To enter India, you need to have a valid passport, an Indian visa and a return/onward ticket. If you’re visiting as a tourist and your period of stay is no longer than 30 days, apply for ‘Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA)’. To know more about ETA, visit the official website of Indian Government. Apply online prior to arrival.
India is vast and incredibly diverse. From the Himalayas in the north to the serene backwaters in the South to the coastal countryside in the East to the arid deserts in the West, India is brimming with places to be explored. Do not cram everything in a single trip, but explore it bit-by-bit.
It’s advisable to start with the classics, i.e., the ‘Golden Triangle’ that includes Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Or, follow your interests. If you’re into spirituality, head to Varanasi; for trekking and adventure, Himachal Pradesh; for shopping, Mumbai and Delhi; for Ayurvedic massages, Kerala; for a royal vacation experience, Rajasthan; for beaches, water sports and remnants of Portuguese culture, Goa; for a French atmosphere, Pondicherry.
India experiences diverse weather conditions, although in general the huge country has four primary seasons: summer, winter, monsoon and post-monsoon. Each region experiences different climatic conditions, so there’s always somewhere worth visiting, no matter the time of year. The Western Himalayas, such as Ladakh, and hill stations like Darjeeling, Shimla, Manali Nainital and Mussoorie can be visited in summer, while the popular tourist destinations like Mumbai, Kerala, Hampi, Goa, Rajasthan, Agra and Varanasi are best visited in winter.
To stay healthy, remember these basic precautions. Indian food is a bit tangy and it can be common to experience a swirling stomach; consume wisely by eating freshly cooked food and drinking only from sealed water bottles. To protect against pollution in the cities, wear a scarf and mask in the streets. It’s also a good idea to travel with medications for diarrhoea, headache and other common ailments. Also be sure to get the necessary shots before your trip. Talk to your doctor about what might be necessary for you, and where you’re travelling. If you run out of medicines, don’t worry as there are pharmacies everywhere.
Depending on where you wander, scammers and fraudsters have a tendency to chase tourists. A common scam is to offer deals for an India tour. Do not fall into their trap! Book your tour only through the Ministry of Tourism or Government of India recognized travel companies, not people who approach you in the street. For state-specific tourist information, check out the Ministry of Tourism website.
India is a culturally diverse country, and this includes the language. In fact, different languages are spoken in most states, although English is commonly used and understood across India. Hindi, while not the first language of all Indians, is also commonly understood, so it helps to learn a few basic Hindi words: namaste (hello/goodbye), shukriya or dhanyawad (thank you), theek hai (alright or OK), haan/haanji (yes), nahi (no), garam paani (hot water shower), madat (help), kripya (help/please), aaj (today), kal (tomorrow), chai (Tea), khaana (food), chalo (let’s go).
In India you should also dress according to the place and customs. Some tourist spots, like a mosque, temple or other holy places require you to dress modestly by covering your head with a scarf and taking off your shoes before entering. In big cities you can wear whatever you want, but when visiting small towns, dress modestly. It’s good to aim to blend in with the rest of the population.
Flights, trains, local buses, taxis, autorickshaws… getting into and around India is smooth. India boasts one of the largest railway networks in the world. To experience the real beauty of India and save a few bucks, train is the optimal option. When travelling by train, carry chains and locks to secure your luggage and make bookings in advance. Air conditioned buses also travel between cities every day. For short trips within cities, use pre-paid taxi services, or use the Uber or OLA apps. Another way of navigating within cities is to use auto and cycle-rickshaws. Keep in mind that traffic on Indian roads can be torturous, so leave your hotel a few minutes early to avoid being late.
Mid-range hotels tend to provide the best value for money in India. Boutique stays and Airbnb vacation rentals are common. Local tourist offices in Kerala, Mumbai, Rajasthan and several other cities run ‘Homestays’ or ‘paying guest’ schemes, placing tourists with local families. Pilgrimage sites offer dharamshalas, where tourists can stay for a cheap price. Use trains and Volvo buses to travel around India as they are inexpensive, much cheaper than flying. Also, learn the technique of haggling when out shopping! This will help you stay within a budget. Haggling is customary in India, especially at local markets.
If you’re staying in India for a while, buying a local SIM card makes sense. The four main companies are Reliance, Airtel, Idea and Vodafone. All offer good packages for both local and international calls. Otherwise, Skype calls are the best option.
Use travel cards, debit cards, credit cards, travellers’ cheques and money wallets for transactions. You can exchange money at the airport, banks or travel companies. Access to international banks and ATMs is quite easy in Indian cities, but less so in small towns and villages. So, always have a reasonable amount of cash. If you need money and for some reason can’t get it at an ATM, you can have it transferred to you via Western Union.
Packing for a trip to India will largely be determined by the climate of where you’re going and the activities you plan to do. If travelling to India in the summer, light-weight clothes are perfect, but winter conditions vary a lot throughout the country. For example, winter in Delhi is very different from winter in Bangalore. It’s worth packing a light coat/jacket for evening and an umbrella/raincoat for monsoon travel.
Extra items to pack are high sun protection cream and a power bank to charge mobiles. 220-volt electricity is used in India, so pack necessary transformers, converters and adapters for your electronic appliances. Hand sanitiser should also be carried at all times.
Use your discretion while talking to people. Avoid walking or travelling by public transport at odd hours, as you would anywhere in the world. Don’t carry a large amount of cash around with you. Make a photocopy of your passport and carry that with you. Also, make note of emergency numbers are keep them handy. In India, the all-in-one emergency number is 112. Otherwise, for fire-101, police-102 and ambulance-103.
Emergencies and mishaps cannot be predicted. It’s better to be prepared in advance. Get travel insurance from your own country that covers health issues, accident, travel delays, damaged or lost luggage, cancellation and other possible eventualities.