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India

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Travel Guide Asia India

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Introduction

Kind in het raam

Kind in het raam

© All Rights Reserved go-india

India's civilization stretches back at least 5,000 years and, remarkably, has been maintained to an extremely high level in the 20th century. Whereas other Asian nations have seen the decline of traditional culture, Indians, particularly those away from the major cities, maintain their traditional way of life. Thus, traveling to India is very much an unforgettable experience, as it is in many ways confronting to western notions. It is confronting when you set foot in Delhi, where pollution is likely to revolt you with its stench. And it is confronting when you notice Hindu's entrenched class system and ill-treated outcasts. But while India may send your Western ideas of humanity into torrents of outrage, it will also doubtlessly impress you with some of the less confronting aspects of Indian cultural heritage: the glorious Taj Mahal in Agra and dozens of other beautiful temples, the traditionally beautiful state of Kerala (often referred to as God's Own Country), rich cultural and architectural heritage in Rajasthan & Tamil Nadu, Indians' love for cricket and a cuisine that is simply superb.

With a population of over one billion, no single country is so multi-faceted and laden with contradictions. Culturally India might very well be the most diverse place in the world. India’s immensely varied art, history, religions, and traditions are organically woven together into an intricate tapestry. Its infinite variety favours you with different facets of fascination every time you visit. To travel in India is to expand one’s notion of the possible configurations of human society. Journeys to India can be complex and challenging, but they are always supremely rewarding.

There are so many aspects to India's personality and it is definitely a place of extremes and strange contrasts. For this reason it can be an overwhelming place, but never dull or predictable. You never know what fascinating sight may confront or astound you around the next corner. It can be quite mind boggling at times so you definitely need to do your research before you go and keep an open mind, plus take a good travel guidebook with you for reference along the way. Your attitude, dress code and behaviour will always have some bearing on how you are treated. As a tourist haggling for a good price is quite good fun and part of being in India. It won't take long before you have a good feel for what things should cost - often about a third of the starting price!! If both parties are happy with the price then the haggling should stop. It is an embarassment to all concerned if relatively wealthy tourists end up haggling bitterly over just a few rupees. It should usually be a friendly exchange involving a bit of banter and reasoning rather than a fight.

If you wear tight or revealing clothing and are female, this will invite alot more hassle and attention from local men. However, if you cover up and dress unprovocatively you may still not be able to avoid the stares and questioning 'eve-teasing' as it is referred to locally. Indian men seem to have quite fixed ideas about western women and in comparison to traditional Indian women men have much more freedom, are not chaperoned and so are more 'available' to Indian eyes. This kind of hassle can be annoying, but rarely threatening to women travelling alone.

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Brief History

The history of India begins with human settlement that has been confirmed to over 9,000 years ago in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. However, evidence of human activity shows the presence of Homo sapiens as long as 75,000 years ago and hominids from about 500,000 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent from 3300 to 1300 BC, was the first major civilization in India.

The whole subcontinent was conquered by the Maurya Empire during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. It subsequently became fragmented, with various parts ruled by numerous Middle kingdoms for the next 1,500 years. This is known as the classical period of India, during which India is estimated to have had the largest economy of the ancient and medieval world controlling between one third and one fourth of the world's wealth up to the 18th century.

The southern state of Kerala had maritime business links with the Roman Empire from around 77 AD. Islam was introduced in Kerala through this route by Muslim traders. Muslim rule in the subcontinent began in 712 AD when the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab, setting the stage for several successive invasions between the 10th and 15th centuries AD from Central Asia, leading to the formation of Muslim empires in the Indian subcontinent such as the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire.

Mughal rule came to cover most of the northern parts of the subcontinent. Mughal rulers introduced middle-eastern art and architecture to India. The Mughal Empire suffered a gradual decline in the early eighteenth century, which provided opportunities for the Afghans, Balochis and Sikhs to exercise control over large areas in the northwest of the subcontinent until the British East India Company gained ascendancy over South Asia.

Beginning in the mid-18th century and over the next century, India was gradually annexed by the British East India Company. Dissatisfaction with Company rule led to the First War of Indian Independence, after which India was directly administered by the British Crown and witnessed a period of both rapid development of infrastructure and economic decline. During the first half of the 20th century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress, and later joined by the Muslim League. The subcontinent gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, after being partitioned into the dominions of India and Pakistan.

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Geography

India is a vast country and that is why this region (which also includes Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal) is popularly known as the "Indian Sub-continent". The term gives an idea about the vastness and diversity found in this region. India borders Pakistan at the Punjab Plain and the Thar desert in the west, China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan in the north in the Himalayas and Bangladesh, along the watershed region of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, the Khasi hills and Mizo Hillsand, and Myanmar, along the Chin Hills and Kachin Hills, in the east. India is bounded to the southwest by the Arabian Sea, to the southeast by the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean to the south. The southernmost part of India however is Indira Point in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. South of India are both Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The Lakshadweep islands to the west are another main island group.

India hosts a major portion of the highest mountain ranges in the world, the Himalayas (Kanchenjunga in Sikkim at 8,598 metres is the highest point), located in the northern end of the country. Going south, the land gradually descends into lowlying areas with few mountains, but some hilly areas.

The Ganges is the longest river in India and forms the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The Ganges-Brahmaputra system occupies most of northern, central and eastern India. The Central Highlands is divided into three main plateaus - the Malwa Plateau in the west, the Deccan Plateau in the south (covering much of the Indian peninsula) and the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the east. The Malwa Plateau is spread across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The Chota Nagpur Plateau is situated in eastern India, covering much of Jharkhand and adjacent parts of Orissa, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. The Deccan Plateau occupies most of southern India.

