- Haggling is the norm in markets and in many tourist-oriented shops; the 'starting price' may be elevated by 50% or more.
- You will usually need to bargain for a fair fare in taxis and rickshaws, though the introduction of Uber and Ola taxi apps has eliminated this in many metropolitan areas.
- More upmarket shops charge fixed prices.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Travellers to South India’s major cities may fall prey to petty and opportunistic crime, but most problems can be avoided with a bit of common sense and an appropriate amount of caution.
- Have a look at the India branch of Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree travel forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/asia-indian-subcontinent), where travellers often post timely warnings about problems they’ve encountered on the road.
- Women should take extra precautions.
- Schemes and frauds change as often as the bedsheets.
- Always check your government’s travel advisory warnings.
India has a number of (sometimes armed) dissident groups fighting on behalf of various causes, which 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, mostly in the north of the country, are prone to insurgent violence: read the latest government travel advisories for recent reports on where is considered unsafe.
International terrorism is as much of a risk in Europe or the USA, 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).
Strikes and political protests can sometimes close the roads (as well as banks, shops, etc) for days on end in any region.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advice and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/fco)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- German Foreign Office (www.auswaeriges-amt.de)
- Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.go.jp)
- Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.government.nl)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
Some mountain areas rely on charcoal burners for warmth, but these should be avoided due to the risk of fatal carbon-monoxide poisoning. The thick, mattresslike blankets used in many mountain areas are amazingly warm once you get beneath the covers. If you’re still cold, improvise a hot-water bottle by filling your drinking-water bottle with boiled water and covering it with a sock.
Embassies & Consulates
Most foreign diplomatic missions are based in Delhi, but several nations operate consulates in other Indian cities (see websites, where provided). Many missions have certain timings for visa applications, usually mornings; phone for details.
Emergency & Important Numbers
As of 2017, a single number for emergencies – 112 – will be operative across India, though the following will continue to work until 2018.
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
- Technically you’re supposed to declare any amount of cash over US$5000, or total amount of currency over US$10,000 on arrival.
- Indian rupees shouldn’t be taken out of India; however, this is rarely policed.
- Officials very occasionally ask tourists to enter expensive items such as video cameras and laptop computers on a ‘Tourist Baggage Re-export’ form to ensure they’re taken out of India at the time of departure.
Many nationalities obtain 30-day visas through India's e-tourist visa scheme (eTV). For longer trips, most people get a six-month tourist visa, valid from the date of issue.
E-Tourist Visa Scheme
- Citizens of around 150 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the USA, in addition to most European countries, must apply for an e-tourist visa (eTV) at www.indianvisaonline.gov.in a minimum of four days and maximum 30 days before they are due to travel.
- The nonrefundable fee ranges between US$48 and US$60 for most countries plus a 2.5% bank transaction charge.
- You have to upload a photograph as well as a copy of your passport.
- The single-entry eTV is valid for entry through 16 designated airports including Bengaluru (Bangalore), Chennai (Madras), Kochi (Cochin), Delhi, Goa, Jaipur, Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai (Bombay), Trichy (Tiruchirappalli), Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) and Varanasi.
- The eTV is valid from the date of arrival; your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of arrival.
- There is talk of further simplification of India's visa scheme and a name change to 'e-visa scheme' (see how much easier that is?). Check online for updates.
Even with a visa, you’re not permitted to travel everywhere in South India. Some national parks and forest reserves call for a permit. A special permit is required to visit the Andaman Islands or Lakshadweep, and for trekking in the Wayanad region of Kerala.
If you want to stay longer than 30 days, or are not covered by the eTV scheme, you must get a visa before arriving in India (apart from Nepali or Bhutanese citizens, who do not need visas). Visas are available from Indian missions worldwide, though in many countries, applications are processed by a separate private company. In some countries or where biometrics are required, you must apply in person at the designated office as well as filing an application online.
- Your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of your visa application (or from the date of issue of your visa or its date of expiry, depending on which arm of Indian bureaucracy is dealing with it), with at least two blank pages.
- Most people are issued with a standard six-month tourist visa, which for most nationalities permits multiple entry.
- Tourist visas are valid from the date of issue, not the date you arrive in India.
- Student and business visas have strict conditions: journalist, missionary and research visas, among others, require biometric enrolment as of 2016. Consult the Indian embassy for details.
- Five- and 10-year tourist visas are available to US citizens under a bilateral arrangement, and five-year visas are available to some European and Latin American nationalities applying in Australia; however, you can still only stay in India for up to 180 days continuously.
