Travel to India is not just an excursion; it’s a life-altering experience! How do you discover a country whose civilization spans 5,000 years of history yet matches pace with 21st-century progress? How do you explore and understand a nation of such complex, astounding diversity – linguistic, religious, geographical, cultural, artistic, and culinary – where to journey even a short distance is enough to experience a whole new spirit and quality? How do you evoke the quintessence of a land whose vitality comes from ancient myths, enduring legends, and time-honored traditions? How do you describe India?
The answer is to embark on an extraordinary journey that you must take – to see, to listen, to taste, to savor, to smell, to touch, to feel…to remember and cherish – to experience a country that has no equal in the world. Traveling to India takes you to a tropical subcontinent, an enchanting land that will throw open its doors and reveal the assorted treasures of its glorious heritage, architecture, art, music, dance, festivals, customs, attire, cuisines, and peoples to you – layer by secret layer.
The majestic snow-capped Himalayas form a natural barrier in the north and northeast while the beautiful warm seas of the Indian Ocean curve around the peninsular south, ensuring that India’s geographical boundaries are well-defined. India’s South Asian neighbors include Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, and Myanmar. The country also shares borders with China high in the northeast. The archipelago that sits as a cluster of emeralds in the Bay of Bengal on India’s east is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In the west lie the Lakshadweep Islands, in the Arabian Sea.
Your trip to India can take you to rain-forests, jungles, hills, mountain ranges, glaciers, deserts, valleys, plateaus, caves, coral reefs, waterfalls, lakes, beaches, coastlines, seas, islands, rivers and fertile plains, mangroves, wildlife and bird sanctuaries that are home to some of the world’s most rare and endangered species, and biosphere reserves; summer, monsoon, autumn, winter, and spring – India has nearly every type of terrain and climate making its bio-diversity unparalleled in the world.
Set against this great natural beauty are exquisitely carved temples and sculptures, colossal fortresses, grand palaces, deep step-wells, stunning mosques, mausoleums, and monuments, prehistoric ruins, serene monasteries, beautiful churches, and remarkable archaeological sites – standing testament to how India’s many different histories and legacies have seamlessly come together to form a marvelous tapestry. Not for nothing a Trip to India is so often termed as once-in-a-lifetime-adventure!
India has been home to many dynasties and empires – from the mighty Mughal emperors to elegant Nawabs to the valorous Rajputs to the splendid Maharajas to finally the European colonial rulers – who have given it the finest traditions of not only luxurious living but also superb architecture and craftsmanship, and the finest caliber of classical art, music, dance, theater, and literature. India is also the birthplace of the holistic healing tradition of Ayurveda and the practice of Yoga.
India’s villages and its tribal regions – where the real India lives – are steeped in beautiful folklore, dance, music, and indigenous craft, imparted by skilled artisan communities. Rural tourism as part of a comprehensive itinerary for travel to India is a wonderful way of enriching a traveler’s India experience – with organic farm visits, home-stays, cultural performances, plantation tours, and village tours – blending tradition and comfort.
You can look forward to a marvelous food fiesta when you are here and visit places which represent examples of the finest in local flavors. The astonishing variety of outstanding cuisines you can sample and the overall food experience on your trip to India are aspects that are seldom truly captured by Indian restaurants anywhere else in the world.
If you love adventure, the great outdoors, or even the offbeat, India’s extraordinary land and seascapes offer some outstanding activities – from extreme mountain climbing to thrilling whitewater rafting on ferocious rivers; from surfing, snorkeling and diving in the seas to sky-diving; from wildlife, desert or high-altitude road safaris to cycling, motor biking, camel or horseback riding – that not only enhance your experience but also give you the chance to see local communities and cultures up close.
Come calling on India. Come take the first step with us. Welcome to India!
Best Time to Travel To India
From the Taj Mahal to the forts and palaces of Rajasthan, to the beaches of Goa, to the backwaters of Kerala, to the highland areas of Western India, to the plantations of Darjeeling, to the mighty Himalayas, to the tigers in Central India, to the temple heritage of Central and South India, to the Buddhist heritage areas of North India and Himalayas, to scuba diving in Andamans, India is a complex country with 22 official languages, divided into 28 states and 9 Union Territories based on language and cultural lines.
While traversing in India, one can expect authenticity and a wholesome set of crafts, culture, cuisine and heritage experiences along with superb hotels and hospitality. A trip across India can hardly be considered seamless and that’s where the real ubiquity of India lies, with a distinctly unique panorama unfolding with every state and every destination.
