Join an India adventure tour to be immersed into the contrast and sensory extremes of this varied sub-continent. This huge land mass is home to rich diversity in everything from geography and climate to culture and cuisine. Our India adventure tours can provide an abundance of natural wonders, ancient forts and temples along with colourful people and their varied cultures.
Visit the temples of Delhi or the infamous Taj Mahal in the city of Agra, steeped in history and tradition. Jaipur is Rajasthan's capital, a bustling, lively destination known as the ‘pink city' because of its pink wash buildings! Jodhpur, is dominated by its spectacular fort and is known as the “Blue City”, while from Jaisalmer we travel into the photogenic Thar Desert with vast sand dunes where we will begin an overnight camel safari. Varanasi is one of India's most holy cities and attracts many Hindu pilgrims who come to take a purifying dip in the Ganges river. Of course no India adventure tour is complete without a visit to Ranthambore National Park, one of the country’s finest tiger reserves. Travelling on an India adventure tour using trains, buses and rickshaws will open your eyes to whole new world!
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India Travel Guide
India Travel Guide
India is frustrating, colourful, diverse and challenging like no other destination on earth. The poverty and chaotic buzz of humanity in its cities can be overwhelming. The natural diversity is fitting for a country its size, from the snow-draped Himalayas to vast, sandy desert, to verdant steamy jungle. The culture is colourful and engaging and at times almost incomprehensible; famous temples teeming with sacred rats or ruins carved with what may be the world's most risqué reliefs are just two of the more bizarre scenes you may encounter. Love it or hate it – and many travellers to India swing between the two – travel in India cannot be anything other than eye-opening. A singular experience, bound to forever change your view of the world.
India's currency is the rupee (symbol: ₹) which breaks into 100 paisa. Banknotes come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 rupee denominations and coins in 1, 2, 5, 10, 100 and 1000 rupee denominations and 50 paisa (rarely used).
Most urban centres have ATMs which accept international cards, but you should always carry a mixture of cards and cash in case you cannot get money out. Mastercard and Visa are the two most commonly accepted cards.
India is a cheap place to travel. Street food costs pennies and main dishes in local restaurants generally cost Rs 200-400 (US$3-6). Entry fees vary considerably with the Taj Mahal costing Rs 750 (US$12), the Red Fort in Delhi costing 250 (US$4) and many other smaller temples and palaces costing around the same or cheaper.
Tipping is optional and given the low wages a small amount to reward good service is always appreciated. Tipping your driver or guide at the end of a trip is customary if you are pleased with the service. Giving sweets, gifts or money to begging children is not encouraged as this promotes a culture of dependency and child exploitation. If you wish to donate, it is better to find a reputable school or charity and give directly to them.
Major Cities and Towns in India
Delhi is the nation's capital, located in the north. Its neighbour states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan hold some of the country's greatest tourist attractions. South of Delhi is Agra where the famed Taj Mahal is found, taking only a couple of hours by fast train to reach from Delhi. Further into Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is a city whose name throws up images of mysticism and spiritualism. To the west Rajasthan is a land of warrior lords, each building their own magnificent forts. Notable cities in this state include Jaipur (the Pink City), Jodhpur (the Blue City), Jaisalmer and Udaipur. Further south the main cities are Mumbai on the west coast, Kolkata in the far east near the border with Bangladesh and Chennai (formerly Madras) on the east coast. Kerala sits near the bottom point of the country and Goa, a popular beach resort is roughly half way between it and Mumbai on the west coast.
India's electricity supply general runs at 230 volts/50Hz. Most sockets are for plugs with three round prongs, which will also accept European round two-prong style plugs. All other plug types will require an adaptor. North American appliances will need a transformer also, unless they are multi-voltage. Power surges and outages are not uncommon, so some many of surge protector may be advisable for appliances such as laptops.
Etiquette and Culture
While there are estimated to be more than 2000 ethnic groups in India, the majority of the population fall into two major groups, the North Indians which are Indian-Aryan speaking and the South Indians which are Dravidian-speaking. India's main religion is Hinduism practised by 80.5% of the population. Next is Islam with 13.4%, Christians 2.3%, Sikhs 1.9%, Buddhists 0.8% and Jainism 0.4%. There are 22 recognised languages in the Indian constitution and more than 1600 additional languages spoken throughout the country. English is often used as a bridge and is widely spoken. Great efforts have been made to install Hindi as the default national language; it is spoken widely in the north but rarely in the south.
