India  is the largest country in the 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, the Maldives and Indonesia lie to the south-east in the Indian Ocean. It is the seventh largest country in the world by area and, with over a billion people, comes a close second to China in population. It's 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.
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 outstanding landmarks and areas of outstanding beauty. Below is a list of nine of the most notable:
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 (called the Golden Age). 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 the Muslim rulers were the Mughals, who established an empire that at its peak covered almost the entire subcontinent except the southern and eastern extremities. The major Hindu force that survived in the North were the Rajputs. Eventually the Mughal empire declined, partly under attack from the Marathas who established a short-lived confederacy that was almost as big as the Mughal Empire. The Rajput and Mughal period of North India was the golden age for Indian art, architecture, and literature. It produced the monumental gems of Rajasthan, and the most famous monument of all, Taj Mahal. Two languages, Hindi and Urdu, took root in medieval North India. During the Islamic period, some Hindus also converted to Islam, either by force, or to escape the low social status that the caste system imposed on them, or to gain the benefits of being aligned with the then rulers. Today, some 13% of the Indian population and an overwhelming majority of Pakistan is Muslim.
South India followed a 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, Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas who ruled from present day Tamil Nadu & Kerala. 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. However, independence was simultaneously granted to the secular state of India and the smaller Islamic state of Pakistan, and the orgy of Hindu-Muslim bloodletting that followed Partition led to the deaths of at least half a million and the migration of 12-14 million people.
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 are 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 meandering 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 twice (including the 1974 tests described as "peaceful explosions"). India wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear power and is campaigning for a permanent Security Council seat.
India is proud of its democratic record. Constitutional government and democratic freedoms have been safeguarded throughout its 60 years as an independent country, except for an 18 month interlude in 1975-1977, 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 tallest 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, three 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 (Western Ghats) 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 (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.
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.
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 last minute to dip into one of the neighboring countries.
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.
Customs and immigration
Clearing customs can be a bit of a hassle, though it has improved vastly over the the last decade. In general, avoid the touts who will offer to ease your baggage through customs. There are various rules regarding duty-free allowances — there are differing rules for Indian citizens, foreign "tourists", citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, non-citizens of Indian origin and people moving to India. Cast a quick glance at the website of the Central Board of Excise and Customs  for information about what you can bring in. If you are a foreign tourist and you aren't Nepali, Bhutanese or Pakistani and you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan, you are entitled to bring in your "used personal effects and travel souvenirs" and Rs. 4,000 worth of articles for "gifts". If you are an Indian citizen or are of Indian origin, you are entitled to Rs. 25,000 worth of articles, (provided of course you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan.) The other rules are on the web site. If you are bringing any new packaged items along, it is a good idea to carry along the invoices for them to show their value. You are also allowed to bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco and 1 liter (2 liters for Indians) of alcohol duty-free.
If you do not have anything to declare, you can go through the green channel clearly marked at various airports and generally you will not be harassed.
The major points of entry are Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. 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.
Air India often offers the lowest rates for long haul flights to India, but you will receive what you paid for. The carrier routinely cancels or reschedules flights without notice to ticketholders, and its customer service is perhaps the least helpful in the industry. Air India flights are always many hours late, so don't schedule anything in the day or so after your scheduled arrival in the country. You may be well advised to buy tickets through a travel agent in order to have a skilled advocate in case of trouble with the airline.
Entries from Europe and Northern America are best done with German carrier Lufthansa  and its Star Alliance partners, as Lufthansa is the airline with the most flights between Europe and India. However, if you paid a Lufthansa fare, insist on Lufthansa service; they have been known to reschedule passengers onto sad-sack Air India.
There are two links from Pakistan. The Samjhauta Express runs from Lahore to Attari near Amritsar in Punjab — its future is now uncertain after the bomb blasts that occurred on 19 February 2007. 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 travelers 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.
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 Rs. 400-450 or BDT600-800, roughly $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 1600, roughly $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 the Indian state 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 USD 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.
See Kolkata for where to book tickets for journeys originating there
India is big and there are lots of interesting ways to travel around it, but few of them could be described as "efficient" or "punctual". Delays for long-distance trains can be measured in days, not hours, and even flights can get cancelled at short notice. Allow plenty of buffer time for any journey, and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.
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.
Internal flights in India are invariably hours late. Seasoned local travelers arrive only about 20 minutes before scheduled flight time.
