From the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the sun-drenched coastal villages of the south, India unfolds like an ancient tapestry. The perennial rivers running down from the mountains are the lifeblood on which India has flourished. Since the first civilisations developed on the banks of the Indus river almost 5,000 years ago, India has given birth to Buddhism and Hinduism, seen the rise and fall of the Sultans and Moguls, and seen the sun finally set on the British Empire as it reclaimed independence in 1947.
The world's largest democracy presents an incredible variety of religions, languages, cultural influences and monuments. This is the country famed for the iconic Taj Mahal, the colourful festivals of Holi and Diwali, and for traditional Carnatic and Hindustani music. Art and theatre mix traditional culture with western influences, and Bollywood far outstrips its better-known US rival in terms of output and popularity on home turf.
India's landscapes are as vast as they are varied. The peaks of the Himalayas give way to the great plains of the Ganges River and the capital, Delhi. To the west lies the Thar Desert and the Great Rann of Kutch, while the west and south coast plays host to beaches and forests and vibrant cities.
India is a feast for the senses. The air is heavy with the scent of jasmine, dancers trail frenetic melodies in colourful silk saris, and cooks compose dishes from a palette of exotic spices. India's cities are a cacophony of seemingly endless traffic and a myriad of other textures, colours and movements all jostling for attention. India can be overwhelming, but its variety is part of its charm for those who brave the sub-continent.
India offers an astounding diversity of people, landscapes, sights and sounds. Visitors will find a rich tapestry of attractions to enjoy, the scope of which is unmatched anywhere else on earth.
Spiritually inclined tourists make for the temples and ashrams of the north, nestled in beautiful Himalayan cities such Rishikesh, the birthplace of Yoga. Away from the mountains, Delhi dominates the desert plains. The heaving, ancient capital is a mind-blowing mix of history and humanity.
Delhi is just one of India's incredible collection of cities, which includes Kolkata, the cultural capital, Kochi, the Queen of the Arabian Sea, and Mumbai, a major port city, and home to Bollywood. Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, may well be the most fascinating of the lot. This sacred Hindu destination is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth.
Jungles and forests such as the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, and the stunningly beautiful Sangla valley, are home to endemic flora and fauna. Lucky visitors to some of the national parks may be greeted by a glimpse of the rare, legendary Bengal Tiger.
India's architectural treasures need no introduction. The immortal Taj Mahal is one of the most recognisable monuments in the world. Tourists will also be fascinated by the opulence of Tirupati Balaji, the richest temple in the world, and Golden Temple, one of Sikhism's holiest shrines.
India is synonymous with vibrant, colourful festivals such as Holi, the festival of colours, and Diwali, the festival of lights. The spicy cuisine is superb, enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. Indian music, theatre and film is unique.
The endless list of attractions simply goes on and on in this vast and varied land.
The Red Fort, known locally as , is Delhi's signature attraction, rising high above the clamour of Old Delhi as a reminder of the power and prosperity of the Mogul Empire. The massive sandstone walls were built in the 17th century to keep out marauding invaders, and still dominate the city's skyline today. Inside is an array of exquisite buildings, which once provided the living quarters for Shah Jehan, his courtiers, family and staff of three thousand. Visitors can marvel at the intricate decoration and only imagine the scenes here at the empire's height, when the walls were studded with precious stones and a 'stream of paradise' drove an ingenious air conditioning system. The fort was the scene of the Indian Uprising of 1857 and the mighty Lahore Gate, on the west side of the fort, remains a potent symbol of India's fight for independence. There are frequent sound and light shows in the evenings at the fort but they are conducted in Hindi; some audio guides are sometimes available to translate into French and English. The fort is vast and there is a lot to explore so it is best to allow a few hours for this famous attraction; seeing everything means covering quite a lot of ground so come prepared to do some walking.
Shah Jehan, the architect of the Red Fort and much of Old Delhi, built Jama Masjid between 1644 and 1656. This grand structure is situated on a hill a few hundred yards west of the Red Fort, and towers over the mayhem of Old Delhi's sprawling streets. Jama Masjid is India's largest mosque, and can hold 25,000 worshippers at one time. Wide red sandstone steps lead to entrances on the north, south and east sides of the mosque. Inside is a massive courtyard, dominated by two red-and-white striped sandstone minarets that cap the main prayer hall on the west side (facing Mecca). There are smaller towers at each corner of the mosque, and energetic visitors can climb the 122 narrow steps of the southern one to be rewarded with magnificent views of Old and New Delhi.
Those wearing shorts or skirts can hire a to cover their legs. Women wearing T-shirts should bring a scarf to cover their shoulders. Visitors will be required to leave their shoes at the entrance. Tourists frequently complain that the people managing the mosque are rude and try to get as much money as possible out of visitors by charging for things like shoe storage and modesty dresses they insist women wear even if they are appropriately clad. The best way to deal with these inconveniences is to have a local guide to help navigate through the process.
The Qutub Minar is a mammoth tower that was built between 1193 and 1369 to symbolise Islamic rule over Delhi, and to commemorate the victory by Qutab-ud-din over the city's last Hindu king. Standing 238 feet (72m) tall, the tower is decorated with calligraphy representing verses from the Quran, and tapers from 50 feet (15m) at the base to just eight feet (2.5m) at the top. There are five distinct storeys, each encircled with a balcony: the first three are built of red sandstone, and the upper two are faced with white marble.
At the foot of the minhar stands Quwwat-ul-Islam, India's oldest mosque, largely built from the remains of 27 Hindu and Jain temples destroyed by the Muslim victors. The cloisters that flank the nearby courtyard are supported by pillars that were unmistakably pilfered from Hindu temples, but fascinatingly, the faces that would have adorned these pillars have been removed to conform to Islamic law, which strictly forbids iconic worship.
Somewhat incongruously, in the corner of the mosque, stands the Iron Pillar, bearing 4th-century Sanskrit inscriptions of the Gupta period dedicating the structure to the memory of King Chandragupta II (373-413). It is said that anyone who can encircle the pillar with their hands whilst standing with their back to it will have their wishes fulfilled.
Humayun's Tomb is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful examples of Mogul architecture in Delhi, and is often seen as a forerunner of the Taj Mahal in Agra. Building started on the tomb in 1564 after the death of Humayun, the second Moghul emperor, and its construction was overseen by Haji Begum, his senior widow and the mother of Akbar. The tomb is an octagonal structure capped by a double dome that soars 125ft (38m) into the sky, and is set in a formal Persian garden. In the grounds are some other worthwhile monuments, including the Tomb of Isa Khan. Some careful restoration work has been done on some of the buildings and art but nothing important has been altered and the site has not lost its sense of authentic old age. Visiting this attraction is great for the uninitiated because it is the perfect introduction to the architecture, symbolism and importance of memorial tombs in India. For photography lovers the tomb, with its red colouring and geometric designs, is a wonderful subject. Tourist infrastructure is somewhat lacking, with only a few stalls, a tiny exhibit and no real public toilets - but, on the plus side, it is also less crowded and commercial than many other sites in the city and visitors can wander freely.
After his visit in 1911, the Emperor of India, King George V, decreed that the capital should be moved from Calcutta to Delhi. Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to plan the new government centre, which he focused around Rajpath - the grand, tree-lined boulevard that runs between the Secretariat Buildings and India Arch, the war memorial built in 1921. Rashtrapati Bhavan was built by Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker between 1921 and 1929, on the gentle slope of Raisina Hill, flanked by the Secretariat Buildings. This immense palace, larger than Versailles, was created for the Viceroy and is now the residence of the President of India. With the exception of the central copper dome there are few concessions to Indian architectural style: despite its Classical columns, the building is unmistakably British and remains a potent symbol of imperial power.
Every Saturday morning between 9:35am and 10:15am guards parade before the iron gates, in Delhi's answer to London's Changing of the Guard. The gardens are open to the public every year in February and March but unfortunately no entry to the palace is permitted at any time of year. However, the exterior is very impressive and it is well worth at least a drive by.
No trip to Delhi would be complete without a visit to one of the bazaars that surround Chandni Chowk (Moonlight Square) in Old Delhi, where shops and stalls display a wonderful array of goods, and offer a pungent and colourful insight into everyday Delhi life. Chandni Chowk has a large number of galis (lanes) and each one is different, with its own atmosphere and selection of goods to buy.
Naya Bazaar, on Khari Baoli, is the spice market, displaying a wonderful range of seasonings in neat, colourful piles. The nearby Gadodia Market is the wholesale spice market. Hundreds of spices and condiments can be found there, including aniseed, ginger, pomegranate, saffron, lotus seeds, pickles and chutneys, to name just a few.
Chor Bazaar sits behind the ramparts of the Red Fort and comes to life on Sundays to trade a collection of 'second-hand' goods. Chawri Bazaar was once notorious for the ladies who beckoned men from the arched windows and balconies above the street, but today these houses have made way for shops specialising in brass and copper Buddhas, Vishnus and Krishnas. Some of the busiest galis (east of Kalan Mahal) house the poultry and fish markets, but most tourists wisely avoid these areas.
The Taj Mahal is one of the world's most recognisable and evocative sights, and despite the incredible hype, a visit here cannot disappoint. Set overlooking the River Yamuna, visible from Agra Fort in the West, the Taj was built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, who died giving birth to her 14th child, in 1631. The story of this great monument to love is given an added poignancy by the fate of Shah Jahan himself. When his devout and austere son Aurangzeb seized power, Shah Jahan was interned in Agra Fort, where he lived out his final years gazing wistfully at the Taj Mahal in the distance. When he died there, in January 1666, with his daughter Jahanara Begum at his side, his body was carried across the river to lie alongside his beloved wife in the peerless mausoleum.
