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Quick Facts
CapitalNew Delhi
Governmentfederal republic
CurrencyIndian rupee (INR)
Areatotal: 3,287,590 sq km
land: 2,973,190 sq km
water: 314,400 sq km
Population1,045,845,226 (July 2002 est.)
LanguageEnglish, Hindi, Tamil and 14 others
ReligionHindu 81.3%, Muslim 12%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi 2.5% (2000)

India is the largest country on the Indian Subcontinent in the south of Asia. It is geographically a large country, with significant cultural and linguistic diversity. It is a popular country among travellers.

Indian dress of Rajasthan


  • The North -- the country's capital, the Taj Mahal, The Ganges, Holy cities like Amritsar, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Hrishikesh and beautiful Himalayan mountains
  • The West -- deserts and beautiful cities like Jaipur, Udaipur, Bikaner, Goa, vibrant and biggest Indian city "Mumbai" (previously known as Bombay), wonderful beaches and '"Bollywood"(Indian film industry in Mumbai)
  • The South -- colorful Hindu temples, tropical forests, Backwaters of Kerala, Beaches and Ghats of Karnataka and islands
  • The East -- India's mostly rural region, its largest city "Kolkata" (previously known as Calcutta), the holiest river "The Ganges", the temple cities of Puri of Lord Jagannath fame and Bhubaneswar, both in Orissa.
  • The North-East -- remote and sensitive, the country's tribal corner, with beautiful landscapes and famous for "Tea Gardens".

See also: List of Indian states and union territories


India has many large and famous cities. Below is a list of the most well-known. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section.

  • New Delhi, the Capital of Ancient Bharat (then called "Indraprastha") and Modern India - The political capital of India
  • Agra - Home of the Taj Mahal
  • Amritsar - The Golden Temple, Sikh holy city
  • Bangalore - The Garden City, Pub City, Silicon Valley of India, Land of Silk, Gold, Sandal Wood, Incense etc.
  • Bombay (Mumbai) - The financial capital of India, "Bollywood"(Indian Film Industry's hub)
  • Chennai (Madras) - City of Temples, Home of famous Marina Beach, Automobile Capital of India
  • Coimbatore - Manchester of South India
  • Hyderabad - Pearl city of India, and part of the Silicon Plateau with Bangalore
  • Kochi (Cochin) - The Queen of the Arabian Sea
  • Kolkata (Calcutta) - Known as City of Joy.
  • Mysore - Twin city of Bangalore. Famous for the Royal Palace, Brindavan Gardens.
  • Pune - Pune is located in the Western India and is Maharashtra's cultural capital.
  • Shimla - The summer capital of former British India is a small jewel in the lush Himalayan foothills.
  • Srinagar - Famous for Dal lake, located in the picturesque Himalayas
  • Varanasi - A sacred Hindu city located on the banks of the Ganges.

Other destinations

Sacred sites

As the birth place of several world religions, India is home to many sacred and holy sites:

Also Visit


Map of India

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. India and its neighbours, though not including China and Myanmar, are referred to as the Indian Sub-Continent because of the wide diversity in geography, culture, language and ethnicity.


Currently, the first material traces of urban society, in the Sub-Continent, is the Indus Valley Civilization, sometimes called the Harappan or the Saraswati-Sindhu Civilization, which thrived as recently as two millenia BCE. One version purports that Aryan tribes from the northwest imigrated about 1500 B.C.; their encounter with the earlier inhabitants spawned the classical Indian culture. Others belive that the Vedic culture may have originated in India or from the Indus-Saraswati river valley. Whether the Vedic peoples originated in India or invaded India from the northwest, and the relation of these people to the Indus-Saraswati Valley Civilisation is the subject of considerable debate. Hinduism, which has roots in this Vedic period continues to be the major religion in India to this day.

Submerged Ancient India:

India and Greece:

India and Egypt:

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, as well as ethnic and religious strife. Still, Indians are justly proud of their country's status as the world's largest democracy, and there have recently been impressive gains in economic investment and output.


India is the seventh largest country in the world in terms of surface area, covering an area in South Asia approximately one-third the size of the United States. India is the second most populous country in the world and along with neighboring China is only one of two countries to harbor a population exceeding one billion people as of 2004. Almost one-sixths of all people alive today live in India.