- Currently visa applicants are required to submit two passport photographs with their application; these must be in colour and must be 5.08cm by 5.08 cm (2in by 2in; larger than regular passport photos).
- An onward travel ticket is a requirement for some visas, but this isn’t always enforced (check in advance).
- Additional restrictions apply to travellers from Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as certain Eastern European, African and Central Asian countries. Check any special conditions for your nationality with the Indian embassy in your country.
- Visas are priced in the local currency and may have an added service fee.
- Extended visas are possible for people of Indian origin (excluding those in Pakistan and Bangladesh) who hold a non-Indian passport and live abroad.
- For visas lasting more than six months, you’re supposed to register at the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office in Delhi within 14 days of arriving in India; enquire about these special conditions when you apply for your visa.
Most tourists are permitted to transit freely between India and its neighbouring countries. However, citizens of China, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sudan (and foreigners of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin) are barred from re-entry into India within two months of their last exit.
- India has traditionally been very stringent with visa extensions. At the time of research, the government was granting extensions only in circumstances such as medical emergencies or theft of passport just before the expiry of an applicant's visa.
- If you do need to extend your visa due to any such exigency, you should contact the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office (FRRO) in Delhi. This is also the place to come for a replacement visa, and if you need your lost/stolen passport replaced (required before you can leave the country). Regional FRROs are even less likely to grant an extension.
- Assuming you meet the stringent criteria, the FRRO is permitted to issue an extension of 14 days (free for nationals of most countries). You must bring your confirmed air ticket, one passport photo (take two, just in case), and a photocopy of your passport identity and visa pages. Note that this system is designed to get you out of the country promptly with the correct official stamps, not to give you two extra weeks of travel and leisure.
Indian culture is quite conservative by many world standards; tradition and social norms are usually strictly followed.
- Greetings Always shake hands and eat with your right hand (the left is reserved for far more unsavoury activities). Saying namaste with hands together in a prayer gesture is a traditional, respectful Hindu greeting and is the best greeting for someone of the opposite gender.
- Dress Tight or revealing clothing, with few exceptions, is likely to attract unwanted attention. Head cover (for women and sometimes men) is required at some places of worship – especially gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and mosques.
- Religion Religious etiquette advises against touching locals on the head, or directing the soles of your feet at a person, religious shrine or image of a deity. Protocol also advises against touching someone with your feet or touching a carving of a deity.
- Shoes It's considered bad manners to enter someone's home without removing your shoes, and shoes are also prohibited in many temples and shrines.
- Photography Photography inside religious shrines is generally prohibited; photography of funerals or processions of the dead is also likely to cause offence. Ask before photographing people, ceremonies or sacred sites.
- Homosexuality was made illegal in India in 2013, having only been decriminalised since 2009 (punishments are as severe as life imprisonment).
- Gay and lesbian visitors should be discreet in this conservative country. Public displays of affection are frowned upon for both homosexual and heterosexual couples.
- Despite the ban, there are gay scenes (and Gay Pride marches) in a number of cities including Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru (Banglaore) and Hyderabad, as well as a holiday gay scene in Goa.
Bombay Dost (www.bombaydost.co.in) A reputable Mumbai-based LGBTQ publication.
Gay Bombay (www.gaybombay.org) Lists gay events and offers support and advice.
Gaylaxy (www.gaylaxymag.com) Probably India's best gay e-zine, including news, blogs, articles, reviews and fashion.
Gaysi Zine (www.gaysifamily.com) A 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.
Indja Pink (www.indjapink.co.in) Travel agency and India’s first ‘gay travel boutique’, founded by a well-known Indian fashion designer.
Orinam (www.orinam.net) This Chennai-based site offers advice and support, and lists gay events. Its Twitter @chennaipride is useful too.
Queer Azaadi Mumbai (www.queerazaadi.wordpress.com) Mumbai’s queer pride blog, with news.
Queer Ink (www.queer-ink.com) Online bookshop specialising in gay- and lesbian-interest books from the subcontinent.
- Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems (as well as air evacuation) is strongly recommended.
- Some policies specifically exclude potentially dangerous activities such as scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking: read the fine print.
- Some trekking agents may accept only customers who have cover for emergency helicopter evacuation.
- If you plan to hire a motorcycle in India, make sure the rental policy includes at least third-party insurance.
- Check in advance if your insurance policy will pay doctors and hospitals directly or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures (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/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Internet cafes are a dwindling breed. Where found, connections are usually reasonably fast, except in more remote areas.
