India is among the most colorful nations of the world and boasts of a rich history, culture and heritage. To get the most of your trip to India , it would be a good idea to equip yourself with useful information before you set out for a journey of a lifetime. India is the seventh largest country in the world. Northern India contains the snowbound peaks and deep valleys of the Himalayas and the vast Gangetic Plain, which separates the Himalayan region from the southern peninsula and stretches from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. South of the plains, the land rises up into a triangular shaped plateau known as the Deccan. The plateau is bordered by the Eastern and Western Ghats, ranges of hills, which run parallel to India’s eastern and western coasts and separate the fertile coastal strips from the interior.
Time Zone : India is 5 hrs 30 minutes ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) in the winter months India is 4 hrs 30 minutes ahead of GMT.
General Essential Document
- All visitors to India must be in possession of a valid passport. All visitors also need visas, except citizens from Nepal , Bhutan and the Maldives .
- Carry your passport with you at all times.
- Visas can be obtained from the Indian Embassy or High Commission in your home country. Ask for a multiple entry visa, in case you want to make a quick trip to a neighboring country.
- Visas are usually issued without much difficulty if you meet the application requirements. These are: sufficient funds for the duration of your stay, a valid passport, ID photos, and a company letter for business travelers. The length of visas varies, allowing visitors to stay in India for anything from 15 days to six months.
- In addition to a visa, you may need a special permit to visit certain protected or restricted parts of the country, such as areas in Sikkim, Ladakh, the Andaman Islands, Lakshadweep and some northeastern hill states. Permits are available at foreign registration offices, immigration offices, and Indian Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions. For Sikkim you will need a trekking permit. If you have a visa for Bhutan, you’ll also need a transit permit to cross the border. This permit is available from the Ministry of External Affairs.
India has a wide range of holidays and festivals, due to its religious and regional variations. Most Indian holidays follow the lunar year, so the dates vary from year to year. It is best to check the dates of the public holidays with an Indian embassy or consulate before traveling.
The peak tourist season is from mid¬September through to March, as the cooler winter months are from November to February. But as long as you take the weather into account, India is a year-round destination. Expect crowds at popular tourist spots and be sure to make reservations well in advance.
September to March is the best time to visit the plains and the southern regions. If you want to visit the northern Himalayan region, rather plan your trip between April and August (late spring and summer). The monsoon rains are heaviest in July and August. For trekking in the northern parts of the country, June is the best time to travel.
Cyclones are not unusual along the east coast. The risk of cyclones is greatest between the end of October and early December, but they have been known to occur as early as June.
- As a general rule, the postal service in India is excellent. Mail to destinations in Europe , North America, Australia or New Zealand takes about 10 to 14 days. A Speed Post service is also available, which usually takes just a few days.
- Post offices are open Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 17:00 , and on Saturday morning. Larger post offices may have longer hours. Large hotels sometimes also sell stamps. When mailing something in India, ask the clerk to rank your mail in front of you, as unranked stamps are sometimes removed.
- Poste restante facilities are available at the main post office in most of India ‘s cities. Mail will usually be kept for a month, and then returned to the sender. It is not advisable for anything of value to be sent to you this way.
- Mailing a parcel can be a hassle. Either have it packed by a postal packing service, or ask a tailor to make a linen bag for the parcel and ensure that the seams are sealed with wax. There’s a much cheaper rate for posting books and magazines, and these items do not have to be wrapped in cloth.
- The telephone system is usually quite good, but the quality of the telephone lines is dependent on the weather. Local and international calls can be made from ‘STD/ISD’ (standard trunk dialing/international subscriber dialing) phone booths. These can be found in shops or other businesses. They are quick and easy to use, and are sometimes open all day. Your bill must be paid on completion of your call/s. Many of these booths also have fax machines for public use.
- Another service available is the ‘Home Country Direct’ service, which gives you access to the international operator in your own country. This enables you to make reverse charge calls, as well as credit card calls. Telephone calls made from hotels are often quite expensive
The standard electricity supply is 220 volts AC, 50 cycles. Although electricity is widely available throughout the country, breakdowns and blackouts are common. Be sure to pack candles or a torch. Sockets usually have three round pins.
European plugs will fit loosely into the sockets, but because they are slightly smaller, bad connections are possible.
In spite of the fact that many Indians have disabilities, it is not easy for people with limited mobility to travel here. Never assume that special facilities are available. Wheelchair ramps are almost nonexistent, and access to bathrooms, restaurants and hotels is sometimes impossible without assistance.
Airlines and major hotels are usually helpful, and taxi and rickshaw drivers are usually also eager to assist.