On the southern end, India has a coastline which measures over 7,600 kilometres, from Gujarat in the west via Mumbai, Goa and Kerala to the south and up north again to Chennai, Orissa and Kolkata. Especially in the southern portions, like Cochi and Goa, there are great beaches.

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Regions

India is a union of 28 states and seven Union Territories. The 28 states and can be broken down into the following geographical regions:

RegionState
Himalayan NorthHimachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttarakhand
The PlainsBihar, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh
Central IndiaJharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh
Southern IndiaKarnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh
Western IndiaGoa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan
Eastern IndiaJharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal
Northeastern IndiaArunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura

The Union Territories are:

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Cities

Listed below are some of the biggest or most popular cities for travellers to India.

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Sights and Activities

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

© All Rights Reserved sam.m.

India's most famous attraction, the Taj Mahal, is a mausoleum in Agra that was constructed under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died after giving birth to their son.

Agra Fort

The imposing Agra Fort at Agra is something which should not be missed. The construction of this fort was started by Mughal Emperor Akbar and later on additional building were added by his son and grandson. The fort complex has numerous building of importance like the Moti Masjid, Sheesh Mahal, Jehangir’s Palace, Deewane-E-Am and Deewane-E-Khas.

Kerala

The state of Kerala, divided into 14 districts has emerged as one of the hottest tourist destination in India over the period of years. This place is also famous for its Backwaters. Kerala’s culture cannot be confined to a specific race or a custom, its composite in nature with its religious traditions, festivals, performing arts (dances, ballets, opera) music, martial arts, paintings, arts and crafts, The cultural heritage of Kerala is also revealed in its varied costumes and cuisine.

Khajuraho

Khajuraho is a town located in Madhya Pradesh famous for groups of Hindu and Jain temples. These temples are a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their beautiful and erotic rock carvings. About 20 temples remain today, dating back to the 10th and 11th century A.D.

Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj

Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj is located in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Situated on the Dhauladhar Range, whose highest peak, "Hanuman Ka Tibba", at about 5,639 metres, lies just behind it, it is known as "Little Lhasa" or "Dhasa" (a short form of Dharamsala used mainly by Tibetans) because of its large population of Tibetan refugees. The Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered in McLeodGanj.

Shimla

Shimla is the capital city of Himachal Pradesh. In 1864, Shimla was declared the summer capital of the British Raj in India. A popular tourist destination, Shimla is often referred to as the queen of hills. Located in the northwest Himalayas at an average altitude of 2,205 metres, the city of Shimla, draped in forests of pine, rhododendron, and oak, experiences pleasant summers and cold, snowy winters. The city is famous for its buildings styled in 'Tudorbethan' and neo-Gothic architecture dating from the colonial era.

Wildlife watching

India is one of the best countries outside Africa and probably the best in Asia to watch wildlife. Wildlife include the Asian Big Five (leopard, lion, elephant, rhino and asian buffalo) but there is one animal that even is more impressive and elusive. That animal is the tiger and seeing one is a matter of luck and staying long enough in several national parks that offer this opportunity. Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh are among the best in the country with the highest density and chance to see this massive cat. Also, Pench and Panna Reserves are well worth a visit, though numbers of tigers have been decreasing enormously here during the last years. It is believed that Panna even lost of all its tigers due to poaching, just like Sariska reserve before. Although Ranthambore is equally famous, tiger population here has dropped recently due to poachers still active in the area.
Also the Corbett National Park, around 240 kilometres north of Delhi, at the foothills of the Himalayas, is a good place to see a tiger, though you have to spend some time here and be lucky.

Many other wildlife can be spotted as well in many of the parks, including wild boar, sloth bear, rhino, elephant, gaur, Indian Gazelle, wild dogs and striped hyena. In the mountains, the very elusive snow leopard lives at altitudes of 2,000 metres upwards.

Four other parks to be visited which, because of its outstanding natural beauty and significance, are on the Unesco World Heritage list as well. These are Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park in the north-eastern state of Assam, the Sundarbans National Park, which India shares with Bangladesh and the Keoladeo National Park in the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan, which is particulary interesting because of its birdlife, including the rare Siberian crane.

Sasan Gir National Reserve in Gujarat is the only place in Asia which has Asian lions. Plans to relocate some lions to other reserves have not been succesful, because of resistance of local people.

The Sundarbans

The Sundarbans mangrove forest is one of the largest forests of its kind and is located in the west of India and the southwest of Bangladesh on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans are shared with Bangladesh and form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It contains a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests and has a high biodiversity with a wide range of flora and fauna. Animals include 260 bird species, the Royal Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python. Some of the wildlife though is very elusive and it is a matter of luck for example to see a tiger. It is best to arrange tours from Dhaka or Kulna which can last for a week if you want.

Rajasthan

Rajasthan is one of the most visited parts of India and it has several great cities to visit, including Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur. All these cities have their own characteristics, fortresse, maharadja palace and even colours (pink city, blue city). A trip by camel in the Thar desert also is a fantastic experience.

Varanasi

According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi is considered to be one of the holiest cities in India. It lies along the banks of the sacred Ganges River, and it's believed that taking a dip in it washes away all the sins and purify the soul.

Thar Desert

Ship of the desert.

Ship of the desert.

© All Rights Reserved daveh

The Thar desert is arid region in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. It covers much of Rajasthan, extending from here into the southern Haryana and Punjab states and into northern Gujarat state. Apart from India, it also covers the astern Sindh province and southeastern Punjab province in Pakistan. The Sutlej and Indus Rivers and Aravalli Range and Rann of Kutch form its natural boundaries. It is a hilly desert, with large areas of sand dunes, athough the central part is more of a plain with no dunes at all. Unlike much of India, it hasn't got a monsoon season as wet as other parts of the country, although also here the wetter months are from July to October. It's also a good region to see lots of animals typical for this part of India and there are some interesting cities within its boundaries as well, including Jodhpur and the 'capital' of the desert Jaisalmer, where camel rides into the desert are one of the more popular trips.

