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What to expect
For first-time visitors, India can seem overwhelmingly noisy, crowded and chaotic. Once over the initial culture shock, visitors soon embrace India's color, diversity and vibrancy. Outside the fast-paced cities, India reveals its many different sides, from sprawling deserts to the fertile tropics.
India is a rapidly developing country, with a rich sense of history and tradition merging with modernization. This is evident in the country's cosmopolitan shopping and dining scenes in the large cities, and its thriving technology industries.
In contrast, India's ever-present poverty can be confronting, but travelers willing to embrace the country's beautiful landscapes, rich culture, impressive architecture and exotic flavors will be rewarded with unforgettable experiences.
From Los Angeles
approximately 14 hours
From New York
approximately 20 hours
Banks, public offices and some tourist sites will be closed on the vacations listed here. As major vacations are set according to the lunar calendar, dates change every year. Please check with our USA-based Asia specialists for details.
24 December to 2 January is the International New Year period
, and only schools close during this time in India. Some hotels feature compulsory dinners, and the cost should be settled directly with the hotel.
26 January is a public vacation commemorating Republic Day
. All government, semi-government and businesses are closed. A major military parade in New Delhi causes traffic disruptions and road closures on the day and during the lead up.
February/March (last full moon day of the lunar month Phalguna) is Holi Festival
, an important Hindu festival which is celebrated by throwing colored water and powder. Some tourist sites are closed and road travel may be disrupted. Wear clothes you don't mind being stained and keep cameras in watertight containers.
August/September (determined by the Islamic calendar) marks Bakrid
, celebrating the end of Ramadan, or month of fasting. Though a public vacation, monuments remain open.
15 August is Independence Day
, a public vacation where government, semi-government and businesses are closed. The Prime Minister delivers a speech at the Red Fort in Delhi which remains closed to visitors during the two weeks prior.
2 October marks the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi
, famous for his non-violent means of protest. It is a public vacation and government, semi-government and businesses are closed.
October (10th day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Ashvin) is Dussehra
, an important Hindu festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. It is a public vacation, but monuments remain open.
October/November (15th day of the Hindu month of Kartika) is Diwali
, a five day Hindu festival of lights and sweet-giving, and a time of great joy and celebration in many parts of India. It is a public vacation but monuments remain open.
Health & Fitness
Travelers to India should be mindful of their health and safety as they would anywhere else in the region. In India's major cities, some international standard medical care is available, while facilities are more basic in rural areas. Diseases known to exist in India include dengue fever, malaria, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A and B and HIV/AIDS.
We strongly advise that you take preventative measures to protect your health, as well as consult your doctor for relevant medical advice at least a month before your departure date.
All international visitors to India, except those from Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, must have a valid visa. It is not possible to obtain a visa upon arrival. Visas are issued through a company called VFS Global, with local offices and online services in many countries, such as the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand. For US residents we have partnered with CIBT visa service who can assist in obtaining a visa, click here for more information.
It is a relatively straightforward process to apply for a visa online. You will require a brief outline of your intended itinerary, and it usually takes around 3-5 business days plus postage time to process. It is advisable to allow some time for potential delays.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months and have at least two blank pages. Certain remote parts of the country require an additional permit, however these are regions that travelers rarely visit. If traveling to the northeast, please check with your local embassy or consulate for current advice.
If traveling to West Bengal, home to Kolkata and the hill station town of Darjeeling, please be aware that due to state government regulations hotels require a passport-size photo when you check in. It is important to ensure you are carrying a sufficient number of photos.
Please be aware that Indian visa rules are subject to change and you must be responsible for your own visa arrangements before your trip. It is strongly advisable to consult with the appropriate embassies in your home country prior to departure for relevant visa advice.
Safety and security
India is a relatively safe country, although petty street crime does take place. It is highly advisable to catch cabs rather than walk at night in dark or secluded areas. Cabs in India are mostly metered and very affordable, however you must ensure the driver turns the meter on and understands your destination. It is a good idea to carry a business card from your hotel to show to drivers.
We recommend that you take photocopies of essential documents such your passport, airline tickets and credit card details and keep them in a secure place apart from the originals. Personal valuables should be left in hotel safety deposit boxes if available, and minimal jewelry should be worn. Cash should be kept in a discrete place close to your body when outside your hotel. On train journeys, you may wish to use a money belt. Read our safety guidelines for further information.
India: A History by John Keay
chronicles five thousand years of South Asian history, including insights from a range of scholars on the area's people, culture and religions.
