If you have a physical disability or are vision impaired, the difficulties of travel in India can be exacerbated. If your mobility is considerably restricted, you may like to ease the stress by travelling with an able-bodied companion. One way that India makes it easier to travel with a disability is the access to employed assistance – you could hire an assistant, or a car and driver to get around, for example.
Accessibility Some restaurants and offices have ramps, but most tend to have at least one step. Staircases are often steep; lifts frequently stop at mezzanines between floors.
Accommodation Wheelchair-friendly hotels are almost exclusively top end. Make enquiries before travelling and book ground-floor rooms at hotels that lack adequate facilities.
Footpaths Where pavements exist, they can be riddled with holes, littered with debris and crowded. If using crutches, bring along spare rubber caps.
Transport Hiring a car with driver will make moving around a lot easier; if you use a wheelchair, make sure the car-hire company can provide an appropriate vehicle.
The following organisations may proffer further information:
Accessible Journeys (www.accessiblejourneys.com)
Disabled Holidays (www.disabledholidays.com)
Travel Eyes (www.traveleyes-international.com)
Enable Holidays (www.enableholidays.com)
Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Bargaining is a way of life in many contexts in India, including at markets and most shops. Keep things in perspective: haggle hard but not without a sense of humour. There are also plenty of more upmarket shops and government emporiums where haggling is inappropriate, as prices are fixed. You'll usually have to agree to a price before hiring a taxi or autorickshaw, or a car and driver for longer trips.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Travellers to India’s major cities may fall prey to opportunistic crime, but many problems can be avoided with a bit of common sense and an appropriate amount of caution.
- Reports of sexual assaults have increased in recent years, so women should take care to avoid potentially risky situations.
- Have a look at the India branch of Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree), where travellers often post timely warnings about problems they’ve encountered on the road.
- Always check your government’s travel-advisory warnings.
India has a number of (sometimes armed) dissident groups championing local causes who have employed the same tried-and-tested techniques of rebel groups everywhere: assassinations, and bomb attacks on government infrastructure, public transport, religious centres, tourist sites and markets.
Certain areas are prone to insurgent violence – specifically Kashmir and remote tribal regions in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, but also occasionally in states in the Northeast Region such as Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. Read the latest government travel advisory for reports on areas that are considered unsafe. More up-to-date, perhaps, are websites such as www.satp.org, http://cdpsindia.org and www.globalsecurity.org.
Curfews and strikes can close the roads (as well as banks, shops etc) for days on end in sensitive regions like Kashmir and Assam.
International terrorism is as much of a risk in Europe or the US, so this is no reason not to go to India, but it makes sense to check the local security situation carefully before travelling (especially in high-risk areas).
Warning: Bhang Lassi
Although it’s rarely printed in menus, some restaurants in popular tourist centres will clandestinely whip up bhang lassi, a yoghurt and iced-water beverage laced with cannabis (and occasionally other narcotics). Commonly dubbed ‘special lassi’, this often potent concoction can cause varying degrees of ecstasy, drawn-out delirium, hallucination, nausea and paranoia. Some travellers have been ill for several days, robbed or hurt in accidents after drinking this fickle brew. A few towns have legal (controlled) bhang outlets. While these legal bhang sellers are happy to sell to foreigners, the bhang is intended for religious purposes. For travellers, buying from a legal shop is not a protection against being arrested for possession.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advice and information on current hotspots.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca)
Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.government.nl)
German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.go.jp)
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (https://safetravel.govt.nz/health-and-travel)
Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs (www.eda.admin.ch)
US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
Current is 230V/50Hz; plugs have two round pins.
Embassies & Consulates
Most foreign diplomatic missions are based in Delhi, but there are various consulates in other Indian cities.
Emergency & Important Numbers
From outside India, dial your international access code, India’s country code (91), then the number (minus the initial ‘0’).
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering India by air or land is relatively straightforward, with standard immigration and customs procedures. A previously frustrating law barring re-entry into India within two months of the previous date of departure has been done away with (except for citizens of some Asian countries), thus allowing most travellers to combine their India tour with side trips to neighbouring countries.
You’re supposed to declare Indian rupees in excess of ₹10,000, any amount of cash over US$5000, or a total amount of currency over US$10,000 on arrival.
You're also prohibited from importing more than one laptop, more than 2L of alcohol, more than 100 cigarettes or equivalent, or gifts and souvenirs worth over ₹8000.
Note also the restrictions on exporting antiques.
To enter India you need a valid passport and an onward/return ticket, and a visa. Note that your passport needs to be valid for at least 180 days after your entry into India, and should have at least two blank pages. If your passport is lost or stolen, immediately contact your country’s representative. Keep digital photos or photocopies of your airline ticket and the identity and visa pages of your passport in case of emergency.
Required for most visitors; e-Visa (valid 60 days) available for more than 150 nationalities. Longer trips require a standard six-month tourist visa.
Apart from citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, who don't need visas for India unless they are arriving from mainland China, and citizens of Japan and South Korea, who can obtain a visa on arrival, everyone needs to apply for a visa before arriving in India. However, more than 150 nationalities can obtain the wonderfully hassle-free 60-day e-Visa.
There's also a six-month tourist visa, which is valid from the date of issue, not the date of arrival in India.
- Citizens from more than 150 countries can apply for an e-Visa (www.indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa).
- You must apply a minimum of four days and a maximum of 120 days before you are due to arrive in India.
- The visa will be valid from your date of arrival in India.
- It's a double-entry visa that lasts for 60 days from your first date of entry.
- To apply, upload a photograph as well as a copy of your passport; have at least 180 days' validity in your passport and at least two blank pages.
- If your application is approved, you will receive an attachment to an email within 72 hours (though normally much sooner), which you'll need to print out and take with you to the airport. You'll then have the e-Visa stamped into your passport on arrival in India.
- Note that the e-Visa is also sometimes referred to as a 'visa on arrival', though you need to apply for it before you arrive.
- E-Visas are only valid for entry through 26 designated airports (Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bagdogra, Bengaluru, Calicut, Chennai, Chandigarh, Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Madurai, Mangalore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Trichy (Tiruchirappalli), Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Varanasi and Visakhapatnam).
- They are also valid for arrival at five designated seaports (Cochin, Goa, Mangalore, Mumbai and Chennai).
- E-Visa holders can, however, leave India from any authorised immigration checkpoint.
Visas are available at Indian missions worldwide, though in many countries applications are processed by a separate private company.
- Student and business visas have strict conditions (consult your Indian embassy for details).
- A standard 180-day tourist visa permits multiple entry for most nationalities.
- The 60-day e-Visa is usually a double-entry visa.
- Five- and 10-year tourist visas are available to US citizens only under a bilateral arrangement; however, you can still only stay in the country for up to 180 days continuously.
- Currently you are required to submit two digital photographs with your visa application (format jpeg 10-300kb), though only one for the e-Visa.
- An onward-travel ticket is a requirement for some visas, but this isn’t always enforced (check in advance).
- Visas are priced in the local currency and may have an added service fee.
- Extended visas are possible for those of Indian origin (excluding those in Pakistan and Bangladesh) who hold a non-Indian passport and live abroad.
- If you need to register your visa (for stays of more than 180 days), or need a visa extension (only granted in exceptional cases) or a replacement for a lost passport (required before you can leave the country), then you should apply online at https://indianfrro.gov.in/eservices/home.jsp.
