India Country Guide

Welcome to Incredible India - a land of many times, a story with many a theme. India is home to some of richest and the best cultural and traditional tapestries, something every Indian is innately part of. Come home to India and discover a huge kaleidoscope of bright and rich colours, textures, tastes, sights and scents. Come, tour the Taj Mahal by moonlight, chase the big game through a wide lens, snap up some great bargains in the many shopping capitals, or simply settle down in a roadside Dhaba with some hot dhaal and rotis!

Travel in India is a life-changing experience that every person should try.

Our India country travel guide below will tell you all you need to know about the best of incredible India. If you are more interested in local tourist highlights. The best way to learn more about the culture is to take local tour.

We recommend you read about travel in India on GoNOMAD.

India Country Guide

Yes, the crowd in the cities can be maddening; the air quite rancid with pollutants, but India has a mixed bag for every type of traveller. The villages are especially interesting with their quaint ways of life and their almost innocent ignorance of technical advancements. Green and fresh, these villages form very ethnic, rural India. The cosmopolitan capital cities in every state have their own treats to offer - from road side eateries to five-star resorts and palatial archaeological masterpieces.

You can still find the communities of fishermen along the country's southern coastline using simple fishing boats in a centuries old tradition while, only a few miles away, fast cars glide off conveyor belts in production plants and business booms at an incredible rate - making travel to India truly special.

This is India, a country that lives by its cultural norms. A place where every guest is treated like God, a common household value, one that will continue to entice its guests to appreciate the warm and generous hospitality offered by the locals.

Useful information on this page includes:

Communication Top

India is well connected globally via a strong communication network. Local ISP providers have Internet Cafes at almost every nook and corner possible! Telephones and Public Payphones are easily accessible. You can also purchase Prepaid Calling cards at post offices, communication-provider shops and even at most larger general stores. Prepaid cellular phone cards are also available at most general stores.

Indian communication might be difficult in remote rural areas and cellular networks are often out of range at higher altitudes.

India has the largest postal network in the world and various options are available for people wanting to send mail/parcels overseas.

Climate/Weather Top

Click on this link to view our India weather page, including information on the diverse climate of India, and a six-day Delhi weather forecast.

Electricity Top

The Indian electrical system runs on 230 volt/ 50 Hz. Hence it is advisable to carry a universal adaptor to overcome the variation in voltage and socket size. Universal power adaptors are usually available at airports.

Power cuts are common in some towns but most hotels have diesel generators to cover the power outage. Generators supporting air-conditioners during power cuts depend on the category of the hotel.

Embassy Locations Top

To view a list of Indian embassies around the world, as well as foreign embassies within India, click on this link to http://www.embassy-worldwide.com/ 

General Information Top

Population - 1.09 billion people (2nd most populous nation in the world behind China)
Total Area -  3,287,590 square kilometres
Capital - New Delhi (13.8 million people)
Time Zone - Standard time zone: UTC/GMT +5:30 hours

To view the current time in New Delhi, click on this link to TimeAndDate.com.

Language Top

India is home to 14 major languages and over 1600 regional dialects. Although Hindi is the national language and the mother tongue of 30% Indians, English is used for political and commercial communication.

Other Indian languages include: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu are the other official languages spoken in India. Hindustani is a widely spoke dialect of Hindi/Urdu mostly spoken in Northern India.

Some common Hindi words/phrases handy for travellers include:

Hello = NA-MA-SKAR
Goodbye = ACH-HA
Please = KRIP-YA
Thank you = DHAN-YA-VAD
Nice to meet you = AAP SE MIL KE KHU-SHI HUI
Where is the bathroom = BATH-ROOM KID-HAR HAI
How much does this cost = YEH KIT-NE KA HAI
Help = MA-DAD
Street = SA-DAK
Left = BA-YEN
Right = DA-YEN
Water = PA-A-NEE

Location Top

Located in south Asia between Pakistan, Nepal and China, India is a heady mix of cultures, religions and experiences. In its modern avatar, India is comfortable handling the latest gizmos even while celebrating its heritage and myriad festivals with traditional gaiety and fervour.

On one hand, ancient sites like Hampi tell you about India's glorious past, while on the other its nuclear capability declares that India's present and future are on a fast track. The world's largest democracy is also the second fastest growing economy in the world and its steady development has earned it a slot among the top ten countries of the world.

Indian topography at a glance

- The Indian subcontinent is located in south Asia surrounded by its neighbouring countries Pakistan, China, Nepal and Burma.
- India's unique topography has the Great Himalayan Ranges to the north, the Thar Desert to the west, the Indo-Gangetic plains in central and eastern India.
- The southern Indian peninsula is covered by the Deccan Plateau flanked by the hilly regions of the Eastern and Western Ghats on either sides.

