A land of vastly diverse cultures and people, all united under on flag, India is a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells and all. Visitors who brave the heat and dirt will find colonial towns, palm-fringed beaches, soaring mountains, great shopping, holy rivers, lots of cows and possibly themselves.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: Spicy food, erotic temples of Khajuraho, forts and palaces of Rajasthan, Bollywood posters, snake charmers, saris, funny head-waggles, history and culture, Goa beaches, trekking in the Himalayas, colonial hill stations, people on train roofs, vegetarian food, bhang lassies and handlebar moustaches.

What’s Not: Noise, dust, pollution, too many people, poverty, deformed beggars pulling at your sleeve, Delhi belly or worse, long train rides, ear cleaners with sharp tools, vendors without change, barking dogs and people staring.

When to Go

Generally, India’s climate is defined by three distinct seasons.
The cool season (November to February) is the best time to visit with pleasant temperatures and no rain.
The hot season (March to June) is pretty uncomfortable with scorching heat.
The monsoon (July to October) is hot, humid and muddy.

Getting There & Away

Most travelers arrive at New Delhi Airport, and Indian Airlines has special deals for domestic flights if booked from abroad. The railway is the most convenient and interesting means for long distance travel, once you’ve managed to get a ticket, which you may have to partake in something not dissimilar to a greyhound race to acquire one. Buses are often crowded and uncomfortable, and many roads are in poor condition. Ships go from Kolkata and Chennai to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. Stuttering auto-rickshaws will take you around cities and taxis are sometimes metered.

Health & Safety

India is generally safe, but all those crowds make rich pickings for pickpockets. Water for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should first be boiled or otherwise sterilized. Milk is often un-pasteurized and should be boiled. The most common health problems for travelers are the famous Delhi belly (make sure to stock up on toilet paper) and malaria. Trips to pharmacies or hospitals are not uncommon.

Food & Hospitality

Cooking is a national pastime in India and the cuisine can leave you in heaven or hell, depending on how many chilies you can handle. A paradise for vegetarians, dairy products are widely available to put all those cows to some use. Palatial hotels with diminutive bellboys compete with a wide range of lodgings, most providing good value for money if you check your room first.

Itineraries

Ten days is the least you can get away with to take in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
Three or four days in Delhi to see the landmarks, temples and bazaars.
Two or three days for the UNESCO sights in Agra including the Taj Mahal.
Two or three days in Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’, boasting the Hindu culture of medieval North India.

Extra time
Three days to gaze at the sacred River Ganges and the amazing city of Varanasi.
Three or four days on the beaches of Goa, Chennai or Kerala.
A week chilling out among Kashmir’s flowery meadows, icy mountain peaks and clear rivers. Feel like a hippie straight out of a Led Zeppelin album!

Highlights

Taj Mahal: is a gleaming white marble structure and India’s tourist emblem. It won’t disappoint.

River Ganges: where the water is muddy with the sins of those who come to wash them away.

Udaipur: is Rajasthan’s most romantic city, dubbed the ‘Venice of the East’.

Jaipur: the ‘Pink City’, with broad avenues, dodgy gem traders and plenty of charm.

Goa: Portuguese heritage and world-famous beaches, you can still see some of the hippies who lost their way home in the 1960s.

Mumbai: is the kitschy glamour capital of Bollywood cinema and shopping malls that are packed with designer labels.

Darjeeling: tea plantations, hill stations and colonial heritage; the ideal place to cool off.

Activities

Trekking: in the Himalayas, but watch out for bandits in Kullu.

Camel safaris: ride a desert ship from gorgeous Jaisalmer or Pushkar.

River trips: from Cochin or Allepey in Kerala through peaceful, spectacular waterways with duck herding and Chinese fishing nets.

Yoga, ashrams and meditation: can be found everywhere. The Beatles went to Rishikesh on the Ganges.

Toy train: Yes, It’s really called that. From Kolkata to Darjeeling through jungle, tea gardens and pine forests.

Partying: in Goa, while it’s not like 1960s here anymore, there are still some freaky full moon parties in Anjuna.

Festivals & Events

India is blessed with a massive number of festivals, some so extravagant that missing them is not an option.

January: Republic Day Festival in Delhi features elephants, a procession and lots of military might and Indian magnificence.
February/March: Holi in the north will have you covered in colored powder and soaked with water.
August/September: Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the elephant-headed god with shrines, firecrackers and everyone trying to avoid looking at the moon.
October/November: Camel Fair at Pushkar in Rajasthan is a provincial highlight.
October/November: Diwali is the main event on the Hindu calendar, when lights illuminate the sky.

Onward Travel