- Wi-fi access is available in most places to stay, and at many cafes, bars and restaurants in larger cities. Access is most often free but not always – you'll still come across the occasional holdout.
- Wi-fi signals everywhere are subject to temporary outages because of power cuts and the vagaries of servers.
- Internet cafe charges fall anywhere between ₹20 and ₹100 per hour, often with a 15-to-30-minute minimum.
- Bandwidth load tends to be lowest in the early morning and early afternoon.
- Some internet cafes may ask to see your passport.
- Using online banking or sending credit-card details or other personal data on any nonsecure system is unwise. If you have no choice but to do this, it's wise to change all passwords (email, e-banking, credit-card secure code, etc) afterwards.
- The simplest way to connect to the internet, when away from a wi-fi connection, is to use your smartphone as a personal wi-fi hotspot (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 organise a connection you have to submit your proof of identity and address in India, and activation can take up to 24 hours. At Vodafone, for example, the dongle costs ₹1500 plus ₹549 for the SIM. A 20GB recharge costs around ₹1999. Portable wi-fi is also available, a small pocket-sized modem to which 10 people can connect. The device costs ₹2399 plus ₹549 for the SIM with the same recharge fees.
- Make sure the areas you will be travelling to are covered by your service provider.
- Consider purchasing a fuse-protected universal AC adapter to protect your circuit board from power surges.
- Plug adapters are widely available throughout India, but bring spare plug fuses from home.
If you’re in a sticky legal situation, contact your embassy as quickly as possible. 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 throughout India but this is very rarely enforced; fines are ₹200, though there are proposals to raise this to ₹1000.
- People can smoke inside their homes and in most open spaces such as streets (heed any signs stating otherwise).
- Some Indian cities have banned spitting and littering, but this is also variably enforced.
- Indian law does not distinguish between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs; possession of any illegal drug is regarded as a criminal offence, which will result in a custodial sentence.
- Sentences may be up to a year for possession of a small amount for personal use, to a minimum of 10 years if it's deemed the purpose was for sale or distribution. There’s also usually a hefty fine on top of any sentence.
- Cases can take months, even several years, to appear before a court, while the accused may have to wait in prison.
- Be aware that travellers have been targeted in sting operations in Goa and other backpacker enclaves.
- Police are getting particularly tough on foreigners who use drugs, so you should take this risk very seriously.
- Marijuana grows wild in various parts of India, but consuming it is still an offence, except in towns where bhang is legally sold for religious rituals.
- Pharmaceutical drugs that are restricted in other countries may be available in India over the counter or via prescription. Be aware that taking these without professional guidance can be dangerous.
Warning: Bhang Lassi
Although it’s rarely printed in menus, some restaurants in popular tourist centres will clandestinely whip up bhang lassi, a yogurt and iced-water beverage laced with cannabis (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.
To protect India’s cultural heritage, the export of certain antiques is prohibited, especially those which 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 government webpage www.asi.nic.in/pdf_data/8.pdf. The rules may seem stringent, but the loss of ancient artworks and sculptures due to the international trade in antiques has been alarming. Look for quality reproductions instead.
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. This includes ivory, shahtoosh shawls (made from the down of the rare chiru, the Tibetan antelope) and anything made from the fur, skin, horns or shell of any endangered species. Products made from certain rare plants are also banned.
- 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, note: 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.
Maps available inside India are of variable quality. Most state-government tourist offices stock basic local maps. These are some of the better map series, which should be available at good bookshops:
Survey of India (www.surveyofindia.gov.in) Many maps are downloadable free from the website.
- Magazines Incisive current-affairs magazines include Frontline (www.frontline.in), India Today (www.indiatoday.intoday.in), The Week (www.theweek.in), Tehelka (www.tehelka.com) and Outlook (www.outlookindia.com).
- Newpapers Major English-language dailies include the Hindustan Times (www.hindustantimes.com), Times of India (www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com), Indian Express (www.indianexpress.com), The Hindu (www.thehindu.com), Daily News & Analysis (DNA; www.dnaindia.com) and Economic Times (www.economictimes.indiatimes.com). Regional English-language and local vernacular publications are found nationwide.
- Radio Government-controlled All India Radio (AIR; www.allindiaradio.gov.in) is India’s national broadcaster with over 400 stations broadcasting local and international news. There are also private FM channels broadcasting music, current affairs, talkback and more.
- TV The national (government) TV broadcaster is Doordarshan (www.ddindia.gov.in). More people watch satellite and cable TV; English-language channels include BBC, CNN, Star World, HBO and Discovery.
