India, Asia - NCL Tours
  • Duration (nights):
    7
    • Adults:
      16+ years
    • Teenagers:
      12-15 years
    • Children:
      2-11 years
    • Infants:
      0-23 months

Welcome to India

India

India is the largest country in the Indian Subcontinent and shares borders with Pakistan to the west, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan to the north-east, andBangladesh and Myanmar to the east. Sri Lanka lies to the south, Maldives to the south-west andIndonesia to the south-east of India in the Indian Ocean. India is the seventh largest country in the world by area and, with over a billion people, is second only to China in population, although its much higher birthrate makes it likely to reach pole position in less than ten years. It is an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity across its expanse, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth.

 

Mesolithic sites include the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Central India, Madhya Pradesh, which are 300,000 years old. Indians date the Vedic Period as one of the significant role in Indian society, which scholars place in the second and first millennia BC continuing up to the 6th century BC, based on literary evidence. This is the period when the Vedas, one of the oldest and important books ofHinduism, were compiled. The earliest archaeological traces are from 7000 BC in Mehrgarh, which grew to be the "Indus Valley Civilization". By 3300 BC, this civilization had well-planned towns and well-laid roads, but gave no evidence of weapons or fortifications. This declined and disintegrated around 1900 BC, possibly due to drought and geological disturbances. Most historians say that the Vedic people, or Aryans, were later migrants, who encountered a civilization in decline and perhaps hastened that decline. According to this view, the Vedic people eventually occupied most of North India, while the descendants of the Indus Valley cultures moved south and gave rise to the Dravidian culture. The minority view challenges this Aryan Migration theory, claiming that the Indus Valley people were in fact the ones who compiled the Vedas.

The Vedic civilization influences India to this day. Present-day Hinduism traces its roots to the Vedas, but is also heavily influenced by literature that came afterwards, like the Upanishads, the Puranas, the great epics — Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. By tradition, these books claim to only expand and distil the knowledge that is already present in the Vedas. Some rituals of Hinduism took shape during that period. Most North-Indian languages come from Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, and are classified as part of the Indo-European group of languages. In the 1st millennium BC, various schools of thought in philosophy developed, enriching Hinduism greatly. Most of them claimed to derive from the Vedas. However, three of these schools - Sikhism , Buddhism and Jainism - questioned the authority of the Vedas and they are now recognized as separate religions.

Many great empires were formed between 500 BC and AD 500. Notable among them were theMauryas and the Guptas. This period saw major mathematical and astronomical advancements, many of which were ahead of their time and were rediscovered later in the West. In particular, Aryabhata theorized that the earth was a sphere that rotates about its axis and revolves around the sun. He also developed a calendar that is followed to this day. This period also saw 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 practised by a significant number who are ambivalent about whether they consider themselves Hindus or not. Hinduism itself went through significant changes. The importance of Vedic deities like Indra and Agni reduced and Puranic deities like Vishnu, Shiva, their various Avatars and family members gained prominence.

Jamia Masjid, Delhi

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 of the Muslim rulers were the Mughals, who established an empire that at its peak covered almost the entire subcontinent (save the southern and eastern extremities), while the major Hindu force that survived in the North were the Rajputs. 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 wes Rana Pratap, the ruler of Chittorgarh, who spent years in exile fighting Akbar, the third of the Mughals. Eventually, however, the Rajputs were subdued, and the Rajput-Mughal alliance remained strong till the end of the empire. This period of North India was the golden age for Indian art, architecture, and literature, producing the monumental gems of Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal. Hindi and Urdu also took root in medieval North India. During the Islamic period, some Hindus also converted to Islam, some due to force, some due to inducements, and some to escape the caste system. Today, some 13% of the Indian population is Muslim. Sikhism, another major religion, was established in Punjab during the Mughal period. Relations between Sikhism and the Mughals varied over time. The Golden Temple atAmritsar was built by the fourth guru, Guru Ram Das Ji. By the time of its tenth Guru - Guru Gobind Singh, however, relations were hostile. Conflict between the Sikhs and the Mughals was one of the causes for the eventual decline of the Mughal empire. The other cause was the challenge of the 'Marathas in Maharashtra, which 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.

Shore Temple (c. 700 AD), Mamallapuram

South India followed a different trajectory, being less affected by Islamic rule. The period from 500 AD to 1600 AD is called the classical period dominated by great South Indian kingdoms. Prominent among them were the ChalukyasRashtrakutas and Vijayanagara empires who ruled from present day Karnataka and the PallavasCherasPandyas and Cholas who ruled from present day Tamil Nadu & Kerala. Among them, the Cholas are widely recognised to be the most powerful of the South Indian kingdoms, with their territory stretching as far north as Pataliputra and their influence spreading as far east as Sumatra, Western Borneo and Southern Vietnam at the height of their power. Some of the grandest Hindu and Jain monuments that exist in India were built during this time in South and East India.

European traders started visiting India beginning in the late 16th century. Prominent among these were the British, French and the Portuguese. The British East India Company made Calcutta their headquarters in 1772. They also established subsidiary cities like Bombay and Madras. Calcutta later went onto to become 'the second city of the empire after London'. By the 19th century, the British had, one way or the other assumed political control of virtually all of India, though the Portuguese and the French too had their enclaves along the coast.

There was an uprising by Indian rulers in 1857 which was suppressed, but which prompted the British government to take over from the Company and make India a part of the empire. Many Indians converted to Christianity during the period, for pretty much the same reasons as they converted to Islam, though forcible conversions ended in British India after 1859, and Queen Victoria's proclamation promised to respect the religious faiths of Indians.

Non-violent resistance to British colonialism under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led to independence on 15 August 1947. However, independence was simultaneously granted to the secular state of India and the smaller Islamic state of Pakistan, and the orgy of Hindu-Muslim blood-letting that followed Partition led to the deaths of at least half a million and the migration of 12-14 million people.

Free India under Nehru adopted a democratically-governed, centrally-planned economy. These policies were aimed at attaining "self-sufficiency", and to a large extent made India what it is today. India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains by the 1970s, ensuring that the large-scale famines that had been common are now history. However these policies also led to shortages, slow growth and large-scale corruption. After a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991, the country adopted free-market reforms which have continued at a meandering pace ever since, fueling strong growth. The IT and thebusiness outsourcing industries have been the drivers for the growth, while manufacturing and agriculture, which have not experienced reforms, are lagging. About 60% of Indians live on agriculture and around 36% remain in poverty.

Relations with Pakistan have been frosty. The two countries have fought four wars, three of them over the status of Kashmir. The third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. India continues to experience occasional terrorist attacks that are widely believed to originate in Pakistan and ordered by its military-intelligence complex.

China and India went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. Though current relations are peaceful, there is still military rivalry and no land crossings are allowed between the two countries, though one border crossing between Sikkim and Tibet was re-opened in 2006 for trade (but not tourists). Security concerns over Pakistan and China prompted India to test nuclear weapons twice (including the 1974 tests described as "peaceful explosions"). India wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear power and is campaigning for a permanent Security Council seat.

India is proud of its democratic record. Constitutional government and democratic freedoms have been safeguarded throughout its 60 years as an independent country, except for an 18 month interlude in 1975-1977, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspending elections and human rights.

 

 

Information & Facts

Attraction Overview

India's culture and heritage are a rich amalgam of the past and the present. This vast country offers the visitor a view of fascinating religions and ethnography, a vast variety of languages with more than 438 living languages, and monuments that have been present for thousands of years. As it opens up to a globalised world, India still has a depth of history and intensity of culture that awes and fascinates the many who visit there. India remains to be one of the world's fastest growing economies and one of the fastest developing countries. It is considered to be an emerging superpower. 

Climate

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 which 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,  Shishira - Winter,  Hemanta - "Mild Winter") they had divided the year into.

Customs

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.

Vibrant processions are seen going on everywhere, especially during festivals. Ganesh Chatutrthi processions in Mumbai, Dusshera in Mysore etc. are some important processions which have to be seen. Along with these, marriage and religious processions are also seen on the roads. You can see people dance, play music and drums, play with colors etc.

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. Nowadays, most indian families are becoming more nuclear. 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, India remains a fairly stratified society. Indians care about a person's background and position in society as is the case elsewhere in the world. This attitude, when combined with the legacy of colonial rule, results in some rather interesting, if unfortunate consequences. Paler skin is deemed desirable but there is no discrimination on the basis of color.

Getting Around

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 (eg. your flight back), and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.

Note that travel in much of the North-East (with the notable exception of Assam) and parts of Andaman and Nicobar,  Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep,  Rajasthan,  Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal will require obtaining a Protected Area Permit (PAP). The easiest way to get one is to request it along with your visa application, in which case it will be added to your visa. Otherwise, you will need to hunt down a local Ministry of Home Affairs office and battle with bureaucracy.