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 along with a credible identity proof like a passport or a driving license. In some airports, they do not ask for any form of identification. Do not let this make you complacent and end up without an ID when they do ask you for one.
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. Different airlines have different standards for what they allow as cabin baggage, so err on the side of caution, especially if you are travelling by a low-cost airline.
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 luxurious to normal 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 Tatkal 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. (You can tell which trains have a pantry car because there is a "P" listed with the classes available in "Trains at a Glance" -- the publication with all of the rail schedules). In First 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). Pantry car service always includes the sale of chai, coffee, cold drinks (soft drinks/pop and bottled water) and "namkeen" (chips and other salty snacks). Meals available are generally vegetable cutlet (a veggie patty) and bread or omelet and bread for breakfast and biryani and thalis (rice, dal, a vegetable, yogurt (often sour) and parathas (fried bread), and occasionally non-veg thalis (with chicken or fish)) for other meals. Chili chicken (sweet and sour chicken wings with chilis) is often available. Orders for your meal will be taken at the previous meal (i.e. just after breakfast you will be asked about your order for lunch). On non-pantry car services, there is often a similar service -- in this case, the order is called to the next "loading" station and you will receive your meal then. Note that this is not available on many of the lesser-travelled (i.e. non-tourist) trains.
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 -- though technically they are not permitted in AC class, 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.
Most larger Indian train stations offer a standard set of facilities including left luggage (slow and bureaucratic but cheap and reasonably safe; you must lock your own bag and show a ticket), 1st/AC class waiting rooms (no touts or beggars), a reservation office for advance bookings and a booking office for unreserved/same-day tickets. Restaurant facilities vary widely, but the Comesum  outlets found many tourist hotspots are reasonably priced and hygienic.
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. It's 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 and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network (eg. Dharamsala, Khajuraho). Every state has its own public bus service, usually named "X Road Transport Company" (or XRTC), 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 (unless you're among the first on board) as reservations are not possible and they tend to stop at too many places. On the upside, they're very cheap, with even a 5-6 hour journey rarely costing over Rs.100.
In addition to ordinary public buses, there might be also luxury or express buses available, and sometimes they even have air-conditioning. They are more comfortable, have assured seating (book in advance), and have limited stops, making them well worth the slight extra expense.
Private buses may or may not be available in the area you are travelling to, and even if they are, the quality could vary a lot. 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. Unfortunately, the bus industry is extremely fragmented and there are few operators who offer services in more than 2 or 3 neighbouring states. Travel agents usually only offer seats on private buses.
However, long distance bus operators such as Raj National Express are currently beginning to roll out their operations across the country modelled on the lines of the Greyhound service in the Unites States. There services are excellent and they provide entertainment on board.
Regardless of class of travel, all buses have to contend with the poor state of Indian highways and the havoc of Indian traffic which usually makes them slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. Night buses are particularly hazardous, and for long-distance travel it's wise to opt for sleeper train services instead.
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 going by a car, opt for driver while renting the car. 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 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 fashioned reliable, Ambassador. This is a large, boxy, elegant car, with space for 5 passengers (including driver), and a decent-sized trunk. Tata Indica is replacing Ambassador now, you may get other international models like Toyota, Honda, Ford, Hyundai
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.
If you rent a car for a trip to a remote destination, make sure before getting our that you will recognize the driver, and write down the license plate number. Touts at tourist areas will try to mislead you into getting into the wrong car when you leave; if you fall for this you will certainly be ripped off, and possibly much worse. Find your car and driver and ignore "helpful" advice from anyone else hanging around.
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 fuel efficiency (roughly 48 kilometers per liter/30 miles per quarter gallon).
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.
If you need to get anywhere, call in advance and ask for detailed directions. Postal addresses are often stated in terms of other landmarks, as in "Opp. Prithvi theatre" or "Behind Maruti Showroom", etc. Unlike western system of address Indian system uses municipal ward number, plot number, house number , land mark and the location instead of street name and block number. Finding a place will usually involve some searching, but you will always find someone out on the streets to guide you.
India have 22 official 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 rupaya 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($4-$5). 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 cuisine is superb and takes 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.
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. 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.
Cuisine in India varies greatly from region to region. The "Indian food" served by restaurants around the world is North Indian, also known as Mughlai (the courts of the Mughal emperors) or Punjabi (the people who popularized it). Mughlai dishes make heavy use of spices and has been heavily influenced by Central Asian cooking, hence you will find pulao (rice cooked in broth), kebab (grilled meat), kofta (balls of mince) etc. Tandoori chicken, prepared in a clay oven called a tandoor, is probably the best-known North Indian dish, but for an authentic Punjabi dining experience, try sarson da saag, a yummy gravy dish made with mustard greens, with makke di roti, a roti made from maize.
