is a truly incredible land of dramatically diverse cultures all
under one flag, all of them unearthly, and some - like Rajasthan
- positively barmy.
The sights are endless, from the Taj Mahal, through the forts and
palaces of Rajasthan, the erotic temples of Khajuraho, the carved
caves of Ellora to the wandering cows on busy highways and garish
And then there are the people sights...saris, huge clunky silver
jewellery, handlebar moustaches, brown fishermen in pink thongs, pilgrims
bathing in the Ganges at Varanasi while bodies float past, sadhus
and their bizarre habits, snake charmers, glorious weddings, funny
head waggles meaning yes (or is it no?) and so on.
Beaches are huge, towns are noisy but enthralling and the endless,
wacky festivals are world-class mind-bogglers.
India tourism is pretty safe, inexpensive, has good weather if you get your
timing right and is populated by relaxed, friendly people. Though
rather too many of them..
Rajasthan, Thar desert
- Visa acquisition can be time-consuming.
- Towns are often crowded, noisy, dusty and polluted by bikes and
- There is limited food choice (with occasional questionable hygiene),
especially if you don't like Indian food, though vegetarians are
unusually well-catered for.
- Travel between sights can be very time consuming as distances
are huge and the transport infrastructure sometimes shaky.
- Pushy hustlers and beggars are a pervasive and depressing
sight in many locations, so much so that many tourists fail to buy souvenirs that they actually want due to the marketing overkill!
- Visitors will also have to get used to men peeing almost at will in the streets and on occasion flashing their todger at all and sundry.
'Traffic was like a bad dog. It wasn't important
to look both ways when crossing the street; it was important to not show
primary tourism e.g. south & centre, especially Rajasthan. Best weather in India is
November-March (tho' Delhi can be chilly)
Worst weather: June-Sept (heat, humidity, rains)
For Himalaya trekking try April-November.
For southern states, such as Kerala, go January-September.
For NE areas, such as Sikkim, go March-August.
Min. worthwhile stay, not inc. flights: 7 days (for the 'Golden
Triangle' of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur).
Recommended: 2 weeks - 6 months for the full experience; remember,
it's very, very big (population 1 billion) and has a massive variety
of fascinating sights, not to mention many places where you may
want to hang out for a while.
Think of India as seven entirely different countries and you'll
begin to understand the reality of holidays here.
Tourist Places in India:
India is so vast that our recommendations are listed with the state in which they are situated:
UP= Uttar Pradesh, MP= Madhya Pradesh, HP= Himachal Pradesh, AP=
Andhra Pradesh, Raj= Rajasthan, G= Gujarat, TN= Tamil Nadu, M= Maharashtra,
Kar= Karnataka, Ker= Kerala, O= Orissa.
India's beaches. They're big, hot and sunny in the right season and offer very good value holidays: see our India Beaches pages.
Rajasthan*** (best November-March) is one of the more distinctly Indian states and most visitors primary target, offering deserts, stunning
palaces, fortified towns, turbaned and mustachioed men, women in
clunky jewelry and red saris, etc etc.
A hire-car road trip connecting the main towns is the premium approach. Next best is to let the train take the strain. Rajasthan Pictures and information.
Udaipur*** is an India icon of prettily painted houses in dilapidated streets, lake isolated palaces
and a marvellously relaxed ambience, though recently water levels
have fallen dramatically and that may well tarnish the scenery,
depending on the season and recent rainfall. Udaipur Pictures.
relatively unvisited and undeveloped, this walled town holds not
only a monster fort and evocative old town but also one of Rajasthan's
best palaces, 'the work of goblins rather than of men' according
to Kipling, but all a bit run down now.
Jaipur*** should be on any tourist itinerary with stunning pink buildings including
the dazzling City Palace, a marvelous astronomical observatory, the great Amber Fort a short elephant ride
away and superb shopping in the bazaars. The town is, however, overcrowded
and suffers dust and noise pollution. Jaipur Pictures.
Jodhpur** en route from Jaipur to Jaisalmer
is not of huge interest apart from a massive fort and magnificent palace
(which is also a first-class hotel) and many houses painted in Brahmin blue. Jodhpur Pictures.
Pushkar** The desert around the small Rajasthan town of Pushkar provides a stunning setting for the world's largest camel fair. As well as the trading, camels are paraded and raced while a circus entertains visitors.
Pushkar is a sacred spot for Hindus and during the festival its otherwise tranquil lake is engulfed with thousands of devotees bathing in its holy waters. Pushkar Pictures.