Leisure time

Newspapers including the Hindustan Times and The Times of India carry daily and weekly listings and information on interesting events. For Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore the famous Time Out magazine is published and gives you lots of ideas of what is up in the city. In Delhi, for example, there are other local magazines such as First City and Delhi Diary. There are plenty of interesting music concerts and parties, such as the Sound Tamasha series of events.

But also outside of the cities India has a very lively cultural scene. If you are willing to adjust a little bit, you will be able to make the most of the local festivities and religious observances you are most likely to encounter. Ask around to learn about things that are happening. Often you will end up being a guest of honour at a marriage or shaking a leg during some lively celebrations.

Even if you are mainly visiting one of the big cities, make it a point to see the surrounding rural areas. You will be stunned by the many natural marvels and genuine peasants and herders you are going to meet there. Do not feel intimidated by their traditions. Indians tend to be very curious by nature. Your visit to the most far-off places will generally not be perceived as an intrustion - quite the contrary: people will seize the opportunity and pour all their curiousity on you.

Sports

In India sports like cricket, football, field hockey, and golf are very popular and spread around the whole country. Visiting a fitness centre might be a good possibility for you to do sports. Jogging can also be done, even in the big cities like New Delhi or Mumbai. There are uncounted parks and gardens such as the beautiful and serene Lodi Garden in New Delhi which is really a jogger’s paradise. There you will be able to escape the chaos of the cities and have a moment of peace and quiet. Big cities also have large sports complexes with various facilities like swimming pools, tennis and squash courts, football fields, gyms, running tracks, etc.

Other Sights and Activities

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Events and Festivals

  • Pushkarfestival - one of the biggest camel fairs in the world, held in Pushkar, Rajasthan. Thousands of people during this day go to the banks of the Pushkar Lake where the fair takes place and where livestock livestock, including camels, cows, sheep and goats, is sold. A camel race marks the start off the festival, and music, songs and exhibitions are held throughout the day. Although the dates of Pushkar Fair depend upon the movement of the moon, traditionally it mostly falls in November. It falls on the day of Poornima (full moon night) in the month of Karthika. On this day, according to legend, the Hindu god Brahma sprung up the lake, so thousands of Hindu devotees take dip in the Pushkar lake, washing away the sins. The water of the lake is believed to have healing properties.
  • Holi is quite popular in the Indian sub-continent and is traditionally celebrated on the day after the full moon in the month of Phalguna(early March), according to Hindu calender. Holi is a thanksgiving festival, where people offer prayer to God for good harvest and fertility of the land. However it has a legend attached to it according to which an arrogant king resents his son Prahlada from worshipping Lord Vishnu. He attempts to kill his son but fails each time, finally he asks his sister Holika, who is said to be immune to burning, sits with Prahlada in fire. However Prahlada emerges alive and Holika is burnt to death. Holi commemorates this event from the Hindu mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation. This festival is also associated with the immortal love story of Krishna and Radha, and hence celebrations are spread over a period of 2 weeks in Vrindavan and Mathura - the two cities associated with Krishna. Holi is a festival of freedom from social norms and caste inhibitions are shed for a day as people indulge in fun and merry-making. Colors and 'gulal' are showered on the people dressed up for the occasion and the whole community seems to merge into one big family under the guise of colors, without any distinction whatsoever. Children with face smeared with colors run around with 'pichkaris' (big syringes to splash colored water) and play amongst themselves. People exchange good wishes, sweets and gifts. Holi is also marked by vibrant processions which are accompanied by folk songs, dances and drum beating. Parties are also organized where snacks and the traditional milk-based drink “Thandai” is served which is often intoxicated with “Bhang”. Of late, lots of foreigners have started taking interest in this festival and they even enjoy the colors and the intoxicating drink. It is advised to cover your hair with a cap and eyes with sunglasses to avoid the colors splashing the eyes and damaging the hair.
  • Thaipsum is an important festival celebrated mainly by the Tamil community in the southern states of India and in parts of Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. The festival actually celebrates the birthday of the Hindu God Subramaniam. It is time for prayers and devotees seek divine intervention for fulfillment of their wishes. Devotees walk long distances carrying offering to reach the temple of the Lord. Many devotees enter a state of trance and pierce their cheeks, tongue face or other body parts with sharp objects. At Palani, a town around 100km from Madurai, the Thaipsum festivities are on a grand scale and extensive continuing for a period of 10 days.The devotes with piercing all over the body carry a “Kavadi” on their shoulder and carry in a trance like manner to the temple. Kavadi is a cage like structure weighing upto 15 kilograms and is decorated with peacock feathers and aluminum plates which show images of Hindu deities. It requires great endurance to walk and dance with the Kavadis. The Kavadi procession is joined by young children carrying pots of milk.

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Weather

India is a huge country and although there are similarties in the weather, of course there are differences regarding temperatures and rainfall between the south and north and between the lower parts and the higher Himalaya.
In general, from June to October the country is influenced by wet monsoon from the southwest. On some mountain ranges rainfall can be very heavy and some areas have over 10,000 mm a year, the wettest places on earth are located here, like Cherrapunji, in Meghalaya, the northeastern most part of the country.
The coolest, driest time over most of the country is from December to February, when light northerly winds bring clear skies and little rain. From March to May, India becomes hotter and hotter and the drought continues. The rains only come when the wind turns again to the southwest. On average, the arrival of the rains comes to the south of India during late May or early June and reaches the north about six weeks later.

