Mystical. There’s no other way to simply describe this enigmatic country of India. From the towering mountains of the Himalayas to the coastal villages in the south, India is multi-dimensional. The country is known not only for its spiritual framework, but also for its vastness that surely hides a number of splendid landscapes and historical buildings.
The country’s diversity is one that visitors in the country will surely enjoy. See snow-dusted mountains, beautiful beaches, peaceful temples, lively festivals, warm villages and mingle with cordial and very friendly locals. Home to one billion people, the country has a rich history to share with the world. It is evidenced by spectacular architectural buildings, jeweled palaces, tall monuments, and tranquil temples.
The most famous site is the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. Next stop will be the crowded cities of Mumbai and the charming city of Calcutta. Don’t miss dropping by in the holy city of Varanasi and visit the spectacular temples of Tamil Nadu.
India is truly a feast for the senses. Wherever you go in the country, little surprises are sure to come your way. Fresh air that is sometimes blended with jasmine scents, dancers with their colorful saris – tourists will be enticed by India’s natural beauty.
When to Travel
Due to the country’s vastness, the weather in the northern region has little relation to that of the southern part. Generally speaking, the country has a three-season year – the wet (monsoon), hot, and cool season. Each season can vary in duration from north to south. It is hot most times of the year, but the warmest months are between March and June. You probably will not choose to travel during these months since it is really dry and roads are dusty. Downpours occur from June to October.
If planning to visit the country, climate is a key factor. The best time to visit India is from November through February when the country has cooler climate. If you are in India during the wet and hot season, cooler weather can be experienced in the far northern Himalayan region. Tourists can also time their visit when the country is celebrating special events and festivals.
Cuisine and Drinks
Indian cuisine is considered one of the best in the world. It has a wide range of culinary diversity. Indian food has a reputation of being hot because of the green chilies that the locals are fond of putting in their recipes. But the level of spiciness differs from region to region.
Another factor that contributed to the diversity of Indian cuisine is the influence of other countries. The most common is the Chindian or the Indian Chinese adaptation. Veg Manchurian, a dish where vegetable balls are deep fried and served with chili-soy-ginger sauce. British influence is also seen in fish and chips recipes, and in the mulligatawny soup. Tibetan dishes, like momo dumplings, are common in the country. Pizza is also starting to make its name in the country, and international pizza chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut enhanced the recipes to match it for the Indian’s liking. There is even a local chain based in Mumbai, the Smokin Joe’s, known for mixing Thai curry with pizzas. Some of the national specialties that you should better try before leaving the country are the following:
Gulab Jamuns – dough balls that are deep fried and served in sweet syrup
Paan - a dish made from betel nut and other condiments and spices and wrapped in a paan leaf
Kulfi – Indian style ice cream
Jalebi – deep fried batter in sweet syrup
Dhal – curried lentils
National drinks include the chai (tea) which is a favorite of the locals. It is usually served with milk and sugar, so if you want to have a separate tea, then it is advised to ask beforehand. Coffee is also common, not just in the southern part but also in large cities and towns. In fact, it is likely that you will pass by cafes serving lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos. Other drinks worth trying are nimbu pani (lemon water) and lassi (iced yogurt). Also, try the most popular Indian beer called Kingfisher.
For the more adventurous tourists, it is recommended to wander the streets and look for restaurants and eating places where you can search for culinary nirvana.
Popular Vacation Sights in India
Kashmir - Visit Kashmir’s flower carpeted meadows, towering mountains, and sparkling rivers. If you want scenic landscapes, while enjoying a calm ambience, head to Lake Dal where visitors can stay on lovely houseboats.
Golden Triangle - Consisting of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, the golden triangle offers spectacular attractions. In the center of the area is Delhi and nearby on the southeast part is Agra with the remarkable Taj Mahal. You can also find the Khajuraho with its unique friezes.
Taj Mahal - Take a tour inside India’s most recognizable sight and you will not be disappointed. Surrounded by a walled garden between two small mosques and a reflective pond in front, the Taj Mahal gives visitors a dramatic effect. The interior is as spectacular as the architectural framework outside. Semi-precious stones adorned the walls with Koran scriptures written too. Best to visit at dusk and dawn where different color reflections are seen.
Wildlife and national parks - Take a tour of the country’s national parks and wildlife reserves. If you are lucky enough, you can take a glimpse of the Asiatic elephant and Indian tiger. Kanha National Park, Corbett Tiger Reserve and Ranthambre National Park are just few of the best and well-known reserves in the country.
Red Fort - This fort located above the Old Delhi reminds the people of the power and wealth of the once Mogul Empire. Often called Lal Quila by the locals, these huge walls are one of the top attractions in the country.
India’s beaches - Enjoy the waters of India’s pristine beaches. There’s Juhu and Chowpatty in Mumbay and the Marina Beach, which is the second largest in the world, located in Chennai. Goa also has some of the most magnificent beaches.
India’s official currency is rupee (Rs) which is divided into 100 paise (p), the latter getting increasingly rare. Coins are in denominations of 50, 25, 20, 10, and 5 paise, and Rs5, 2 and 1. Notes come in Rs1000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10. However, the Rs1000 bill is hard to change outside banks. The Indian rupee generally has a stable value.
ATMs can be found all throughout the country, especially in major cities and larger towns. The machines may not be in the same place as the bank branch. Major cards that are commonly accepted are MasterCard, Cirrus, Visa, Maestro and Plus. It is always prudent to bring some cash or traveler’s checks when touring around the country, especially if you are away from major towns and cities. Also, it might be possible that ATMs are offline, out of order or you may lose or break your plastic. It pays if you are always ready.
Credit cards are accepted at some shops, hotels, and restaurants. It can even be used to buy train tickets and pay for flights. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards. Cash advances on these cards are possible at some banks without ATMs. But first, make sure that you have inquired from your own bank if your accounts are accessible in India.
US dollars, UK Pounds, and Euros are the safest currencies to bring in the country because they can easily be change. Few other banks accept Swiss francs and New Zealand, Australian and Canadian dollars. There’s usually a shortage of change in Indian markets so make sure you stock up on rupees. When changing money, change the bigger bills to smaller bills of Rs10, 20 and 50. If you find yourself with extra rupees at the end of your visit, you can always change them at any airport banks but they might require you to show your airline ticket , passport or encashment certificates.
All major brands of traveler’s checks are accepted in the country, but some banks may only accept checks from Thomas Cook and Amex. The best currencies to bring are US dollars and Pounds sterling and check around first before changing them since charges varies from bank to bank and place to place.
Note that you need to show your passport when changing traveler’s checks as well as cash.
International transfers are also possible through Moneygram or Western Union. You can call someone from home to send you money and you need to show your passport plus the name and reference number so you can collect the money.
Banks that accept foreign cards in India are Citibank, ICICI, HDFC, HSBC, UTI, the State Bank of India and the Punjab National Bank. On the other hand, money changers commonly have longer business hours than banks. They are almost found everywhere, some maybe presented by internet cafes or travel agents. Some upmarket hotels may also change money at below the bank rate.