By plane

Map of airports in India

India's large size and uncertain roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Even India's offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exceptions being Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (although crossing over from neighbouring states is fairly easy). Due to the aviation boom over the last few years, airports have not been able to keep up with the air traffic. Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of boarding gates. Check in and security queues can be terribly long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has recently built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, which are modern and well-equipped. Mumbai and New Delhi airports have been upgraded. The newly constructed terminal 3 in the Delhi airport is the 8th largest terminal in the world.In South Cochin(Kochi) airport is the fourth busiest airport in India in terms of international passenger traffic is the primary base for Air India Express operations and is a focus city for Air Asia India, Air India, Indigo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet.

In northern India, particularly Delhi,  heavy winter fog can wreak havoc on schedules. Flights to small airports up in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh (which is reachable only by plane for most the year), are erratic at the best of times.

Airlines

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 is India's decrepit and continually bankrupt state owned carrier. Formerly two carriers, Indian Airlines (domestic) and Air India (mainly international), these merged in 2007 but this airline is still in transition! Air India has the largest network in the country and provides regional connectivity. But, recently Air-India has become a Star-Alliance member, and has improved its service quality quite a lot. Air India also operates low-cost carrier Air India Express, which flies mainly on trunk routes and to international destinations in the Gulf and South-East Asia, and Air India Regional, which flies small aircraft to obscure places.
  • Go Air low cost airline which now offers additional products: Business class at economy fare (GoBusiness), Flexible travelling product (GoFlexi). Mostly flies from their Mumbai base.
  • IndiGo Airlines  - another low cost airline, connecting around 20 major cities throughout the country. Their planes are new A320s purchased directly from Airbus a few years ago at most. IndiGo Airlines is also considered to be the most punctual airline in the country. As usually with low cost carriers, tickets should be purchased well in advance to get the best fares (more often than not under US$100 (1 way) even for longer flights across the country).
  • Jet Airways ,  full service airline with very good coverage. Now services London (LHR) directly from Delhi and Mumbai and flights to/from Toronto and New York via Brussels. Their subsidiary Jetlite [29], formerly Air Sahara, operates as a value carrier; i.e. some food and beverages are given.
  • SpiceJet , a third low cost airline, has fairly good network between bigger Indian cities as well as prices comparable to those of IndiGo. Their planes are similarly brand new, the main difference being these are B737-800s and -900s.

Keep in mind, however, that outside of major cities coverage is not that good. Flying low-cost to a metro and taking a train is not a bad idea either.

Fares

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 basic law of economics viz. economies of scale. Indian ticket pricing has not attained the bewildering complexity that the Americans have achieved. As of now, you don't have to worry about higher prices on weekends, lower prices for round-trips, lower prices for travel aroundweekends.

There are two complications for non-Indians trying to buy plane tickets:

  1. 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.
  2. Many online booking sites and some of the low-cost carriers may not accept 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.

Check in

Checking in at Indian airports used to be slow and bureaucratic, involving lots of queuing and security checks. This is no longer the case and, in a small airport like that in Patna, it can take 15 min for the entire process from arrival at the airport through to security. Delays are solely due to large numbers of passengers at peak hours or just before departure of a plane. However, a few precautions should be taken:

  • Arrive at least two hours before departure if traveling from the major airports. (For domestic flights from minor airports, one hour before is fine.) A new rule dictates that check-in closes 45 minutes before departure and the boarding gate closes 25 minutes before departure. 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 security guards will not allow you inside. If you have neither a printout nor a soft copy, you can get one at the airline office outside the airport. Some airlines have started to charge for this.
  • Most airports require that you screen your checked bags before check-in, usually at a stand near the entrance. In high-security airports like Jammu, Srinagar or anywhere in the Northeast, even carry-on baggage needs to be screened. In fact all carry on baggage will be screened by an X-ray scanner and at the discretion of the security personnel, physically too. At Mumbai and Delhi airports there is no pre-screening of baggage.

Don't hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure. Most staff in airports are very helpful to passengers and will take pains to ensure you catch your flight. There are separate queues for passengers traveling without checked luggage which 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 traveling on a low-cost airline. The allowed free baggage limit is 15Kg on most airlines.

By train

An old train in India

The modern Delhi Metro, a sign of India's economic development

      

Railways are the most widely used mode of long distance travelling in India. India boasts of one of the biggest network of railway lines in the world. The rail system is very efficient, if not always on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover the Indian landscape and scenic beauty first hand and is generally more economical than flying domestic. It is one of the safest ways of travel in India. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it's the best way to get to know the country and its people. Most train passengers will be curious about you and happy to pass the time with a chat. Travelling on a train or strolling through an Indian railway station while waiting for your train, is in itself an important part of discovering India. If you are on a budget, travelling on an overnight sleeper train will reduce a night's stay at a hotel. Travelling on trains in India is highly recommended.

Regular trains

Trains come in many varieties, but the broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:

  1. Rajdhani Express
  2. Shatabdi Express
  3. Duronto Express
  4. Jan Shatabdi Express
  5. Garib Rath Express
  6. Superfast Trains
  7. Mail/Express Trains
  8. Fast Passenger Trains
  9. Passenger Trains
  10. Local/suburban trains

The 'Rajdhani' and 'Shatabdi' trains are the most luxurious trains on Indian Railways and are completely air-conditioned and also have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price and the food is served at your seat during travel. Most of these trains also have modern German designed LHB coaches which are extremely comfortable and luxurious. These trains are also faster than any other train in Indian Railways. The 'Rajdhani' Express trains are fast long distance overnight that connect regional state capitals to the national capital New Delhi. The 'Shatabdi' Express trains are fast short distance daytime intercity trains that connect important cities in a region, for example two adjacent states' capitals. The 'Duronto' Express (introduced in 2009) are fast long-distance "point to point" non stop trains that directly connect, without stopping, two important cities located far apart. These trains have no commercial halts on their way but only operational halts for maintainence and crew changes.

Luxury Trains

Although the history of luxury train traveling 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 travelers 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 andDelhi 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 traveling in India,  Maharajas' Expresstrain 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 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 halts 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 parlor along with Wi-Fi internet and large screen live TVs are available on board.

Classes

Most countries offer two classes of service, but India has no less than seven to choose from. But note that all seven classes of travel are generally NOT present all together in most trains. In descending order of cost & luxury, they are:

  • Long-distance
    • AC First (1A)
    • AC 2 Tier (2A)
    • AC 3 Tier (3A)
    • First Class (FC)
    • Sleeper Class (SL)
  • Short-distance
    • AC Chair Car (CC)
    • Second Class Chair Car (2S)
  • Unreserved
    • General compartments (GS)

But note that all seven classes of travel are generally NOT present together in a single train. For example AC Chair Car and Second Class Seating may be present on a short distance daytime train but sleeper classes (air-con & non air-con) may not be present in it. For a long distance night train, the reverse is true with the former being present and latter absent. Note that there are different comfort levels for different classes of Rail journeys. General Compartment(GS) is the unreserved coach and is usually extremely crowded and are advisable only for short distance travelling. Whereas Sleeper Class(SL) is not recommended for a comfort/cleanliness seeking person since this is the cheapest class of journey where the most ordinary of Indian populace travel with a privilege to have a sleeper berth, AC 3 Tier(3A), AC 2 Tier(2A) and AC First(1A) may be a far better option to travel comfortably. A/c First(1A) costs as much as economy air ticket and has 2 bed or 4 bed lockable cabins. AC 2 tier(2A) has no cabins but privacy curtains are present. A/c 3 tier(3A) and Sleeper Class(SL) are similar with the difference being the air conditioning in AC 3 tier. First Class(FC) is similar to AC First(1A) but with no air conditioning and is now only found in very few trains. 1A, 2A, 3A and FC are in general very well maintained and clean. 4 toilets are present in all classes of coaches, with 3 of them being Indian style and and the other Western style.