The southern parts of India, like Kerala, are more tropical with hot and humid conditions year round. Temperatures are around or above 20 °C at night, while days are generally above 30 °C. Temperatures can reach well over 40 °C though. Coastal areas are wetter compared to the inland areas. Also, they have less extreme temperatures, especially along the westcoast. Chennai (Madras) at the eastcoast can have temperatures well over 40 °C as well though.

The north is extremely hot from March to May, with temperatures sometimes exceeding 50 °C in Rajasthan, and averages are well into the 40's. Generally, from west to east temperatures are less extreme and there is more rainfall. Calcutta (Kolkata) for example is much wetter than Delhi and this applies to the mountains in the west and east as well. Nights in the northwest during wintert (December to February) can drop to only a few degrees above zero.

In the northernmost Himalayan mountain ranges, summers are very pleasant, with less rain and more sun, but winters can be bitterly cold, with frost and snow. Temperatures can drop well below -10 °C at night and average a pleasant 30 °C in Srinagar for example. The highest peaks are always cold, but trekking in Ladakh is very comfortable during June to September.

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Getting There

By Plane

There is a growing number of international airports in India and some of the smaller ones are experiencing a significant growth in the number of flights and passengers and might even become as big as the ones in Mumbai and Delhi which currently receive most international passengers. The major international airports of India are:

With the tourist inflow to India increasing manifold during the past few years, the airports at Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram have been upgraded to function as international airports. Goa also has a decent amount of flights, including regular charter flights to European destinations.

The Indian flag carrier is Air India, with hubs in Delhi and Mumbai. Air India destinations include major cities in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.

Air India Express, a subsidiary of Air India, offers budget flights to major international destinations within a distance of around four hours from cities in India.

Over the years private airlines in India have started international flights, amongst them are Jet Airways (see destinations) and Kingfisher Airlines (see destinations).

By Train

India-Pakistan

Currently two train routes are operational between India and Pakistan:

  • Samjhota Express (Lahore - Wagah - Attari - Amritsar): Train leaves every Monday and Thursday, at 08:00 from Lahore arriving at Wagah checkpoint (Pakistan side) 35 minutes later. It will then proceed to Atari checkpoint (Indian side), where there are connections to Amritsar.
  • Thar Express (Karachi - Jodhpur): Operational since February 2006, this train is only available to citizens of India and Pakistan.

India-Bangladesh

  • Moitree Express (Dhaka - Kolkata): A train leaves every Saturday and Sunday in both directions. Although there were connections from Kolkata to the border and across the border further to Kulna, there weren't any connections to Dhaka at all from the west. This direct option takes about 12 hours including border formalities.

India-Nepal
Nepal Railways operate trains between Khajuri in Dhanusa district of Nepal and Jaynagar in Bihar.

By Car

India have road connections with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan. Borders with China and Myanmar are currently closed to travellers. Few people will get here with their own car, although some overland travellers make it from Europe, mainly via Pakistan. You will need a Carnet de Passage for your vehicle. Indian traffic is chaotic so driving is not really recommended.

By Bus

There are direct buses between Kolkata and Dhaka, Bangladesh. There are several more border crossings with Bangladesh, but most of them require transport to the border, cross on foot and take onward transport from there.
The main crossing to and from Bhutan is at Phuentsholing and there are buses from Kolkata directly to the border operated by the Bhutan Transport Services. There are no cross-border services with Nepal, but there are about five border crossings which all have regular transport services on both sides. To Pakistan, there are direct buses to Lahore from Delhi but they are uncomfortable and require a long time at the border. Better to cross on foot.

By Boat

There are no passenger services to and from India, only to islands within India's territory like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep Archipelago west of the southern peninsula.

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Getting Around

By Plane

India is quite a vast country and travelling by trains and buses can be tiring if it is over long distances. Travelling by air within India is an affordable option with the launch of budget carriers namely, Jet Lite, Spicejet, Go Air and Indigo Air.

Regular service carriers like Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Air India, Air India Express and Kingfisher Airlines are also available for domestic flights.

There are also airpasses if you intend to travel a lot with Indian Airlines in a short period of time. These include passes for 7, 15 and 21 days of unlimited airtravel in economy class.

There are numerous airports in the country, but the ones with the most connections include Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore, among a few others.

You can find prepaid taxi booths at the airport. They are operated under the direct supervision of the traffic police. It helps to avert over-charging, refusal, misbehaviour or harassment by the drivers. You simply go there, tell where you want to go, and then a duly signed receipt indicating the taxi number, destination, service charges, and the fare will be given to you.

By Train

Indian Railways operates India's train service, which is comprehensive.
There are train services between most cities and overnight services have restaurants carriages.
There are not less than six classes of travel: first-class air conditioned, first-class sleeper, second-class air conditioned, second-class sleeper, third-class air conditioned and air conditioned chair car.
There are Indrail passes allowing you unlimited travel on all lines during one year.

Air-conditioned coaches are now available in most of the Indian trains. There are four types of AC coaches, namely:

  • 1 AC (two berth in a coupe)
  • 2 AC (4 berths in a coupe)
  • 3 AC (6 berths in a coupe) and
  • 4 Chair Car (which is available on short distance trains)

Booking 1AC and 2 AC train travel does pose a risk. It is known that Indian dignitaries or VIPs travel in these classes along with several companions, so there is a chance that your berth may be occupied by someone else, even though you have confirmed reservation. The best thing is to travel in the comfort of 3 AC which costs a little more than the ordinary non air-conditioned sleeper classes, but is much safer and hassle free.

Booking is possible on the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited or IRCTC website. For a small fee, but by many people find it easier, you can also book online at the Cleartrip website.

