India is a place that overwhelms your senses in the best possible way – nowhere else delivers quite the same barrage of sights, sounds and sensations as this continent-sized country at the heart of Asia.

It would take a lifetime to see all of India, let alone understand every nuance and facet of this nation of 1.4 billion inhabitants. But with a little preparation, you can learn to navigate the richness of this country, from its snow-capped peaks and velvety beaches to its historic temples and luxuriant palaces.

We've collated the top things you need to know about visiting India, but the journey begins before you leave home. Apply for your Indian visa online for a smooth arrival on the subcontinent. Read on for 22 more insider tips that will help make your vacation unforgettable.

1. Plan your trip around the seasons

India has a reputation for being hot and humid, but with beaches, mountains, hills, coastlines and plains all jammed into a relatively small geographical area, the climate is quite diverse. The southwest monsoon brings rainy weather to most of the country from June to September, but this is the best time of year to visit the high-altitude deserts of Ladakh, although depending on the route you take, you risk encountering landslides and floods.

In the far south, there’s also a milder rainy season from October to December. The ideal weather window for travel is from October to May, though temperatures and humidity climb to agonizing levels from March onwards in the run-up to the monsoon. If you find yourself in India in the spring, head to the Himalayan foothills for milder temperatures and good trekking conditions.

2. Get your jabs before you travel

There is no official requirement for vaccinations to enter India (although yellow fever vaccination is needed if you are traveling from a country where the disease is endemic).

That said, it is important that you contact a health professional at least eight weeks before you travel to ensure your jabs are up to date. Vaccinations for diphtheria and tetanus, hepatitis A and B, polio and typhoid are usually recommended, on top of childhood vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella and varicella.

Vaccinations worth considering for longer trips include Japanese B encephalitis, meningitis and rabies. Monkeys, dogs and cats can all carry the rabies parasite, and infection is fatal if untreated.

A woman relaxes on her bed beneath a mosquito net
Stay healthy in India by getting vaccinated and avoiding mosquitoes © Gary John Norman / Getty Images

3. Take malaria precautions

Depending on where in India you are traveling to, you may want to speak to your healthcare provider about taking a course of anti-malarial tablets. For instance, northeastern and eastern parts of India, as well as the city of Mangalore, have a higher malaria risk.

Always take precautions to avoid mosquito bites – this will also help you avoid dengue fever, a viral infection that is transmitted by mosquitoes to humans. Sleeping under a mosquito net, wearing long sleeves and trousers in light colors, and using a repellent and/or a plug-in mosquito killer with a high concentration of DEET (diethyltoluamide) is advisable.

4. Get insured

Travel insurance is essential for India. Depending on where you travel to, you may find public hospitals are poorly equipped. Additionally, most private clinics and hospitals require payment ahead of treatment. Make sure you are covered for emergency evacuation and also for any adventure activities you plan to get involved in.

If you’re unlucky enough to be a victim of crime, contact the local police station or dial 100 or 112, the national emergency number. You’ll need to get the police to file a report (a “FIR" – First Information Report) to make a claim on your travel insurance.

5. Book ahead for busy times and festivals

India can get very busy from November to February, so affordable accommodation is usually swamped in peak season. It’s a good idea to book ahead, either directly with the venues or via booking aggregator sites such as Agoda and MakeMyTrip.

Also, book train tickets in advance where possible, particularly for popular routes. Tickets can be booked (with a fair amount of hassle) via the government booking site IRCTC or more easily through local booking sites such as 12Go or Cleartrip.

6. Plan your comms before you travel

Many things in India (including train bookings or ordering food online) get easier if you have a local SIM card. Bring an unlocked phone from home (or pick one up locally) and get a phone shop to sign you up for a local pay-as-you-go SIM package on arrival. You’ll need to bring passport photos and photocopies of your passport ID pages to complete the application.

 Women in India dancing during Holi covered in colorful powder
Check festival dates before booking a trip to India as they can have a big impact on prices © Getty Images

7. Check your lunar calendars

While India officially follows the Gregorian calendar, the major festivals for Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and several other religions follow lunar calendars and fall on different dates from year to year. Always check festival dates before you book your trip (bearing in mind these dates are subject to change); the Indian government maintains a useful online list of public holidays.

8. Learn local etiquette

English is the lingua franca in most metropolitan areas in India, and you’ll get away with polite hellos, goodbyes and thank yous in smaller towns too. However, if you’re traveling in northern India, you can say "namaste" (I bow to you) with your hands together in a prayer-like gesture in front of your chest. Similarly, when meeting Muslims in north India, you can say "salaam alaikum" (peace be with you) – the correct response is "alaikum salaam." Most of the time, it’s the effort that’s welcomed over pronunciation, so don’t be shy!

