India (Hindi: भारत) is the largest country in the Indian Subcontinent and shares borders with Pakistan to the west, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan to the north-east, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. Sri Lanka lies to the south, Maldives to the south-west and Indonesia to the south-east of India in the Indian Ocean.
India is the seventh largest country in the world by area and, with over a billion people, is second only to China in population, although its much higher birthrate makes it likely to reach pole position in less than ten years.
It is an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity across its expanse, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth.
Depending on the purpose of your visit, you can get an online E-Tourist Visa (30 days), a tourist visa (6 months or more, depending on nationality), a business visa (6 months, one year, five years, or ten years, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10-year visa is available only to select nationalities, including US citizens (USD for tourists, USD 240 for business). An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued, not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on January 1 will expire on June 30, regardless of your date of entry. A tourist visa valid for 6 months can have a maximum duration of stay of 90 days per visit, depending on citizenship. Make sure to check maximum duration per visit with your local embassy. Other visas including Student, Employment, Research, Missionary, and Overseas Citizen of India visas are also available for those who qualify, with varying validity periods and stay limitations.
Many Indian embassies have outsourced visa processing in full or in part to third party companies, so check ahead before going to the embassy. For example, in the USA, you must submit your visa application to Cox & Kings Global Services, not the embassy. Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee, above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offers visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home, instead of trying to get in a neighbouring country (although, as at August ’09, non-residents are able to apply for visas through the Bangkok embassy for an additional 400 THB “referral fee”).
Rules and validity of visas will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commission in your country or contact the local office.
It’s wise to ask for a multiple entry visa even if you aren’t planning to use it – they cost the same, are handed out pretty liberally and come in handy if you decide the last minute to dip into one of the neighbouring countries.
Over staying a visa is to be avoided at all costs as you will be prevented from leaving the country until you have paid some fairly hefty fines and presented a large amount of paperwork to either the local immigration office or police station. This whole process is unlikely to take less than 3 days, and can take much longer if you include weekends, numerous government holidays and the inevitable bizarre bureaucratic requirements.
India has 4 major airports known as Gateway Airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. The airports at these cities are either new or undergoing development. Delhi has unveiled its brand new international Terminal 3, is one of the largest in the world. Mumbai’s swanky new Terminal 2 (T2) was inaugurated on January 10. The other major entry points in the country are Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Kochi. There are many non-stop, direct and connecting choices to these cities from Europe, North America, Middle East & Australia. Africa is also connected to Delhi and Mumbai.
For secondary points of entry to India, consider Goa, Trivandrum, Kozhikode, Ahmedabad and Pune. Most of the major Middle Eastern carriers offer one stop connections to the coast from their Gulf hubs. Goa is a favourite European tourist destination and is connected by many European charter operators like Condor, Edelweiss, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines & Thomson Airways. Kolkata is currently served by Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.
India has homegrown international airlines like Air India, Jet Airways, Indigo, etc. They have daily flights to major hubs across the world.
From the United States, United Airlines offers nonstop daily service from Newark Airport to Delhi and Mumbai; Air India offers daily non-stop service to Delhi from New York-JFK and Chicago and Mumbai from Newark. Various European airlines offer connecting service through their European hubs from most major US cities and various Asian airlines offer connecting service from West Coast cities to India through their Asian hubs. Jet Airways also flies from New York to Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai via Brussels.
Entries from Europe and Northern America are possible using many European airlines such as Lufthansa, Finnair, British Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. For long-term visitors (3-12 months), Swiss airlines often have good deals from Switzerland with connecting flights from major European and some American cities as well.
India has several international ports on its peninsula. Kochi, Mumbai, Goa and Chennai are the main ones handling passenger traffic, while the rest mainly handle cargo. However, due to the profusion of cheap flights, there no longer appear to be any scheduled ferry services from India to the Middle East.
Some cruise lines that travel to India include Indian Oceans Eden II and Grand Voyage Seychelles-Dubai.