Completed in 1653, the Taj Mahal is set in a large walled garden, between two mini-Taj's (one of which is a mosque), and in front of a long reflecting pond. Close up, the craftsmanship of the building is as spectacular as from a distance - the inside of the vast double-dome is inlaid with delicately-filigreed verses from the Quran and semi-precious stones. Visitors should aim to visit it at dawn and at dusk, as the building truly does change colour through the day, from rosy pink, to gleaming ivory, to twilight-blue. Note that there can often be smog and fog in the mornings. Two days before and after the full moon, the Taj Mahal is open for moonlight viewing, but tickets must be booked at least 24 hours in advance, through the Archaeological Survey of India's offices in Agra.
Not far from the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses, within its 1.5 mile-long (2.5km) enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It comprises many fairytale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan; audience halls such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and the Sheesh Mahal (The Glass Palace), which is inlaid with thousands of mirrors and was once the harem dressing-room. There are also two beautiful mosques, including Shah Jahan's Pearl Mosque. The Octagonal Tower is exquisitely carved, and is the very place where Shah Jahan spent the last seven years of his life. The tower used to be known for providing one of the best views of the Taj Mahal - which is significant as Shah Jahan famously built the Taj as a memorial to his wife and no doubt enjoyed this view - but these days, regrettably, air pollution has reduced visibility.
Not all of the areas and buildings in the Red Fort are open to visitors but there is plenty to see. Local guides are available at the entrance and hiring one is recommended because the fort has accumulated many great stories in its long history. Try to arrive early to avoid crowds and queues.
Situated on the crest of a hill seven miles (11km) north of Jaipur is Amber, capital of the Kuchwaha Rajputs from 1037 to 1728. The city-palace is protected by towering outer walls, and a further wall runs for miles along the hills surrounding the palace. For many, the most memorable part of a trip to Jaipur is the journey up the palace ramparts, through a succession of vast gates, on the back of a painted elephant, Maharaja-style. Inside are the ruins of a once-great palace: a wonderful example of Rajput architecture, with Mogul influences. Visitors will be able to see the remains of the Maharajas quarters surrounded by the rooms of his many wives and concubines, each linked to his bedroom by secret steps and passageways to avoid jealousy. Although much of the complex is closed to the public, there is still a large area to explore. Visitors are advised to spend at least a few hours here, and ideally to hire a guide who will explain the architecture and history of the palace. Don't forget to pack your camera. Photo opportunities abound at Amber Palace but note that there is a small additional fee for those who want to take photographs.
The magnificent City Palace is in the centre of the Pink City of Jaipur, enclosed by high walls and set amid fine gardens and courtyards. Since Jai Singh built it in 1728, it has been the principal residence for the Maharajas of Jaipur and successive rulers have each added to it. The palace was built during the glory days and the exhibits and interior have lost none of their splendour: the doors and gateways preserve their flamboyant decoration; and royal retainers, clothed in turbans and full livery, still guard the principal halls and entrances.
Chandra Mahal is the private palace of the current ruler and is approached through a number of courtyards. Mubarak Mahal, in the first courtyard, was once a guesthouse and is now a textile museum. There are a number of other museums displaying old costumes and uniforms, carpets, mementos, elephant saddles and an armoury containing a fascinating array of fearsome and inventive weapons dating back to the Mogul era.
A beautifully-carved marble gate with brass doors leads to the second courtyard, where Diwan-I-Khas, the hall of private audiences, is found. On display here are two gigantic silver urns used by Madho Singh II to carry water from the holy Ganges with him when he travelled to London in 1902 on board an ocean liner - he was reluctant to trust the water in the West! These are said to be the largest silver vessels in the world - 243kg of silver was required to cast each urn, and they can hold 8,182 gallons of water.
The Palace of the Winds is Jaipur's most acclaimed attraction. Built in 1799, it is situated on the edge of the City Palace complex overlooking one of the city's bustling main streets, and was constructed to offer the women of the court a vantage point, behind stone-carved screens, from which to watch the activity in the bazaars below. The five-storey building is shaped like a crown adorning Lord Krishna's head, and contains over five hundred finely-screened windows and balconies. Although the palace's primary appeal is its ornate and finely-carved pink façade, visitors can also go inside and see the intricate, honeycombed stonework of the original screens close up. There are beautiful views of the city and some surrounding forts from the inside of the building. Additional motivation for exploring the interior - apart from the thrill of imagining the royal wives and consorts flitting about behind their screens - is the naturally cool, breezy nature of the place, which makes it refreshing on hot days. Those who just want to see the building and take some photos can do so from the road without paying the entrance fee. The building is particularly lovely early in the morning when the light makes it seem even pinker than usual.
The white walls of Udaipur's Lake Palace soar above the peaceful waters of Lake Pichola, topped by ornamental battlements and turrets. The sprawling palace has been developed by successive maharanas since the foundation of Udaipur in 1559. These days, part of the palace is home to the current maharana, a section of it is a first-class hotel (with the best restaurant in the city), and the remainder is a museum.
The approach to the City Palace is through the Elephant Gate, Hati Pol. The Great Gate (Bara Pol) leads to the first court, where eight carved arches mark the spot where the rulers were once weighed against gold or silver, the equivalent value of which was then distributed among the poor. Beyond the Tripolia Gate is the arena where the elephant tug-of-war competitions were staged, past which are a series of courtyards, overlapping pavilions, terraces, corridors and hanging gardens.
The Krishna Vilas honours a 19th-century Udaipur princess, who poisoned herself to avoid the dilemma of choosing a husband from the two rival households of Jodhpur and Jaipur. Its walls display miniature paintings portraying royal processions, festivals and hunting parties. Further along, a glass mosaic gallery contains superb portraits and stained glass, and offers a wonderful panoramic view of the city below. Set into the walls of the 17th-century Mor Chowk are brilliant mosaics of three peacocks showing the three seasons: summer, winter and monsoon. Perhaps the most splendid rooms in the palace are the women's quarters, Zenana Mahal, with their ornate alcoves, balconies and coloured windows.
Udaipur's Lake Palace really does have a storybook quality to it - both in terms of its looks and its history - and it is rightly considered by all and sundry to be one of India's stellar tourist attractions.
Forty miles (60km) north of Udaipur are the Jain Temples of Ranakpur. It is the largest temple complex of its kind in India, and boasts some truly staggering marble work - easily on a par with any in Asia. The main temple was built in 1439, and is dedicated to the first tirthankara Adinath, whose image is enshrined in its central sanctuary. The temple is two or three storeys high in parts, and its roof, topped with five large shikharas, undulates with tiny spires that crown the small shrines to Jain saints lining the temple walls. Within are 1444 pillars, each sculpted with unique and intricate designs, and dissecting the 29 halls. The carving on the walls, columns and the domed ceilings is superb. Friezes depicting the life of the tirthankara are etched into the walls, while musicians and dancers have been modelled out of brackets between the pillars and the ceiling. While exploring the temples at Ranakpur, visitors may see Jain monks walking about with masks on their faces to avoid eating insects. The most important teaching of Jainism is 'Ahimsa', meaning non-violence, and this is applied to all sentient beings. Many monks also carry a brush to sweep surfaces to avoid standing on bugs. Ranakpur's isolated position means it is not on the major tourist trail, but it makes a good stop for those travelling between Jaipur and Udaipur.
The magnificent Gothic Victorian buildings in Mumbai's Fort Area highlight the power and wealth of the British Empire at its might. They are reminiscent of many of the great public buildings in London or Glasgow. The Victoria Terminus (known as CST) was opened in 1888, and is one of the world's grandest railway stations, on a par with New York's Grand Central Station or London's St Pancras. Built in the Italian Gothic style, it looks more like a lavishly-decorated cathedral than a railway station: massive arches soar splendidly above the scurrying crowd, and carved into the pillars and buttresses are images of monkeys, peacocks, elephants and lions. The station is topped by a tall dome crowned with a statue representing Progress.
The nearby St Thomas' Cathedral was built between 1672 and 1718, standing witness to almost the entire history of the British in Bombay. Its whitewashed interior contains poignant colonial memorials - including one to Henry Robertson Bower, Lieutenant of the Royal Indian Marine, who lost his life returning from the South Pole with Captain Scott.
The epicentre of the Fort Area is Horniman Circle, which is surrounded by curved, arcaded terraces. The lush and leafy garden in the centre offers a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city.
The southernmost peninsula of Mumbai, known as Colaba, is where most travellers gravitate. It has a good range of hotels and restaurants and houses two of the city's most famous landmarks: the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. The Gateway to India was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit to India of King George V and Queen Mary. The archway is built from honey-coloured basalt in a style derived from Gujarati architecture of the 16th century. In the days of the steam liner, the Gateway was for many visitors their first and last sight of India, but today it acts purely as a colourful tourist stop, and attracts hawkers, snake charmers, and beggars. The neighbouring Taj Mahal Hotel was built in 1902 by JN Tata, after he was allegedly refused entry to one of the city's European hotels on account of being 'a native'. It has since turned into a bit of an institution, and the streets behind it have become a Mecca for foreign shoppers; the Colaba Causeway is the main street, with a melee of street vendors, shops, stalls and cafes.