- If you need to see someone in person about your visa issue, then you should do so at the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office in Delhi.
- Check with the Indian embassy in your home country for any special conditions that may exist for your nationality.
The previous rule of no re-entry on the same visa for two months after leaving India no longer applies to foreign nationals (except nationals of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and Bangladesh, foreigners of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, and stateless persons). E-Visas can now be used for double entry into India.
India is extremely stringent with visa extensions. At the time of writing, the government was granting extensions only in circumstances such as medical emergencies or theft of passport just before the applicant planned to leave the country (at the end of their visa).
If you do need to extend your visa due to any such exigency, you should first apply online at e-FRRO (https://indianfrro.gov.in/eservices/home.jsp), which also deals with replacements for lost/stolen passports (required before you can leave the country). If you need to see someone in person, or are called in for an interview, the place to go is the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) in Delhi. There are also some regional FRROs, but these are even less likely to grant an extension.
Assuming you meet the stringent criteria, the FRRO is permitted to issue an extension of 14 days (free for nationals of most countries; enquire on application). You must bring one passport photo (take more, just in case), your passport (or emergency travel document, if your passport is missing), and a letter from the hospital where you're having treatment if it's a medical emergency. Note that this system is designed to get you out of the country promptly with the correct official stamps, not to give you two extra weeks of travel and leisure.
Access to certain parts of India – particularly disputed border areas – is controlled by a system of permits that applies mostly to foreigners but also to Indian citizens in some areas.
Permits are required to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and certain parts of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Uttarakhand that lie close to the disputed border with China/Tibet. A permit is also necessary for travel to the Lakshadweep Islands and to some parts of the Andaman Islands.
In Odisha, permission is no longer required to visit tribal regions, and there’s nothing to stop tourists from taking a bus or taxi to visit regional markets, but some villages are off limits to visitors (due to potential Maoist activity), so seek local advice before setting out.
Obtaining a permit is usually a formality, but travel agents must apply on your behalf for certain areas, including many trekking routes passing close to national borders.
- Dress Avoid offence by eschewing tight, sheer or skimpy clothes.
- Shoes It's polite to remove your shoes before entering homes and places of worship.
- Photos It's best to ask before snapping people, sacred sites or ceremonies.
- Feet Avoid pointing the soles of your feet towards people or deities, or touching anyone with your feet.
- Greetings Saying 'namaste' with your hands together in a prayer gesture is a respectful Hindu greeting; for Muslims, say 'salaam alaikum' ('peace be with you'; the response is 'alaikum salaam').
- Hands The right hand is for eating and shaking hands; the left is the 'toilet' hand.
- Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems (as well as air evacuation) is strongly recommended.
- Some policies exclude potentially dangerous activities such as scuba diving, skiing, motorcycling, paragliding and even trekking; read the fine print.
- Some trekking agents may only accept customers who have cover for emergency helicopter evacuation.
- If you plan to hire a motorcycle in India, make sure that the rental policy includes at least third-party insurance.
- Check in advance whether your insurance policy will pay doctors and hospitals directly or reimburse you later (keep all documentation for your claim).
- It’s crucial to get a police report in India if you’ve had anything stolen; insurance companies may refuse to reimburse you without one.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
There are few internet cafes these days, as wi-fi/3G/4G access is so widely available; wi-fi is usually free at your accommodation, but some places charge. Most restaurants, cafes and bars also offer free wi-fi, and there are a few public wi-fi hot spots in major cities.
- Charges, when they are applied, vary regionally; hourly rates range from ₹15 to ₹100 (or as high as ₹500 in five-star hotels). There's often a 15- to 30-minute minimum.
- The bandwidth load tends to be lowest in the early morning and early afternoon.
- Some places may ask to see your passport.
Be cautious about using online banking on any nonsecure system. If you have no choice but to do this, consider changing your passwords afterwards as soon as you're on a secure connection.
- The simplest way to connect to the internet, when wi-fi is unavailable, is to use your smartphone as a personal wi-fi hot spot (use a local SIM to avoid roaming charges).
- Alternatively, companies that offer prepaid wireless 3G/4G modem sticks (dongles) include Reliance, Airtel, Tata Docomo and Vodafone. To connect you have to submit your proof of identity and address in India; activation can take up to 24 hours.
- Make sure your destinations are covered by your service provider; sometimes coverage is restricted to one state, or is more expensive when you move to another state.
- Plug adapters are widely available throughout India, but bring spare plug fuses from home (local fuses will rarely fit).
If you’re in a sticky legal situation, contact your embassy immediately. However, be aware that all your embassy may be able to do is monitor your treatment in custody and arrange a lawyer. In the Indian justice system, the burden of proof can often be on the accused and stints in prison before trial are not unheard of.
- Smoking in public places is illegal, but this is rarely enforced; if caught you may be fined ₹200, which could rise to ₹500.
- People can smoke inside their homes and in most open spaces such as streets (heed any signs stating otherwise).
- Vaping (smoking e-cigarettes) is banned in Jammu, Kashmir, Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra and Kerala, and this is quite strongly enforced.
- Some Indian cities have banned spitting and littering, but this is enforced irregularly.
- Possession of any illegal drug is regarded as a criminal offence, which will result in a custodial sentence. This may be up to 10 years for possession, even for personal use, or 10 to 20 years if it's deemed that the purpose was sale or distribution. There’s also usually a hefty fine.
- Cases can take months, even years, to appear before a court; the accused may have to await trial in prison.
- Be aware that travellers have been targeted in sting operations in Manali, Goa and other backpacker enclaves.
- Marijuana grows wild in various areas, but consuming it is still an offence, except in towns where bhang is legally sold for religious rituals.
- Police are particularly tough on foreigners who use drugs, so you should take this risk seriously.
- Pharmaceutical drugs that are restricted at home may be available over the counter or via prescription in India. Taking these without professional guidance can be dangerous.
You should always carry your passport; police are entitled to ask you for identification at any time.
If you’re arrested for an alleged offence and asked for a bribe, be aware that it is illegal to pay a bribe in India. Many people deal with an on-the-spot fine by just paying it, to avoid trumped-up charges. Corruption is rife, so the less you have to do with local police the better; try to avoid all potentially risky situations.
To protect India’s cultural heritage, the export of certain antiques is prohibited – especially the export of those that are verifiably more than 100 years old. Reputable antique dealers know the laws and can make arrangements for an export-clearance certificate for old items that are OK to export. Detailed information on prohibited items can be found on the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) website (http://asi.nic.in).
The Indian Wildlife Protection Act bans any form of wildlife trade. Don’t buy any product that endangers threatened species and habitats – doing so can result in heavy fines and even imprisonment. Banned items include ivory; shahtoosh shawls, which are made from the down of chirus (rare Tibetan antelopes); and anything made from the fur, skin, horns or shell of any endangered species. Products made from certain rare plants are also banned.
In a landmark decision in 2018, India's Supreme Court ruled that gay sex in India was no longer a criminal offence. The ruling overturned a 2013 judgment that had upheld a colonial-era law under which gay sex was categorised as an 'unnatural offence'. The court also ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights.
A 2014 ruling provided legal recognition of a third gender in India, a step towards increased acceptance of the large yet marginalised transgender (hijra) population.