India along with its smaller neighbors including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka (all but Nepal were originally part of British colonial India) occupies the lion's share of South Asia and is often called the Indian Subcontinent or simply the Subcontinent. India's vast size allows for an enormous diversity of everything: landscapes, people, languages , and cultures. While Northern India is part of the Asian mainland, the country's Southern half is an enormous triangular peninsula --one of the largest in the world-- tapering away to a Southernmost point, Cape Comorin, in the Indian Ocean only 8 degrees North of the Equator.

Geographically, the Indian Subcontinent is bound by the Himalayas to the North and Northeast, the Great Indian desert in the northwest, and two broad coasts, 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. India's beaches can be exceedingly beautiful lush affairs with golden sands, warm seas, and palm fringed coves, but there are no large expanses of crystalline clear waters such as those found in the Caribbean or Gulf of Thailand. The reason being the large number of Indian rivers flowing into the waters around the peninsula which bring down turbid sediment from the Himalayas in the North.

To the north, India is separated from Tibet by the world's highest mountain range, the Himalayas. Parts of Northern India bordering Chinese occupied Tibet, such as the spectacular Ladakh region in the Northernmost Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, are essentially the only remaining enclaves where Tibetan-Buddhist culture has flourished unchanged since the Chinese takeover of Tibet proper. This, along with the Dalai Lama's position as a high profile Tibetan exile in India has led to much interest in India's Tibetan-Buddhist community, even as Lhasa continues to decay under decades of administration by Beijing. The landlocked Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan sandwiched between China and India, are the country's other Northern neighbors. To the northwest is a long and tumultuous border with Pakistan that extends from the Karakoram range to the Arabian Sea; the northeast of the country wraps around Bangladesh and borders on Myanmar.

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. It's 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 varies. 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 national holidays. For regional holidays look under the particular state.

Get in

Citizens of most countries need a visa to get in, with a few exceptions like Bhutan and Nepal. Depending on your purpose of visit, you can get a tourist visa (six months normally), a business visa (one year or more, multiple entries) or a student visa (upto 5 years). There are other categories for specialised purposes [1]. Rules and validity will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commision in your country [2] or contact the local office [3].

By plane

Almost every big city in this country has an airport. Some major points-of-entry are:

India has homegrown international airlines (Air India, Indian Airlines), but perhaps more convenient method of reaching India is via a non-Indian carrier like Singapore Airlines, Thai or British Airways, all of which fly into Delhi, Bombay and other locations.

Within India, the state run airline, Indian Airlines, 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 than rail travel.

By boat

India has several international ports on its peninsula.

By train

The only active rail link into India runs from Khajuri in Dhanusa district of Nepal to Jaynagar in Bihar. This link is run by the Nepal Railways.

There used to be a train that ran between Lahore in Pakistan and Attari near Amritsar in Punjab. It was called the Samjhauta Express. Samjhauta means Understanding in Hindi. But the service has been suspended after it broke down in 2002 (The understanding, not the train.) Talks to resume the service have been postponed to 2007.

By car

The road network is also very well connected. There is only one pass over land from Pakistan. See Istanbul to New Delhi over land. Buses cross the border from Nepal daily, usually with connections to New Delhi, Lucknow, and Varanasi. Now there is bus service across the 'Line of control' also.

Get around

By plane

You will find a wide range of fares for air travel within India. It is often possible to get very cheap fares, as low as Rs. 2000 (< $50 US) on budget carriers like Air Deccan. On the other hand, depending on your origin and destination cities, you might not find air fare less than Rs. 20,000 ($460 US). Be aware that most airlines have different fares for foreigners than for Indian residents. Foreigners will be charged in US dollars, whereas Indians will be charged in Rupees. In some cases the US dollar fare will be much higher, though in other cases it will be equivalent.

The major airlines within India are listed below:

  • Kingfisher Airlines [4], flying between Bombay and Bangalore - Reasonable Price range.
  • [SpiceJet Airlines] [5], flying between various metros - Budget Airlines
  • [Indian Airlines] [6], flying between various metros
  • [Jet Airways] [7], flying between various metros
  • [Air Sahara] [8], flying between various metros
  • [Air India] [9], connecting inter-national cities.
  • [Air Deccan] [10], low cost budget carrier connecting various metros and small towns

It is possible to book flights online. In some cases flights will be available but can't be booked online. The best Web sites for booking flights seem to be Air Deccan and Jet Airways.

