India

Vast, diverse, deeply spiritual and utterly unforgettable, India is unlike anywhere else on earth – a melting pot of ethnicities and religions, a treasure trove of history and culture, and a curious mixture of chaos and serenity. Stretching across more than three million square kilometres, it encompasses a staggering array of landscapes, vistas and environs, and offers unparalleled travel experiences – from the beautiful beaches of Goa, to the compelling craziness of Kolkata, the sacred Ganges river banks of Varanasi, the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas in Kashmir and the ancient, exquisitely crafted temples dotted across the entire country. Not to mention the vibrant, friendly people, and the incredible cuisine.


Entry Requirements

Passports

All nationalities require a full passport that must be valid for 6 months beyond the intended length of stay. Please ensure you have the correct personal documents and obtain your own visa if one is required.

Visas

India: e-Tourist visa has recently been introduced for a wide range of countries. This visa is available for international travellers whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sight-seeing, casual visit to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or casual business visit. Applicants must apply online first, pay visa fee online and then print their e-Tourist visa form which will be sent via email. This should be taken with them to India. Please ensure that you meet all of the eligibility criteria including passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of stay in India and passports must also have at least 2 blank pages. More details can be found at:

https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html

Please note that visa regulations are subject to change at any time and it is strongly recommended that you check the current requirements with the Indian High Commission.


Banking and Currency

Currency

The Indian rupee is the official currency of the Republic of India. The modern rupee is subdivided into 100 paise (singular paisa), though as of 2011 only 50-paise coins are legal tender. Banknotes in circulation come in denominations of ₹5, ₹10, ₹20, ₹50, ₹100, ₹500 and ₹2000. Please note that as of November 2016, the older ₹500 note is no longer valid legal tender and only new ₹500 notes will be accepted.

The older Rupee coins are available in denominations of ₹1, ₹2, ₹5, ₹10, ₹20,₹25, ₹50, ₹100, ₹500 and ₹1000; the coins for 20 and above are for commemorative purposes only; the only other rupee coin has a nominal value of 50 paise, since lower denominations have been officially withdrawn.

The import and export of local currency is prohibited. The import of foreign currency is unlimited. However, amounts exceeding US$5,000 or equivalent in cash, or US$10,000 or equivalent in all forms of currency must be declared. The export of foreign currency is allowed up to the amount imported and declared.

Currency can be changed at banks, airports or authorised money changers. Many hotels also have facilities to change money but this is a more expensive option. It is illegal to exchange money through unauthorised money changers. US Dollars and Pounds Sterling are the easiest currencies to exchange.

Banking

Banking hours: Monday-Friday 10h30-15h30; Sat 10h30-13h00.

Strictly speaking, you can neither import nor export Indian currency, but you can get some at the airport straight away to at least get you transport to your accommodation. There are Authorized Foreign Exchange dealers in most big cities, and banks will also change your currency at a fair rate if you have time for the paperwork.

A good way of getting your travellers currency is via an ATM but beware of hidden bank charges, both from the bank providing the ATM and the card-issuing bank - you also do not know what exchange rate you are getting.ATMs are found in most towns and are recommended for cash withdrawals.

Visa, MasterCard and American Express are usually accepted in tourist hotels and many other shops, with the exception of Homestays and Houseboats. Debit cards are also widely accepted.

Travellers cheques are widely accepted and may be changed at banks and larger hotels. The most widely accepted currencies include US Dollars and Pounds Sterling. Some banks may refuse to change certain brands of traveller's cheques whilst others may exchange quite happily.

From experience, we have found the most convenient and cost effective means of obtaining rupees and paying bills in India is the Halifax Clarity MasterCard which uses market exchange rates and doesn’t charge extra for non-sterling transactions. We use this for everything, including withdrawing money from ATM’s.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

India is big and there are lots of interesting ways to travel around it, most of which could not very well be described as efficient or punctual. Allow considerable buffer time for any journey with a fixed deadline (eg. your flight back), and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.

India's large size and uncertain roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Even India's offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exceptions being Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (although crossing over from neighbouring states is fairly easy). Due to the aviation boom over the last few years, airports have not been able to keep up with the air traffic. Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of boarding gates. Check in and security queues can be terribly long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai.

Baggage Allowance: IMPORTANT
All domestic flights within India now have a free checked baggage allowance of only 15kg (apart from Air India which is 25kg).

Prepaid Excess Baggage
All airlines except Air India allow pre-payment of extra baggage in multiples of 5 kg & above.