By Car

Renting a car is very cheap. One can prefer a chouffer driven car, which is a good idea due to traffic on highways but self driving can also be pleasent on newly built national highways, such as between Delhi and Agra, Mumbai and Pune, Delhi and Chandigarh etc. A car with driver is cheap, reliable (if picked up from an authorised travel agency), comfortable and very flexible as well. Indian traffic is chaotic to say the least and although roads are not even that bad regarding the surface, the driver's skills and unruly rural trafics are!

By Bus

With such an extensive network of trains and cars with drivers being relatively cheap, most times there really is no use in getting on a bus. They are however of use when visiting really remote places, especially in the mountainous areas of the north and northeast of India, where there are no railways whatsoever. Minibuses ply some routes as well.

By Boat

Few travellers use boats to travel around, simply because there aren't many. A trip to the backwaters of Kerala is probably the most used one, usually on an organised trip. Still, a noteworthy exception is the ferry between mainland India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. You can travel over sea to Port Blair from Kolkata, Chennai and Vishakhapatnam. In total, there are usually 4 to 6 sailings a month between Port Blair and the Indian mainland – once every two weeks to/from Kolkata (56 hours) and weekly (in high season) to/from Chennai (60 hours) on four vessels operated by SCI. The schedule is erratic though, so check with the SCI in advance or check the official tourism website (see below), which usually posts an up-to-date schedule. Delays are common though, so with hold-ups, and variable weather and sea conditions, the trip can take three full days or more. The service from Chennai goes via Cap Nicobar once a month, taking an extra two days, but only residents may disembark. There is usually a service once a month from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

There are also ferries from the southern mainland towards the Lakshadweep Archipelago, west of mainland India, as well as some ferries along the coast such as between small ports in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

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Red Tape

A visa before arriving in India is needed and these are easily available at Indian embassies and consulates throughout the world. In India, there are many different types of visa, for example for tourists, businessmen, journalists, and researchers. Everyone except nationals of Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal needs a visa to visit India. For more information about applying for a visa have a look at the government's Indian Visa Online website.

Six-month multiple-entry tourist visas (valid from the date of issue) are granted to nationals of most countries regardless of how long you intend to stay. These include citizens from most EU countries, Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Japan, the UK and Australia. You can enter and leave as often as you like, but you can only spend a total of 180 days in the country, starting from the date of issue. Getting another visa after you have had two in a row may prove a little difficult, but usually you will find. The best place to go to is Kathmandu.

From 1st January 2010, Visa on Arrival facility has been started for citizens of the following 5 countries: Singapore, New Zealand, Finland, Luxembourg and Japan. However this facility will only be available for tourists arriving at the International Airports of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata and US$60 will be collected as Visa fees. This pilot project will be intially run for one year, if succesfull, more countries might follow. There have been plans to give citizens of about 18 countries a visa upon arrival since years, but this is the first time some citizens can actually get it.

Most people travel on the standard tourist visa. An onward travel ticket is a requirement for most visas, but this is not always enforced (check in advance), except for the 72-hour transit visa. Note that as of January 2010 there is another change regarding visa rules, which means that you have to stay within India for at least 8 days to get a tourist visa, otherwise it will be regarded as a business trip. This might not apply immediately for all countries, so again: check the nearest embassy or consulate for the latest details.

There are additional restrictions on travellers from Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as certain Eastern European, African and Central Asian countries. Check any special conditions for your nationality with the Indian embassy in your country. This list may get your started when you are looking for more information.

In case you have one of the many types of visa that need to be registered once within India: the Foreigner Registration Office is the primary agency to regulate the registration, movement, stay, departure, and extension of stay of foreigners. In cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai you can find a Foreigner Registration Office. In other places, the Superintendents of Police (SP) of the Districts act as registration officers for foreigners.

For the process of registration the following documents are required:

  • Photocopy of the passport and initial visa
  • Four passport photographs
  • Details of residence in India
  • Proof of sufficient funds for non-scholarship students
  • Confirmed letter of acceptance or a provisional admission certificate from a university or a college or other educational institution
  • HIV test report from one of the WHO recognised institutions (for people in the age group of 15 to 60 years that are visiting India on a visa for more than one year)

Registration is required to be done only once within the stipulated period, even though you may go out of India on multiple entry facility during the validity of the visa. Only if you enter India on a new visa will you be required to register again. Upon completion of your stay in India you should surrender your certificate of registration to the officer of the place where you are registered or of the place where you intend to depart or to the immigration officer at the port of exit from India.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The official currency for India is the Rupee (ISO code: INR). One rupee is further subdivided into 100 paise (singular paisa). The commonly used symbol for rupee is Rs. On the 15th of July 2010 a new symbol of Rupee has been approved by the Indian cabinet. The new Rupee symbol is designed by D Udaya Kumar, a Mumbai IIT post graduate student.

  • Banknotes - Rs.5, Rs.10, Rs.20, Rs.50, Rs.100, Rs.500, Rs.1,000
  • Coins - 10, 20, 25, 50 paise (called 'small coins'); 1 rupee, 2 rupees, 5 rupees, 10 rupees (called 'Rupee coins').

Due to incidents of counterfeiting, some of the shops in smaller towns and cities may not accept Rs.1,000 notes. Cash is commonly used for transactions, while creditcards are accepted in most shops in bigger cities.

The ATM network in India is rapidly expanding and most of them accept international cards. ATMs usually have a security guard and access is through the bankcard and users should not allow anyone else into the ATM room, except their trusted travel partners.

Make sure to retain your receipts whenever you exchange any currency or traveler’s cheque to Indian Rupees or withdraw any money from the ATM. You will be asked to show this receipt when you want to exchange Indian currency back to any other currency upon your departure.