To view a map of India, click on this link to WorldAtlas.com.

Public Holidays Top

Follow the link to view a list of current public holidays for India.

India truly practises ‘Unity in Diversity'. With an assortment of cultures and traditions, the number of festivals celebrated all year round is high. Most of them follow the lunar calendar or the Islamic calendar, which explains the difference in the dates on which the festivals fall each year.

Museums, monuments, other tourist attractions and government establishments are closed on public holidays. Get an updated calendar of festivals and public holidays from the local tourist office before planning your schedule.

On these are days you will find all the government and private establishment closed including banks and tourist spots:

Republic Day: 26th January. It was on this day in 1950, the constitution of Independent India became applicable to the country and so the republic became a legal entity.

Ambedkar Jayanti: 14th April. The birth anniversary of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar, the founder of the Indian constitution.

Independence Day: 15th August. The anniversary of unfurling of the Indian tricolor at the red fort ushering in the age of freedom from British rule in 1947.

Gandhi Jayanti: 2nd October. A grateful nation pays its heartfelt tribute to the Father Of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi on his birthday. 

Religion Top

The history of India can be reconstructed using Vedic texts and archaeological data. It goes back earlier than 3,200 BC when Sanatana Dharma, or Hinduism as we now know it, emerged and guided people in their day to day living. Later, offshoots of Hinduism such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism also emerged. India's innate tolerance also let Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism flourish.

India's rich maritime history influenced the country in varying degrees. The vestiges of ancient maritime trade with China (the silk route) can be seen in the Chinese fishing nets which are still used in Kerala. The abundance of Indian spices attracted the western world which came to India through the ‘spice route' and also influenced the north of India, evident from the terracotta figurines found there resembling Greek sculptures.

Visas/Passports Top

- Most foreign nationals require a visa to enter India, and be sure to check whether you visa becomes valid on the date of issue, or when you enter India.
- Bangladeshis and Pakistanis need to apply on special forms
- Regardless of the period of stay, 6 month multiple entry visas are now issued to most nationals as long as onward ticket is held by traveller.

Restricted Areas

-
Certain states such as Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Mizoram and Nagaland are designated as restricted areas for foreign nationals.
- Special permits need to be procured with government authorisation to visit these places.

It is recommended you check any Indian visa, passport and entry requirements with your relevant embassy before travelling to India.

US citizens who do not wish to go through the trouble of dealing with the red tape themselves can count on the professional services of Travel Visa Pro to speed things up: Apply for India Visa Online (service starts from $39). If you need to renew, add pages, change name, or just get a new US passport, you can Apply for a New US Passport here.

Business Hours Top

Government Offices: 10am - 5pm (Monday to Saturday, closed every second Saturday).

Banks
: 10am - 2pm (Monday to Friday), 10am - noon (Saturdays). Some banks may be also open at night. Foreign exchange offices often have longer operating hours. Be aware you need to get there 1/2 hour before close if you want to cash travellers cheques.

Post Offices
(usually called GPO's in major cities): open until 7pm.

Shops and Markets: times vary, but usually from 10am - 8pm (closed on Sundays and public holidays). There are still a number of shops open on Sundaysn though.

Flora/Fauna Top

With nearly one-fourth of its mass under forest cover, India is endowed with incredible biodiversity. The varied topography also contributes to the richness in biodiversity. The Himalayan region has a wide variety of flora and fauna and together with the Western Ghats they have been named amongst the 25 biodiversity hot-spots of the world. The Himalayas are a repository of orchids, with nearly 750 species of the family found here. Nearly 980 bird species have been recorded in the Himalayan region. It is known to be the natural habitat for large birds such as the raven, pheasant, and the griffon vulture.

The rulers of the Indian plant and animal kingdom

National Animal - Panthera tigris (Tiger)
National Bird - Pavo cristatus (Peacock)
National Flower - Nymphaea lotus (Lotus)
National Fruit - Mangifera indica (Mango)
National Tree - Ficus bengalensis (Banyan)

The tiger has a pride of place in India and this majestic animal, which symbolises strength and speed, is also the national animal of the country. Post independence the tiger population had dwindled drastically because of hunting by the Maharajahs and the British. A tiger census in 1972 revealed that only 1827 tigers were left in India. This led to the launch of Project Tiger in the various national parks of the country. And thanks to this project, nearly sixty percent of the total world tiger population is now found in India. There are about 28 tiger reserves in India. Some of the popular tiger reserves visited by wildlife enthusiasts are the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh and Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. The Sunderban National Park, with its large mangrove forests, is also home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.

