Krishna. Probably the most lavish festival in the country, reminiscent (to U.S. 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.
- Ugadhi, [sometimes also called 'Yugadhi' and various other names] is one of the main festivals, which is mainly celebrated as the 1st day of the Hindu Calendar New Year. Which is one of the main festivals and quite widely followed in South India.
- Durga Puja / Navarathri/Dussehara, Sep-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 and new clothes. 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 nine nights.
- Holi, in March — The festival of colour 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 waterfight combined with showers of coloured 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.
- Ganesh Chaturthi, is celebrated all over India. Ganesh Chaturthi is festival of Lord Ganesh. Ganesh Chaturthi is most enjoyed in Maharashtra. It is the best time to visit cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur.
- Christmas and New Years Day are public holidays across the country and Bank Holidays as well.
- Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-uz-Zuha, Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, Yawm-e-Aashoora and Ramazaan are widely celebrated and observed as public holidays across the country.
Apart from these, each state has its own major national festival like Onam in Kerala, Makar Sankranti and Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh, Utarayan in Gujarat, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Baisakhi for Punjab, Bihu for Assam,Rathayatra(Car festival for lord Jagannath) in Odisha,Nuakhai for Western Odisha. India is a diverse nation, and festivals are main part of life for the locals, and they provide holidays for about a week.
Religious holidays occur on different days each year, because the Hindu and Islamic festivals are based on their respective calendars and not on the Gregorian calendar. Most of them are celebrated only locally, so check the state or city you are visiting for information on whether there will be closures. Different regions might give somewhat different names to the same festival. To cater to varying religious practices, offices have a list of optional holidays (called restricted holidays by the government) from which employees are allowed to pick two, in addition to the list of fixed holidays. This may mean thin attendance and delayed service even when the office is officially open.
India and Pakistan have a bitter dispute over Kashmir; each government claims territory that is under the control of the other. They have fought wars over this three times since independence in 1947.
Wikivoyage, however, deals only with the current situation on the ground; our maps show and our text describes that without taking sides on the disputes. If you can go there with a Pakistani visa today then we treat it as being in Pakistan, and if you need an Indian visa, we treat it as being in India. This is the most important distinction for travellers.
Travellers should exercise considerable caution in these areas. Both governments consider them highly sensitive, keep large military forces along the border, and restrict travel to border areas.
- An Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor. Thought provoking account of how the British Raj impoverished the country and caused humanitarian crises.
- Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie's allegory about Independence. It was awarded the "Booker of Bookers" Prize and the best all-time prize winners to celebrate the Booker Prize 25th and 40th anniversary. It was also adapted into a film by Indo-Canadian film director Deepa Mehta (2012).
- The India they saw : foreign accounts, by Meenakshi Jain (2011). A compilation of intriguing travel tales and excerpts from travelogues by travellers, writers, pilgrims and missionaries.
- A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India by Norman Lewis (Cape 1991; US: Holt 1992), In "Goddess in the Stones", influential journalist and author Norman Lewis undertakes a journey of 2500 miles in search of the old India.
- 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 Westernised 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)
- Mother Pious Lady, Santosh Desai; An excellent account of middle class beliefs and customs from the pre-liberalisation era till date. For anyone who wants to understand the culture of present India, this is a must read where the author cuts through the chaos and confusion letting you to see things more clearly . (ISBN 9788172238643)
- Indian journals, March 1962-May 1963: Notebooks, diary, blank pages, writings. Ginsberg, A. (1970). San Francisco: Dave Haselwood Books. Travel diary written by the famous beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
- Lion: A Long Way Home, a book by Saroo Brierley.
- Spiritual India handbook: A guide to temples, holy sites festivals and traditions by Stephen Knapp (2013). Useful for the pilgrim traveler who wants to get the most out of his or her spiritual adventure and experience in India.
See also the Wikivoyage article On the trail of Kipling's Kim.
Touts are ubiquitous, as in many developing countries, and you should assume that anyone 'proactively' trying to help you has a hidden agenda to part you from your money. However, in areas hardly or not at all visited by tourists, it is not at all uncommon for people who go out of their way to 'proactively' help you when you approach without expecting anything in return. During your travels in India, you will be deluged with touts trying to get you to buy something or patronise particular establishments.
There are a myriad of common scams, which range from telling you your hotel has gone out of business (of course, they'll know of one that's open with vacancies), to giving wrong directions to a government rail ticket booking office (the directions will be to their friend's tour office), to trying to get you to take diamonds back to your home country (the diamonds are worthless crystal), to 'poor students' giving you a sightseeing for hours and then with pity make you buy school books for them (tremendously overpriced from a bookstore with whom they are affiliated). There will also be more obvious touts who "know a very good place for dinner" or want to sell you a chess set on the street.
Faced with such an assault, it's very easy to get into a siege mentality where all of India is against you and out to squeeze you dry. Needless to say, such a mentality may affect any true appreciation of the country. Dealing with touts is very simple: assume anyone offering surprising information (such as "your hotel is shut down") is a tout. Never be afraid to get a second or third answer to a question. To get rid of a tout:
- Completely ignore him/her 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.
It is also beneficial to have a firm Indian friend whom you can trust. If they show you around, they will act to help you ward off such touts.
Basic strategy will help you:
- Don't get harassed, consider each problem and joy as your experience, that's why you are travelling. Isn't it?
- Hiring a qualified guide, if you manage to find a trustworthy one, will sort out your most of the problems, almost every problem.
- If you still have any issues or want to chat friendly to an Indian, then seek for an Indian tourist, or a fellow pedestrian or passenger, but never take unsolicited guidance or help which may turn out unpleasant. He/she may help you if he/she knows English but may likely know less than you about the place you're visiting.
Foreign visitors will quickly encounter the special foreigners' rates that they are charged in some places in India. This applies to some tourist attractions. This may seem discriminatory and unfair to many visitors but is practiced in most developing countries in Asia and Africa.
Some tourist attractions that are run by the Archaeological Survey of India have different rates for Indians and foreigners. These rates are prominently posted at the entrance and ticketing booths. The rates for foreigners may be as many as five to ten times those for Indians. Likewise, if you are reserving a hotel room or an airline ticket over the internet, you may find that paying in US dollars costs significantly higher. You can get an Indian friend to book in rupees and in most cases, no one will question you at the time of check in.
- See also: Hindi phrasebook
Other languages that are official to some degree (often at state level) are Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri (also known as Meitei), Marathi, Nepali, Odia (also known as Oriya), Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
A good though not fool-proof rule of thumb is to assume that each Indian state has a different local language.
Hindi, natively spoken by about 40% of the population, is the native tongue of the people from the "Hindi Belt" in Northern India, which includes the capital, Delhi, and the main working language of the Union Government. Many more speak it as a second language. Although many dialects of Hindi exist, the prestige dialect of Hindi used in media and education is based on the dialect of the area around Delhi, and is understood by most Hindi speakers. If you can only afford one phrasebook, pick up the Hindi one as it will allow you to get by in most of India.
Sanskrit is the language in which much of ancient Indian literature and religious texts are written. Today Sanskrit survives as a liturgical language; few if any people speak Sanskrit as a native language, but quite a few scholars or lay-persons know it or are learning it. Many modern Indian languages are descended from Sanskrit, and even those unrelated to Sanskrit have been strongly influenced by it.
While most north Indian languages, including Hindi, are descended from Sanskrit, the main languages of the south — Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam — are in a completely different group called Dravidian. Nevertheless, due to the influence of Hinduism, they too contain many loan words from Sanskrit.
The central government has tried to establish Hindi as a national language, but this has not been entirely successful; in particular it has met with considerable resistance in areas where the local languages are unrelated to Hindi. Avoid speaking Hindi in places such as Tamil Nadu and the Northeast, as Hindi is met with hostility from many of the locals there. Also do not refer to the other languages as dialects of Hindi; they are separate languages, mostly mutually unintelligible with different writing systems, and some (like the Dravidian languages) are completely unrelated to Hindi.
Fluency in English varies vastly depending on education levels, occupation, age and region. English is compulsory in all schools, and is widely spoken among affluent sectors of the population in major cities and around most tourist places, as well as in most police stations and government offices. However, if possible, you are better off picking up as many words as you can of the local language of the place you are going to - people are proud of their state's (or region's) culture and language and will appreciate it if an outsider makes an attempt to communicate in it. Code-switching between English and the local language is common among the youth in urban areas, although most educated people would speak standard English (British) when talking to foreigners.
Many Indian languages lack a word for please, just like the Scandinavian languages. Instead, verbs have many forms denoting levels of politeness and formality. As there is no such distinction in English, Indians may also seem commanding to a westerner. You may hear phrases like come here which may sound commanding to Anglophones from Western cultures, but this is not meant to be rude.
There are plenty of English language TV shows that air in India (without dubbing) on Zee Cafe, FX, Star World, BBC Entertainment, AXN, Warner Bros and HBO. Nearly all shows are American (except for the ones on BBC Entertainment). There are many other TV channels in English; in fact, there are more English TV channels than in any other Indian language. English language films in cinemas are generally shown in their original language with subtitles in the local language. Cartoon Network, Pogo, Nat Geo, and Discovery may be dubbed in Hindi, Telugu or Tamil in their respective areas. However, this can be changed to English by changing the audio settings.
Non-verbal communication is also important. Much has been made of the confusing Indian head nod for yes and no, but the only important thing to understand is that Indians have different nods for yes, ok and no.
- If they are nodding their head up and down, they mean yes or I agree, as in a standard nod.
- If they are shaking their head in a tilting motion from right to left and back, they mean I understand or I get what you said.
- If they shake their head sideways (left to right to left), 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 northern India, though latter may be construed for yes in southern states like Tamilnadu. Look for verbal cues that accompany these sounds (like 'aaan' for yes ) in southern India to get the correct meaning.
Rules and validity of visas will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commission in your country, found on this list.
Depending on the purpose of the visit, with most passports you can get a tourist visa (multiple entry for six months or one year depending on nationality), a business visa (6 months, one year or more, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10-year visa is available to nationals of certain countries, including U.S. citizens (US$100). An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued, not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on 1 January will expire on 30 June, regardless of your date of entry. (This is not true for e-Visas, which are valid 60 days "from the date of arrival in India."—see the "Instructions for Applicant" section of the e-Visa page.)
Do you need a visa? Yes, (except for 3 countries)
It is not possible to obtain eTV at land crossings. You must arrive at one of the following airports or seaports for your first entry:
Airports: Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bagdogra, Bangalore, Calicut, Chennai, Chandigarh, Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mangalore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Tiruchirapalli, Trivandrum, and Varanasi.
Seaports: Cochin, Mangalore, and Goa.
Second entry allowed at all entrance points.
If you do not want the restrictions of the eTV, you must get a regular visa. For U.S. passport holders, you must start your visa application here. http://www.in.ckgs.us/
e-Tourist visa (eTV)
Advance visa required
Visa required with a minimum of 4 weeks waiting time
Visa required with a minimum of 45 days waiting time
As of 2012, for nationals of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Bangladesh, foreigners of Pakistan and Bangladesh origin, and stateless persons, there is a minimum sixty-day waiting period between consecutive tourist visas or visits on tourist or visitor visas; this rule was abolished for all other nationalities in 2012. Tourist visas valid for 6 months can have maximum duration of stay of 90 days per visit, depending on citizenship. Make sure to check the maximum duration per visit with your local embassy.
India has an e-Tourist Visa (eTV) facility. Electronic visas can be applied for between 4 and 120 days in advance of arrival and are valid for a double entry and a stay of up to 60 days. Travellers cannot receive more than two eTVs in a calendar year. Entry with an eTV must be at 1 of 25 designated airports (Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bagdogra, Bangalore, Calicut, Chennai, Chandigarh, Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mangalore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Tiruchirapalli, Trivandrum, Varanasi, Vishakhapatnam - check the web link for a current list). The eTV is available to citizens of over 100 countries (again, check the web link for the latest list; some EU countries, along with most of Africa and the Middle East, are excluded). Persons of Pakistani origin, regardless of nationality, are not eligible. The fee for the eTV is dependent on nationality.
The eTV facility replaced the limited visa-on-arrival scheme in January 2015; there are no longer any visa-on-arrival facilities in India.
Regular visa applications for U.S. passport holders (for travellers not eligible for eTV) begin at Indian Visa Online before being submitted to a Visa Application Center either by FedEx or in person.
Nationals or former nationals of Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran must apply for a visa a long time in advance (a minimum of 45 days for Pakistanis, and a minimum of four weeks for the others). Contact your local Indian diplomatic post long before making any travel plans.
Many Indian embassies have outsourced visa processing in full or in part to third party companies, so check ahead before going to the embassy. For example, in the USA as of 21 May 2014, your visa application must be submitted to Cox & Kings Global Services rather than the embassy. Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee (in the US to CKGS, this fee is USD20) above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offer visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home instead of trying to get it in a neighbouring country (although, as at August 2009, non-residents are able to apply for visas through the Bangkok embassy for an additional 400 THB "referral fee").
It's wise to ask for a multiple-entry visa even if you aren't planning to use it - they cost the same, are handed out pretty liberally and come in handy if you decide last minute to dip into one of the neighbouring countries.
A business visa may be required if you intend to do anything work related in India. The eTV does permit 'casual business visits' and will be easier to obtain. If you do need a business visa, then be prepared to provide a great deal of documentation about your company in your home country as well as the company you are visiting in India. This will include (but may not be limited to) an invitation letter from the company that you are visiting as well as business registration documents and possibly tax returns and other sensitive documents. It may be worth applying for a short-term visa (such as 6 months) since the criteria may be less in your case.
There are other categories for specialised purposes [dead link]. 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 [formerly dead link] where you will be staying. If the place you are staying at doesn't have one, you need to register at the local police station. All visitors who intend to stay more than 180 days also need to be registered.