There are two links from Pakistan. The Samjhauta Express runs from Lahore to Attari near Amritsar in Punjab. The Thar Express, restarted in February 2006 after 40 years out of service, runs from Munabao in the Indian state of Rajasthan to Khokrapar in Pakistan’s Sindh province; however, this crossing is not open to foreign tourists. Neither train is the fastest, safest or the most practical way to go between India and Pakistan due to the long delay to clear customs and immigration (although the trains are sights in their own right and make for a fascinating trip). Ths Samjhauta express was the victim of a terrorist strike in February 2007, when they set off bombs that killed many people. Should you want to get from one country to the other as quickly as possible, walk across at Attari/Wagah. In India, all trains are managed by Indian Railways IRTC.
From Nepal, trains run between Khajuri in Dhanusa district of Nepal and Jaynagar in Bihar, operated by Nepal Railways. Neither is of much interest for travelers and there are no onward connections into Nepal, so most travelers opt for the bus or plane instead.
Train services from Bangladesh were suspended for 42 years, but the Moitree Express started running again between Dhaka to Kolkata in April 2008. The service is biweekly: A Bangledeshi train leaves Dhaka every Saturday, returning on Sunday, while an Indian train leaves Kolkata on Saturdays and returns the next day.
You can see what trains are available between stations at the following sites: http://www.indiarail.gov.in. However, for booking of rail tickets through the Internet you should use the Government of India’s website http://www.irctc.co.in For booking through this site, you have to register (which is free) and you need a credit/debit card. It is better that you book your own tickets than fall prey to touts. For checking Multiple Train PNR Status you could use http://enquiry.indianrail.gov.in/ntes/.
From Pakistan the only land crossing is from Lahore to Amritsar via the Attari/Wagah border crossing. See Istanbul to New Delhi over land. You will need a Carnet de Passage if crossing with your own vehicle. The process is not particularly lengthy – crossing with your own vehicle from/to Pakistan should take a maximum of 3 hours to clear both borders for you and your vehicle. There are also crossing points with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
There is one open border crossing between India and Myanmar at Moreh, Manipur, but special permits are required to reach the border from either side.
The Nathu La pass in Sikkim, which borders Tibet in China is the only open border crossing between India and China. For now though, only traders and pilgrims are allowed to cross the border, and it is still not open to tourists. Special permits are required to visit the pass from either side.
Tour in India By Bus is possible. Research around. While most of the Indian states have their own Transport Departments registered online for internet booking of the tickets, private bus bookings can also be made at www.redbus.in. Under this website one can make a booking for private bus tickets. Buses vary from ultra modern Volvo or Mercedes-Benz to plain vanilla non air-conditioned buses run by private bus operators.
From Nepal buses cross the border daily, usually with connections to New Delhi, Lucknow, Patna and Varanasi. However, it’s cheaper and more reliable to take one bus to the border crossing and another from there on. The border crossings are (India/Nepal side) Sunauli/Bhairawa from Varanasi, Raxaul/Birganj from Patna, Kolkata, Kakarbhitta from Darjeeling, and Mahendrenagar-Banbassa from Delhi.
The Royal Bhutanese Government runs a service to/from Phuentsholing. These buses depart from Kolkata’s Esplanade bus station at 7PM on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from the Phuentsholing Bhutan Post office at 3PM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes around 18 hours and costs ₹300. The buses are comfortable, but because much of the highway to Kolkata is like the surface of the moon, don’t bank on getting much sleep on the way.
There is frequent service between Siliguri and Phuentsholing.
From Pakistan the only land crossing is from Lahore to Amritsar via the Attari/Wagah border crossing. Despite tensions between the two countries, there is a steady trickle of travellers passing this way. The immigration procedures are fairly straightforward, but note that neither Pakistan nor India issue visas at the border. Expect to take most of the day to go between Lahore and Amritsar on local buses. Normally it’s possible to get a direct bus from Amritsar to the border, walk to the other side and catch a direct bus to Lahore, although you may need to change at some point on route. Amritsar and Lahore are both fairly close to the border (about 30-40 minutes drive), so taxis are a faster and easier option.
