India  is the largest country in the Indian Subcontinent in the south of Asia. Though it's the seventh largest country in the world by area, it's second only to China in population. India prides itself on being the largest democracy on earth (by population). It's also an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity across its expanse.
India is administratively divided into 28 states and 7 union territories. The states are broadly demarcated on linguistic lines. They vary in size; the larger ones are bigger and more diverse than some countries of Europe. The union territories are smaller than the states - sometimes they are just one city - and they have much less autonomy.
These states and union territories are grouped by convention into the following regions.
India has many large and famous cities; below is a list of nine of the most well-known. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section.
India's largest cities, listed below, are known as metros.
India has many outstanding landmarks. Below are five of the most notable that are not in a large city nor a sacred site.
As the birthplace of several world religions, India is home to many sacred and holy sites. Below is a list of nine of the most notable. For other sacred sites refer to regional articles.
See Also: National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
India mixes ancient civilizations, fascinating religions, 22 official languages and over 200 other languages and dialects, monuments and cultures with modern technology, economy, and media.
Indians date their history from the Vedic Period which historians place between 2000 and 1000 BC. This is the period when the Vedas, the oldest and holiest books of Hinduism, were compiled. The earliest archaeological traces are from the Indus Valley Civilization which peaked around 1800 BC before declining and disappearing around 1500 BC, possibly due to a drought. The excavations reveal an extremely advanced urban civilization, with no evidence of weapons or fortifications. There is a major dispute over whether Vedic people were the same as the Indus Valley people, with the majority of the historians arguing that they were later migrants, who encountered a civilization in decline and perhaps hastened that decline. The minority view says that the Indus Valley people were in fact the Vedic people.
The Vedic civilization influences India to this day. The roots of present-day Hinduism lie in them. Some rituals of Hinduism took shape during that period. Most North-Indian languages come from Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas. These languages together with Sanskrit are members of the Indo-European group of languages. In the 1st millennium BC, various schools of thought in philosophy developed, enriching Hinduism greatly. Most of them claimed to derive from the Vedas. However, two of these schools - Buddhism and Jainism - questioned the authority of the Vedas and they are now recognized as separate religions.
Many great empires were formed between 500 BC and AD 500. Notable among them were the Mauryas and the Guptas. This period saw a gradual decline of Buddhism and Jainism. The practice of Buddhism, in particular, disappeared from the Indian mainland, though Buddha himself was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Jainism continues to be practised by a significant number who are ambivalent about whether they consider themselves Hindus or not.
Islamic incursions started in the 8th century in the form of raids. Gradually the raiders started staying as rulers. Soon much of North India was taken over by Islamic rulers. The most important of these rulers were the Mughals, who established an empire that at its peak covered almost the entire subcontinent except the southern and eastern extremities. But they too declined, partly under attack from the Marathas who established a short-lived confederacy that was almost as big as the Mughal Empire. During the Islamic period, many Hindus converted to Islam. Some did so by force, some to escape the low social status that the caste system imposed on them, and some to gain the benefits of being aligned with the then rulers. Today, some 12% of the population is Muslim.
The south followed a somewhat different trajectory, being less affected by the Islamic invasion. The period from 500 AD to 1600 AD is called the classical period dominated by great South Indian kingdoms. Prominent among them were the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Vijayanagar empire who ruled from present day Karnataka and the Pallavas and Cholas who ruled from present day Tamil Nadu. Original literature in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu flourished during this time and has been prolific ever since. Some of the grandest Hindu and Jain monuments that exist in India were built during this time in South and East India, which were less subject to religious prohibitions on them.
European traders started visiting India beginning in the late 16th century. By the 19th century, the British East India Company had, one way or the other assumed political control of virtually all Indian lands. There was an uprising by Indian rulers in 1857 which was suppressed, but which prompted the British government to make India a part of the empire. Many Indians converted to Christianity during the period, for pretty much the same reasons as they converted to Islam, though forcible conversions ended in British India after 1857, when the British Government took over from the East India Company, and Queen Victoria promised to respect religious faiths of Indians.
Non-violent resistance to British colonialism under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru led to independence in 1947. The subcontinent was divided into the secular state of India and the smaller Islamic state of Pakistan.
Free India under Nehru adopted a democratically-governed, centrally-planned economy. These policies were aimed at attaining "self-sufficiency", and to a large extent made India what it is today. India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains by the 1970s, ensuring that the large-scale famines that had been common were now history. However these policies also led to shortages, slow growth and large-scale corruption. After a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991, the country adopted free-market reforms which have continued at a cautious pace ever since, fueling strong growth. IT and Business Process Outsourcing industries have been the drivers for the growth, while Manufacturing and Agriculture, which have not experienced reforms, are lagging. About 60% of Indians live on agriculture and around 25% remain in poverty.
Relations with Pakistan have been frosty. They have fought three (or four, if you count the Kargil conflict of 1999) wars, mostly over the status of Kashmir. The third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. China and India went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. Viewed as a "betrayal" in India, it still rankles. Though current relations are peaceful, there is still military rivalry and no land crossings between the countries. The security concerns over Pakistan and China prompted India to test nuclear weapons three times (including the 1974 tests described as "peaceful explosions"). India wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear power and is hankering after a Security Council seat.
India is proud of its democratic record. Constitutional government and democratic freedoms have been safeguarded throughout its 58 years as an independent country, except for an 18 month interlude in 1975, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency and suspended human rights.
Current concerns in India include the ongoing dispute with Pakistan, over-population, corruption, environmental degradation, continuing poverty, and ethnic and religious strife. But the current obsession, at least among the educated elite, is over whether India will be able overtake China in economic growth.