ATMs widely available; credit/debit cards are accepted in midrange hotels, shops and restaurants, but much of India remains a cash-based economy.
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 ₹5, ₹10, ₹20, ₹50, ₹100, and the newly introduced ₹500 and ₹2000 (this last is handy for paying large bills but can pose problems when getting change for small purchases). The Indian rupee is linked to a basket of currencies and has been subject to fluctuations in recent years.
- ATMs are found in most urban centres.
- Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro and Plus are the most commonly accepted cards.
- ATMs at Axis Bank, Citibank, HDFC, HSBC, ICICI and State Bank of India recognise foreign cards. Other banks' ATMs may accept major cards (Visa, MasterCard etc).
- Most ATMs have a limit of ₹10,000 to ₹20,000 per withdrawal. Citibank ATMs generally allow you to withdraw even more in one transaction, reducing transaction charges, which are often in the ₹200 to ₹250 range.
- Before your trip, check whether your card can reliably 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.
- Away from major towns, always carry cash and possibly also travellers cheques as back up.
- Black-market money changers exist, but legal money changers are so common there’s no reason to use illegal services.
- 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, although some bank branches insist on travellers cheques only.
- Some banks also accept other currencies such as Australian and Canadian dollars, and Swiss francs.
- Private money changers deal with a wider range of currencies than banks, 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, check every note. Don’t accept any filthy, ripped or disintegrating notes, as these may be difficult to use.
- It can be tough getting change in India so keep a stock of smaller currency; ₹10, ₹20 and ₹50 notes are helpful.
- Officially you cannot take rupees out of India, but this is laxly enforced. You can change any leftover rupees back into foreign currency, most easily at the airport (some banks have a ₹1000 minimum). You may have to present encashment certificates or credit-card/ATM receipts, and show your passport and airline ticket.
- Credit cards are accepted at many shops, better restaurants and midrange and top-end hotels, and they can usually be used to pay for flights and train tickets.
- Cash advances on major credit cards are possible at some banks.
- MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards.
- 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.
- Indian law states that all foreign currency must be changed at official money changers 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 amount of rupees you intend to change back to foreign currency.
- Printed receipts from ATMs are also accepted as evidence of an international transaction at most banks.
- If you run out of money, someone back home can wire you cash via money changers affiliated with Moneygram (www.moneygram.com) or Western Union (www.westernunion.com). A fee is added to the transaction.
- To collect cash, bring your passport and the name and reference number of the person who sent the funds.
- Private money changers are usually open for longer hours than banks, and are found almost everywhere (many also double as internet cafes and travel agents).
- Upmarket hotels may also change money, but their rates are usually not as competitive.
- Restaurants A service fee ranging from 4% to 10% is often added to your bill; tipping is optional.
- Hotels Some hotels charge a service fee on top of a service tax; tip at your discretion.
- Porters Train/airport porters appreciate anything around ₹50.
- Taxis & Rickshaws Not normally tipped beyond rounding to nearest ₹10.
- Hired Cars Around 10% is recommended for good service.
- American Express (Amex) and Thomas Cook are the most widely accepted brands.
- 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 vouchers and photocopied passport details.
- If you lose your cheques, contact the Amex or Thomas Cook office in Delhi. To replace lost travellers cheques, you need the proof-of-purchase slip and the numbers of the missing cheques, and possibly a photocopy of the police report and a passport photo.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Some outdoor-centric spots may close or alter their hours during the monsoon months (June to September).
Banks 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday
Restaurants 8am or 9am to 10pm or 11pm (some midrange and top-end restaurants may not open till lunchtime; some restaurants close between 3pm and 7pm, and others in metro cities may stay open until 1.30am)
Bars noon to midnight (as late as 1.30am in Mumbai)
Shops 10am or 11am to 8pm or 9pm (some close Sunday)
Markets 7am to 8pm, but very variable
For useful tips and techniques, read Lonely Planet’s guide to Travel Photography.
- Memory cards for digital cameras are available from photographic shops in most large cities and towns. However, quality is variable – some don’t carry the advertised amount of data.
- Expect to pay upward of ₹700 to ₹1500 for a 32GB card.
- To be safe, regularly backup your memory cards. If your camera isn't wi-fi-enabled, take a memory card reader with you. Alternatively some internet cafes will write your pictures to CD.
- Some photographic shops make prints from digital photographs.
- 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 – prohibit photography. Taking photos inside shrines or at funerals or religious ceremonies, or of people publicly bathing (including in rivers) can be offensive – ask first.