The direct Delhi-Lahore service has restarted, though it is far more costly than local buses/trains, not any faster, and would mean you miss seeing Amritsar. You will also be stuck at the border for much longer while the bus is searched and all of the passengers go through immigration.
There is now a bus service across the ‘Line of control’ between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, however it is not open to foreign tourists.
From Bangladesh there are a number of land entry points to India. The most common way is the regular air-conditioned and comfortable bus services from Dhaka to Kolkata via Haridaspur (India)/Benapole (Bangladesh) border post. Bus companies ‘Shyamoli’, ‘Shohag’, ‘Green Line’, and others operate daily bus services under the label of the state owned West Bengal Surface Transport Service Corporation (WBSTSC) and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC). From Kolkata 2 buses leave every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday while from Dhaka they leave on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The journey usually takes around 12 hours with a one-way fare of ₹400-450 or BDT600-800, roughly US$8-10.
Another daily bus service by ‘Shyamoli’ and others under the BRTC label from Dhaka connects Siliguri, but the buses in this route do not cross the Changrabanda/Burimari or Burungamari border post. Rather, passengers reaching the border have to clear customs, walk a few hundred yards to cross the border and board the awaiting connecting buses on the other end for the final destination. Ticket for Dhaka-Siliguri-Dhaka route costs BDT 1,600, roughly US$20-25 depending on conversion rates. Tickets are purchased either in Dhaka or in Siliguri.
There is also a regular bus service between Dhaka and Agartala, capital of Tripura . Two BRTC buses daily from Dhaka and the Tripura Road Transport Corporation plying its vehicles six days a week with a round fare costing US$10 connect the two cities. There is only one halt at Ashuganj in Bangladesh during the journey.
Other entry points from Bangladesh are Hili, Chilahati/Haldibari, Banglaband border posts for entry to West Bengal; Tamabil border post for a route to Shillong in Meghalaya, and some others with lesser known routes to north-eastern Indian regions.
In India, it rains only during a specific time of the year. The season as well as the phenomenon that causes it is called the monsoon. There are two of them, the Southwest and the Northeast, both named after the directions the winds come from. The Southwest monsoon is the more important one, as it causes rains over most parts of the country, and is the crucial variable that decides how the crops will do. It lasts from June to September. The Southwest monsoon hits the west coast the most, as crossing the western ghats and reaching the rest of India is an uphill task for the winds. The western coastline is therefore much greener than the interior. The Northeast monsoon hits the east coast between October and February, mostly in the form of occasional cyclones which cause much devastation every year. The only region that gets rains from both monsoons is North-Eastern India, which consequently experiences the highest rainfall in the world.
India experiences at least three seasons a year, Summer, Rainy Season (or “Monsoon”) and Winter, though in the tropical South calling the 25°C (77°F) weather “Winter” would be stretching the concept. The North experiences some extremes of heat in Summer and cold in Winter, but except in the Himalayan regions, snow is almost unheard of. November to January is the winter season and April and May are the hot months when everyone eagerly awaits the rains. There is also a brief spring in February and March, especially in North India.
Opinions are divided on whether any part of India actually experiences an Autumn, but the ancients had certainly identified such a season among the six seasons ( or ritus – Vasanta – Spring, Greeshma – Summer, Varsha – Rainy, Sharat – Autumn, Shishira – Winter, Hemanta – “Mild Winter”) they had divided the year into.
Sights and Activities
India’s most famous attraction, the Taj Mahal, is a mausoleum in Agra that was constructed under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died after giving birth to their son.
The imposing Agra Fort at Agra is something which should not be missed. The construction of this fort was started by Mughal Emperor Akbar and later on additional building were added by his son and grandson. The fort complex has numerous building of importance like the Moti Masjid, Sheesh Mahal, Jehangir’s Palace, Deewane-E-Am and Deewane-E-Khas.