Notably, prices within India for the same item or service can also vary heavily. For example, you can visit a local cinema for as little as Rs.30 or pay Rs.300 for a seat in one of the many new multiplex cinemas.

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Work

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. A work permit means residency in India which means you will need to put forth an AIDS test result as part of the work visa application process. It is highly recommended that applicants obtain test results in their home country beforehand if at all possible. There are many expatriates working in India, mostly for multinational Fortune 1,000 firms. India has always had an expatriate community of reasonable size, and there are many avenues for finding employment, including popular job hunting websites.

There are also many volunteer opportunities around the country, amongst others in orphanages or teaching. A living can also be made in the traveler scenes by providing some kind of service such as baking Western cakes, tattooing or massage.

Previously, an AIDS test result was required as part of the work visa application process. It is highly recommended that applicants obtain test results in their home country beforehand if at all possible.

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Study

If you have a letter of admission from an Indian university, recognized college or educational institute, you can apply for a student visa for the length of your course, with the maximum visa duration being 5 years. All international students coming to India for studies need to go through a medical test for AIDS as part of their visa application process.

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) for technical graduation, and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) for management post-graduation are the most popular and renowned institutes and the level taught here is world class. Most of the ambitious Indian students try to get into these institutes, but the admission process is tough with a lot of competition and difficult entry tests. For example IIM Ahmedabad (the most sought after IIM) selects 300 students from 300,000 students who appear for CAT Exam. Foreigners can also apply for degrees at these institutes.

Apart from undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses, there are many training and diploma-level institutes and polytechnics that cater to the growing demand for skill-based and vocational education. Besides conventional educational institutes, foreigners might also be interested in studying with Pandits to learn Hindi and Sanskrit in genuine settings as well as with Mullahs to study Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. They might also like to live with Ustads to study traditional Indian music. Whether people are interested in philosophy or religion, cuisine or dance, India will have the right opportunity for them.

There are a few destinations/regions that have become especially well-known for certain courses:

  • Yoga is popular in Haridwar and Rishikesh.
  • Ayurveda is popular in Kerala.
  • Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani in Delhi and Varanasi.
  • Classical musical instruments in Varanasi.
  • Classical vocal music and classical Dance forms in Tamilnadu.
  • Sanskrit at 'Samskrita Bharati' in Bangalore and Delhi.
  • Buddhism in Dharamsala and Bir in Himachal Pradesh as well as in Bodhgaya in Bihar.

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Language

In fact, there are 22 official languages in India. The most important is Hindi, which is widely spoken all over north India as well as in many regions in the western, eastern, and central ranges of the country. This language acquired its current form over many centuries and numerous dialectical variations exist. Hindi is based on the Khariboli dialect of the Delhi region and differs from Urdu (national language of Pakistan and an officially recognised regional language of India) only in that it is usually written in the indigenous Devanagari script of India and exhibits less Persian influence than Urdu, employing a more sanskritised vocabulary.

Hindustani, also known as "Hindi-Urdu", is a term covering several closely related dialects in Pakistan and India, especially the vernacular form of the two national languages, Standard Hindi and Urdu. Hindi and Urdu can be seen as a single linguistic entity, the key difference being that Urdu is supplemented with a Perso-Arabic vocabulary and Hindi with a Sanskritic vocabulary, especially in their more literary forms. Besides, the difference is also sociolinguistic. When people speak Hindustani, Muslims will usually say that they are speaking Urdu and Hindus will typically refer to themselves speaking Hindi, even though they are speaking essentially the same language.

Although English is popularly assumed to be a widely spoken and understood language in India, it is still far from sufficient for understanding Indian culture. Basic knowledge of a local language is a reasonably small task to achieve and should be included in anybody's preparations. Learning a selection of key words or expressions enables you to reach out and find or provide meaning in conversations. For most of India, learning Hindustani language will be an excellent investment of your time, as it functions as the lingua franca and will allow you to communicate with the maximum amount of people in the country across most of India’s varied geography.

However, you will find people speaking reasonable English in almost all places tourists go. Indian English (Hinglish) is unique and can sound rather funny. If you pay attention to signs, posters and other printings you can probably find some entertaining misspellings. A menu card somewhere in India along the West coast some years ago advertised for "Roasted Chicken with Smashed Potatoes".

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Eat

Reams can be read and pages can be penned on Indian gastronomical wonders. But for the truly inspired gourmands and culinary enthusiasts - witnessing the preparations of the rich Indian foods is truly a gratifying experience. India is definitely the Mistress of Spices. Cuisine is regional, ancient, subtle, fiery and ultimately unforgettable. Flavors are as varied as the climate. Spices from the four corners of the country can be fragrant or pungent and sometimes just therapeutic. These spices are then blended in meticulous proportions in accordance to cooking tenets that are possibly centuries old. The use of these spices again can vary from region to region and it is this, which so sharply distinguishes and categories the food into its geographical divisions.

Indian culinary traditions are extremely diverse and justifiably famous throughout the world. You very likely will have tasted Indian food in your country, but this will only be a tiny part of India‘s extraordinary range of foods. Indian cuisine is famed for its spicy edge. Even food items people do not mostly associate with spiciness are often richly flavoured with spices in India. To the uninitiated it makes sense to start slowly and gradually build up your capacity to stomach the heavy spice combinations, but for those who have an affinity to spicy concoctions, it usually is love at first taste!

You will get tasty Samosas, a famous Indian snack with spicy boiled potato stuffing inside a crispy flour dough served with spicy chutney, at almost every corner (around 5 INR each) or you can go to a restaurant and try the immense variety of Indian cuisine’s dishes. Indian food is famous for the use of numerous spices to create flavour and aroma. Pay 50 to 400 INR for a sumptuous meal, which will appeal to all your senses.

