Getting there & away
An onward or return air ticket is a condition of the tourist visa, so few visitors buy international tickets inside India. Only designated travel agents can book international flights, but fares are normally the same if you book directly with the airlines. The cheapest time to visit is generally the monsoon (June to August). The departure tax of Rs 500 (Rs 150 for most South and Southeast Asian countries) and the Rs 200 passenger service fee is included in the price of almost all tickets.
***NB: Conditions have recently changed for Indian tourist visas. For more information, see our Visas section.
Contact a travel agent or surf the web to get up-to-the-minute fares and flight schedules. Advertisements for discount travel agencies appear in the travel pages of major newspapers and listings magazines. Note that fares on airline websites are sometimes just as cheap as going through an agent. Alternatively, try the following international online ticket agencies:
Flight Centre International (www.flightcentre.com)
STA Travel (www.statravel.com)
There are several sea routes between India and surrounding islands but none leave Indian sovereign territory. There has been talk of a passenger ferry service between southern India and Colombo in Sri Lanka but this has yet to materialise. Inquire locally to see if there has been any progress.
Although most visitors fly into India, the overland route from Nepal is extremely popular and smaller numbers of travellers enter India from Pakistan and Bangladesh. For more on these routes, consult Lonely Planet’s Istanbul to Kathmandu, or see the ‘London to India’ section on www.seat61.com/India.htm.
If you enter India by bus or train you’ll be required to disembark at the border for standard immigration and customs checks. You must have a valid Indian visa in advance as no visas are available at the border. The standard Indian tourist visa allows multiple entries within a six-month period.
Drivers of cars and motorbikes will need the vehicle’s registration papers, liability insurance and an International Driving Permit. You’ll also need a Carnet de passage en douane, which acts as a temporary waiver of import duty. To find out the latest requirements for the paperwork and other important driving information contact your local automobile association.
Foreigners can use four of the land crossings between Bangladesh and India, all in West Bengal or the Northeast States. Exiting Bangladesh overland is complicated by red tape – if you enter by air, you require a road permit (or ‘change of route’ permit) to leave by land. This free permit can be obtained in Dhaka at the Directorate of Immigration and Passports (02-9131891/9134011; Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Agargaon Rd; 9am-5pm Sun-Thu) in two to three working days; bring several passport photos. Some travellers have also reported problems exiting Bangladesh overland with the visa issued on arrival at Dhaka airport.
Heading from India to Bangladesh, tourist visas should be obtained in advance from a Bangladeshi mission. Delhi’s Bangladesh embassy (011-24121389; EP39 Dr Radakrishnan Marg, Chanakyapuri; applications 9.30am-11pm Mon-Fri) issues visas in two working days with two passport photos; fees vary depending on nationality. Visas can also be obtained from the Bangladeshi missions in Kolkata and Agartala.
Heading from Bangladesh to India, you must pre-pay the exit tax at a designated branch of the Sonali Bank, which may be some distance from the border post.
There are daily bus services from Kolkata to Dhaka, crossing the India–Bangladesh border at Benapol. Plans for a train link between Kolkata and Dhaka have dragged on for years – inquire locally for progress reports.
This minor northern border crossing is accessible from Siliguri in West Bengal. You must take a private bus from outside Tenzin Norgay central bus station to Jalpaiguri (Rs 40, two hours) and change there for the border post at Chengrabandha.
This little-used crossing offers a handy back route from northeast India to Bangladesh. Share jeeps run every morning from Bara Bazaar in Shillong to the border post at Dawki, where you can walk or catch a taxi to the bus station in Tamabil, which has regular buses to Sylhet.
Phuentsholing is the main entry and exit point between India and Bhutan; you now need a full Bhutanese visa to enter the country, which must be obtained at least 15 days before your trip from a registered travel agent listed under the Department of Tourism, Bhutan (www.tourism.gov.bt).