Overstaying a visa is to be avoided at all costs as you will be prevented from leaving the country until you have paid some fairly hefty fines and presented a large amount of paperwork to either the local immigration office or police station. This whole process is unlikely to take less than 3 days, and can take much longer if you include weekends, numerous government holidays and the inevitable bizarre bureaucratic requirements.
Customs and immigration
Clearing customs can be a bit of a hassle, though it has improved vastly over the last decade. In general, avoid the touts who will offer to ease your baggage through customs. There are various rules regarding duty-free allowances — there are differing rules for Indian citizens, foreign "tourists", citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, non-citizens of Indian origin and people moving to India. Cast a quick glance at the website of the Central Board of Excise and Customs [formerly dead link] for information about what you can bring in. Foreign tourists other than Nepalis, Bhutanese and Pakistanis and those entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan, are entitled to bring in their "used personal effects and travel souvenirs" and ₹4,000,- worth of articles for "gifts". If you are an Indian citizen or are of Indian origin, you are entitled to ₹25,000,- worth of articles, (provided of course you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan). The other rules are on the web site. If you are bringing any new packaged items along, it is a good idea to carry along the invoices for them to show their value. You are also allowed to bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grammes of tobacco and 1 litre (2 litres for Indians) of alcohol duty-free. If you do not have anything to declare, you can go through the green channel clearly marked at various airports and generally you will not be harassed.
Importing and exporting Indian rupees is in most cases limited to ₹25000. Details can be found in the official statement of the Reserve Bank of India.
The major points of entry are Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai. The airports at these cities are either new or undergoing development. The Hyderabad airport is rated as one of the top 5 airports in the 10-15 million passenger category. There are many nonstop, direct and connecting choices to these cities from Europe, North America, Middle East, Africa and Australia.
For secondary points of entry to India, consider Goa, Kolkata or the Malabar coast. There are many connections to the Malabar coast region to cities like Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram from the Middle East. Most of the major Middle Eastern carriers offer one-stop connections to the coast from their Gulf hubs. Goa is a favourite European tourist destination and thus is connected by many European charter operators like Condor, Edelweiss, Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways. Kolkata is served by Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.
India's national airline is Air India. Other Indian airlines that operate international flights include Jet Airways, Indigo and SpiceJet These airlines offer daily flights to major hubs around the world. You must carry a printed air ticket in order to take many domestic flights.
From the United States, United Airlines offers non-stop daily service from Newark to Delhi and Mumbai; Air India offers daily non-stop service to Delhi from New York–JFK, Newark, Washington–Dulles, San Francisco and Chicago O'Hare and to Mumbai from Newark (and soon JFK). Various European airlines offer connecting service through their European hubs from most major U.S. cities and various Asian airlines offer connecting service from West Coast cities through their Asian hubs.
Entries from Europe and North America are possible using many European airlines such as Lufthansa, Finnair, British Airways, KLM, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. For long-term visitors (3–12 months), Swiss Airlines often have good deals from Switzerland with connecting flights from major European and some American cities as well.
To save on tickets, consider connecting via Gulf countries, with Air Arabia (Sharjah-based low cost carrier with some connections to Europe), Etihad (especially if you need a one-way ticket or are going back to Europe from another Asian country) via Abu Dhabi, Emirates via Dubai or Qatar Airways via Doha. These airlines are also the easiest way to come from the Gulf countries, along with Indian carriers, Air India, Air India Express, Indigo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet.
From East Asia and Australia, Singapore (which is served by Air India, its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express, Jet Airways, Singapore Airlines, its subsidiary Silk Air and low-cost subsidiary Scoot) has excellent connections with flights to all the major cities and many smaller ones. As for the cheap way from Southeast Asia, Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia is often the best choice (if booked well in advance, one-way ticket price is normally below US$100, sometimes being less than US$50, they have connections from China, Australia and most South-east Asian countries). They fly from Kuala Lumpur into New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi and Tiruchirapalli. If you're going from Thailand, Air India Express flies from Chennai and Kolkata to Bangkok. Jet Airways, Air India and Thai Airways fly from there to a range of Indian cities as well. Silk Air flies from Singapore to Hyderabad as well. IndiGo, an Indian low-cost-carrier, also offers attractive fares to Singapore and Bangkok and is a pretty good option to consider.
India has several international ports on its peninsula. Kochi, Mumbai, Goa and Chennai are the main ones handling passenger traffic, while the rest mainly handle cargo. However, due to the profusion of cheap flights, there no longer appear to be any scheduled ferry services from India to the Middle East. The southern island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep islands is now a permitted entry point.
Some cruise lines that travel to India include Indian Oceans Eden II and Grand Voyage Seychelles-Dubai.
There are two links from Pakistan. The Samjhauta Express runs from Lahore to Attari near Amritsar in Punjab. The Thar Express, restarted in February 2006 after 40 years out of service, runs from Munabao in the Indian state of Rajasthan to Khokrapar in Pakistan's Sindh province; however, this crossing is not open to foreign tourists. Neither train is the fastest, safest or the most practical way to go between India and Pakistan due to the long delay to clear customs and immigration (although the trains are sights in their own right and make for a fascinating trip). Ths Samjhauta express was the victim of a terrorist strike in February 2007, when bombs were set off killing many people. Should you want to get from one country to the other as quickly as possible, walk across at Attari/Wagah.
From Nepal, trains run between Khajuri in Dhanusa district of Nepal and Jaynagar in Bihar, operated by Nepal Railways. Neither is of much interest for travellers and there are no onward connections into Nepal, so most travellers opt for the bus or plane instead.
Train services from Bangladesh were suspended for 42 years, but the Moitree Express started running again between Dhaka to Kolkata in April 2008. The service is biweekly: A Bangledeshi train leaves Dhaka every Saturday, returning on Sunday, while an Indian train leaves Kolkata on Saturdays and returns the next day.
You can see what trains are available between stations at the following sites: http://www.indianrail.gov.in. However, for booking of rail tickets through the internet you should use the Government of India's website http://www.irctc.co.in. For booking through this site, you have to register (which is free) and you need a credit/debit card. You can also take the services of many travel agents that charge a nominal service fee for booking train tickets.
From Pakistan the only land crossing is from Lahore to Amritsar via the Attari/Wagah border crossing. See Istanbul to New Delhi over land. You will need a Carnet de Passage if crossing with your own vehicle. The process is not particularly lengthy - crossing with your own vehicle from/to Pakistan should take a maximum of 3 hours to clear both borders for you and your vehicle. There are also crossing points with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
The Nathu La pass in Sikkim, which borders Tibet in China is the only open border crossing between India and China. For now though, only traders are allowed to cross the border, and it is still not open to tourists. Special permits are required to visit the pass from either side.
Tour from bus is possible from neighbouring nations of Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
- 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 ₹300. 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 neither Pakistan nor India issue visas at the border. Expect to take most of the day to go between Lahore and Amritsar on local buses. Normally it's possible to get a direct bus from Amritsar to the border, walk to the other side and catch a direct bus to Lahore, although you may need to change at some point on route. Amritsar and Lahore are both fairly close to the border (about 30–40 minutes drive), so taxis are a faster and easier option.
The direct Delhi-Lahore service has restarted, though it is far more costly than local buses/trains, not any faster, and would mean you miss seeing Amritsar. You will also be stuck at the border for much longer while the bus is searched and all of the passengers go through immigration.
There is now a bus service across the 'Line of control' between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir; however, it is not open to foreign tourists.
From Bangladesh there are a number of land entry points to India. The most common way is the regular air-conditioned and comfortable bus services from Dhaka to Kolkata via Haridaspur (India)/Benapole (Bangladesh) border post. Bus companies 'Shyamoli', 'Shohag', 'Green Line' and others operate daily bus services under the label of the state owned West Bengal Surface Transport Service Corporation (WBSTSC) and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC). From Kolkata 2 buses leave every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday while from Dhaka they leave on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey usually takes around 12 hours with a one-way fare of ₹400-450 or BDT600-800, roughly US$8–10.
Another daily bus service by 'Shyamoli' and others under the BRTC label from Dhaka connects Siliguri, but the buses in this route do not cross the Changrabanda/Burimari or Burungamari border post. Rather, passengers reaching the border have to clear customs, walk a few hundred yards to cross the border and board the awaiting connecting buses on the other end for the final destination. Ticket for Dhaka-Siliguri-Dhaka route costs BDT 1,600, roughly US$20–25 depending on conversion rates. Tickets are purchased either in Dhaka or in Siliguri.
There is also a regular bus service between Dhaka and Agartala, capital of Tripura. Two BRTC buses daily from Dhaka and the Tripura Road Transport Corporation plying its vehicles six days a week with a round fare costing US$10 connect the two cities. There is only one halt at Ashuganj in Bangladesh during the journey.
Other entry points from Bangladesh are Hili, Chilahati/Haldibari, Banglaband border posts for entry to West Bengal; Tamabil border post for a route to Shillong in Meghalaya, and some others with lesser known routes to north-eastern Indian regions.
India is big and there are lots of interesting ways to travel around it, most of which could not very well be described as efficient or punctual. Allow considerable buffer time for any journey with a fixed deadline (e.g. your flight back), and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.
Travel in much of the North-East (with the notable exception of Assam) and parts of Andaman and Nicobar, Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand will require obtaining a Protected Area Permit (PAP). The easiest way to get one is to request it along with your visa application, in which case it will be added to your visa. Otherwise, you will need to hunt down a local Ministry of Home Affairs office and battle with bureaucracy.
India's large size and uncertain roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Even India's offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exceptions being Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (although crossing over from neighbouring states is fairly easy). Due to the aviation boom over the last few years, airports have not been able to keep up with the air traffic. Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of boarding gates. Check in and security queues can be quite long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bangalore, which are modern and well-equipped. Mumbai and New Delhi airports have been upgraded. The newly constructed terminal 3 in the Delhi airport is the 8th largest terminal in the world.
In northern India, particularly Delhi, heavy winter fog can wreak havoc on schedules, especially during Christmas Season and January, leading to massive delays across the country. Flights to small airports up in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh (which is reachable only by plane for most of the year), are erratic at the best of times.
At one time, domestic flights were the monopoly of the government-owned Indian Airlines, but things have changed dramatically and now there are quite a few competitors, with prices a traveller's delight.The main operators are:
- Air India, India's state owned carrier. Formerly two carriers, Indian Airlines (domestic) and Air India (mainly international). These merged in 2007. Air India has the largest network in the country and provides excellent regional connectivity. Service is generally below par. Their services have been quite a few times in the past been affected by pilots' strikes. 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.
- IndiGo Airlines - low cost airline, connecting around 33 cities throughout the country. Their planes are new A320s purchased directly from Airbus a few years ago at most.
- Jet Airways, full service airline with very good coverage. Now services London (LHR) directly from Delhi and Mumbai and flights to/from Toronto via Amsterdam. Their subsidiary Jetlite, formerly Air Sahara, offers low cost services.
- Go Air, another low cost carrier connecting around 22 cities across the country. Mostly flies from their Mumbai base.
- SpiceJet, a third low cost airline, serves around 34 domestic destinations.
- Air Asia India, new launched low cost service airline
- Vistara ,new launched full service airline
In India, air connectivity is not that good considering its vast size, so flying to a city and taking a train is not a bad idea.
The earlier you book, the lower you pay. You will hear a lot about air tickets at ₹500, but those are promotional rates for limited seats which are sold out within seconds. In some other cases, the advertised fare may not include charges such as passenger service fees, air fuel surcharge and taxes which will be added subsequently. Nonetheless, you do get good rates from the budget airlines. Tickets for small cities will cost more than those for the metros, because of the spotty coverage noted above. Indian ticket pricing has not attained the bewildering complexity that the Americans have achieved, but they are getting there. As of now, you don't have to worry about higher prices on weekends, lower prices for round-trips, lower prices for travel around weekends.
There are two complications for non-Indians trying to buy plane tickets:
- 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, involving lots of queues and multiple security checks. A few pointers to smooth your way:
- Arrive at least two hours before departure if travelling from the major airports. (For domestic flights from minor airports, 60 or 90 minutes before is fine.) The new rule dictates that check-in closes 45 minutes before departure time and boarding gate closes 25 minutes before departure. Though the original boarding might take longer, this rule is now being strictly implemented widely to avoid delays in flight departures.
- Bring a print-out of your ticket or a soft copy of your ticket and a government-issued id, or else you are not allowed to enter the airport. They are checked and matched compulsorily at the airport entry gate by security guards. If you possess neither a printout or a soft copy, you can get a copy at the airline offices just outside the airport entry gate. Some airlines have started to charge for this privilege.
- Most older 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.
- Pick up a tag for every item of carry-on baggage and attach it to it. The staff at the security check point will stamp your boarding pass as well as the tags of your carry-on baggage. Do not put your boarding pass on the X-ray belt, bring it with you when you go trough the metal detector. Make sure you received all these stamps before leaving the security check area. Without a stamped boarding pass you will not be allowed to board the plane. You will not be allowed to take any items on board without a stamped tag attached.
Don't hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure. Most staff in airports are very helpful to passengers and will take pains to ensure you catch your flight. There are separate queues for passengers travelling light (without check-in baggage) and these queues are usually less crowded. Different airlines have different standards for what they allow as cabin baggage, so err on the side of caution, especially if you are travelling by a low-cost airline. Usually the allowed free baggage limit is 15 kg on most airlines.
- See also: Rail travel in India
Railways were introduced in India in 1853, more than one and half a century ago by the British, and today India boasts of the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and the rail system is very efficient, if rarely on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover first hand the landscape and beauty of India, and is generally more economical than flying domestic. It is one of the safest ways of travel in India. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it's the best way to get to know the country and its people. Most train passengers will be curious about you and happy to pass the time with a chat. If you are on a budget, travelling on an overnight sleeper train will reduce a night's stay at a hotel.