Unfortunately Colaba was also the site of two of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks and tourists are recommended to remain vigilant when visiting the area. To the north of the causeway, set in beautiful lush gardens, is the fascinating Prince of Wales Museum displaying a collection of ancient and medieval sculpture and Indian decorative arts. Nearby, the new National Gallery of Modern Art showcases Indian modern art. To the south is the Sassoon Dock, which at dawn becomes an area of intense and pungent activity as fishing boats arrive to unload their catch.
Built in the 1920s, Marine Drive runs along the shoreline of the Arabian Sea, from Nariman Point to the foot of Malabar Hill. It is Mumbai's most famous thoroughfare, and a favourite spot for watching the sunset. Lined on the landward side by a crescent of crumbling Art Deco buildings, it is lit up memorably at night, prompting travel agents to dub it 'the Queen's Necklace'. At the top end of Marine Drive is Chowpatty Beach, the only beach in the central part of Mumbai. Though not ideal for sunbathing or swimming, it is a popular (though hectic) place to spend an afternoon, surrounded by beach traders, entertainers and beggars. It is the best place to watch the annual Ganesh Chaturthi Festival (during August/September), when vast models of Lord Ganesha are immersed in the sea. Marine Drive is also an exciting vantage point on Diwali, when there are stunning fireworks in the bay and all over the city. The thoroughfare is best avoided on weekends, when it can get extremely crowded and rather dirty, but the atmosphere is festive and some people love to mingle on busy days. There are many restaurants and cafes lining the street and it is lovely to either walk or drive along the road at night.
The colourful indoor Crawford Market (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market) is where locals of central Mumbai go shopping for their fruit, vegetables and (for the brave) meat. Rudyard Kipling was born just south of the market, in 1865. An ornate fountain designed by his father, Lockwood Kipling, sits between old fruit boxes at the market's centre. He also designed the frieze depicting Indian peasants in wheat fields which hangs above the main entrance. You can find almost anything at the market which is large and full of surprises. The animal market at the rear sells everything from poodles to parrots in small cages.
Visitors will enjoy a stroll around the narrow lanes of Kalbadevi, north of the market. This predominantly Muslim area is a seething mass of people and traffic and is the location of several markets selling jewellery, textiles and leather goods. The most famous is the Chor Bazaar, Mumbai's 'thieves' market', which sells 'antiques' and miscellaneous junk - don't place too much faith in the authenticity of anything sold here. This area is also home to the Jama Masjid and the Mumbadevi Temple, which is dedicated to the patron goddess of the island's original Koli inhabitants.
Once just a backpacker and hippie hangout selling kaftans and chillums, the Anjuna Flea Market is now more commercial, with a broad range of high-quality goods on sale. Traders from all over India come to sell their wares: Lamani women from Karnataka, dressed in their traditional garb, sell colourful, elaborately woven clothes; Kashmiri stalls display silver and papier-mâché boxes; and Tibetans preside over orderly rows of sundry Himalayan curios. Visitors are expected to bargain - often the starting price will be more than double what something is worth and rule of thumb is to try and haggle down to 50 percent of the original asking price - but the stall owners tend to be friendly and less pushy than in some other markets. Even if not planning to haggle for anything, the market is a great place to watch the world go by and mingle with bands of musicians, snake charmers, beggars and the inevitable juggling hippies. The place is colourful and vibrant, and conveniently located right on the beautiful coastline. It is a good idea to go early to avoid the crowds and midday heat. The market takes place every Wednesday.
For most visitors to India, Panaji is simply a busy bus terminal, offering connections between India's southern cities and the beautiful beaches of Goa. However, this most sedate of state capitals has plenty to offer tourists, and should rightly have a day or two devoted to it on any Indian travel itinerary. Situated on the southern banks of the Mandovi River, Panaji only became the capital of Goa in 1843, after the harbour at Old Goa silted up and disease had driven its inhabitants out. The best way to explore the town is on foot, wandering around the old cobbled alleyways, colonial villas, red-roofed houses, taverns and cafes, all of which has the look and feel of a small Portuguese town. There are some wonderful old government buildings, dating back to before colonisation, and some elegant Catholic churches. Most memorable is the Church of the Immaculate Conception: built in 1541, it's topped with a huge bell that sits between two delicate Baroque-style towers, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Panaji is a delightful place to explore and has an extremely laid-back atmosphere and small town feel unusual for a state capital.
Situated on a hilltop at the southern end of India is Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram (still commonly known as Trivandrum). For most visitors the capital is simply a transit-point on their way to Kovalam, the popular beach resort a few miles to the south. However, it is worth lingering for a day or so in this easy-going city to explore the narrow backstreets, old gabled houses and expansive parks.
The most fascinating part of Trivandrum is the Fort area, around the Shri Padmanabhaswamy Temple (closed to non-Hindus); and Puttan Malika Palace, seat of the Travancore Rajas. Some of the palace has been turned into a museum, and displays a collection of heirlooms and artefacts. However, the highlight is the building's typically understated, elegant Keralan architecture. Beneath sloping red-tiled roofs, hundreds of wooden pillars carved into the forms of horses prop up the eaves, with airy verandas projecting onto the surrounding lawns.
When it gets too hot at sea level, Ponmudi makes a welcome excursion. This enchanting hill station, tucked away in the Western Ghats 40 miles (64km) to the north of the capital, offers a lot to travellers with a passion for trekking, and just as much to those who'd prefer a gentle wander along narrow, winding pathways, through cool, wooded environs thick with mountain flowers and butterflies. The hill resort is surrounded by tea-estates and mist-covered valleys, and peppered with little stone cottages painted violet, pink and white.
Old Goa was the state's capital city until 1843, when it was moved down river to Panaji. Once a byword for splendour, with a population of several hundred thousand, Old Goa was virtually abandoned from the 17th century, as the river silted up and a series of malaria and cholera epidemics drove out the inhabitants.
It takes some imagination to picture the once-great capital as it used to be. The maze of twisting streets, piazzas and grand Portuguese villas have long gone: all that remains are a score of extraordinarily grandiose churches and convents. Old Goa has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and today is the state's main cultural attraction. Tourists take a break from the beach resorts to come and admire the massive facades and beautiful interiors of the city's well-preserved churches.
The Tuscan St Catherine's Cathedral is the largest church in India and took eighty years to build, finally being consecrated in 1640. The scale and detail of the Corinthian-style interior is overwhelming: huge pillars divide the central nave from the side aisles, and no less than fifteen altars are arranged around the walls. An altar to St Anne treasures the relics of the Blessed Martyrs of Cuncolim, whose failed mission to convert the Moghul emperor Akbar culminated in their murder; while a chapel behind a highly detailed screen holds the Miraculous Cross, which stood in a Goan village until a vision of Christ appeared on it. Reported to heal the sick, it is now kept in a box; a small opening on the side allows devotees to touch it.
Other sights worth seeing include the Arch of the Viceroys, built in 1597 to commemorate Vasco da Gama's arrival in India, and the distinctive, domed Church of St Cajetan (1651), modelled on St Peter's in Rome. Old Goa is a major site for Christian pilgrims from all over India who come to visit the tomb of St Francis Xavier, the renowned 16th-century missionary whose remains are enshrined in the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Situated in the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most popular wildlife reserves in India. It is home to a great variety of game, including elephant, sambar, wild pig, mongoose, the Malabar flying squirrel and almost 300 species of bird. Leopards and dwindling numbers of tigers are also here, but are, unfortunately, rarely glimpsed by visitors.
The park lies 75 miles southeast of Cochin at cool altitudes, between about 3,000 and 6,000 feet (900 and 1800 metres). Ironically, the park was created by the royal family of Travancor to preserve their favourite hunting grounds from the encroachment of tea plantations, and is centred around a vast artificial lake that was created by the British in 1895 to supply water to the drier parts of the state.
Most people view Periyar from a boat on the lake; however, many visitors prefer to explore the area on foot. Local guides take small groups on treks of various lengths. Exploring on foot should be avoided in the weeks immediately following monsoon season, when leeches make hiking virtually unbearable. The best time to visit is from December to April, when the dry weather draws animals from the forest to drink at the lakeside. Periyar is also a good base for day trips to visit the local tea and spice plantations, and to explore the waterfalls and appreciate the fine views of the Cardamom Hills.
One of the most memorable experiences for many travellers in Kerala is a boat journey on the state's famous backwaters. The best-known of these areas is Kuttanad, situated between the hills in the west and the Arabian Sea, and stretching for 50 miles south of Kochi (formerly Cochin). This extraordinary maze of rivers, lakes, canals and estuaries is lined with dense tropical greenery and reveals a Keralan lifestyle that is totally hidden from the road. Boats are the only way to explore this area, billed as Kaleidoscope Kerala, where views change around every bend: narrow tree-covered canals open onto dazzling vistas of paddy fields, and through the trees can be glimpsed churches, mosques, temples, and small farms and villages which remain relatively untouched by the modern world. Buffaloes are used for ploughing the fields and women bathe and wash their clothes in the rivers. Roads do cross this area, but are almost entirely linked by manually-operated ferries rather than bridges. Kingfishers, cormorants and fish eagles compete with fisherman in rowing boats for the dwindling fish population. Providing visitors with the chance to just sit back and allow life to unfold around them at its own, slow pace, a trip on the Keralan backwaters is the ideal tonic for travel fatigue - especially if the experience of cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata has tourists feeling a bit strung out.
Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is India's economic powerhouse, and home to more millionaires than any other city on the Indian subcontinent. The city contains a breathtaking array of High Victorian buildings, reflecting the British passion for the Gothic and demonstrating the wealth, panache and confidence of British Bombay. Mumbai's countless attractions are reached via the iconic colonial-era arch that is the Gateway of India. Nearby stands the Taj Mahal Palace. India's second-most photographed monument, and the equally imposing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, an extravagant Gothic building.
The Colaba peninsula is a hive of activity, with high-end fashion boutiques, souvenir craft markets, and a collection of restaurants and cafes. Tourists can visit the Iskcon Temple to witness scenes of intense, joyful worship accompanied by dance and music, or plan a trip to Film City to see first-hand how Bollywood shoots its films. For those seeking a break from the madness of modern Mumbai, the 180-year-old village of Khotachiwadi offers a quiet glimpse into life as it was before the high-rise buildings of today's mega-city.
The deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire between 1570 and 1585. It was built under the personal supervision of the Emperor Akbar. The story goes that the emperor was childless and, having tried all sorts of solutions to his plight, visited a Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti, for help. Soon a son was born, and - impressed and overjoyed - Akbar started building on the site where he had met the saint. However, due to a severe shortage of water the city was abandoned after only fifteen years, and the capital was relocated back to Agra. As a result, Fatehpur Sikri stands untouched and perfectly preserved: a complete medieval fortress built of red sandstone, with vast central squares, exquisitely carved multi-tiered pavilions, cool terraces and formal gardens. It is best to hire a guide, or do some research before visiting, because the site is hugely enriched by some knowledge of its fascinating history and the many stories that have accumulated about the place. Visitors can walk freely around the vast complex admiring the intricate architecture and carvings and imagining how the royal family once lived. The gardens are also lovely and well-maintained.
Kolkata is India's third-largest city, and home to some of the country's holiest temples and finest colonial structures.The 'Cultural Capital of India' is a diverse city with a diverse mixture of languages spoken among its 14 million inhabitants. It was also home to Mother Teresa, whose humble home can still be visited, and the famous writer Rabindranath Tagore. Kolkata is a city of many cultural attractions and some impressive colonial architecture. The India Museum, India's oldest, largest and arguably best museum, is a must for those interested in the history of the country. The lovely Victoria Memorial is celebrated as one of the architectural gems of the colonial period. The Marble Palace, an eccentric, privately-owned mansion with some intriguing features is also very popular.
A deeply religious city representing several faiths, some striking temples often top the list of things to see in Kolkata. The Kalighat Temple is the city's holiest site, and those willing to brave the hordes of worshippers and pilgrims will find this attraction to be a profound experience. The Sri Mayapur Chandrodaya Temple, frequented by devotees of Lord Krishna, is popular with tourists; and the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, stunning architecturally, is another favourite.
The Haji Ali Dargah is both a mosque and a tomb, located in southwestern Mumbai, on an islet off the coast of Worli. The (tomb) was built in memory of Muslim preacher Syed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari in 1431, who was inspired to change the course of his life after embarking on the Hajj to Mecca. Haji Ali is only accessible by a 1500-foot (457m) walkway during low tide. The walkway is generally lined with beggars and vendors, and Thursdays and Fridays see thousands of pilgrims flocking to Haji Ali to receive blessings from the dead saint. People of all religions are welcomed but the mosque is an important spiritual site for Muslims and some respect is due from visitors, who must abide by the mosque's rules - for instance, dress appropriately and use the separate entrances designated for women and men. As with many big attractions in Mumbai the site can get uncomfortably crowded and can be rather dirty, with beggars, touts and salesmen of all kinds thronging the place. The best time to visit is at low tide, early in the morning, as it is less crowded and the high tide washes away some of the rubbish. Although some people lament the crowds and dirt the Haji Ali Dargah is still a powerful and captivating site which impresses many.
The exciting Nehru Centre, which even looks like a UFO, features a world-class planetarium, an art gallery filled with emerging talent, and an interesting culture wing. However, the highlight of the centre is the (permanent) Discovery of India exhibition, with consists of 14 galleries showcasing every aspect of artistic, intellectual and philosophical attainment in India through the ages; visitors walk through the history of India from ancient times to independence. This is a wonderful place to start for those looking to get to grips with the history and identity of India, one of the most mercurial and fascinating countries in the world. The centre is a tribute to its namesake, the first Prime Minister of an independent India, and described on the official website as a 'living testament and monument of faith in Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of man, his compassion for humanity, his concern for humanbeings and his undying passion to lift them to the greatest and highest purpose'. The planetarium is also very popular and offers well-planned and presented shows. There is a restaurant in the centre which has received good reviews from visitors.
The Prince of Wales Museum, now officially known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, was founded in the early 20th century to commemorate the visit of (eventual King of the United Kingdom) George V. The museum houses more than 50,000 exhibits of ancient Indian history, as well as artefacts from other lands. The museum's greatest areas of focus are art, archaeology and natural history. The Indus Valley Civilisation section is particularly impressive. The museum is surrounded by a lovely garden, which provides a nice area to stroll in after exploring the exhibitions. The building dates back to 1914 but it was originally used as a military hospital and only housed the museum in 1922; it is an acknowledged architectural gem of the city.
There is a cafe where visitors can buy refreshments and it's fun to enjoy them out in the garden. The museum's collection is fairly large so it will take a few hours to see everything. Students should be sure to take their student cards along because the concession for foreign students is substantial. There is no air conditioning in the building so rather don't visit in the midday heat. Visitors are allowed to take photographs, but there is an additional charge to take in a camera.
The former home of Mahatma Gandhi, the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum is a Gujarati-style house featuring three floors for visitors to explore. The house did not belong to Gandhi but served as his home and headquarters in Bombay for 17 eventful years between 1917 and 1934; it belonged to a friend of his, who was his host whenever he visited the city. Several important events and activities in Gandhi's political life took place or were initiated at this place - he was arrested on the terrace in 1932. The museum houses an incredible library, full of Gandhi-related books, periodicals, photographs, posters and even the great man's old (spinning wheel). His old room has been preserved as it was when he lived in it, as far as possible, and there is a Picture Gallery and an Auditorium that plays Gandhi's speeches and films about him. The terrace where he once prayed, spoke and was arrested is open to the public. There is also a Sales Counter which sells memorabilia like stamps, photographs and books. For anybody interested in the life of this global icon the museum is a must.
Known as the 'world's largest laundromat', the Dhobi Ghat provides a scene many travellers might have already seen in movies. Every day, thousands of (laundry washers) collect dirty laundry and descend upon the concrete washing areas, all fitted with their own flogging stones, to wash the garments. To the dhobis themselves, the washing and drying of clothes is a menial task - but to inquisitive tourists, this practise can be a fascinating insight into India's daily life, as well as a surviving relic of old India. The job is traditionally hereditary, and many of the men at work have families that have been doing the same job, and using the same age-old techniques, for generations. This is not a glamorous attraction but it is a very interesting one and many tourists love to photograph the work and the area and get a taste of the 'real' India. Having a local guide is an advantage because they can explain the history of the area and the job, and because they usually prevent the petty theft and pick-pocketing which sometimes occurs. Generally the people are very friendly and amused by the foreign interest in their menial labour but visitors should watch their belongings carefully. Entrance to the area should be free but there have been reports of locals asking for a small admission price.
Located on Elephanta Island, in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai, the Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute must for visitors to Mumbai. The island can be reached by an hour long boat ride from the Gateway of India pier. The caves feature (the oldest of the four sects of Hindusm) stone sculptures of Hindu deities important to worshippers of Shiva. Many of the sculptures in the caves were unfortunately defaced by the Portuguese who, in the 17th century, used the sculptures for target practice. However, there is still lots of intricate and impressive art to see. Visitors arrive and step off the ferry to walk through a gauntlet of vendors selling all sorts of food and trinkets. It is possible to take a ride on a small train to get to the cave site, or to be carried up in chairs. The other option is simply to walk. Each year, in February, the Elephanta Dance Festival is held outside the caves with lots of local dance troupes performing. The island can get very crowded on weekends and public holidays so it is best to go during the week if possible.
The Indian Botanical Garden in Kolkata has many floral treasures, but none as impressive as the 250-year-old Great Banyan Tree, which covers nearly 5,300 square feet (500sq/m). What at first seems like a forest of narrow trunks is, in fact, 1,573 drop-roots from a single banyan tree - either the largest or second largest canopy tree in the world depending on who you believe.
The gardens, located on the west bank of the Hooghly River, contain about 12,000 living plant species from every corner of the globe and offer some good bird watching opportunities and a quiet green space in which to walk, relax and picnic. There are many paths and trails to explore. Since July 2012 the gardens have been closed on Mondays for maintenance but walkers and joggers are still let in. Officially the gardens open at 8am, but those wanting to exercise can usually get in as early as 5:30am. The gardens are not as impressive in winter and maintenance seems to take a backseat in the off-peak months but the Great Banyan Tree is worth a visit at any time of year and in spring and summer the birds, butterflies and flowers are a joy.