However the true colors of India could only be glimpsed in "Sleeper Class(SL)" where co-passengers would not mind interacting with you in their broken knowledge of the English language or below. But keep in mind that "Sleeper Class(SL)" is usually crowded with people getting in without a ticket or with a General compartment(GS) ticket and this is especially true in the Central, Northern and Eastern parts of the country. Also it can get unbearably hot in the Sleeper Class during summer months to the point of not being able to enjoy the journey at all. It is not uncommon to find people occupying your reserved seats in the Sleeper Class(SL) and then refusing to move, especially in the Central, Northern and Eastern parts of the country. Unless you are able to find the Conductor (called TTE in India), you most likely will never be able to make them vacate your seat. But it is generally a nice experience to travel in "Sleeper Class(SL)" in the Southern part of the country, especially Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and people will readily vacate your seats if they are occupying it. Also the number of people without tickets entering the "Sleeper Class(SL)" is much lower in Southern parts of the country. So if comfort is not the singular aspect in your mind go for the ordinary "Sleeper Class(SL)". A/c coaches are much nicer and very well maintained, and its unheard of for people without tickets entering them. Also it is easier to find the conductor in A/c coaches in case of any need. So its advisable to travel in any of the AC coaches if travelling in the Central, Northern or Eastern part of the country.

Full information about these various classes.

Ticketing

Beware that trains tend to fill up early and booking tickets online can be fraught with complications due very high number of users. Railway department is expanding the IT Infrastructure with a great rate to improve customer experience. Please plan your travel well in advance to have a smooth journey. In case of urgent ticketing needs you may contact several authorised ticketing Agencies (albeit it's wise to look about their credentials before the transaction from a known source, may be from the hotel authorities or any known friends. For a paltry 5-10% extra they may book the ticket for you. But don't expect guaranteed tickets during the rush period, viz, festivals like Deepavali, or Holi since there would be a lot of craze for the tickets among domestic travelers.

Tickets are available from counters at most railway stations as well as directly from Indian Railways' online reservation service. Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes.

Indian man buying a Chai (Tea with Spices) from a train window.

One day before the departure date of a train the Tatkal quota seats become available. It opens at morning 10AM for A/c coaches and 11 AM for Sleeper Class on the previous day. This allows tourists who like to plan a trip as they go to book seats closer to the day of departure, for an extra fee. Even with this extra quota (about 10% of the seats on a train) it can sometimes be difficult to get the train you want when you want it.

It is very difficult to book Tatkal tickets online because of excess amount of traffic on Indian railway website during Tatkal ticket booking hours. Success rate of Tatkal ticket booking through Indian railway website is less than 20% for very busy train. Indian railway website recently started a service for faster Tatkal ticket booking by paying through ewallet. Ewallet is new feature when you put money before booking ticket on irctc website. To transfer money on ewallet you may need Bank IFSC Code. IFSC Code is Indian Financial System Code which uniquely identifies bank branches in India.

Meals

Most long distance night trains have a pantry car and if you are in the sleeper or air-con classes, you can buy meals on board the train. The Railways are concerned about the bad quality of pantry car meals and efforts are underway to improve things, but do not count on it as yet. If you are finicky, bring enough food and bottled water for the journey including delays: bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. At most larger stations hawkers selling tea, peanuts, and snack food and even complete meals will go up and down the train. Most important stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff, but the usual caveats about eating in India apply. Note that in the most luxurious 'Rajdhani' & 'Shatabdi' and Duronto trains meals are included in your ticket price and served at your seat during travel. There are no dining cars in Indian Railways.

By taxi

In central locations of big cities like airports or stations reliable pre-paid taxis are available and will save you money as well as the bargaining hassle. However beware of touts who would claim themselves to be running pre-paid taxis. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt has two parts - one part is for your reference and the other part you will need to handover to the taxi driver only after you reach your desired destination. The taxi driver will get his payment by submitting or producing this other part to the pre-paid taxi counter. Normal taxis running by meter are usually more common. In many non Metro Cities (or even in Metros depending on time) taxies or autos may ply without the usual meter. they may quote a lumpsum amount depending upon th elocation of your visit, time of the day etc. However remember that in most Indian cities general meter fare for the taxi's are INR 14-16 and for auto rickshaw's INR 11-13. There are night surcharges ( 11.00 pm to 5.00 am) 10%-15% extra. So don't nod for any extraordinary fare quote by your cabby friend. One most common excuses are thet "I will not get any return passenger to my way back so you have to compensate for my both way journey" (that's his lookout, isn't it?). Do not expect Indian taxi or auto rickshaw drivers to ever have any change, so make sure that you have a good collection of small bills (or be ready to give an involuntary tip).

By bus

Ordinary-class Himachal Road Transport Co bus,  Dharamsala

While you can't take a cross-country bus-ride across India, buses are the second most popular way of travelling across states and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network (eg. Dharamsala).

Every state has its own public bus service, usually named "X Road Transport Corporation" (or XRTC) or "X State Transport Corporation" (or XSTC) which primarily connects intra-state routes, but will also have services to neighbouring states. There are usually multiple classes of buses. The ordinary buses (called differently in different states, e.g. "service bus") are extremely crowded with even standing room rarely available (unless you're among the first on board) as reservations are not possible and they tend to stop at too many places. On the upside, they're very cheap, with even a 5-6 hour journey rarely costing over ₹100.

In addition to ordinary public buses, there are luxury or express buses available, and most have air-conditioning now-a-days. Some state transport corporations have even introduced "Volvo" brand buses on some routes which are extremely luxurious and comfortable. These better class "express" or "luxury" buses have assured seating (book in advance), and have limited stops, making them well worth the slight extra expense. But even these better-class buses rarely have toilets and make occasional snack and bathroom breaks.

Private buses may or may not be available in the area you are travelling to, and even if they are, the quality could vary a lot. Be warned that many of the private buses, especially long-distance lines, play music and/or videos at ear-splitting volume. Even with earplugs it can be nerve-wracking. Do not expect public restrooms at all, or even most, bus stops. Unfortunately, the bus industry is extremely fragmented and there are few operators who offer services in more than 2 or 3 neighbouring states. Travel agents usually only offer seats on private buses.

However, long distance bus operators such asRaj National Expressand KPN Travels  are currently beginning to roll out their operations across the country modelled on the lines of the Greyhound service in the Unites States. Their services are excellent and they provide entertainment on board.

Regardless of class of travel, all buses have to contend with the poor state of Indian highways and the havoc of Indian traffic which usually makes them slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. Night buses are particularly hazardous, and for long-distance travel it's wise to opt for sleeper train services instead.

By car

Driving on your own

In India driving is on the left of the road. India has the second largest road connectivity in the world, after the US, but that does not ensure road quality anyway. You can drive in India if you have a local license or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are accustomed to driving on extremely chaotic streets, you probably will not want to. The average village road is narrow, often potholed and badly marked. National Highways are excellent roads, with generally 4 to 6 lanes but still, Indian driving discipline is non-existent. In the cities, the quality of roads depend upon the part of the city. A regular residential area or the smaller/poorer part of the city will have an average, two-lane road, which are often of not a very good quality, but in the greater parts of the city, the roads are excellent, well paved and marked. 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 international standard. 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 many of the people drive as they like without regard to any rules.

Generally, driving on your own in the city roads is not recommended in India at all. Lane cutting and over taking in blind turns are universal. You will not find any lane discipline in the driving and you always have to expect for something sudden, like a car suddenly turning towards you, and DO NOT hope that they will stop and give way. You will find many two-wheeler riders squeezing between any empty space between cars and a two lane road can end up like a four laned one. Pedestrians too do not follow any sort of traffic rules and walk into the middle of the road at any time. Honking is wide spread and is like a greeting in India, it is used as a "Hi" or a "Hello" between cars. Drivers also flash their headlights as a signal for you to allow the driver to pass or as a warning in blind turns. Do not expect two wheelers/three wheelers to follow traffic rules, they never do so. To add on to these issues, there are numerous marriage, death and other religious processions that disrupt traffic and block roads. You will find people taking huge idols, dancing, playing with colors on the roads occasionally. These do disrupt traffic, but they are key parts of the cultural richness of India and are indeed fun to watch. The Indian traffic police has improved their quality of service by a huge margin. They have become quite strict with the traffic issues and punish offenders. They generally ask for a driving license and vehicle papers. The traffic conditions have improved after the police have implemented date-wise parking, towing away of many vehicles and clearing traffic manually using patrol cars.

To drive a private vehicle in any part of India the following documents are required- a valid driver's license for the driver (International driving permit for a foreigner), vehicle registration certificate, vehicle insurance certificate and emission certificate if the vehicle is more than one year old (called pollution under control certificate in India). No other document is required for driving a private vehicle in any part of India except some restricted areas. If a policeman is asking for some other document like No Objection Certificate etc, most likely he is hinting at a bribe.

In case of an accident, it is not unheard of for the crowd to assault the driver of the bigger vehicle involved. So in case of hitting a pedestrian or a vehicle smaller than your own vehicle, even if not your fault, it is better to immediately leave the scene and be present at the nearest police station. Even if you are not driving the vehicle, it is better to immediately leave the scene and inform the police.