Trains come in many varieties, but the broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:
- 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' & 'Shatabdi' trains are the most luxurious and fastest trains on Indian Railways. They are completely air-conditioned and have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price. The food is served at your seat during travel. Most of these trains also have modern German designed LHB coaches which are extremely comfortable and luxurious The 'Rajdhani' Express trains are fast long distance overnight that connect regional state capitals to the national capital New Delhi. The 'Shatabdi' Express trains are fast short distance daytime intercity trains that connect important cities in a region, for example two adjacent states' capitals. The 'Duronto' Express (introduced in 2009) are fast long-distance "point to point" non stop trains that directly connect, without stopping, two important cities that are far apart. These trains have no commercial halts on their way but only operational halts for maintenance and crew changes. The 'Garib Rath' literally means the chariot of the poor, and it is a good option for those who want to use good facilities at low cost.
Although the history of luxury train travelling in India dates back to the time of maharajas during the days of British Raj, the modern history of this mode of transportation dates back to 1982 with the introduction of India’s first luxury train Palace on Wheels. Palace on Wheels was introduced as a joint venture of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and Indian Railways to promote Rajasthan as a global tourist destination. The venture turned out to be a great success among overseas travellers and a few decades later more such train journeys followed.
At present there are 5 trains offering 12 signature journeys across major tourist destinations in India. Operated jointly by Indian Railways and respective state tourism departments, luxury trains in India offer a wonderful way to experience the sights in India without having to worry about the hassles of travel and accommodation. Journeys on board these trains are all inclusive of accommodation, dining, sightseeing, transportation and porter charges. Each of these luxury trains are equipped with state of the art amenities such as live television, individual climate control, restaurant, bar, lounges and cabins with electronic safe and attached bathrooms.
Mentioned below is the brief overview of the Indian Luxury Trains:
- Palace on Wheels, — The Palace on Wheels offer 7 nights/8 days itinerary starting from US $520 and carry the guests on a weeklong voyage across royal destinations in Rajasthan. All destinations included in the itinerary happen to be former princely states of Rajputana. The destinations covered in Palace on Wheels train itinerary are Jaipur, Ranthambore, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, Agra and Delhi and includes sightseeing of forts, palaces along with a dash of wildlife, heritage and cultural interactions.
- Maharajas' Express, — Dubbed as the most luxurious train of Asia, Maharajas Express is an internationally acclaimed and award winning luxury train in India. Maharajas’ Express also happens to be the latest luxury train to be introduced in India. It has created significant buzz in the global luxury travel segment owing to its refined interior, intricate decor, world class facilities and impeccable service. It is the only luxury train which offers accommodation in presidential suite spanning over an entire carriage. Redefining the art of elegant travelling in India, Maharajas' Express train offers 5 rail journeys across tastefully selected tourist destinations in India,. The itineraries include 3 pan-Indian programs along with 2 golden triangle short tours. The journeys offered by this Indian luxury train are classified as the Heritage of India, The Indian Panorama, The Indian Splendor, Treasures of India and the Gems of India. State of the art amenities, elegant interiors, refined luxury and impeccable service along with technology such as pneumatic hydraulic suspension system add to the pampering and class of this marvelous rail tour in India.
- Deccan Odyssey, — Second luxury train to be introduced in India after the Palace on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey train journey covers destinations across two Indian states of Maharashtra and Goa. The Deccan Odyssey train offers a weeklong journey which crisscrosses through the fascinating terrains of Western Ghats and the Konkan Coast. Included in the itinerary is the trip to coastal fortress town of Sindhudurg, Ajanta and Ellora rock cut caves, Tarkali Beaches and Old Goa and Vasco among others. The all inclusive tariff of the Deccan Odyssey starts from US $425 per person per night on triple occupancy basis during the peak season and US $315 for the same during lean season (April and September run).
- The Golden Chariot, — The Golden Chariot is the only luxury train offering two train tour itineraries in South India. The itineraries are named the Pride of the South and The Splendor of the South. Whereas the Pride of the South tour itinerary covers destinations in Karnataka along with a halt the India’s most prominent beach destination Goa, the Splendor of the South Itinerary offers tours to tastefully selected destinations across South India. Destinations covered during the 8 days itinerary of the Splendor of the South aboard the Golden Chariot include Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Thiruvananthapuram, Alleppey and Kochi. Both journeys include a dash of cultural sights, World Heritage Sites, local interactions and wildlife.
- Royal Rajasthan on Wheels — Equipped with modern amenities such as Wi-Fi internet, direct dial phones, Spa and satellite television, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels offer royal ride across destinations in Rajasthan along with stops in Varanasi, Khajuraho and Agra.
- The Indian Maharaja — This train happens to be the India’s first privately managed luxury train. Winner of the coveted World Travel Awards in the category of Asia’s Leading Luxury Train, the Indian Maharaja takes guests on a weeklong adventure through several exotic destinations covering the vast expanse of Western, Central and North India. Destinations included in the itinerary of this luxury train are Mumbai, Aurangabad, Udaipur, Sawai Modhopur, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. The train is equipped with two dining cars serving fine Indian and Continental cuisine and catering and hospitality on board is managed by the prestigious Taj Group of hotels. To add to the luxury of the journey facilities such as a library, gymnasium and beauty parlour along with Wi-Fi internet and large screen live TVs are available on board.
Most countries offer two classes of service, but India has no less than seven to choose from. In descending order of cost & luxury, they are:
- AC First (1A)
- AC 2 Tier (2A)
- AC 3 Tier (3A)
- Sleeper Class (SL)
- AC Chair Car (CC)
- Second Class Chair Car (2S)
- General compartments (GS)
Not all classes are available on all trains: for example, Chair Cars are usually found only on short-distance daytime trains, while the sleeper classes are only found on overnight journeys.
Full information about this classes is here.
Different types of trains
Basically there are five types of trains:
- Passenger Trains are slow trains that stop in all stations including very small stations.
- Fast Passenger Trains are passenger trains that skip smaller stations and offer the same fare structure.
- Express Trains stop only at major railway stations and charge higher than Passenger trains.
- Superfast Trains skip some of the major stations and charge even higher than Express Trains.
- Rajadhani and Shadabdhi Trains are elite trains that offer only air conditioned coaches. They stop only at selected stations. The fare is quite high because all food is included.
The average fare for a 200 km distance for different classes is given below :
- First Class AC: ₹1,200
- Two Tier AC: ₹617
- Three Tier AC: ₹430
- AC Chair Car: ₹203
- Sleeper Class: ₹120
- Second class seat in Express train: ₹70
- Second class seat in Passenger train: ₹30
Trains tend to fill up early. Tickets can be reserved up to 4 months in advance. School summer vacation time — mid-April to mid-June — is peak season for the railways, which means that you may need to book well in advance. Other festival days, long weekends or holidays may see a similar rush.
Booking tickets from the railway website has vastly improved over the years. A lot of work has gone into the usability and responsiveness of the web site. Try not to book normal tickets during 09:00 to 12:00, as traffic to the website would be much higher due to tatkal reservation time and cause much higher failure rate.
Tickets are also available from counters at most railway stations. Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes. Details of facility available for tourists from abroad are available at the official website of the Indian Railways
One day before the departure date of a train the Tatkal quota seats become available. Tatkal accounts for about 10% of the total number of seats. This allows tourists who like to plan a trip as they go to book seats closer to the day of departure, for an extra fee. However booking for this service online or in person is an even more fraught experience.
It is sometimes difficult to book Tatkal tickets online because of excess amount of traffic on Indian railway website. Indian railway has launched E-wallet facility which enables user to keep money on Indian railway website for faster booking of tickets. This facility reduces the time of ticket booking because users skips the payment gateway processing time. It is very fast to book tickets using E-wallet facility. You may also need IFSC Code to transfer fund to Ewallet, but now you can also pay using your debit cards, credits cards, internet banking, etc. IFSC Code generally stands for Indian Financial System code which uniquely identifies bank branches in India, IFSC code is required to transfer money online in India. You can easily find IFSC Code using IFSC Code finder
Most long distance night trains(though not all) have a pantry car and if you are in the sleeper or air-con classes, you can buy meals on board the train. The pantry staff will visit your seat before meal timings to take down your order. However mostly the pantry car meals aren't really good in quality or taste. The Railways are concerned about the bad quality of pantry car meals and efforts are underway to improve things, but do not count on it as yet. If you are finicky, bring enough food for the journey including delays: bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. You can purchase bottled waters, colas, packaged snacks or biscuits from the pantry staff, who keep circulating them going from one coach to another. At most stations hawkers selling tea, peanuts, and snack food and even complete meals will go up and down the train. Most stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff. So you can also get down on the station platform to look for food , but make sure you know well, the stoppage timing of the train at that station. In the most luxurious 'Rajdhani' & 'Shatabdi' trains, meals are included in your ticket price and served at your seat during travel. There are no dining cars in Indian Railways except in select luxury trains.
There was a time when the metered taxi was unheard of outside India's largest cities, and when it could be found, getting one that would take you to your destination and charge you the right rate was a rare event. This situation has undergone a drastic change for the better in the past few years, with many companies offering taxi services. Prominent among these are Meru, Ola, Taxi for sure, Picntic and Easy Cabs. Uber too can be found in some cities of India.
In central locations of big cities like airports or stations reliable pre-paid taxis are available and will save you money as well as the bargaining hassle. These pre-paid taxi booths are managed by local traffic police officials, prefer to use this facility where ever available to avoid inconvenience. However, beware of touts who would claim themselves to be running pre-paid taxis. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt has two parts - one part is for your reference and the other part you will need to handover to the taxi driver only after you reach your desired destination. The taxi driver will get his payment by submitting or producing this other part to the pre-paid taxi counter. Be aware that the taxi driver may not know how to get to your destination, and will not tell you this beforehand. This may result in the taxi stopping at various points during the journey as the driver gets out to ask for directions. Insist on being taken to your original destination, and not a substitute offered by the driver (e.g. a different hotel).
Normal taxis running by meter are usually more common.
While you can't take a cross-country bus ride across India, buses are the second most popular way of travelling across states and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network (e.g. Dharamsala).
Every state has its own public bus service, usually named "X Road Transport Corporation" (or XRTC) or "X State Transport Corporation" (or XSTC) which primarily connects intrastate routes, but will also have services to neighbouring states. There are usually multiple classes of buses. The ordinary buses (called differently in different states, e.g. "service bus") are extremely crowded with even standing room rarely available (unless you're among the first on board) as reservations are not possible and they tend to stop at too many places. On the upside, they're very cheap, with even a 5-6 hour journey rarely costing over ₹100.
In addition to ordinary public buses, there are luxury or express buses available, and most have air-conditioning these days. Some state transport corporations have even introduced Volvo buses on some routes and these are extremely luxurious and comfortable. These better class "express" or "luxury" buses have assured seating (book in advance), and have limited stops, making them well worth the slight extra expense. But even these better-class buses rarely have toilets and make occasional snack and toilet breaks.
Private buses may or may not be available in the area you are travelling to, and even if they are, the quality could vary a lot. Be warned that many of the private buses, especially long-distance lines, play music and/or videos at ear-splitting volume. Even with earplugs it can be nerve-wracking. Restrooms are available in large bus stations but are crowded. 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 rolling out their operations across the country modelled on the lines of the Greyhound service in the United States. Their services are good and they provide entertainment on board.
Regardless of class of travel, all buses have to contend with the poor state of Indian highways and the havoc of Indian traffic which usually makes them slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. Night buses are particularly hazardous, and for long-distance travel it's wise to opt for sleeper train services instead.
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 licence or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are accustomed to driving on extremely chaotic streets, you probably will not want to. The average city or village road is narrow, often potholed and badly marked. National Highways are better, but they are still narrow, and Indian driving discipline is non-existent. In the past few years the Central government has embarked on an ambitious project to upgrade the highways. The Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four largest cities of Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata with four-laned highways has been completed and is of a reasonable standard. Some of it is of an international standard but that cannot be said for all of it. However, improving the quality of the roads does not improve the way in which people drive and it is very dangerous to drive on the roads in India as people drive as they like without regard to any rules (rules do exist but are almost never enforced).
Hiring driver with car
Instead, you can opt for a driver while renting a car. Rates are quoted in rupees per kilometer and you will have to pay for both ways even if you are going only one way. The driver's salary is so low (typically around ₹100-150 per day) that it adds little to the cost of renting the car. The driver will find his own accommodation and food wherever you are travelling, although it is customary to give him some money to buy some food when you stop somewhere to eat. A common rental vehicle is the legendary Hindustan Motors Ambassador, which is essentially an Indian-made copy of the 1956 Morris Oxford: it's large, boxy, with space for 5 passengers (including driver) and a decent-sized boot. However, the Tata Indica (a hatchback) and Tata Indigo (a small saloon) are now replacing the Ambassador as the cheap car of choice. Imported international models may be available at a premium. If the number of people travelling together is large, popular rental vehicles are Tata Sumo, Mahindra Xylo and Toyota Innova. The larger vehicles are suitable if you are travelling in larger groups or have excess luggage. Many vehicles come equipped with a roof carrier, so one may opt for a smaller vehicle for 2-3 passengers even with excess luggage. (You may need to specifically ask for a vehicle with a roof carrier.)
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 further transport, or haggling over price.
- You can stop anywhere you like, and change plans at the last minute.
- Driving around India is chaotic as traffic rules are routinely violated, and it is best that someone with experience of driving in India drives you around.
It is rare to find a driver that speaks more than a few words of English. As a result, misunderstandings are common. Keep sentences short. Use the present tense. Use single words and hand gestures to convey meaning.
Make sure you can trust your driver before you leave your goods with him. If he shows any suspicious motives or behavior make sure you keep your bags with you. Conversely, if your driver is very friendly and helpful, it is a nice gesture to buy him a little something to eat or drink when stopping for food. They will really appreciate this.
