India is a South Asian country sharing land borders with China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. This means that India is both vast and diverse in terms of people, language, traditions and culture. India can feel challenging, it’s an assault on all of your senses, the poverty is harsh and the bureaucracy can be frustrating, yet if you open your mind it can be soul stirring and question the way you view the world.
The country is a riot of colour and an epic culinary journey, from the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas to the sun kissed beaches of Goa. Whether you’re looking for the Big five in the jungle, floating the tranquil backwaters of Kerala, exploring the majestic crumbling ruins of Hampi or feeling the pulsing spirituality of Varanasi, India is a thought evoking country that will continually delight and surprise even the most avid traveller.
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Climate in India
India’s vast size means it can be enjoyed almost year-round dependent upon weather patterns. Generally speaking, the country has a clear high and low season:
- The high season: begins in November and runs until March, providing a more pleasant temperature, with warm and dry days alongside cooler nights. In the Himalayas the mountain vistas are clearer but temperatures are extremely low. Please note this is peak tourist season, therefore some places will be very busy and prices will peak. Average temperatures: Delhi 25°C, Mumbai 30°C, Goa 32°C, Jaipur 26°C.
- Shoulder season: Officially is from July to October when heavy monsoon rains will persist, expect high humidity. To the north of the country passes in Ladakh in the Himalayas open (July- September), making this the perfect time to explore the far north. Delhi 34°C, Mumbai 30°C, Goa 30°C, Jaipur 33°C, Ladakh 20°C.
- The low season: April-June can provide a great way to beat the crowds (and lower your budget) if you can handle the scorching temperatures. The monsoon sweeps from north to south which brings with it extreme humidity. Delhi 39°C, Mumbai 32°C, Goa 33°C, Jaipur 39°C
The best time to visit is during the dry season (November to March); places such as Rajasthan can feel overrun, particularly around Holi Festival. Christmas is a popular time in Southern India, with accommodation and trains getting booked in advance, planning ahead is recommended.
Currency in India
India has its own currency which is the Indian Rupee. The coins come in denominations of Rs 1, Rs Rs and Rs 10. Notes come in Rs 10, Rs 20, Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs 500 and Rs 1000.
At the time of writing the conversion rate Euros and Dollars to Rupees is as follows:
€1 = Rs 72
$1 = Rs 82
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Try and use as small notes or coins where possible.
Whilst there are ATMs in larger towns across India, this is not true for the smaller places that are off the beaten track. My advice therefore, is to always carry some local currency or traveller cheques on you. In particular hold on to some smaller currency that is great to use in markets and for travel. When using ATMs, use the ones inside a bank and if this isn’t possible, check for tampering and be wary of who is around and behind you.
Look out for the 4 main banks:
- Axix bank: Maximum withdrawal is Rs 10,000- 15,000. The first five transactions or Rs 10 of cash deposits or withdrawals would be free and charged at Rs 5 per thousand rupees or Rs 150, whichever is higher.
- Citibanks: Maximum withdrawal is Rs 40,000 in one transaction, reducing any transaction charges. There is a 3 % foreign transaction fee when you use their credit card/ATM card overseas.
- HSBC: Maximum withdrawal is Rs 1,00,000. Non-Sterling transaction fee 2.75%. Cash Fee 2% Minimum Rs 158 (£1.75), maximum Rs 451 (£5.00).
- ICICI: Balance enquiry, Rs 25, ATM withdrawal fee abroad Rs 15.
Credit cards are only accepted at a number of tourist hotspots and cities (their charge is significant). Mastercard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards. I used the a Barclay’s credit card when I was travelling, who’s special offer allowed me to make free cash withdrawals and with no charge incurred when I paid for purchases using my card. This offer has now ended, but look out for similar offers online. Another option (if you are from the UK) is the Starling Card. This card has minimal / no foreign transaction fees which means masses of savings! I would suggest taking two bank cards with you, or one bank and one credit card and store them separately, so if you lose one, you will always have a back up.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Always let you bank know beforehand that you are travelling abroad and where you are going. This will notify the bank and prevent them from freezing your card which they will do if they think it has been stolen.
You can change major currencies such as Dollars, Pounds and Euros at most major banks but make sure you have identification. Whenever changing money make sure you check the condition of the notes, otherwise they could be difficult to use. A black market does exist particularly at land border crossings, just be cautious you are not being set up for a scam.