Shaking hands is a standard business greeting between men, but outside metropolitan regions, men and women rarely shake. Only ever use your right hand. The same rule applies when passing things to people – including money.

If you get invited to someone’s home, bring a small gift (flowers or sweets are always a safe bet) and remove your shoes before entering. It’s polite to eat and drink what you are offered, even if you don’t really fancy it.

9. Dress modestly

Depending on where in India you are, modesty is taken seriously – especially for women. Travelers of any gender will have an easier time if they wear loose-fitting clothing that covers their legs and arms. Swimwear is only appropriate for the beach – although it is not uncommon to see locals swim fully clothed. To fit in, consider investing in a kurta pyjama (a traditional garment resembling a long shirt and loose trousers for men) or a salwar kameez (a long shirt, loose trousers and scarf for women).

10. What to eat and how to eat it

Many religions in India have their own dietary rules. Muslims avoid pork, many Hindus avoid beef, and some Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarian or vegan. Many Jains are vegetarians who avoid some vegetables (most notably onions, garlic and potatoes) and who try to avoid causing harm to all living creatures. These rules mean vegan and vegetarian food is often easy to find in India.

Eating with your hands is the norm in many restaurants, particularly in parts of southern India. Take your cue from other patrons in the restaurant, and remember to eat with your right hand. Mix rice and curry into balls with your fingers and push it into your mouth with your thumb. Some thalis (plate meals consisting of multiple dishes served in tandem) are served not on a plate but on a washed and flash-heated banana leaf.

11. Haggling is not a game of life and death

Haggling for a fair price when buying things – in street stalls and open-air markets – is a way of life in India. Although it can sometimes be a frustrating experience, losing your temper is extremely bad form – if you can’t agree on a price with the vendor that you are both happy with, politely decline and shop somewhere else.

The rules of the game are as follows. The vendor will quote you a price that is more than the item is worth, then you’ll come back with a counter-offer, working up from there until you reach a mutually agreeable figure.

The “walking away” trick may bring a few last-minute adjustments, but before long, you’ll reach a threshold that the vendor won’t go below. Throwing in extra items may bring a discount on the overall cost. Many travelers prefer not to haggle in places where the money goes directly to artisans.

Two Hindu monks wearing brightly colored clothes and painted faces sit in a temple in India
Knowing the correct etiquette before visiting a temple is very important © hadynyah / Getty Images

12. Respect etiquette at religious sites

Religion is taken very seriously in India, so it pays to know the rules and expectations for visits to temples, mosques, monasteries, gurdwaras (Sikh shrines), synagogues and churches. Always check if you are allowed to enter – some temples and mosques are closed to people who don’t follow the faith. Mosques may also be closed to visitors during prayers or on Fridays.

If asked to do so, remove your shoes before entering any religious building, and be prepared to cover your head with a scarf or shawl. Generally, always cover your legs and arms (a sarong can be handy as an emergency cover-all). Some temples also ban leather goods, and many religious sites do not allow photography.

Avoid pointing the soles of your feet towards a person or deity – this is considered disrespectful. The same goes for touching any person or effigy on the head. It is conventional to walk around Buddhist and Hindu shrines in a clockwise direction, in a ceremonial circuit known as a parikrama.

Making an offering or leaving a donation is often expected – locals always offer something, but be wary of people waving receipts showing huge donations. Giving something is appropriate, but don’t feel pressured into leaving large sums.

13. Giving alms is common but up to you

The giving of alms has a long history in India, and foreigners can expect to be approached regularly with requests for money. Whether you give or not is a personal choice, but many Indians give on a daily basis, particularly when visiting temples and mosques. Be aware that some requests for money will be scams, and you may be able to do more good by giving your time or cash to charity or aid organizations you’ve taken time to research, rather than handing out cash.

14. Respect local social attitudes

India has complex social rules about respect for elders. Depending on where you are traveling to, older people are often greeted with the honorific “auntie” or “uncle,” and the ending ji may also be added to someone’s name as a sign of respect.

Outside bigger cities, India can be quite conservative when it comes to interactions between unmarried men and women. Also, most parts of India are conservative when it comes to same-sex relationships. Whatever your sexuality, it’s best to avoid public displays of affection.

15. Street harassment is unfortunately common

Although harassment can happen anywhere, parts of India are constantly in the news owing to a lack of women’s safety. Beyond long, unwelcome stares and persistent attempts to start a conversation, more serious assaults are also a risk. Groping is common in crowds (particularly during festivals).

Exercise caution like you would anywhere else, and remain alert. Never get into a taxi or auto rickshaw containing anyone other than the driver, and avoid walking alone in quiet areas, particularly at night. Decline offers of food or drinks from strangers.