Your driver may in some cases act as a tout, offering to take you to businesses from which he gets baksheesh (a sort of commission). This isn't necessarily a bad thing - he may help you find just what you're looking for, and add a little bit to his paltry income at the same time. On the other hand, you should always evaluate for yourself whether you are being sold on a higher-cost product than you want. Also, many times, these places that supply commissions to the driver (especially restaurants) may not always be the best or most sanitary, so use your judgement. Avoid touts on the road posing as guides that your driver may stop for because he gets a commission from them; supporting them only promotes this unpleasant practice. The driver might ask for a tip at the end of the trip. Pay him some amount (₹100/day is generally sufficient) and don't let him guilt-trip you into paying too much.
If you rent a car for a trip to a remote destination, make sure before getting out that you will recognize the driver and write down the license plate number and his phone number (nearly all drivers have mobile phones). Touts at tourist areas will may try to mislead you into getting into the wrong car when you leave; if you fall for this you will certainly be ripped off, and possibly much worse such as sexual assault if you are female traveller.
Be wary of reckless driving when renting a car with a driver. Do not be afraid to tell the driver that you have time to see around and that you are not in a hurry. Indian highways can be extremely dangerous. Make sure also that your driver gets enough rest time and time to eat. In general as you visit restaurants, the driver may eat at the same time (either separately at the same restaurant or at some other nearby place). He may be willing to work nonstop for you as you are the "boss", but your life depends on his ability to concentrate, so ensure that your driving demands are reasonable; for example, if you decide to carry your own food with you on the road, be sure to offer your driver time to get a lunch himself.
Avoid travel at night. Indian roads are dimly lit if at all, and there are even more hazards on the road after dark — even highway bandits if you get far enough off the beaten track.
Some people point out that the best way to experience India is on a motorbike. Riding a motorbike and travelling across India you get the closer look and feel of India with all the smells and sounds added. There are Companies which organise packaged tours or tailor made tours for Enthusiastic bikers and adventurous travellers for a safer motorbike experience of India. Blazing Trails tours, Wild Experience tours and Extreme Bike tours are the known names in the market.
Another choice, popular with people who like taking risks, is to buy a motorcycle. Not for the faint of heart or inexperienced rider. India boasts the highest motor vehicle accident rate in the world.
The Royal Enfield is a popular (some would say, the only) choice for its classic looks and macho mystique. This despite its high petrol consumption, 25 km/litre to 30 km/litre, supposed low reliability (it is "classic" 1940s engineering after all and requires regular service adjustment; you can find an Enfield mechanic who has worked on this bike for ten, twenty, thirty years in every town in India, who will perform miracles at about ₹100 an hour labour cost), and claimed difficulty to handle (actually the bike handles beautifully, but may be a wee heavy and seat high for some).
Or, one can opt for the smaller yet quicker and more fuel efficient bikes. They can range from 100 cc to the newly launched 220 cc bikes. Three most popular bike manufacturers are Hero, Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants (100-125 cc) can give you a mileage exceeding 50 km/litre on the road, while giving less power if one is opting to drive with pillion on the highways. The bigger variants (150-220 cc) are more powerful and one can get a feel of the power especially on highways - the mileage is lesser for these bikes anywhere between 35 km/litre to 45 km/litre.
Preferably tourists should go for second hand bikes rather than purchasing new ones. The smaller 100 cc variants can be purchased for anywhere between ₹15,000-25,000 depending on the year of make and condition of vehicle. The bigger ones can be brought from ₹30,000 onwards.
By hitch hiking
Hitch hiking in India is very easy due to the enormous number of cargo trucks on every highway and road. Most drivers do not speak English or any other international language; however, most have a very keen sense of where the cities and villages are along the road. It is rare for any of them to expect payment. For safety concerns, it is not recommended as all the drivers cannot be trusted. Hitch hiking in cities, highways and crowded places is safe and refrain from hitch hiking on deserted places, less populated areas, forest roads, etc.
The auto-rickshaw, usually abbreviated and referred to as auto and sometimes as rickshaw, is the most common means of hired transportation in India. They are very handy for short-distance travel in cities, especially since they can weave their way through small alleys to bypass larger cars stuck in travel jams, but are not very suitable for long distances. Most are green and yellow, due to the new CNG gas laws, and some may be yellow and black in color, with one wheel in the front and two in the back, with a leather or soft plastic top.
When getting an auto-rickshaw, you can either negotiate the fare or go by the meter. In almost all cases it is better to use the meter—a negotiated fare means that you are being charged a higher than normal rate. A metered fare starts around ₹13(different for different areas), and includes the first 1 to 2 kilometres of travel. Never get in an auto-rickshaw without either the meter being turned on, or the fare negotiated in advance. In nearly all cases the driver will ask an exorbitant sum (for Indian standards) from you later. A normal fare would be ₹11-12 for the first km and ₹7-8 per km after that. In most of the cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a rate card that elaborately describes the fares on per kilometre basis. A careful tourist must verify the meter-reading against the rate-card before making a payment. Auto-rickshaws carry either digital or analog meters wherein the analog meters may have been tampered with. It may be a better option to go for a negotiated fare when the auto-rickshaw has an analogue meter.
Ideally, you should talk with a local to find out what the fare for any estimated route will be. Higher rates may apply at night, and for special destinations such as airports. Finally, factor in that auto drivers may have to pay bribes to join the queue for customers at premium location such as expensive hotels. The bribe will be factored in the fare.
Make sure that the driver knows where he is going. Many autorickshaw drivers will claim to know the destination without really having any clue as to where it is. If you know something about the location, quiz them on it to screen out the liars. If you do not know much about the location, make them tell you in no uncertain terms that they know where it is. This is because after they get lost and drive all over the place, they will often demand extra payment for their own mistake. You can then tell them that they lied to you, and wasted your time, so they should be happy to get the agreed-upon fee.
If you need to get anywhere, call in advance and ask for detailed directions. Bear in mind that street signs in India tend to be rare or nonexistent outside the cities. Postal addresses will often carry landmark details "Opp. Prithvi theatre" or "Behind Maruti Showroom" or "near temple / church / mosque / bank branch / police station / school" to ease the search. Unlike the western system of address, the Indian system uses plot number or house number, street, road followed by landmark and the location pin code instead of street name and block number. Finding a place will usually involve some searching, but you will always find someone around the area willing to guide you. Unlike many other countries, Indians ask passers-by, nearby shopkeepers or cops for guidance on street addresses. So you may do the same, people would be happy to help. Using Google maps with GPS works well most of the times in major cities but at times may not be accurate due to incorrect spelling of road or incorrect positioning on map.
Inner Line permit
Inner Line Permit is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside those states to obtain permit for entering into the protected state. The document is an effort by the Government to regulate movement to certain areas near the international border of India. This is a security measure and it is applicable for the following states:
- Arunachal Pradesh – permits are issued by the Secretary of the Government of Arunachal Pradesh. The permits are required for entering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh through any of the check gates across the inter-state border with Assam or Nagaland. Permits are obtained at Arunachal Bhavan in all major cities. Permits are given to specific districts and therefore plan the itinerary before applying for district entry permits. Check points at every district border only allow locals and permit holders.
- Mizoram – permits are issued by the Government of Mizoram. The permit is required for entering the Indian state of Mizoram through any of the check gates across the inter-state borders.
- Nagaland – a permit is mandatory for a mainland Indian citizen entering the state of Nagaland through any of the check gates across the inter-state borders.
- Sikkim - a permit required for the 'Nathu La' Pass which was an important passage of silk route in medieval era and now a part of border between India and China. Foreigners are not provided the permits. Only Indian citizens are allowed beyond the point. Further permits for high altitude regions like 'Lachung-Lachen' along with a high altitude lake called 'Gurudongmar Lake' can be obtained from Gangtok directly. Foreigners may be allowed. Another point known as 'Zero Point' also requires permits.
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands - non-Indians need a Restricted Area Permit to visit the islands, but these are now issued on arrival at the Port Blair airport; if you plan to arrive by sea, you'll need to arrange your permit before arrival, either in Chennai or when applying for your Indian visa. Indian nationals do not require a permit to visit the Andamans, but permits are required to visit Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, and are rarely given.
To see all the places worth visiting in India, even a 6-month visit is arguably inadequate. There are more tourist destinations in India than can be mentioned in a full-length book, let alone a summary. Almost every state in India has over ten major tourist destinations and there are cities which can barely be tasted in a full week. Several Indian states by themselves are bigger and more populous than most of the countries in the world, and there are 29 states and 7 Union Territories in India, including two island chains outside the Mainland.
That said, below are some highlights.
Historical monuments and forts
Probably the most famous single attraction in India is the Taj Mahal, which is widely recognized as the jewel of Islamic art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage.
The Qutb Minar and the impressive Red Fort are the two most prominent historical monuments in Delhi.
For a rather different and more modern kind of historical monument, the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, founded by the Mahatma himself, is a repository of all things Gandhi.
Houses of worship
No visit to India would be complete without a trip to some of the country's fantastic temples. All regions of the country are replete with temples. The city of Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, has so many temples that it's called the "City of Temples" and is a major draw for Hindu pilgrims. Bishnupur in West Bengal is home to famous terracotta temples. The Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, is dedicated to Vishnu and is also a major draw for pilgrims. The Tantric temple complexes of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh are much beloved for their thousand-year-old sacred erotic wall carvings, considered by some art historians to be the pinnacle of erotic art. The Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is a centre of worship of Parvati, the consort of Shiva. The city of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu known for its grand Chola-era temples.
Hinduism is not the only religion represented among the great temples of India. The world headquarters of the Sikh religion are in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab. Leh and environs, in the Kashmiri region of Ladakh, are one of a number of areas that have splendid Buddhist temples or monasteries. The Ranakpur Temple in the small Rajasthani town of Ranakpur is an impressive and historic Jain temple.
India's second-largest religion in adherents after Hinduism is Islam, and many parts of India were ruled by Muslim dynasties for hundreds of years, so it's not surprising that India is also home to many magnificent mosques. Some of them, like the mosque in the Taj, are part of historical monuments. One impressive mosque that's very much in use to this day is the lovely 17th-century Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Hyderabad in the south has several historical mosques, including Charminar Masjid and Mecca Masjid.
India is a very geographically varied country. In the north of the country, one can see the Himalayas, the Earth's highest mountain range. There are hilly areas in many non-Himalayan states, too. In India, hill stations — towns in the cooler areas in foothills or high valleys surrounded by mountains, which were favored by rajas, then the British and now Indian tourists in the hot summer months — are considered sights and experiences in themselves. The largest of them is Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, but Darjeeling, in view of Mount Kangchenjunga in the northern part of West Bengal, is very famous for its tea. Other famous hill stations include Shimla, Ooty and Gangtok, and there are many others — most states have some.
India is also a country of numerous rivers. Several of them are traditionally considered holy, but especially the Ganges, locally known as Ganga, which brings life to the Indian Plains, India's breadbasket, and is not just an impressive body of water but a centre of ritual ablutions, prayer and cremation. There are several holy cities along the river that have many temples, but they are often less places of pilgrimage to specific temples than holy cities whose temples have grown because of the ghats (steps leading down to the holy river) and most interesting to visit for the overall experience of observing or partaking in the way of life and death along the river. Foremost among these holy cities is Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where some 5,000-year-old rituals are still practiced; other cities worth visiting to experience the Ganges include Rishikesh and Haridwar, much further upstream.
India is famous for its wildlife, including the Bengal tigers, Asiatic lions and elephants. The Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh and Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan are the most likely places for you to spot an Indian tiger in the wild, though you will still have to have some luck and persistence. Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat is dedicated to the preservation of Asiatic lions. Sundarbans National Park is the largest mangrove forest and delta in the world, home to the famous Royal Bengal tigers and estuarine crocodiles but also fascinating as an overall ecosystem.
Fairs and 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 week-long event is a time for lively processions, floats, the strumming of guitars, graceful dances and of non-stop festivity. One of the more famous of Indian carnivals, the Goa Festival is a complete sell out in terms of tourism capacities.
Surajkund Mela (1–15 February). As spring glides in, full of warmth and vibrancy, leaving the grey winter behind, Surajkund adorns itself with colourful traditional crafts of India. Craftsmen from all over the country assemble at Surajkund during the first fortnight of February to participate in the annual celebration that is the Surajkund Crafts Mela.
Holi. The Spring Festival of India, Holi is a festival of colours. Celebrated in March or April, according to the Hindu calendar, it was meant to welcome spring and win the blessings of Gods for good harvests and fertility of the land. As with all Hindu festivals, there are many interesting legends attached to Holi, the most popular being that of Prince Prahlad, who was a devout follower of Lord Vishnu. It is the second most important festival of India after Diwali. Holi in India is a festival of fun and frolic and has been associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha. The exuberance and the festivity of the season are remarkable.
Diwali. The festival of lights, Diwali, illuminates the darkness of the New Year's moon, and is said to strengthen close friendships and knowledge with a self-realisation. Diwali is celebrated on a nation-wide scale on Amavasya – the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Ashwin (Oct/Nov) every year. It symbolises that age-old culture of India which teaches to vanquish ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge. The festival of lights still today projects the rich and glorious past of India.
Pushkar Mela. Every November the sleepy little township of Pushkar in Rajasthan comes alive in a riot of colours and a frenzied burst of activity during the Pushkar Fair. Few fairs in the world can match the liveliness of Pushkar. It includes the world's largest camel fair, but is much more than that.