Getting Around India
Travel options in India are numerous, frequent and cheap; however it can be daunting and incredibly slow. Domestic flights and overnight trains are an excellent way to cover vast distances rather than buses.
India’s network is one of the busiest in the world providing frequent and cheap travel that is also a once in a lifetime experience. Sleeper trains are a great way to cover vast distances and you may also get to share some fantastic experiences and cuisines with locals. To book train tickets the best way is via IRCTC, for this you will need to set up an online account. All tickets go on sale 60 days in advance and are always sold quickly, so if you’re planning any trips to large cities, e.g. Mumbai or Delhi you must book these well in advance, especially if it’s during a festive period.
When you book a train ticket you must specify for a chair, sleeper, 1AC, 2AC or 3AC carriage. No reservation is required for general second class compartments; you will however need to jump on the train as it’s pulling into the station along with hundreds of others to get a seat! This can be a fun experience when travelling very short journeys (no more than 2 hours). For any longer trips we would highly recommend booking in advance
When booking, if there is any availability they will allocate you a seat immediately. Your ticket will show the seat, berth and carriage, the carriage names are painted onto the side of the carriages for you to spot at the station. If there is no availability then you will be put on the waiting list, e.g. 8 WL which means your 8th in the queue to get your chosen ticket. A lot of cancellation activity happens within 24/48 hours prior to departure (cancellation is free), which means you may be allocated a ticket; you just need to keep checking your account. Generally speaking if you’re wait-listed below 20 you’re very likely to be allocated a seat.
If when purchasing your ticket you are allocated RAC, this means that if someone cancels their ticket you will be allocated their berth/ seat. If this does not happen you can board the train but you aren't yet allocated a seat/ bed. There are only 4 RAC tickets per carriage who can share two benches. This means all 4 people are guaranteed a seat, but not a bed. They do usually try to allocate RAC tickets to any foreign travellers.
For long distances we would recommend being in 2AC or 3AC. 2AC is the second best class (though sometimes there isn't a 1ac carriage) and is 4 bunk beds in a section with individual curtains and then 2 bunk beds in the hallway. 3AC is very similar except there are 6 bunk beds in a section, so it's noisier since it attracts large domestic families. The lower classes without AC are fine for day travel; the windows are open so it's great for seeing the dramatic terrain, people watching and getting local snacks. Solo Female travellers can book onto a carriage that is female only however you will usually find that you’ll be adopted by an India family.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Take earplugs, eye mask and a jumper the air conditioning can be bone chilling!
Buses go everywhere in India and are sometimes the only way to get around North India or the lush tea plantations. There are various classes of buses - ordinary, semi deluxe and deluxe, these vary drastically. Ordinary buses have no air conditioning, seat allocation and they can often be uncomfortable and overcrowded, however they will stop wherever you would like to go. Roads in tea plantations and the North can be windy, avoid night buses where possible since road conditions can be more hazardous. There is no need to pre-book your tickets for ordinary buses, just turn up at the bus station and look for the sign on the bus. In many cases, the buses only depart when they are completely full, you may find you have to stand. Private buses are more expensive but are more comfortable.
Hiring a car can be an affordable and easy way to explore the country, particularly in Rajasthan. Ensure you ask for a driver that speaks English and knows the state well, since it can add some insight to your trip. Tripadvisor is a good place to look for a driver, make sure you discuss your itinerary and what is included in the price before you start the tour.
Domestic flights can be a great way to travel the country rather than slow, uncomfortable bus journeys. Flights are available from and to all major cities and state capitals, major airlines are Air India, IndiGo and Jet Airways.
Rickshaws are cheap and an amazing way to whiz around and discover the narrow crowded streets. Just ensure you agree a price first before you start your journey ~ don’t be frightened to haggle. They are ideal for 2 people yet you find an entire family and luggage squeezed into one.