Despite these rulings, India's LGBT+ scene remains relatively discreet, though less so in cities such as Delhi. The capital hosts the annual Queer Pride (www.facebook.com/delhiqueerpride) in November and also has a men-only gay guesthouse, Mister & Art House (www.misterandarthouse.com), in South Delhi. It's run by Delhi-based gay travel agency Indjapink (www.indjapink.co.in), which offers tailor-made tours. Founded by a well-known Indian fashion designer, the agency also has a guesthouse in Jaipur.
Serene Journeys (www.serenejourneys.co) is also recommended as a gay-friendly travel agency.
Nevertheless, LGBT+ visitors should be discreet in this conservative country. Public displays of affection are frowned upon for both homosexual and heterosexual couples.
Bombay Dost (http://bombaydost.co.in) Annual LGBTQ India magazine that's been running since 1990.
Gay Bombay (www.gaybombay.org) Lists gay events and offers support and advice.
Gaysi Zine (http://gaysifamily.com) Thoughtful monthly magazine and website featuring gay writing and issues.
Indian Dost (www.indiandost.com/gay.php) News and information, including contact groups in India.
Orinam (orinam.net) Has helpful, up-to-date info on LGBT+ support, events and pride marches in Chennai and Tamil Nadu.
Pink Pages (https://pink-pages.co.in) A national gay magazine that's been running for nearly 10 years.
Queer Azaadi Mumbai (http://queerazaadi.wordpress.com) Mumbai’s queer-pride blog, with news.
Queer Ink (www.queer-ink.com) Online bookstore and multimedia platform for India's LGBT+ community.
Salvation Star (https://en-gb.facebook.com/SalvationStar) An LGBT+ Facebook community in Mumbai that organises and promotes gay events and parties.
Most travellers will simply use Google Maps on their smartphone for travel around India. There's good GPS coverage in the main population centres.
Printed maps available inside India are of variable quality.
Most state-government tourist offices stock basic local maps, which are fine for sightseeing within small towns but not detailed enough for navigation in larger cities.
For trekking in Ladakh, the excellent Olizane 1:150,000 maps cover the region in three large sheets, available (at a considerable price) in Leh; some maps from the more schematic 1:200,000 Leomann series are sporadically available in Manali and McLeod Ganj.
The following are some of the better map series:
Eicher Various state maps showing rail and road networks.
Leomann Maps Useful trekking maps for Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Nest & Wings (www.nestwings.in)
Olizane Excellent topographic trekking maps of the Ladakh–Zanskar region at 1:150,000.
Survey of India (www.surveyofindia.gov.in)
Newspapers & Magazines
English-language daily newsapers include the Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Hindu, Statesman, Telegraph, Daily News & Analysis (DNA) and Economic Times.
Current-affairs magazines include Frontline, India Today, Week, Open, Tehelka, Outlook and Motherland.
The government-controlled All India Radio (AIR), India’s national broadcaster, has more than 220 stations broadcasting local and international news. The multitude of FM stations includes Private FM, with music, current affairs, talkback and more, and Mirchi FM.
The national (government) TV broadcaster is Doordarshan. More people watch satellite and cable TV; English-language channels include the BBC, CNN, Star World, HBO, National Geographic and Discovery.
ATMs widely available; carry cash as backup, especially in remote regions. Don’t accept damaged banknotes: they won't be accepted by others.
The Indian rupee (₹) is divided into 100 paise (p), but only 50-paise coins are legal tender and these are rarely seen. Coins come in denominations of ₹1, ₹2, ₹5 and ₹10 (the 1s and 2s look almost identical); notes come in denominations of ₹5, ₹10, ₹20, ₹50, ₹100, ₹200, ₹500 and ₹2000.
The rupee is linked to a basket of currencies and has been subject to fluctuation in recent years.
- ATMs are widespread.
- Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro are the most commonly accepted cards.
- ATMs at Axis Bank, Citibank, HDFC, HSBC, ICICI and State Bank of India recognise foreign cards. Other banks may accept major cards (Visa, MasterCard etc).
- The limit you may withdraw in one transaction varies, from as low as ₹2000 up to a maximum of usually ₹10,000. A fee is almost always charged by the Indian bank for withdrawing money. It's a set fee (usually ₹150 to ₹300) rather than a percentage, so withdrawing more cash each time means you'll pay less in fees per unit.
- Before your trip, check whether your card can access banking networks in India and ask for details of charges.
- Notify your bank that you’ll be using your card in India to avoid having it blocked; take along your bank’s phone number just in case.
- Always keep the emergency lost-and-stolen numbers for your credit cards in a safe place, separate from your cards, and report any loss or theft immediately.
Black-market moneychangers exist, but legal moneychangers are so common that there’s no reason to use illegal services, except perhaps to change small amounts of cash at land border crossings. If someone approaches you on the street and offers to change money, you’re probably being set up for a scam.
- Major currencies such as US dollars, pounds sterling and euros are easy to change throughout India.
- Some banks also accept other currencies, such as Australian and Canadian dollars, and Swiss francs.
- Private moneychangers deal with a wider range of currencies, but Pakistani, Nepali and Bangladeshi currency can be harder to change away from the border.
- When travelling off the beaten track, always carry an adequate stock of rupees.
- Whenever changing money, or receiving change, check every note. Don’t accept any filthy, ripped or disintegrating notes, as others will refuse them when you try to spend them.
- It can be tough getting change, so a stock of smaller currency (₹10, ₹20 and ₹50 notes) is invaluable.
- You can change any leftover rupees back into foreign currency most easily at the airport. You may have to present encashment certificates or credit-card/ATM receipts, and show your passport and airline ticket.
- Credit cards and international debit cards are accepted at a growing number of shops, cafes, upmarket restaurants, and midrange and top-end guesthouses and hotels, and they can usually be used to pay for flights and train tickets. They are much more widely accepted in major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi.
- Cash advances on major credit cards are also possible at some banks.
- MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards.
- Note that transaction fees can be high; however, some prepaid credit cards have no transaction fees.
PayTM (www.paytm.com) is India's major digital-wallet company. Local users pay for things through their smartphone, which is linked to their bank account. PayTM can also be used for buying train tickets and flights online, and for using bike-share schemes in big cities. You can't link PayTM to a foreign bank account, but foreigners used to be able to use PayTM by linking it to a local SIM card and topping up the SIM as they went. However, a rule change in 2018 meant that PayTM accounts had to be registered to an Indian ID. Check again online before you come to see what the latest situation is.
- Indian law states that all foreign currency must be changed at official moneychangers or banks.
- For every (official) foreign-exchange transaction you’ll receive an encashment certificate (receipt), which will allow you to change rupees back into foreign currency when departing India.
- Encashment certificates should cover the rupee amount you intend to change back to foreign currency.
- Printed receipts from ATMs are also accepted as evidence of an international transaction at most banks.
Private moneychangers are usually open for longer hours than banks and are found almost everywhere (many also double as travel agents).
Hotels may also change money, but their rates are usually not as competitive.
- Restaurants and hotels Service fees are sometimes added to bills automatically; otherwise, 10% is reasonable.
- Bellboys and train/airport porters ₹10 to ₹20.
- Taxis and rickshaws Not expected, but it's good to tip drivers/riders who are honest about the fare.
- Private drivers ₹200 per day for good service.
- Trekking Per day: guides ₹350 to ₹500, porters ₹200 to ₹350.
- Tour guides ₹200 to ₹350 per day is fair.
- Travellers cheques are becoming harder and harder to change as credit cards become more widely accepted. They are often more hassle than they're worth.