- Cricket. India is a cricket-obsessed country and cricket is in the blood of most Indians. India plays an important role in world cricket and has been world champion twice in the ICC Cricket World Cup, in 1983 beating the mighty West Indies in the final, and most recently in 2011 defeating Sri Lanka. India also emerged triumphant in the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup in 2007 held in South Africa beating arch-rival Pakistan in a nail-biting final. The popularity of cricket in India is second to no other game, so seeing children playing cricket in parks and alleys with rubber balls and makeshift wickets is very common. 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 South Africa 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 in Kolkata is Asia's highest capacity stadium with a 66,349 seating capacity and is the oldest cricket stadium in the Indian subcontinent, established in 1865, and is comparable to the stadiums of Lords' in London and the MCG in Melbourne. 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 ₹250–300. India and Pakistan are all-time arch rivals, and cricket matches between the two nations attract up to a billion TV viewers.
- Football. You can come across young boys playing with a football on any open space that is available, as with cricket. Club football is very popular, especially among youth and you will find people getting into heated arguments in public places over their favorite teams. Many people also support national teams other than India, but it usually depends on the nationality of their favourite players. Also, many large restaurants and bars offer a view of important European club matches and the World Cup matches.The most famous and electrifying Derby club match is between Mohun Bagan Athletic club (established 1889) and East Bengal Football club (Estd.-1920) held in Salt Lake stadium (the second-largest non-auto racing stadium in the world) in Kolkata, the football capital of India and a tremendously football crazy city.
- Hockey (field hockey). The national game of India, hockey retains a prominent position in the hearts of many Indians, despite the craze for cricket and football. Although the viewership has dwindled significantly (as compared to the golden era before cricket came to the fore in the mid-1980s), it hasn't vanished completely. It still has a significant fan base, especially in North India, some eastern parts like Jharkhand, Odisha and the Northeastern states. The introduction of the Premier Hockey League has helped restore its popularity.
- Formula One. Not very popular in India historically, Formula One has become much more popular. People now know the names of drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, while ten years earlier only a few knew this sport. One can enjoy Formula One at Noida, where the Airtel Indian Grand Prix is held every year during the last week of October.
Exchange rates for Indian rupee
As of 15 January 2019:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency in India is the Indian rupee (sign: ₹; code: INR) (रुपया — rupaya in Hindi and similarly named in most Indian languages, but taka in Maithili and Taakaa in Bengali and Toka in Assamese). The rupee is subdivided into 100 paise (singular: paisa). "5 rupees 75 paise" would normally be written as "₹5.75". The new rupee symbol ₹ was introduced in July 2010 to bring the rupee's symbol in line with other major currencies. Previously, "Rs" was used (or "Re" for the singular rupee). It is very likely you will continue to see the previous nomenclature in your Indian travels, especially with smaller businesses and street vendors.
Common bills come in denominations of ₹5 (green), ₹10 (orange), ₹20 (red), ₹50 (purple), ₹100 (blue), ₹200 (yellow), ₹500 (brown) and ₹2,000 (pink). It is always good to have a number of small bills on hand, as merchants and drivers sometimes have no change. A useful technique is to keep small bills (₹10-50) in your wallet or in a pocket, and to keep larger bills separate. Then, it will not be obvious how much money you have. Many merchants will claim that they don't have change for a ₹100 or ₹500 note. This is often a lie so that they are not stuck with a large bill. It is best not to buy unless you have exact change.
The coins in circulation are 50 paise, ₹1, ₹2, ₹5, and ₹10. Coins are useful for buying tea (₹5), for bus fare (₹2 to ₹10), and for giving exact change for an auto-rickshaw.
Indians commonly use lakh and crore for 100,000 and 10,000,000 respectively. Though these terms come from Sanskrit, they have been adopted so deeply into Indian English that most people are not aware that they are not standard in other English dialects. You may also find non-standard, although standard in India, placement of commas while writing numerals. One crore rupees would be written as ₹1,00,00,000, so first time you place a comma after three numerals, then after every two numerals. This format may puzzle you till you start thinking in terms of lakhs and crores, after which it will seem natural.
|Number||English Format||Indian Format (In English)||Indian Format (In Hindi)|
|1,00,000||Hundred Thousand||One Lakh||Ek Lakh|
|10,00,000||Million||Ten Lakhs||Das Lakh|
|1,00,00,000||Ten Million||One Crore||Ek Crore|
The Indian rupee is not officially convertible, and a few government-run shops will still insist on seeing official exchange receipts if you are visibly a foreigner and attempt to pay in rupees instead of hard currency. Rates for exchanging rupees overseas are often poor although places with significant Indian populations (e.g. Dubai, Singapore) can give decent rates. You may typically carry up to ₹25,000 across the Indian border, details can be found in an official statement of the Reserve Bank of India.
Outside airports, you can change your currency at any one of the numerous foreign exchange conversion units including banks.
Most ATMs will pay out ₹10,000 in each transaction. State Bank of India (SBI) is the biggest bank in India and has the most ATMs. ICICI bank has the second largest network of ATMs and accepts most of the international cards at a nominal charge. International banks like Citibank, HSBC, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, ABN Amro and Standard Chartered have a significant presence in major Indian cities. It is always worthwhile to have bank cards or credit cards from at least two different providers to ensure that you have a backup available in case one card is suspended by your bank or simply does not work work at a particular ATM.
In many cities and towns, credit cards are accepted at retail chain stores and other restaurants and stores. Small businesses and family-run stores almost never accept credit cards, so it is useful to keep a moderate amount of cash on hand.
Maximum Retail Price - MRP
When buying factory packaged food or drinks (e.g. lemonade, cola, etc.) always have a look for a stamp on the packaging. It will tell you the MRP (short for maximum retail price) and you can always insist on paying not more than that.
Costs in India can vary widely from region to region, and even in the same city, depending on the quality of service or product, brand, etc. But usually, India is not very expensive for the foreign traveller.
Mid-range to high-range travellers
₹ 5000, at least, needed for a decent room in a good hotel offering cable TV, air conditioning and a direct telephone; however, this price doesn't include a refrigerator. Food will cost at least ₹150 for a decent meal (at a stall, not a hotel), but the sky is the limit. While bus transportation will cost approximately ₹5 for a short distance of about 1 km, a taxi or rickshaw may cost ₹22 for the same distance without air conditioning. There are radio taxis that are available at ₹ 20 to 25 per km in key Indian cities which have GPS navigation, air conditioned and accept debit/credit cards for payments. They are a very safe mode of travel. So the total for one day would be about as below:
- Hotel: US$60 for a good place per day
- Food: US$10 for a good meal per day
- Travel: US$10 taxi and bus together
Total: US$80 for a couple, US$70 for a person alone
Budget travel around India is surprisingly easy, with the savvy backpacker able to get by (relatively comfortably) on as little as US$25–35 per day. It is generally cheaper than South East Asia with a night in a hotel costing as little as ₹200-1,000 (though there will be probably no air conditioning or room service for this price). Beach huts in the cheaper places of Goa can cost around ₹800 per night. A meal can be bought from a street trader for as little as ₹30, though, in a restaurant expect, to pay around ₹200-300 for a beer or two. Overnight buses and trains can cost anywhere from ₹600-1,000 dependent on distance and locations, though an uncomfortable government bus (benches only) may be cheaper.
In India there has traditionally been little or no tipping, and today tipping is unusual outside of fancier restaurants where up to 10% is appropriate. The fancier restaurants may also levy a service charge of up to 15% apart from government taxes. Some restaurants have also have started placing jars at the cashier for people to drop in some change if they feel so, but this is a rather rare phenomenon. Most clubs in India have a complete ban on its members from tipping. Usually no service industry except the food services industry expects a tip. In India, it is unlawful for taxi or rickshaw drivers to charge anything above the meter.
In India, you are expected to negotiate the price with street hawkers but not in department stores and the like. If not, you risk overpaying many times, which can be okay if you think that it is cheaper than at home. In most of the big cities and even smaller towns retail chain stores are popping up where the shopping experience is essentially identical to similar stores in the West. There are also some government-run stores like the Cottage Emporium in New Delhi, where you can sample wares from all across the country in air-conditioned comfort. Although you will pay a little more at these stores, you can be sure that what you are getting is not a cheap knockoff. The harder you bargain, the more you save money. A few tries later, you will realise that it is fun.
Often, the more time you spend in a shop, the better deals you will get. It is worth spending time getting to know the owner, asking questions, and getting him to show you other products (if you are interested). Once the owner feels that he is making a sufficient profit from you, he will often give you additional goods at a rate close to his cost, rather than the common "foreigner rate". You will get better prices and service by buying many items in one store than by bargaining in multiple stores individually. If you see local people buying in a store, probably. you can get the real Indian prices. Ask someone around you quietly, "How much would you pay for this?"
Also, very often you will meet a "friend" in the street inviting you to visit their family's shop. That almost always means that you pay twice as much as when you had been in the shop without your newly found friend.
Baksheesh was originally a Persian word for charity, but it has spread to many Asian languages including most of those in India plus several European ones. Depending on context, its English translation might be any of donation, gift, tip, bribe, alms or commission. Having Indians you deal with want baksheesh is a fairly common phenomenon. While this is sometimes a problem, doing it can ease certain problems and clear some hurdles. Baksheesh is also the term used by beggars when they want money from you and may refer to tips given those who provide you a service.
Packaged goods show the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) right on the package. This includes taxes. Retailers are not supposed to charge more than this. Though this rule is adhered to at most places, at tourist destinations or remote places, you may be charged more. This is especially true for cold drinks like Coke or Pepsi, where a bottle (300 ml) cost around ₹33-35 when the actual price is ₹30. Also, keep in mind that a surprising number of things do not come in packaged form. Do check for the authenticity of the MRP, as shopkeepers may put up a sticker of his own to charge more from you.
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 and stone carvings: Common carved items include elephants, Hindu gods/goddesses. Compare several of the same kind. If they look too similar bargain hard as they are probably machine made.
- Jewellery: Beautiful necklaces, bracelets and other jewellery are very inexpensive in India.
- Pillow covers, bedsets: Striking and rich designs are common for pillows and bed covers.
Designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Zara, A & F, all are available in upmarket stores.
- See also: South Asian cuisine
Indian cuisine takes its place among the great cuisines of the world. There is a good chance that you'd have tasted "Indian food" in your country, especially if you are a traveller from the West, but what India has exported abroad is just one part of its extraordinary range of culinary diversity.
Indian food can be spicy: Potent fresh green chilis or red chili powder will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated, and can be found in unexpected places like sweet cornflakes (a snack, not breakfast) or even candies. The degree of spiciness varies widely throughout the country: Andhra food is famously fiery, while Gujarati cuisine is quite mild in taste with the exception of Surti food (from Surat).
To enjoy the local food, start slowly. Don't try everything at once. After a few weeks, you can get accustomed to spicy food. If you would like to order your dish not spicy, simply say so. Most visitors are tempted to try at least some of the spicy concoctions, and most discover that the sting is worth the trouble. Remember, too, that while "spicy" is a convenient short-hand for "chili-laden," the spiciness of food in India doesn't always mean lots of chili: Indian cuisines often use a multitude of different spices and other aromatic ingredients in highly creative and flavourful ways.
Cuisine in India varies greatly from region to region. The "Indian food" served by many so-called Indian restaurants in the Western hemisphere is inspired by North Indian cooking, specifically Mughlai cuisine, a style developed by the royal kitchens of the historical Mughal Empire, and the regional cuisine of the Punjab, although it has been Britainized and the degree of authenticity in relation to actual Mughlai or Punjabi cooking is variable at best and dubious at worst.
North India is a wheat-growing area, so you have Indian breads (known as roti), including chapatti (unleavened bread), paratha (pan-fried layered roti), naan (cooked in a clay tandoor oven), puri (deep-fried and puffed up bread) and many more. A typical meal consists of one or more gravy dishes along with rotis, to be eaten by breaking off a piece of roti, dipping it in the gravy and eating them together. Most of the Hindi heartland of India survives on roti, rice, and lentils (dal), which are prepared in several different ways and made spicy to taste. Served on the side, you will usually find spiced yogurt (raita) and either fresh chutney or a tiny piece of exceedingly pungent pickle (achar), very much an acquired taste for most visitors — try mixing it with curry, not eating it plain.
A variety of regional cuisines can be found throughout the North. Tandoori chicken, prepared in a clay oven called a tandoor, is probably the best-known North Indian dish, innovated by a Punjabi immigrant from present-day Pakistan during the Partition. For a taste of traditional Punjabi folk cooking, try dal makhani (stewed black lentils and kidney beans in a buttery gravy), or sarson da saag, a yummy gravy dish made with stewed mustard greens, served with makke di roti (flatbread made from maize). There are also the hearty textures and robust flavours of Rajasthani food, the meat-heavy Kashmiri dishes from the valley of Kashmir, or the mild yet ingratiating Himalayan (pahari) cuisine found in the higher reaches. North India also has of a variety of snacks like samosa (vegetables encased in thin pastry of a triangular shape) and kachori (either vegetable or pulses encased in thin pastry). There is also a vast constellation of sweet desserts like jalebi (deep-fried pretzel with sugar syrup- shaped like a spiral), rasmalai (balls of curds soaked in condensed milk) and halwa. Dry fruits and nuts like almonds, cashews and pistachios are used a lot, often in the desserts, but sometimes also in the main meal.
Authentic Mughal-style cooking, the royal cuisine of the Mughal Empire, can still be found and savoured in some parts of India, most notably the old Mughal cities of Delhi, Agra and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. It is a refined blend of Persian, Turkic and Subcontinent cooking, and makes heavy use of meat and spices. The names of some Mughal dishes bear the prefix of shahi as a sign of its prestige and royal status from a bygone era. Famous Mughal specialties include biryani (layered meat and rice casserole), pulao (rice cooked in a meat or vegetable broth), kebab (grilled meat), kofta (balls of mincemeat), rumali roti (flatbread whirled into paper-thin consistency) and shahi tukray (saffron and cardamom-scented bread pudding).