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.

By train

India boasts the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and 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 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. A few important tips regarding rail travel:

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 Bombay). 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 (see below) tickets should be easier to get - they are in less demand. In New Delhi, you can pay your tickets in US dollars. In this case, you will pay a higher rate. For air tickets, you have to pay the "foreigner" price. Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes. There is more information at .

The tickets could be booked online at

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 TP and anything else you'll want on the outside). While you may be tempted to travel 2nd 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. Sleeper is usually your best option, ask for an "upper inside bunk" for overnight trips. 1st Class 3 A/C or 2 A/C (meaning 6 or 4 people in a compartment) is, of course even better, if you can afford it, but the A/C can be extreme. In Sleeper Class some people ignore the classes and try to get into your compartment.

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. Bathrooms on Indian trains leave a lot to be desired. Shower and use the toilet elsewhere if at all possible. Bring enough food and water for the journey (including delays): Bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. At some stations hawkers selling tea or peanuts will go up and down the train, but don't count on this being enough for a 18 or 40 hour journey. On 1st Class you can order all 3 meals from the train workers. Enjoy the train! You'll meet fascinating, wonderful people.

By Hired Car

Foreigners do not normally drive in India. Instead, if you desire a car, you rent both the car and a driver with it. Rates range from Rs 1000 to Rs 1600 per day, depending on the type of vehicle you desire. The driver's salary is so low (typically around Rs 100 to 150 per day) that it adds comparatively little to the total cost of having the car. The driver will find his own low-cost accommodation and food wherever you are traveling. A common rental vehicle is the old, but reliable, Ambassador car. This is a boxy but official-looking white car, with space for 3 passengers (by Western standards), and a decent-sized trunk.

There are numerous advantages to having a car and driver.

  • A native driver is the safest means of car travel.
  • You can keep your bags and shopping goods with you securely wherever you go.
  • The driver will often have some knowledge of local tourist destinations.
  • A car is the quickest and most reliable means of going from point to point. After the initial agreement you needn't spend any time finding travel, haggling over price, etc.
  • You can stop anywhere you like, and change plans at the last minute.

Because a car driver is a low-paying job, 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.

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.

By Auto-Rickshaw

The auto-rickshaw, sometimes abbreviated simply as "auto", is the most common means of hired transportation in India. They are yellow in color, with one wheel in the front and two in the back. Despite their small size, it is common to see three to five Indians packed into the vehicle, sitting on each others' laps.

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 8, 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 exhorbitant sum (for Indian standards) from you later. A normal fare for 10km of travel within the city would be about Rs 50. 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 inquire verify the meter-reading against the fare card before making a payment.


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 the main spoken language of some places.

Hindi, spoken by 30% of the population, is the primary tongue of the people in Northern India. It is very similar to Urdu, Pakistan's national language, which uses a different script. Hindustani, a popular variant of Hindi/Urdu, is also spoken widely throughout northern India.

English is widely spoken in major cities and around most tourist places, and acts as the lingua franca among all educated Indians. But keep in mind that more than 40% of the population is illiterate. 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 (Every English speaker in India is bilingual at the very least and speaks one or more of the Subcontinent's native languages). While travelers might find no difference in accent between English speakers in Delhi and Bangalore, 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 the British Isles will sounds 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 "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), and avatar (reincarnation) 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 listeners 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.


National holidays

Since the Hindu religion follows a complicated combination of Lunar and Solar calendars Hindu festivals are celebrated on different dates of the Gregorian Calendar from year to year. The same issue arises with Muslim Festivals, as the Hijr calendar is Lunar. So only the months on which those festivals fall are given below.