This astounding marble building is probably the most impressive colonial structure in India. In a city known for several great monuments and buildings, this palace is often considered the primary architectural gem and most iconic landmark. It was built to commemorate Queen Victoria (although she never actually visited the city) and only completed in 1921, after 20 years of solid work. Inside is a fascinating museum of Indian history, including some wonderful sculptures and paintings. The monument is situated on 64 acres of land, which includes lakes, gardens and walking paths. The gardens are well-maintained and for many the lovely grounds and exterior facade of the memorial are the highlight - the museum is fascinating for those genuinely interested in India's colonial history, but the exhibitions are informative rather than entertaining. Although the museum officially opens much later, visitors can usually get into the gardens for a small fee as early as 5:30am. This is a really beautiful time of day to visit and wonderful for photographs or morning exercise. Note that no photography is permitted inside the memorial. There is a sound and light show most evenings at 7:15pm.
With 60 galleries of art, archaeology and anthropology, this is India's largest museum, India's oldest museum, and quite possibly India's most attractive museum, housed as it is in a stunning, colonnaded palace. The Indian Museum was established in 1814 and the collection is vast and varied, including fossils, skeletons, coins, manuscripts, all kinds of Indian art and sculpture, traditional games, icons, puppets, toys, musical instruments and much more. The natural history collection is thought to be one of the world's finest and the museum library is famous for its impressive collection. Unfortunately, although there are fascinating things to see and learn in the museum, it is not as well-maintained as it could be, and sometimes the beautiful building seems slightly dilapidated. Nevertheless, a visit here is mandatory for those wanting a snap-shot view of India's past. As the collection is so big it is best to join one of the four guided tours that are available each day. There are restrooms and a simple little gift shop at the museum; there are also usually many hawkers outside the museum selling snacks, souvenirs and trinkets.
This humble and touching temple to Mother Teresa's life and work in downtown Kolkata is well worth a visit. Upstairs is a small museum, full of affecting and interesting displays. Visitors even have a chance to see Blessed Teresa's bedroom, preserved exactly as it was when she lived in the building. Tourists can also visit Mother Teresa's tomb and spend a quiet moment praying or reflecting in this inspirational place. Not so much an 'attraction' as a deeply emotional and inspiring insight into a life of self-sacrifice and devotion, a visit to Mother House makes a fine counterpoint to more traditional tourist pursuits. In fact, for many visitors to the city it tops their list of worthwhile things to see and do, particularly as Kolkata is so strongly associated with Mother Teresa in the global imagination. Mother House is a memorial and museum but it is also an active charity organisation with real nuns at work. Donations of money or clothes are greatly appreciated, and there is an orphanage nearby which is a beneficiary of the organisation and which some people like to visit to lend a hand. Mother House is a real gem in this sprawling city and a special place to visit.
This 350-year-old temple dedicated to Kali is Kolkata's holiest site, attracting a throng of excited pilgrims every day. Visitors need to tip one of the priests in order to get inside through the mêlée of devotees. Inside the temple there are several shrines: a Krishna shrine where goats and buffalo are sacrificed to the goddess (the meat is distributed to the poor); a shrine to the goddess Manasa which consists of a tree, to which devotees (typically women) tie rocks with red thread in order to receive blessings, usually regarding fertility; a Shiva shrine with a Vedic fire pit in which a fire ceremony is performed daily; and, of course, a shrine to Kali which is a statue of the god with a three-eyed black skull and a long, golden tongue. Stalls selling votive items and various artefacts surround the temple. To avoid the worst crowds, the best days to visit Kalighat Temple are Wednesdays and Thursdays. Visitors are advised to take ample change (in Rs 10 denominations) to tip the various priests and ushers. Visiting the Kalighat Temple can be quite overwhelming as it is a chaotic place but it is a fascinating experience and a good way to be immersed in the local religion and culture.
One of Kolkata's most unusual sites, this palace was built by a local member of the 19th century gentry in a marvellous patchwork of classical architectural styles. Lavish use is made of Italian marble, and the lawns contain an eclectic pantheon of statues including Christopher Columbus and the Buddha. The Marble Palace is a place of drama and dilapidation - and unsurprisingly, has frequently been used as a movie set. It remains a private residence, however, so you'll have to arrange a permit to view the interior (a worthwhile activity, if only to gawk at the impressive art lining the walls). Permits can be obtained from the West Bengal Tourism Information Bureau. With a permit, entrance to the palace is free and a member of the staff will show visitors around and tell them about the place. Frequently, those who arrive without the permit are persuaded by the guards to pay bribes to get in but this is not advisable as one bribe may quickly lead to another a few steps later! Next to the palace is the Marble Palace Zoo, the first zoo opened in India, which is now primarily an aviary, housing peacocks, hornbills, pelicans, storks and cranes. No photography is permitted in the palace.
Goa has some amazing beaches, and draws a steady stream of local and international tourists.
In the north, Anjuna Beach once played host to hordes of hippies, but is now home to a number of trendy beach bars as well as the famous Wednesday Market. The new hippie haven is Arambol beach, also good for dolphin-viewing and paragliding. With its white-sand beaches, Vagator is gaining in popularity. However, the sea is not safe for swimming due to the rip tides. The busiest, most commercial beach is Calangutell, while neighbouring Baga Beach has great nightlife spots.
In the south, Agonda is a quiet stretch of beach with a few souvenir stalls and restaurants, while Benaulim Beach, south of Colva, is known for its fishing and laid-back atmosphere. In recent years, Benaulim has become popular with tourists wanting to get away from Goa's party reputation and just lay back, jog along the long stretch of beach and indulge in the city's fresh and healthy culinary fare. The shady palm trees and soft sands of Palolem Beach, also known as Paradise Beach, are backpacker territory. However, it's also a great place for a dolphin cruise or picturesque sundowner at one of the many beach bars lining the water. Nearby Patnem has some lovely beach huts available to rent.
There are a couple of great beaches to take the kids to in Goa. The fishing village of Benaulim, near Colva, has a few quiet spots with soft sand and beautiful clean water. A firm family favourite is the Mandrem beach area, which offers shallow waters for kids to play in, and beach beds for parents to relax on. Between the beach at Mandrem and the dunes, there's a little wooden bridge crossing a river that kids love to play on.
A great outing in Goa is a trip to the Dudhsagar Waterfall, which is one of the most popular natural attractions in the area. The falls are located in a tropical jungle near the Goa-Karnataka border, and are surrounded by a network of gently flowing streams and pools. Swimming, hiking and picnicking are popular pastimes at the falls and the deep pool beneath the falls is a favourite nature spot. The waterfalls are among the 100 highest in the world, and visitors who take the difficult climb to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Western Ghats' wooded mountains. There are usually monkeys to be found in the jungle and around the falls and they tend to be very tame because tourists often feed them. Feeding the monkeys is prohibited because they quickly become a nuisance when they associate people with easy food. They are fun to watch and interact with but be cautious with your food and possessions as they may try to take something. The most common way to get to the falls is to take a fun 30-minute Jeep ride from the entrance to the jungle, but some intrepid travellers choose to walk along the train rails from Castle Rock Station. The hike is beautiful but it is over eight miles (14km) and should only be attempted by the fit.
The Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is home to around 400 species of birds, both local and migratory. Here visitors can expect to see kingfishers, pintails, coots and egrets, as well as a few crocodiles, jackals and foxes inhabiting the mangroves. Although this is one of the smallest bird sanctuaries in Goa, it is among the most famous in India. It is important to go at the right time of year: the best time to see the migratory birds is after the monsoon season, from October to March; and bird and animal sightings are likely to be better early in the morning. The sanctuary is not a zoo and the animals are in no way enclosed so experiences vary hugely with regard to how much people see. The mangroves themselves are interesting and beautiful and for many nature lovers a boat ride through this unusual landscape is reason enough to visit the sanctuary. For those who prefer to explore on foot, guided walks through the mangroves are also available. Bear in mind that exploring a swamp invariably means there will be mosquitoes - insect repellent and long-sleeved clothing are in order. Photography is welcomed but there is a small extra fee for cameras.
Delhi is a city of contrasts, where an elephant can overtake a snazzy Italian sports car on the streets, where commanding colonial mansions stand next to overcrowded slums, and where cows are revered but musicians are labelled 'untouchable'. The city's pace is chaotic, yet strangely relaxed, making it ideal for exploring. Visitors are almost certain to have some strange and exotic experiences. The city is full of fascinating temples, museums, mosques and forts, each with a distinctive architectural style. In Old Delhi, visitors will find a charming selection of colourful bazaars and narrow winding alleys. In comparison, New Delhi - the city created to reflect the might of the British Empire - consists of tree-lined avenues, spacious parks and sombre-looking government buildings.
A great way to visit many of the sights around Delhi is on the Hop On Hop Off Bus, which leaves every 30 minutes and stops at close to 20 of Delhi's top tourist destinations. Tourists pay a once-off fee and can hop on and off at a variety of monuments, gardens, bazaars, museums and galleries. The city is also ideal as a base for visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, and provides the best links for travelling to the hill stations in northern India.
Cubbon Park is Bengaluru's equivalent of Central Park: a place of relaxation, open space and some worthwhile attractions. In and around the park are the State Central Library, two municipal museums, an art gallery and the Government Aquarium. The intensely red Attara Kacheri, which houses the regional high court, is unmistakable and eminently photogenic. The State Archaeological Museum is one of the oldest in India, has artefacts dating back 5,000 years, and is well worth a visit to gain some historical context to this relentlessly modern city. The handsome and photogenic Seshadri Memorial Library is another distinctly red building on the fringes of the park. At the northern edge of Cubbon Park is the imposing Vidhana Soudha, home to the State Legislature and Secretariat. The massive sandalwood doors to the Cabinet are a notable feature of this handsome colonial structure, built in a neo-Dravidian style. The construction work was done by more than 5,000 prisoners, who were set free once the building was finished, in 1956.