Mountains, jungles, deserts and beaches, India has it all. It is bounded to the north, northeast and northwest by the snow-capped Himalayas, the largest mountain range in the world. In addition to protecting the country from invaders, they also fed the perennial rivers Ganga, Yamuna (Jamuna) and Sindhu (Indus) on whose plains India's civilization flourished. Though most of the Sindhu is in Pakistan now, five of its tributaries flow through Punjab. The other Himalayan river, the Brahmaputra flows through the northeast, mostly through Assam.
South of Punjab lies the Aravalli range which cuts Rajasthan into two. The western half of Rajasthan is occupied by the Thar desert. The Vindhyas cut across Central India, particularly through Madhya Pradesh and signify the start of the Deccan plateau, which covers almost the whole of the southern peninsula. It is bounded by the Sahyadri range to the west and the Eastern Ghats to the east. The plateau is more arid than the plains, as the rivers that feed the area, such as the Narmada, Godavari and the Kaveri run dry during the summer. Towards the northeast of the Deccan plateau is what used to be a thickly forested area called the Dandakaranya which covers the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, the eastern edge of Maharashtra and the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh. This area is still forested, poverty stricken and populated by tribals. This forest acted as a barrier to the invasion of South India.
India has a long coastline. The west coast borders the Arabian Sea and the east coast the Bay of Bengal, both parts of the Indian Ocean.
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 (and therefore the economy) will do. It lasts from June to September. It 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 Northeastern 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 (75°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.
India has a rich diversity of culture and tradition. It's probably the only country where people of so many different origins, religious beliefs, languages and ethnic background coexist.
There are three national holidays (Republic Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi Jayanti) which occur on the same day every year. Most other religious holidays occur on different days, because the Hindu and Islamic festivals are based on their respective calendars and not on the Gregorian calendar.
Here is a list of important holidays. The dates given are correct for 2007. Not all holidays are celebrated with equal fervour, or celebrated at all in all regions of the country. Different regions might give somewhat different names to the same festival. Check the state or city you are visiting for information on whether there will be closures. To cater to varying religious practices, offices have a list of optional holidays (called restricted holidays by the government) from which employees are allowed to pick two, in addition to the list of fixed holidays. This may means thin attendance and delayed service even when the office is officially open.
Citizens of most countries with a few exceptions like Bhutan and Nepal need a visa to get in. Depending on your purpose of visit, you can get a tourist visa (six months ~US $60, one year ~US $75), a business visa (one year or more, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10 year visa (US $150, business and tourist) is available to US citizens only. Note that some 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 neighboring country.
There are other categories for specialised purposes . The missionary visa is mandatory for anyone who is visiting India "primarily to take part in religious activities". This rule is meant to combat religious conversion, particularly of Hindus to Christianity. There have been cases where preachers have been deported for addressing religious congregations while on a tourist visa. You don't need to be worried if you are just on a religious tour of churches in India.
If you are on a Student, Employment, Research or Missionary visa, you need to register within 14 days of arrival with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office where you will be staying. If the place you are staying at doesn't have one, you need to register at the local police station . All visitors who intend to stay more than 180 days also need to be registered. Addresses and telephone numbers of the FRROs can be found here .
The major points of entry are Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Calcutta. If you are flying in from a Western country, chances are that you will get in through one of these cities. However in recent years, to accommodate the increasing traffic, many other airports have been upgraded to take in international flights. Among these are Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cochin, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram and Varanasi. 
India has homegrown international airlines like Air India  and "Indian"  (formerly known as "Indian Airlines"). These provide good connectivity within the country. In recent years, the government has allowed Indian private airlines like Jet Airways  and Air Sahara  to go international. There are daily flights to most imaginable places on Earth from a wide array of Indian airports.
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 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). Should you want to get from one country to the other as quickly as possible, walk across at Attari/Wagah.
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 traveles opt for the bus or plane instead.
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 and the process will likely be lengthy.
Indian addresses are not standardized in any way. Very often, streets are not named or numbered. Block-level numbering is almost non-existent. Even when they are, you cannot rely on the street signs actually being there. Very often, the house or establishment you are looking for will be off the road. For these reasons, postal addresses are often stated in terms of other landmarks, as in "Opp. Prithvi theatre" or "Behind Maruti Showroom", etc. Do not assume that this will be enough. If you need to get anywhere, call in advance and ask for detailed directions. Ask about the closest landmark, even if it is mentioned on the postal address - you will often get a better one. This advice applies as much to a large city as to a village.
On the plus side, you will always find someone out on the streets to help you out.
India's large size and poor roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Even India's offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exception being Sikkim. However, while the country has 83 airports, most are served only via a few flights and getting from point A to point B by plane thus often requires transiting via Delhi or Mumbai.
At one time, domestic flights were the monopoly of the government-owned Indian Airlines (now known as "Indian"). Jet Airways and Air Sahara challenged this monopoly with better service and competitive fares. In 2004, Air Deccan launched its no-frills airline. Now there are quite a few competitors and prices are a traveller's delight. Some Indian airlines charge foreigners higher fares than Indian residents. If you don't have an Indian passport you usually get a better price from the airlines that don't have this price policy. Here is a list of airlines in India, but there's one starting almost every month.
Keep in mind, however, that outside of big cities coverage is poor. If you need to get to a small town, low-cost airlines other than Air Deccan won't help you. You may have to rely on Indian Airlines or Jet. Flying low-cost to a metro and taking a train is not a bad idea either.
The earlier you book, the lower you pay. You will hear a lot about air tickets at Rs. 500 ($12), but those are promotional rates for limited seats which are sold out within seconds. Nonetheless, you do get good rates from the budget airlines. Tickets for small cities will cost more than those for the metros, because of the spotty coverage noted above. Many airlines have higher fares for foreigners than for Indians. Foreigners will be charged in US dollars, whereas Indians will be charged in rupees. Indian ticket pricing has not attained the bewildering complexity that the Americans have achieved, but they are getting there. As of now, you don't have to worry about higher prices on weekends, lower prices for round-trips, lower prices for travel around weekends etc.