  • January 26th - Republic Day -Celebrates the adoption of the constitution and the day India became a republic
  • February - Maha Shivaratri
  • Middle of March - Holi - The festival of color. Stay away from the streets unless you want to be drenched in water and showered with colored powder. Mostly friendly...
  • May 1st - Martyrs Day / Labour Day
  • August 15th - Independence Day - Celebrates the birth of independent India
  • August/September - Krishna Janmashtami - Celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna
  • September - Vinayaka (Ganesha) Chathurthi - Celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesha
  • October 2nd - Gandhi Jayanti - birthday of Mahatma Gandhi
  • October/November - Ayudha pooja - locals worship the Deity Durga and perform pooja for their objects of daily use. Workers are given sweets, cash bonuses, gifts, new clothes etc
  • Sometime around October - Dussehra - celebrated in different names in different parts of the country
  • November (occasionally end of October) - Deepawali - Festival of lights, celebrates the slaying of the demon Mahishasura. Probably the most lavish festival in the country, reminiscent (to US travellers at least) of Thanksgiving (the food) and Christmas (the gifts) combined. This is by far the most visually spectacular festival of all: houses are decorated, there is glitter everywhere, and if you wander the streets on Deepawali night, there will be firecrackers going off everywhere, including sometimes under your feet.
  • November - Id-ul-Fitr
  • December 25th - Christmas



The currency in India is the Indian Rupee. It trades around 44 rupees to the US dollar and 52 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.

Common bills come in denominations of Rs. 5, Rs. 10, Rs. 20, Rs. 50, Rs. 100, Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000. 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.

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.

Changing Money

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 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. 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 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". Recently (2004), in most of the big cities and even smaller towns, retail chain stores are popping up - where the shopping experience is essentially identical to similar stores in the West. There are also some government-run stores like the Cottage Emporium in New Delhi, where you can sample wares from all across the country in air-conditioned comfort. Although you will pay a little more at these stores, you can be sure that what you are getting is not a cheap knockoff. Even in government-run stores, bargaining is expected.

Often, the more time you spend in a store, the better deals you will get. It is worth spending time getting to know the owner, asking questions, and getting him to show you other products (if you have an interest). Once the owner feels that he is making a sufficient profit from you, he will often give you additional goods at a rate close to his cost, rather than the common "foreigner rate". You will get better prices and service by buying many items in one store than by bargaining in multiple stores individually.

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. Baksheesh is as ancient a part of Middle Eastern and Asian culture as anything else. It derives from the Arabic meaning a small gift. It refers as much to charity as to bribes.

What to Look For/Buy

  • Wood Carvings: India produces a striking variety of carved wood products that can be bought at very low prices. Examples include decorative wooden plates, bowls, artwork, furniture, and miscellaneous items that will surprise you.
  • Clothing: Women's salwar kameez, saris. Traditional men's clothing such as kurta and pyjama. Brilliantly patterned scarves and shawls can be bought for less than Rs. 100. On the other hand, it may be worth spending more for a soft and warm 100% pashmina shawl. You can also find more modern style clothing at low cost. Modern clothing tends to have loud patterns. You will probably need clothing one size larger than would fit you in a Western country.
  • Paintings: Paintings come on a wide variety of media, such as cotton, silk, or with frame included. Gemstone paintings incorporate semi-precious stone dust, so they have a glittering appearance to them.
  • Marble & Stone Carvings: Common carved items include elephants, Indian gods/goddesses, etc.
  • Jewelry: Beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry are very inexpensive in India.
  • Pillow Covers, Bed Sets: Striking and rich designs are common for pillows and bed covers.


Indian Cuisine is superb, and has recently begun to take its place among the great cuisines of the world. However, it would be incorrect to classify the cuisine of the Subcontinent under one culinary banner. The varied geography of the country has evolved a rich cuisine reflected in the diversity of ingredients. Indian bread (roti, naan) is the staple in most of the wheat growing plains of Northern India, while the wetter South and East are the domain of rice farming. The rich, mughal style of cooking favored in the North is vastly different from the spicy fish curries of the coastal South. Yet there is a common base to the diverse cooking styles that coexist in the country. Like most Asian cuisines, the ingredients range from exotic (lotus roots, rose petals) to completely unfamiliar tropical offerings. And like other Asian cuisines, Indian food relies heavily on spices to flavor everything from eggs to eggplant. 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 menu of every restaurant is devoted entirely to vegetarian dishes. Visiting vegetarians will discover a culinary treasure that is found nowhere else in the world.

