India Travelers Information
Area: 3,287,263 sq. km
Geography: Situated between Pakistan to the West, China and Nepal to the North, Bhutan to the Northeast, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the East
Capital: New Delhi
Population: 1,210,193,422 (2011 Census)
Climate: varies from tropical monsoon in south to temperate in north
Language: Hindi 41%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%
Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
Political System: Federal Republic
In India, it rains only during a specific time of the year. The season as well as the phenomenon that causes it is called the monsoon. There are two of them; the Southwest and the Northeast, both named after the directions the winds come from. The Southwest monsoon is the more important one, as it causes rains over most parts of the country, and is the crucial variable that decides how the crops will do. It lasts from June to September. The Southwest monsoon hits the west coast the most, as crossing the Western Ghats and reaching the rest of India is an uphill task for the winds. The western coastline is therefore much greener than the interior. The Northeast monsoon hits the east coast between October and February, mostly in the form of occasional cyclones, which cause much devastation every year. The only region that gets rains from both monsoons is North-Eastern India, which consequently experiences the highest rainfall in the world.
India experiences at least three seasons a year, Summer, Rainy Season (or "Monsoon") and Winter, though in the tropical South calling the 25°C (77°F) weather "Winter" would be stretching the concept. The North experiences some extremes of heat in summer and cold in winter, but except in the Himalayan regions, snow is almost unheard of. November to January is the winter season and April and May are the hot months when everyone eagerly awaits the rains. There is also a brief spring in February and March, especially in North India.
Opinions are divided on whether any part of India actually experiences an Autumn, but the ancients had certainly identified such a season among the six seasons (-Vasanta - Spring, Greeshma - Summer, Varsha - Rainy, Sharat - Autumn, Shishira - Winter, Hemanta - "Mild Winter") they had divided the year into.
You must get a visa before arriving in India and these are easily available at Indian missions worldwide. Most people travel on the standard tourist visa, which is more than adequate for most needs. Student visas and business visas have strict conditions and also restrict your access to tourist services such as tourist quotas on trains. An onward travel ticket is a requirement for most visas, but this is not always enforced (check in advance), except for the 72-hour transit visa.
Six-month multiple-entry tourist visas (valid from the date of issue) are granted to nationals of most countries regardless of how long you intend to stay.
Visa update: Any holder of a tourist visa who wishes to visit another country during their stay in India must wait at least two months before re-entering. This time will be factored into the total duration of your visa (usually either 90 or 180 days). Obviously, this new condition reduces the number of times you can come and go from India, however it is possible to apply for a more flexible arrangement through your nearest Indian Mission/Post. See the FAQ section of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs website for more information.
There are additional restrictions on travellers from Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as certain Eastern European, African and Central Asian countries. Check any special conditions for your nationality with the Indian embassy in your country.
Visas are priced in the local currency; Brits pay UK£30, Americans pay US$60, Austra¬lians pay A$75 (an extra A$15 service fee applies at consulates) and Japanese citizens pay just ¥1200.
Extended visas (up to five years) are possible for people of Indian descent (excluding those in Pakistan and Bangladesh) who hold a non-Indian passport and live abroad. Contact your embassy for more details.
For visas lasting more than six months, you need to register at the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) within 14 days of arriving in India; inquire about these special conditions when you apply for your visa.
Fourteen-day visa extensions are theoretically possible at the discretion of the Ministry of Home Affairs (011-23385748; 26 Jaisalmer House, Man Singh Rd, Delhi; inquiries 9-11am Mon-Fri) but don’t get your hopes up. The only circumstances where this might conceivably happen is if you were robbed of your passport just before you planned to leave the country at the end of your visa. If you run low on time, consider doing the ‘visa run’ over to Bangladesh or Nepal and applying for another six-month tourist visa there.
If you do find yourself needing to request an extension, you should contact the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO; 011 26195530; email@example.com ; Level 2, East Block 8, Sector 1, Rama Krishna Puram, Delhi; 9.30am-1.30pm & 2-3pm Mon-Fri), just around the corner from the Hyatt Regency hotel. This is also the place to come for a replacement visa if you’ve had your lost/stolen passport replaced (required before you can leave the country). Regional FRROs are even less likely to grant an extension.