First and foremost, however, the park is a green lung, a peaceful and pretty place to take a break from the traffic and noise of this bustling city. It is a great area for walkers and joggers - particularly early in the morning and in the evenings. Tourists travelling with kids in Bengaluru will find Cubbon Park has many lovely picnic spots and open space to let off some steam; there is also boating on the lake and a toy train that runs around the park. Note that there is a busy road running through the area so it is not completely devoid of traffic.
This splendid botanical garden, laid out by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan as a private royal garden in 1760, contains more than 1,000 species of rare flora in its enormous grounds. Lal Bagh is an internationally renowned centre for the scientific study and conservation of plants, and also a centre of botanical artwork. The name Lal Bagh means 'red garden', in tribute to its celebrated red roses. The centrepiece of Lal Bagh is the Glass House, which hosts an annual flower show and is modelled after London's Crystal Palace. Apart from the many old and imposing trees which delight visitors, the gardens also house a deer park, an aquarium, a lake and one of the city's four Kempe Gowda Towers.
The gardens are large and very beautiful with a great variety of scenery, many well-maintained paths to explore, and lots of shady nooks and lawns for picnics and relaxation. There are four entrance gates to the botanical garden and it is very popular with locals and visitors alike. None of the features are really stand-alone attractions but the gardens are a refreshing green lung in a crowded city, and a lovely place to take a morning stroll or jog and enjoy the peace.
Famed as a hippie hangout since the 70s, the main source of Anjuna's enduring popularity as a holiday destination is its superb beach. Fringed by palm trees, the curve of soft white sand conforms more closely to the archetypal vision of paradise than any other beach on the north coast. The quieter southern end is protected by rocky outcrops, while to the north the beach widens and stretches for almost a mile past groups of bars, cafés and handicraft stalls. Revellers from the UK and all over India come to Anjuna on holiday, lured by the club scene and the promise of big beach parties (particularly over Christmas and New Year). Outside this peak season the resort normalises to a simple, relaxed atmosphere; except on Wednesdays, when locals and tourists flock from all around to shop at the famous Flea Market and drink sundowners at one of the many restaurants and bars that stretch along the beach. The best place to spend a night out in Anjuna is the same place visitors would probably have spent the day...the beach. Stopping in at any of the beach-front bars and restaurants for a cold beer can lead to a night of fun, with the bar owners dispensing great advice about the latest impromptu party.
Situated between two granite cliffs, this temple is part of a much larger temple complex. The complex has three sacred pools which locals, and the monkeys, enjoy swimming in. This Hindi temple is slightly dilapidated but definitely still worth the trip out of the city - the views of Jaipur afforded from its vantage are simply unforgettable. The best time to see the temple is at sunset, when the monkeys appear for their evening swim and when the light is stunning for photographs. The complex is covered in monkeys and some other animals and it is not a polished, elegant place, but it is interesting and in its own way very beautiful. There may be mud and beggars and livestock in the mix with the crumbling beauty and sacred pools but for many this only adds authenticity and interest. The monkeys are tame and usually keen to interact with people - those who don't like animals should steer clear. They are not dangerous and tend to be quite gentle; many visitors bring along food for them. The temple is active and a good place to witness Indian worship and people-watch.
For three months, between November and January each year, street musicians and performers of all kinds add to the colourful atmosphere of Mumbai's Sunday street bazaars, held near the Jehangir Art Gallery in the city's pedestrian plaza. The area becomes a hive of activity and excitement between November and January, with cultural performances and stalls selling a variety of crafts, folk art and food. The stretch has become such a hub of cultural and artistic activity that it is now known as an art precinct all year round.
The Kala Ghoda Art Precinct stretches from Regal Circle at the southern end of Mahatma Gandhi Road, to Mumbai University, which is further north on the same street. The attractions along this stretch include the Mumbai National Gallery of Modern Art, the Prince of Wales Museum, the Jehanqir Art Gallery, the Kala Ghoda Pavement Gallery (where talented young artists exhibit their work on railings set up along the pavement), the Museum Gallery, and Rampart Row (a restored heritage building packed with stores and restaurants). The area also boasts some of the city's most popular restaurants and is a great place to go shopping and eating-out.
Considered one of the most beautiful temples in the world - and the veritable heart of the Sikh religion - it's no wonder that tourists come from all over the globe to see the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Situated in the middle of a sacred lake fed by an underground spring, the golden structure is a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. Within the temple is the Adi Grantha, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, displayed on a jewel-studded platform.
Visitors to the Golden Temple can enjoy the serene and spiritual atmosphere, with the sound of Sikh hymns accompanied by flutes, drums and stringed instruments. Next to the lake are the enormous pilgrims' dormitories; and at the gate is the information desk, where helpful and friendly staff will answer your questions and provide free pamphlets on the temple and Sikh religion.
The best time to visit the Golden Temple of Amritsar is actually at night, when the Palki Sahib ceremony takes place. Dozens of devotees act as a human conveyor belt to carry the Granth Sahib (a shrine containing the Adi Grantha) from the main shrine to the sanctum, where it is kept until the opening ceremony the following morning. Visitors may participate in the ceremony, taking their turn to shoulder the weight of the enormous shrine.
Visitors to the Golden Temple should be respectful of the Sikh culture. Smoking and alcohol is forbidden throughout the complex, and visitors must remove their shoes. Heads must be covered at all times - for those who forget, vendors will sell bandanas near the temple. Alternatively, it is possible to borrow a head covering from the pile kept at the entrance.
The Baga Beach holiday resort is a few miles south of Anjuna, and is basically an extension of Calangute. Lying in the lee of a rocky, wooded headland, the only difference between this far northern end of the beach and its more congested centre is that the scenery here is marginally more varied and picturesque, and the beach less crowded. It is a good swimming beach but there are no promising breaks for surfers. However, there are lots of other watersports on offer. Hawkers can be an irritation but no more than on most other popular stretches of sand in Goa; a firm 'no' usually does the trick.
Baga Beach has the best range of restaurants and liveliest nightlife in the area, with a number of popular restaurants, beach bars and clubs to choose from.
The small, relaxed town of Hampi - located in the state of Karnataka, about 220 miles (350km) from Bengaluru, and about the same distance from Panaji (in the neighbouring state of Goa) - not only boasts one of the weirdest, most awe-inspiring landscapes in the whole of India, but is also a fascinating historical site. The capital of the once-great Vijayanagar Empire, the ruins of the 14th-century village and temple complex found in present-day Hampi have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, as impressive as these ruins are (especially the multi-tiered, ornately-sculpted Virupaksha Temple), the grandstand attraction of Hampi remains its natural landscape. A severe, desolate and boulder-strewn wilderness, tempered by a slate-grey river surrounded by lush groves of banana, mango and palm trees. Hampi might be slightly off the beaten track, but it is a manageable excursion from Bengaluru and will deeply reward all those who seek out its thoroughly singular charms. Hampi is a must for rock-climbers and is considered the bouldering capital of India.
Located on Kerala's southwestern coast, just 32 miles (50km) from the state capital of Trivandrum, Varkala is one of those tourist destinations that gets more and more popular each year, as word of its stunning coastline and lively atmosphere gets out. Varkala is considered a less-crowded, less-commercial alternative to the beautiful Goa; although Varkala's main beach (Papanasam Beach) cannot boast the white sand and towering palm trees of some of its Goan counterparts, it is flanked by a steep and staggeringly beautiful cliff-face. As all the tourist accommodation, restaurants and shops are located on top of this cliff, overlooking the water, it is almost a daily ritual in Varkala for life to come to a stand-still at about sunset, and for everyone just to watch the sun sink into the Arabian Sea. The beaches are less crowded than in Goa and there are still many gems to be discovered in the area. In between relaxing on the beach and shopping at the markets in town, tourists can also take an enjoyable walk to the nearby Janardanaswamy Temple, a 2,000-year-old structure. Varkala is also a great centre for Ayurvedic medicine, and there are numerous treatment and massage centres in the vicinity.
Once a peaceful fishing village - and then a haven for hedonistic hippies - Calangute is now Goa's busiest and most commercialised holiday resort, a 45-minute bus ride north of the capital, Panaji. The road from the town to the beach is lined with Kashmiri-run handicraft boutiques and Tibetan stalls selling Himalayan curios and jewellery. The quality of the goods - mainly Rajasthani, Gujarati and Karnatakan textiles - is generally high, but haggle hard and don't be afraid to walk away (the same stuff will crop up again and again). The Calangute beach is nothing special, but is more than large enough to accommodate the huge numbers of holiday visitors. To escape the hawkers, visitors should head fifteen minutes or so south of the main beachfront area, towards the rows of old wooden boats moored below the dunes. There, teams of villagers haul in their nets at high tide, and fishermen can be seen fixing their tack under bamboo shacks.
Calangute's bars and restaurants are mainly grouped around the entrance to the beach, and along Baga Road. As with most Goan resorts, the emphasis is firmly on seafood, though many places also offer vegetarian dishes, and western breakfasts feature prominently. Thanks to repeated crackdowns by the Goan police on parties and loud music, Calangute's nightlife is surprisingly tame, with most bars closing by 10pm, though there are some exceptions.