Hiring driver with car

Instead, if you desire going by a car, opt for driver while renting the car. Rates are quoted in rupees per km and you will have to pay for both ways even if you are going only one way. The driver's salary is 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 trunk. However, the Tata Indica (a hatchback) and Tata Indigo (a small sedan) is now replacing the Ambassador as the cheap car of choice. Imported international models may be available at a premium. If the number of people travelling together is large, popular rental vehicles are Tata Sumo, and Toyota Innova.

There are numerous advantages to having a car and driver.

  • A good local driver is the safest means of car travel.
  • You can keep your bags and shopping goods with you securely wherever you go.
  • The driver will often have some knowledge of local tourist destinations.
  • A car is the quickest and most reliable means of going from point to point. After the initial agreement you needn't spend any time finding further transport, or haggling over price.
  • You can stop anywhere you like, and change plans at the last minute.
  • The driver will know where clean toilets are.

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 city roads are dimly lit , and there are chances of some traffic hazards such as reckless drivers after mid-night. Some parts of highways are well lit, and some are not, as they are not considered important. Try sticking to the main highway and avoid taking diversions in the highway at night, as you never know where it might end up. However, highway driving at night is not very dangerous also and violent crimes such as assaults are rare. The highway police force does a lot to keep it that way.

By motorcycle

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 organize 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.

The Royal Enfield is a popular (some would say, the only) choice for its classic looks and macho mystique. This despite its high petrol consumption, 27 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 near-miracles very cheaply), and claimed difficulty to handle (actually the bike handles beautifully, but may be a wee heavy and seat high for some).

Or, one can opt for the smaller yet quicker and more fuel efficient bikes. They can range from 100 cc to the newly launched 220 cc bikes. Two most popular bike manufacturers are Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants (100-125 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 35km/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.

There are lots of garages that provide motorcycle for rent as well. You can check for options on websites like RideIndia. Rental price is usually between ₹800-1200 but varies from city to city. They may or may not take a deposit. Foreigners have a top hand while negotiating. There are no standards for pricing, hence you can negotiate freely.

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 located along the road. It is rare for any of them to expect payment. It might not be advisable for women to hitch hike alone in India.

By auto-rickshaw

A typical Indian autorickshaw, Andaman Islands

The auto-rickshaw, sometimes abbreviated as "auto" and sometimes as "rickshaw", is the most common means of hired transportation in India. Most residents usually refer to them as a "three wheeler." They are very handy for short-distance travel in cities, especially since they can weave their way through small alleys to bypass larger cars stuck in travel jams, but are not very suitable for long distances. Most are green and yellow, due to the new CNG gas laws, and some may be yellow and black in color, with one wheel in the front and two in the back, with a leather or soft plastic top.

When getting an auto-rickshaw, you can either negotiate the fare or go by the meter. In almost all cases it is better to use the meter -- a negotiated fare means that you are being charged a higher than normal rate. A metered fare starts around ₹13, and includes the first kilometre 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.

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.

Regions

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.

These states and union territories are grouped by convention into the following regions:

Map of India's regions and states

  Himalayan North (Jammu and Kashmir,  Himachal Pradesh,  Uttarakhand)
Mountainous and beautiful, a tourist destination for the adventurous and the spiritual. This region contains some of India's most visited hill-stations and religious places. Includes the exquisitely scenic states.
  The Plains (Bihar,  Chandigarh,  Delhi,  Haryana,  Madhya Pradesh,  Punjab,  Uttar Pradesh)
The country's capital Delhi is here. The rivers Ganga and Yamuna flow through this plain. 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)
Miles and miles of the Thar Desert. Home to the colorful palaces, forts and cities of Rajasthan, the country's most vibrant and biggest city Mumbai (formerly known asBombay), wonderful beaches and pristine forests of Goa and Bollywood.
  Southern India (Andaman and Nicobar,  Andhra Pradesh,  Telangana,  Karnataka, Kerala,  Lakshadweep,  Pondicherry,  Tamil Nadu)
South India features famous and historical temples, tropical forests, backwaters, beaches hill stations, and the vibrant cities of Bangalore,  Kochi,  Chennai andHyderabad. The island groups of Andaman & Nicobar (on the east) and Lakshadweep on the west are included in this region for convenience, but they 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 of outsiders. Features Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), once the capital of British India, and the temple cities of Puri,  Bhubaneswar and Konark. Geographically it 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, the country's tribal corner, with lush, beautiful landscapes, endemic flora and fauna of the Indo-Malayan group and famous for Tea Gardens. Consists of seven tiny states (by Indian standards, some of them are larger than Switzerland or Austria) popularly nicknamed as the Seven Sisters.

Cities

Below is a selection of just ten of India's most notable cities. Other cities can be found under their specific regions.

  • Delhi — the capital of India and the heart of Northern India.
  • Bangalore — The garden city, once the sleepy home of pensioners now transformed into Silicon city with a lot of software companies establishing their offices in the city.
  • Chennai (formerly Madras) — main port in Southern India, cradle of Carnatic Music and Bharatanatyam, home of the famous Marina beach, Automobile Capital of India and a fast emerging IT hub.
  • Hyderabad — The City of Pearls. A major R&D hub and pharma capital of India and home to Software giants such as Microsoft, Google outside the USA.
  • Jaipur — the Pink City is a major exhibit of the Hindu Rajput culture of medieval Northern India.
  • Kochi (formerly Cochin) — the Queen of Arabian Sea, historically, a centre of international trade, now the gateway to the sandy beaches andbackwaters.
  • Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) — the cultural capital of India, Kolkata is home to numerous colonial buildings. It is known as The City of Joy.
  • Mumbai (formerly 'Bombay) — the financial capital of India, "Bollywood" (Indian Hindi Film Industry) hub.
  • Shimla — the former summer capital of British India located in the Himalayan foothills with a large legacy of Victorian architecture.
  • Varanasi — considered the most sacred Hindu city, located on the banks of the Ganges, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities of the world.

Other destinations

India has many outstanding landmarks and areas of outstanding beauty. Below is a list of nine of the most notable:

  • Bodh Gaya — the place where the Buddha Sakyamuni attained enlightenment.
  • Ellora/Ajanta — spectacular rock-cut cave monasteries and temples, holy place for the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus.
  • Goa — an east-west mix, beaches and syncretic culture.
  • Golden Temple — Sikh holy site located in Amritsar
  • Hampi — the awesome ruins of the empire of Vijayanagara
  • Khajuraho — famed for its erotic sculptures
  • Konark — Sun Temple, unique example of Kalingan Architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Lake Palace — the Lake Palace of Octopussy fame, located in Udaipur
  • Meenakshi Temple — a spectacular Hindu temple in Madurai
  • Taj Mahal — the incomparable marble tomb in Agra Much has been written about this monument and everyone has seen the photos. But little can prepare you for witnessing it up close.it's unlike any other place in india.

Food

Indian cuisine is superb and takes its place among the great cuisines of the world. Most of the time you may find it good and spicy. There is a good chance that you'd have tasted "Indian food" in your country, especially if you are a traveller from the West, but what India has exported abroad is just one part of its extraordinary range of culinary diversity.

Indian food has a well-deserved reputation for being hot, owing to the Indian penchant for the liberal use of a variety of spices, and potent fresh green chilies or red chilies powder that will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated, and found in unexpected places like sweet cornflakes (a snack, not breakfast) or even candies. The degree of spiciness varies widely throughout the country: Andhra food is famously fiery, while Gujarati cuisine is quite mild in taste.

To enjoy the local food, start slowly. Don't try everything at once. After a few weeks, you can get accustomed to spicy food. If you would like to order your dish not spicy, simply say so. Most visitors are tempted to try at least some of the spicy concoctions, and most discover that the sting is worth the trouble.

 

Cuisine[edit]

A vast spread of North Indian food

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 degree of authenticity in relation to actual Mughlai or Punjabi cooking is sometimes variable at best and dubious at worst.

North India is wheat growing land, so you have Indian breads (known as roti), including chapatti (unleavened bread),  paratha (pan-fried layered roti),  naan (made from refined wheat flour, and cooked in a clay tandoori 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), a very 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, trydal 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's also the hearty textures and robust flavours of Rajasthani food, the meat heavyKashmiri dishes from the valley of Kashmir, or the mild yet gratiating Himalayan (pahari) cuisine found in the higher reaches. North India also has of a variety of snacks like samosa (vegetables encased in thin pastry of a triangular shape) and kachori (either vegetable or pulses encased in thin pastry). There is also a vast constellation of sweet desserts like jalebi (deep-fried pretzel with sugar syrup- shaped like a spiral),  rasmalai (balls of curds soaked in condensed milk) and halwa. Dry fruits and nuts like almonds, cashews and pistachio 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 andSubcontinent 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 Mugha 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),  shahi tukray (saffron and cardamom-scented bread pudding).