Assuming you meet the stringent criteria, the FRRO is permitted to issue an extension of 14 days, free for nationals of all countries except Japan (Rs 390), Sri Lanka (Rs 135 to 405, depending on the number of entries), Russia (Rs 1860) and Romania (Rs 500). You must bring your confirmed air ticket, one passport photo and a photocopy of your passport (information and visa pages). Note that this system is designed to get you out of the country promptly with the correct official stamps, not to give you two extra weeks of travel.
Access to certain parts of India – particularly disputed border areas – is controlled by a complicated permit system. A permit known as an Inner-Line Permit (ILP) is required to visit northern parts of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim that lie close to the disputed border with China/Tibet. Obtaining the ILP is basically a formality, but travel agents must apply on your behalf for certain areas, including many trekking routes passing close to the border. ILPs are issued by regional magistrates and district commissioners, either directly to travellers (for free) or through travel agents (for a fee).
Entering the northeast states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram is much harder – tourists require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP), which must be arranged through Foreigners’ Regional Registration Offices (FRRO) offices. Ultimate permission comes from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, which is reluctant to issue permits to foreigners – without exception, your best chance of gaining a permit is to join an organized tour and let the travel agent make all the arrangements.
Most permits officially require you to travel in a group of four (married couples are also permitted in certain areas). This is enforced in some places, not in others – travel agents may have suggestions to help solo travellers get around these restrictions. Note that you can only travel to the places listed on the permit, often by set routes, and this is hard to change after the permit is issued. Most permits officially require you to travel in a group of four (married couples are also permitted in certain areas). This is enforced in some places, not in others – travel agents may have suggestions to help solo travellers get around these restrictions. Note that you can only travel to the places listed on the permit, often by set routes, and this is hard to change after the permit is issued.
It’s not a bad idea to double-check with tourism officials to see if permit requirements have undergone any recent changes before you head out to these areas.
Entering by Sea
There are several sea routes between India and surrounding islands but none leave Indian sovereign territory. There has been talk of a passenger ferry service between southern India and Colombo in Sri Lanka but this has yet to materialise. Inquire locally to see if there has been any progress.
Entering by Land Border crossings
Although most visitors fly into India, the overland route from Nepal is extremely popular and smaller numbers of travellers enter India from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
If you enter India by bus or train you’ll be required to disembark at the border for standard immigration and customs checks. You must have a valid Indian visa in advance as no visas are available at the border. The standard Indian tourist visa allows multiple entries within a six-month period.
Drivers of cars and motorbikes will need the vehicle’s registration papers, liability insurance and an International Driving Permit. You’ll also need a Carnet de passage en douane, which acts as a temporary waiver of import duty. To find out the latest requirements for the paperwork and other important driving information contact your local automobile association.
Foreigners can use four of the land crossings between Bangladesh and India, all in West Bengal or the Northeast States. Exiting Bangladesh overland is complicated by red tape – if you enter by air, you require a road permit (or ‘change of route’ permit) to leave by land. This free permit can be obtained in Dhaka at the Directorate of Immigration and Passports (02-9131891/9134011; Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Agargaon Rd; 9am-5pm Sun-Thu) in two to three working days; bring several passport photos. Some travellers have also reported problems exiting Bangladesh overland with the visa issued on arrival at Dhaka airport.
Heading from India to Bangladesh, tourist visas should be obtained in advance from a Bangladeshi mission. Delhi’s Bangladesh embassy (011-24121389; EP39 Dr Radakrishnan Marg, Chanakyapuri; applications 9.30am-11pm Mon-Fri) issues visas in two working days with two passport photos; fees vary depending on nationality. Visas can also be obtained from the Bangladeshi missions in Kolkata and Agartala.
