Either you love it or hate it. Most visitors pass from one mood to another as India promises a total involvement. More than a billion people live in the sub-continent, teeming with an eclectic mix. The ethnic groups and tourists translate into an intoxicating cultural cocktail. India is a country unlike any other, which promises you a journey to unknown spaces.
For those seeking spiritual support, India offers a profusion of holy sites. History buffs will encounter gems from the past almost everywhere. The grand vestiges of the British Raj dominate the quiet splendor. There are spice bazaars and decaying fortresses on the edge of steep escarpments. The spirituality is the common thread that weaves the complex tapestry of India. Countless sacred sites and traditional rituals testify the long, and hectic religious history.
Those looking for excitement in nature can paddle the sparkling waters of one of the coves. Go and look for the big cats in an exciting safari to see animals in the jungle. Or breathe air that smells of pine during a meditative walk in the forest.
Epicureans can charge tasty samples of all kinds. The sticky Idli is a sweet fermented rice typical of southern India. And there is the spicy curry in the north of the country. Set foot on Indian soil for discovering the national obsession with cricket. It dominates and makes all conversations animated. Along with the latest intrigue of the crazy world of Bollywood.
Too much noise, too many people, too much heat, too much rain but there is grace in the smiles. There is elegance in the movements of a sari, in the winding of a turban, a naturalness in the spirituality. There is a majesty in its architecture and fervor in its prayers.
Every day of the year, in some places of India, is a festival. There are thousands of God's, prophets, and gurus. There are celebrations that can last for several days. They are almost always accompanied by music, dances, and delicious food. Major among them are Holi, Independence Day, Krishna Janmashtami, Raksha Bandhan, Onam. There is Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri, Durga Puja, Dussehra, Diwali, Pushkar Fair. There is the Makar Sankranti and the celebrations vary from region to region.
Eid-ul-Fitr is after Ramadan along with Eid-ul-Zuha or Bakr Eid. Goa celebrates the Intruz Carnival. The Portuguese Entrudo lasts for three days and three nights. The most important event takes place in the city of Panaji. King Momo event finds wide resonance even outside the Christian community. Huge parades of floats, dances, and music invade all the cities of the state into the night.
Many other festivals do not have an exact date but follow the lunar calendar. There are also tribal festivals, which are little known to the general public. With traditions and customs, they are distant in time.
To see the entire India, you will need at least a month, if not more. Whatever plan you choose to follow, you will end up in some way to jump, or modeled in a different way than you had thought. The biggest risk for those who have never been in India before is trying to fit too many stages in the itinerary. And in an attempt to see it all end up seeing nothing.
Let's start with the simple things. One in Rajasthan is a classic route, the most popular among the short-term tourists who land in Delhi. Agra and the Taj Mahal is nearby and about twenty trains a day connect the two cities. After a day to photograph the sunrise, sunset, and everything, continue towards Rajasthan.
Before arriving in Jaipur lies the Ranthambore National Park, where you can go on a safari and hope to see a tiger. The center of Jaipur is completely painted in light red. Its highlights are outside with the Amer Fort and the floating palace of Jal Mahal. Continuing south you can reach Udaipur, the city on the lake. If you want you can make a stop in Pushkar, especially if you are in the period of the camel fair. Going up Jodhpur, the blue city is on the trail and follows Jaisalmer. From here you can arrange to visit the Thar Desert aboard a camel.
Jumping on a train to reach Udaipur, you get closer to the state of Gujarat. The capital, Ahmedabad, is home to the house of Mahatma Gandhi. Nearby is the sanctuaries of the white lion in the Gir forest and the Rann of Kutch. In Maharashtra, there is Nashik, another holy city built on the banks of the Godavari River. It is the place of the Kumbha Mela.
Here you can observe the rituals of the devotees even if the dimensions are much smaller than the Ganges. Aurangabad is a base for visiting the World Heritage of Ajanta and Ellora. After a few days in the ruins of these ancient structures, continue to the home of Bollywood, Mumbai.
Taking the long route from Delhi, you can reach Varanasi. Spend a few days on the banks of the Ganges, then return to the west serving northward. In Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh lie dozens of villages, valleys, and parks. India's first national park is the Jim Corbett.
Shortly thereafter is the small towns of Rishikesh, Haridwar, and Mussoorie. This has become the best known of the villages in this area after a visit of the Beatles in the 70s. Today the large part of its tourists turn around to yoga.
It is a very popular tourist spot and offers beautiful scenery and a chance to see the clean Ganges. From near here, you can leave for the trek to the source of the sacred river. Shimla and Manali, are towns in the mountains. It is a summer resort and has remained intact as it was in the past. The great thing though is it to get to Shimla, you can go up and take the historic train that starts from Kalka.
Then there is the Tibetan community of McLeod Ganj, a short distance from Dharamsala. Here the Dalai Lama resides. From here you can make excellent treks, including one to Triund. Leh and Ladakh is also not far through the Zanskar range.