Each region and each state has its own unique food. Among the popular dishes in North India are Mutter Paneer (a curry made with cottage cheese and peas), Pulao (fried rice), Daal (lentils), Dahi Gosht (lamb in yoghurt sauce), Butter Chicken, and of course Samosas. In South India you will not get around Idlis (steamed cakes made from rice batter), Dosas or Uttapams (pancakes made from a batter of rice and lentil flour). These are just a few examples, because fully covering the huge variety of Indian food probably would take hundreds of pages. So while in India, take every chance you get to sample and savour local food and specialties. Do not hesitate to also try out the street food stalls to spend some time with the locals.

Food safety is an important issue during your stay in India, as many foreigners fall sick due to polluted food or beverages. If you cannot resist the tempting treats of street vendors and their food variety (which most people cannot), we suggest you to look for places that are very popular with local people and foods that are freshly prepared in front of your eyes. Poor food preparation, cooking, and storage are fairly widespread, so please take extra care. Vegetables and fruits in general are available at every bazaar for a very small amount of money. However, imported products such as fancy chocolates are usually a bit more expensive as they are in most places.

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Sleep

Hospitality is a long running tradition in India. From the majestic Himalayas and the stark deserts of Rajasthan, over beautiful beaches and lush tropical forests, to idyllic villages and bustling cities, India offers unique opportunities for every individual preference. However, until fairly recently this was hardly evident when looking at India's hospitality industry.

By now, accommodation options throughout India have become extremely diverse, from cosy homestays and tribal huts to stunning heritage mansions and maharaja palaces. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Gujarat to Assam, there are different cultures, languages, life styles, and cuisines. This variety is increasingly reflected by the many forms of accommodation available in India, ranging from the simplicity of local guest houses and government bungalows to the opulent luxury of royal palaces and five star deluxe hotel suites.

In case people are looking for something more permanent: there are several ways to find longer term accommodation in India. A first step could be to search the web. There are multiple Internet forums you can check out, where different people exchange their experiences and useful advice. Some embassies are providing lists of people or agents who offer a place or at least assistance with finding an appropriate accommodation.

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Drink

In India most of the people drink tap water (which is generally not safe to drink). For the tourists packed bottled water is recommended. It is easily available in all parts of India (but make sure that the seal is not broken). The popular brands are Bisleri, Aquafina and Kinley. Local brands are also available but it's recommended to use the major brands. The average cost is RS.15 Per bottle of 1 liter. You can also request your hosts to boil water for you to consume or request filtered water in hotels and restaurants.

Alcoholic drinks are always comparatively expensive. A bottle of local beer costs Rs.20 to Rs.60 in the shop but restaurants, bars and clubs will charge you between Rs.120 to Rs.350 or even more. So going out (in the sense of Western nightlife) costs in India about the same as in other expensive countries (although you mostly do not pay entrance fees), because clubbing usually is for higher income groups. Nevertheless, it is affordable for a growing number of people. Besides, there are plenty of other cultural events, mostly for free.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to India. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering India) where that disease is widely prevalent, except when coming from Paraguay or Argentina.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to India. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

Your health is definitely a concern when heading to India. Although the risk of getting ill must not be exaggerated, and certainly should not spoil the enjoyment of your holiday, it is advisable to be prepared for your trip and to be aware of the health risks of that country.

It is always advisable to seek contact with your local surgery nurse/GP/ travel clinic for the latest information on malarial medications (Malaria occurs in certain regions in India) and vaccinations at least 6 weeks prior to departure. Always drink purified or bottled water and check the seal for evidence of tampering before drinking it. Do not clean your teeth with the tap water either as this can make you sick too.

Perhaps if you are travelling to an area where mosquitos are likely to be and in a malarial region, pack your own mosquito net so that you can sleep easily without being bitten. Always take a good repellent that contains deet and cover up well at dusk, evening and early mornings to minimize the chance of being bitten. Dengue outbreaks sometimes occur in and around urban centers.

India is a hot country and with a different attitude to hygiene, you therefore run greater risk of becoming ill than at home. There are more varieties of bacteria in a tropical climate, and your body isn't as used to them as you don't live in that area of the world.

If you are currently taking prescription medicines, be sure to pack the instruction leaflet with you, and carry some spare medicine. This will make life a lot easier if you happen to lose the medicine, especially when trying to explain the medication to an Indian pharmacist. Although the marketing name may vary from country to country, the chemist will certainly understand the written chemical contents.

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, be sure to take a copy of your prescription, as well as extra glasses or spare lenses.

Always carry your vaccinations booklet with you and a basic medical travel kit is always useful. You do not want a blister or small abrasion to get infected so plasters and antisceptic cream or disinfectant are a good idea, rehydration sachets and

It is best to eat at busy restaurants that have a good turnover as this means it is popular for a good reason and the food is more likely to be good and freshly prepared rather than hanging around in the heat. If something tastes odd or you don't like the look of it then trust your instincts and do not eat it.

If there are power cuts then don't order the icecream incase it has been melting and refrozen and this can make you really sick even though it is tempting in the heat!

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

India in general is a very safe country. Indians are very helpful and hospitable people. India is a democracy and the rule of law is mostly respected (even though the courts are often painfully slow in administering it). You can move freely around the country.

For all countries, there will always be some places where it is very safe and some where it is not. As in every other country in the world, savvy and caution are the best weapons against theft or worse. The role of women is different in Indian culture than it is for example in Western Europe. To avoid provoking the unnecessary, women should not wear revealing clothes like short skirts and tight tank tops and should keep in mind that an Indian man may understand certain behaviours or gestures differently than for example a man in their own country. Wearing local clothes will decrease the amount of attention you receive.