Heading from Bangladesh to India, you must pre-pay the exit tax at a designated branch of the Sonali Bank, which may be some distance from the border post.
a) Kolkata to Dhaka There are daily bus services from Kolkata to Dhaka, crossing the India–Bangladesh border at Benapol. Plans for a train link between Kolkata and Dhaka have dragged on for years – inquire locally for progress reports.
b) Siliguri to Chengrabandha/Burimari This minor northern border crossing is accessible from Siliguri in West Bengal. You must take a private bus from outside Tenzin Norgay central bus station to Jalpaiguri (Rs 40, two hours) and change there for the border post at Chengrabandha.
c) Shillong to Sylhet This little-used crossing offers a handy back route from northeast India to Bangladesh. Share jeeps run every morning from Bara Bazaar in Shillong to the border post at Dawki, where you can walk or catch a taxi to the bus station in Tamabil, which has regular buses to Sylhet.
d) Agartala to Dhaka The Bangladesh border is 4km from Agartala and several daily trains run on to Dhaka from Akhaura on the Bangladesh side of the border.
Phuentsholing is the main entry and exit point between India and Bhutan; you now need a full Bhutanese visa to enter the country, which must be obtained at least 15 days before your trip from a registered travel agent listed under the Department of Tourism, Bhutan (www.tourism.gov.bt). Bhutan visas for non-Indians require a prepaid tour (minimum US$200 to US$240 per day, all-inclusive). Tour and visa can be arranged within two days through RCPL Travels (24400665; firstname.lastname@example.org ; www.kingdomofbhutan.info ; 5/4 Ballygunge Pl, Kolkata).
a) Siliguri/Kolkata to Phuentsholing Buses from Kolkata and Siliguri to Phuentsholing are run by Bhutan Transport Services. From Kolkata, there’s a direct bus at 7pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (Rs 300, 20 hours). There’s also a rail route from Siliguri via Alipurduar (on the main train line between Siliguri and Guwahati) connecting with local buses to the border.
The security situation in Nepal has improved massively since the ceasefire in 2006. Nevertheless, it makes sense to check the security situation before crossing into Nepal by land – local newspapers and international news websites are good places to start.
Political and weather conditions permitting, there are five land border crossings between India and Nepal:
Sunauli in Uttar Pradesh to Bhairawa in central Nepal
Raxaul in Bihar to Birganj in central Nepal
Panitanki in West Bengal to Kakarbhitta in eastern Nepal
Jamunaha in Uttar Pradesh to Nepalganj in western Nepal
Banbassa in Uttaranchal to Mahendranagar in western Nepal
Two-month single-entry visas for Nepal (US$30) are available at all the border crossings but payment is due in US dollars and you need two passport photos. Alternatively, obtain a single-entry or six-month multiple-entry visa (US$80) in advance from a Nepalese mission. In Delhi, the Nepal embassy (011-23327361; Barakhamba Rd; applications 9am-noon Mon-Fri) issues visas in one day with two passport photos. In Kolkata the Nepal consulate (033-24561224; 1 National Library Ave, Alipore; 9am-4pm Mon-Fri) issues visas while you wait.
a) Sunauli to Bhairahawa The easiest crossing for Delhi or Varanasi, with connections on to Kathmandu, Pokhara and Lumbini. There are daily buses to Sunauli from Varanasi (Rs 172, 10 hours) or Delhi (Rs 1400, 36 hours), or you can travel by train to Gorakhpur and take a local bus to Sunauli from there.
b) Banbassa to Mahendranagar This intriguing back route into Nepal provides access to the little-visited western Terai. However, the route is often blocked by flooding and landslides in the monsoon and it’s sensible to check the political situation before you travel. Daily buses to Banbassa leave Delhi’s Anand Vihar bus stand (bookings 011-22141611) hourly until late (Rs 210, 10 hours).
c) Raxaul to Birganj This crossing is convenient for Kolkata, Patna and the eastern plains, and there are onward connections to Kathmandu. Daily buses run to Raxaul from Patna and Kolkata, but it’s more comfortable to jump on the daily Mithila Express train from Kolkata’s Howrah train station – see the entry under Raxaul and the boxed text for information on crossing the border.