It will help you avoid hassle to dress modestly in India, avoiding tight clothing and keeping your shoulders and knees covered. When entering homes or holy sites it is customary to remove your shoes. Food is eaten with the right hand only, the left is reserved for cleaning oneself.
A idiosyncratic gesture on the Indian people is the head wobble. This has no definitive meaning and can mean 'yes', 'no' or 'I'm not sure'. It is best not to get frustrated with this response to questions and to try and go with the flow. Saying namaste with your hands pressed together in a prayer-like gesture is a respectful way of greeting people in India and may be more appropriate than shaking hands depending on the situation.
India dominates the South Asian subcontinent, spanning climatic zones from tropical monsoon in the south to temperate in the north. It covers an area of more than 3 million square kilometres making it the 7th largest country in the world. Its coastline borders with the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal and it has land borders with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma/Myanmar, China and Nepal. The southern geography is characterised by upland plains called the Deccan Plateau, with flat to rolling plains along the Ganges, arid desert in the north-west and Himalayan mountain ranges along the north and north-eastern borders.
India was the location of one of the world's earliest civilisations. From around 3500 BC the Indus Valley civilisation began to establish an urban culture, founding large cities which became the focal points of the Harappan culture. The Harappans traded with Mesopotamia, developed bronze-work including art and jewellery and had established religious ceremonies.
The Harappans were in decline by 1500 BC and the Aryan people had began migrating and invading from the north into India. Initially nomadic herders, the Aryan people eventually began to settle and establish kingdoms. This was the time of the development of Hinduism as well as the rise of Buddhism and Jainism. In 332 BC Chandragupta Maurya became king marking the beginning of the Mauryan Empire which, at its height, included North India, neighbouring regions in central Asia and stretched as far south as Karnataka. Prior to the opening of the seas, most invasions and migrations occurred from the north via the Hindu Kush making northern India the stage for much of the region's power struggles and cultural upheaval, while southern India was left largely unconquered.
The Mauryan Empire had completely collapsed by 184 BC and there was a period of smaller, more short-lived empires including the Sungas (184-70 BC), Kanvas (72-30 BC), Shakas (from 130 BC) and Kushanas (1st century BC to 1st century AD before the next great empire emerged, called the Guptas. The Gupta Empire was founded in the 4th century AD by Ghandragupta and their power expanded to control north and central India. During this time trade with China flourished and advancement in poetry, literature, art, mathematics, astronomy and medicine were made. The Hun invasions of the 6th century marked the beginning of the end for the Gupta Empire and in 510 the Guptas were defeated by the Hun army and India was once more devolved into a number of different kingdoms.
From the 10th century the Turks began incursions into central Asia, eventually taking northern India in 1192 establishing the Delhi Sultanate and imprinting an enduring Islamic influence on the region. This empire began to decline until it came to a dramatic and bloody end when Timur (Tamerlane), a Mongol and descendant of Ghengis Khan, sacked Delhi in 1398 mercilessly massacring its inhabitants. After Timur's withdrawal several splinter kingdoms emerged leading to a period of violence and instability which was resolved with the establishment of the Mughal Empire founded by Babur in 1526 who was a descendant of Genghis Khan and Timur. At its height the Mughal Empire was massive, encompassing almost the entire subcontinent. It was also an era of great building works, including the Taj Mahal, and a golden age of art and literature.
The end of the 15th century saw the first European arrivals to the region with the Portuguese landing in modern-day Kerala who captured Goa in 1510. In 1600 the English East India Company was formed and in 1613 the English established their first trading base in India, forming further bases at Madras in 1639 (now Chennai), Bombay in 1661 (now Mumbai) and Calcutta in 1690 (now Kolkata). The French also sought to benefit from trade in India and they made their own bases, becoming rivals with the British which sparked the Seven Years war. Eventually India became a British colony.
Throughout British control of India, revolts and fighting were common. By the turn of the 20th century the Indian National Congress was formed spearheading Indian independence. The Congress was, for a time, led by Mohandas Gandhi who is most famous for his non-violent protests and message of tolerance and inclusion. Despite his efforts, he was largely excluded from independence negotiations. India finally gaining independence on August 15 1947. The following year, Ghandi was assassinated by a Hindu zealot. Fighting and bloodshed between Muslim and Hindus, led to the division of the country into India and East and West Pakistan. This solution proved ineffective and 25 years later East Pakistan became Bangladesh.
Best time to travel in India
Remembering India is a large country (the 7th largest in the world), weather patterns vary greatly between regions. Generally speaking the far north-west has a dry, desert climate, mid and southern India has a rainy tropical climate and the north-east has hot summers and mild winters, except for mountainous regions which have cold winters.
