Situated in South Asia, India is a country with deep cultural roots and a rich heritage. A great country for budget travel, India is popular for its forts and palaces. You can visit India to find yourself through yoga, to lose yourself in the mountains of Himalayas, to be mesmerised by the ancient temples. The crowded bazaars, blaring traffic, filmy music the colour, the noise, the chaos will leave you amazed and overwhelmed.
The country can be broadly categorised as Northern India, Southern India, North-Eastern India, Western India and Eastern India. Visit the overwhelmingly beautiful Himalayan ranges in northern India, the culturally rich northern plains around the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, Kerela backwaters in the southern part of India, the famous tea gardens in north-eastern India, the royal palaces in Western India and the ancient cities in the eastern region.
December - March is the best time to visit India
The best time to visit most of India is during the winter season from December to March. However, if you are interested in visiting the high mountains, it is better to visit during the monsoon months of July to November. The summer months of April to June are typically very hot and should be avoided. India is a huge country, so naturally the weather varies widely across seasons - the deserts of Rajasthan are very different from the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, or the coasts of Kerala.
Great diversity in landscape and culture. Blessed with natural beauty. Ancient heritage and architecture. Yoga and meditation.
Overcrowded. Too much littering. Some people tend to overcharge foreigners. Poor infrastructure and hygiene in some places.
Adventure seekers. Heritage and culture enthusiasts. People who enjoy architecture. Trekkers. Spiritual peace seekers.
Hotels are easily available in all tourist destinations in India. However, the budget hotel options may be unclean. There are great luxury stay options in India like heritage stays in palaces and beautiful yoga retreats. For hostel stay in India, it's advisable to stick to popular chains like Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI) or Zostels. Dharamshalas, which are budget stays provided by religious entities, are also a great option for affordable accommodation, but are mostly afforded to pilgrims. AirBnbs are catching on in tourist destinations, and you may find some lovely, albeit slightly expensive, properties to stay in.
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India is a land of cultural diversity and is unified by a few recurring themes. Indians are known to respect their family system and tend to live with their paternal families their whole lives, which is often amazing for foreigners. India is a stratified society, and a lot of importance is attached to a person's background and caste. 40% of the population in India speaks Hindi, followed by the native languages of different regions. Fluency in English depends on one's education level, occupation, and region, but is generally not a problem in the urban areas. It is widely spoken in all the major cities and around most tourist spots. India is a secular state with great religious diversity and tolerance, which reflects in the country's architecture.
Indian food is characterised by being rich and spicy. North Indian food is characterised by rich vegetables and meat cooked in thick gravy accompanied by rotis (flatbreads). This is what is generally found in Indian restaurants abroad. South Indian food is characterised by the use of coconut and rice as the main ingredients. Popular dishes like idlis, dosas and uttapams made from rice flour. Chai (tea with milk, sugar and spices) is sold at almost every street corner. Filter coffee is the choice of beverage in south Indian states.
Carry over-the-counter medications for stomach upsets. Don't drink tap water - stick to packaged drinking water. Most tourist places in India tend to be crowded, so beware of pickpockets. Stay aware of typical transport costs, entry costs and prices of things to buy to avoid getting conned. If cost is not an issue, the luxury tourist trains in India may be an interesting way to tour a part of the country.
Indian Rupee (INR)
The only currency accepted in India is the Indian Rupee. The notes have denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 2000. The society is largely cash dependent, and so it is advisable to have a good number of small notes in hand to pay the drivers and small merchants. However, there has been a lot of recent interest in going cashless, so all major establishments will accept cards and you may be able to make payments using the PayTM e-wallet at some of the places not accepting cards.
The rates for exchanging to INR overseas are poor and it is illegal to import rupees. The currency can be exchanged at any of the numerous foreign exchange conversion units in India, including banks. ATMs can be found in abundance in India, except on smaller airports. Most ATMs pay out up to INR 10,000 in each transaction. International banks such as CitiBank, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, RBS and Standard Chartered can be found in all the major Indian cities.
Nightlife in India is limited to the major cities, and typically does not extend very late into the night. The IT cities of Bangalore, Pune and Gurgaon are known for their breweries and freshly brewed beer. Goa is famous for cheap alcohol, beach shacks, nightclubs and beach parties. Mumbai is your destination for partying till the wee hours of the night.
Shopping in India is a wonderful experience due to the availability of beautiful, exotic and inexpensive souvenirs. When shopping in India, be ready to bargain. Haggling over prices is an accepted and widely spread practice. There are plenty of shops at every place which sell local products and virtually all the state governments in India run handicraft emporiums. Popular items to take home are pashminas, handicrafts, silk sarees and Indian spices.
The larger than life festivities in India leave the traveller with a sense of extravaganza. Vibrant processions held during the major festivals are a sight to behold. The colours, music and dancing instil great elation in people. Diwali is one of the most popular festivals, and can be experienced throughout the country. Other popular festivals include Holi, Eid and Christmas.
India has a rich history, going back to beyond 3000 BC with the beginning of the Indus Valley civilization. This civilization was one of the world's earliest urban civilizations, and is praised for its cities of brick and functioning drainage systems. This period was followed by the Aryan migration to India, starting in the 1700 BC. This era saw tremendous growth in what we now associate with Indian culture. This was followed by the Mughal invasions and many of the existing architectural monuments were built during this time. The most recent Indian history includes the British invasion of India and the struggle for independence.
Visiting India requires travellers to adapt to a new atmosphere, climate and food. This tends to leave some travellers slightly ill in the beginning but gets better as one gets used to it. There are no specific vaccinations required to enter India. However, hepatitis, meningitis, and typhoid shots are recommended. The tap water is generally not safe for drinking and it is always advisable to buy packaged water. Always carry a first aid kit containing over-the-counter medicines along with a mosquito repellent. Stay away from stray dogs as they aren't vaccinated and tend to carry rabies.
Remove your shoes when entering a temple or mosque. It is also normal practice to remove your shoes while entering someone's home. Indians are very conservative about dress. Women are expected to dress conservatively with their legs and shoulders covered. Men should also dress properly and avoid wear skimpy shorts away from the beach areas. Kissing and embracing is frowned upon in public. In many areas of the country, even holding hands is not a good idea for couples. Public smoking is banned and carries a fine of INR 200. Tipping is not necessary, but it is good to tip around 5% at restaurants, INR 20 - 30 to doormen and valets. Cab and rickshaw drivers don't expect any tips.