It is possible to book flights online from the airline's website (most major airlines have one now), though sometimes tickets are available from a travel agent. It is sometimes more convenient to get tickets from the ticket agents though that will be more expensive. Do check out both options. If you've booked on the net, just a printout and an id will be sufficient. You can get your ticket at the airport after showing the printout alongwith a credible identity proof like a passport or a driving license.
Procedures at airports in India are somewhat different from those elsewhere. In most cases you won't be able to check in for your flight more than an hour ahead of the scheduled departure. Also, there will be a stand where you must take your checked baggage for a security screening before you check in. It isn't always obvious where you are supposed to wait to catch your flight. However, don't hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure. Most staff in airports are very helpful to foreigners and will take pains to ensure you catch your flight.
India boasts the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and the rail system is efficient, if not always on schedule. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it's the best way to get to know the country and its people. You will get to see the beautiful Indian countryside first hand, and most train passengers will be curious about you and happy to pass the time with a chat.
Indian Railways is famously the world's largest employer, and at first sight it also looks like the world's largest bureaucracy, with hair-splitting divisions and designations that look quite obscure to the uninitiated. The following will help you crack the code.
Trains come in many varieties, but the broad hierarchy from best to worst is as follows:
In a class of its own is the Palace on Wheels , akin to a five-star hotel, that does an eight-day loop from New Delhi with stops and tours in Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Chittaurgarh, Udaipur, Bharatpur, and Agra. Prices are also five-star, with twin sharing from US$295/person/night in low season and trains still booked out months ahead. The Deccan Odyssey, modeled after the same idea, runs out of Mumbai but hasn't achieved the same level of popularity.
Most countries offer two classes of service, but India has no less than eight to choose from. Not all are available on all trains.
Before booking a ticket pick up a copy of Trains At A Glance, the national rail schedule (or "timetable"), from any railway station. This is updated every June and remains valid until July next year. It allows you to choose the best train for your needs, and find the name and number of the train for your destination. However, this is a general guide and does not contain detailed list of all stations, neither does it contain all the trains that ply. A more specific guide depending on the "rail zone" is available at important stations on that zone. For example, a detailed guide on trains plying in West India can be avaialbe at all major railway stations in West India. You can also get the whole schedule online www.irctc.co.in or www.indianrail.gov.in. Neither option will find connecting trains for you, so some knowledge of important stations is necessary if you are going to a remote location.
Tickets are available from travel agents as well as directly from Indian Railways' online reservation service . It is better not to buy tickets from a travel agent, as they mark up the price, and with the advent of internet booking, offer no real advantage. Train tickets are in high demand, especially during the summer and winter breaks. This means that without careful planning, it may be next to impossible to get tickets for long distance travel (for example from New Delhi to Mumbai). You can book up to 90 days in advance, but during the busy season, the tickets may get sold out quickly. However foreigners can get tickets from a quota reserved for them. In big cities, you have a specific counter or even a special office for them. If you plan to travel in 1st Class A/C tickets should be easier to get - they are in less demand. Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes.
If you do not get a confirmed ("reserved") ticket, you may get one that is Waitlisted (WL) or in the Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC) status. If you've booked your ticket in advance, it will probably move from "Waitlisted" to "RAC" status or even to "Reserved" status as time goes by, because of cancellations, so it is a good idea to check it periodically and keep your plans dynamic.
You cannot get on to a reserved compartment if your ticket is waitlisted (you can only enter a General Compartment). But if you have an RAC ticket, you are allotted 'sitting' berths - i.e. in a Sleeper Coach, you and a fellow RAC ticket-holder share a berth so that both of you can travel sitting instead of sleeping. The Ticket Examiner then allots you a Confirmed (CNF) sleeping berth as and when one is available due to last minute cancellations, no-shows etc. Depending on the train, the route and the season you are travelling in, the RAC ticket may get upgraded to CNF either as soon as the journey begins, mid-way through the journey or not at all.
Five days before the departure date of a train the Taktal quota seats become available. This allows tourists who like to plan a trip as they go to book seats closer to the day of departure, for an extra fee. Some agents don't advertise these tickets, so you may have to ask. Even with this extra quota (about 4% of the seats on a train) it can sometimes be difficult to get the train you want when you want it.
Most trains have a pantry car and if you are in the sleeper or A/C classes, you can buy meals on board the train. In 1st Class A/C, you will be served your meals by liveried waiters. The quality and hygiene can be inconsistent though ( In South India the quality and hygiene is better). If you are finicky, bring enough food and bottled water for the journey including delays: Bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. At most larger stations hawkers selling tea, peanuts, and snack food will go up and down the train, but don't count on this being enough for a 18 or 40 hour journey. Most important stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff, but the usual caveats about eating in India apply.
Many of the food vendors come by in the morning, so if you sleep in you will miss a lot of food. Also, you need to be ready to hail down a vendor when they walk by - they move quickly.
Always watch your bags, especially in and around train stations. Once on a train, lock your bags to your bunk-- under the bunk if you are on the bottom, or at your head. Make sure to also lock any exterior pockets (keep your toilet paper, and anything else you'll want on the outside). You can buy chains from chain-and-lock sellers who walk around train stations and trains.
The top bunk is best if you are the sort who likes to sleep early or late. The middle and bottom bunks are converted into seating area, so you will be forced to stay awake if everyone else in your compartment wants to stay up.
Indian trains take a long time to go anywhere. Don't just look at a map and assume a short trip, it's best to check Trains at a Glance before making your plans.