- All major brands are accepted, but some banks only accept cheques from American Express (Amex) and Thomas Cook.
- Euros, pounds sterling and US dollars are the safest currencies, especially in smaller towns.
- Keep a record of the cheques’ serial numbers separate from your cheques, along with the proof-of-purchase slips, encashment certificates and photocopied passport details. If you lose your cheques, contact the Amex or Thomas Cook office in Delhi.
- To replace lost travellers cheques, you need the proof-of-purchase slip and the numbers of the missing cheques (some places require a photocopy of the police report and a passport photo). If you don’t have the numbers of your missing cheques, the issuing company (eg Amex) will contact the place where you bought them.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com
The following are guidelines and may vary:
Banks (nationalised) 10am to 2pm/4pm Monday to Friday, to noon/1pm/4pm Saturday; closed second and fourth Saturday
Bars and clubs noon to 12.30am
Markets 10am to 7pm in major cities, with one closed day; rural markets once weekly, early morning to lunchtime
Post offices 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday
Restaurants 8am to 10pm, or lunch (noon to 3pm) and dinner (7pm to 10/11pm)
Shops 10am to 7pm or 8pm, some closed Sunday
Museums/Sights Often closed Monday
Exercise sensitivity when taking photos of people, especially women, who may find it offensive – obtain permission in advance.
On the flip side, be prepared to be the subject of a lot of selfies while you're in India, particularly in less touristy areas, and especially if you're travelling with children. It can be tiresome, but it's a great way to make friends with locals.
For useful tips and techniques on travel photography, check out Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography.
Memory cards for digital cameras are available in most large cities and towns. However, quality is variable – some don’t carry the advertised amount of data.
To be safe, regularly back up your memory card. If your camera isn't wi-fi–enabled, take a memory-card reader or USB stick with you.
- India is touchy about anyone taking photographs of military installations – this can include train stations, bridges, airports, military sites and sensitive border regions.
- Photography from the air is mostly OK, unless you're taking off from (or landing in) airports actively shared by defence forces.
- Many places of worship – such as monasteries, temples and mosques – also prohibit photography. Taking photos inside a shrine, at a funeral, at a religious ceremony or of people publicly bathing (including in rivers) can also be offensive – ask first.
- Flash photography may be prohibited in certain areas of a shrine or historical monument, or may not be permitted at all.
- It's not uncommon for people in touristy areas to ask for a posing fee in return for being photographed. Exercise your discretion in these situations. Ask first to avoid misunderstandings later.
India Post (www.indiapost.gov.in) runs the most widely distributed postal service on earth, with 155,000 post offices. Mail and poste-restante services are generally good, though the speed of delivery will depend on the efficiency of any given office. Airmail is faster and more reliable than sea mail, although it’s best to use courier services (such as DHL and TNT) to send and receive items of value – expect to pay around ₹3500 per kilo for a parcel to Europe, Australia or the USA. Smaller private couriers are often cheaper, but goods may be repacked into large packages to cut costs and things sometimes go missing.
- To claim mail you’ll need to show your passport.
- Ask senders to address letters to you with your surname in capital letters and underlined, followed by Poste Restante, GPO (main post office), and the city or town in question.
- Many ‘lost’ letters are simply misfiled under given/first names, so check under both your names and ask senders to provide a return address.
- Letters sent via poste restante are generally held for one to two months before being returned.
- It’s best to have any parcels sent to you by registered post.
- Posting airmail letters overseas costs around ₹25.
- International postcards cost around ₹15.
- For postcards, stick on the stamps before writing on them, as post offices can give you as many as four stamps per card.
- Sending a letter overseas by registered post costs an extra ₹70.
- Posting parcels can be either relatively straightforward or involve multiple counters and lots of queuing; get to the post office in the morning.
- All parcels sent through the government postal service must be packed up in white linen and the seams sealed with wax – agents near post offices usually offer this service for a small fee.
- An unregistered airmail package up to 250g costs ₹600 to ₹1000 to any country, plus ₹50 to ₹270 per additional 250g (up to a maximum of 2kg; different charges apply for higher weights).
- Parcel post has a maximum of 20kg to 30kg depending on the destination.
- Airmail takes one to three weeks, sea mail two to four months, and Surface Air-Lifted (SAL) – a hybrid where parcels travel by both air and sea – around one month.
- Express mail service (EMS; delivery within three days) costs around 30% more than the normal airmail price.
- Customs-declaration forms, available from the post office, must be stitched or pasted to the parcel. No duty is payable by the recipient for gifts under the value of ₹1000.
- Carry a permanent marker to write on the parcel any information requested by the desk.
- You can send printed matter via surface mail 'Bulk Bag' for ₹600 (maximum 5kg, plus ₹100 for each additional kilogram). The parcel has to be packed with an opening so that it can be checked by customs – tailors can do this in such a way that nothing falls out.
- India Post (www.indiapost.gov.in) has an online calculator for domestic and international tariffs.
There are three official national public holidays – Republic and Independence Days and Gandhi's birthday (Gandhi Jayanti) – plus a lot of other holidays celebrated nationally or locally, many of them marking important days in various religions and falling on variable dates.
The most important are the 18 'gazetted holidays' (listed), which are observed by central-government offices throughout India – see https://www.india.gov.in/calendar for the latest dates. On these days most businesses (offices, shops etc), banks and tourist sites close, but transport is usually unaffected. It’s wise to make transport and hotel reservations well in advance if you intend to visit during major festivals.
Republic Day 26 January
Maha Shivaratri February/March
Mahavir Jayanti March/April
Good Friday 10 April 2020
Buddha Purnima April/May
Eid al-Fitr May/June
Independence Day 15 August
Eid al-Adha (Id ul-Zuha) July/August
Gandhi Jayanti 2 October
Eid-Milad-un-Nabi 9 November 2019
Guru Nanak Jayanti November
Christmas Day 25 December
Major Religious Festivals
Holi (Hindu) February/March
Easter Sunday (Christian) 12 April 2020, 4 April 2021
Mahavir Jayanti (Jain) March/April
Buddha Purnima (Buddhist) April/May
Eid al-Fitr (Muslim) May/June
Dussehra (Hindu) September/October
Nanak Jayanti (Sikh) November
Diwali (Hindu) October/November
Christmas Day (Christian) 25 December
- Smoking in public places is illegal, but this is rarely enforced; if caught you may be fined ₹200, which could rise to ₹500.
- People can smoke inside their homes and in most open spaces such as streets (heed any signs stating otherwise).
- Vaping (smoking e-cigarettes) is banned in Jammu, Kashmir, Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra and Kerala, and this is quite strongly enforced.
Taxes & Refunds
India has a tiered goods-and-services tax (GST), applicable to restaurant prices and hotel rates, that ranges from 12% to 28%. A service charge of 10% is added to bills at many restaurants in addition to GST.
There are plans to introduce a system for tourists to claim GST refunds at Indian airports on goods taken out of the country.
There are few pay phones in India (apart from in airports). Private STD/ISD/PCO booths offer inexpensive local, interstate and international calls, though they aren't as widespread as in the past. A meter displays how much the call is costing and usually provides a receipt when the call is finished.
Roaming connections excellent in urban areas, poor in the countryside and the Himalaya. Local prepaid SIMs widely available. India operates on the GSM network at 900MHz, the world's most common; mobile phones from most countries will work on the subcontinent.