The Kaziranga National Park offers an attraction in the form of the one-horned rhino. One of the most ideal territories for birds in the world is the Kaldeo National Park, Bharatpur, which is home to all kinds of birds from indigenous to migratory species, from waterside birds to land birds. Away from the mainland are the Andaman and Nicobar islands which have their rare, indigenous species of birds such as the Megapode, Narcondum hornbill, Andaman crake and the Andaman woodpecker.

Food Top

Indian food is without doubt the highest evolved cuisine in the world. It is characterised by the subtle use of herbs and spices like turmeric, pepper, cardamom, and mustard, grown in India as early as 3000 B.C. With so many recipes, there is certainly no monotony at meal times. Preparation of Indian dishes can take a few minutes to a whole day depending on what you are making. Special food preparations dominate the festivals of India and some recipes are passed down generations as family heirlooms.

Food in India is defined by the geographical location. Coastal regions such as Bengal, Mangalore and Kerala use coconuts liberally in their cuisine. The number of recipes using fish is also mind boggling.  Rajma (kidney beans), known to be a heat producing food, is dominant in the cold regions of Kashmir and also in Punjab. The Muslim invasion of yore brought in the Mughlai influence with its pulaos, kebabs and rich gravies using dry fruits. The northern region of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab make a variety of breads such as rotis, nans, and poories out of wheat, maize and other cereals. Rice is the dominant cereal in the south and no self respecting Tamilian would give up his rasam - made from tamarind and curry powder - for anything. The masala dosa, which has its origins in Udupi in Karnataka, is found in roadside stalls to five-star hotels and is absolutely delectable.

The number of accompaniments to the main meal in Indian food is truly amazing. The Andhra range of pickles is legendary and is tongue tickling. Crispy papads and an assortment of salads are also part of a daily Indian meal.

The Indian cuisine is dynamic entity that makes any travels to India memorable. Adapting foreign cuisines to local palates, chefs come up with unique recipes all the time. Urban India also boasts of a host of original Italian, Chinese and continental fare.

Geography Top

The geography of India has influenced the clothing, architecture, food habits and lifestyle of its people. The south of India has been largely untouched by the various invasions. Hence art and culture has its own identity and has reached a high degree of perfection. The magnificent temples of south India with its impressive gopurams and aesthetic sculptures, the Carnatic music tradition and the graceful Bharathanatyam (a dance form) all point to a civilisation of dizzying heights.

The deserts of Kutch, on the other hand, have always challenged its inhabitants with its inhospitable nature. Hence the people here have spartan lifestyles. However, to brighten an otherwise bare landscape, Kutchis have perfected the art of jewellery making and embroidery to enliven their surroundings.

There is another India different from the rest of the country when you visit the north eastern states of Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Nagaland and Manipur. These states are home to several tribes who have excelled in crafts using local material such as bamboo, wood, metal and local silk. As opposed to the colourful tribal lives of the north east, the harsh mountain terrains far north have a more austere but elegant way of life. Ladakh in the remote Himalayas is heavily influenced by Buddhism and is largely untouched by modern living.

Health Top

The following vaccines are recommended before your travel to India:

- Anti- Hepatitis A vaccine: Infection of this virus can occur through exposure to contaminated water/ice, fish harvested from contaminated water, fruits and vegetables washed in contaminated water
- Anti- Hepatitis B vaccine: Infection occurs through exposure to blood or body fluids infected by Hepatitis B virus
- Japanese encephalitis vaccine: Infection can occur through mosquito bites in rural farm areas
- Anti rabies vaccine: Transmission of this virus to humans can occur through bats, foxes, dogs and wolves. Take care when you are camping or hiking
- Anti Typhoid vaccine: Typhoid, caused by the bacteria Salmonella, is contracted through food and drinks handled by infected individuals. The emergence of antibiotic resistant stains of Salmonella has made vaccination against typhoid absolutely necessary

It is advisable to carry mosquito repellents and also basic medicines such as analgesics and anti-pyretic medicines when travelling to India. A medical card detailing any current medical conditions and allergies will be of help when you are travelling.

What to Wear Top

Cottons are ideal for an Indian summer. In southern India it is the ideal fabric to wear through the year. Winters in the north can be very cold, especially at night. The hilly regions are also cold and it is best if you carry warm clothes. Water proof clothing will also come in use in these places.

While sandals can be worn, it is advisable to carry shoes as they will protect your feet from the heat and dust. They are absolutely necessary if you are planning a trekking or cycling trip.