Difference between revisions of "India"
Revision as of 18:11, 20 February 2004
There are thousands of cities in India; these are some of the more popular among travelers.
India is the second most populous country in the world, with more than 1 billion people in the country as of 2002. Yet it has a surface area only about one-third the size of the United States or Australia. India is one of the most densely populated countries on earth.
India has two broad coasts, on the Arabian Sea to the west, and the Bay of Bengal to the east. Both have tropical or temperate beaches with various levels of development. To the north, India is separated from China by the forbidding Himalaya mountains and the kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. To the northwest is a long and tumultuous border with Pakistan; the northeast of the country wraps around Bangladesh and borders on Burma.
Although India is often associated with jungles -- and there are jungles here, of course -- the tropics share the sub-continent with a temperate zone in the north, deserts in the northwest, and the alpine regions of the Himalayas.
India has a rich diversity of culture and tradition. Its probably the only country where people of so many different origins, religious beliefs, languages and ethnic background coexist. Due to this rich diversity the number of festivals that are celebrated in different parts of the country vary. There are holidays that coincide with these festivals. In addition to these there are national holidays which are applicable across the country. Here is a list of Indian National Holidays. For regional Holidays look under the particular state.
The Indus Valley civilization, one of the oldest in the world, goes back at least 5,000 years. Aryan tribes from the northwest invaded about 1500 B.C.; their merger with the earlier inhabitants created the classical Indian culture. Arab incursions starting in the 8th century and Turkish in 12th were followed by European traders beginning in the late 16th century. By the 19th century, Britain had assumed political control of virtually all Indian lands. Nonviolent resistance to British colonialism under Mohandas GANDHI and Jawaharlal NEHRU led to independence in 1947.
The subcontinent was divided into the secular state of India and the smaller Muslim state of Pakistan. A third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. Fundamental concerns in India include the ongoing dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, massive overpopulation, corrupt bureaucracy, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and ethnic and religious strife, all this despite impressive gains in economic investment and output.
Reaching India is possible via all modes of transportation.
Almost every big city in this country has an airport. Some major points-of-entry are:
India has homegrown international airlines (Air India, Indian Airways), but perhaps a safer and more convenient method of reaching India is via a non-Indian carrier like Signapore Airlines, Thai or British Airways, all of whom fly into Delhi, Bombay and other locations.
Within India, the state run airline, Air India, is widely considered substandard to the privately run Jet Airways, which operates modern aircraft across much of the country. There are other private airlines as well. Tickets are generally reasonable, although far more expensive then rail travel.
India has several international ports on its peninsula.
India boasts the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and for a country often consumed by chaos, the rail system is surprisingly efficient. Luxurious it is not, but India's railways are perhaps the best way to get to know the country and it's people. A few important tips regarding rail travel:
1) Always watch your bags, especially in and around train stations. 2) While you may be tempted to travel 3rd class to save money, those cars are often overcrowded and you may not even be able to sit for more than a day at a time. 2nd Class A/C is nice, and 1st Class A/C is even better, if you can afford it. 3) Indian trains take a LONG time to go anywhere. Don't just look at a map and assume a short trip - these trains don't move fast. 4) Bathrooms on Indian trains leave alot to be desired. Shower and use the toilet elsewhere if at all possible. 5) Enjoy the train! You'll meet fascinating, wonderful people.
The road network is also very well connected. There is only one pass over land from Pakistan. See Overland Europe to South-Asia. Buses cross the border from Nepal daily, usually with connections to New Delhi, Lucknow, and Varanasi.
Hindi is the national language and primary tongue of 30% of the people of India. It is very similar to Urdu, Pakistan's national language, which uses a different script.
There are 14 other official languages: Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit; Hindustani is a popular variant of Hindi/Urdu spoken widely throughout northern India but is not an official language.
English is widely spoken in big cities and famous touristic places, but often only as an oral language as people can't read and write in latin script. Also keep in mind that about 40% of the population is illiterate.
The currency in India is the Indian rupee. It trades around 45 rupees to the US dollar and 57 rupees to the Euro. Take a look at the Exchange Rates Table for Indian Rupee for other currencies.
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.
In India you are expected to negotiate the price. If not, you risk overpaying many times - which can be okay if you think "well, it's cheaper than home".
Also, very often you will meet a "friend" in the street offering you to visit his or his family's shop. In about 9 of 10 cases this will simply mean that you pay twice as much as when you had been in the shop without your newly found friend.
Baksheesh -- the giving of small bribes -- is a very common phenomenon. While it is a big problem in India, indulging in it can ease certain problems and clear some hurdles. Baksheesh is also the term used by beggars, who can be found throughout India, if they want money from you.
Outside airports you can only change US dollars, and sometimes UK sterling pounds. In big cities, there are now ATMs where you can get rupees against your international Visa card.
The food can be very spicy. If you want to enjoy the local food, start slowly. Don't try everything at once. After a few weeks, you can get accustomed to spicy food.
India is a great place to be for vegetarians. On menus of almost every restaurant half of the dishes are vegetarian.
Some restaurants - especially those where buses stop after hours and hours of driving - can be very dirty. In this case it might be good to 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.
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. Bottled drinking (mineral) water is easily available at most stores. Always check bottled water to make sure the seal hasn't been tampered with.
One of the favorite and safest beverages you can get is coconut water. You can almost always find it in any beach or other tourist destinations in the south. In summer (April to July), you can get fresh sugar juice in many places. And even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties in touristic places.
Everywhere you can get tea, usually with milk and a lot of sugar.
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, as you can imagine, Goa tends to be more free-wheeling, while southern areas like Chennai are less kind to alcohol, and may even charge excessive taxes on it.
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. 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 Bombay. The top-end of Indian luxury rests with the Oberoi and Raj hotel chains, who operate hotels in all the major cities and throughout Rajasthan.
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.
Normally foreigners can't get a working permit. There are many volunteer opportunities around the country including teaching.
India is a poor country, so don't show too many of your valuable goods in public. Women should avoid going out during melas and holidays such as NYE and Holi: drunken mobs of men are known to assault women, regardless of your modest appearance.
Be prepared to fall ill at least once during an extended visit to India. Diarrhea is very common. Bring a standard first-aid kit, plus extra over-the-counter medicine for diarrhea and stomach upset. A rehydration kit can also be helpful.
No vaccines are required for entry to India, except for yellow fever if you are coming from an infected area such as Africa. However, hepatitis shots are recommended, as is a booster shot for tetanus. Malaria is not widespread, so anti-malarial drugs are usually not needed, except for in jungle areas near the Nepal border during the rainy season.
In most temples it is obligatory to take off your shoes.
Whereas Indian men can be really eager to talk to travelers, women in India often refrain from contact with western men.
Travellers should be aware of the fact that Indians generally dress conservatively and should do the same. Shorts, short skirts (knee-length or above) and sleeveless shirts are not appropriate off the beach.
The country code for India is 91. India is divided into further area codes; see the guides for individual cities for their particular codes. When calling from within India, the area code should include the leading '0', while if you are calling from outside India, the area code should not include the leading '0'.