PLEASE SEE 'INDIA TRAVEL ADVICE EXCESS BAGGAGE' DOCUMENT FOR FURTHER DETAILS AND CHARGES, (located under the Documents Tab).

Railways were introduced in India in 1853, more than one and half a centuries ago, by the British, and today India boasts of the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and the rail system is very efficient, if not always on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover the Indian landscape and scenic beauty first hand and is generally more economical than flying domestic. It is one of the safest ways of travel in India. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it's the best way to get to know the country and its people. Most train passengers will be curious about you and happy to pass the time with a chat.

In central locations of big cities like airports or stations reliable pre-paid taxis are available and will save you money as well as the bargaining hassle. However beware of touts who would claim themselves to be running pre-paid taxis. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt has two parts - one part is for your reference and the other part you will need to handover to the taxi driver only after you reach your desired destination. The taxi driver will get his payment by submitting or producing this other part to the pre-paid taxi counter. Normal taxis running by meter are usually more common. In many non Metro Cities (or even in Metros depending on time) taxies or autos may ply without the usual meter.

While you can't take a cross-country bus-ride across India, buses are the second most popular way of travelling across states and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network (eg. Dharamsala).


Health and Medical Information

We recommend that you seek apprioriate travel health advice from your regular GP practice. A good source of general information can be found at the NHS Fit for Travel website: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations/asia-(east)/india.aspx

When in India only drink bottled water and be wary of fruits and vegetables that may have been washed in unclean water. Avoid ice in drinks or check that it has been made from safe water. If you do suffer from an upset stomach, we can recommend (from experience!) a bland diet of curd rice for a few days.

Always keep a tube of mosquito repellent with you. You may not find the same brands of medicines in India, so it would be best to always carry your own emergency medicines you might need for diarrhoea, fever, etc. During summer, the dry summer heat can drain you completely. Drink lots of water and fluids.

Sun Protection: the sun in India can be fierce, so make sure you pack plenty of sun creams for protection plus plenty of after sun. Lotions containing ‘cactus juice’ are especially good for soothing any sunburn.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Water for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should first be boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is often unpasteurised and should be boiled. Avoid dairy products likely to have been made from non-boiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Do not eat salads, vegetables should be cooked and peel your own fruit. Don’t eat street vendor food unless it is piping hot. Tap water is not safe to drink, rely on bottled water which is widely available. However, do check the seal on bottled water. . In restaurants insist that they bring a sealed bottle to your table.

Indian food is world-renowned for its tantalising flavours, spiciness and enormous variety. Curries are created from the subtle and delicate blending of spices such as cumin, turmeric, cardamom, ginger, coriander, nutmeg and poppy seed although these vary from region to region and every spice has medicinal properties and use.

Vegetable dishes are more common than in Europe, particularly in the fruity, coconutty dishes of southern India, while northern India has an entirely different but equally satisfying cuisine to sample. Breads like paranthas, chapatis, naans and rotis are also part of the main diet in several states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Achars (pickles), relishes and chutneys again vary by region and add more resonance to amazing meals. Beef is not served in many parts of India. Pork is also not easily available. Eat non-vegetarian food only in good restaurants. The meat in cheaper and smaller places can be of dubious quality so best avoided. Good quality vegetarian food is easily available. Curd or yoghurt is served with most meals. It is a natural aid to digestion and helps temper the spicy food. Local culinary delights are part of the joy of travelling!

Sweets or mithai too have regional specialities. They tend to be milk based and some are syrupy and fried. Well-known northern sweets are gulab jamun, jalebi (it’s worth watching how these syprup-based confections are made in the street), kulfi, kheer, halwa and laddu. From the east are rasgulla and rasmalai. The south has several burfi and halwa-type desserts like coconut burfi and badam halwa made from almonds.

While care should be taken in where one eats, exceptional food can be had in the most humble surroundings such as food at ashrams as can be found in 5-star restaurants. Non-vegetarians will find fabulously spiced mutton dishes according to regional specialities including fish dishes typical to coastal areas.

10 to 15% is usual in restaurants that impose no service fee; optional where service fee is added to bill.


Climate and Weather

The weather is mainly hot most of the year with significant variations from region to region. The best time to visit is generally between October and March when conditions are pleasant across the country - although there can be lingering morning fog around Delhi and Agra in December/January. From April to June it can get unbearably hot in the north and increasingly humid in the south. The rainy season (July to September) is probbably best avoided if possible, although if you are heading to India for ayurvedic health treatments, the monsoon time is particualrly recommended. The Himalayan region can be very cold from December to January. The foothills, which provide a welcome escape from the heat of the plains, are at their best between March and June, and again in September after the rains.