If traveling by public transport as a woman, it's best to seek out train carriages and designated seating reserved for women. Wearing a wedding ring (even if not married) and using dark sunglasses and headphones can buy you some privacy on public transport. If you are being hassled, drawing loud attention to the intrusion may encourage others to come to your aid.

16. Keep track of security situations in India

India has seen deadly attacks by separatist and Marxist groups and Kashmiri insurgents. Monitor the local news and be alert for suspicious behavior, particularly around major tourist sites. Always check the security situation before traveling to Srinagar and the Kashmir Valley in case of flare-ups of unrest. Strikes, demonstrations and protests are also best avoided, as violence is a risk. It goes without saying but in the event of trouble, obey local curfews and stay inside – your hotel is probably the safest place to be.

A man sits on the side of a red rock mountain in the Indian Himalayas
Take altitude seriously when you head to India's mountains © Rudi Suardi / Getty Images

17. Take the altitude seriously when hiking

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a risk when traveling above 2500m (8202ft), which covers most of the Indian Himalayas. AMS can be fatal, so always ascend slowly and take rest days to allow your body to acclimate to significant elevation changes. If you begin to feel ill while hiking in the mountains, stop, and if your symptoms don’t improve, descend immediately.

18. Familiarize yourself with local rules and regulations

India has a few laws and regulations that visitors might be unfamiliar with. For instance, taking photographs of bridges, the periphery of military camps and border crossings – or flying drones over them – is considered a serious security issue.

When traveling by plane internally in India, you may be asked to surrender batteries from devices in your cabin bags. Smoking is banned in most public places, and a few states also have bans on the consumption of beef – killing or injuring a cow in a road accident, even accidentally, can lead to violent reprisals.

To avoid sticky situations, take the time to research where you’re going, and talk to staff at your hotel or hostel or your B&B host for advice on things to be aware of.

19. Steer clear of drugs

India may have a reputation amongst travelers as a place to push boundaries, but its drug laws are strict. Possessing even small amounts of drugs for personal use can lead to a prison sentence.

Some religious groups are permitted to consume marijuana for ceremonial purposes, but that often doesn’t extend to tourists. You can, however, find bhaang – a marijuana mixture made with the leaves (rather than the bud) of the cannabis plant – at government-approved bhaang shops.

20. Avoid the tap water

The tap water in India is not potable. Drinking or brushing your teeth with it can be a fast track to stomach troubles – the most common illness tourists experience in India. Stick to purified or bottled water (or even better, purify your own to avoid contributing to India’s plastic waste mountain).

The water rule extends to ice (be wary of ice in drinks and ice cream) and to uncooked foods, particularly salads and dishes such as coriander chutneys, which may have been washed with contaminated water. When eating fruit, stick to things you can peel or wash thoroughly yourself, and be cautious of freshly prepared juices. Hot drinks are generally fine, so drink your fill of chai (milky tea, often spiced and sweet).

Traveler with laptop sits on top view point on the mountain valley
Keep abreast of the news, especially in regions where natural disasters may strike © Solovyova / Getty Images

21. Watch local news to keep track of natural disasters

Some geographical areas in India are prone to natural disasters, and the risk is higher in certain seasons. Hilly areas of Himachal Pradesh, for instance, often see flash flooding and landslides during the monsoon. Be alert to signs of natural disasters and keep an eye on the local news so you know which areas to avoid. Follow the Indian Meteorological Department’s website as well as their social media handle for timely updates.

If you are caught up in a natural disaster, follow the advice of emergency workers and try to leave the area quickly.

22. Spot the scams

India has a reputation for scams designed to separate tourists from their money, and touts and confidence tricksters can often be found where tourists gather. Get tourist information and make bookings at official offices, rather than “tourist offices” you have been led to by people offering unsolicited help.

If anyone steers you to a hotel, shop or other establishment without you asking, they may be angling for a commission, which will be added to the price you pay. Be dubious of claims that the place you want to go is “closed” – always check yourself to be sure.

Exercise common sense and be wary of deals that sound too good to be true – for example, the gem scam, where travelers are tricked into buying worthless gems to “sell at a profit back home.”

This article was first published Mar 19, 2022 and updated Dec 15, 2023.

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NEPAL COUNTRYSIDE, OCTOBER 2018: CLOSE UP: Colorful tourist bus drives along a scenic road in the green Nepalese mountains. Old bus drives tourists and locals along the scary Pasang Lhamu highway.; Shutterstock ID 1495188476; GL: 65050; netsuite: Lonely Planet Online Editorial; full: How to get around Nepal; name: Brian Healy
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Colorful tourist bus drives along a scenic road in the green Nepalese mountains. Old bus drives tourists and locals along the scary Pasang Lhamu highway.

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