Major Festivals of India
Seasons and Weather of India
What is the Best Month to Visit Central India?
When should I go to Northern India?
For birding and wildlife areas of Uttarakhand (Corbett, Binsar, Sattal), October – May is the best time barring January, (even February and March for higher areas) when it can be too cold for North India tour packages.
When to go in Western India?
What is the Best Time to Visit Tamil Nadu and Kerala Backwaters in South India?
What Month is Best to Visit East India?
Highland and wildlife areas of North East India (Assam, Meghalaya) are best visited during November to April. This is the driest season and parks are open for safaris. Remote Himalayan destinations or Arunachal Pradesh have a limited window for a visit during March-April and October &November. During other months it could be too rainy (May-September) or too cold (December – February).
Travel To India Checklist
Do you need visa to travel to India?
As per Indian immigration laws, all foreign nationals are required to hold a passport valid for the next 6 months from the date of arrival in India and a valid visa issued by an Indian Mission or Post located in home location. The image above effectively displays the visa to India requirement for various countries. Image attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Visa_policy_of_India.png
The visa process has been simplified by introducing e-Visa facility where an individual can apply for obtaining the visa online. Please refer to https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/.
Is it Customary to Tip in India?
Tipping is not mandatory but a general norm as prevalent in most other countries, as a sign of good service.
Tour Guides, Drivers, Hotel bellboys, etc. do expect tips. We recommend around 100 for hotel service personnel/porters and Rs. 300-500 per day for drivers and guides. No tip is payable at restaurants that levy a”Service Charge” ranging between 5% to 10%.
Currency and Currency Exchange
The official currency is Indian Rupee. Currency notes are available in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 2000. Coins are in denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10.
The country has a well-established banking system with 24-hour ATMs available in most locations, except in remote areas like hills and villages. Home currency can be exchanged easily with money changers available at all airports, train stations and places of tourist interests, hotels etc. Larger notes can be difficult to change outside big cities. We advise you to look for authorized money changers offering best rates.
Health Advisory & Travel Insurance for a Trip to India
India is the size of a continent with a tropical climate in general. However, climatic conditions vary from region to region, state to state and location to location, which can sometimes can result in minor infections.
We recommend some precautions for a favorable stay:
- Drink only bottled water that is easily available everywhere. If ever in doubt, buy a carbonated water bottle, called soda here. It’s clean, and you can be sure of its purity since it is processed.
- Digestive tablets help if you’ve had too much chilly or spices. Eno and Digene should be helpful to your palate and tongue too.
- Coconut water is an amazing antacid and electrolyte booster. Drink it fresh from any roadside vendor but avoid the packaged stuff. Do request the vendor to clean the knife before cutting the coconut.
- Staying hydrated should be your first choice while in India. While natural sources like coconut and bananas can help, we advise you to buy a few packs of ELECTRAL– the most trusted brand of Oral Re-hydration Salts. Once or even twice a day is a safe option.
- Generally, avoid tap water and ice cubes or crushed ice in your drinks.
- Bathing in holy rivers is a risky proposition. The same water is processed and supplied to your hotel room in the city. Wash your sins there!
- While the cosmopolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai etc. have a good supply of continental food, small towns may require you to adjust your eating habits. We advise you to turn vegetarian for a few days. That way you can also be sure of hygiene and purity of ingredients as people there still prepare meals with a religious zeal.
- Avoid roadside street food kiosks
- Try to avoid raw fruits and vegetables.
- Buy a good quality hand sanitizer- Dettol is a good option.
- Making food spicier comes naturally to us! Request for a ‘without-tadka’ daal or curry and you can save your system from hot spicing.
In case you ever need any medical assistance then most tourist destinations have world-class medical facilities and practitioners. We recommend visiting hospitals, nursing homes or polyclinics. Travel Insurance is a must as medical treatment can be expensive.
Indian Cultural Etiquette
India has a very diverse and rich cultural heritage. Guests are equated to God (“Atithi Devo Bhavah”). Barring religious places (where one must be modestly dressed), there are no specific restrictions in terms of dressing. The only word of caution is that the clothes should be formal/semi-formal/smart casuals.
A common gesture used for greeting is “Namaste” (said with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms joined with fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest) meaning“I bow to the God within you”. “Hello” is also a commonly used greeting.