While Indian food has a reputation for being hot -- owing to the Indian penchant for potent green chilies that will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated -- this is a largely incomplete description. Aromatic spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves are equally important as the astonishing variety of red and green chillies, and peppercorns. 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. If you would like to order your dish not spicy, ask for "no chili, no black pepper and no white pepper". Most visitors are tempted to try at least some of the spicy concoctions, and most discover that the sting is worth the trouble.

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. 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 Tandoor is an Indian clay oven. This style of cooking is common in the North and is called Tandoori cooking. A Tandoor features prominently in Mughal cuisine which was popular with the Muslim rulers of North India.

Indians like their dishes very spicy, you can even find sweet cornflakes with a spicy edge and Indian candies with a piece of chili inside.

Eating by hand

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, as the left hand is used to clean yourself in the bathroom. 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 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.

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.

Common dishes

  • Aloo Gobi - Potatoes and cauliflower in a spicy gravy.
  • Gulab Jamoon - Small balls from dough in a sweet sauce.
  • Idly - Dumplings of steamed ground rice.
  • Kashmiri Pulao - Rice with vegetables, fruits and dried fruits. Sweet and not spicy.
  • Masala Dosa - Thin rice pancake with (spicy) vegetables
  • Onion Utappa - Like a pancake made out of rice with onion topping, served with spicy sauce. The dish itself is not spicy but some places add green chili to it.
  • Palak Paneer - Cheese chunks in a spinach gravy. Order with plain rice or Chapatti/Roti.


  • Aloo - Potatoes.
  • Chapatti - also called Roti, Indian thin bread, similar to a soft Mexican tortilla.
  • Dosa- Savoury rice pancake. Many variations are available - try the enormous Masala Dosa, rolled up and filled with spicy potatoes.
  • Phool Gobi - Cauliflower
  • Idli - Light, bland patty made from rice dough, often served with sambar for breakfast.
  • Naan - Indian bread made in a tandoori (Indian oven).
  • Palak - Spinach.
  • Paneer - Indian cottage cheese.
  • Papad - Crispy spicy thin dough circle fried in deep oil.
  • Paratha - Crispy, flaky fried flat bread
  • Puri - Crispy puffed dough, looks like a ball, fried in deep oil. Can be served in different sizes. If you find "puri something" it means a few small puris stuffed with different kinds of sauce and curd.
  • Roti - Indian thin bread.
  • Sambar - Spicy lentil mixture, similiar to a 'soup', but more often eaten over rice or with idlis or vadas.
  • Thali - Plain rice served with different sauces and vegetables usually served with chapatti, pappad or puri. most places serve this dish on an "eat as you can" basis. In the south this dish is called 'meals'. You might also find Chinese Thali.
  • Uthappam - A thicker version of a dosa, often with vegetables and chillis mixed in.
  • Vada - Savoury Indian donut. Often served with sambar.


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 ('not' mineral water) is widely available. 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 (March to July), you can get fresh sugar cane juice in many places. And even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties in tourist places as well as in local restaurants. 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.

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, as you can imagine, 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.


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, Taj, and Welcomgroup hotel chains, who operate hotels in all the major cities and throughout Rajasthan. A number of international chains including Mariott, and Hyatt also run major 5-star hotels in most Indian metropolises.

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.


Yoga, ayurvedic massage and language are the courses most often looked for by foreigners. For example, Hardwar and Rishikesh are popular places for yoga courses. Varanasi has a famous university with Hindi classes.


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!

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.

Unless you are a professional or want to live in a polluted city the work options are pretty slim. This is not a country to make money in unless you are very imaginative and somewhat of an entrepreneur. A living can be made in the traveler scenes by providing some kind of service such as baking Western cakes, tattooing or massage.

Stay safe

As a rule India is quite safe for foreigners. Avoid going to Kashmir unless you get properly informed about the situation there.

Unfortunately thefts are quite common in places visited by tourists, but violent thefts hardly ever occur. More likely a thief will pick your pocket or break into your room. There is little culture of muggings in India.

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 unfamilar with local and religious customs.