- Indian mobile numbers usually have 10 digits, mostly beginning with 9 (but sometimes 6, 7 or 8).
- Getting connected involves some straightforward paperwork and sometimes a wait of up to 24 hours for activation. Some regions require fiddlier processes than others.
- Mobiles bought in some countries may be locked to a particular network; you’ll have to get the phone unlocked, or buy a local phone (available from around ₹1000) to use an Indian SIM.
- It's easiest to obtain a local SIM in large cities and tourist centres – or, better yet, directly at airport booths when you land.
- Foreigners must supply between one and five passport photos, and photocopies of their passport identity and visa pages. Often mobile shops can arrange this for you, or you can ask your hotel to help.
- You must provide a residential address, which can be the address of your hotel, as well as a local reference (your hotel is generally fine for this, too). Usually the phone company will call your hotel (warn the staff that a call will come through) any time up to 24 hours after your application to verify that you're staying there.
- It's a good idea to obtain the SIM in a place that you'll be for a day or two so that you can return to the vendor if there's any problem. To avoid scams, only obtain your SIM from a reputable branded phone shop.
- SIMs are sold as regular size from some vendors, but most places have machines to cut them down to the required size if necessary; official stores usually have multifit SIMs.
- Prepaid mobile-phone packages are readily available for short-term visitors. SIMs often come free with a minimum data and call package. Industry newcomer Jio (the first mobile network to run entirely on 4G data technology; www.jio.com) has deals from ₹149 for 1.5GB of data per day to ₹509 for 4GB per day, both for 28 days. Airtel (www.airtel.in) charges ₹199 for 1.5GB per day for 28 days. It pays to shop around. Most large data packages are good for 28 days.
- More data is sold at stalls and shops (just look for phone-company logos). You pay the vendor and the package/credit is deposited straight into your account.
- Calls within India are often included in prepaid packages along with the local SIM.
- International calls start at around ₹1 a minute. International outgoing messages cost ₹5. Incoming calls and messages are less than ₹1 and free, respectively.
- Unreliable signals and problems with international texting (messages or replies not coming through or being delayed) are not uncommon.
- The leading service providers are Jio (part of Reliance), Airtel, Vodafone–Idea and BSNL. Coverage varies from region to region – Vodafone–Idea, Jio and Airtel have the widest coverage, while BSNL is best for the remote Andaman Islands.
Jammu & Kashmir & Northeast States
- Due to border-sensitivity issues, mobile-phone use in Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast States is more strictly controlled.
- Roaming on foreign mobiles won’t work in Jammu & Kashmir, nor will pay-as-you-go SIMs purchased elsewhere in India.
- BSNL works best here but requires you to jump through more hoops, including providing the telephone number and a copy of the ID card of a local resident (ask your hotel).
- AirTel is easier to arrange – though you'll still need four or five photos, your passport and a local address (your hotel) – but has poorer coverage in remote areas.
- Coverage is scant in Ladakh and Kashmir once you're away from the main towns.
- In the Northeast States, foreign-mobile roaming won't work and domestic SIMs are harder to procure than in most of the rest of the country. Foreigners applying for SIMs in the Northeast have to supply visa and passport details and four passport-size photos and be prepared for a long verification process. However, you can use a SIM purchased elsewhere. Jio, Airtel and BSNL have the widest coverage in the Northeast, and Vodafone works best in Sikkim.
- To call India from abroad, dial your country’s international access code, then 91 (India’s country code), then the area code (without the initial zero), then the local number. For mobile phones the area code and initial zero are not required.
- To call internationally from India, dial 00 (the international access code), then the country code of the country you’re calling, then the area code (without the initial zero) and the local number.
- Landline phone numbers have an area code followed by up to eight digits.
- Toll-free numbers begin with 1800.
- To make interstate calls to a mobile phone, add 0 before the 10-digit number.
- To call a landline from a mobile phone, you always have to add the area code (with the initial zero).
- Some call-centre numbers might require the initial zero (eg calling an airline ticketing service based in Delhi from Karnataka).
- A Home Country Direct service, which gives you access to the international operator in your home country, exists for the US (000 117) and the UK (000 4417).
- To access an international operator elsewhere, dial 000 127. The operator can place an international call and assist you to make collect calls.
Useful online resources include the Yellow Pages (http://yellowpages.in) and Justdial (www.justdial.com).
The subcontinent uses Indian Standard Time (GMT/UTC plus 5½ hours). India does not follow a daylight-saving system.
The standard of toilet facilities varies enormously across the country.
Public toilets are best in major cities and tourist sites; the cleanest (usually with sit-down as well as squat facilities) are often at modern restaurants, shopping complexes and cinemas.
Beyond urban centres, toilets tend to be of the squat variety, and less well looked after.
Toilet paper is almost never provided in public toilets, as locals tend to use water rather than paper to clean themselves. Modern toilets will have a bidet system attached, but most toilets outside urban centres will have a simple water tap and jug beside the toilet; the left hand is always used for toilet duties.
If you prefer to use paper, always carry your own with you. If there's a bin beside the toilet, that's where the paper should go. Otherwise, it's OK to throw/flush it down the toilet.
It’s also a good idea to carry hand sanitiser, as soap is rarely provided in public toilets.
Most midrange and all top-end hotels have sit-down toilets with toilet paper. In ultracheap hotels, and in places off the tourist trail, squat toilets are the norm and usually neither toilet paper nor soap is provided.
Terminology for hotel bathrooms varies across India. ‘Attached bath’ or ‘private bath’ means that the room has its own en suite bathroom. ‘Common bath’ or ‘shared bath’ means communal bathroom facilities.
Not all rooms have hot water. ‘Running’, ‘24-hour’ or ‘constant’ water means hot water is available round-the-clock (not always the case in reality). ‘Bucket’ hot water is as it sounds: only available in buckets (occasionally for a small charge).
Many places use wall-mounted electric geysers (water heaters) that need to be switched on up to an hour before use. The geyser’s switch can sometimes be located outside the bathroom.
In addition to Government of India tourist offices (also known as ‘India Tourism’), each state maintains its own network of tourist offices. These vary in quality – some are run by enthusiastic souls who go out of their way to help; others have an air of torpor and are little more than a means of drumming up business for State Tourism Development Corporation tours.
The nationwide tourism website of the Government of India is Incredible India (www.incredibleindia.org).
Travel with Children
Fascinating and thrilling India will be even more astounding for children than for their wide-eyed parents. The country's scents, sights and sounds will make for an unforgettable adventure and one that most kids will take in their stride.
Best Regions for Kids
Vibrant festivals, medieval forts, fairy-tale palaces, tiger safaris, camel rides across desert dunes and a well-oiled tourist infrastructure for hassle-free travel.
Palm-fringed white-sand beaches, seaside activities and inexpensive exotic food; an ideal choice for family holidays, whatever the budget.
- Uttar Pradesh
The picture-perfect Taj Mahal and the nearby abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri will set young imaginations ablaze.
Canoe and houseboat adventures, surf beaches, Arabian Sea sunsets, snake-boat races and wildlife spotting.
- Himachal Pradesh
Pony and yak rides around colonial-era hill stations, rafting, horse riding, tandem paragliding (kids can do it), walks and, for older kids, canyoning around Manali.