For average monthly weather conditions in various Indian locations, please see attached India Climate Guide in the 'Documents' tab or visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Male or female, one rule covers all visitors to India: don't leave the house with your arms or legs bare. You'll naturally get attention as a foreigner, as full-on staring is common and accepted on Indian streets, but you'll suffer far less negative attention if you remain covered up. For most locations and seasons in India, thin, loose linen or cotton pants and button-down shirts will keep you comfortable in hot, humid weather and help you blend in. Women should be aware that ‘skimpy’ dressing can bring unwanted attention in India – dress conservatively to avoid causing offence or embarrassment. Ladies can also try wearing the Indian 'salwar-kameez'. It is comfortable and free sized and widely available in India at a reasonable price. If visiting any mosque, knees and shoulders should be covered. While you may see Indian young adults sporting tight jeans and fitted brand-name tops, you'd stand out significantly more in the same outfit. If you visit anywhere in northern India - not just the mountains, Delhi too - during the winter, prepare for seriously cold weather. Bring jeans and heavy shirts and pick up an Indian wool wrap.

What you can get away with at an Indian beach depends entirely on which beach you visit. In the state of Goa, a popular beach and club getaway destination, locals are accustomed to seeing tourists in bikinis on the beach and Indian men often sport Speedos. But skimpy clothes need to stay on the beach. Don't walk around town or your hotel in nothing but a bikini and sarong. In less Western-frequented beach destinations, such as the beaches around Bombay, Alibag and Chowpatty, or anywhere in the south, hit the beach in light pants and a tunic.

When visiting temples and other religious sites on your own or part of a tour, be on the lookout for signs advising visitors to dress in a specific way to enter the temple. The government of India advises that some religious institutions require visitors to cover their heads or remove their shoes – we suggest carrying socks with you if you would prefer not to go barefoot. The ground can also become unbearably hot at some times of year and wearing socks will help protect your feet. Covering your legs and arms in respect goes without saying. Certain sites may carry more specific requirements, such as donning a certain colored sash or sarong-like covering. Take your cue from other visitors exiting the site.

If you are visiting hill stations and mountainous areas, long trousers and comfortable shoes for walking are recommended. It can also get chilly in the evenings.

If you are going on safari whilst in India, avoid wearing bright colourful clothing, neutral/natural colours are preferred. It can also be very cold in the early morning so make sure you have something warm to wear, a hat and gloves would also be advised. Remember your camera and binoculars if you have them.

A hat and plenty of sun cream are essential items whilst travelling through India.


Electricity and Plug Standards

For the most part, electrical sockets (outlets) in India are the "Type D" 5 amp BS-546 sockets. This is actually an old British standard. The "Type D" Indian plug and socket is not to be confused with the "Type M" South African plug and socket. In pictures, they look very similar, but the South African type is much larger than the Indian type, and they are physically incompatible. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in.

Electrical sockets (outlets) in India usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliances are not compatible with 220-240 volt electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary.


General Guidance

Toilets: In India, public toilet facilities are few and far between. Take every opportunity you can to use a clean toilet in places such as hotels and restaurants. Make this a habit wherever you go. Your driver will know where to stop for clean toilet facilities whilst you are on a tour – don’t be afraid to let him know when you want to stop. Toilets don’t always have loo roll so we suggest carrying some with you, particularly when touring.

Beggars: we understand that experiencing poverty in India can be upsetting. Unfortunately, many beggars are part of an organised syndicate which operates on a commercial basis. Do not let them hassle you, and please do not encourage them by giving them money. If you come across what you feel is a genuine need and want to help, please consider giving food rather than money. At least then you know that you are not contributing towards buying drugs or alcohol which in reality is what many beggars use the money for.

NGO’s: or Non-Government Organisations are the equivalent of charities and operate widely throughout India. Many do excellent work which makes a real difference to communities and people’s lives. We have experience of working with a number of NGO’s in India and always do what we can to support them. For example, by including an activity organised by them, in your itinerary. We can also usually arrange a visit to an NGO if you let us know in advance, although please be willing to make a donation whilst you are there. We can also help organise time volunteering with an NGO if this is of interest to you – please let us know if you would like further information on this. Some of the NGO’s that we support are:

Salaam Baalak Trust: Provide homes and education for street children in Delhi.

Reality Gives: Providing young people from underprivileged communities in India quality education and experiences to help them reach their potential. We have spent time volunteering with them in Dharavi slum, Mumbai and are very impressed with their effectiveness.

