With an intoxicatingly rich culture, boundless history and exquisite array of architecture, India is a vast country of contradictions, home to some of the most diverse geographical, climatic, lingual and ethnic differences in the world. From the sun drenched beaches of Goa to the snow capped mountains of the Himalayas, from the peace and tranquility of the Taj Mahal to Mumbai - the vibrant home of Bollywood, from the time-honoured bazaars to the exclusive boutiques, from the exquisitely peaceful temples to the hubbub of rush-hour, a trip to India is guaranteed to be unforgettable.
India generally experiences three seasons a year, summer, rainy (monsoon) season and winter. Conditions and temperatures vary greatly from region to region with the north suffering extremes of heat in summer and cold in winter and the south and west experiencing tropical temperatures all year round.
Monsoon season hits during different times of the year depending on the region. The south-west monsoon lasts from June to September and covers most of the country in rain. The north-east monsoon runs from October through to February and occurs mostly in the form of occasional cyclones. Snow, bar the Himalayan region, is almost unheard of in India.
There are three national holidays observed throughout India:
26th January - Republic Day
15th August - Independence Day
2nd October - Gandhi Jayanti.
There are also three major nationwide festivals held annually:
Holi, the festival of colour, is held in mid march
Navrati, a nine day festival where locals worship the deity Durga, is held in September/October
Diwali, the festival of lights, is held in October/November.
Religious holidays occur on different days each year, based on the Hindu and Islamic calendars, and are often celebrated locally.
Due to the sheer size of India there are many airports. The main international airports are New Delhi International Airport(DEL), Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport(BOM), Kolkata Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport(CCU), Chennai Anna International Airport(MMA) and Bangalore International Airport(BLR).
Air carriers provide services to all major cities and large towns and discounted fares and air passes are often available.
There are numerous rail connections to and from Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
India has an extensive rail network connecting all parts of the country, proving an extremely popular way to travel. There are six classes of travel: First-Class Air Conditioned, First-Class Sleeper, Second-Class Air Conditioned, Second-Class Sleeper, Third-Class Air Conditioned and Air Conditioned Chair Car. A wide range of services are available including:
The Palace on Wheels; is a luxury train which is extremely popular with tourists. Tickets include travel, full catering and conducted seat tours.
The Rajdhani Express trains are deluxe super-fast trains connecting Delhi with a number of destinations including Mumbai, Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras) and Bangalore.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway links New Jalpaiguri with Darjeeling climbing an impressive 1525m (5,000ft).
The overland route from Europe to India still remains popular. Be aware of up-to-date information of border crossing, visa requirements and political situations en route before your travel.
An extensive bus network connects all parts of India and is extremely useful in mountain regions where there is no rail network.
There are a large number of chauffeur driven tourist cars, some air conditioned, in cities and large towns. Depending on your route, they can be cheaper than taxis and are a good way to get around. Always use a reputable firm and shop around for a decent fare before travelling.
Car hire is not as easily available in India and driving yourself around is not generally advised due to the heavy traffic and erratic nature of driving. If importing your vehicle, an Internal Driving Permit is required.
Traffic drives on the left and outside major cities the main roads and other routes are often poorly maintained, congested and have inadequate warning signs.
The main ports are Calicut, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Panaji and Rameswaram. Several international shipping companies and cruise lines serve these ports.
A number of ferries operate between Kolkata, Channai and Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. These services are often seasonal and are generally suspended during monsoon season. Seasonal catamaran services run between Mumbai and Goa and a range of local boat tours are available.
There are over 17 official languages in India ranging from Bengali to Punjabi to Urdu. Hindi is the most commonly used language with around 40% of the population having it as their first language and more understanding it. English is widely spoken in major cities, large towns and most tourist destinations. However, here are a few key Hindi expressions:
Hello - Namaste/Namaskar
Goodbye - Alvida
Yes - Haa(n)
No - Nahin
Do you speak English? - Kyaa aap angrézee mein baat kar saktey hain?
The use of Hinglish, a combination of Hindi with English, is rapidly increasing.
The official currency in India is the Indian Rupee (Rupaya in Hindi and Taka in Bengali and Assamese). One rupee divides into 100 paise (paisa singular).
The domestic electricity voltage is 230-240 volts AC, 50Hz. Some areas have a DC supply and either round two pin or three pin plugs are commonly used.
The country dialling code for India is +91.
In an emergency the following numbers should be used:
Police - 100
Fire - 101
Ambulance - 102.
Most visitors to India will require a visa. The type of visa you need will depend on the purpose of your visit and your intended length of stay. Contact your Indian Embassy for details.
Tap water is generally not safe for drinking. Bottled water is widely available.
All visitors are asked to remove their footwear when entering a place of religious worship.
Most Indians removed their shoes when entering their homes, it is advisable it follow suit.
Women are expected to dress modestly and men should also dress respectfully. Revealing, clingy clothing is out of place away from the beach.
It is often expected to have to negotiate the price with street vendors and stalls but not in department stores and the like.
Visitors often find the different head nods for yes, ok and no, that Indians have confusing.
Shaking your head back and forth means "yes".
Nodding your head in a tilting motion from right to left means "ok", indicating acceptance.
Shaking your head from left to right means "no".