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald
is an entertaining account of an Australian radio personality's two year stint living in India, and her exploration of the country and its many and varied religions.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
is a novel set in Indian in the mid-1970s, following four people whose lives become intertwined during a period of political upheaval.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
is an epic love story - a tale of life and love involving four extended families set in the early 1950s in newly independent India.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
is an account of the author's escape from prison in Australia and subsequent ten years on the run, living in Mumbai. From gun running and working for the Bombay mafia to acting in Bollywood films, this is an extraordinary tale of a man's life on the edge of society.
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
is a fictional account of a family living in Kerala, focusing on the lives of young twins and their childhood amongst a sometimes turbulent backdrop.
Useful words & phrases
Hello (or hi)
How are you?
Ap kaise hain?
What is your name?
Aapka naam Kya Hai?
My name is…
Where do you come from?
Kahan se aate hain?
I come from...(male/female)
Main...se aa rahaa/rahiihun
How much is this?
Iskaa daam kyaa hai?
Mujhe maaf kiijiiye
Arrival and departure transfers
When traveling by road in India, air-conditioned modern sedan cars, traditional Ambassador cars or minibuses are used. Larger air-conditioned Toyota Coaster or 25-40 seat Hyundai are used for groups of six or more. Domestic flights are sometimes used, although it is best to make allowances for schedule changes.
There is a large rail network spanning India with a variety of seating classes. You will find reclining seats similar to aeroplane seats in coach class, while air-conditioned sleeper carriages have four beds and usually feature clean linen. Other modes of transport you may encounter in India include camel rides and boat journeys.
Internet services are found all over India, and prices are very reasonable. Wi-Fi isn't readily available, and connection speeds can be inconsistent. To make international phone calls, options include international direct dial calls from your hotel, which is relatively expensive, or using phones at local businesses displaying an STD/PCO/ISD yellow sign out the front. It is possible to make reverse charge phone calls from most major cities.
It is possible to use your cellphone throughout India, although roaming must be arranged with your service provider before you travel. International postage charges are slightly lower than in Western countries, and mail can take up to two weeks to reach its destination. A customs official at the post office may inspect parcels before they are sealed, and boxes can normally be purchased there.
Food & drink
India's exotic cuisine is a highlight of many people's travels to India. Rice, vegetables, pulses and fragrant spices are commonly used, with regional variations. In the north, curries can be richer and heavier, using meats such as lamb. Seafood is more prevalent in the tropical southern states, where flavors such as tamarind and coconut can be found.
Vegetarians should have no problem finding suitable dishes to order in India, where much of the population are vegetarian. Vegans should take note that a form of clarified butter, ghee, is often used in cooking.
Stomach upsets can sometimes occur as food handling and hygiene standards can be of a lower standard than home. It is advisable to eat freshly cooked rather than pre-prepared food. In small towns, the only eating options outside your hotel may be at simple local restaurants. Tap water should not be consumed in India, however bottled water is readily available.
Tipping is not an obligatory practice in India, though it is an appreciated gesture and a thoughtful way of showing your appreciation for great service. At the start of each trip, your local guide or Western tour leader will request a small amount of money (usually around 50 cents per day) to be used as group tips for boat crew, hotel porters and other service staff.
This is an effective way to prevent over-tipping and the need for small change. There is no compulsory tipping included for Travel Indochina representatives, however we are confident you will be very satisfied with our service levels. The decision to tip is entirely up to you.
There are many opportunities to swim in India, from its array of beaches to swimming pools in many hotels and resorts. It is important to be culturally sensitive when swimming and to dress modestly, avoiding revealing swimwear or topless sunbaking. From November to February temperatures are cool at night, and this period is not a comfortable time for swimming in the country's north.
At India's beaches, such as those found in coastal Kerala and Goa, it is advised to be cautious of any rips, undertows or currents that may occur. Most beaches are not patrolled by lifeguards, so it is essential to monitor your own safety.
In our journeys throughout India, we support a range of eco-friendly lodges and places that give back to local communities. These include Coconut Lagoon and Spice Village resorts in the south, that both place an emphasis on recycling and producing zero-waste.
Another eco lodge you may encounter is the award-winning Anandham Swamimalai. In Rajasthan, a stay at the Osian Camel Camp supports the local communities who work and live in the surrounding area, particularly when the monthly camel festival takes place.
All of the India Small Group Journeys (bar one) pay a visit to a tiger reserve or national park, supporting India's endangered wildlife and the communities surrounding the parks who are often employed there. Learn more about our focus on responsible travel.