A typically south Indian banana leaf meal

       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 in fact, be used for cooking. The South also has some great breakfast dishes like idli (a steamed cake of lentils and rice),  dosa, a thin, crispy pancake often stuffed with spiced potatoes to make masala dosa, vada, a savoury Indian donut, and uttapam, 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 MTR and Janatha in Malleswaram or Vidyarthi Bhavan in Basavangudi. 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 more 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 theDhokla and the MuthiaMumbai 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 in fact 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 flavor 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, eggplant 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 Nepalifood, especially momo dumplings, are not uncommon in north India. Pizza has entered India in a big way, but chains like Pizza hut and Domino's have been forced to Indianize the pizza and introduce adaptations like paneer-tikka pizza. Remarkably, there is an Indian chain called Smokin Joe's, based out of Mumbai, which has gone and mixed Thai curry with Pizzas.

It is, of course, impossible to do full justice to the range and diversity of Indian food in this brief section. Not only does every region of India have a distinctive cuisine, but you will also find that even within a region, castes and ethnic communities have different styles of cooking and often have their signature recipes which you will probably not find in restaurants. The adventurous traveller is advised to wangle invitations to homes, try various bylanes of the city and look for food in unlikely places like temples in search of culinary nirvana.

Fruits[edit]

While there are a wide variety of fruits native to India such as the chikoo and the jackfruit, nothing is closer to an Indians' heart than a juicy ripe mango. Hundreds of varieties are found across most of its regions — in fact, India is the largest producer, growing more than half the world's output. Mangoes are in season at the hottest part of the year, usually between May and July, and range from small (as big as a fist) to some as big as a small cantaloupe. It can be consumed in its ripe, unripe as well a baby form (the last 2 predominently in pickles). Other fruits widely available (depending on the season) are bananas, oranges, guavas, lychees, apples, pineapple, pomegranate, apricot, melons, coconut, grapes, plums, peaches and berries.

Vegetarian[edit]


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.
Visiting vegetarians will discover a culinary treasure that is found nowhere else in the world. Owing to a large number of strictly vegetarian Hindus, Buddhists 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 needed to be killed in the process of accessing these prior to their end of life cycle. At least half the menus of most restaurants are devoted to vegetarian dishes, and by law all packaged food products in India are tagged with a green dot (vegetarian) or red dot (non-veg). Veganism however is not a well-understood concept in India, and vegans may face a tougher time: milk products like cheese (paneer), yogurt (dahi) and clarified butter (ghee) are used extensively, and honey is also commonly used as a sweetener. Milk in India is generally not pasteurized, and must be boiled before consumption.

Language

India has 22 official ‘scheduled’ languages, namely Assamese,  Bengali,  Bodo,  Dogri,  Gujarati,  Hindi,  Kannada,  Kashmiri,  Konkani,  Maithili, Malayalam,  Manipuri,  Marathi,  Nepali,  Odia (also known as Oriya),  Punjabi,  Sanskrit,  Santhali,  Sindhi,  Tamil,  Telugu and Urdu. Of these, Hindi is recognised as the main Official Language of the Union Government (there is no National Language of India, since it is a multi-lingual country), with English acting as a subsidiary official language.

There are also hundreds of other less prominent languages like Tulu,  Bhojpuri and Ladakhi that are the main spoken language of some places.

A good rule of thumb, each Indian state = different Indian language.

Hindi, natively spoken by about 40% of the population, is the native tongue of the people from the "Hindi Belt"(including the capital,  Delhi) in Northern India. Many more speak it as a second language. However, these figures include dialects like Bhojpuri (Bihar) and the Pahadi dialects of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand that may differ significantly from standard Hindi. However, the prestige dialect of Hindi used in media and education is generally homogeneous and is based on the dialect of the Delhi and Western UP. If you can only afford only one phrasebook, pick up the Hindi one as it will allow you to get by in most of India.

While Hindi is the main working language of the Union Government, and also sometime spoken as a second language by Indians from outside the "Hindi Belt", it is by no means a lingua-franca for all of India. Majority of the people in Southern and North Eastern states cannot understand Hindi. Avoid speaking Hindi in places such as Tamil Nadu and the Northeast, as Hindi is met with hostility from some 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.

Code-switching between English and the native language (often in the same sentence) is very common among youngsters and is widely used in daily conversation, SMS (in Roman script), TV advertising, FM radio and Bollywood.

While fluency in English varies vastly depending on education levels, occupation, age and region; it is generally not a problem getting by with English in urban areas. English is compulsory in all schools, and is widely spoken in major cities and around most tourist places, as well as in most police stations and government offices, and acts as the lingua franca among educated Indians. English is also the second language for most of the Indians. However, if possible, you are better off picking up as many words of the local language of the place you are going to - people are proud of their state's (or region's) culture and language and will appreciate it if an outsider makes an attempt to communicate in it. English has been spoken by Indians long enough that it has begun evolving its own rhythm, vocabulary, and inflection, much like French in Africa. Indeed, much has recently been made of subcontinental writers such as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, and Salman Rushdie. The English you are likely to hear in India will be heavily influenced by British English, although spoken with the lilting stress and intonation of the speaker's other native language. Indians may be able to recognize the native language of another countryman by the accent (Bengali accents are very different from the South Indian accents, for example).

Generally speaking, most official signs are bilingual in the state language and English. Signs at railway stations are generally trilingual outside the Hindi-speaking belt.

One of the most delightful quirks of Indian English is the language's adherence to Pre-1950s British English which to speakers in North America and Britain will sound oddly formal. Another source of fascination and intrigue for travelers is the ubiquitous use of English for cute quips in random places. One relatively common traffic sign reads, "Speed thrills, but kills". On the back of trucks everywhere you'll find "use dipper at night" or "Sound Horn". However, only standard British English is considered correct. Interestingly, keyboards in India are based on the US-standard, so American spelling is also used.

Indians are adopting more and more native words into their English. A lot of these are already well known to speakers elsewhere. Chai (tea), Guru (learned teacher/master), cummerbund (literally waist-tie), Nirvana (extinction of the separative ego) and avatar (God in human form) are words that have left their original subcontinental home. However, Indians are using English loan words in their native languages at an even more rapid pace. As India modernizes blazingly fast, it has taken from English words for modern objects that simply did not exist a few decades ago. However, more importantly, bilingual Indians in informal conversation will often switch unpredictably between English and their native language when speaking to similar polyglots, thus effectively communicating in a hybridized language that relies on the listener's ability to speak both languages. A bilingual speaker in Delhi, might for example, say "mera fever bahut bad hai" (my fever is very bad) which mixes English with Hindi 50-50 in spite of the fact that perfectly good words exist for both 'fever' and 'bad' in Hindi. This hybrid is sometimes referred to as 'Hinglish.'It seems that English and Hindi are indeed converging among the bilingual sections of society. While English, as a distinct language, is here to stay for now, it appears that it will eventually over hundreds of years be absorbed into the vast cultural fabric of the subcontinent.

Most Indian languages lack a word for please, just like the Scandinavian languages. Instead, verbs have many forms denoting levels of politeness and formality. As there is no such distinction in English, Indians may also seem commanding to a westerner. You may here phrases like come here which may sound commanding to Anglophones from Western cultures, but this is not meant to be rude.

There are plenty of English language TV shows that air in India (without dubbing) on Zee Cafe, FX, Star World, BBC Entertainment, AXN, Warner Bros and BIG CBS Prime. However, with the exception of BIG CBS Prime, shows are usually a season behind. Nearly all shows are American (except for the ones on BBC Entertainment). There are many other TV channels in English; in fact, there are more English TV channels than in any other Indian language. English language films in cinemas are generally shown in their original language with subtitles in the local language.

Cartoon Network, Pogo, Nat Geo, and Discovery may be dubbed in Hindi, Telegu or Tamil in their respective areas. However, this can be changed to English by changing the audio settings.

Though extremely limited in numbers and influence compared to English, India has small areas where Portuguese and even French are spoken. Portuguese speaks may be found in Goa, Daman and Diu, around the village Korlai, and some other places, all of which were once Portuguese colonies. Some French speakers would be found in Pondicherry where about ten thousand french speakers reside. French influence can still be seen in the city (the caps of policemen, architecture, Alliance Français, and many French-based institutions/governmental buildings.

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 (like a figure of eight), 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.

 

Passport Visa

Visas

Do you need a visa? 