Jaisalmer*** is an awesome fantasy fortified town surrounded by the Thar desert
but sadly these days also encircled by hotels, shops and houses
servicing tourist visitors. Mud medieval styling and camels galore,
this is still a must-see.
Many tourists do camel safaris from here, from a few hours to a few
days though the short trips are very short of romance. It's best
Jaisalmer is a long way out but buses and trains generally work pretty well. Jaisalmer Pictures.
A typical Rajasthan Tour Itinerary
The Taj Mahal, Agra
Taj Mahal is one of the world's top sights and deservedly so.
Magnificently huge, but also with stunning detail, the colourful semi-precious
stones set into white marble are sensational.
The environment around and beside the (sadly polluted) Yamuna River is peaceful; the adjacent Red Fort is equally awesome and also built by Shah Jahan, while the not-far-away Moghul palace
complex of Fatehpur Sikri is more of the same but less. Taj Mahal Pictures, Red Fort Pictures.
At 200km (125mls) from Delhi this can be a long day trip so it's
way better to stay overnight and wander around early or late.
Delhi** A big city version of traditional
India which does not suit those in search of tranquility, but there
are enough strange sights, great buildings and interesting cultural
activities to keep most tourists happy for a few days. Delhi Pictures.
Mumbai* also known as Bombay, this Bollywood-on-sea
has to be seen, briefly, with its grand colonial architecture,
new millennium 'scrapers, love of cricket, sophisticated life and
appalling poverty.Mumbai Pictures.
Ellora Cave temples and Ajanta
Caves*** near Aurangabad (M), 400km (250mls) north-east
Ellora offers 34 superbly carved caves alive with sculptures lurk
in an escarpment, including shrines, halls and platforms.
Ajanta's high points - other than sculptures - are a more spectacular
location and stunning, well-preserved murals painted by 200 monks
that used to live here.
Madurai* (TN) is a modern city and
has the usual problems of congestion and pollution but with one
staggering, kaleidoscopic temple positively writhing with mythical
figures at its heart, the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar.
Khajuraho** (MP) is India's erotic temple centre with an amazing collection
of beautifully crafted, outrageous carvings on a cluster of temples
in pastoral surroundings. It's a bit of a problem to reach.
Gwalior** (MP)120kms (80mls) south of Agra, is a nothing town but is overseen
by a cluster of rock-hewn Jain sculptures and a wonderful, tiled
hill fort containing six palaces and three temples.
Varanasi, the River Ganges
The Ganges at Varanasi** (aka Benares or 'The City of Light.
UP) This is a place to die for, literally. It's so holy that anyone,
of any religion, dying here, goes to heaven.On the stepped banks of the Ganges hundreds of pilgrims bathe, meditate
and are cremated here. It's a gripping, colourful spectacle, and
so, so Indian. Varanasi Pictures.
Calcutta* (Kolkata), with its roots
firmly in the British Raj era, is a fascinating, crammed, dilapidated
city with a heart of gold and - fortunately - an energetic renovation
program. Locals are proud of their wit, their hospitality and their
avant-garde art and theatre, while their grand old buildings refuse
to collapse under the weight of numbers. It's best October-February.
Gujarat state** in the west is a detuned
Rajasthan - without the tourists but with plenty of temples, palaces,
forts, desert, colourful people and fine handicrafts.
Kashmir is cool, mountain-ringed but still out of play unfortunately,
due to border tension and occasional terrorist attacks.
Dharamsala** (HP. aka McLeod Ganj)
in the Himalayas is home of the Dalai Lama and centre for Tibetan
refugees as well as their Hollywood hangers-on. It is relaxed and scenic and also makes a good base for mountain
December-March is the snow season but warm clothes will be needed
at night all year round.
Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab
Trekking: Best in the Himalayas from
April to November e.g. Dharamsala in H Pradesh(see right); also
U Pradesh and Punjab but stay away from Kullu, where bandits are
active and deadly.
Wildlife: Kanha National Park is the
country's ultimate wildlife destination.
The setting for Kipling's 'Jungle Book', this 750 sq. mile park
is your best chance to see a tiger in the wild, though not big.
However, the elephant back safaris are fun and apart from tigers,
you can see leopards, rhinoceros, bison, boar, sambar deer and monkeys
by the barrel load. Open Nov-June, but best Feb - April.