The state of Kerala, divided into 14 districts has emerged as one of the hottest tourist destination in India over the period of years. This place is also famous for its Backwaters. Kerala’s culture cannot be confined to a specific race or a custom, its composite in nature with its religious traditions, festivals, performing arts (dances, ballets, opera) music, martial arts, paintings, arts and crafts, The cultural heritage of Kerala is also revealed in its varied costumes and cuisine.
Khajuraho is a town located in Madhya Pradesh famous for groups of Hindu and Jain temples. These temples are a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their beautiful and erotic rock carvings. About 20 temples remain today, dating back to the 10th and 11th century A.D.
Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj is located in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Situated on the Dhauladhar Range, whose highest peak, “Hanuman Ka Tibba”, at about 5,639 metres, lies just behind it, it is known as “Little Lhasa” or “Dhasa” (a short form of Dharamsala used mainly by Tibetans) because of its large population of Tibetan refugees. The Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered in McLeodGanj.
Shimla is the capital city of Himachal Pradesh. In 1864, Shimla was declared the summer capital of the British Raj in India. A popular tourist destination, Shimla is often referred to as the queen of hills. Located in the northwest Himalayas at an average altitude of 2,205 metres, the city of Shimla, draped in forests of pine, rhododendron, and oak, experiences pleasant summers and cold, snowy winters. The city is famous for its buildings styled in ‘Tudorbethan’ and neo-Gothic architecture dating from the colonial era.
India is one of the best countries outside Africa and probably the best in Asia to watch wildlife. Wildlife include the Asian Big Five (leopard, lion, elephant, rhino and asian buffalo) but there is one animal that even is more impressive and elusive. That animal is the tiger and seeing one is a matter of luck and staying long enough in several national parks that offer this opportunity. Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh are among the best in the country with the highest density and chance to see this massive cat. Also, Pench and Panna Reserves are well worth a visit, though numbers of tigers have been decreasing enormously here during the last years. It is believed that Panna even lost of all its tigers due to poaching, just like Sariska reserve before. Although Ranthambore is equally famous, tiger population here has dropped recently due to poachers still active in the area.
Also the Corbett National Park, around 240 kilometres north of Delhi, at the foothills of the Himalayas, is a good place to see a tiger, though you have to spend some time here and be lucky.
Many other wildlife can be spotted as well in many of the parks, including wild boar, sloth bear, rhino, elephant, gaur, Indian Gazelle, wild dogs and striped hyena. In the mountains, the very elusive snow leopard lives at altitudes of 2,000 metres upwards.
Four other parks to be visited which, because of its outstanding natural beauty and significance, are on the Unesco World Heritage list as well. These are Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park in the north-eastern state of Assam, the Sundarbans National Park, which India shares with Bangladesh and the Keoladeo National Park in the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan, which is particularly interesting because of its bird life, including the rare Siberian crane.
Sasan Gir National Reserve in Gujarat is the only place in Asia which has Asian lions. Plans to relocate some lions to other reserves have not been succesful, because of resistance of local people.
The Sundarbans mangrove forest is one of the largest forests of its kind and is located in the west of India and the southwest of Bangladesh on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans are shared with Bangladesh and form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It contains a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests and has a high biodiversity with a wide range of flora and fauna. Animals include 260 bird species, the Royal Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python. Some of the wildlife though is very elusive and it is a matter of luck for example to see a tiger. It is best to arrange tours from Dhaka or Kulna which can last for a week if you want.
Rajasthan is one of the most visited parts of India and it has several great cities to visit, including Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur. All these cities have their own characteristics, fortress, maharadja palace and even colours (pink city, blue city). A trip by camel in the Thar desert also is a fantastic experience.
According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi is considered to be one of the holiest cities in India. It lies along the banks of the sacred Ganges River, and it’s believed that taking a dip in it washes away all the sins and purify the soul.
The Thar desert is an arid region in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. It covers much of Rajasthan, extending from here into the southern Haryana and Punjab states and into northern Gujarat state. Apart from India, it also covers the astern Sindh province and southeastern Punjab province in Pakistan. The Sutlej and Indus Rivers and Aravalli Range and Rann of Kutch form its natural boundaries. It is a hilly desert, with large areas of sand dunes, although the central part is more of a plain with no dunes at all. Unlike much of India, it hasn’t got a monsoon season as wet as other parts of the country, although also here the wetter months are from July to October. It’s also a good region to see lots of animals typical for this part of India and there are some interesting cities within its boundaries as well, including Jodhpur and the ‘capital’ of the desert Jaisalmer, where camel rides into the desert are one of the more popular trips.