Indian Airlines offers special packages allowing travelers unlimited economy class air travel on the airline’s domestic routes.
Other airlines also offer special fares and packages so check the options before making a reservation.
There are about 16 youth hostels throughout the country, all of them quite cheap. Each one has at least 40 beds, roughly half for men and half for women. Hostels supply bedding, wardrobes with locks, electric light points, kitchen utensils and parking. You do not need a Hostelling International card to stay in the youth hostels but will pay slightly less if you have one. Hostels are usually busy, especially during big festivals, so book early if you want to be certain of a place. Other budget accommodation options include a ‘home stay’ (staying with an Indian family in their home), YMCAs and YWCAs, and Salvation Army Hostels
- A good medical insurance policy is essential when visiting India , because medical treatment can be very expensive. Be aware that health care facilities in India are limited. However, there are stateoperated facilities in towns and cities, and urban areas also have private consultants and specialists.
- Most doctors in India speak English. Ask your hotel to help you get a doctor in a medical emergency. Some of the bigger hotels have their own doctor on call. In case of minor medical problems, a pharmacy will usually be able to help you. Pharmacies are easy to locate as almost every market has one. Most medicines can be obtained without prescription, but make sure you check the sellby date.
- No vaccinations are legally required. However, it is recommended to have meningitis, typhoid and hepatitis A injections before visiting India . Make sure that you are up to date with tetanus boosters as well.
- Take an ample supply of prescribed medication, as well as a copy of your prescription. Keep the packaging of your medication showing the generic name. This will make it easier to fill prescriptions, especially if the specific brand name is not available. Take an extra pair of glasses and a copy of your prescription as well, as lost or broken glasses can be difficult to replace. If you wear contact lenses, consider wearing glasses for the duration of your stay in India , because the dust and heat can become quite irritating for contact lens wearers.
- A basic health rule is not to drink the water! Not even the ice. Unless you’re absolutely sure, always assume that the water is untreated. Use water from containers with a proper seal, or purify it by boiling or treating it chemically. The water in Calcutta is extremely polluted. Take special care, because gastric disease is endemic here.
- If mosquitoes do bite you, try not to scratch the bite as infection and tropical ulcers can easily set in. Also try to stay away from bees, wasps, leeches and snakes!
- Aids is a problem in India , as in most places, so take the necessary precautions. You may want to carry your own syringes and transfusion kit.
- Generally speaking, India is a safe country to visit. Crime levels are well below those of Western countries and violent crime is unusual. However, tourists are always obvious targets for thieves.
- Bihar is notorious for its absence of law and order. Kidnappings, banditry, murder and rape are common occurrences. Be careful when traveling here, especially at night.
- It’s advisable to make a copy of your passport, visas, airplane ticket and other important documents to make it easier to get replacements if they are lost or stolen. Also keep a record of the serial numbers of your travelers cheques, and a copy of your travel insurance policy.
- Make sure that your travel insurance policy covers you against theft. If you do get robbed, report it to the police. You will need a police report if you want to file an insurance claim.
- Be alert to credit card fraud: insist that restaurants and shops process your credit card payment in front of you. Sometimes credit cards are used to make duplicate forms, and the client is then billed for fictitious transactions.
- Flooding is India ‘s major natural hazard. By early July, the monsoon (seasonal wind) rages throughout the whole country, bringing moisture with it. Usually it comes from the southwest, but the southeastern coast gets the short and very wet northeastern monsoon. This monsoon brings rain from midOctober to the end of December. The monsoon can be very destructive, resulting in floods, homelessness and even death, as well as causing poor road and rail conditions.
There are several different sets of baggage allowance regulations in effect for international and regional flights. Baggage allowances can vary depending on which airline(s), class of service, and routing is used. Despite the information given here, you are urged to check with your booking agent for the exact baggage regulations pertaining to your specific itinerary.Please be advised that baggage limits are adhered to very strictly on both international and domestic flights. Most domestic carriers have more restrictive baggage limitations than international carriers. On domestic flights, the baggage allowance is 30 kilograms (66 lbs.) per person for those traveling in economy class and 40 kilograms (88 lbs.) per person for those traveling in executive class.In case of a small plane being used for travel within India or Nepal, the maximum baggage allowance varies between 15 (33 lbs) to 20 kilograms (44 lbs.) per person.Any baggage in excess of airline limitations may be subject to substantial freight charges by the airline. In addition, do not pack valuable items (such as your camera and jewelry) in checked baggage. Canned foods, knives, scissors, or other sharp objects that may be considered potentially dangerous should not be packed in your hand luggage.