December to March is the high season for tourists and most of the country has pleasant weather at this time of year. The northern cities can get bitterly cold at this time, especially the closer you get to the mountains.
April to June is the low season with fewer visitors and the potential for travel bargains. It is at this time of year that the monsoon starts its journey from south to north bringing stifling humidity and rain. The hills are the ideal place to be at this time of year as they offer cool respite from the rising temperatures.
July to November is considered the shoulder season with traveller numbers slowing increasing as the end of the year draws nearer. India's south-east coast can experience heave rains from October onwards until early December.
When to travel
Given its size, with regards to the weather India is a year round destination with somewhere being ideal at any time of year. Other factors you may want to take into account when deciding what time of year to travel is India's somewhat packed festive calendar, with several of its celebrations catching the world's attention to the point where they have been adopted across the globe.
Diwali, the festival of lights, falls in October in November and is a five day celebration where Indians light fireworks, burn oil lamps or hanging lanterns and give gifts. It is the most important event in the Hindu calendar and one of the prettiest festival of the year.
Holi is a festival celebrated in North India in February or March. Hindus celebrate the coming of spring by throwing coloured water or powder (called gulal) at anyone and everyone, in a chaotic, colourful and exuberant mess. Bonfires are lit on the night before Holi as a symbolic reference to the downfall of the demoness Holika.
Leftover from the Portuguese settlers, Goa has its very own version of the Catholic festival of Carnival, a four-day party to mark the beginning of Lent. This falls in February or March each year and involves parades with extravagant floats and costumed dancers. Street parties and revelry follows as the festivities continue into the night.
Guide to food in India
One of the world's international cuisines, Indian food is a tantalising balance of flavours and textures. Far more complex than the Western-style Indian curry; the cuisine in India varies from region to region each with its own cook techniques and ingredients. Part of India's great culinary heritage is owed to its history as a spice growing region. Black pepper, turmeric, cumin and coriander are just a few of the spices used. In the south food is complemented by the likes of cardamom and tamarind and saffron is grown in the north in Kashmir.
Rice is a staple throughout the country and is served as an accompaniment to most 'wet' dishes (known as curries in the West). It is served plain; as biryani, spicy steamed rice with meat or vegetables; or as pilaf, rice cooked in a flavoured broth with spices.
In the north, wheat is more prevalent than in the south and there are a variety of flat breads made including roti/chapati, an unleavened flat bread cooked on a hot plate. Other variations include puri which is deep-fried dough and paratha which is a flaky unleavened bread often stuffed with fillings such as meat or paneer (a soft unpasteurised cheese). The most famous of all is naan bread cooked on the walls of a tandoor oven.
Although vegetarianism is common in India, dishes with meat are common with chicken, lamb and mutton being the most common – beef is off limits for Hindus and Muslims are not permitted to eat pork. Meat dishes may include kebabs, koftas (spiced, shaped mince meat) and Tandoori meat.
Snacks include pakora which are deep-fried vegetables, paneer or meat in a batter made from gram flour (chickpea flour), aloo tikki which are mashed potato patties, bhajia which are vegetable fritters and samosas, deep-fried pastry triangles with various fillings. Street side snacks are collectively known by the term chaat.
Indian sweets include jalebis which are a sweet, syrupy coil of deep-fried dough, kheer which is similar to rice pudding, gulab jamuns which are deep-fried balls of dough and barfi which is a fudge-like sweet. Kulfi is a sort of Indian-style ice cream made from caramelised milk.
Popular drinks include lassi, made from yogurt and of course, chai (tea).
Top Attractions and Highlights in India
1. Agra & the Taj Mahal
Built by Shah Jahan to honour his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal may well be the greatest monument to love that was ever built. Around Agra you can also visit the Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar's Tomb and Itimad-ud-Daulah.
The famous city of lakes, with beautiful ornate palaces and a romantic air. It is also known as 'the Venice of the East' and has appeared as the location of many films including James Bond's 'Octopussy'.
The gateway to the Thar desert, this distinctly golden city has majestic fort ramparts that rise up like giant sand castles holding inside them elegant havelis (private mansions) and carved Jain temples. From here you can venture into the desert on the back of a camel, just like the locals.
Sensual, Kama Sutra-esque sculptures decorate the walls of these exotic temples and it is what draws most of the visitors. No one really knows the meaning of the carvings – educational or just bragging? – but once you're done having a giggle over their creativeness, you'll notice how beautiful and magical these thousand-year-old buildings really are.