Bathrooms on Indian trains are usually of the squat variety, the cleanliness tends to deteriorate over a long trip, but at least nothing but the sole of your shoes needs to touch the toilet. Its a good idea to use the toilet elsewhere when possible.
Enjoy the train! You'll meet fascinating, wonderful people.
While you can't take a cross-country bus-ride across India, buses are the second most popular way of travelling across states. Every state has its own bus service which primarily connects intra-state routes, but will also have services to neighbouring states. There are usually multiple classes of buses. The ordinary buses (called differently in different states, e.g. "service bus") are extremely crowded with even standing room rarely available. In addition, they tend to stop at too many places. There might be luxury or express buses available, and sometimes they even have air-conditioning. They are more comfortable, have assured seating, and have limited stops. Be warned that many of the private buses, especially long-distance lines, play music and/or videos at ear-splitting volume. Even with earplugs it can be nerve-wracking. Do not expect public restrooms at all, or even most, bus stops.
There services are excellent and they provide entertainment on board.
In India driving is on the left of the road. You can drive in India if you have a local license or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are used to driving on extremely chaotic streets, you probably will not want to. The average city or village road is narrow, often potholed and badly marked. National Highways are better, but they are still narrow, and Indian driving discipline is non-existent. In the past few years the Central government has embarked on an ambitious project to upgrade the highways. The Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four metros is 88% complete as of December 2005 and the roads there almost reach international standards. But it is still some time before the drivers adapt to the new roads, so if you are a foreigner, you'll be wise to put off your plans to drive on Indian roads by a few years.
Instead, if you desire a car, you rent both the car and a driver with it. Rates are quoted in rupees per kilometer and you will have to pay for both ways even if you are going only one way. The actual rate will vary by region. The driver's salary is so low (typically around Rs 100 to 150 per day) that it adds little to the cost of renting the car. The driver will find his own accommodation and food wherever you are traveling. A common rental vehicle is the old, but reliable, Ambassador. This is a large, boxy, official-looking car, with space for 4-5 passengers (including driver), and a decent-sized trunk. Now you may get better international models like Toyota, Suzuki, Honda, Ford, Hyundai,and other expensive options like Mercedes.
There are numerous advantages to having a car and driver.
It is rare to find a driver that speaks more than a few words of English. As a result, misunderstandings are common. Keep sentences short. Use the present tense. Use single words and hand gestures to convey meaning.
Make sure you can trust your driver before you leave your goods with him. If he shows any suspicious motives or behavior make sure you keep your bags with you. Conversely, if your driver is very friendly and helpful, it is a nice gesture to buy him a little something to eat or drink when stopping for food. They will really appreciate this.
Your driver may in some cases act as a tout, offering to take you to businesses from which he gets a baksheesh. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - he may help you find just what you're looking for, and add a little bit to his paltry income at the same time. On the other hand, you should always evaluate for yourself whether you are being sold on a higher-cost product than you want. The driver might ask for a tip at the end of the trip. Pay him some amount and don't let him guilt-trip you into paying too much.
Another choice, popular with people who like taking risks, is to buy a motorcycle. The Royal Enfield is a popular choice for its classic looks, despite its high petrol consumption, low reliability, and difficulty to handle.
Another choice for tourers is the new kid on the block, the Bajaj Pulsar twins. These bikes are available in a choice of 150/180 & soon to be 220 CC versions. All these bikes are tried and tested over a variety of terrain, and are very reliable, easy to maintain and also have excellent drinking habits...
The auto-rickshaw, sometimes abbreviated as "auto" and sometimes as "rickshaw", is the most common means of hired transportation in India. Most residents usually refer to them as a "three wheeler." But please note that it is not a good way to travel between cities, though you'd be surprised how far people travel in them. They vary in color. Most are green and yellow, due to the new CNG gas laws, and some may be yellow and black in color, with one wheel in the front and two in the back, with a leather or soft plastic top.
When getting an auto-rickshaw, you can either negotiate the fare or go by the meter. In almost all cases it is better to use the meter -- a negotiated fare means that you are being charged a higher than normal rate. A metered fare starts around Rs 10, and includes the first kilometer of travel. Never get in an auto-rickshaw without either the meter being turned on, or the fare negotiated in advance. In nearly all cases the driver will ask an exorbitant sum (for Indian standards) from you later. A normal fare for 10km of travel within the city would be about Rs 50, which is around a dollar and a few cents. In most of the cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a rate card that elaborately describes the fares on per kilo-meter basis. A careful tourist must verify the meter-reading against the rate-card before making a payment.
Ideally, you should talk with a local to find out what the fare for any estimated route will be. Higher rates may apply at night, and for special destinations such as airports. Finally, factor in that auto drivers may have to pay bribes to join the queue for customers at premium location such as expensive hotels. The bribe will be factored in the fare.
Make sure that the driver knows where he is going. Many autorickshaw drivers will claim to know the destination without really having any clue as to where it is. If you know something about the location, quiz them on it to screen out the liars. If you do not know much about the location, make them tell you in no uncertain terms that they know where it is. This is because after they get lost and drive all over the place, they will often demand extra payment for their own mistake. You can then tell them that they lied to you, and wasted your time, so they should be happy to get the agreed-upon fee.
Officially, India has 22 national languages, namely Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. There are also other less prominent languages like Tulu, Bhojpuri that are the main spoken language of some places.
Hindi, spoken by 30% of the population, is the primary tongue of the people in Northern India. Many more people speak it as a second language. If you can afford only one phrasebook, pick up the Hindi one, as it will enable you to get by in most of India.
The exceptions are the extreme south - Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the Northeast. In Tamil Nadu, it is inadvisable to speak in Hindi, as there is a residual hostility to the language dating back to the hamhanded policies of the 1960s.