Must/Must not do On arrival, expensive items, such as video cameras and radios, must be entered into your passport on a ‘Tourist Baggage ReExport’ form. This will ensure that you can take these items with you when you leave the country. You must not import narcotics, plants, gold and silver bullion and coins not in current use. If you are transporting firearms, make sure you have a possession License. Indian embassies and consulates issue such licenses abroad, or by a district magistrate on arrival in India . It is strictly prohibited to take antiques, art objects, animal skins (or products made with animal skin), and ivory and rhino horns out of India .
Visitors are not allowed to bring Indian currency into India or take any of it out (except when going to Nepal , Bangladesh , Pakistan or Sri Lanka ). There is no limit on the amount of foreign currency or travelers’ cheques you can bring into the country, but amounts exceeding USD10,000.00 must be declared upon arrival. You may bring the following items into India without incurring customs duties:
- 1 pint of alcohol
- 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or 250g of tobacco
- 250ml of eau de toilette
Be prepared to pay foreign travel tax on departure. This tax must be paid at a special desk at the airport before checking in your luggage. Foreign currency is accepted as payment.
Duty Free Customs Allowance
Government of India offers various benefits to bonafide travelers and tourists, and their personal items can be imported duty free as part of baggage. The list of these items includes:
- Personal Jewellary
- One Camera, Binoculars
- One Laptop/notebook computer.
- One electronic diary
- One portable typewriter.
- One portable CTV (Color Television)
- One music system including compact disc player.One perambulator.
- One tent and other camping equipment.
- One portable receiving set (Transistor Radio).
- Sports equipment, such as fishing outfit, tennis racket, one gulf set (14 pieces).
To avoid misuse of the above allowance, passengers are advised not to bring these items in its original package. The above information has been taken from baggage rules as notified by the Government of India dated 28 th October 1999 .
- The local currency is the rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise.
- Notes are available in denominations of INR1.00, 2.00, 5.00, 10.00, 20.00, 50.00, 100.00 and 500.00. Coins come in 5, 10, 20, 25 and 50 paise, and INR1.00, 2.00 and 5.00 (although the latter is very rare).
- Be careful not to accept torn notes from anyone as noone else will accept them, making them quite useless. Change is often in short supply, so try not to carry large denominations.
- Visitors are not allowed to bring Indian currency into India or take it out of the country. However, you may bring an unlimited amount of foreign currency or traveler’s cheques with you. Note that any amount exceeding USD2,500.00 must be declared on arrival in India . Most foreign currencies and traveler’s cheques can be changed in the big cities.
- If you’ve been in India for more than 180 days, you must obtain a tax clearance certificate before leaving the country.
- These are available at the foreigners’ section of any income tax department in larger cities. You’ll need to produce bank receipts (‘encashment certificates’) to show that you have changed money legally.
- An easy currencyconverter is available online.
- You can check the value of your money right away.
- All popular credit cards are easily accepted in most metropolitans of India.
- The following business hours should be considered as a guideline as there are regional variations.
- Government organisations and private businesses are usually open Monday to Friday from 09:30 to 17:30 . Some of them may be open on Saturday, but all are closed on Sunday.
- Shopping hours are generally Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 17:00 . Some shopkeepers may take a siesta.
- Post offices are open Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 17:00 , and on Saturday morning until about 12:00 . The main post offices may have longer hours.
- Banks are usually open Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 14:00 , and 10:00 to 12:30 on Saturday.
- Restaurants are usually open until 23:00 , with nightclubs and discos closing much later.
If you are taking photographs of local people, always ask their permission beforehand. Your driver / guide will assist you in this and will possibly help you agree on a modeling fee. Do not take photographs of any official buildings, such as military installations, airports, railway stations, boarder posts or roadblocks.
Bargaining is the norm in some local bazaars selling products without a written price. Resist the urge to buy without comparing prices from shops selling similar stuff.
Be wary of roadside peddlers trying to sell you semiprecious and precious gems and jewelry. Visit state emporia and the Central Cottage Industries Emporia (most major cities have one) for fixed prices and a fair idea of the cost with a regular dealer.
Trading in ivory, fur, animal skins, antiquities and the like is illegal. If you must have it, obtain a certificate of legitimate sale and permission for export before leaving the country.
Public display of affection is not appreciated and neither is public nudity unless perhaps one is at a beach.
One is expected to cover the head before entering a religious place such as a temple or mosque.
Ask for permission before clicking pictures of women and religious complexes. Some places charge for taking pictures while it is prohibited at a few places as well.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do carry attested photocopies of your travel documents and keep the originals in a safely locked baggage.
Do fill up a Currency Declaration Form along and a Disembarkation Card besides making an oral declaration of the luggage you are carrying.
Do not smoke in public places.
Do not give money to beggars.
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