- See also: Southern India#Eat
In South India, the food is mostly rice-based. A typical meal includes sambhar (a thick vegetable and lentil chowder) with rice, rasam (a thin, peppery soup), or avial (mixed vegetables) with rice, traditionally served on a banana leaf as a plate. Seasoning in South India differs from northern regions by its ubiquitous use of mustard seeds, curry leaves, pulses, fenugreek seeds, and a variety of souring agents such as tamarind and kokum. There are regional variations too — the coastal regions make greater use of coconut and fish. In the State of Kerala, it is common to use grated coconut in everything and coconut oil for cooking, while someone from the interior could be surprised to learn that coconut oil can be used for cooking. The South also has some great breakfast dishes like idli (a steamed cake of lentils and rice), dosa, a thin, crispy pancake often stuffed with spiced potatoes to make masala dosa, vada, a savoury Indian donut, and uttapam, a fried pancake made from a rice and lentil batter with onions and other vegetables mixed in. All of these can be eaten with dahi, plain yogurt, and chutney, a condiment that can be made from practically anything. Try the ever popular masala dosa, which originated from Udupi in Karnataka, in one of the old restaurants of Bangalore like CTR and Janatha in Malleswaram or Vidyarthi Bhavan in Basavangudi or at MTR near Lalbagh. South Indian cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, though there are exceptions: Seafood is very popular in Kerala and the Mangalorean coast of Karnataka; and Chettinad and Hyderabad cuisines use meat heavily, and are a lot spicier. Coffee tends to be the preferred drink to tea in South India.
To the West, you will find some great cuisine groups. Gujarati cuisine is somewhat similar to Rajastani cooking with the heavy use of dairy products, but differs in that it is predominantly vegetarian, and often sweetened with jaggery or sugar. Gujaratis make some of the best snack items such as the Dhokla and the Muthia. Mumbai is famous for its chaat, as well as the food of the small but visible Irani and Parsi communities concentrated in and around the city. The adjacent states of Maharashtra and Goa are renowned for their seafood, often simply grilled, fried or poached in coconut milk. A notable feature of Goan cooking is that pork and vinegar is used, a rare sight in the rest of India. Vindaloo originated in Goa, and is traditionally cooked with pork, and in spite of its apparent popularity in Indian restaurants abroad, it is not common in India itself.
To the East, Bengali and Odishan food makes heavy use of rice, and fish due to the vast river channels and ocean coastline in the region. Bengali cooking is known for its complexity of flavor and bittersweet balance. Mustard oil, derived from mustard seeds, is often used in cooking and adds a pungent, slightly sweet flavour and intense heat. Bengalis prefer freshwater fish, in particular the iconic ilish or hilsa: it can be smoked, fried, steamed, baked in young plantain leaves, cooked with curd, aubergine and cumin seeds. It is said that ilish can be prepared in more than 50 ways. Typical Bengali dishes include maccher jhal, a brothy fish stew which literally means "fish in sauce", and shorshe ilish (cooked in a gravy made from mustard seed paste). Eastern India is also famous for its desserts and sweets: Rasgulla is a famous variant of the better-known gulab jamun, a spherical morsel made from cow's milk and soaked in a clear sugar syrup. It's excellent if consumed fresh or within a day after it is made. Sondesh is another excellent milk-based sweet, best described as the dry equivalent of ras malai.
A lot of food has also filtered in from other countries. Indian Chinese (or Chindian) is far and away the most common adaptation: most Chinese would barely recognize the stuff, but dishes like veg manchurian (deep-fried vegetable balls in a chilli-soy-ginger sauce) and chilli chicken are very much a part of the Indian cultural landscape and worth a try. The British left fish and chips and some fusion dishes like mulligatawny soup, while Tibetan and Nepali food, especially momo dumplings, are not uncommon in north India. Pizza has entered India in a big way, and the chains such as Pizza Hut and Domino's have Indianised the pizza and introduced adaptations like paneer-tikka pizza. There is an Indian chain called Smokin Joe's, based in Mumbai, which has mixed Thai curry with pizzas.
It is, of course, impossible to do full justice to the range and diversity of Indian food in this brief section. Not only does every region of India have a distinctive cuisine, but you will also find that even within a region, castes and ethnic communities have different styles of cooking and often have their signature recipes which you will probably not find in restaurants. The adventurous traveller is advised to wangle invitations to homes, try various bylanes of the city and look for food in unlikely places like temples and Gurudhwaras in search of culinary nirvana.
While a wide variety of fruits are native to India, including the chikoo and the jackfruit, nothing is closer to an Indian's heart than a juicy ripe mango. Hundreds of varieties are found across most of its regions — in fact, India is the largest producer, growing more than half the world's output. Mangoes are in season at the hottest part of the year, usually between May and July, and range from small (as big as a fist) to some as big as a small cantaloupe. They can be consumed in their ripe, unripe and also a baby form (the last 2 predominantly in pickles). The best mango (the "King of Mangoes", as Indians call it) is the "Alphonso" or Haapoos (in Marathi), in season in April and May along the western coast of Maharashtra. Buy it from a good fruit shop in Mumbai or Mahatma Phule market (formerly Crawford market) in South Mumbai. Dushheri Mangoes are also popular in north india. Other fruits widely available (depending on the season) are bananas, oranges, guavas, lychees, apples, pineapples, pomegranates, apricots, melons, coconuts, grapes, plums, peaches and berries.
Know your vegetarians
Most Indians who practise vegetarianism do so for religious or cultural reasons — though cultural taboos have their roots in ethical concerns. Indians' dietary restrictions come in all shapes and sizes and the two symbols (see right) do not capture the full range. The Green dot means Pure Vegetarian. Red dot means non-vegetarian, including only eggs (as in a fruit-egg cake). Here is a quick guide:
Visiting vegetarians will discover a culinary treasure that is found nowhere else in the world. Owing to a large number of strictly vegetarian Hindus and Jains, Indian cuisine has evolved an astonishingly rich menu that uses no meat or eggs. The Jains in particular practice a strict form of vegetarianism based on the principles of non-violence and peaceful co-operative co-existence: Jains usually do not consume root vegetables such as potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, cassava, sweet potatoes and turnips, as the plant needs to be killed prior to its end of normal life cycle, in the process of accessing these . At least half the menus of most restaurants are devoted to vegetarian dishes, and by law all packaged food products in India are tagged with a green dot (vegetarian) or red dot (non-veg). Veganism however is not a well-understood concept in India, and vegans may face a tougher time: milk products like cheese (paneer), yogurt (dahi) and clarified butter (ghee) are used extensively (in particular, ghee can be hard to spot as it can be mixed into curries before they are served), and honey is also commonly used as a sweetener. Milk in India is generally not pasteurized, and must be boiled before consumption.
Even non-vegetarians will soon note that due to the Hindu taboo, beef is generally not served (except in the Muslim and Parsi communities, Goa, Kerala and the North-Eastern states), and pork is also uncommon due to the Muslim population. Chicken and mutton are thus by far the most common meats used, although "buff" (water buffalo) is occasionally served in backpacker establishments. Seafood is of course ubiquitous in the coastal regions of India, and a few regional cuisines do use duck, venison and other game meats in traditional dishes.
In India eating with your hand (instead of cutlery like forks and spoons) is very common. There's one basic rule of etiquette to observe, particularly in non-urban India: Use only your right hand. The left hand is reserved for unhygienic uses. Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the spatula with your left hand to serve yourself and then dig in. Needless to say, it's wise to wash your hands well before and after eating.
For breads for all types, the basic technique is to hold down the item with your forefinger and use your middle-finger and thumb to tear off pieces. The pieces can then be dipped in sauce or used to pick up bits before you stuff them in your mouth. Rice is more challenging, but the basic idea is to use four fingers to mix the rice in curry and pack a little ball, before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb.
Most of the restaurants do provide cutlery and its pretty safe to use them instead of your hand.
Eating by hand is frowned on in some "classier" places. If you are provided with cutlery and nobody else around you seems to be doing it, then take the hint.
Indian restaurants run the gamut from roadside shacks (dhabas) to classy five-star places where the experience is comparable to places anywhere in the world. Away from the big cities and tourist haunts, mid-level restaurants are scarce, and food choices will be limited to the local cuisine, Punjabi/Mughlai, "Chinese"/"Indo-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 South India, a "hotel" is local restaurant serving south Indian food, usually a thali or plate meal—a full plate of food that usually includes a kind of bread and/or rice and an assortment of meat or vegetarian dishes—and prepared meals.
Although you may be handed an extensive menu, most dishes are served only during specific hours, if at all.
One of the sweetest and safest beverages you can get is tender coconut water (naryal paani). You can almost always find it in any beach or other tourist destinations in the south. In summer (Mar-Jul), you can get fresh sugarcane juice in many places and even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties.
India is famous for its Alphonso variety of mangoes, generally regarded as the King of Mangoes among connoisseurs. Frooti, in its famous tetra-pack, is the most popular processed drink, followed by Maaza (bottled by Coca-Cola) or Slice (bottled by PepsiCo), both of which contain about 15% Alphonso mango pulp. Both cost about ₹30-50 for a 600 ml bottle.
As for bottled water, make sure that the cap's seal has not been broken; otherwise, it is a tell-tale sign of tampering or that unscrupulous vendors reuse old bottles and fill them with tap water, which is generally unsafe for foreign tourists to drink without prior boiling. Bottled water brands like Aquafina (by PepsiCo) and Kinley (by Coca-Cola) are widely available. Local brands like Bisleri are also acceptable and perfectly safe. Tastes may vary due to the individual brands' mineral contents. In semi-urban or rural areas, it may be appropriate to ask for boiled water as well.
One can get tea (chai in most North Indian languages) of one variety or the other everywhere in India. The most common method of preparing chai is by brewing tea leaves, milk, and sugar altogether in a pot and keeping it hot until it's all sold. It is sweet and uniquely refreshing once you get the taste for it.
Masala chai will have, added to the above mix, spices such as cardamom, ginger or cinnamon etc. For some people, that takes some getting used to.
While Masala chai is popular in Northern and Central India, people in Eastern India (West Bengal and Assam) generally consume tea without spices, the English way. This is also the part of India where most tea is grown.
In South India, filter coffee replaces tea as the standard beverage. Indian filter coffee is a coffee drink made by mixing frothed and boiled milk with the decoction obtained by brewing finely ground coffee powder in a traditional Indian filter.
Drinking alcohol can either be frowned upon or openly accepted, depending on the region and religion of the area within which you are drinking. For example, Goa, Punjab, and Pondicherry tend to be more free-wheeling (and have low taxes on alcohol), while a few southern areas like Chennai are less tolerant of alcohol, and may even charge excessive taxes on it. Some states such as Gujarat and Bihar are legally "dry" states and alcohol cannot be bought openly there, although there is a substantial bootlegging industry. Bootleg alcohol is unregulated and could kill you or make you sick, and you could also be in legal trouble if you are caught while drunk in a dry state.
Favourite Indian tipples include beer, notably the ubiquitous Kingfisher (a decent lager), and rum, particularly Old Monk. Prices vary by state, especially for hard liquor, but you can expect to pay ₹50-100 for a large bottle of beer and anywhere between ₹170-250 for a 750 ml bottle of Old Monk. Mumbai tends to be the most expensive, due to local taxes, which can be three-times as much as Meghalaya.
Indian wines, long a bit of a joke, have improved remarkably and there's a booming wine industry in the hills of Maharashtra. The good stuff is not particularly cheap (expect to pay around ₹500 a bottle) and selections are mostly limited to white wines, but look out for labels by Chateau Indage or Sula.
Illegal moonshine, called tharra when made from sugar cane and toddy when made from coconuts, is widely available in some states. It's cheap and strong, but very dangerous as quality control is nonexistent, and best avoided entirely. In the former Portuguese colony of Goa you can obtain an extremely pungent liquor called fenny or feni, typically made from cashew fruits or coconuts.
As of April 2017 it is illegal to sell alcohol within 500m of a highway. This is controversial as it has hit restaurants, bars and hotels hard so check latest rulings before booking your hotel for any changers.
Cannabis in its many forms — especially ganja (weed) and charas (hash) — is widely available throughout India, but they are all illegal in the vast majority of the country, and the letter of the law states that simple possession may mean fines or years in jail, depending on the quantity possessed.
However, in some states (notably Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Orissa) the one legal and socially accepted way to consume cannabis is as bhang, a low-grade preparation sold at government-licensed shops that is not only smoked, but also made into cookies, chocolate and the infamous bhang lassi, an herb-laced version of the normally innocuous yogurt drink. Bhang lassi is usually available at varying strengths, so use caution if opting for the stronger versions. It's also occasionally sold as "special lassi", but is usually easily spotted by the ₹30-50 price tag (several times higher than the non-special kinds). An important point to bear in mind is that the effects of "Bhang" are slow and heighten when consumed with something sweet. Also, first-time users may want to wait a while before consuming too much in an effort to judge their tolerance.
Make sure to bring the passport wherever you go, as most hotels will not rent out rooms without a valid passport. Two important factors to keep in mind when choosing a place to stay are 1) safety and 2) cleanliness. Malaria is present in most areas of India - one of the ways to combat malaria is to choose lodgings with air conditioning and sealed windows. An insect-repellent spray containing DEET will also help.
Overcharging of foreigners is widespread and you will have to bargain hard. Many hotels listed on western booking websites (booking.com etc.) are also set at the "tourist price"; try local booking sites like Goibibo, redBus or OYO rooms, as these have much better coverage of local hotels and in rural areas.
Choices vary widely depending on budget and location. Good budget hotels in India are easy to find. Cheap travelers' hotels are numerous in big cities where rooms are available for less than ₹450. Rooms at guest-houses with a double bed (and often a bathroom) can be found in many touristic venues for ₹150-200. accommodation in clean dormitories for as little as ₹50 is also available. Bed and breakfast service providers are coming up offering standard services that can be expected from B&Bs outside India. The basics include: air-conditioner or air cooler, free food, and free wi-fi internet.