North India is wheat growing land, so you have Indian breads (known as roti), including chapatti (unleavened bread), paratha (stuffed chapatti), naan (cooked in a clay tandoori oven), puri (deep-fried and puffed up), and many more. 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. Most of the Hindi heartland of India survives on roti, rice, and lentils (dal), which are prepared in several different ways and made spicy to taste. Served on the side, you will usually find spiced yogurt (raita) and a tiny piece of exceedingly pungent pickle (achar), a very acquired taste for most visitors — try mixing it with curry, not eating it plain.
A variety of cuisines can be found throughout north India, like the savory Rajasthani dishes, more akin to the Gujarati cuisine, or the mild yet gratiating Himalayan (pahari) cuisine found in the higher reaches. North India also boasts of a variety of snacks like samosa (triangular stuffed pastry) and kachori (stuffed ball of dough). There is also a vast constellation of sweet desserts like jalebi (deep-fried pretzel with honey), rasmalai (a ball of curds soaked in honey), halwa, etc. Dry fruits like almonds, cashews and pistachio are used a lot, often in the desserts, but sometimes also in the main meal.
South India, in contrast, uses fewer spices and the food is mostly rice-based. They also make greater use of pulses. The typical meal is sambhar (a watery curry) with rice, or 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 idli (a steamed cake of lentils and rice), dosa, a thin, crispy pancake often stuffed with spiced potatoes to make masala dosa, vada, a savoury Indian donut, and uttapam, fried idli with onions and other vegetables mixed in. All of these can be eaten with dahi, plain yogurt, and chutney, a condiment that can be made from practically anything. South Indian cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, though Chettinad and Keralan 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.
To the East, Bengali food, like South Indian, makes heavy use of rice and fish, though Bengalis prefer freshwater fish. The iconic Bengali dish is Maccher jhol, a spicy fish curry. Bengal is also famous for its sweets, and sondesh is yummy.
A lot of food has also filtered in from other countries. The British left fish and chips and some fusion dishes like mulligatawny soup, while Tibetan food, especially momo dumplings, are not uncommon in north India. Pizza has entered India in a big way, but chains like Pizza hut and Domino's have been forced to Indianize the pizza and introduce adaptations like paneer-tikka pizza. Remarkably, there is an Indian chain called Smokin Joe's , based out of Mumbai, which has gone and mixed Thai curry with Pizzas. Indian Chinese' is far and away the most common adaptation: most Chinese would barely recognize the stuff, but dishes like veg manchurian (vegetable balls in a chilli-soy-ginger sauce) and chilli chicken are very much a part of the Indian cultural landscape and worth a try.
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). Other fruits widely available to travellers are bananas, oranges, guavas, lychees, apples, pineapple, pomegranate, apricot, melons, coconut, grapes, plums, peaches and berries. Some of them are, however, available only in certain times of the year.
Even non-vegetarians will soon note that due to the Hindu taboo, beef is basically not served, and pork is also uncommon due to the Muslim population. Chicken and mutton are thus by far the most common meats used, although beeflike "buff" (waterbuffalo) is occasionally served in backpacker establishments.
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.
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 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 170-250 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. 'Sula is also a good brand, and a bottle costs around Rs 500.
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.
Cannabis in its many forms — especially ganja (weed) and charas (hash) — is widely available throughout India, but they are all illegal in the vast majority of the country. Attitudes to enforcement vary greatly from state to state, but the letter of the law is harsh indeed and simple possession may mean years in jail.
However, in some states (notably Rajasthan and Uttaranchal) the one legal and socially accepted way to consume cannabis is as bhang, a low-grade preparation sold at government-licensed shops that is not only smoked, but also made into cookies, chocolate and the infamous bhang lassi, a herb-laced version of the normally innocuous yogurt drink. Bhang lassi is usually available at varying strengths, so use caution if opting for the stronger versions. It's also occasionally sold as "special lassi", but is usually easily spotted by the Rs.30-50 price tag.