Colva is the oldest and most heavily-developed South Goan holiday resort. The town itself is dotted with colonial-style villas and ramshackle fishing huts, but the beachfront is crowded and blighted with unimaginative concrete hotels, snack bars and souvenir stalls. Indian tourists and local children mill around this central area and foreigners are pestered by traders and beggars. However, it is easy to steer clear of this central area: within a few minutes' stroll from here the beach is spotless and relatively quiet. Benaulim is only a 30-minute walk to the south, still on Colva beach, and attracts a more upmarket clientele, including British and Indian visitors on holiday. There are many luxury resorts along the coastal stretch, and brightly-painted wooden fishing boats litter the beach. The hawkers and touts here are persistent, but in a good-humoured rather than aggressive way. To escape completely, visitors can hire a bicycle and ride further south along Colva beach, beyond Taj Exotica, which stretches for miles with the only possible interruption likely to be a stray cow wandering along the sand.
Restaurants line the beachfront at both Colva and Benaulim, and in general the food is of an excellent standard, and the atmosphere is much better than at the hotel restaurants. For the freshest fish, aim for the more popular restaurants.
The state of Himachal Pradesh's largest hill station, Dharamsala, is a gorgeous and deeply spiritual place. With a large Tibetan population, the community centres around the teachings and activities of Tenzin Gyatso - the 14th and current Dalai Lama - who resides in Dharamsala for large portions of the year. Cool, alpine Dharamsala has been attracting hordes of tourists for years. Some are drawn by its staunch and inspiring Buddhist culture; others by the meditation, yoga, reiki and cooking classes on offer in the area known as McLeod Ganj; and yet others simply come to enjoy its considerable natural beauty. Hikers will be overawed by the trails available to them to explore - the pick of the bunch being the walk up to the summit of Triund, from where explorers can enjoy fine views of the snow-capped Himalayas in the distance. Dharamsala is a popular tourist haunt that has somehow managed to keep itself unspoiled and retain its traditional outlook and charm; visitors to India who find themselves overwhelmed by the smoggy, frenetic cities of the plain, should retreat to Dharamsala for some rest and rejuvenation. For anybody interested in Buddhism, this attraction is a must.
For years Palolem remained a secret holiday getaway to all but the most independent traveller. Situated towards the southern tip of Goa, twenty miles south of Margao, it has now been discovered - but thankfully, due to strict urban planning restraints, tourism is kept in check. Palolem's crescent-shaped bay is lined with a beautiful white sand beach and backed with groves of coconut palms. Either side of the bay is a rocky headland covered in thick black forest, and offshore there is a tiny island whose only permanent inhabitants are a colony of black-faced langur monkeys. Although there aren't really any watersports facilities on the beach - the vibe is more relaxed than active - visitors can take boat rides out into the bay to see the dolphins and maybe even swim with them. The beach is also lined with a selection of beach shacks and bar-cum-restaurants serving up the daily catch and lots of other kinds of meals and snacks. During December and January the beach swells with day-trippers, who come to escape the more commercial resorts. However, outside this peak season, Palolem returns to a breezy, sedate pace, and one of the reasons it is so special is because it is generally less crowded and much less commercial than most beaches in Goa.
Kumbhalgarh is a massive Mewar fortress built in the 15th century, with seven heavily fortified gateways and a perimeter wall that extends a staggering 22 miles (36km); possibly the second longest continuous wall in the world. Inside this intimidating complex there are more than 360 temples (300 ancient Jain and the rest Hindu) in addition to the main palace. The fortress has immense sentimental significance for local inhabitants because it is the birthplace of Mewar's legendary king, Maharana Pratap. Needless to say, one can spend hours exploring this architectural and historical playground, and those who enjoy climbing will find many opportunities. The views from the many vantage points of this fortress are astounding.
Legend has it that the maharana who built Kumbhalgarh encountered some construction difficulties and consulted a spiritual advisor who decreed that a voluntary human sacrifice would enable the project. A volunteer was eventually found and the position of the decapitated head and body signalled where building should go forward. A shrine to this unknown volunteer can still be found in the main gate.
Kumbhalgarh is situated about 50 miles (82km) to the northwest of Udaipur and the drive will take about one and a half hours, making it a manageable and rewarding excursion. The fort is extremely well-maintained and the fact that it is a little remote ensures that there are seldom crowds, despite how astounding an attraction it is. There is a sound and light show in the evenings but it is conducted in Hindi.
Jallianwala Bagh is a sombre historical attraction; it is the site of the April 13, 1919 Amritsar massacre, when hundreds of innocents were gunned down by British troops. Thousands of men, women and children had gathered peacefully in the Jallianwala Bagh garden to celebrate the festival of Vaisakhi, but, as public gatherings were illegal at the time, the British decided to make an example of them: between 379 and 1,000 people were killed, and more than 1,000 wounded in this tragedy. The Martyr's Well, which can still be seen at the site today, was a death trap because many tried to leap into it to escape the bullets - 120 bodies were pulled out of the well. The massacre was a turning point for British colonial rule in India and, ultimately, a step towards the country's independence.
The site is now a quiet and peaceful memorial garden and museum. The monument to the slain was built in 1961. The bullet holes on the walls and buildings surrounding the park are still clearly visible and serve as a harrowing reminder of the mass murder. Jallianwala Bagh is a moving and interesting addition to the itinerary of anybody exploring Amritsar that has an interest in history. It is located conveniently close to the Golden Temple.
Varanasi has seen human settlement as far back as the 11th century BC. The 'city of light' is an intense mix of colour, sights, sounds and smells. Among many astonighing sights are the more than 100 ghats (literally 'steps') leading down into the Ganges. These are the sites of bathing and burning, where intimate rituals of life and death can be witnessed in public. Manikarnika Ghat is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated. Dasaswamedh Ghat (the 'ghat of ten sacrificed horses') is the liveliest and most colourful ghat, where every evening visitors can witness the ganga aarti (river worship) ceremony. Assi Ghat, where the river Assi meets the Ganges, is an important site of worship for pilgrims who come to pay homage to the god Shiva.
Dotted around the ghats are numerous temples, the highlight being the Golden Temple, with its resplendent towers. Varanasi is world-famous for its silks, and silk brocades, and does a roaring trade with pilgrims and tourists alike. The city is home to many poets, musicians, novelists and philosophers. Visitors are strongly encouraged to spend some time in the city's tea-houses and local restaurants, where they are guaranteed to be embroiled in some fascinating conversations.
Hindi Phrase Book
|shukhriya/ dhanyavaad||thank you||shook-riya /dhun-ya-vaad|
|mera naam ... hai||my name is...||may-ra naam ... hey|
|kitna hua...?||how much is...?||kith-na...?|
|... kaha hai?||where is�?||� kaha hey?|
|kyaa aap angrézee?||do you speak English?||apko angrezi ati hai?|
|mai samjha nahi||I don't understand�||mai sum-jhi n-|
|ek, do, teen, chaar, paanch||one, two three, four, five||ek, dow, tin, char, panch|
|mujhko doctor chahie||I need a doctor||muj-ko doctor cha-hie|
It is hard to generalise in a country that runs from the Himalayas to the beaches of the Indian Ocean and encompasses half a dozen climatic regions, but broadly speaking, India has a tropical climate which is dominated by monsoons, heat and humidity. Tropical hurricanes and cyclones are also part of the general weather outlook in the middle and at the end of the year, especially in coastal areas. On average, October through to March tend to be the most pleasant months in India, when it is relatively dry and cool, but the best time to visit really does depend on the destination. In the far south the best months to visit are between January and September; northeastern areas of India tend to be more comfortable between March and August; the deserts of Rajasthan (west of Jodhpur) and the northwestern Indian Himalayan region are at their best during the monsoon season (July to September); and the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir should be visited over the summer months (May to September). Whenever one visits it is bound to be hot, which is why generally the summer months are best avoided in favour of the cooler winter and more mild shoulder seasons.
This diverse restaurant specialises in Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Balinese cuisine, and is a firm favourite when dining out in Mumbai. Dishes such as oriental crab bisque, Nonya bamboo chicken and Norwegian salmon flavoured with dill, lemon butter and crisp seaweed are not to be missed. For those with a sweet tooth, try the chocolate cigar with prune and Armagnac ice cream. Reservations recommended.
Serving traditional Rajasthani, Maharashtrian, Sindhi and Kathiawadi Thali, Rajdhani is a vegetarian restaurant popular with both locals and tourists. Traditional favourites such as roti and are not to be missed. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Closed on Sundays.
An unusual restaurant, Jimmy Boy Restaurant serves Farsi and Iranian food, with favourites on the menu including the chicken dhansak and chicken jardaloo, which are both specialities here and probably the most flavourful dishes on the menu. This is a great place to sample some of the subcontinent's lesser-known fare. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Popular with Mumbai's elite, Trishna has a formidable reputation, and prides itself on its seafood dishes. With a sister restaurant in London, a visit to Trishna is a must while in Mumbai, even if just to sample the flagship dish, the butter pepper garlic king crab. Open daily for lunch and dinner (dinner only on Sundays). Reservations essential.
Appearing more like an odds-and-ends treasure trove than the relaxed eatery that it is, Chor Bazaar (the 'thieves' market') is adorned with unusual décor pieces such as matchboxes, antique combs and ivory sandals, as well as an old jukebox. Menu favourites include the Kashmiri specialty of (lamb meatballs) with cardamom, and the Kashmiri (thali) platter. Open daily for lunch and dinner; reservations recommended.