In any case, you are better off picking up as many words of the local language of the place you are going to - people are proud of their culture and language and will appreciate it if an outsider makes an attempt to communicate in it.
English is widely spoken in major cities and around most tourist places, and acts as the lingua franca among all educated Indians. English has been spoken by Indians long enough that it has begun evolving its own rhythm, vocabulary, and inflection, much like French in Africa and Spanish in South America have taken on glittering cultural lives of their own. Indeed, much has recently been made of subcontinental writers such as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, and Salman Rushdie. The English you are likely to hear in India will be heavily influenced by British English, although spoken with the lilting stress and intonation of the speaker's other native language. Indians can usually tell regional English accents apart, similar to the South American ability to tell Argentinians from Colombians.
One of the most delightful quirks of Indian English is the language's adherence to Pre-1950s British English which to speakers in North America and Britain will sound oddly formal. Another source of fascination and intrigue for travelers is the ubiquitous use of English for cute quips in random places. One relatively common traffic sign reads, "Speed thrills, but kills". On the back of trucks everywhere you'll find "horn please ok" or "tata bye bye".
Indians are adopting more and more native words into their English. A lot of these are already well known to speakers elsewhere. Chai (tea), Guru (learned teacher/master), cummerbund (literally waist-tie), Nirvana (extinction of the separative ego) and avatar (God in human form) are words that have left their original subcontinental home. However, Indians are using English loan words in their native languages at an even more rapid pace. As India modernizes blazingly fast, it has taken from English words for modern objects that simply did not exist a few decades ago. However, more importantly, bilingual Indians in informal conversation will often switch unpredictably between English and their native language when speaking to similar polyglots, thus effectively communicating in a hybridized language that relies on the listener's ability to speak both languages. A bilingual speaker in Delhi, might for example, say "mera fever bahut bad hai" (my fever is very bad) which mixes English with Hindi 50-50 in spite of the fact that perfectly good words exist for both 'fever' and 'bad' in Hindi. Such mixed phrases are easily understood by most listeners --although not always encouraged-- and are becoming increasingly common. This hybrid is sometimes referred to as 'Hinglish' (much like Chinese/Malay-influenced English in Singapore is termed 'Singlish') It seems that English and Hindi are indeed converging among the bilingual sections of society. While English, as a distinct language, is here to stay for now, it appears that it will eventually over hundreds of years be absorbed into the vast cultural fabric of the subcontinent.
English speaking Indians may also seem commanding to a westerner. You may hear "come here," "sit here," "drink this," "bring me that" which may sound direct and demanding to the point of being rude to northern Europeans and Americans, but is in no way meant to be impolite.
Non-verbal communication is also important. Much has been made of the confusing Indian head nod for yes and no, but the only important thing to understand is that Indians have different nods for yes, ok and no.
The currency in India is the Indian rupee (रुपया rupaye in Hindi and similarly named in most Indian languages, but taka in Bengali and Assamese). It trades around 46 rupees to the US dollar and 58 rupees to the Euro. The Rupee is subdivided into 100 paise (singular: paisa). Take a look at the Exchange Rates Table for Indian Rupee for other currencies. 5 rupees 75 paise would normally be written as Rs.5.75 and one rupee as Re.1.
Common bills come in denominations of Rs. 5, Rs. 10, Rs. 20, Rs. 50, Rs. 100, Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000. It is always good to have a number of small bills on hand, as merchants and drivers sometimes don't have change. A useful technique is to keep small bills (Rs. 10 - 50) in your wallet or in a pocket, and to keep larger bills separate. In this way you won't be making obvious the amount of money you have available. In many cases merchants will claim that they don't have change for a Rs. 100 or Rs. 500 note. This is often a lie, as they simply don't want to be stuck with a large bill. Rather than giving up your last 6 ten-rupee notes, it is better to make them give you change.
The coins in circulation are 25 paise, 50 paise, Rs. 1, Rs. 2 and Rs. 5. Coins are useful for buying tea (Rs. 5), for bus fare (Rs. 2 to Rs. 10), and for giving exact change for an auto-rickshaw.
Indians commonly use lakh and crore for "hundred thousand" and "10 million" respectively. Though these terms come from Sanskrit, they have been adopted so deeply into Indian English that most people are not aware that it is not standard in other English dialects. You may also find non-standard placement of commas while writing numerals. Rupees One crore would be written as Rs. 1,00,00,000. This format may puzzle you till you start thinking in terms of lakhs and crores, after which it will seem natural.
The Indian rupee is not officially convertible, and a few government-run shops will still insist on seeing official exchange receipts if you're visibly a foreigner and attempt to pay in rupees instead of hard currency. Rates for exchanging rupees overseas are often poor, although places with significant Indian populations (eg. Singapore) can give decent rates.
Outside airports you can only change US dollars, Euros and sometimes UK sterling pounds. In big cities, there are now ATMs where you can get rupees against your international debit or credit card (maximum amount is 4,000-20,000 rupees depending on the ATM). State Bank of India (SBI) ATMs usually don't accept foreign cards. Therefore, you may have to search around to find an ATM that will work with your card. Citibank has a significant presence in India, as does HSBC. ICICI bank has the second largest network of ATMs, and accepts most of the international cards at a nominal charge. It is always worthwhile to have bank cards or credit cards from at least two different providers, to ensure that you have a backup available in case one card is suspended by your bank, or simply doesn't work at a particular ATM.
In the big cities, credit cards are accepted at retail chain stores and other westernized restaurants and stores. Small businesses and family-run stores almost never accept credit cards, so it is useful to keep a moderate amount of cash on hand.