India for Kids
Travel with children in India is usually a delight, though you (and your kids) may have to get used to being the centre of attention. Locals will thrill at taking a photograph or two beside your bouncing baby. This may prove disconcerting, but you can always politely decline.
As a parent on the road in India, the key is to remain firm, even if you feel you may offend a well-meaning local by doing so. The attention your children will inevitably receive is almost always good-natured; kids are the centre of life in many Indian households, and your own will be treated just the same, but it can be invasive and tiring for kids, and being continually touched by an array of strangers can bring hygiene issues.
Hotels will almost always come up with an extra bed (although they rarely have more than one, so you may need to do some bed sharing as a family, or get two rooms), and restaurants can usually find a familiar dish or two for inexperienced tummies.
- Jaisalmer, Rajasthan Enjoy playing knights around the world's biggest sandcastle, Jaisalmer’s centuries-old fort, and take a camel ride in the Thar Desert.
- Delhi Run around magnificent forts, explore Lodi Garden and Mehrauli Archeology Park, or try hands-on exhibits and ride in a toy train at the National Rail Museum.
- Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan Hop aboard a jeep to search for monkeys, peacocks and tigers. Evening safaris are best for young children: morning ones tend to be too early, too long and, before the sun rises properly, too cold.
- Udaipur, Rajasthan Go boating on the lake, take a horse-riding excursion and explore enchanting palaces.
- Orchha, Madhya Pradesh Wander the crumbling palaces and battlements of little-known Orchha, then go rafting in the Betwa River.
- Madhya Pradesh The land of Kipling's Jungle Book has plenty of opportunities for tiger safaris. Again, evening safaris are best for youngsters.
- Tiger parks, Madhya Pradesh The land of Kipling's Jungle Book has plenty of opportunities for tiger safaris. Delve deep into the jungle or roam the plains at the tiger parks of Kanha, Pench or your best chance for seeing one, Bandhavgarh.
- Elephants, Kerala In Wayanad kids can spot wild elephants, as well as langurs, chitals (spotted deer), sambars (deer), peacocks and wild boar.
- Dolphins, Goa Splash out on a dolphin-spotting boat trip from almost any Goan beach to see the marine mammals cavorting among the waves.
- Hill-station monkeys Head up to Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) or Matheran (Maharashtra) for close encounters with cheeky monkeys (but not too close…they can be vicious!).
- Lions, Gujarat Go on safari through Gir National Park at dusk or dawn and spot the only Asiatic lions in existence.
- Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan Rent bikes for a leisurely cycle around this lakeside bird reserve.
- Autorickshaws, anywhere Bump thrillingly along at top speed in these child-scale vehicles.
- Bikes, Delhi Older children who are competent riders, and toddlers who can fit in a child seat, can enjoy a DelhiByCycle tour.
- Toy train, Darjeeling, West Bengal Take a joy ride on the cute-as-a-button steam train from Darjeeling to Ghum and back.
- Hand-pulled rickshaw, Matheran, Maharashtra From this monkey-infested hill station you can continue to the village on horseback or in a hand-pulled rickshaw.
- Houseboat, canoe or kayak, Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kerala Go boating on the state's beautiful backwaters, with lots of interesting stops en route. If you hit town on the second Saturday in August, take the kids to see the spectacular Nehru Trophy boat race.
- Palolem, Goa Plump for a beachfront palm-thatched hut and take it easy at beautiful Palolem beach, with Goa's shallowest, safest waters.
- Patnem, Goa Kick back at peaceful Patnem, with its appealing beach and cool, calm, child-friendly restaurants.
- Kovalam, Kerala Family-friendly beach area.
- Varkala, Kerala Also family-friendly, Papanasham Beach comes with a stunning cliffside backdrop.
- Havelock, Andaman Islands Splash about in the shallows at languid Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep), where there’s also fabulous snorkelling and diving.
Before You Go
- Look at climate charts; choose your dates to avoid the extremes of temperature that may put younger children at risk.
- Visit your doctor to discuss vaccinations, health advisories and other heath-related issues involving your children well in advance of travel.
- For more tips on travel in India, and firsthand accounts of travels in the country, pick up Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children or visit the Thorn Tree forum at www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree.
What to Pack
You can also get these items in many parts of India:
- Disposable or washable nappies, nappy-rash cream (Calendula cream works well against heat rash, too), extra bottles, wet wipes, infant formula and canned, bottled or rehydratable food.
- A fold-up baby bed or the lightest travel cot you can find (companies such as KidCo make excellent pop-up tent-style beds), since hotel cots may prove precarious. Don't take a stroller/pushchair: this will be impractical, as pavements are often scarce. A much better option for smaller kids is a baby-carrier backpack, so the child is lifted up and out of the throng (and will have a superb view).
- A few less-precious toys that won’t be mourned if lost or damaged.
- A swimming jacket, life jacket or water wings for the sea or pool.
- Good sturdy footwear.
- Books, audiobooks and activity books, for whiling away long journeys.
- Insect repellent, mosquito nets, hats and sun lotion.
- India offers such an array of accommodation options – from beach huts to five-star bubbles – that you’re bound to be able to find something that will appeal to the whole family.
- The swish upmarket hotels are almost always child-friendly, but so are many midrange and budget guesthouses and hotels, whose staff will usually bend over backwards to accommodate children, and can normally rustle up extra beds or mattresses.
- It's sometimes difficult to find a room with more than one extra bed, but most places are willing to cram several children into a regular-size double room along with their parents, so long as you don't mind sharing beds. If you do mind, or you have a large family, you may have to rent more than one room.
- The very best five-star options are equipped with children’s pools, games rooms and even children’s clubs. (An occasional night with a warm bubble bath, room service, macaroni cheese and a banquet of satellite TV will revive even the most disgruntled young traveller’s spirits.)
- If you’re travelling in regions such as Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Goa or Kerala, or in big cities, you'll find it easy to feed your brood. In major cities and more touristy towns there's always a wide range of international cuisine on offer.
- Easy portable snacks such as bananas, samosas, puri (puffy dough pockets), white-bread sandwiches and packaged biscuits (Parle G brand are always a hit) are available everywhere.
- Many children will delight in paneer (unfermented cheese) dishes, simple dhals (mild lentil curries), creamy kormas, buttered naans (tandoori breads), pilaus (rice dishes) and Tibetan momos (steamed or fried dumplings).
- Few children, no matter how culinarily unadventurous, can resist the finger-food fun of a vast South Indian dosa (paper-thin lentil-flour pancake).
- Travel in India, be it by taxi, local bus, train or air, can be arduous for the whole family. Clean public toilets, changing rooms and safe playgrounds are rare in much of the country. Public transport is often extremely overcrowded, so plan fun, easy days to follow longer bus or train rides.
- Long train rides are generally more comfortable, and more interesting, for children than long bus or car rides.
- Pack plenty of diversions (books, travel games, card games, activity books).
- Don't forget to join in with the games yourself; family I Spy is always a winner, or see who's first to spot 10 cows/monkeys/camels.
- Encouraging your child to keep a holiday journal/scrapbook is a great way to fill time.
- If you're hiring a car and driver, and you require safety capsules, child restraints or booster seats, bring these with you or make this requirement absolutely clear to the hiring company as early as possible. Don't expect to find these items readily available. Don't be afraid to tell your driver to slow down and drive responsibly.
- The standard of health care varies widely in India. Talk to your doctor at home about where you'll be travelling to get advice on vaccinations and what to include in your first-aid kit.