d) Panitanki to Kakarbhitta The handiest crossing for Darjeeling, Sikkim and the Northeast States. Buses and share jeeps run to the border from Siliguri and several other towns in West Bengal, and you can explore the eastern Terai as you travel on to Kathmandu.
e) Jamunaha to Nepalganj Plenty of domestic tourists cross into Nepal at Jamunaha in Uttar Pradesh, but most foreign travellers stick to more convenient crossings. However, Nepalganj is a useful gateway for Nepal’s Royal Bardia National Park and there are regular onward flights to Kathmandu. Buses run regularly from Lucknow to Rupaidha Bazar (Rs 160, seven hours), a short rickshaw ride from the Jamunaha border post. Alternatively, you can take a train to Nanpara, and change to a bus or taxi for the 17km trip to the border.
Crossing between India and Pakistan by land depends on the current state of relations between the two countries. Militants regularly slip across the porous border from Pakistan to carry out attacks in India and transport between the two countries often stops in the aftermath of any attack. Assuming the crossings are open, there are routes into Pakistan from Delhi, Amritsar and Rajasthan by bus or train. The much-celebrated bus route from Srinagar to Pakistan-administered Kashmir is currently only open to Indian travellers.
You must have a visa to enter Pakistan, and it is usually easiest to obtain this in the Pakistan mission in your home country. At the time of writing, the Pakistan embassy (24676004; 2/50G Shantipath, Chanakyapuri; applications 8.30am-11.30am Mon-Fri) in Delhi was issuing double-entry, two-month tourist visas for most nationalities in around two days, but this office may stop issuing visas at times of political tension. If you apply within India, you’ll need a letter of recommendation from your home embassy as well as the usual application forms and passport photos.
a) Attari to Wagah (Amritsar to Lahore) The main transit point between India and Pakistan is the border post between Attari, near Amritsar, and Wagah, near Lahore. Regular buses run from Amritsar to the border and there are regular onward connections from Wagah to Lahore. There are also through bus and train services all the way from Delhi. Try to coordinate your crossing with the spectacular closing of the border cere¬mony.
b) Delhi to Lahore If you prefer to keep things simple, there are direct bus and train services between Delhi and Lahore. However, these services are extremely crowded and clearing the border formalities can take anywhere between two and five hours – compared to one or two hours if you travel independently. Security is also a serious concern – the Delhi–Lahore train was bombed by militants in February 2007, killing 67 people.
The Lahore Bus Service leaves from Delhi’s Dr Ambedkar Bus Station office (011-23318180 or 23712228; Delhi Gate; 9am-7pm Mon-Sat) at 6am on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, arriving in Lahore 12 hours later. The fare is Rs 1250 one-way (advance bookings are essential). The baggage limit is 20kg per person (Rs 60 per extra kg, maximum 15 kg) plus one piece of hand luggage.
The Samjhauta Express train leaves the Old Delhi train station (purchase tickets here) on Wednesday and Sunday at 10.50pm and arrives at the Indian border crossing of Attari at 7am, where passengers disembark for customs checks and visa procedures, before reboarding for the 30 minute trip to Lahore. Tickets cost Rs 209 in sleeper class. However, services may be disrupted following the February 2007 bomb attack.
c) Rajasthan to Pakistan After 35 years of wrangling, the 4889 Thar Express train from Jodhpur in Rajasthan to the border crossing at Munabao/Khokraparand onto Karachi in Pakistan resumed in early 2006. Unfortunately, services were suspended almost immediately because of flood damage to the track during the 2006 monsoon. A limited service resumed in February 2007, with a maximum of 400 passengers in each direction. However, schedules are erratic so check locally in Jodhpur for departure times.
Entering by Air
India has four main gateways for international flights, and international flights also land in Bengaluru (Bangalore), Guwahati and Amritsar. India is a big county so it makes sense to fly into the nearest airport to the area you want to visit.