Electronic Visa An online e-Tourist Visa facility was introduced on 27 November 2014. This visa allows a single entry through the airports in Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Tirchy, Trivandrum and Varanasi within 30 days of issue. The e-Tourist Visa should be applied for at least four days in advance of travel and permits a stay not exceeding 30 days in India. Those of Pakistani descent are not permitted to apply for an eTV.

A copy of the eTV printout should be carried and presented both to airline staff at the airport of departure and to Immigration at the port of entry. Biometrics will be collected upon arrival. The visa cannot be adjusted or extended and is not valid for Protected or Restricted Areas. Only two visits with e-Tourist Visas are permitted in a calendar year. Citizens from these countries are eligible:

No eTV Fee

  • Argentina
  • Cook Islands
  • Fiji
  • Jamaica
  • Kiribati
  • Marshall Islands
  • Mauritius
  • Micronesia
  • Nauru
  • Niue
  • Palau
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Samoa
  • Seychelles
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tonga
  • Tuvalu
  • Uruguay
  • Vanuatu

eTV Fee of USD 25 (+2.5% bank fee)

  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • Sri Lanka

eTV Fee of USD 48 (+2.5% bank fee)

  • Andorra
  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Armenia
  • Aruba
  • Australia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belgium
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Cayman Islands
  • China (PRC)
  • China (Hong Kong SAR)
  • China (Macau SAR)
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Djibouti
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • East Timor
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Hungary
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kenya
  • Laos
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Macedonia
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Mongolia
  • Montenegro
  • Montserrat
  • Myanmar
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Nicaragua
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Palestinian Authority
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Republic of China (Taiwan)
  • Republic of Korea
  • St. Christopher and Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Suriname
  • Sweden
  • Tanzania
  • Thailand
  • Turks and Caicos
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Vatican City
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam

eTV Fee of USD 60 (+2.5% bank fee)

  • Mozambique
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

Note: The previous visa-on-arrival program was discontinued on 27 January 2015 and replaced with the e-Tourist Visa system.

Visa-Exempt

  • Bhutan
  • Nepal
  • Maldives (max. stay of 90 days as a tourist only)

A visa obtained in advance is required by all other nationalities other than those mentioned above.


Depending on the purpose of your visit and nationality, you can get an online e-Tourist Visa (30 days), a tourist visa (3 months or more, depending on nationality), a business visa (6 months, one year, five years, or ten years, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10-year visa is available only to select nationalities, including US citizens (USD100 for tourists, USD 240 for business); US citizens can now only apply for a 10-year multiple-entry tourist visa, however. An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued,  not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on January 1 will expire on June 30, regardless of your date of entry. A tourist visa valid for 6 months can have maximum duration of stay of 90 days per visit, depending on citizenship. Make sure to check maximum duration per visit with your local embassy. Other visas, including Student, Employment, Research, Missionary, and Overseas Citizen of India visas, are also available for those who qualify, with varying validity periods and stay limitations.

The e-Tourist visa online application process is detailed and somewhat cumbersome, especially for those with weak computer skills. Allow at least an hour per visa for the process if it is your first time. You will be required to upload a photo of yourself and a scan of the first two pages of your passport. Make sure you write down the visa application number or print it out as it will be necessary if you decide to return to the visa application process. One incorrect letter or number in the temporary application ID number will result in the loss of your application and you will have to start again. Certain minimum and maximum file sizes and other specifications are required for the uploads. A useful photo cropping tool is provided on the visa application site. A standard scan of the passport pages may be too large to meet the requirements and custom scanner settings may have to be used. The e-Tourist visa applications are required to be submitted several days ahead of time, but the actual processing time for two recent visa applications was only about 24 hours.

Many Indian embassies have outsourced visa processing in full or in part to third party companies, so check ahead before going to the embassy. For example, in the USA, you must submit your visa application to Cox & Kings Global Services not the embassy. Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee, above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offers visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home, instead of trying to get in a neighbouring country (since August '09, non-residents were able to apply for visas through the Bangkok embassy for an additional 400 THB "referral fee", but this has changed: since august/september 2015 this is, for the time being, no longer possible: only Thai nationals can apply for a visa).

Rules and validity of visas will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commission in your country or contact the local office  A notable rule is that citizens of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Bangladesh, foreigners of Pakistan and Bangladesh origin, and stateless persons are not permitted to re-enter India on tourist or visitor visas within 60 days of their preceding departure without special permission. (This rule was abolished for other foreigners in 2012.)

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.

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 the last decade. Most airports now operate red and green channels for customs clearance. In general, avoid the touts who will offer to ease your baggage through customs. There are various rules regarding duty-free allowances — there are differing rules for Indian citizens, foreign "tourists", citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, non-citizens of Indian origin and people moving to India. Cast a quick glance at the website of the Central Board of Excise and Customs for information about what you can bring in. Foreign tourists other than Nepalis, Bhutanese and Pakistanis and those entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan, are entitled to bring in their "used personal effects and travel souvenirs" and ₹4, 000, - worth of articles for "gifts". If you are an Indian citizen or are of Indian origin, you are entitled to ₹25, 000, - worth of articles, (provided of course you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan.) The other rules are on the web site. If you are bringing any new packaged items along, it is a good idea to carry along the invoices for them to show their value. You are also allowed to bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco and 1 litre (2 litres for Indians) of alcohol duty-free. If you do not have anything to declare, you can go through the green channel clearly marked at various airports and generally you will not be harassed.

Importing and exporting Indian rupees by foreign nationals is theoretically prohibited, although in practice there are no checks. Indian nationals can import or export up to ₹7500, - maximum, but on trips to Nepal, this cannot include ₹500 and ₹1000 notes.

By plane

India has 4 major airports known as Gateway Airports at Mumbai,  Delhi,  Chennai andKolkata. The airports at these cities are either new or undergoing development. Delhi has unveiled its brand new international Terminal 3, is one of the largest in the world. Mumbai's swanky new Terminal 2 (T2) was inaugurated on January 10. The other major entry points in the country are Bengaluru,  Hyderabad, and Kochi. There are many non-stop, direct and connecting choices to these cities from Europe, North America, Middle East & Australia. Africa is also connected to Delhi and Mumbai.

For secondary points of entry to India, consider Goa,  Trivandrum,  Trichy,  Coimbatore, Madurai,  Kozhikode,  Ahmedabad and Pune. 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 is connected by many European charter operators like Condor, Edelweiss, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines & Thomson Airways. Kolkata is currently served by Dragonair (a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific), Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.

India has homegrown international airlines like Air India Jet Airways, Indigo etc. They have daily flights to major hubs across the world.

From the United States, United Airlines  offers nonstop daily service from Newark Airport to Delhi and Mumbai; Air India offers daily non-stop service to Delhi from New York-JFK and Chicago and Mumbai from Newark. Various European airlines offer connecting service through their European hubs from most major US cities and various Asian airlines offer connecting service from West Coast cities to India through their Asian hubs. Jet Airways  also flies from New York to Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai via Brussels.

Entries from Europe and Northern America are possible using many European airlines such as Lufthansa , Finnair, British Airways , KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 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, by Air Arabia (Sharjah-based low cost carrier having some connections in Europe), Etihad  (especially if you need one-way ticket or going back to Europe from another Asian country) via Abu Dhabi, as well as Emirates via Dubai or Qatar airways  via Doha. Obviously, these airlines are also the easiest way to come from the Gulf countries themselves, along with Air India and Air India Express.

From East Asia and Australia,  Singapore (which is served by Air India, it's low-cost subsidiary Air India Express , Jet Airways, as well as Singapore Airlines , it's subsidiary Silk Air and low-cost subsidiary Tiger Airways ) has arguably the best connections to India with flights to all the major cities and many smaller ones. As about the cheap way from South-East Asia or vice versa, Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia  is usually the best choice (if booked well in advance, one-way ticket price is normally below US$100, sometimes being less than US$50, they have connections from China,  Australia and most of South-East Asian countries). They fly from Kuala Lumpur into New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi and Tiruchirapalli. If you're going from/to Thailand, Air India Express flies from Chennai and Kolkata to Bangkok. Jet Airways, Air India and Thai Airways  fly from there to the wider range of Indian cities also. Most Recently, Silk Air  started its direct flights from Singapore toCoimbatore,  Hyderabad as well. Recently, IndiGo, an Indian low-cost-carrier, has started service to Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, and Muscat.

From Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragonair fly to Delhi,  Mumbai, Bengaluru,  Chennai,  Hyderabad and Kolkata. G.C. Nanda has been appointed as the exclusive wholesale agent for selling Cathay Pacific and Dragonair flights from Hong Kong to India. If you try booking flights from Hong Kong to India on the Cathay Pacific/Dragonair website you will only be able to purchase full-fare tickets. If, however, your itinerary originates from another country and you are merely transiting through or stopping over in Hong Kong, G.C. Nanda does not have exclusive wholesale rights.