Bhutan visas for non-Indians require a prepaid tour (minimum US$200 to US$240 per day, all-inclusive). Tour and visa can be arranged within two days through RCPL Travels (24400665; email@example.com ; www.kingdomofbhutan.info ; 5/4 Ballygunge Pl, Kolkata).
Buses from Kolkata and Siliguri to Phuentsholing are run by Bhutan Transport Services. From Kolkata, there’s a direct bus at 7pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (Rs 300, 20 hours). There’s also a rail route from Siliguri via Alipurduar (on the main train line between Siliguri and Guwahati) connecting with local buses to the border.
The security situation in Nepal has improved massively since the ceasefire in 2006. Nevertheless, it makes sense to check the security situation before crossing into Nepal by land – local newspapers and international news websites are good places to start.
Political and weather conditions permitting, there are five land border crossings between India and Nepal:
Two-month single-entry visas for Nepal (US$30) are available at all the border crossings but payment is due in US dollars and you need two passport photos. Alternatively, obtain a single-entry or six-month multiple-entry visa (US$80) in advance from a Nepalese mission. In Delhi, the Nepal embassy (011-23327361; Barakhamba Rd; applications 9am-noon Mon-Fri) issues visas in one day with two passport photos. In Kolkata the Nepal consulate (033-24561224; 1 National Library Ave, Alipore; 9am-4pm Mon-Fri) issues visas while you wait.
The easiest crossing for Delhi or Varanasi, with connections on to Kathmandu, Pokhara and Lumbini. There are daily buses to Sunauli from Varanasi (Rs 172, 10 hours) or Delhi (Rs 1400, 36 hours), or you can travel by train to Gorakhpur and take a local bus to Sunauli from there.
This intriguing back route into Nepal provides access to the little-visited western Terai. However, the route is often blocked by flooding and landslides in the monsoon and it’s sensible to check the political situation before you travel. Daily buses to Banbassa leave Delhi’s Anand Vihar bus stand (bookings 011-22141611) hourly until late (Rs 210, 10 hours).
This crossing is convenient for Kolkata, Patna and the eastern plains, and there are onward connections to Kathmandu. Daily buses run to Raxaul from Patna and Kolkata, but it’s more comfortable to jump on the daily Mithila Express train from Kolkata’s Howrah train station – see the entry under Raxaul and the boxed text for information on crossing the border.
The handiest crossing for Darjeeling, Sikkim and the Northeast States. Buses and share jeeps run to the border from Siliguri and several other towns in West Bengal, and you can explore the eastern Terai as you travel on to Kathmandu.
Plenty of domestic tourists cross into Nepal at Jamunaha in Uttar Pradesh, but most foreign travellers stick to more convenient crossings. However, Nepalganj is a useful gateway for Nepal’s Royal Bardia National Park and there are regular onward flights to Kathmandu. Buses run regularly from Lucknow to Rupaidha Bazar (Rs 160, seven hours), a short rickshaw ride from the Jamunaha border post. Alternatively, you can take a train to Nanpara, and change to a bus or taxi for the 17km trip to the border.
Crossing between India and Pakistan by land depends on the current state of relations between the two countries. Militants regularly slip across the porous border from Pakistan to carry out attacks in India and transport between the two countries often stops in the aftermath of any attack. Assuming the crossings are open, there are routes into Pakistan from Delhi, Amritsar and Rajasthan by bus or train. The much-celebrated bus route from Srinagar to Pakistan-administered Kashmir is currently only open to Indian travellers.
You must have a visa to enter Pakistan, and it is usually easiest to obtain this in the Pakistan mission in your home country. At the time of writing, the Pakistan embassy (24676004; 2/50G Shantipath, Chanakyapuri; applications 8.30am-11.30am Mon-Fri) in Delhi was issuing double-entry, two-month tourist visas for most nationalities in around two days, but this office may stop issuing visas at times of political tension. If you apply within India, you’ll need a letter of recommendation from your home embassy as well as the usual application forms and passport photos.