- Flash photography may be prohibited in certain areas with shrines or historical monuments.
- Exercise sensitivity when photographing people, especially women – some may find it offensive, so obtain permission in advance.
- It is not uncommon for people in touristic areas to demand a posing fee in return for being photographed. Exercise your discretion in these situations. In any case, ask first to avoid misunderstandings later.
India Post (www.indiapost.gov.in) runs the most widely distributed postal service on earth, with nearly 155,000 post offices. Mail and poste-restante services are generally good, although 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 ₹3000 per kilogram for a carry-on size box 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.
- India still has a poste-restante system by which you can have mail sent to you at post offices.
- 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.
- To claim mail you’ll need to show your passport.
- Letters sent via poste restante are generally held for around one to two months before being returned.
- Many ‘lost’ letters are simply misfiled under given/first names, so check under both your names and ask senders to provide a return address.
- It’s best to have any parcels sent to you by registered post.
- Posting airmail letters to anywhere overseas costs ₹20 (aerogrammes cost ₹15).
- International postcards cost around ₹12.
- 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 in weight costs around ₹350 to ₹875 to any country, plus ₹45 to ₹130 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 curious 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 ₹350 (maximum 5kg, plus ₹100 for each additional kilogram). The parcel has to be packed with an opening so 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 postal tariffs.
There are three official national public holidays – Republic and Independence Days and Gandhi's birthday (Gandhi Jayanti) – plus a dizzying array 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. 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 visiting during major festivals.
Republic Day 26 January
Mahavir Jayanti March/April
Good Friday March/April
Dr BR Ambedkar's Birthday 14 April
Buddha Jayanti May
Eid al-Fitr June/July
Independence Day 15 August
Eid al-Adha August/September
Gandhi Jayanti 2 October
Guru Nanak Jayanti November
Christmas Day 25 December
- Smoking Banned in many public places and workplaces (healthcare, educational and government facilities etc) and on public transport. Smoking is permitted in airports, restaurants, bars, pubs and nightclubs in designated smoking areas only. Laws can vary by state.
Taxes & Refunds
India's Value-Added Tax (VAT) is 15% and is in the stated price of goods. Note that India's new Goods & Services Tax (GST), due to come into force in 2017, may affect taxes and charges for restaurants and accommodation across the country.
Goa is currently the only place where tourists can reclaim VAT on luxury items bought in the region; make your claim, with supporting receipts, at the airport.
- There are few payphones in South India (apart from in airports), but private STD/ISD/PCO call booths do the same job, offering inexpensive local, interstate and international calls at lower prices than calls made from hotel rooms.
- These booths are found around the country, though not as easily as in the past. A digital meter displays how much the call is costing and usually provides a printed receipt when the call is finished.
- Costs vary depending on the operator and destination but can be from ₹1 per minute for local calls and between ₹6 (Hungary) and ₹100 (Cook Islands, Cuba, East Timor) for international calls.
- Some booths also offer a ‘call-back’ service – you ring home, provide the phone number of the booth and wait for people at home to call you back, for a fee of around ₹20 on top of the cost of the preliminary call.
Roaming connections are excellent in urban areas, poor in the countryside and hills. Local prepaid SIMs are widely available; the paperwork is fairly straightforward but you'll have to wait 24 hours for activation.
- Indian mobile numbers usually have 10 digits, mostly beginning with 9 (but sometimes 7 or 8), and operate on the GSM network at 900MHz, the world's most common, so mobile phones from most countries will work on the subcontinent.
- 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 as little as ₹500) to use an Indian SIM card.
- Getting connected is inexpensive but requires a bit more hoop-jumping than in many other parts of the world. It's easiest to obtain a local SIM card in large cities and tourist centres.
- Foreigners must supply between one and five passport photos, and photocopies of their passport identity and visa pages. Often mobile shops can arrange all this for you, or you can ask your hotel to help you.
- You must also supply a residential address, which can be the address of your hotel, as well as a local reference (hotel is usually fine for this, too). Usually the phone company will call your hotel (warn the hotel a call will come through) any time up to 24 hours after your application to verify that you are staying there.
- It's a good idea to obtain the SIM card in a place that you're staying 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 card 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.
- Another option is to get a friendly local to obtain a connection in their name.
- Prepaid mobile-phone packages are readily available for short-term visitors. SIMs can cost anywhere from nothing to ₹500, which includes a small allotment of talk time; then you can sign on for a data package. Airtel (www.airtel.in), for example, offers anywhere from 5GB (₹700) to 50GB (₹5000). Vodafone (www.vodafone.in) examples include 16GB (₹247) to 40GB (₹3999). It pays to shop around. Most large data packages are good for 28 days.