Stay healthy

Going to India, you have to adapt to a new climate and new food. Most travelers to India will get at least minorly ill during their stay there. However, with precautions the chance and severity of any illness can be minimized. Don't stress yourself too much at the beginning of your journey to allow your body to acclimate to the country. For example, take a day of rest upon arrival, at least on your first visit. Many travelers get ill for wanting to do too much in too little time. Be careful with spicy food if it is not your daily diet.

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 and typhoid shots are recommended, as is a booster shot for tetanus.

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.

In some places during the monsoon, malaria is quite common. However, if you intend on staying in the major cities, and will not be venturing into areas that are known to have pockets of endemic malaria, you may not need anti-malarial medication. Different anti-malarial medications have different side effects, cost, and levels of effectiveness. Common examples are the fairly mild Doxycyclin (an antibiotic), and Mefloquin (which causes nightmares and other side effects for some people). While it is quite necessary in jungle areas near the Nepal border during the rainy season, the best protection against malaria is to avoid areas that are known to harbor populations of the plasmodium-bearing mosquitos. See the Wikipedia article for more details.

If you need to visit a hospital in India, avoid government hospitals. The quality of treatment is low, and can even be dangerous. For example, some hospitals re-use needles and don't properly sterilize them. Private hospitals provide better service, and the cost is still a small fraction of treatment in a Western hospital.


In mosques and 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.

Female travellers in India

India is a conservative country, and some western habits are perceived as dishonorable for a woman in this culture.

  • Outside of the larger cities, it is unusual for people of the opposite sex to touch each other in public. Even couples (married or otherwise) refrain from public displays of affection. Therefore, it is advised that you do not shake hands with a person of the opposite sex unless the other person extends his/her hand first. You can always just greet somebody by bringing your palms together in front of you chest, or simply saying 'Namaste', and 'Vanakkam' in Tamil Nadu State. Both forms are equally polite and correct, if a little formal.
  • The same goes for smoking. Except in major cities (and only in trendy places or in high society) women do not smoke. A woman who smokes/drinks is associated with loose moral character in much of the rest of the country's growing middle class. Smoking and drinking is also common among older rural women in many North Indian villages and communities.
  • People are fully clothed even at the beach. So, be sure to find out what the appropriate attire is for the beach you are visiting. (In some rare places like Goa, where the visitors to beach are predominantly foreigners, it is permissible to be nude on the beach).
  • In some local trains, there are usually cars reserved only for women and designated as such on their front.
  • In most buses (private and public) a few seats at the front of the bus are reserved for women only.
  • Street parties for holidays are usually devoid of women but filled with crowds of inebriated men partying down. During festivals such as Holi, New Year's Eve, and even Christmas Eve, women (especially in large urban centers) can be subjected to groping and sexually aggressive behaviour from these crowds. It is probably unsafe for women to attend these festivities alone.
  • Friendly conversation with men you meet on trains, etc. is often confused with flirtation/availability. In some scenarios, this can lead to unexpected sexual advances (this happens to Indian women as well, not just Westerners. It is sometimes called "Eve Teasing"). Befriending Indian women, however, can be a wonderful experience for female travellers, though you might have to initiate conversation.


The country code for India is 91. India is then divided into city codes; see the guides for individual cities for their particular codes.

When calling long distance within India, the city code must include the leading '0', while calling outside India, omit the leading zero. For example, Bombay has the city code of 022. So to call within India , you dial 022 + number and call outside to India, you dial +91 + 22 + number.

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, and internet kiosks everywhere nowadays.

Suggested Reading

  • The age of kali : Indian Travels and encounters, William Dalrymple; A fine travelogue actually a collection of essays published over time in the media.
  • INDIA: A History, John Keay; "A superb one-volume history of a land that defies reduction into simple narrative... Without peer among general studies, a history that is intelligent, incisive, and eminently readable." -- Kirkus Review (starred review)
  • INDIA A Million Mutinies Now, V.S. Naipaul; "With this book he may well have written his own enduring monument, in prose at once stirring and intensely personal, distinguished both by style and critical acumen" -- K. Natwar-Singh, Financial Times
  • Holy Cow, An Indian Adventure, Sarah MacDonald. An Australian woman's humorous chronicle of her two year stay in India.

External links