Many an international travelers complain about being ripped off by small shopkeepers in returning change. Almost every packed good has a price mentioned, and it’s the MRP- Maximum Retail Price. They can very well sell you below that price but if they ask for a higher price, look for another shop. Sometimes, and specially in hilly areas, there are not too many shops, so just buy it if it is essential. We as Indians too do it since the profit margins are eroded by high transportation costs.
If you plan to visit a religious establishment like a Hindu temple or a Muslim mosque or a Sikh Gurudwara, follow the traditions or be prepared to a lecture by a random elderly aunt. Spend a few moments in observing how a typical person approaches them and emulate him. You can hire a guide too but remember they are there to make a living and ripping-off comes naturally to them. The best choice is to buy flowers or prasadam from one of the shops outside, ask him to keep your shoes there, and also request him to send someone over to accompany you. NEVER pay a single dime to anyone; only donate in designated boxes. If you feel you’re being trapped, finding a nearby cop or a temple elder and raising a voice is 100% helpful.
Money and Costs in India
- CASH is still the king. While most of the shops accept credit and debit cards, it’s always better to use cash here.
- NEVER exchange your currency at the airport; they usually give you the worst rate possible, and a difference of 10% is not unusual. If you need money at the airport, ask a handler for the nearest ATM and withdraw local currency from there.
- Indian ATMs never shell out more than Rs. 10000 except for Citi Bank, which lets you withdraw whatever you desire. But they are few and far between. The best alternate is to withdraw multiple times from different ATMs. Every major market has a number of ATMs, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
- Try as much as possible to keep only 100 and 500 denominations as the 2000 ones create an issue of not enough change.
- If a bank is nearby, request them to change about Rs.1000 into a wad of 10 rupees notes- they will come in handy while bargaining, tipping and even temple donations.
- Try to keep your money hidden, especially the bigger denomination ones. Pouches are a direct giveaway so try to carry a small backpack, though money is best kept in your pockets.
Public Transport in Major Cities of India
Metro transport systems are available in major cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Cochin and some are under construction. These can be used for easy and quick navigation within a city.
Uber and Ola are popular radio cab providers available in most cities. And they are all fitted with an AC so you can expect a comfortable journey. We prefer to attach a credit card to Uber for payment so you can avoid the perennial conundrum of exact change in cash.
Auto rickshaws and electric rickshaws are common all over India, and your best bet for covering small distances. Invest in a good quality kerchief or a pollution mask though as the inner roads are dusty and dirty!
City Buses are not advisable unless under a proper guidance from a local. Inter-State and long-distance bus travel is not advisable unless accompanied by a local or an experienced India traveller.
Languages of India
India has 22 official languages and hundreds of dialects. However,English (along-with Hindi) is widely spoken for official and commercial purposes and is understood across the country. Understanding of English by drivers, porters, bellboys may be basic and therefore, use a few words and keep it simple while passing any instruction.
Is India Safe for Foreign Tourists?
Once they decide on the destination, first time travellers to India often grapple with the question – Is India Safe to travel?
Well, simplest of questions demand greatest of attention and research. Having covered the length and breadth of the country- and mostly with travellers from countries like the UK, USA, Australia etc. – let us try to give you an honest perspective on an oft-repeated query- Is India safe?
Safety of Female Travellers in India
Informal discussions with our friends from overseas time and again brings up the topic of safety in India, especially for female travellers. Almost all of our women guests agree they did feel attention they are not accustomed to in their native places yet, it was totally harmless and more of a curious glance rather than a hunter preying his target.
If we believe a discerning source like WSJ, Control Risks, a global risk consultancy firm, in a travel briefing issued in response to the alleged rape of a Swiss woman, said that “although the incident is serious, violent crime against foreigners remains relatively rare in India.”
Yes, there have been sporadic incidents in Goa and Delhi that have birthed doubts but let me assure you, these are as rare as an unbiased newspaper. If you analyze carefully, every such incident happened only where the travellers chose to stay at shady, small and unrated low priced guest houses or they decided on wandering in remote areas with strangers.
Here are a few tips to follow for travel to India if you are single:
- Learn to say NO. And say it to mean it. A feeble No in India as taken a maybe, or even yes. Be open-minded but closed to being taken advantage of.
- Dress conservatively. At all times; even in cosmopolitan cities of Mumbai and Delhi. A single female warrants unwanted attention, more so if she’s from another country.
- DON’T get drunk. Repeat.