However, India is generally safe for women; just make yourself aware of the cultural differences. Larger cities tend to be more modern and people are more used to seeing tourists and expats, so there is more flexibility in terms of what kinds of clothes are acceptable. Hygiene is a very important topic in India as well and diseases can be a serious danger to your health. But when you follow some simple hygienic rules you can reduce risks to a low level. Malaria and dengue can be a danger in certain areas but there are effective ways to protect yourself from mosquito bites and reduce the risk of an infection to a minimum.

Safety on the roads in India is a concern and Indian driving and traffic takes some getting used to. It is infact an organised, organically choreographed, chaos according to the size of your vehicle and status on the road. Everyone gets out of the way of the big goods trucks as they are travelling at great speed trying to beat the clock as with the buses.

On the trains local people tend to recklessly hang off moving carriages and jump off in between stops. There is a lot less care taken with regards to wearing protective head gear and protective clothing on motorbikes and mopeds. It is not unusual to see a family of 5 all squeezed onto one motorbike and no-one wearing protective gear of any sort. During festivals such as Diwali you'll see adults and children playing with fireworks and sari-clad women trailing flamable fabrics past oil lamps that decorate the streets. It does not feel safe to be out in the streets in busy cities during a festival, but it is exciting and liberating at the same time that celebration is given priority over safety issues!

It is best to avoid big gatherings and crowds where possible as 'stampedes' can happen at large festivals and people regularly get hurt or crushed. Where religious or political passions run high, strange things can happen in India and situations can get out of control quite rapidly. You can call it mass hysteria and where police are involved they are armed with big 'lathis' (sticks) and beatings can be severe and undeserved. Police corruption is rife and it is often possible to bribe your way our of trouble if you have sufficient funds.

Occasionally you hear reports of gullible tourists who have gone to India in search of a guru or some form of spiritual enlightenment and get more then they bargained for. Women particularly are risking their safety going alone to remote places to meet some alleged holy man in a cave to receive teachings or blessings and watch them levitate etc. There are many charlatans out there preying on peoples vulnerability for financial gain or worse.

Always consult the FCO website prior to travel to see what the official line is on travel to certain regions and for further advice. For example Jammu & Kashmir is not a very safe destination and has not been for some time.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There's good coverage over most of India for Internet cafes. However, following the recent terror attacks in Mumbai and some other cities, all internet cafes have been instructed by the authorities to maintain a register and note down the identification details of all persons using internet. Sify iWay is a reliable and cheap cafe with over 1,600 cafes over India. iWay also allows you to open a pre-paid account that you can use all over India. Whenever you have Internet access probably the best and cheapest way to call family and friends at home is software that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet such as Skype.

Wifi hotspots in India are, for most part, limited. The major airports and stations do offer paid wifi at around RS.60-100 an hour. Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai are the only cities with decent wifi coverage. At Mumbai airport, you get to use WiFi internet free, for an hour or so.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country code for India is 91. To dial outside the country from India, prefix the country code with 00.

The general emergency number is 100 (emergency response police & fire), while for ambulance you should dial 102 or 112, though some regions have 108 for this emergency. 108 is used in in the Indian states of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha,Assam, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. 108 can be called for medical, crime, fire, or any other emergency from any phone.

Local phone numbers can be anywhere from 5-8 digits long. But when the area code is included, all landline phone numbers in India are 10 digits long. Cellphone numbers usually start with '9', '8', or '7'. Toll-free numbers start with 1-800.

If staying longterm it is probably wise to think about investing in a mobile phone. You'll possibly need to provide a photocopy of your passport and itinerary, so come prepared. Make sure you arrange it upon arrival in a big city, as it can sometimes be difficult to organise with language barriers and such in more regional areas. You can buy a cheap nokia for about RS.1,200 with a pre-paid plan. Airtel is a good carrier to think about as they have great coverage, and constant offers for cheaper calling. To recharge, most shop vendors with phone carrier signs can do it via their own phone. You give them your mobile number, they put it in their phone and you'll both get messages as to whether or not the recharge has been successful. Also, if possible, buy the phone in the state where you do the most travelling as the charges are higher in the states where you did not originally buy the phone.

Over the entire country there are plenty of public phones, even in the middle of the countryside. Although most of the time these phones are not very well maintained and have horrible connections. Therefore remember when using one of these public phones one must be extremely patient.
For international calls from payphones, you'll have to visit a reputable internet cafe with a phone-booth. Mobile phones are usually a better and cheaper option.

Post

India Post is the national postal service of India, and on their website you find details about prices to send postcards, letters and parcels, both domestically and internationally. For most postcards to send internationally, it is better to visit the post office before writing on the card as you may need quite a few stamps. Parcels must be taken to a tailor, he will then sew it up in white linen. Make sure he seals it with red wax, otherwise the post office may refuse to send it or try to get you to pay them to do it. Sewing up a parcel should only cost RS.50 to 200. In general, post offices are open from 10:00am to 1:00pm and 1:30pm to 4:30pm in most bigger towns and cities, though there are regional variations and some might keep longer hours or be open during (part of) the weekend as well. Ask around.

If you want to send bigger packages/parcels, it might be better, faster and sometimes even cheaper, to contact a private company like DHL, TNT or UPS.

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Quick Facts

India flag

Map of India

[edit]

Capital
New Delhi
Government
Federal Republic
Nationality
Indian
Population
1,210,000,000 [1]
Languages
Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Panjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, English
Religions
Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism
Currency
Indian Rupee (INR) Rs
Calling Code
+91
Time Zone
IST (UTC+5:30)

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  • LisaOnTheRoad

    Extensively travelled through India, with friends, people who live there, and on my own. Started my love-affair with the country in October 08, and have been on 3 extended trips thus far. Heading back in October 2010.

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Accommodation in India

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