To conclude a major event is at the Wagah border near Amritsar in Punjab. Here a celebration takes place for the evening closure of the border with Pakistan. Amritsar is also the spiritual capital of the Sikhs, and a lunch at its Golden Temple is a must.
North India offers a fantastic cultural cocktail and dizzying diversity. It will remain engraved in your mind long after your trip. Its luxuriance contrasts with snow-capped mountains and plains burned by the northern sun.
Kolkata in the east is the second Indian city by population. It is a madhouse with an explosion of smells, colors and sounds as is difficult as interesting. After spending a few days in Calcutta, climb towards Darjeeling. It is the famous hillside famous for its tea. Sikkim is also nearby. From here there are several treks and the ability to approach the Buddhist life.
Going down you will need to make a stop in Patna, the capital of Bihar. Reach Bodhgaya, the place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. Here is the tree under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. Going by train from here is Varanasi, after which is Khajuraho and its temples. Nearby are Jhansi and Orchha, from where you reach the end of the trail coming to Delhi.
Delhi can provoke exaltation and at the same time give thrills of joy and discomfort. Even the most accustomed travelers sometimes get saturated. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will have unforgettable memories.
See the Aboriginal and rural cultures of central India in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
South India rushes you to the depths of your being. With the gigantic tip into the Indian Ocean, the southern peninsula is the hot and humid heart.
It is India of those who love the seaside life. There are the beaches of Goa to the old temples of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. There are the urban jungles of Mumbai and Bangalore. The backwaters fringe with palm trees and cool by the breeze in tropical Kerala. Trek in forest reserves to discover wildlife.
From Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, go down to the sea at Mamallapuram, a sleeping village on the shores. Ooty is the hill station in the Nilgiris. In the former French colony of Pondicherry, you can still find baguettes.
In Madurai, you cannot help but admire the large colorful temples carved in the most detail. Not far away is the island of Rameswaram. It has a long bridge, which stretches towards Sri Lanka. This is a sacred place and for many Indians. Many collect the water of the Ganges for depositing here. And then collect the water of this sea and bring it into the Ganges to conclude the cycle.
Then we enter Kerala, the green state, and get to Munnar, another tea land. Coming down from the hills end up in Kochi and its islands. You can move south to explore the backwaters before concluding the trip.
There is an India hidden and unknown to most people. It starts from the chicken neck of Siliguri in West Bengal. The cultural diversity recall, as always, the interest of anthropologists. Northeast India has a border with China, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. The seven sisters are Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Tripura. The Himalayan region preserves a cultural heritage of tribal communities that inhabit them.
Assam is the second largest state of the seven sisters, crossed by the Brahmaputra. It is most accessible to tourism and alone produces 65% of the total production of tea in India. Here are two important parks famous for the last vestiges of Indian rhinos. Manas and Kaziranga, a World Heritage Site.
The whole of northeast India has many tribal communities of the Mongolian strain. They are a treasure of humanity with varied languages, customs, religions, and traditions. They live on agriculture and livestock and other local crafts. The peculiarities of these tribal communities are in their dances and songs. The food, festivals, art and other social occasions express their vitality and pride.
Traditions have survived time and modernity. Nagaland is the least populous and yet one that is home to the rich ethnic diversity. As many as 80 tribes and sub tribes of Mongol origin live. Arunachal Pradesh sees the rising sun because the sun everyday lights it first rays. The beautiful orchids color the entire landscape.
Visa and Customs
All foreign visitors must have a visa to visit India. You must get it before arriving in India from the Indian Embassies or consulate general. The passport must have a validity of at least six months with free pages for affixing the visa. The Indian authorities do not issue visa on arrival at the airport.
When to go to India and Weather
In India, the weather is so diverse that it is impossible to choose a better period than others for the journey. In principle, in much of the country, the most pleasant months are those ranging from October to March. In the far south, the best period goes from January to September. Eastern and northeastern India is more attractive from March to August. Kashmir and the mountainous regions are more attractive between May and September. Snowfall happens during January to April in Himalayan regions.
The deserts of Rajasthan offer the best of themselves in the monsoon season. The Indian Himalayan trekking season lasts roughly from April to November. It varies depending on the location, altitude, and region. The ski season is from January to March.
How to get to India
The main airports in India are Mumbai and Delhi. Many international flights also arrive in Calcutta and Chennai. Flights from Europe arrive in India in the early hours of the morning. It can be quite inconvenient if you have not booked the hotel and you do not like to wander in the dark in a strange city. The place where you can buy tickets at a cheaper price is Delhi, followed by Mumbai and Calcutta.
If you're heading from Kathmandu, the most convenient entry point is Kolkata. The only open border between India and Pakistan is between Lahore and Amritsar. The crossing can take place by rail or road. A bus service between Lahore and Delhi makes four trips a week. Phuentsholing is the incoming and outgoing border point between India and Bhutan. You need to have a visa to enter the country.