- You can then purchase more credit, sold as direct credit. You pay the vendor and the credit is deposited straight into your account, minus some taxes and a service charge.
Charges & Coverage
- There’s roaming coverage for international GSM phones in most cities and large towns.
- The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) imposed stiff ceilings on roaming charges in 2015, with rates being slashed by as much as 75%. Most major mobile companies now offer very cheap roaming packages. International charges range between ₹8 and ₹100 per minute.
- SMS messaging is even cheaper. 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 Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance, Idea and BSNL. Coverage varies from region to region – Airtel has among the widest coverage.
- As the mobile-phone industry continues to develop, rates, coverage and suppliers are all likely to evolve.
- Calling 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.
- Calling 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.
- Indian 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 phone from a mobile phone, you always have to add the area code (with the initial zero).
- To access an international operator, dial 000 127. The operator can place a call to anywhere in the world and allow you to make collect calls.
- 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).
Useful online resources include the Yellow Pages (www.yellowpages.co.in) and Justdial (www.justdial.com).
- India uses the 12-hour clock.
- The local standard time is known as Indian Standard Time (IST).
- IST is 5½ hours ahead of GMT/UTC.
- The floating half-hour was added to maximise daylight hours over such a vast country.
- Public toilets are most easily found in major cities and tourist sites; the cleanest are usually at modern restaurants, shopping complexes and cinemas.
- Beyond urban centres, toilets are often of the squat variety and locals may use the ‘hand-and-water’ technique, which involves performing ablutions with a small jug of water and the left hand. It’s always a good idea to carry toilet paper/baby wipes and hand sanitiser, just in case.
In addition to Government of India tourist offices (also known as ‘Indiatourism’), each state maintains its own network of tourist offices. These vary in their efficiency and usefulness – some are run by enthusiastic souls who go out of their way to help, others are little more than a means of drumming up business for State Tourism Development Corporation tours.
The first stop for information should be the Government of India tourism website, Incredible India (www.incredibleindia.org); for details of Indiatourism's regional offices around the country, click on the ‘Essential’ tab at the top of the homepage, followed by 'India Tourism Offices'. The government has also introduced a toll-free tourist helpline: 1800-111363. Official state tourism websites often also contain helpful information.
Handy Government of India tourism offices in South India include the following:
Travel With Children
Fascinating and thrilling: India can be every bit as exciting for children as it is for their wide-eyed parents. The scents, sights and sounds of India will inspire and challenge young enquiring minds, and, with careful preparation and vigilance, a lifetime of vivid memories can be sown.
Best Regions for Kids
Palm-fringed, salt-white beaches and inexpensive local food make Goa an ideal choice for family holidays. If you're looking to stay for a while, you'll find apartments and homey guesthouses to suit all budgets.
- Karnataka & Bengaluru
Hampi's magical World Heritage–listed ruins bewitch travellers of all ages, there's beach bliss at Gokarna, and who wouldn't get excited about searching for wild elephants and hoping to glimpse a tiger or leopard in Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks?
Canoe and houseboat adventures, surf beaches, Arabian Sea sunsets, snake-boat races, wildlife-spotting and elephant festivals. From the Ghats down to the coast, Kerala offers family-friendly action and relaxation in equal measure.
South India for Kids
In many respects, travel with children in India can be a delight, and warm welcomes are frequent. Locals will thrill at taking photographs beside your bouncing baby, and there's an endless stream of family-friendly activities and sights to keep kids busy. But, while all this is fabulous for outgoing children, it may prove tiring, or even disconcerting, for younger kids and those with more retiring dispositions.
As a parent on the road in India, the key is to stay alert to your children’s needs and remain firm in fulfilling them, even if you feel you may offend a well-meaning local by doing so. The attention 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. Hotels will almost always provide an extra bed or two, and restaurants a familiar meal.
Best Natural Encounters
- Elephants Kids will love spotting wild elephants on jeep safaris in Wayanad, Kerala; Bandipur and Nagarhole, Karnataka; and Mudumalai, Tamil Nadu.
- Dolphins, Goa Splash out on a dolphin-spotting boat trip from almost any Goan beach to see them cavorting in the waves.
- Hill Station Monkeys, Matheran Climb into Maharashtra's hills for close encounters with cheeky monkeys.
- Tigers, Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve Look for tigers on outstanding wildlife-sighting jeep safaris in this little-visited Maharashtra reserve.