Other OK wildlife parks are:
Ranthambore (Raj) for tigers+, Periyar (Ker) for elephants, Bharatpur
(Raj) for birds, and Bandhavgarh (MP) for tigers+.
Camel Safaris: many from gorgeous
Jaisalmer or Pushkar (Raj), but inevitably touristy.
Boating and Rafting: the Ganges e.g.
from Rishikesh (UP), Chenab & Beas (HP), Rangit & Teesta
(Sikkim), Zanskar & Indus (Ladakh).
Backwater River Trips from Cochin
or Allepey in Kerala are superb. Cruising through tranquil, spectacular
waterways, viewing duck-herding, Chinese fishing nets, pastoral
scenes of all kinds, it's magical and more or less free if you jump
a regular ferry (but possibly noisy. Try the front or roof of the
boat for more peace).
Trains: Nilgiri Blue Mountain railway
(TN), Neral -Matheran (M), Kalka-Shimla (HP) toy train, and the
creme de la creme Palace on Wheels for seriously fat wallets.
Caving: East Khasi Hills, Jainta Hills,
South Garo Hills (Meghalaya)
Yoga, Ashrams and Meditation: All over
the land. The Beatles went to Rishikesh (UP) on the Ganges. Varanasi
is also a major centre.
Here's a typical Rajasthan tour itinerary:
Day 1: Fly to Udaipur from Delhi/ Mumbai, half day sightseeing plus boat excursion on Lake Pichola.
Day 2: Leave for Mount Abu, visit Dilwara Jain temple, Nakki Lake and Sunset Point.
Day 3: Drive to Jodhpur, visiting the Ranakpur temples en route.
Day 4: Spend morning at the fort of Jodhpur. After lunch, drive to Jaisalmer.
Day 5: Morning tour of Jaisalmer fort and Havelis. After lunch, leave for Khimsar.
Day 6: Early morning visit to the village, and then leave for Mandawa. Afternoon, sightseeing in Mandawa.
Day 7: Drive to Jaipur. In the afternoon, take a tour of the City Palace, and other attractions.
Day 8: Sightseeing at Amber Fort, and then continue by road to Delhi.
240v, 2 round pin mostly. Occasionally 3 round pin.
You'll generally need a visa from your local Indian embassy/consulate
and to get that you'll require a return or onward ticket.
The visa will probably be six month multiple entry, giving you serious
However, as a fine example of the country's spectacularly ponderous
bureaucracy, getting a visa can be desperately time consuming, especially
if you live away from major cities. In the UK 1,000 people
waited in line for hours at a Midland visa 'surgery' only to be
told that only 500 could be processed that day.
Get your visa well before you intend to go!
India has some hygiene problems, particularly for individuals travelling
on a low budget, so ensure your vaccinations are to the max and
Diseases you should be concerned about, at least, are cholera (be
careful of what you eat
or drink), Hepatitis A and B (get a jab), Hepatitis B, C,D (
take care what you eat, drink, or who you share fluids with, blood
included), and dengue fever and malaria, both acquired from mosquitoes.
Kerala backwaters boating.
The long distance transport of choice is definitely the train, though
booking tickets can be tiresome. Once you have the ticket the system
Buses are usually uncomfortable, cramped
and the crush to get on is a nightmare, especially if you're lumbered
with a big bag.
The air network is considerable and efficient but planes are expensive
and dull, needless to say.
Car hire is not expensive but driving requires luck and intense
concentration to survive - for those who learnt on regular western
If you can afford it, on some journeys it is worth booking a car and driver. The cost, if you are a group, is reasonable (for good quality around £50 per day) and the reduction in hassle etc. is notable.
There are crowds aplenty, especially hustling to get on buses, so
pocket-picking is not uncommon. See the Safety
page. Otherwise, violent crime is rare and the people are generally
calm and friendly.
Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Indian holidays can be very good value or expensive, all the options
are open to your wallet. At one end it's cheap, but a tad uncomfortable
and hygiene issues could lead to health problems, but you do meet real people.
At the other end of the scale you can stay in palaces, eat like
a Maharajah, have no disease worries and live in princely style,
but not be in touch with true India at all.
Try to find a middle way!
is unnecessary in most restaurants, but very useful for greasing
your path or solving problems - when it's called Baksheesh.
The choice of holiday hotels is extensive and they can be crudely divided into four categories – the outrageously expensive, moderately expensive business hotels, very economical (sometimes almost boutique) hotels for the flashpacker and ridiculously cheap dives for the backpacker. How big can the difference be ? Enormous.