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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
Arrival (and departure) transfers are included for all Small Group Journeys. For private tours you will need to book an arrival and departure transfer unless taking a tour which includes these. For those travelers with a transfer, on arrival in India, you will find a representative from Insider Journeys waiting to meet you as you exit the customs area after collecting your luggage.
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.
Wifi is available in most hotels but there is an unfortunate tendency for hotels in India to overcharge for this service and it can be expensive.
SIM cards can be purchased at airports and in some shopping centers, but requirements for foreign passport holders may vary and this can be time-consuming and bureaucratic. Although you may choose to unlock your mobile phone for global roaming, you should check charges for this service carefully before leaving home or online, as charges are often exorbitant.
Food & drink
Indian food incorporates a number of styles and each region specializes in its own cuisine. Breakfast is included each day on our Small Group Journeys and is usually a mix of buffet and continental style. In rural restaurants, food hygiene is not always up to international standards and in smaller towns or remote areas your hotel may be the only recommended option for eating.
Drinking local tap water is not recommended. Bottled water is cheap and readily available throughout India, and provided free in some (not all) hotels and also in our vehicles on private travel itineraries.
If you are happy with the services provided by your local guides, drivers and your tour leader, a tip is appropriate and appreciated. While it may not be customary to you, tipping inspires great service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across Asia. India has a strong tipping culture amongst the local people and small amounts of around 50 Rupees per person is generally appropriate for one-off assistance with luggage, or other forms of ad hoc service.
Please note that all of our Small Group Journey prices now include tipping of porters, boat operators, safari guides and any other local service providers used throughout your trip.
Most four and five star hotels have swimming pools, and many of our Small Group Journey hotels feature these, especially outside of the major cities. Please note that modesty even around swimming pools is much appreciated in India.
For those visiting south India and especially the coastal states of Goa and Kerala, many beach areas do offer swimming opportunities. However please be very careful about local swimming conditions as most beaches are not properly patrolled and undertows, rips or other dangerous currents may exist.
Insider Journeys practices a thorough, realistic responsible travel policy. We believe that travel should entail an exchange of knowledge and perspectives, a sharing of wealth, and a genuine appreciation of Asia’s beautiful natural environments. This philosophy underpins the heart and soul of our style of travel. It drives all that we strive to deliver to our travelers, and shapes the contact we have with our supplier colleagues in Asia. We recognize that poorly planned itineraries or poorly informed tourists contribute less to cross-cultural understanding and less to the livelihoods of local people. We also recognize that we largely work in a developing part of the world.
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.