In principle you can live in India for a couple of hundred rupees a day. At the other end of the spectrum you can sleep in fancy 5 star hotels and spend lots of money on food and shopping.
What to Look For/Buy
Indian food has well-deserved reputation for being hot, owing to the Indian penchant for potent green chilis that will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated. You can even find sweet cornflakes with a spicy edge and Indian candies with a piece of chili inside. But this is a largely incomplete description. Aromatic spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves are equally important as the astonishing variety of chilis and peppercorns. Like most Asian cuisines, the ingredients range from exotic (lotus roots, rose petals) to completely unfamiliar tropical offerings.
To enjoy the local food, start slowly. Don't try everything at once. After a few weeks, you can get accustomed to spicy food. If you would like to order your dish not spicy, simply say so. Most visitors are tempted to try at least some of the spicy concoctions, and most discover that the sting is worth the trouble.
Indian cuisine is superb and has recently taken its place among the great cuisines of the world. There is a good chance that you'd have tasted "Indian food" in your country, especially if you are a traveller from the West, but what India has exported abroad is just one part of its extraordinary range of culinary diversity.
In North India, you will find Mughlai, which has been popularized all over the world as Indian cuisine. It is said to have originated in the courts of the Mughal emperors, hence the name. In India, it is also called Punjabi as it was popularized by the Punjabis. Mughlai dishes make heavy use of spices and has been heavily influenced by Central Asian cooking, hence you will find Pulav, Kebab, Kofta etc. North India is wheat growing land, so you have "Indian breads" like rotis, naans, parathas and kulchas. Note, however, that an Indian would be puzzled if you called them "breads" and will refer to them as "rotis". The dishes and breads are often cooked in a clay oven called the tandoor over a charcoal fire, giving it the familiar name of tandoori. A typical meal consists of one or more gravy dishes along with rotis, to be eaten by breaking off a piece of roti, dipping it in the gravy and eating them together. "Tandoori chicken" and "Chicken tikka masala" are familiar all over the world, but for vegetarians, there is paneer - a sort of cottage cheese, which is extensively used. For an authentic Punjabi dining experience, try the sarson da saag, a yummy gravy dish made with mustard greens, with Makke di roti — a roti made from maize
The South, in contrast, uses fewer spices and the food is mostly rice-based. They also make greater use of pulses. The typical meal is the sambhar (lentil and various vegetables mixed to form a gravy dish) with rice, or the avial (mixed vegetables) with rice. There are regional variations too — the coastal regions make greater use of coconut and fish. In the coast, it is common to use grated coconut in everything and use coconut oil for cooking, while someone from the interior could be surprised to learn that coconut oil, can in fact, be used for cooking. The South also has some great breakfast dishes like the Upma , Idli (a patty made of lentils and rice) and Dosa, a sort of pancake. All of these can be eaten with chutney (a condiment that can be made from many things.) South Indian cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, though Chettinad cuisine and Kerala cuisine use meat heavily and are a lot more spicier too.
To the West, you will find some great cuisine groups. Gujarati cuisine is mostly vegetarian, sweet, and makes heavy use of milk products. Gujaratis make some of the best snack items such as the Dhokla and the Muthia. Rajasthani cuisine is similar to Gujarati, but somewhat spicier. Maharashtra and Goa are famous for their seafood.
Too the East, Bengali food, like South Indian, makes heavy use of rice and fish, though Bengalis prefer freshwater fish. The iconic Bengali dish is the Maccher Jhol, a spicy fish curry. Bengal is also famous for its sweets, and the Sondesh is yummy.
It is, of course, impossible to do full justice to the range and diversity of Indian food in this brief section. Not only does every region of India have a distinctive cuisine, but you will also find that even within a region, different communities have different styles of cooking and often have their signature recipes which you will probably not find in restaurants. The adventurous traveller is advised to wangle invitations to homes, try various bylanes of the city and look for food in unlikely places like temples in search of culinary nirvana.
While there are a wide variety of fruits native to India, such as the chikoo and the jackfruit, the true Indian loves his mango. India produces hundreds of varieties across most of its regions. The season typically is the hottest part of the year, ranging between May and July. Mangos range from small (as big as a fist) to some as big as a small cantelope. It can be consumed in its ripe, unripe as well a baby form (the last 2 predominently in pickles).
Visiting vegetarians will discover a culinary treasure that is found nowhere else in the world. Owing to a large number of vegetarian Hindus, Indian cuisine has evolved an astonishingly rich menu that uses no meat or eggs. At least half the menus of most restaurants are devoted to vegetarian dishes, and by law all packaged food products in India are tagged with a green dot (vegetarian) or red dot (non-veg).
Vegans, however, will face a tougher time: milk products like cheese (paneer), yogurt (dahi) and cream are used extensively, and honey is also commonly used as a sweetener.
In India eating with your hand (instead of utensils like forks and spoons) is very common. There's one basic rule of etiquette to observe: Use only your right hand. Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils and then dig in. Needless to say, it's wise to wash your hands well before and after eating.
For breads for all types, the basic technique is to hold down the item with your forefinger and use your middle-finger and thumb to tear off pieces. The pieces can then be dipped in sauce or used to pick up bits before you stuff them in your mouth. Rice is more challenging, but the basic idea is to use four fingers to pack a little ball, which can then be dipped into curry before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb.
Most of the restaurants do provide cutlery and its pretty safe to use them instead of your hand.
Eating by hand is frowned on in some "classier" places. If you are provided with cutlery and nobody else around you seems to be doing it, then take the hint.