Most Indian train stations have rooms or dormitories, just ask. They are cheap, relatively well maintained (the beds, sheets, not the showers), in demand and secure. There are also the added bonus of not being accosted by the rickshaw mafia, getting the bags off quickly and, for the adventurous, high likelihood to jump on a cheap public bus back to the train station. Keep in mind you must have an arrival or departure train ticket from the station where you intend to sleep and there could be a limit on how many nights you may stay.
Midrange options are plentiful in the larger cities and expanding fast into second-tier cities as well. Dependable local chains include Treebo, Country Inns, Ginger and Neemrana, and prices vary from ₹1,000-4,000 per night. Local, unbranded hotels can be found in any city, but quality varies widely.
If the wallet allows it, you can try staying like royalty in a maharaja's palace in places like Udaipur or modern five-star hotels which are now found pretty much all over the country. The top-end of Indian luxury rests with hotel chains like Oberoi, Taj, The Leela and ITC Welcomgroup, 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 in other countries 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.
One way of meeting interesting Indian travelers is by staying at an Inspection Bungalow/Dak bungalow. Also, called travellers' bungalows, they exist in many towns and were built by the British to accommodate travelling officials and are now used by the Central and state governments for the same purpose. Most will take tourists at a moderate fee if they have room . They are plain with ceiling fans rather than air conditioning, shower but no bath but clean, comfortable and usually in good locations. Typically the staff includes a pensioned-off soldier as night watchman and perhaps another as gardener; often the gardens are lovely. Sometimes there may be a cook to prepare A la carte dishes.
Reliable electricity supply is present mainly in upmarket hotels. Brownouts are frequent, and many buildings have unsafe wiring. If you like having a beer at the bar or expect alcohol in the room fridge then make sure the hotel is more than 500 m (1,600 ft) from a highway.
There are many things to learn that interest foreigners all over India, but there are a few destinations that have become particularly well known for certain things:
- Yoga is popular in Haridwar, Rishikesh and Mysore.
- Ayurveda is popular in Kerala.
- Hindi in Delhi and Varanasi.
- Classical musical instruments in not only the ancient city of Varanasi but many parts of India, especially in Southern States, where they form the most integral part of Core Classicals.
- Classical vocal music and classical dance forms in Tamil Nadu or Karnataka.
- Sanskrit at 'Samskrita Bharati' in areas of Udupi, Bangalore in the state of Karnataka and Delhi.
- Buddhism in Dharamsala and Bir in Himachal Pradesh as well as in Bodh Gaya in Bihar.
- Cooking classes are also popular. The most well-known exported type of Indian food are the cuisines such as Idly, Dosa, Biryanis, Dals etc and regional cusines such as Thalis, South Indian, and 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 Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal.
There are many Universities imparting education but at the helm are Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) for technical undergraduates, Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) for management postgraduates and National Law Universities/Schools (NLUs) which are world class institutes. Most of the ambitious students who want to get a good high level education strive to get into these institutes through admission processes which are rather very difficult ones both due to nature of test and the prevailing competition. For example, the 6 top IIMs (Including the 4 oldest - Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Bangalore & Lucknow plus newly established Indore and Kozhikode) together select only about 1,200 students from 350,000 students who appear for CAT exam. But still students have a great desire to get into these institutes. These institutes offer degrees to foreign students also.
Apart from undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses, there are many training and diploma-level institutes and polytechnics that cater to the growing demand for skill-based and vocational education. Besides conventional educational institutes, foreigners might also be interested to study with Pandits to learn Hindi and Sanskrit in genuine settings as well as with Mullahs to study Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. They might also like to live with famed Ustads to study traditional Indian music. Whether people are interested in philosophy or religion, cuisine or dance, India will have the right opportunity for them.
Foreigners need a work permit to be employed in India. A work permit is granted if an application is made to the local Indian embassy along with proof of potential employment and supporting documents. There are many expatriates working in India, mostly for multinational Fortune 1,000 firms. India has always had an expatriate community of reasonable size, and there are many avenues for finding employment, including popular job hunting websites.
There are many volunteer opportunities around the country including teaching. India has a reasonable presence of foreign Christian missionaries, who for the most part form the non-local religious workers, since the other major religions of the world either grew out of India or have had a long term presence.
A living can be made in the traveller scenes by providing some kind of service such as baking Western cakes, tattooing or massage.
Previously, an AIDS test result was required as part of the work visa application process. It is highly recommended that applicants obtain test results in their home country beforehand if at all possible.
As a rule India is quite safe for foreigners, apart from instances of petty crime and theft common to any developing country, as long as certain basic precautions are observed (i.e. women travellers avoiding travelling alone at night). You can check with your embassy or ask for local advice before heading to Jammu and Kashmir in northern-most India, and to Northeast India, i.e. (Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh). These areas have had serious law and order problems for a long time, though the situation has improved a lot. The same applies while travelling to what used to be a thickly forested area in East-Central India, which covers the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, the eastern edge of Maharashtra and the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh. Though the problem is only in the remote areas of these states and normal areas to visit in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh are completely safe.
Unfortunately theft is quite common in places visited by tourists, but violent thefts hardly ever occur. More likely a thief will pick your pocket (see pickpockets) or break into your room. So it is better to take precautions to firmly lock the door while indoors, and be on guard while outside.
Some people handling your cash will try to shortchange you or rip you off. In Delhi particularly, this is a universal rule adhered to by all who handle westerners' cash. This does not exclude official ticket sellers at tourist sites, employees at prepaid taxi stands, or merchants in all but the most upscale businesses. Count your cash before handing it over, and be insistent on receiving the correct change.
It is advisable or better to agree on the fare before getting inside an auto or a taxi. This avoids any further unpleasant fare-related arguments. If you can take the advice of a local friend or someone manning your hotel's front desk to know how much it should cost to travel in between two destinations, you will be a smart traveller.
Overseas visitors, particularly women, attract the attention of beggars, frauds and touts. Beggars will often go as far as touching you and following you, tugging on your sleeve. It does little good to get angry or to say "No" loudly. The best response is to look unconcerned and ignore the behaviour. The more attention you pay to a beggar or a tout — positive or negative — the longer they will follow you hoping for a donation. Women travellers are advised not to stay out late and roam on their own, and also to be a little sensitive about how they dress in public. There have been some rapes of foreign women and highly publicised rapes of Indian women, some of whom have been murdered.
Travellers should not trust strangers offering assistance or services; see Common scams. Be particularly wary of frauds at tourist attractions such as the temples of Kanchipuram, where they prey on those unfamiliar with local and religious customs. If a priest or guide offers to treat you to a religious ceremony, find out what it will cost you first, and do not allow yourself to be pressured into making "donations" of thousands of rupees — simply walk away if you feel uncomfortable. However, don't get too paranoid: fellow travellers on the train, or Indian families who want to take your picture on their own camera, for example, are often just genuinely curious.
While travelling in public transport (trains, buses) do not accept any food or drink from any local fellow passenger even they are very friendly or polite. There have been instances in which very friendly fellow passengers offered food or drinks including tea or coffee that contained substances that put the victim to sleep whilst all their possessions, including even their clothing, were stolen.
Same-sex intercourse was decriminalized by a court ruling in 2018. There is a vibrant gay nightlife 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 harass gays cruising on the streets. You will often see Indian men walking hand-in-hand in the streets, but this is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality.
Whereas Indian men can be really eager to talk to travellers, women in India often refrain from contact with men. It is an unfortunate fact that if you are a man and you approach a woman in India for even an innocuous purpose like asking for directions, you are putting her on the defensive usually, especially the ones dressed traditionally. It is better to ask a man if one is available (there usually will be), or be extra respectful if you are asking a woman.
Black people may encounter prejudices from the police and general public about being drug dealers. This reaction stems from the fact that more often than not, foreign-born drug peddlers in India are of Nigerian nationality. Indians find it hard to differentiate between Nigerians and other Africans, Afro-Americans or even their own Siddi (Indians of sub-Saharan African descent) community, and this behaviour is towards the whole race and not just to any specific country. That said, this behaviour is still considered publicly unacceptable when Indians are confronted by Indians themselves. It is hence wise to keep passports handy at all times, avoid going to areas notorious for illegal activities and maintain contact with respective embassies and, if possible, with other support groups that can vouch for you.
The cow is considered to be a holy animal in Hinduism, and in many Indian states, it is illegal to consume or possess beef. Non-Hindus suspected of eating beef are also known to have been lynched by fundamentalist Hindu mobs.
As a former British colony, India drives on the left side of the road.
Driving in India is can be dangerous. Irresponsible driving habits, insufficient highway infrastructure development, wandering livestock and other hazards make travelling on the country's roads a sometimes nerve-wracking undertaking.
More than 118,000 people died on Indian roads in 2008, the highest figure in the entire world, and that's despite having only 12 cars per 1000 people (vs. 765 in a more developed country like the United States). A first encounter with a typical Indian highway will no doubt feature a traffic mix of lumbering trucks, speeding maniacs, blithely wandering cows and suicidal pedestrians, all weaving across a narrow, potholed strip of tarmac. To minimise your risk of becoming a grim statistic, use trains instead of buses, use government bus services instead of private ones (which are more likely to force their drivers into inhuman shifts), use taxis instead of auto-rickshaws, avoid travelling at night, and don't hesitate to change taxis or cars if you feel your driver is unsafe.
Of significant concern is that much of the road network is significantly underdeveloped. Most roads are very poorly built and they are full of rubble, large cracks and potholes. Most road signs are not very reliable in the country, and in most cases provide drivers very confusing or inaccurate information. If you are in doubt, ask the locals, normally they are very helpful and willingly provide people with appropriate guidance to a location. Of course the quality of information and willingness to provide it varies, especially in the larger cities.
India is a socially conservative country, and some Western habits can be perceived as dishonourable for a woman in much of the country, though India is coming out of its conservative image rather quickly, especially in big cities.
- 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 by a Hindu is to bring their palms together in front of their 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". 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.
- Outside of trendy places or high society, women generally do not smoke. In some rural or tribal areas women do smoke, but discreetly.
- 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 passport means that you will waste a considerable time trying to get any kind of help in that regard.
- People are generally modestly clothed even at the beaches, so be sure to find out what the appropriate attire is for the beach you are visiting. In 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 bikini on the road. There are a few beaches where women (mostly foreigners) sunbathe topless but make sure that it is safe and accepted before you do so.
- It's not so safe to walk in isolated places if you are a solo female traveller. Sex crimes against tourists occur in some tourist spots. At night, never walk on the street or take a taxi or auto-rickshaw with clothes such as tight shorts, a miniskirt, sports bra, tank-top, or other clothes which expose a lot of skin. 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. In Delhi Metro trains, it is the first compartment.
- In most buses (private and public) a few seats at the front or at one side 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 his seat also 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. At such time, just scream or make a scene pointing your finger at the person. People will come to your help. It is less advisable for women to attend these festivities alone.
- Friendly conversation with men you meet on trains is sometimes confused by them with flirtation. In some scenarios, this can lead to unexpected sexual advances; this happens to Indian women as well as Westerners. Befriending Indian women, however, can be a wonderful experience for female travellers, though you might have to initiate conversation. An easy topic to get things going is to talk about clothes, food.
- 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 often garner Western women more respect in the eyes of locals.The idea is to portray yourself as a normal person, instead of a distanced tourist. Easy clothing is to wear a kurta paired up with your regular jeans or a salwar. They are very comfortable and most of the women do the same.
- "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 such area is not recommended.
- While hospitality is important in India, it is not common to see people offering to share food or cookies while they eat. Some such offers are genuine and some not. In case you are travelling in train, you are offered food from a big and rich family type group, you can take a bite. But if you are offered something by men or even a couple eating a part of it, try avoiding it, as the other part may have sedatives (this may be so that they may loot your belongings when you become unconscious). You can reply with politeness and say no with a smile; they won't mind or take it personal.
- Be careful while going for a body-massage.
- Body checking (such as at airport) by police/security officer of the opposite sex is not allowed in India.
- In line with increasing of sexual assaults, Tourism Minister has suggested female tourist not to go alone in the night and avoid using mini skirt or even knee length dress.
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. Try to speak the words slowly so that the policeman/woman on phone does not have a problem in comprehending your foreign English accent. For non-emergency crimes, go down to the police station to report them, and insist on getting a receipt of your complaint.
- The emergency contact numbers for most of India are: Police (dial 100), Fire (dial 101), and Ambulance (102 or dial the nearest good hospital). In Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kochi and several other cities throughout India, you can dial 108 for all emergencies.
The India-Pakistan conflict, simmering for decades, has manifested in terrorist attacks on India's main cities: since 2007, there have been bombings in New Delhi/Delhi, Mumbai and other big cities. The targets have varied widely, but attacks have usually been aimed at locals rather than visitors. The exception was in 2008, when a shooting spree targeted and killed many foreigners along with Indians, in Mumbai's posh hotels and railway station, etc. All the terrorists involved in this were from Pakistan, and were killed in action except one who was captured alive and later hanged. Realistically speaking, there is little you can do to avoid such random attacks, but do keep an eye on the national news and on any travel advisories from your Embassy.
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. However, with precautions the chance and severity of any illness can be minimized. Don't stress yourself too much at the beginning of your journey to allow your body to acclimatize to the country. For example, take a day of rest upon arrival, at least on your first visit. Many travellers get ill for wanting to do too much in too little time. Be careful with spicy food if it is not your daily diet.
Tap water is normally not safe for drinking. However, some establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water should be safe to drink from them. Packed drinking water (popularly called "mineral water" throughout India) is a better choice. Bisleri, Kinley, Aquafina, Health Plus are popular and safe brands. But if the seal has been tampered, or if the bottle seems crushed, it could be tap water being illegally sold. So always make sure that seal is intact before buying. In Indian Railway stations, a low-priced mineral water brand of Indian Railways is generally available, known as "Rail Neer".