By boat

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.

Some cruise lines that travel to India include Indian Oceans Eden II and Grand Voyage Seychelles-Dubai.

By train

There are two links from Pakistan. The Samjhauta Express runs from Lahore to Attarinear Amritsar in Punjab. The Thar Express, restarted in February 2006 after 40 years out of service, runs from Munabao in the Indian state of Rajasthan to Khokrapar in Pakistan's Sindh province; however, this crossing is not open to foreign tourists. Neither train is the fastest, safest or the most practical way to go between India and Pakistan due to the long delay to clear customs and immigration (although the trains are sights in their own right and make for a fascinating trip). Ths Samjhauta express was the victim of a terrorist strike in February 2007, when they set off bombs that killed many people. Should you want to get from one country to the other as quickly as possible, walk across at Attari/Wagah. In India, all trains are managed by Indian Railways.

From Nepal, trains run between Khajuri in Dhanusa district of Nepal and Jaynagar in Bihar, operated by Nepal Railways. Neither is of much interest for travelers and there are no onward connections into Nepal, so most travelers opt for the bus or plane instead.

Train services from Bangladesh were suspended for 42 years, but the Moitree Express started running again between Dhaka to Kolkata in April 2008. The service is biweekly: A Bangledeshi train leaves Dhaka every Saturday, returning on Sunday, while an Indian train leaves Kolkata on Saturdays and returns the next day.

You can see what trains are available between stations at the following sites: http://www.indiarail.gov.in  However, for booking of rail tickets through the internet you should use the Government of India's website http://www.irctc.co.in. For booking through this site, you have to register (which is free) and you need a credit/debit card. It is better that you book your own tickets than fall prey to touts.For checking Multiple Train you could use the official government site.

By car

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 and Bhutan.

There is one open border crossing between India and Myanmar at Moreh,  Manipur, but special permits are required to reach the border from either side.

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 and pilgrims 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.

By bus

Tour in India By Bus is possible. Research around. While most of the Indian states have their own Transport Departments registered online for internet booking of the tickets, private bus bookings can also be made at www.redbus.in [26]. Under this website one can make a booking for private bus tickets. Buses vary from ultra modern Volvo or Mercedes Benz to plain vanilla non air-conditioned buses run by private bus operators.

From Nepal

  • 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.

From Bhutan

  • 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

  • From Pakistan the only land crossing is from Lahore to Amritsar via the Attari/Wagah border crossing. Despite tensions between the two countries, there is a steady trickle of travellers passing this way. The immigration procedures are fairly straightforward, but note that neither Pakistan nor India issue visas at the border. Expect to take most of the day to go between Lahore and Amritsar on local buses. Normally it's possible to get a direct bus from Amritsar to the border, walk to the other side and catch a direct bus to Lahore, although you may need to change at some point on route. Amritsar and Lahore are both fairly close to the border (about 30-40 minutes drive), so taxis are a faster and easier option.
The direct Delhi-Lahore service has restarted, though it is far more costly than local buses/trains, not any faster, and would mean you miss seeingAmritsar. 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

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 toShillong in Meghalaya, and some others with lesser known routes to north-eastern Indian regions.

Safety

Pedestrian Safety

It is important to be cautious while walking in India. You may not not find footpaths or very well developed ones in the rural areas and will have no option but to walk on the road. The urban areas do have well developed footpaths, but Indians generally prefer walking on the road instead. Jay walking is very common in India and it is very rare to find any pedestrian signal in crossings. Even if you find a pedestrian signal, it is rarely followed. The zebra crossing system is common, but without a signal. You still have to be careful while crossing even from a zebra crossing. But again, pedestrian safety has been taken under consideration and has improved quite a bit, but still, be safe.

Female travelers

India is a mostly conservative country esp. in the Northern, Central and Eastern parts of India and some alien habits can be perceived as dishonorable for a woman. But India is coming out of its conservative image rather quickly especially in urban areas and more so in large 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 among Indians and more so among Hindus is to bring your palms together in front of your chest and simply say 'Namaste', or 'Namaskar'. When speaking to Muslims, it is more likely to hear the opposite person say Salaam Alekum, which is an Urdu translation of the same greeting. Residents of Punjab and followers of Sikhism are equally likely to say Sat Sri Akaal and those from Tamil Nadu could be heard saying Vanakkam instead. That said, it is not necessary that the above mentioned forms of greeting are the only acceptable forms. Almost all the people (even if they don't know English) do understand a "Hi" or a "Hello". Kindly note, however, when unsure, that at least in cities, it is quite acceptable to offer a "Hello" or "Good Day" followed by a handshake, regardless of gender.
  • Smoking in any public place is illegal in India. But it is rarely enforced except in the Southern state of Kerala where police will fine you at the spot. Smoking is still considered a taboo when associated with women but things are slowly changing and one is more likely to spot a woman smoking in Indian cities today than ever before. Even in larger cities, it is becoming much more common to find women smoking outside offices, in universities, in pubs and discotheques than in most other places. Outside of large cities, probability of spotting a women smoking is rare and decreases sharply. Though in some rural areas women do smoke, but discreetly. Since ages, a woman who smokes/drinks was associated with loose moral character in much of the country's growing middle class(by both men and women) and this thought process has not yet disappeared completely, especially outside of major cities. Surprisingly, Indians are relatively more relaxed regarding women of foreign origin consuming liquor or smoking in public as compared to Indian women themselves.
  • Places such as Discos / Dance clubs are less-conservative areas. It is good to leave your things at a hotel and head down there for a drink and some light conversation. Only carry as much change as you think you would require since losing your wallet or I.D. means that you will waste a considerable time trying to get any kind of help in that regard.
  • People are fully-clothed even at the beach. There is no law prohibiting women from wearing bikinis. As with women smoking, wearing bikinis, especially by Indian women, was thought of to be completely unthinkable until some time back. This has begun to change with more media exposure but is still significantly prevalent somewhat and there is a clear difference between family beaches and tourist beaches. Most tourist beaches have bikinis as part of beach culture. So, be sure to find out what the appropriate attire is for the beach you are visiting. In some rare places like Goa, where the visitors to beach are predominantly foreigners, it is permissible to wear bikinis on the beach but it is still offensive to go about dressed in western swim wear away from the beach. There are a few beaches where women (mostly foreigners) sunbathe topless but make sure there it is safe and accepted before you do so. Clothing like shorts and modest versions of tank tops are more acceptable for a visit to the beach.
  • It's not so safe to walk on the street in the metropolitan cities during odd hours if you are a solo female traveller. Sex crimes against tourists could occur in some tourist hot spots. If you have to walk alone, you should dress modestly. Never walk on the street or take a taxi or auto-rickshaw with provocative clothes such as tight shorts, a miniskirt, sports bra, tank-top, or other clothes which expose a lot of skin. This holds especially true if you are travelling at night. Tourists are easily distinguishable and hence targeted during night time. If at all possible, refrain from areas that other tourists avoid or visit only during day time.
  • In local/suburban trains, there are usually cars reserved only for women and designated as such towards the front. This reserved car is usually (but not always) the third-to-last compartment.
  • In most buses (private and public) a few seats at the front of the bus are reserved for women, Usually these seats will be occupied by men and, very often, they vacate the place when a female stands near gesturing her intention to sit there. If you sit near a man, he may stand up from the seat and give the place to you; this is a sign of respect, NOT rudeness.
  • Street parties for holidays are usually filled with crowds of inebriated men. During festivals such as Holi, New Year's Eve, and even Christmas Eve, women can be subjected to groping and sexually aggressive behaviour from these crowds, particularly in the northern and some western parts. It is considered unsafe for any woman to attend these festivities or travel alone after 10PM, by which time commercial establishments begin to close and the crowd begins to thin. It is hence best to attend these celebrations as part of some group which has local Indians or a significant female population. However, cultural celebrations in India are as much a part of the culture as are the many languages. Hence, it would be important not to miss them completely if you are present in India during the festive season but observe it from a distance or participate selectively, if there are any limitations. Many Indians would be equally rejoiced by the fact that a foreigner has chosen to join them in their celebrations.
  • Because of the historically rigid social structure, friendly conversation between strangers from different sexes is still not very common outside of cities and hence don't expect an Indian to initiate a conversation with you. Too much of conversation with men you meet in public places can at times be misunderstood as flirtation / availability and in rare scenarios could also 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 travelers, though you might have to initiate the conversation. An easy topic to get things going is to talk about clothes.
  • It's not disrespectful for a woman to tell a man eager to talk to her that she doesn't want to talk - so if a man's behaviour makes you uncomfortable, say so firmly. If he doesn't seem to get the hint, quietly excusing yourself is a better answer than confrontation.
  • Dressing in traditional Indian clothes, such as salwaar kameez (more comfortable and equivalent to smart formals) or saree (more formal and difficult to wear) will often garner Western women more respect in the eyes of locals. Show some enthusiasm for the traditional Indian way of life and you may find that men will treat you more like a 'lady' than an object. The idea is to portray yourself as a normal person, instead of a distanced tourist.
  • "Eve Teasing" is the most common term used in Indian English to refer to anything from unwanted verbal advances to physical sexual assault. The simplest way to avoid this remains the same as in your home country. Avoid confrontation, if at all possible, and move to a different location quickly to loose the guy. 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. In extreme cases, report to the nearest policeman available.
  • 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, especially in trains. So to be safe, it is best to to politely refuse or give a reason such as stomach trouble or medication to avoid these situations.