Budget travel around India is surprisingly easy, with the savvy backpacker able to get by (relatively comfortably) on as little as US$25-35 per day. It is generally cheaper than South East Asia with a night in a hotel costing as little as ₹200-1,000 (though there will be probably no air conditioning or room service for this price). Beach huts in the cheaper places of Goa can cost around ₹800 per night. A meal can be bought from a street trader for as little as ₹30, though, in a restaurant expect, to pay around ₹200-300 for a beer or two. Overnight buses and trains can cost anywhere from ₹600-1,000 dependent on distance and locations, though an uncomfortable government bus (benches only) may be cheaper.
Choices vary widely depending on your budget and location. Cheap travellers’ hotels are numerous in big cities where you can get a room for less than ₹450. Rooms at guest-houses with a double bed (and often a bathroom) can be found in many touristic venues for ₹150-200. Good budget hotels in India are not hard to find. You can find accommodation in clean dormitories for as little as ₹50 in many Indian districts.
Most Indian train stations have rooms or dormitories, are cheap, relatively well maintained (the beds, sheets, not the showers) and secure. There are also the added bonus of not being accosted by the rickshaw mafia, getting your bag off quickly and, for the adventurous, you are highly likely to be able to jump on a cheap public bus back to the train station, just ask. Keep in mind you must have an arrival or departure train ticket from the station where you intend to sleep and there could be a limit on how many nights you may stay.
Two important factors to keep in mind when choosing a place to stay are 1) safety and 2) cleanliness. Malaria is alive and well in certain areas of India – one of the best ways to combat malaria is to choose lodgings with air conditioning and sealed windows. An insect-repellent spray containing DEET will also help.
Dak bungalows exist in many areas. These were built by the British to accommodate travelling officials and are now used by the Indian and state governments for the same purpose. If they have room, most will take tourists at a moderate fee. They are plain — ceiling fans rather than air conditioning, shower but no tub. — but clean, comfortable and usually in good locations. Typically the staff includes a pensioned-off soldier as night watchman and perhaps another as gardener; often the gardens are lovely. Sometimes there is a cook. You meet interesting Indian travellers this way: engineers building a bridge in the area, a team of doctors vaccinating the villagers, whatever.
Don’t count on having a reliable electricity supply if you aren’t staying in an upmarket hotel. Brownouts are frequent, and many buildings have unsafe wiring.
Make sure to bring your passport wherever you go, as most hotels will not rent out rooms without you producing a valid passport. This is especially true in Delhi.
Hostels in India
Abhaneri Agra Ahmedabad Ajmer Alappuzha Alleppey Amritsar Anjuna Aurangabad Bandhavgarh Bangalore Bharatpur Bikaner Bodhgaya Bundi Cavelossim Chandigarh Chennai Cochin Dalhousie Darjeeling Dharamsala Ernakulam Fatehpur Sikri Fort Cochin Goa Gurgaon Guwahati Gwalior Haridwar Hospet Hyderabad Jaipur Jaisalmer Jalandhar Jodhpur Kanha Kanha National Park Kannur Kanyakumari Kausani Khajuraho Kolkata Kollam Kottayam Kovalam Kumarakom Kumbakonam Kumily Leh Lonavala Lucknow Madurai Mahabalipuram Manali Mathura Mumbai Munnar Mussoorie Mysore Nainital New Delhi Orchha Palakkad Pondicherry Port Blair Pune Puri Pushkar Rishikesh Rohtak Sawai Madhopur Shillong Shimla Srinagar Thane Thekkady Tiruvannamalai Trivandrum Udaipur Vadodara Varanasi Varkala Vrindavan Wayanad Yelagiri Hills
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