Indian restaurants run the whole gamut from roadside shacks to classy five-star places where the experience is comparable to classy five-star places anywhere in the world. But away from the big cities and tourist haunts, mid-level restaurants are scarce. That is probably because over much of the country, the culinary adventures of the middle-class have only begun, and eating out is just catching on. Outside the major metros, there isn't much variety in what the restaurants serve — in addition to the local cuisine, you get Punjabi/Mughlai, "Chinese" and occasionally South Indian.
The credit for popularizing Punjabi cuisine all over the country goes to the Dhabas that line India's highways. Their patrons are usually the truckers, who happen to be overwhelmingly Punjabi. The authentic dhaba is rather plain, but it serves up a tasty dish of roti and dhal with onions, and diners sit on cots instead of chairs. However, the dhaba's excellence in taste is not matched by its standards of hygiene. The popularity of the dhabas has meant that many restaurants serving Punjabi cuisine have a "Dhaba" as part of their name and some even try to capture the ambience.
If you are uncomfortable about the hygiene of a particular place, it is best to avoid it. Check if there's another one on the opposite side of the street. Fruits that can be peeled such as apples and bananas, as well as packaged snacks are always a safe option. Do not eat grapes.
In Southern India, "Hotel" means a local restaurant serving south Indian food, mostly Thali -- a full plate of food that usually includes a kind of bread and an assortment of meat or vegetarian dishes -- and prepared meals.
Like everything in India, the English names of dishes are spelled differently in different places (sometimes in two neighboring restaurants) owing to the various ways in which Indian names can be transliterated into English. Not so different from the multiple spellings of Chinese dishes in restaurants all over the Western hemisphere.
Although you might get a big menu, most dishes are served only in specific hours.
A 10 percent tip after the meal is acceptable, but often a service charge is added to the bill.
One of the sweetest and safest beverages you can get is tender coconut water. You can almost always find it in any beach or other tourist destinations in the south. In summer (March to July), you can get fresh sugarcane juice in many places and even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties. Be careful as fresh juice may contain many germs besides unhygienic ice! The juice waalas do not always clean their equipment properly and do not wash the fruits either.
Make sure to try the Indian soft drinks: Thums Up, which is a cola that has a unique taste with different spices and sweeteners, and Limca, a lemon lime soda. They are both bottled by Coca-Cola alongside Coke and Sprite.
Everywhere you can get tea (chai) of one variety or another. Most common is the "railway tea" type: cheap (2-5 Rs.), sweet and uniquely refreshing once you get the taste for it. It's made by brewing up tea leaves, milk, sugar and spices altogether in a pot and keeping it hot until it's all sold.
You can also get "masala tea": black tea with a blend of spices. That takes some getting used to.
Drinking alcohol can either be frowned upon or openly accepted, depending on the region and religion of the area within which you are drinking. For example, Goa tends to be more free-wheeling (and has low taxes on alcohol), while southern areas like Chennai are less kind to alcohol, and may even charge excessive taxes on it. Some states such as Gujarat are legally "dry" and alcohol cannot be bought openly there. Alcohol is officially banned, but there is a substantial bootlegging industry, and all types of liquor can be obtained in Gujarat. If you have a non-Indian passport, you can obtain a 'liquor permit'. This allows you to buy alcohol at state-licensed shops, of which there are fourteen or so in all of Gujarat.
Favorite Indian tipples include beer, notably the ubiquitous Kingfisher (a decent lager), and rum, particularly Old Monk. Prices vary state by state, especially for hard liquor, but you can expect to pay Rs.50-100 for a large bottle or beer and anywhere between Rs.200-500 for a 750mL bottle of Old Monk.
Indian wines, long a bit of a joke, have improved remarkably in recent years and there's a booming wine industry in the hills of Maharashtra. The good stuff is not particularly cheap, and selections are mostly limited to white wines, but look out for labels by Chateau Indage.
Illegal moonshine, called tharra when made from sugar cane and toddy when made from coconuts, is widely available in some states. It's cheap and strong, but very dangerous as quality control is nonexistent, and best avoided entirely.
Choices vary wildly depending on your budget and location. Cheap travellers' hotels are numerous in big cities where you can get a room for less than Rs. 100. Decent mid-range hotels in India were until recently hard to find, but the Ginger and Country Inn chains are expanding furiously to fill the gap. Rooms at both can start below Rs. 1000 (US$20).
If your wallet allows it, you can try staying in former maharaja's residence in Udaipur or modern five-star hotels in New Delhi and Mumbai. The top-end of Indian luxury rests with the Oberoi, Taj, and Welcomgroup hotel chains, who operate hotels in all the major cities and throughout Rajasthan. A number of international chains including Marriott and Hyatt also run major 5-star hotels in most Indian metropolises, but due to India's economic boom availability is tight and prices can be crazy: it's not uncommon to be quoted over US$300/night for what would elsewhere be a distinctly ordinary business hotel going for a third of the price. Also beware that some jurisdictions including Delhi and Bangalore charge stiff luxury taxes on the rack rate of the room, which can lead to nasty surprises at check-out time.
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, etc. — 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.
There are many things to learn that interest foreigners all over India, but there are a few destinations that become known for certain things: Yoga is popular in Haridwar and Rishikesh, Ayurveda is popular (and originated) in Kerala, and Varanasi is popular with those studying Hindi or classical musical instruments.
Cooking classes are also popular. The most well-known exported type of Indian food is Punjabi, as the Sikhs have been the most successful in spreading Indian restaurants throughout the western world. However, styles vary a lot throughout the country, so if you have the time and appetite it's worth checking out courses in a variety of areas such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal.
Foreigners need a work permit to be employed in India. A work permit is granted if an application is made to the local Indian embassy along with proof of potential employment and supporting documents. There are many expatriates working in India, mostly for multinational Fortune 1000 firms. India has always had an expatriate community of reasonable size, and there are many avenues for finding employment, including popular job hunting websites like monster.com!