- Buy a cheap trinket called ‘Mangalsutra’ and wear it on your neck. That way you’ll be taken as someone married to an Indian, and you can successfully avoid more than 93.7% of unwanted stares.
- Solo first-time travelers are in itself treading an unknown path, and that is compounded if you’re a female on a travel to India. Either hire the services of a good travel organization like Holxo or research a little bit on the internet.
India is an economical destination no doubt but the hunger to save more money can have misfortune knocking aggressively on your doors.
India today gets around 10 million international visitors every year and this is multiplying every year. A lot of women groups coming to the country is testimony to the fact that it is a safe country. We have very strict laws related to women safety, and in the unfortunate event of an international tourist, our courts ensure justice is served swift.
Remembering a few travel tips should help a traveller eager to explore India:
- Dress modestly in public places
- Do not wander off to remote locations
- Pick accommodation that has positive reviews and ratings
- Book your accommodation / holiday with a reputed travel agency (offline/online)
- Do not trust strangers. Never get too close or appear too friendly to a stranger
People of India in general are warm, friendly and afraid of getting on the wrong side of the law. Still, good and bad elements are present everywhere and India is no exception. Hence, we request you to be mindful of your belongings and surroundings and use your intuitive senses to keep distance from situations that make you uncomfortable.
Air Pollution in Delhi
Of late, one query that is often raised in many online travel communities is about pollution- Is India safe during pollution? There are only a few days in October/ November when Delhi’s pollution grows over permissible limits. This is just a temporary phenomena which occurs due to farm stubble burning in some neighboring states. Lots of measures are being taken by local authorities, which has considerably reduced pollution this year.
We advise using a nose mask during these days. Rest of the northern region is not impacted with these phenomena.
Use of Public transport can help travellers reduce overall transport costs and therefore may seem attractive. However, public transport and their suitability for foreign travellers in India vary across the country. So we recommend a selective use only.
Large cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Kochi, Mumbai, etc. have metros that match steps with any other such service around the world. However other local trains or trams at these cities are not recommended by us. State transport buses for some states are very organized and offer good quality air-conditioned buses.
India has one of biggest organized rail networks. Air-conditioned Class is recommended for International Travellers. Non Air-conditioned Class suffers from poor cleanliness and overcrowding and is therefore not recommended by us.
Airline services in India are ranked among the best in the world. Connectivity except to some remote locations is now excellent. India is the size of a continent – therefore, booking through a travel agent will make for a genuinely memorable tour to this amazing colourful country.
Summary- Is India good for Tourism?
A Trip to India is a remarkable and transforming experience. It remains a safe destination to travel; however some large cities require you to be a little more careful like you will be in any big city in Europe, America or South East Asia.
Here’s a handy list of Dos and Don’ts for visiting India that would do you a world of good to remember before you embark on a trip to India:
India Travel Tips: Do’s:
- DO make friends with the locals. Use common sense to choose between good and bad.
- DO have a sense of humor.
- DO keep an open mind.
- DO remove your shoes at religious temples.
- DO observe and follow family rituals if at a local home.
- DO wear traditional Indian clothes at special occasions.
- DO try to pay in cash if at restaurants with Indians.
- DO use hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap.
- DO know Indians’ are usually not too punctual -1 min may mean 5 to 10 mins.
- DO be prepared to be swamped to have your photo taken.
- DO bring a small gift if you stay at a home. Even a pack of chocolates or anything sweet is appreciated.
- DO take extra precautions with drinking water. Repeat: be very careful about the water you intend to drink.
Don’ts for Travelers Visiting India:
- DON’T wear short skirts or revealing outfits. Keep your shoulders, midriff and legs covered
- DON’T get exasperated and show your anger in public.
- DON’T EVER touch a female.
- DON’T smell flowers in a shop or a temple.
- DON’T drink alcohol in public.
- DON’T take pictures in temples and other religious places.
- DON’T offer your hand for a shake unless the other person does. A folded-hands Namaste is good enough.
- DON’T eat from a street vendor unless you’re very near to your hotel or a medical facility.
- DON’T buy anything from someone who does not have a permanent or even a temporary place.
- DON’T be hesitant to ask questions, or ask for help.
- DON’T give money to anyone at any religious place- only donate in designated boxes.
You can book your travel to India trip with Holxo India. Or go solo with the above tips in mind. Either way, you’re in for a memorable time on an unforgettable holidays to India.
I remain thankful to Asher for his India Travel Tips inspirational article.