The Pavement School: an after school support facility for street children in Mumbai.

Responsible Charity: improving education, healthcare and sustainability in Kolkata.

Missionaries of Charity: caring for the destitute, sick and needy in various locations, particularly Kolkata where we have done volunteer work.

Janaseva Sisubhavan: an orphanage near Kochi in Kerala for destitute children.

Donations and gifts: Please do not give money or sweets to the local people in the villages you visit, as it promotes a 'begging culture' in the local communities. If you wish to donate, you may do so via an aid agency. Some local villages can be supported by buying their craft work etc. Pens, note books and other items for children are usually best distributed via a school teacher or community leader.

Sightseeing: Dress codes for religious places can include covering your head, being barefoot etc. Ask, so that you don't unwittingly give offence. Some temples do not permit any leather articles at all on their premises. Certain temples are not open to Non-Hindus. Please check with your local guide beforehand. Most museums in India are closed on Mondays and Site Museums, those near archaeological monuments, on Fridays. Taj Mahal is closed every Friday. Smoking is not allowed at public places. English is spoken at almost all tourist centres.

Guides: where we have organised a local guide as part of your tour, please do tell them of any particular interests that you may have. Not everyone needs to know every historical detail, so please do let them know if you would rather learn about other aspects of India or Indian life. Whilst guides have an overall remit of what to include in your sightseeing, this can be flexible to suit your preferences – just let them know. Guides are also under strict instruction not to ‘persuade’ you to shop at a particular outlet – infact they should not be taking you to any shops unless you specifically ask for this. We understand how irritating this can be and have tried to ensure that this doesn’t happen. If it does, please be firm and tell them you are not interested in shopping. Please also report this either to the local representative or to us so we can take appropriate action.

Phones: there is good mobile phone coverage throughout most of India and you are advised to check with your provider regarding using your phone abroad on roaming tariff.

For your convenience, if you are starting a tour from Delhi, Kochi or Kolkata, you will be given a mobile phone with a local SIM which has been activated and loaded with INR 500 of credit. This will have your driver and local representative’s number saved so that you can easily contact them during your tour. Please ensure you return the phone to our representative at the end of your tour.

If required, you could buy a local SIM in India for your own mobile. You will need a copy of your passport & one passport size photograph. The SIM will be activated within 48 hours of purchase. Our local agents can assist you in getting the SIM.

Photography: For amateur photography of national monuments, there are no restrictions on taking photographs with a still camera or an 8mm. movie camera. It is prohibited to photograph places of military importance, i.e. airports, bridges, sensitive border regions. Certain temples may prohibit interior or exterior photography. Charges may be levied to photograph some monuments, forts or temples. Inside museums, or when photographing art works, flash cameras are prohibited Photography inside the Taj Mahal is prohibited. Filming with video cameras is not allowed in certain monuments or there might be a fee for filming. Please ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse.

Tips: although tipping is entirely at your own discretion, it is customary practice to offer some form of gratuity to the local staff. We suggest tipping your driver at the end of your tour rather than on a daily basis, unless you are having a change of driver. The following are suggested tipping levels (in total, not per person) for service which meets or exceeds your expectations:

Restaurants: The general tipping in India is around 10% of total meal bill (you do not have to pay tips in restaurants who levy service charges).

Local guides: Around 500-700 rupees for half day and 1000 – 1200 rupees for full day

Drivers: 500-1000 rupees per day

Airport representative: 100-200 rupees

Porter: 50 rupees per bag

Alcohol: please be aware that some hotels (especially Homestays) do not have an alcohol licence and can therefore not technically serve alcohol. In some places, you may find ‘evening service’ being offered which for those people who enjoy a pre-dinner G&T, I recommend you take up! Where alcohol is not offered, most establishments are happy for you to purchase your own alcohol locally for consumption in your room. Please ask your driver to stop at a liquor store if you need to stock up!

Shopping: India has an array of shopping opportunities, my personal favourite being Fab India! which has a fabulous range of Indian style clothing and home furnishings. Prices are normally fixed in western style shopping malls. Everywhere else, it is normally expected that some form of bargaining will take place. My normal rule of thumb is to offer 1/3 of the original asking price and then gradually negotiate up to ½. This usually works, although sometimes only after I have walked away and the shopkeeper has caught up with me further down the street. If you are in Delhi, head to Khan Market for upmarket shopping or Janpath street market for wonderful Rajasthani and Gujarati embroidery and textiles.


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