There are many volunteer opportunities around the country including teaching. India has a reasonable presence of foreign Christian missionaries, who for the most part form the non-local religious workers, since the other major religions of the world either grew out of India or have had a long term presence.
A living can be made in the traveler scenes by providing some kind of service such as baking Western cakes, tattooing or massage.
As a rule India is quite safe for foreigners. However, check with your embassy and ask for local advice before heading to Kashmir or northeast India (Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya and Manipur), as both areas have long-running insurgencies. Also take extra caution when travelling at night in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal and certain areas of the large metros.
Unfortunately thefts are quite common in places visited by tourists, but violent thefts hardly ever occur. More likely a thief will pick your pocket (see pickpockets) or break into your room. There is little culture of muggings in India.
When travelling by autorickshaw, never ever get into the vehicle if there is another person accompanying the driver. This always spells trouble for unwary travellers.
Westerners, particularly women, attract the attention of beggars, frauds and touts. Beggars will often go as far as touching you, and following you tugging on your sleeve. It does little good to get angry or to say "No" loudly. The best response is to look unconcerned and ignore the behavior. The more attention you pay to a beggar or a tout -- positive or negative -- the longer they will follow you hoping for a payback. As always in India, patience is required.
Westerners should not trust strangers offering assistance or services. Be particularly wary of frauds at tourist attractions such as the temples of Kanchipuram, where they prey on those unfamiliar with local and religious customs. See Common scams.
Westerners should be cautious when visiting villages and rural areas in the night. Bandits often abduct and rob Westerners visiting India, as it is assumed they possess large amounts of wealth. Also, think twice about taking night buses or driving at night in these areas. Bandits are said to stop night buses with fake checkpoints and rob everyone inside. The frequency of this occurring is extremely low and the state governments are working hard to arrest these bandit groups, but take extra care nontheless.
Female travellers in India
India is a conservative country and some western habits are perceived as dishonorable for a woman in this culture.
No vaccinations are required for entry to India, except for yellow fever if you are coming from an infected area such as Africa. However, Hepatitis (both A and B, depending on your individual circumstances), meningitis and typhoid shots are recommended, as is a booster shot for tetanus.
Tap water is generally not safe for drinking. However, some establishments have water filters/purifiers installed, in which case the water is safe to drink. Packed drinking water (normally called mineral water) is a better choice. But if the seal has been tampered, it could be purified tap water. So always make sure that seal is intact before buying. At some places, you will have to pay extra to get "chilled" bottle of water.
Diarrhea is common, and can have many different causes. Bring a standard first-aid kit, plus extra over-the-counter medicine for diarrhea and stomach upset. A rehydration kit can also be helpful. At the least, remember the salt/sugar/water ratio for oral rehydration: 1 tsp salt, 8 tsp sugar, for 1 litre of water. Most Indians will happily share their own advice for treatment of illnesses and other problems. A commonly recommended cure-all is to eat boiled rice and curd (yoghurt) together for 3 meals a day until you're better. Keep in mind that this is usually not sound medical advice. Indians have resistance to native bacteria and parasites that visitors do not have. If you have serious diarrhea for more than a day or two, it is best to visit a private hospital. Parasites are a common cause of diarrhea, and may not get better without treatment.
Malaria is endemic throughout India. CDC states that risk exists in all areas, including the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, and at altitudes of less than 2000 metres in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Kashmir, and Sikkim; however, the risk of infection is considered low in Delhi and northern India. Get expert advice on malaria preventatives, and take adequate precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
Getting vaccinations and blood transfusions in India increases your risk of contacting HIV/AIDS-even in many private hospitals.
If you need to visit a hospital in India, avoid government hospitals. The quality of treatment is poor. Private hospitals provide better service.
The country code for India is 91. India is then divided into city codes. See individual city guides for the city codes.
Local phone numbers could be anywhere from 5 to 8 digits long. But when the area code is included, all phone numbers in India are 10 digits long. Most cellphone numbers start with "9" are 10 digits in length. You do not have to dial an area code to call a 10 digit cell number. But if you are making a call to a landline from a cellphone, you have to use the area code, even if you are in the same city.
When calling long distance within India, prefix a '0' to the city code. While calling from outside India, omit the leading zero. For example, Mumbai has the city code of 22. So to call within India , you dial 022 number and to call from outside India, you dial + 91 22 number. To dial outside the country, prefix the country code with 00. E.g a US number would be dialed as 00 1 555 555 5555
As a traveller, you will find many long distance public phones, called STD/ISD Booths (Subscriber Trunk Dialing/International Subscriber Dialing), an Indian jargon for national and international long distance respectively. These are booths with an attendant. You dial yourself but pay to the attendant after the call is over. Metering is done as per pulse and a service charge of Rs 2 is added to the bill.
Calling the USA/Canada/UK over the normal telephone line (referred to as ISD) will cost you about Rs. 7.20 per minute. Other countries are more expensive.
India uses GSM and mobile phones are widely available. Major operators include Bharti Airtel  and Idea Cellular . As roaming charges can be very steep, it makes sense to get a local SIM card: prepaid starter kits are available for around Rs. 500, including several hundred rupees of call time, and local calls cost as little as Rs. 1 per minute. Bring along your passport when applying and get ready to pose for a photo (or bring your own).
Internet kiosks are everywhere nowadays. Calling overseas is also very cheap if you use the many booths that advertise 'Net2Phone' service. Basically it is calling over the Internet. The quality ranges from tolerable to excellent, and the price is very good, with calls to the USA ranging from Rs. 2 to Rs. 5 per minute.
Skype or GoogleTalk is also widely available in the many Internet Cafes.
Wi-fi hotspots are a rarity in India except in some coffee shops in the metros.