Getting Around India
Air India is the main Indian airline, which has an extensive network. Deregulation has improved the quality of service and multiply the private players. The Indian railway system is legendary. Traveling by train in India is a unique experience in the world. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but it is also part and parcel of the Indian trip.
There are different types of trains. You can take an express or a local train, but try all the different classes for the simple sake of it. The reservation system is labyrinthine and definitely, deserves an anthropological study. Be patient, because it is one of the few bureaucracies in the country that actually work.
Buses are many from state to state. On the main routes, there is a choice of ordinary, semi-deluxe, deluxe, AC and even deluxe seats with the bed. Apart from state buses, private companies also operate that are expensive but comfortable. It can prove to be a smart choice if you have a long way to go.
The local buses are usually crowded, slow and inconvenient. Then you'll have to endure full volume Hindi pop music in ramshackle tin speakers. The bus is the best way to get to Kashmir and also to go to Nepal and Uttar Pradesh. They are usually faster than trains in Bihar and in large areas of Rajasthan. It is very easy to rent a car and driver. If you want to drive yourself you have to have nerves of steel and an outstanding karma.
Cars are available for the day or trip. You may have to provide for the driver's expenses. So get clarified exactly how much you have to pay each day before getting in motion. If you're planning a long trip, ask to do a short test drive to check the braking speed of your driver. Biking in India has become a popular pastime, but it is a risky business and unwise for amateur bikers.
Cycling is good in cities and in general, you can rent for a pittance. For long distances, it takes good legs and a strong heart. If you intend to bring your own bike, think twice.
The local transportation includes buses, taxis, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws. The auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws generally cost half of a taxi. But the passenger has to breathe the diesel fumes. The cycle rickshaws have almost disappeared from the major Indian cities. In smaller towns, they are still an essential part of the transport network. Agree on the fare before boarding.
India Travel Tips
The Indians are curious. There are many topics of conversation that you can deal with. Remember that many Indians are sensitive towards Pakistan.
Do not take photos of women who bathe in the springs or relatives of the dead during a cremation. Avoid giving money to the children in the street. They are often in a racketeering and money will end up to their exploiters.
Many Indians, asks to take pictures with you that has become popular in recent years. Try to avoid them.
Go see a Bollywood movie during your visit. India is full of shopping malls with multiplex cinemas. Watch a movie surrounded by enthusiastic spectators. They sing together or sometimes they dance, which is a unique experience! Remember not to ridicule Bollywood as for the Indians is like a religion.
Dress up as Indians in saris, shalwar kameez or dhoti, lungi or kurta. Put on by Western wear but in moderation. It is good that women avoid tank tops, vests, too low-cut or short sleeveless dresses. But, it depends very much on the area as the phenomenon is more pronounced in the south. Always remember that it is correct to respect the decency of the culture in which you are.
Never kiss a woman in the audience to greet her. Do not embrace her and try not to shake her hand. It will go well to join your palms in front of you with a namaste.
Before leaving read something on Hinduism. It will help you understand many things India also not related to religion. Visit the Hindu temples, even those that may seem insignificant, and stay there for long. Do not visit the temple and its monuments, but live it. Sit down and look, listen, smell and touch.
Always remove your shoes to enter a temple. Do not take food or beverages in the Jain temples. Wrap up the head in Muslim and Sikh shrines. You can get in many temples, but not those that contain the lingam, as in Varanasi. Once inside, you can sing or dance with the Indians. Beware of the puja, the ritual act of the offer in the temples. The actual pujari will never do business with Westerners because it would be a taboo.
Watch out than for those who offer you a tour of a temple with adjoining puja in an unlikely Sanskrit language. He may be a fake pujari who often use gentle kids, who can enchant you in minutes. But in the end, the cost of your mock puja will be very high.
Do not ever ridicule a Sikh for his turban. I would recommend if you are in the area at the right time to take part in some festivals like Holi and Diwali. Do not make fun of tantra or Kamasutra.
Do not assume any price as even the rates of luxury hotels are negotiable. They will take into account when you propose other services. In fabric stores, expect a price increase of 7-8 times the actual price. Bargaining should be fierce. You can pretend to go away. Usually, they will call back and you get the price you want.
Visit the markets, especially those not intended to tourists but to the locals. Here colors, sounds, faces, and music will bewitch more than an artistic monument. Keep little saving for an Ayurvedic treatment especially if you are in Kerala.
The Indian food could cause problems to your stomach. Start with lighter dishes and then, try spicy ones. The hygiene in India is a problem. Sooner or later, during your trip, you may have tummy problems. The drugs for these disorders are at local pharmacies.
There may be circumstances in which some Indians may not want to eat near you. Respect their customs, as they may be orthodox. In restaurants, always ask for the spice level you want.
India is like a wave that you have to go along.