• Chennai (Madras; MAA; Anna International Airport; 044-22560551; www.chennaiairport.com)
• Delhi (DEL; Indira Gandhi International Airport; 011-25652011; www.delhiairport.com)
• Kolkata (Calcutta; CCU; Netaji Subhas Chandra Basu International Airport; 033-25118787; www.calcuttaairport.com)
• Mumbai (Bombay; BOM; Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport; 022-26829000; www.mumbaiairport.com)
India’s national carrier is Air India (www.airindia.com) and the state-owned domestic carrier Indian Airlines (www.indian-airlines.nic.in) also offers flights to 20 countries in Asia and the Middle East (though it has a poor safety record). The more reliable private airlines Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) and Air Sahara (www.airsahara.net) offer flights to Colombo, Kathmandu and the Maldives. Jet has recently started longhaul flights to London, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. India’s national carrier is Air India (www.airindia.com) and the state-owned domestic carrier Indian Airlines (www.indian-airlines.nic.in) also offers flights to 20 countries in Asia and the Middle East (though it has a poor safety record). The more reliable private airlines Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) and Air Sahara (www.airsahara.net) offer flights to Colombo, Kathmandu and the Maldives. Jet has recently started longhaul flights to London, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Money and Costs
On the financial front, India pleases all pockets. Accommodation ranges from simple backpacker lodgings to sumptuous top-end hotels, with some appealing midrange possibilities that won’t bust the bank. A delicious array of eateries at all prices means you can fill your belly without emptying your moneybelt, and it’s possible to zip around economically, as well thanks to the country’s comprehensive public transport network.
As costs vary considerably nationwide, the best way of ascertaining how much money you’ll require for your trip is to peruse the relevant regional chapters of this book. Be prepared to pay more in the larger cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, as well as at popular tourist destinations during peak season.
In relation to sightseeing, foreigners are often charged more than Indian citizens for entry into tourist sites (admission prices for foreigners are sometimes given in US dollars, payable in the rupee equivalent), and there may also be additional charges for still/video cameras. When it comes to bedding down, hotel tariffs are usually higher in big cities (especially Mumbai) and tourist hot spots and may also be influenced by factors such as location, season and festivals. Given the vast differences nationwide, it’s misleading for us to pinpoint a countrywide average accommodation price. If you’ve got cash to splash, some of India’s top-end hotels are among the world’s finest, but be prepared to fork out at least US$200 per night at the better properties before even getting a whiff of room service. Surf the Web for possible internet discounts.
So how does this all translate to a daily budget? Given the vast accommodation price differences across India, it’s impossible to arrive at one neat figure. However, as an example, in Rajasthan you can expect to pay roughly between US$20 and US$25 per day if you stay in the cheapest hotels, travel on public buses, do limited sightseeing and eat basic meals. If you wish to stay at salubrious midrange hotels, dine at nicer restaurants, do a reasonable amount of sightseeing and largely travel by autorickshaw and taxi, you’re looking at anywhere between US$40 and US$65 per day. Eating out in India is sizzling-hot value, with budget restaurant meals for as little as Rs40 (even less at the more basic street eateries), and usually from around double that for a satiating midrange restaurant feed. At the more suave urban restaurants, main dishes generally hover between Rs150 and Rs350 to which you’ll need to add the cost of side dishes, such as rice, and (usually) a tax of 10% to 12.5%.
Regarding long-distance travel, there’s a range of classes on trains and several bus types, resulting in considerable flexibility vis-à-vis comfort and price. Domestic air travel has become a lot more price competitive over recent years thanks to deregulation and good internet deals. Within towns there’s inexpensive public transport, or perhaps you’d like to hire a car with driver, which is surprisingly good value if there are several of you to split the cost.
The Indian rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 paise (p), but paise coins are increasingly rare. Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 25 and 50 paise, and Rs 1, 2 and 5; notes come in Rs 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 (this last bill can be hard to change outside banks). The Indian rupee is linked to a basket of currencies and its value is generally stable. The Indian rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 paise (p), but paise coins are increasingly rare. Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 25 and 50 paise, and Rs 1, 2 and 5; notes come in Rs 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 (this last bill can be hard to change outside banks). The Indian rupee is linked to a basket of currencies and its value is generally stable.