Travel Insurance for India
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries and it is the only travel insurance we will ever use! It is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
WorldNomads.com is backed by a suite of strong and specialist travel insurers who provide you with great cover, 24 hour emergency assistance and the highest levels of support. The WorldNomads.com prices are some of the most competitive online and if you need to change plans, you can buy more cover or claim online while you are still away. You can even buy a World Nomads policy if you're already travelling. They also offer travel safety advice and tips online through the World Nomads Travel Safety Hub and WorldNomads.com members can learn the local lingo through a series of iPod & iPhone Language Guides and can stay in touch with family and friends with an online travel journal. You can find out more about why travel insurance is important for your trip. If you have any questions about your travel insurance or travel safety in general, please contact WorldNomads.com directly.
Medical Considerations for India
When you know where you want to go in India, go to your doctor’s surgery and ask to see the nurse to discuss travel vaccinations. They will go through your travel plans and suggest the appropriate vaccinations. In the UK, some of the vaccinations will be free of charge through your doctor’s surgery, and some will cost. To keep the cost down, you can always visit a travel centre instead, where the injections are slightly cheaper. When thinking about vaccinations for your trip, the following website can be really helpful: Fit for Travel. It is likely that you will need:
- Hepatitis A and B, tetanus
- Rabies, typhoid
- Malaria tablets (location dependant)
Be careful with food; avoid any salads or ice; however you may get ‘Delhi Belly’ at some point during your trip. Antibiotics such as Ciprofloxacin are easy to pick up over the counter in most major cities.
What to Pack for India
Avoid dressing culturally inappropriately and cover up, in particular woman, this will avert any unwanted attention.
- Long sleeved tops and long comfortable walking trousers if you are hiking
- Dresses / shorts / light clothes for the beach
- Long sleeve light weight shirts and tops
- Light weight Trousers or ankle length skirts
- Sarong for covering up in sacred places and on the beach (locals will wear tshirts and shorts in the water).
- Swimwear / beach items
- Walking shoes / trainers / sandals
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Hand sanitizer
- Head torch
- Battery pack / electronics
- Ear plugs and an eye mask- India is a riot of noise!
- First aid kit
- Travel pillow
- Packing cubes. Get different colours to separate your clean and dirty clothes!
- Life Straw. This is an amazing accessory to have when you are trekking and a cheap alternative to buying water along the way, it also saves on buying plastic bottles and for every purchase, a child in a developing country, receives clean drinking water for 1 school year!
- Zip lock bags for traveling with left over food items / prevent liquid items from spilling
- Money belt
- Padlocks x3
- Ipod / music for the long bus journeys
- Biodegradable soap (especially when you are camping and washing in nature)
Safety Advice for India
India has a reputation with scams, of course most can be avoided as long as you remain alert and aware of your surroundings at all times:
- Always keep your valuables hidden or locked away. Don’t wander around with your Iphone in hand or leave it in full view when travelling around.
- Always keep your valuables in your small backpack and wear it on your front, with your big backpack on your back.
- Always choose an ATM inside of a bank rather than on a street. Put your cash in your money belt, under your top. If you feel nervous about withdrawing money, go with someone else.
- If you are travelling on buses, do not store your backpack overhead or in the back of the bus, keep it on you at all times. For extra security, put your passport, money and phone in a money belt around your waist, under your clothes.
- When travelling on buses, always padlock your big bag and put your rain cover over it
- Always ask your hostel about the area and for safety advice.
- Keep your two bank/credit cards separate, so you always have a second source of money.
- Always have at least one photocopy of your passport, so if you lose it, you still have a copy.
- Bring another form of identification with you (driver’s license), stored separately
- Always keep you’re an eye on your drinks and food when travelling.
- Do not buy any gems- this scam is particularly prevalent in Jaipur, Agra and Delhi
- Always check when tout claim to be ‘government approved’ and overcharge you.
- Woman travellers can experience some harassment, dressing culturally appropriately helps and having male travelling partners mean you receive less attention.
- Get insurance before you travel! Even if you are only going on a short trip as you never know when you are going to need it. As a wise man once said, “if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you shouldn’t be travelling”. We recommend World Nomads.
Budget for India
India is a country that can accommodate anyone’s budget from street stalls to opulent hotel dinners; India has a wide range of accommodation, travel and food options. Backpackers could easily travel on $20-35 (€17-30) a day, this is of course dependent on where you want to go, where you stay and what you want to do. Most tourist attractions are above 500 rupees so lot’s of sightseeing may push up your budget.
Don't forget to buy your Travel Insurance...