Fruits that can be peeled such as apples and bananas, as well as packaged snacks are always a safe option. Wash any fruit with uncontaminated water before eating it.
No vaccinations are required for entry to India, except for yellow fever if you are coming from an infected area such as Africa. However, Hepatitis (both A and B, depending on your individual circumstances), meningitis and typhoid shots are recommended, as is a booster shot for tetanus.
Diarrhea is common, and can have many different causes. Bring a standard first-aid kit, plus extra over-the-counter medicine for diarrhea and stomach upset. A re-hydration kit can also be helpful. In case you run out and cannot get the re-hydration solution widely available at pharmacies, remember the salt/sugar/water ratio for oral re-hydration: 1 tsp salt, 8 tsp sugar, for 1 litre of water. Indians have resistance to native bacteria and parasites that visitors do not have. If you have serious diarrhea for more than a day or two, it is best to visit a private hospital. Parasites such as Giardia are a common cause of diarrhea, and may not get better without treatment.
Malaria is endemic throughout India. CDC states that risk exists in all areas, including the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, and at altitudes of less than 2000 metres in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Kashmir, and Sikkim; however, the risk of infection is considered low in Delhi and northern India. Get expert advice on malaria preventatives, and take adequate precautions to prevent mosquito bites. Use a mosquito repellent when going outside (particularly during the evenings) and also when sleeping in trains and hotels without air conditioning. A local mosquito repellent used by Indians is Odomos and is available over-the-counter at most medical stores.
If you have asthma, carry enough supplies as dust, pollen or pollution may cause some trouble to your breathing.
It is very important to stay away from the many stray dogs and cats in India, as India has the highest rate of rabies in the world. If you are bitten it is extremely urgent to get to a hospital in a major urban area capable of dealing with rabies. You can get treatment at any major hospital. It is very important to get the rabies vaccine after any contact with animals that includes contact with saliva or blood. Rabies vaccines only work if the full course is given prior to symptoms. The disease is almost invariably fatal otherwise.
If you venture to forests in India, you may encounter venomous snakes. If bitten, try to note the markings of the snake so that the snake can be identified and the correct antidote given. In any event, immediately seek medical care.
Although virtually all Indian doctors speak English fluently, public hospitals tend to be unsanitary, overcrowded, understaffed and underequipped. Consequently, the standard of care leaves much to be desired. There are also reports of vaccinations and blood transfusions in low quality hospitals increasing your risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Therefore, you are highly advised to avoid government healthcare facilities and make use of private hospitals instead. Private hospitals, on the other hand, are usually of an excellent standard and among the best in the world, making India a popular destination for medical tourism. The downside is that they are usually much more expensive than public hospitals, though still reasonably priced by Western standards. Many private hospitals accept international health insurance; check with the hospital before you go to be sure. Many rich Indians travel to Singapore for more serious issues, such as those requiring major surgery, and you might want to consider that as an option too.
Finally, there are a few travel clinics in India, that can be checked out by visiting the ISTM website in the larger cities. Most CDC recommended vaccinations are available in many of these travel health clinics in larger cities. Large corporate hospital chains like Fortis, Max, Apollo and similar places are your best bet for emergency medical care in larger cities, and they have better hygiene and generally well trained doctors, many from even US & UK institutions.
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 many have unknowingly gotten into serious trouble for kissing, regardless of relationship or marriage or your nationality. This is not a universal opinion, as many Indians find kissing acceptable, but to avoid kissing (even on cheeks) in public is a good idea while in India.
Religion and rituals
- As India has a great diversity, people follow different religions. Hinduisim is being followed by majority of the people.
- The Christians are considered as minorities in India but going to church and following your faith is always appreciated. There are different denominations and they differ a bit in their practices.The Holy Bible is available in regional languages too for convenience of the people.
- In temples and mosques it is obligatory to take off your shoes. There are dedicated areas where your footwear may be stored for a small fee or without charge. It may also be customary to take off your footwear while entering into homes, follow other people's lead or else check for footwear at the entrance to the home.
- It is disrespectful to touch 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 physical form, and should not be disrespected.
- Avoid winking, whistling, pointing or beckoning with your fingers. All of these are considered rude.
- The Swastika symbol is a common sight in India, and is considered a religious symbol for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. There is no connection of this symbol to the Nazis or antisemitism. Jewish people have lived in India for thousands of years and have always had good relations with their neighbours.
- Travellers should be aware that Indian females generally dress conservatively, although in metropolitan cities more liberal attire can be seen. Females dressing immodestly may attract unwanted attention from men. Avoid walking in such clothes late at night even in the bigger cities.
- It is better to avoid going out on the roads alone. Keeping some company is always advisable.
- 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.
- Most Indians are not aware that the term "Negro" is now considered offensive, and they may use it with no intent to offend. An Indian is usually not aware of the other "N" word.
- Note dietary restrictions when inviting Indian friends for a meal. Pork is forbidden to Muslims, while beef is forbidden to followers of most of India's other religions (e.g. Hinduism), though in some states, like Kerala, beef is consumed liberally by Christians and Muslims. Also over 30% of Indians are vegetarian. it is better to ask people what they don't eat beforehand.
- 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, 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.
- Most Indians follow Western naming conventions, with a given name followed by a family name. Modes of address generally follow Western conventions as well.
The foolproof method, therefore, is to ask how the person would like to be addressed.
- Pakistan is a sensitive subject about which many Indians might have strong views. Take care when discussing the issue, and better if you avoid mentioning it, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. It's fine to have a chat about your visit to Pakistan, the people, the culture, the music or Indo-Pak cricket matches. But it is far better to avoid any discussion of the political disputes with Pakistan or the Kashmir Conflict. Likewise, bitterness and often intense dislike may be expressed concerning Pakistanis or the nation of Pakistan.
- Sri Lanka is a very sensitive subject in the state of Tamil Nadu due to the conflict between Tamil and Sinhalese groups.
- Operation Bluestar or Indira Gandhi is a very sensitive topic in Punjab. Many people condemned the operation and Indira Gandhi was eventually assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. It is better not to discuss this, as it may invite trouble.
- It is better not to discuss politics in some regions of India. A light conversation is welcomed by the locals, but a debate on political parties and their views could spark problems.
- Avoid insulting or questioning religious beliefs. Some Indians may not like it if you draw any parallels or comparisons between any two religions, especially Hinduism and Muslim beliefs.
- Be cautious when discussing the caste system, since Western viewpoints on this topic are often either antiquated or inadequate.
The country code for India is 91. India is divided into area codes, known locally as STD codes. See 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 (Subscriber Trunk Dialing - national long distance) or ISD (International Subscriber Dialing - international long distance). These are usually staffed, and you dial yourself but pay to the attendant after the call is over. Metering is done per pulse and a service charge of ₹2 is added to the bill. Larger cities also have Western-style unmanned public phones, which are usually red in colour and accept one rupee coins.
Local phone numbers can be anywhere from 5-8 digits long. But when the area code is included, all landline phone numbers in India are 10 digits long. Cellphone numbers usually start with '9', '8', '7' or '6'. 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 start with 18xx or 19xx may attract special charges.
To dial outside the country from India, prefix the country code with 00, e.g. a US number will be dialed as 00-1-555-555-5555. Calling the USA/Canada/UK over the normal telephone line will cost you about ₹7.20 per minute. Calls to other countries, particularly to the Middle East, can be more expensive.
India uses both GSM and CDMA, and mobile phones are widely available, starting from ₹500. 3G and 4G spectrum operations are fairly widespread across many cities, but expect 2G networks to dominate the country. Major operators with India-wide networks include Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL, MTNL, Reliance Mobile (both GSM and CDMA), JIO, TATA DOCOMO (GSM), TATA Indicom (CDMA), Idea Cellular, Uninor, Aircel, MTS (CDMA), and Videocon Mobile. Not all operators have Pan-India operations but have tie-ups with other operators to provide pan-India coverage via roaming, though roaming charges are higher. You will not be able to use your mobile in Jammu and Kashmir since the local government does not allow any roaming and restricts foreigners from buying SIM cards there. Local calls could cost as little as ₹0.10 per minute (typically ₹0.50), although going to a different state within India is considered roaming and additional charges of ₹1-3/min for incoming and outgoing calls may apply. International calls are comparatively cheap, with most destinations under ₹10/min, the same as you'd pay at a PCO booth.
Fully loaded prepaid starter kits are available for around ₹500 or less, including several hundred rupees of call time. Plain SIM cards are sold for as little as ₹10-15 while they are given out for free in many cases. You will need identification and a passport-size photo, although some shops will also insist on a local address in India; try the next one if they're not accommodating. Although the best option is always buying a SIM card from the phone company's own store, that way you can verify the SIM card is working and you have been allocated your credit before you leave. Buying from smaller vendors will often mean a delay of a few hours to a few days before they call to get the SIM working, and you risk your SIM being cancelled if they never send in your identification paperwork.
Talk time (unexpired minutes of talk time) and validity (the date that the SIM card expires) are considered separate and you have to keep both topped up, or otherwise you may find the ₹500 you just recharged disappearing in a puff of smoke when the one-month validity expires. Usually, when you extend the validity, you will also get extra minutes but you can buy minutes for less without extending the validity. Or, if you are in India for a reasonably long time, you can buy a prepaid SIM with lifetime validity and then topup with talktime as per your needs. In most such cases, you will need to top up at least once every six months to keep the SIM active. And the term "lifetime" is slightly misleading as it refers to the 20-year life of the licence issued to the operator by the Government of India to provide mobile services. If the licence is renewed, your services will continue without any additional charges but if the licence is not renewed, your lifetime SIM also becomes defunct.
Whilst large telecommunications companies, such as Airtel are the same company throughout India, and your SIM card will work anywhere have reception or a partnership, their sales and support teams are often outsourced and franchised. A SIM bought in one state (even from an official store) attracts a roaming charge when used in other states, anr your support numbers will not work. For example, if you buy a SIM in Goa and something goes wrong whilst you are travelling in another state, local stores will not be able to help you, nor often will your support number that came with your SIM. They will tell you to go back to the state you bought it in for support, or give you other numbers to try and call in your purchase state.
This also impacts recharging when you're outside the state you bought your SIM card. Due to local taxes and company pricing, recharge cards (or the amount people pay to get the same about of talk time) differs from state to state - even though your per minute call costs will be the same state to state. Take note of the recharge options and prices in the state that you originally bought your SIM, because as you move to other areas in India, the local recharge options vary and will not apply to you (they'll only apply to SIMs bought in that state). For example, if you bought your SIM in Goa and to get ₹100 talk time credited to your account, you paid ₹120 (₹100 talk time + ₹20 local taxes), but then travelled to another state where they had a promotion where ₹100 talk time only costs ₹100, you are not eligible. You still have to pay the rates of where you bought your SIM, even if local signage says differently. The important thing to remember is that you always recharge based on where your SIM card is from, so take a note of the recharge options when you buy your SIM, and use them (not the local rates) to recharge. As an added complication, many local vendors do not like to recharge out of state SIMs (which they can tell from your number). This is because the way they recharge phones is by crediting a certain amount of rupees to your account, and then your carrier recognises the amount and transforms it into a service. For example ₹120 rupees may mean your account is recharged with ₹100 talk time, whereas ₹121 may mean you get a cricket SMS updates pack. Consequently, because local recharge shops do not know the prices to recharge in the state your SIM is from, they may not want to risk giving you something you do not want. The way to get around this is to, as mentioned, make a note of your recharge options when you buy your SIM and politely insist to local recharge merchants that you know that amount works.
2G and 3G Internet prices are usually the same from state to state, making this process slightly easier.
Wi-Fi hotspots in India are, for most part, limited. The major airports and stations do offer paid Wi-Fi at around ₹60-100 an hour. Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai are the only cities with decent wifi coverage. At Mumbai and Delhi airport, you get to use Wi-Fi internet free, for an hour or so. Many free Wi-Fi services will require entering a PIN sent to an Indian (and only Indian) cell phone number.
As restrictions on internet use increase in India, many vendors now outright refuse to sell Simcards to foreigners (or anyone without local ID) which was not always the case - you may find an Indian resident or hotel employee willing to buy one under their name if suitably motivated. This might be the best option.
Internet kiosks are common and they charge as little as ₹10-20 per hour (the cost being a compromise for speed).Many will ask for your passport or ID. Beware of using your credit cards online as many cases have come forward regarding credit cards thefts using keyloggers. More reliable chains include Reliance World (formerly Reliance Web World) and Sify iWay.
3G datacards/USB modems are widely used, but require signing a contract with an operator and may thus not a practical option for short-term visitors without a residential address in India. The better companies such as Airtel (GSM) and Tata indicom (CDMA) do not rent datacards, which means that you have to buy them outright. Reliance charges ₹650 per month (1GB downloading free, ₹2/mb) for a datacard/USB modem. The cheap price also means a 256 kbit/s connection, by the way. Airtel are the cheapest 3G data (for phone or data card) providers, at 10GB (valid for a month) for ₹1250, and also much lower quantities. They have one of the largest networks and free India-wide data roaming, but the drawback is particularly poor customer support, that often manages to make the problem worse.
Internet censorship in India is considered “selective”. There are occasional random, inexplicable and arbitrary attempts by the government to block some sites it considers as carrying hateful propaganda, but enforcement is spotty and the decisions are often forgotten after a few days of being made. You are unlikely to find any useful site blocked.
Calling overseas is also very cheap if you use the many booths that advertise Net2Phone service. The quality ranges from tolerable to excellent, and the price is very good, with calls to the USA ranging from ₹2-5 per minute.
The Indian Ministry of Tourism has started a 24/7 Tourist Helpline: 1363 (Toll Free Line) / +91-94900 69000 (Mobile).