Police and other emergency services[edit]

  • The Indian Police department is quite an able department in the country, well, sometimes. Corruption does exist. However, that is not the case with every officer, there are numerous who take their duty seriously and respect their duties. Police is a common term among public, until you end up in a completely remote village with no traces of English. In Hindi, the word for police is police(pronounced 'Pulis'), but in South India, police is the commonest term. You may hear the word 'Kaaval' for police in the state of Tamil Nadu. In general, police in Southern states are more efficient and much more accountable for their actions than in the rest of the country. The efficiency of police depends upon the state till quite a high level.
  • The police have become very strict in the recent days. They catch hold of offenders and punish them. Punishment does not mean legal fine everytime, but money is taken even if it is in the form of bribe. However, it takes effect on the public as no one likes to give cash, irrespective of if it is a fine or bribe. Bribery is common in the rural parts of India where policemen demand money without a bill. in such cases, demand a bill and be firm and confident. In extreme cases, persuade the officer to be taken to a police station and pay the money in form of fine. But such cases are extremely rare.
  • If you are told to pull over by a police officer, be polite. Indian police officers give respect to those people who respect them. Even if it wasn't your mistake but he/she told you to pull over, NEVER be rude and above all NEVER swear. Swearing at an on-duty police officer is illegal in India and can lead to heavy fines, or if you are out of luck, you may be taken to a police station to be dealt with.
  • You will see many police patrol jeeps at night. They stop in some places, wait and start moving again. Therefore, police on night duty and the highway police are considered efficient. They are always present for citizen safety. The traffic police will also tell you to pull over in the night if you are driving to check your papers and/or if you are driving in the influence of alcohol.
  • Most police officers are helpful towards foreign tourists. Generally, police officers from the central civil services cadres are posted higher up in the hierarchy and are considered to be more upright and honest. For emergencies, throughout most of India, you can dial 100 for police assistance. For non-emergencies, go down to the police station to report a crime.
  • The emergency contact numbers for most of India are: Police (dial 100), Ambulance (102 or dial the nearest hospital) and Fire (dial 101). In Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kochi and several other cities throughout India, you can dial 108 for all emergencies. Outside of those cities, you will not be able to find an English-speaking operator.
  • People rarely touch each other, except unexpectedly. Under circumstances where you find somebody annoying you or getting close to you, ask the nearest female for help. You would be surprised to find they would pick the fight for you.
  • You should keep the emergency numbers handy while you are travelling in India.

100 - Police control room

102 - For ambulance

108 - Emergency help line

1091 - Women help line (works across India)

181 - Women help line ( Supposed to work across India)

103 - Women safety helpline (Mumbai only)

112 - The government of India is coming with a panic button in all phones bought in India post January 2017. If you are in trouble in India, dial 112 post January 2017. Otherwise you can dial the emergency numbers above to get connected to the police control room. Note that emergency numbers don't always work in India because of different states, different rules etc.


Private apps (emergency in India)

There are panic/emergency apps like ruly SOS through which you can find the contact number of the police station, nearest to wherever you are in India. It also sends an alert with your location and address to your emergency contacts. Covers 11, 000+ police stations covered out of the total 15, 000+ big police stations in India. Press the power button twice to activate.

Another app which sends alerts to your contacts is VithU

Health emergency apps like lybrate (to find the nearest ambulance, doctor), murgency and Practo (to get medical help immediately) could also be useful.

Also, since connectivity is not certain across all parts of the country, carrying maps offline on your phone is strongly recommended, while traveling across India like 'here maps'.

Terrorism

The India-Pakistan conflict, simmering for decades in Pakistan, has in recent years manifested in terrorist attacks on India's main cities: since 2007, there have been bombings or coordinated shootings in Delhi, Bombay, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The targets have varied widely, ranging from hotels and restaurants to markets and train stations, and with the notable exception of the November 2008 attack in Mumbai, have been aimed squarely at locals, not foreigners. Realistically speaking, there is little you can do to avoid random acts, but do keep an eye on the news and any travel advisories.

Stay healthy

Going to India, you have to adapt to a new climate, new food and hence Some travellers to India might become slightly ill during their stay there. Even Indians returning from abroad can at times become ill as their bodies readjust to the food, climate and sanitation conditions. 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 so as to allow your body to acclimatize to the country. For example, take a day of rest upon arrival, at least on your first visit. Many travellers get ill for wanting to do too much in too little time. Be careful with spicy food if it is not your daily diet.

No vaccinations are required for entry to India , except for yellow fever if you are coming from an infected area such as Africa. However, Hepatitis (both A and B, depending on your individual circumstances), meningitis and typhoid shots are recommended, as is a booster shot for tetanus. The CDC has a list of recommended vaccines when traveling to India.

Tap water is generally not considered safe for drinking at many installations, even by local populace. However, many establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water may be safe to drink. Packed drinking water (popularly called "mineral water" throughout India) is a better choice. Bisleri and Kinley among others are some of the more popular and safe brands. However, please check for whether the seal is intact or not as on some occasions, if the seal has been tampered, it could be nothing but purified tap water or worse, unfiltered water. On Indian Railways, a particular mineral water brand is generally available known as "Rail Neer", which is considered to be safe and pure.

Fruits that can be peeled such as apples and bananas, as well as packaged snacks are always a safe option. As is the practice with the native population, always wash the fruits and vegetables prior to cooking, with water. Municipality provided running tap water is generally considered safe to do so and this should not pose any later harm.

Diarrhea is common, and can have many different causes. Bring a standard first-aid kit, plus extra over-the-counter medicine for diarrhea and stomach upset. A rehydration kit can also be helpful. At the least, remember the salt/sugar/water ratio for oral rehydration: 1 tsp salt, 8 tsp sugar, for 1 litre of water. Most Indians will happily share their own advice for treatment of illnesses and other problems. A commonly recommended cure-all is to eat boiled rice and curd (yoghurt) together for 3 meals a day until you're better. Keep in mind that this is usually not sound medical advice. Indians have resistance to native bacteria and parasites that visitors do not have. If you have serious diarrhea for more than a day or two, it is best to visit a private hospital. Parasites are a common cause of diarrhea, and may not get better without treatment.

Malaria is endemic throughout India. CDC [59] states that risk exists in all areas, including the cities and at altitudes of less than 2000 metres in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Kashmir, and Sikkim. However, the risk of infection is considered to be low in the more touristy spots as these are attempted to be kept clean. Get expert advice on malaria preventatives, and take adequate precautions to prevent mosquito bites. You can choose to use a mosquito repellent when going outside (particularly advised in small towns and villages and relatively less necessary in bigger cities). When sleeping at night, you can use a mosquito net or an electronic mosquito repellent, depending upon the need and your convenience.

India is home to many venomous snakes. If bitten try to note the markings of the snake so that the snake can be identified and the correct antidote given. In any event, immediately seek medical care.

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 invariably fatal otherwise. There's no known cure for rabies once infected - except a immediate vaccine. There were also unconfirmed sporadic reports that getting vaccinations and blood transfusions in low quality hospitals increases your risk of contracting HIV/AIDS- for e.g. in some government clinics. For people with asthma, it is advised to avoid visiting areas with high dust and pollution levels as a precautionary measure or instead use a mask.

As a thumb rule, it is considered safer to visit private hospitals or the larger(and more popular ones in cities) government hospitals in case of an emergency.

Do not get a tattoo while in India! All tattoo parlours in India are unlicenced, so there is a risk of the tattoo artist not changing needles and thus putting you at risk of contracting HIV. Finally, there are a few travel clinics in India, that can be checked out by visiting the ISTM website [60] in the larger cities. Most CDC recommended vaccinations are available in many of these clinics in larger cities [61]. 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.

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