The main transit point between India and Pakistan is the border post between Attari, near Amritsar, and Wagah, near Lahore. Regular buses run from Amritsar to the border and there are regular onward connections from Wagah to Lahore. There are also through bus and train services all the way from Delhi. Try to coordinate your crossing with the spectacular closing of the border ceremony.
If you prefer to keep things simple, there are direct bus and train services between Delhi and Lahore. However, these services are extremely crowded and clearing the border formalities can take anywhere between two and five hours – compared to one or two hours if you travel independently. Security is also a serious concern – the Delhi–Lahore train was bombed by militants in February 2007, killing 67 people.
The Lahore Bus Service leaves from Delhi’s Dr Ambedkar Bus Station office (011-23318180 or 23712228; Delhi Gate; 9am-7pm Mon-Sat) at 6am on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, arriving in Lahore 12 hours later. The fare is Rs 1250 one-way (advance bookings are essential). The baggage limit is 20kg per person (Rs 60 per extra kg, maximum 15 kg) plus one piece of hand luggage.
The Samjhauta Express train leaves the Old Delhi train station (purchase tickets here) on Wednesday and Sunday at 10.50pm and arrives at the Indian border crossing of Attari at 7am, where passengers disembark for customs checks and visa procedures, before reboarding for the 30 minute trip to Lahore. Tickets cost Rs 209 in sleeper class. However, services may be disrupted following the February 2007 bomb attack.
After 35 years of wrangling, the 4889 Thar Express train from Jodhpur in Rajasthan to the border crossing at Munabao/Khokraparand onto Karachi in Pakistan resumed in early 2006. Unfortunately, services were suspended almost immediately because of flood damage to the track during the 2006 monsoon. A limited service resumed in February 2007, with a maximum of 400 passengers in each direction. However, schedules are erratic so check locally in Jodhpur for departure times.
Entering India by air or land is relatively straightforward, with standard immigration and customs procedures.
To enter India you need a valid passport, visa and an onward/return ticket. If your passport is lost or stolen, immediately contact your country’s representative. It’s wise to keep photocopies of your airline ticket and the identity and visa pages from your passport in case of emergency. There are restrictions on entry for some nationalities.
India has four main gateways for international flights, and international flights also land in Bengaluru (Bangalore), Guwahati and Amritsar – for details, see www.indianairports.com. India is a big county so it makes sense to fly into the nearest airport to the area you want to visit.
Delhi (DEL; Indira Gandhi International Airport; 011-25652011; www.delhiairport.com)
India’s national carrier is Air India (www.airindia.com) and the state-owned domestic carrier Indian Airlines (www.indian-airlines.nic.in) also offers flights to 20 countries in Asia and the Middle East (though it has a poor safety record). The more reliable private airlines Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) and Air Sahara (www.airsahara.net) offer flights to Colombo, Kathmandu and the Maldives. Jet has recently started longhaul flights to London, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Other airlines flying to and from India (websites have contact details) :
British Airways (code BA; www.british-airways.com) Hub: Heathrow Airport, London.
Lufthansa Airlines (code LH; www.lufthansa.com) Hub: Frankfurt International Airport.
Qantas Airways (code QF; www.qantas.com.au) Hub: Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney.
Swiss International Airlines (code LX; www.swiss.com) Hub: Zurich International Airport.
Most airlines no longer require reconfirmation of international tickets, though it’s still a good idea to call to check that flight times haven’t changed. Most airlines ask you to check in three hours before international departures – remember to factor in the Indian traffic when planning your trip to the airport.
Most Indian airports have free luggage trolleys, but porters will eagerly offer to lug your load for a negotiable fee. For flights originating in India, hold bags must be passed through the X-ray machine in the departures hall and baggage tags are required for the security check for all cabin bags, including cameras.