- Access to health care is better in traveller-frequented parts of the country, where it’s almost always easy to track down a doctor at short notice (most hotels will be able to recommend a reliable one).
- Prescriptions are quickly and cheaply filled over the counter at the country's plentiful pharmacies, often found near hospitals.
- Diarrhoea can be very serious in young children. Seek medical help if it is persistent or accompanied by fever; rehydration is essential. Heat rash, skin complaints such as impetigo, and insect bites or stings can be treated with the help of a well-stocked first-aid kit or resources from a local pharmacy.
Rich in culture and history, India may be beautiful, but poverty and hardship are the harsh reality for many of its citizens. Charities and aid organisations across the country welcome committed volunteers.
How to Volunteer
- Choosing an Organisation
Choose an organisation that can specifically benefit from your abilities and skills.
- Time Required
How much time can you devote to a project? You’re more likely to be of help if you can commit for at least a month or two, ideally longer.
Giving your time for free is only part of the story; most organisations expect volunteers to cover their accommodation, food and transport.
Make sure you understand what you're signing up for: many organisations expect volunteers to work full-time, five days a week.
Ensure that the organisation you choose is reputable and transparent about how it spends its money. Where possible, get feedback from former volunteers.
Aid Programs in India
There are numerous opportunities for volunteers in India. It may be possible to find a placement after you arrive, but charities and nongovernment organisations (NGOs) generally prefer volunteers who have applied in advance and been approved for the kind of work involved. Reputable organisations will insist on a background check for those who will be working with children.
As well as international organisations, local charities and NGOs often have opportunities, though it can be harder to assess the work that these organisations are doing. For listings of local agencies, check www.ngosindia.com or contact the Delhi-based Concern India Foundation.
The following programs are just some that may have opportunities for volunteers; contact them in advance to arrange a placement. Note that Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisations that we do not work with directly, so it is essential that you do your own thorough research before agreeing to volunteer with any organisation.
If you have medical experience, there are numerous opportunities to provide health care and support for the most vulnerable in Indian society.
Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh
Sambhavna Trust Clinic In Bhopal; accepts volunteers to help long-term victims of the toxic gas leak of 1984.
Sadhana Village Pune residence for adults with disabilities; has a minimum commitment of two months for volunteers.
Marwar Medical & Relief Society NGO running educational, health, environmental and other projects in villages in the Jodhpur district. Short- or long-term volunteers are welcome.
Many community volunteer projects work to provide healthcare and education to villages.
Helping Tibetan Refugees
Since 1959 more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees have fled to India to escape persecution. Newly arrived refugees require extensive support and there are often volunteering opportunities in McLeod Ganj and other areas with large Tibetan populations.
Bihar & Jharkhand
Root Institute for Wisdom Culture Heath professionals are welcome to volunteer at Root's charitable health program in Bodhgaya.
Hope Project A broad-based community project welcoming short- or long-term volunteers who can offer childcare, medical, English-language teaching, IT or other skills.
Kishkinda Trust Volunteers are needed to assist with sustainable community development in Hampi.
Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh
Orchha Home-Stay Offers volunteer placements in varied roles to help rural villagers in Orchha.
Slum Aid Works in Mumbai slums to improve lives; placements from two weeks to six months.
URMUL Trust Provides primary health care and education to desert dwellers in arid western Rajasthan. Volunteer placements (minimum one month) are available in English teaching, health care and other work.
Seva Mandir NGO working in southern Rajasthan on projects including afforestation, water resources, health, education, and the empowerment of women and village institutions.
Lha Arranges placements at a host of projects with the Tibetan community, including roles for language teachers and healthcare or IT professionals in McLeod Ganj.
Design & Restoration
There are a few places where those with architectural and building skills can help.
Jammu & Kashmir
Csoma's Room (www.csomasroom.org) Hungarian outfit that welcomes volunteer teachers, builders, conservationists and restorers for work in Zangla.
Environment & Conservation
A range of local organisations work in environmental education and sustainable development.
ANET Has occasional openings for specialised volunteers to assist with environmental activities from field projects to general maintenance.
Reef Watch Marine Conservation Marine-conservation non-profit organisation accepts volunteers for anything from beach clean-ups to fish surveys. Contact it directly to discuss possibilities.
Ecosphere This multifaceted sustainable-development NGO in Kaza has a few openings for short- and long-term volunteers, including clean-energy projects and cafe work.
Jammu & Kashmir
Ice Stupa Farmstays Residential placements on rural farms.
Rainforest Retreat Organic farming, sustainable agriculture and waste management are catchphrases at this lush hideaway amid spice plantations; check the website for volunteering options; in the Kodagu region.
Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute Offers internships in sustainable agriculture lasting two to six months for agriculture, engineering and science graduates in Phaltan.
Keystone Foundation Kotagiri based; offers occasional opportunities to help improve environmental conditions, working with indigenous communities.
Many Buddhist schools need teachers of English for long-term placements; enquire locally in Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Ladakh. Teaching experience is preferred. Be wary of any organisation that does not require safety checks for adults working with children.
Learning & Ideas for Tibet (LIT) Based in McLeod Ganj; current needs are for teachers of English, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese and computer skills, to work with Tibetan refugees.
Tibet World Openings for teachers of yoga and languages, especially Mandarin, English and French – both regular and drop-in slots available in McLeod Ganj.
West Bengal & Darjeeling
Hayden Hall Offers minimum two-month opportunities for volunteers with medical, teaching and social-work experience in Darjeeling.
Jammu & Kashmir
Druk Padma Karpo School Buddhist monastery school in Ladakh (Shey) with long-term placements (May to September only) for English teachers.
Csoma's Room (www.csomasroom.org) This Hungarian outfit takes teachers (as well as restorers) in Zangla.
Working with Animals
Opportunities for animal lovers are plentiful.
Blue Cross of Hyderabad A shelter with more than 1300 animals; volunteers help care for animals or work in the office.
International Animal Rescue Rescues and looks after dogs, cats and other animals; volunteers are welcome but must have evidence of rabies vaccination.
Welfare of Stray Dogs Volunteers can work with the animals, manage stores or educate kids in school programs.
Animal Aid Unlimited In Udaipur, accepts volunteers to help injured, abandoned or stray animals.
Working with Children
Various charities provide support for disadvantaged children. Ask questions of any organisation to make sure they are taking steps to protect the children in their care. Reputable organisations will insist on safety checks for adults working with children.
Salaam Baalak Trust Volunteer English teachers, doctors, counsellors and computer experts provide education and support for street children at this long-running NGO.
Reality Tours & Travel Slum education projects; volunteers should have relevant professional or academic qualifications. Minimum three months.
Torch Works with homeless children, and looks for volunteers who can help with art activities, music and writing.
Learn for Life Society Volunteer opportunities at a small Varanasi school for disadvantaged children. Two months minimum commitment.
Working with Women
India has a range of local charities working to empower and educate women.
Sambhali Trust In Jodhpur; volunteers needed to teach and help organise workshops for disadvantaged women.
RIDE Works to empower village women and welcomes volunteers in Kanchipuram.
International volunteering agencies abound, and it can be tricky trying to assess which ones are worthwhile. Agencies offering the chance to do whatever you want, wherever you want, are almost always tailoring projects to the volunteer rather than finding the right volunteer for the work that needs to be done. Look for projects that will derive real benefits from your skills. To find agencies in your area, read Lonely Planet’s Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide.