Remember, you must present your passport whenever you change currency or travellers cheques. Commission for foreign exchange is becoming increasingly rare; if it is charged, the fee is nominal.
b) ATMs Modern 24-hour ATMs are found in most large towns and cities, though the ATM may not be in the same place as the bank branch. The most commonly accepted cards are Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro and Plus. Banks in India that reliably accept foreign cards include Citibank, HDFC, ICICI, UTI, HSBC, the Punjab National Bank and the State Bank of India. Away from major towns, always carry cash or travellers cheques as backup.
Bank imposes higher charges on international transactions, but this may be cancelled out by the favorable exchange rates between banks. Reduce charges by making larger transactions less often. Always check in advance whether your card can access banking networks in India and ask for details of charges.
Note that several travellers have reported ATMs snatching back money if you don’t remove it within around 30 seconds. Conversely, other machines can take more than 30 seconds to actually release cash, so don’t panic if the money doesn’t appear instantaneously.
Always keep the emergency lost-and-stolen numbers for your credit cards in a safe place, separate from your cards, and report any loss or theft immediately.
c) Cash Major currencies such as US dollars, UK pounds and euros are easy to change throughout India, though some bank branches insist on travellers cheques only. A few banks also accept Australian, New Zealand and Canadian dollars, and Swiss francs. Private money¬changers accept a wider range of currencies, but Pakistani, Nepali and Bangladeshi currency can be harder to change away from the border. When travelling off the beaten track, always carry a decent stock of rupees.
Whenever changing money, check every note. Banks staple bills together into bricks, which puts a lot of wear on tear on the currency. Do not accept any filthy, ripped or disintegrating notes, as these may not be accepted as payment. If you get lumbered with such notes, change them to new bills at branches of the Reserve Bank of India in major cities.
Officially, you cannot take rupees out India, but this is laxly enforced. However, you can change any leftover rupees back into foreign currency, most easily at the airport (some banks have a Rs 1000 minimum). Note that some airport banks will only change a minimum of Rs 1000. You may require encashment certificates or a credit-card receipt, and you may also have to show your passport and airline ticket.
d) Credit cards Credit cards are accepted at growing numbers of shops, upmarket restaurants, and midrange and top-end hotels, and you can also use them to pay for flights and train tickets. However, be wary of scams. Cash advances on major credit cards are also possible at some banks without ATMs. MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards; for details about whether you can access home accounts in India, inquire at your bank before leaving.
e) International transfers If you run out of money, someone at home can wire you money via moneychangers affiliated with Moneygram (www.moneygram.com) or Western Union (www.westernunion.com).
You’ll need to call someone at home to transfer the money, and a hefty fee is added to the transaction. To collect cash, bring your passport, and the name and reference number of the person who sent the funds.
f) Moneychangers Private moneychangers are usually open for longer hours than banks, and they are found almost everywhere (many also double as internet cafés and travel agents). Compare rates with those at the bank, and check you are given the correct amount. In a scrape, some upmarket hotels may also change money, usually at well below the bank rate.
g) Travellers cheques All major brands are accepted in India, but some banks may only accept cheques from Amex and Thomas Cook. Pounds sterling and US dollars are the safest currencies, especially in smaller towns. Charges for changing travellers cheques vary from place to place and bank to bank.
Always keep an emergency cash stash in case you lose your travellers cheques, and keep a record of the cheques’ serial numbers separate from your cheques, along with the proof-of-purchase slips, encashment vouchers and photocopied passport details. If you lose your cheques, contact the Amex or Thomas Cook office in Delhi.
To replace lost travellers cheques, you need the proof-of-purchase slip and the numbers of the missing cheques (some places require a photocopy of the police report and a passport photo). If you don’t have the numbers of your missing cheques, Amex (or whichever company has issued them) will contact the place where you bought them.