Located in the heart of Old Delhi, the true home of Mughlai cuisine, the Karim Hotel restaurant has an informal atmosphere and dates back to the early 1900s. Authentic Mughlai dishes on the menu include mutton kebabs, tandoori (lamb stuffed with chicken, rice, egg and fruit), and (chicken cooked in butter). Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner; reservations recommended.
Experience Mughlai cuisine in style at the Park Balluchi restaurant in Delhi's beautiful Deer Park. The restaurant's turbaned waiters serve a feast of kebabs and spicy tandoor dishes, including (kebabs with chicken and prawns or mince) and (tandoor grilled lamb). The restaurant has a second branch located near Leisure Valley Park in the city centre. Both are open daily for lunch and dinner; reservations recommended.
The trendy S Bar, recently renamed from its previous name; Shalom, serves delicious Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine in an upmarket, romantic setting. The restaurant's tapas selection includes lemon, paprika and garlic fish skewers or a Spanish asparagus and orange salad, while the main menu features dishes such as Dubai duck (served in a lemon and honey sauce, with apricot and cinnamon flavours). Be sure to leave room for the decadent molten chocolate cake dessert! Open daily for lunch and dinner; reservations recommended.
For travellers who really want to splash out, Bukhara is the only place to go. With a host of awards to its name, Bukhara has been voted 'Best Indian Restaurant in the World' by the UK's Restaurant Magazine. With dishes like dhal bukhara (tomato, ginger and garlic simmered black lentils) and mouthwateringly delicious tandoori prawns, it is easy to see why it comes so highly recommended. The restaurant designed a selection of platters named the Hillary Platter, the Presidential Platter and the Chelsea Platter following a visit by the Clinton family in 2009. Open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations are a must.
Serving up northwestern Indian dishes inspired by the cuisine encountered by the British on the frontier in 1990, Peshawri is a firm favourite with travellers looking for an upmarket restaurant promising authentic Indian fare. The food is cooked in traditional 'tandoor' clay ovens and the ambience is friendly but sophisticated. Open daily for lunch and supper.
The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de change. It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are available in large cities and airports but are not generally available in rural areas.
Although English is generally used for official and business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages.
230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of power outlets are used in India, but most plugs have two or three round pins.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay, and a visa, to enter India. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
UK citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay, and a visa, to enter India. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
Canadian citizens must have a visa and a passport that is valid for their period of intended stay. E-visas can be obtained before departure, with a printed confirmation of their purchase, along with two unused visa pages, needing to be presented on arrival.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay, and a visa, to enter India as tourists. Australian citizens can apply for visas online before travel provided they have a printed copy of the e-Toursit visa confimation that was applied for online, a passport containing at least two unused visa pages, and return or onward tickets.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for their period of intended stay, and a visa, to enter India. South African citizens can apply for visas online before travel, provided they have a printed copy of the e-Toursit visa confimation that was applied for online, as well as a passport containing at least two unused visa pages.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay, and a visa, to enter India. E-visas can be obtained before departure. Irish citizens can apply for visas online before travel provided they have a printed copy of the e-Toursit visa confimation that was applied for online, as well as a passport containing at least two unused visa pages.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for their intended period of stay, and a visa, to enter India. E-visas can be obtained online before departure. Passengers using the e-visa for the first time must have a passport with at least 2 unused visa pages, and printed confirmation of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
Citizens of New Zealand must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay, and a visa, to enter India. New Zealanders can apply for visas online before travel provided they have a printed copy of the e-Tourist visa confirmation that was applied for online, a passport containing at least two unused visa pages, and return or onward tickets. e-Tourist visas can only be issued a maximum of two times per calendar year.
Visa extensions are not possible for tourist visas. Other visas may be eligible for extensions, which are applied for through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Holders of multiple-entry Tourist Visas (visa type code "T"), with a validity ranging from above three months and up to 10 years, are no longer required to leave a gap of at least two months between visits unless they are nationals from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and Bangladesh.
Indian law does not permit dual citizenship for nationals of India. An Indian national holding dual nationality should contact their embassy or consulate for further information. Passengers in possession of an "Overseas Citizen of India" card or a "Person of Indian Origin" card, however, are liable to enter the country without a visa.
Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, if arriving in India within six days of leaving or transiting through heavily infected areas. Also note that the following areas of India are restricted, and require that visitors obtain a permit BEFORE entering them: (Protected Areas) parts of the state of Manipur, parts of the state of Mizoram, parts of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, the whole state of Nagaland, the whole State of Sikkim, parts of the state of Uttaranchal, parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, parts of the state of Rajasthan, parts of the state of Himachal Pradesh; (Restricted Areas) the whole of the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, part of the state of Sikkim. If surface travel is involved, and nationals travel via restricted areas, they require a "pass" issued by either the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (located in each major Indian city), or the Superintendent of Police (located in each Indian district), or the diplomatic representation of India in Bhutan or Nepal.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are many health risks associated with travel to India. Although no vaccinations are required for entry into the country, travellers should take medical advice on vaccinations at least three weeks before departure. Outbreaks of dengue fever and chikungunya virus occur, both transmitted by mosquitoes. Malaria is common, particularly in the northeast of the country. Outbreaks of cholera occur frequently. Travellers coming to India from an infected area should hold a yellow fever certificate. Rabies is also a hazard; travellers should get immediate medical advice if bitten.
Food poisoning is the most common problem among travellers to India. Visitors should only drink bottled water and ensure that the seal on the bottle is intact. Avoid ice, as it's often made from tap water. Meat and fish should be eaten with care in all but the best restaurants, and should always be well cooked and served hot. Salads and unpeeled fruit should be avoided.
Health facilities are adequate in the larger cities, but limited in rural areas. Travellers should have comprehensive medical insurance, and carry a small first-aid kit complete with a travellers diarrhoea kit and a course of general antibiotics.
In India, taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped. However, tipping is expected for other services (porters, guides, hotel staff and waiters in small establishments). In tourist restaurants or hotels a 10 percent service charge is often added to bills. 'Baksheesh' is common in India: more a bribe than a tip, it is given before rather than after service.
Although the vast majority of trips to India are trouble free, there are some risks that travellers should be aware of. As in many countries, there is a threat of terrorism; in the past there have been attacks in popular tourist haunts like hotels, markets and temples. Travellers should take caution at large religious events, where huge crowds can result in life-threatening stampedes.
On a more everyday level, there is a risk of minor theft, such as pick-pocketing, but incidents of violent crime in India are low. Travellers using India's vast railway network are advised to lock their baggage, and keep it close. Visitors should be on guard; if someone offers a 'business opportunity' that seems too be good to be true, it probably is.
Female travellers should note that there are rare incidents of rape and assault. Women should respect local dress codes and customs, and avoid travel to secluded rural areas, including beaches, at any time of day.
*General elections are taking place in India between 11 April and 19 May 2019. Visitors are advised to exercise caution and avoid large gatherings associated with the election process.
*On 17th April, Jet Airways announced the cancellation of all domestic and international flights. Affected passengers can contact Jet Airways directly for information on alternative arrangements. For more information, passengers can also go to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website
India is a tolerant society, but visitors should educate themselves about the countries religious and social customs so as not to cause offence: for example, smoking in public was banned in 2008. When visiting temples visitors will probably be required to remove their footwear and cover their heads. Generally, women should dress more conservatively than they may be used to doing at home, both to respect local sensibilities and to avoid unwanted attention. Topless bathing is illegal. Indians do not like to disappoint, and often instead of saying 'no', will come up with something that sounds positive, even if incorrect. Social order and status are very important in Indian culture - remain respectful and obliging with elders. Avoid using your left hand, particularly when eating.
Business in India is conducted formally, with punctuality an important aspect. Suits and ties are appropriate, and women in particular should dress modestly. If it is very hot, jackets are usually not required and short-sleeve shirts are deemed appropriate. It is customary to engage in small talk before getting down to business, and topics can range from anything from cricket to politics. Business cards are usually exchanged on initial introduction, using the right hand only. Handshakes are fairly common, though one should wait to see if greeted with a hand, or a 'namaste' - a traditional Indian greeting of a small bow accompanied by hands clasped as if in prayer. Visitors should return the greeting as it is given. It is common for women to participate in business meetings, and hold high positions in companies, and foreign businesswomen are readily accepted. Business hours are usually from 9.30 to 5.30pm (weekdays) with a lunch break from 1pm to 2pm, and Saturdays from 9.30am to 1pm.
The international access code for India is +91. International calls are expensive and there are often high surcharges on calls made from hotels. Buying a local SIM card is a good option, as international roaming fees can be high. Free wifi is offered at cafes and hotels in major cities.
Travellers to India over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 100 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 125g tobacco; two litre bottle of alcohol; medicine in reasonable amounts; and goods for personal use. Prohibited items include livestock, bird and pig meat products.
Indian Tourist Office, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2332 0005 or www.incredibleindia.org
Indian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 7000.
Indian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7836 8484.
Indian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 744 3751/52/53
Indian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 5392.
Indian High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6225 4900.
Indian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 496 6787.
Indian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 6390/1.
United States Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2419 8000.
British High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2419 2100.
Canadian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4178 2000.
South African High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2614 9411.
Australian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4139 9900.
Irish Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4940 3200.
New Zealand High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2688 3170.