There are international travel agencies in capital cities across Asia, including STA Travel (Bangkok 02-2360262; www.statravel.co.th ; Hong Kong 0852-27361618; www.hkst.com.hk/statravel ; Kuala Lumpur 03-21489800; www.statravel.co.my ; Singapore 67377188; www.statravel.com.sg ; Tokyo 03-53912922; www.statravel.co.jp). Alternatively, book directly with the airlines.
Royal Nepal Airlines and half a dozen Indian carriers provide flights from Kathmandu to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Varanasi. One-way/return fares include: Delhi (from US$150/300); Mumbai (from US$230/450); Kolkata (from US$120/240); Varanasi (from US$200/400) and Bengaluru (from US$230/450). You’ll need an onward ticket to enter India on a one-way ticket from Nepal.
Flights between India and Pakistan are often suspended when relations between the two countries sour. At the time of research, return fares from Karachi cost US$300 to Delhi and US$200 to Mumbai. Flights from Lahore to Delhi are marginally cheaper.
There are extensive air connections between Southeast Asia and Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai or Kolkata. Return flights between Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur and India start from US$550. Several airlines have recently started flights from Beijing and Shanghai to Delhi or Mumbai (from around US$550).
Qantas has a flight from Sydney to Mumbai via Darwin, or you can fly to Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai or Bengaluru with a stop in Southeast Asia. Return fares to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai range from A$1200 and A$1700, depending on the season.
From eastern and central Canada, most flights go via Europe; from Vancouver and the west coast, flights go via Asia. Return fares from Vancouver or Toronto to Delhi or Mumbai start at around C$1500. Travel Cuts (800-667-2887; www.travelcuts.com) is Canada’s national student travel agency, or try the big online agents.
There are connections to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai or Bengaluru from most European capitals, either directly or with a stop in the Middle East. For discount fares, try the agencies below or visit the big online ticket agencies. STA Travel (Austria 01-401486000; www.statravel.at ; Denmark 33-141501; www.statravel.dk ; Finland 09-68127717; www.statravel.fi ; Germany 069-74303292; www.statravel.de ; Norway 815-59905; www.statravel.no ; Sweden 0771-474850; www.statravel.se ; Switzerland 0900-450402; www.statravel.ch) and Last Minute (www.last-minute.co.uk) have regional websites for nations across Europe.
Anyway (0892-302301; www.anyway.fr in French)
Nouvelles Frontières (0825-000747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr in French)
OTU Voyages (01-55-823232; www.otu.fr in French)
Voyageurs du Monde (0892-235656; www.vdm.com in French)
Just Travel (089-7473330; www.justtravel.de)
CTS Viaggi (06-44-111-66; www.cts.it)
Airfair (0900-7717717; www.airfair.nl in Dutch)
Barcelo Viajes (902-200-400; www.barceloviajes.com)
Flights between India and New Zealand go via Southeast Asia. Return tickets from Auckland to Delhi start at NZ$1200. Both Flight Centre (0800-243544; www.flightcentre.co.nz) and STA Travel (0800-474400; www.statravel.co.nz) have countrywide branches. For online bookings try www.goholidays.co.nz.
Discount air travel is big business in London. Flights from London or Manchester to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru or Amritsar range from UK£350 to UK£600. Good places to find competitive quotes include the following:
Ebookers (0871-2335000; www.ebookers.com)
Flight Centre (0870-4990040; www.flightcentre.co.uk)
STA Travel (0870-2300040; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (0845-0585858; www.trailfinders.com)
Travel Bag (0800-0825000; www.travelbag.co.uk)
America has plenty of discount travel agents, or ‘consolidators’, particularly in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Fares vary – bank on US$1100 or more from the East Coast and US$1300 or more from the West Coast. Consult travel agents and scan the web for the best deal – Expedia (www.expedia.com) and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) are good sites.
Other good places to book:
American Express Travel (800-297-2977; www.itn.net)
STA Travel (800-781-4040; www.sta.com)