Funnest Forms of Transport
- Autorickshaw, anywhere Hurtle at top speed in these child-scale vehicles.
- Hand-pulled rickshaw, Matheran Kids can roam this monkey-patrolled Maharashtra hill station on horseback or in traditional hand-pulled rickshaws.
- Houseboat, Alappuzha Hop on a houseboat to luxuriously cruise Kerala’s beautiful backwaters. If you hit town on the second Saturday in August, take the kids to see the spectacular Nehru Trophy Boat Race.
- Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Ooty Roll through the gorgeous Nilgiris on Tamil Nadu's super-scenic Unesco-listed 'toy' train.
Do take care when swimming at South India's beaches: there can be strong undertows.
- Palolem, Goa Hole up in a palm-thatched seafront hut and watch your kids cavort at Palolem's beautiful beach, featuring Goa's safest waters.
- Arambol, Goa Popular with backpackers, long-stayers and families for wide-ranging accommodation, safe swimming, water sports and surfing.
- Havelock Island, Andaman Islands Splash about in the shallows at languid Havelock Island, where, for older kids, there’s spectacular diving.
- Gokarna, Karnataka Low-key family fun on pristine golden sands at Kudle and Om Beaches.
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 well in advance to discuss vaccinations, health advisories and other heath-related issues involving your children.
- For more tips on travel in India, and first-hand accounts of travels in the country, pick up Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children and visit the Thorn Tree travel forum at lonelyplanet.com.
What to pack
You can get some of these items in many parts of India, but prices are often at a premium and brands may not be those you recognise.
- For babies or toddlers: disposable or washable nappies, nappy rash cream (calendula cream works well against heat rash too), extra bottles, a good stock of wet wipes, infant formula and canned, bottled or rehydratable food.
- A fold-up baby bed or the lightest possible travel cot you can find (some companies make pop-up tent-style beds), as hotel cots may prove precarious.
- Don't take a pushchair/stroller, as this will be impractical to use and pavements are often scarce. For smaller kids, a much better option is a backpack, so they're lifted up and out of the daunting throng.
- 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.
- Audiobooks or tablets loaded with games, films and music for long journeys – and headphones!
- Child-friendly insect repellent, hats and sun lotion: essential.
- You may have to work hard to find something to satisfy sensitive childhood palates, but if you’re travelling in South India's more family-friendly regions, such as Goa, Kerala or the big cities (where there are plenty of familiar Continental dishes), you'll find it easier to feed your brood.
- Portable snacks such as bananas, samosas, puri (puffy dough pockets) and packaged biscuits are easily available.
- Adventurous eaters and vegetarian children will delight in paneer (unfermented cheese) dishes, simple dhals (mild lentil curries), creamy kormas, buttered naans (tandoori breads), parathas (flaky 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 savoury crêpe).
- India offers such an array of accommodation – from beach huts to heritage boutiques to five-star fantasies – that you’re bound to find something to suit the whole family.
- Swish upmarket hotels are almost always child-friendly, but so are many upper midrange hotels, whose staff can usually rustle up extra mattresses. Some places won’t mind cramming several children into a regular-sized double room along with their parents; there are often interconnecting rooms for families too.
- The very best five-stars come equipped with children’s pools, games rooms, kids clubs and babysitting services. An occasional night with a warm bubble bath, room service, macaroni cheese and the Disney Channel will revive even the most disgruntled young traveller’s spirits.
On the Road
- Travel in India, be it by taxi, local bus, train or air, can be arduous for the whole family. Concepts such as clean public toilets, changing rooms, safe playgrounds etc are rare in much of the country. Public transport is often extremely overcrowded. Plan fun, easy days to follow longer bus or train rides.
- Pack plenty of diversions. Tablet computers stocked with movies make invaluable travel companions, as do audiobooks and the good old-fashioned storybooks, cheap toys and games available widely across India.
- If you're hiring a car and driver (a sensible, flexible option) and you require safety capsules, child restraints or booster seats, you'll need to make this absolutely clear to the hiring company as early as possible. Don't expect to find these items readily available. And finally, never be afraid to tell your driver to slow down, stop checking their phone and drive responsibly.
- The availability of decent health care varies widely in India.
- Talk to your doctor about where you will be travelling to get advice on vaccinations and what to include in your first-aid kit.
- Access to health care is significantly better in traveller-frequented parts of India, where it’s almost always easy to track down a doctor at short notice. Most hotels can recommend reliable doctors.
- Prescriptions are quickly and cheaply filled over the counter at numerous pharmacies, which often congregate near hospitals.