Himalayan Education Lifeline Programme (HELP; www.help-education.org) British-based charity organising placements for volunteer teachers at various upland schools including at Pelling in Sikkim. Minimum commitment two months.
Indicorps (www.indicorps.org) Matches volunteers to projects across India, particularly in social development.
Jamyang Foundation (www.jamyang.org) Arranges volunteer placements for experienced teachers in Buddhist nunneries in Zanskar (Jammu and Kashmir) and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh).
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO; www.vso.org.uk) British organisation offering long-term professional placements in India and worldwide.
Workaway (www.workaway.info) Connects people with hotels, guesthouses, organic farms, restaurants and more, where they will get free accommodation and food in return for working five days a week.
Weights & Measures
India uses the metric system. Additional units of measure you’re likely to come across are lakh (one lakh equals 100,000) and crore (one crore equals 10 million).
Reports of sexual assaults against women and girls are on the increase in India, despite tougher punishments being established following the notorious gang rape and murder of a local woman in Delhi in 2012. There have been several instances of sexual attacks on tourists over the last few years, though it's worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of visits are trouble free.
Unwanted attention from men is a common problem.
- Be prepared to be stared at; it’s something you’ll simply have to live with, so don’t allow it to get the better of you.
- Increased use of smartphones means more and more people taking surreptitious photos of you – again, try not to let it get to you.
- Refrain from returning male stares; this will be taken as encouragement.
- Dark glasses, phones, books or electronic tablets are useful props for averting unwanted conversations.
- Wearing a wedding ring and saying you're married, and due to meet your husband shortly, is another way to ward off unwanted interest.
In upper-middle-class districts of Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, you'll see local women dressing as they might in New York or London, but elsewhere women are dressed traditionally. For travellers, culturally appropriate clothing will help reduce undesirable attention.
- Steer clear of sleeveless tops, shorts, short skirts (ankle-length skirts are recommended) and anything else that’s skimpy, see-through, tight-fitting or reveals too much skin.
- Wearing Indian-style clothes is viewed favourably.
- Draping a dupatta (long scarf) over T-shirts is another good way to avoid stares – it’s also handy if you visit a shrine that requires your head to be covered.
- Wearing a salwar kameez (traditional dress-like tunic and trousers) will help you blend in; a smart alternative is a kurta (long shirt) worn over jeans or trousers.
- Avoid going out in public wearing a choli (sari blouse) or a sari petticoat (which some foreign women mistake for a skirt); it’s like being half-dressed.
- Aside from at pools, many Indian women wear long shorts and a T-shirt when swimming in public view; it's wise to wear a sarong from the beach to your hotel.
Many female travellers have reported sexual harassment while in India, most commonly lewd comments and groping.
- Women travellers have experienced provocative gestures, jeering, getting ‘accidentally’ bumped into on the street and being followed.
- Incidents are particularly common at exuberant (and crowded) public events such as the Holi festival. If a crowd is gathering, make yourself scarce or find a safer place overlooking the event so that you're away from wandering hands.
- Women travelling with a male partner will receive less hassle; however, be aware that travelling as a couple/with a friend is not a guarantee of safety. Still be careful to avoid crowds or lonely places, even during daylight hours.
Feature: Staying Safe
The following tips will help you avoid uncomfortable or dangerous situations during your journey:
- Always be aware of your surroundings. If it feels wrong, trust your instincts. Tread with care. Don't be scared, but don't be reckless either.
- Don't accept any drinks, even bottled water, from strangers. Don't drink or eat with local men that you don't know: there have been several cases where tourist guides or hotel employees have allegedly drugged foreign women by offering them a drink or food.
- After you've been in the country for a while, you may start to feel safer and relax your guard. Don't stress, but maintain your vigilance.
- Keep conversations with unknown men short – getting involved in an inane conversation with someone you barely know can be misinterpreted.
- If you feel that a guy is encroaching on your space, he probably is. A firm request to keep away may well do the trick, especially if your tone is loud and curt enough to draw the attention of passers-by.
- The silent treatment can also be effective.
- Follow local women’s cues and instead of shaking hands say namaste – the traditional, respectful Hindu greeting.
- Avoid wearing expensive-looking jewellery and carrying flashy accessories.
- Only go for massage or other treatments with female therapists.
- Female movie-goers will lessen the chances of harassment by going to the cinema with a companion.
- At hotels, keep your door locked, as staff (particularly at budget and midrange places) could knock and walk in without waiting for your permission.
- Don't let anyone you don't know or have just met into your hotel room, even if they work for the tourist company with whom you're travelling and claim it's to discuss an aspect of your trip.
- Avoid wandering alone in isolated areas, even during daylight hours. Steer clear of gallis (narrow lanes), deserted roads, beaches, ruins and forests.
- Use your smartphone's GPS maps to keep track of where you are – this way it's easier to avoid getting lost and you can tell if a taxi/rickshaw is taking the wrong road.
- Act confidently in public and try always to have a plan of where you're going and what's next. If you haven't a clue, look as if you do. Consult maps at your hotel (or at a restaurant) rather than on the street.
Taxis & Public Transport
Being female has some advantages; women can usually queue-jump for buses and trains without consequence and on trains and metros there are special ladies-only carriages. There are also women-only waiting rooms at some stations.
- Prearrange an airport pickup from your hotel. This is particularly important if your flight is scheduled to arrive after dark.
- If travelling after dark, use a recommended, registered taxi service.
- Never hail a taxi in the street or accept a lift from a stranger.
- Avoid taking taxis alone late at night and never agree to have more than one man (the driver) in the car – ignore claims that this is ‘just my brother’ etc.
- App-based taxi services like Uber (www.uber.com) and Ola Cabs (www.olacabs.com) are useful. The rates are fixed and you get the driver’s licence plate in advance, so you can check it’s definitely the right taxi and pass the details on to someone else if you want to be on the safe side.
- When taking rickshaws alone, call/text someone, or pretend to, to indicate that someone knows where you are.
- Don't organise your travel in such a way that it means you're hanging out at bus/train stations or arriving late at night, or even after dark.
- Avoid empty rail carriages.
- Solo women have reported less hassle by opting for the more-expensive classes on trains.
- If you’re travelling overnight by train, the best option is the upper outer berth in 2AC; you’re out of the way of wandering hands but surrounded by plenty of other people and not locked in a four-person 1AC room (which might only have one other person in it).
- If you're feeling uncomfortable on public transport, don’t hesitate to return any errant limbs, put an item of luggage between you and others, be vocal (attracting public attention) or simply find a new spot.
Sanitary Pads & Tampons
Sanitary pads are widely available, but tampons are usually restricted to pharmacies in some big cities and tourist towns. Carry additional stock for travel off the beaten track.
Peruse personal experiences proffered by female travellers at www.journeywoman.com and www.wanderlustandlipstick.com. Blogs such as Breathe, Dream, Go (https://breathedreamgo.com) and Hippie in Heels (https://hippie-inheels.com) are also full of tips.
India's economy is growing, and there's plenty of potential in the thriving job market. Websites where you can look at opportunities include Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com), Go Abroad (jobs.goabroad.com) and job portals such as Naukri (www.naukri.com). There are also opportunities to teach English as a foreign language; see TEFL (www.tefl.org.uk). To work in India you'll need to apply for an employment visa. Employment visas are usually granted for one year, or the term of the contract, and can be extended in India.