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 450 ($ 10). Rooms at guest-houses with a double bed (and often a bathroom) can be found in many touristic venues for Rs 150-200. Good budget hotels in India are hard to find, but Ginger Hotels  runs a nationwide chain of 7 hotels in different cities. A cross between a mid-range business hotel and a US motel, all the hotels offer unique facilities such as Self Check-In, Safe Zone, Dial-A-Meal, Smart Space, The Sq Meal Restaurant and Smart Space. At a mere 25 dollars per night, it's some of the best value-for-money accomodation you'll get in the country.
Midrange options are plentiful in the larger cities. The prices vary from $ 50 to $ 100 per night. Breakfast if often included. The international Country Inn chain is expanding its network at a rapid pace. As of December 2006, they have Country Inns and Suites at Bhimtal, Haridwar, Ludhiana and Jammu. Delhi-based Leisure Hotels offers a wide range of accomodation in Uttaranchal at around $ 100 per night. Alternatively, Neemrana offers resorts at Off-the-Beaten-Track locations. If your wallet allows it, you can try staying in former maharaja's residence in Udaipur or modern five-star hotels which are now found pretty much all over the country. The top-end of Indian luxury rests with the Oberoi, Taj, and Sheraton India 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. Five-star hotels in India tend to be pricey, and $ 200 is considered cheap in a Taj or Sheraton. Suites are priced at multiples of 1000!!! dollars per night.
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 in Kerala, and Varanasi is popular with those studying Hindi or classical musical instruments. For those who are interested in learning Sanskrit at any level, Samskrita Bharati in Bangalore and Delhi provides classes.
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 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 downmarket districts of large cities.
Unfortunately theft is 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.
Some people handling your cash will try to shortchange you or rip you off. This does not exclude official ticket sellers at tourist sites, police employees at prepaid taxi stands, or merchants in all but the most upscale businesses. Count your cash before handing it over, and be insistent on receiving the correct change.
Agree on all fares and payments for services clearly in advance; some people go as far as to write them on paper! Being told that you can pay "as you like" is a sure warning sign. Don't give more than agreed, no matter what explanation is offered at the time of payment. 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. Wearing local clothes will decrease the amount of attention you receive.
Westerners should not trust strangers offering assistance or services; see Common scams. 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. But don't get too paranoid: fellow travelers on the train, or Indian families who want to take your picture on their own camera, for example, are often just genuinely curious.
Westerners should be cautious when visiting villages and rural areas in the night. Bandits occasionally abduct and rob Westerners visiting India, as it is assumed they possess large amounts of wealth. But this is rare and happens most often in remote areas. Ask at your hotel to see if this is an issue in your area. 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 nonetheless.
Although snake bites are extremely rare among tourists (comparable to being struck by lightning), anyone bitten should seek prompt medical care. This is true even if the bite doesn't result in any pain and swelling.
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. Use a mosquito repellent when going outside (particularly during the evenings) and also when sleeping in trains and hotels without airconditioning. A local mosquito repellent used by Indians is Odomos and is available at most stores.
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 area codes, known locally as STD codes. See individual city guides for the area codes.
In acronym-happy India, a phone booth is known as a PCO (Public Call Office) and they usually offer STD/ISD (Subscriber Trunk Dialing/International Subscriber Dialing), or national and international long distance respectively. These are usually staffed, and you dial yourself but pay to the attendant after the call is over. Metering is done per pulse and a service charge of Rs 2 is added to the bill. Larger cities also have Western-style unmanned public phones, which are usually red in colour and accept one rupee coins.
Local phone numbers can be anywhere from 5 to 8 digits long. But when the area code is included, all phone numbers in India are 10 digits long, including cellphones (which usually start with '9'). When calling from a landline phone, the syntax varies based on where you are calling to, as India is divided into circles that are almost, but not quite, the same as states. For example, for phone number 1234567 in area code 22 (Mumbai):
Toll-free numbers start with 1-800 or 1-600, but they are operator-dependent: you can't call a BSNL/MTNL number from an Airtel landline, and vice versa.
To dial outside the country from India, prefix the country code with 00. E.g a US number would be dialed as 00-1-555-555-5555. Calling the USA/Canada/UK over the normal telephone line will cost you about Rs. 7.20 per minute. Calls to other countries, particularly to the Middle East, can be more expensive.
India uses GSM and mobile phones are widely available. Major operators include Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Bharti Airtel , Idea Cellular and Hutch . 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).
When calling from a mobile phone, you need to prefix the STD code even for a local call.
Internet kiosks are everywhere nowadays.Beware of using your credit cards online as many cases have come forward regarding credit cards thefts using keyloggers. 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.