- Diarrhoea can be very serious in young children. Seek medical help if persistent or accompanied by fever; rehydration is essential, so pack rehydration sachets or similar.
- Heat rash and skin complaints such as impetigo, insect bites and stings can be treated with a well-equipped first-aid kit.
- Keep kids away from stray animals and try to ensure they understand the dangers of rabies; rabies vaccinations are worth considering.
India’s crowded public transport, crush of humanity and variable infrastructure can test even the hardiest able-bodied traveller. If you have a physical disability or are vision-impaired, these can pose even more of a challenge. If your mobility is considerably restricted, you may like to ease the stress by travelling with an able-bodied companion.
Accommodation Wheelchair-friendly hotels are almost exclusively top-end. Make pretrip enquiries and book ground-floor rooms at hotels that lack adequate facilities.
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.
Footpaths Where pavements exist, they can be riddled with holes, littered with debris and packed with pedestrians. 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 to carry it.
For further advice pertaining to your specific requirements, consult your doctor before heading to India.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
The following organisations may be able to provide further information:
Access-Able Travel Source (www.access-able.com)
Accessible Journeys (www.disabilitytravel.com)
Global Access News (www.globalaccessnews.com)
Mobility International USA (MIUSA; www.miusa.org)
For all India's beauty, rich culture and history, poverty and hardship are unavoidable facts of life. Many travellers feel motivated to help, and charities and aid organisations across the country welcome committed volunteers. Here's a guide to help you start making a difference.
How to Volunteer
- Choosing an Organisation
Consider how your skills will benefit the people you are trying to help, and choose an organisation that can specifically benefit from your abilities.
- Time Required
Think realistically about how much time you can devote to a project. You’re more likely to be of help if you commit for at least a month; experts recommend at least a three-month commitment.
Giving your time for free is only part of the story; most organisations expect volunteers to cover their own accommodation, food and transport.
- Working Nine to Five
Make sure you understand what you are 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 Programmes in South India & Kerala
India faces considerable challenges and there are numerous opportunities for volunteers. It may be possible to find a placement after you arrive, but charities and nongovernment organisations (NGOs) almost always prefer volunteers who have applied in advance and been approved for the kind of work involved (which may require a specific visa or background checks). Responsible Volunteering (www.responsiblevolunteering.co.uk) is a useful resource.
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 NGOs India (www.ngosindia.com) or contact the Delhi-based Concern India Foundation.
Note that Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisation that we do not work with directly, so it is essential that you do your own thorough research to assess the standards and suitability of a project before agreeing to volunteer with an organisation.
Many community volunteer projects work to provide health care and education to villages.
Kishkinda Trust, Hampi Volunteers assist with sustainable community development.
Slum Aid Works in Mumbai slums to improve lives; placements from two weeks to six months.
Working with Children
Note that ethical organisations which provide support for disadvantaged children should require background checks for anyone working with children.
Environment & Conservation
Rainforest Retreat, Kodagu Organic farming, sustainable agriculture and waste management are catchphrases at this lush spice-plantation hideaway; openings for volunteers.
Keystone Foundation, Kotagiri Occasional volunteer opportunities to help improve environmental conditions, working with indigenous communities.
Working with Animals
From working with stray dogs to rescued reptiles, opportunities for volunteering animal lovers are plentiful.
Welfare of Stray Dogs Volunteers can fundraise, work with animals, manage stores or educate kids in school programmes.
Blue Cross of Hyderabad A shelter with over 1300 animals; volunteers help care for animals or work in the office; minimum 20 hours.
Heritage & Restoration
South India has some interesting volunteering opportunities for those with architecture and building skills.
ArcHeS, Kothamangalam Aims to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of Chettinadu; openings for historians, geographers and architects.
There are so many international volunteering agencies, it can be bewildering trying to assess which ones are reputable. 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 specific skills. To find sending agencies in your area, read Lonely Planet’s Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide, or try one of the following:
Indicorps (www.indicorps.org) Matches volunteers to projects across India, particularly in social development.
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO; www.vso.org.uk) British organisation offering long-term professional placements 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 several days a week.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Officially India is metric. Terms you’re likely to hear are: lakh (one lakh = 100,000) and crore (one crore = 10 million).
India grants employment visas to those hired by Indian companies as well as persons travelling to India to volunteer for an NGO. Good places to start a job search include the following:
- Jobs DB (www.jobsdb.com)
- Placement India (www.placementindia.com)
- Times Jobs (www.timesjobs.com)