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India

 

Geographically India stretches from the tropical lushness of the Indian Ocean coasts to the high Himalaya, with virtually every conceivable terrain between.

Combine this with a history dating back thousands of years and the result is a land of incredible diversity and endless fascination.

A rich melting pot of religions and languages, regional cultural and culinary traditions and festivals, splendid artistic and architectural styles.

General information about India:
capital city: New Delhi (population 295,000)
area: 3,287,590 sq km
population: 1.14 billion
language: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Kashmiri, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, English
currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
time zone: GMT 5.5
dialing code: 91
 

Getting There

Numerous major airlines fly daily to Mumbai and Delhi from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

There are also international airports at Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin and Trivandrum serviced by Singapore Airlines, Silk Air, Emirates, Gulf Air, Indian Airlines and Sri Lankan Airlines.

A number of domestic airlines provide connections throughout the country.

In India the currency is the Indian Rupee (INR)

It is best to bring a mixture of cash and travelers checks in major currencies - USD, CAD, EUR, AUD - and ensure you have a mixture of large and small denominations. Most major currencies can be changed into Indian Rupees at banks in all cities in India. Travelers check transactions can be time consuming, particularly in small towns.

 

Everyone’s spending is different, but as a guide we suggest USD15 per day (if you drink or smoke this could be higher). Shopping is difficult to predict, but most people buy more than they intended.

Visa Information
Visas are required for all except Nepalese citizens.

Tourist visas are usually multiple entry and valid for six months from date of issue (not entry into India). It is easiest to have Indian visas issued in your home country and generally take a week.

Special permits and visa endorsements are required for certain restricted areas including Sikkim. If you are planning to travel to these areas it is best to apply for such permits at the same time as your visa.

 

Money:

In India the currency is the Indian Rupee (INR)

It is best to bring a mixture of cash and travelers checks in major currencies - USD, CAD, EUR, AUD - and ensure you have a mixture of large and small denominations. Most major currencies can be changed into Indian Rupees at banks in all cities in India. Travelers check transactions can be time consuming, particularly in small towns.

 

 Shopping is difficult to predict, but most people buy more than they intended.

 

Climate

India has such a wide range of climatic factors that it's impossible to pin down the best time to visit weather-wise with any certainty.

Broadly speaking October to March tend to be the most pleasant months over much of the country.

In the far south, the monsoon weather pattern tends to make January to September more pleasant, while Sikkim and the areas of northeastern India tend to be more palatable between March and August, and Kashmir and the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh are at their most accessible between May and September. The deserts of Rajasthan and the northwestern Indian Himalayan region are at their best during the monsoon.

India is a land of festivals and fairs. Every day of the year there is a festival celebrated in some part of the country. Some festivals welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings, saints, and gurus (revered teachers), or the advent of the New Year. A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India. However, they may be called by different names in various parts of the country or may be celebrated in a different fashion.

 

Religion

Religion seeps into every facet of Indian life. Despite being a secular democracy, India is one of the few countries in which the social and religious structures that define the nation's identity remain intact, and have continued to do so for at least 4000 years despite invasions, persecution, European colonialism and political upheaval. Change is inevitably taking place as modern technology reaches further and further into the fabric of society but essentially rural India remains much the same as it has for thousands of years. So resilient are its social and religious institutions that it has absorbed, ignored or thrown off all attempts to radically change or destroy them.

Hinduism 
India's major religion, Hinduism, is practiced by approximately 82% of the population. In terms of the number of adherents, it's the largest religion in Asia and one of the world's oldest extant faiths. Hinduism has a vast pantheon of gods, a number of holy books and postulates that everyone goes through a series of births or reincarnations that eventually lead to spiritual salvation. With each birth, you can move closer to or further from eventual enlightenment; the deciding factor is your karma. The Hindu religion has three basic practices. They are puja or worship, the cremation of the dead, and the rules and regulations of the caste system. Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion since you cannot be converted: you're either born a Hindu or you're not. Significant differences exist within this Hindu majority, arising not only out of divisions of caste, but also out of differing religious beliefs. One great divide is between devotees of the god Vishnu and devotees of the god Shiva. There are also Hindus who are members of reform movements that began in the 19th century. The most significant of these is perhaps the Arya Samaj, which rejects divisions of caste and idol worship. Hindus may come together also as devotees of a guru, such as Sai Baba. Despite its differences, the Hindu community shares many things in common.

Islam
There are more than 100 million Muslims in India (approximately 12% of the population), making it one of the largest Muslim nations on earth. Muslims are a more urban community than Hindus. There are many towns and cities in northern India where Muslims are one-third or more of the population. In addition to Jammu and Kashmir and the Lakshadweep islands, where more than two-thirds of the population is Muslim, major concentrations of Muslims live in Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala states. About one-quarter of all Muslims living in India live in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Muslim influence in India is particularly strong in the fields of architecture, art and food.

Buddhism 
Buddhism was founded in northern India in about 500 BC, spread rapidly when emperor Ashoka embraced it but was gradually reabsorbed into Hinduism. Today Hindus regard the Buddha as another incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. There are now only 6.6 million Buddhists in India, but important Buddhist sites in northern India, such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath (near Varanasi) and Kushinagar (near Gorakhpur) remain important sites of pilgrimage.

Jain
The Jain religion also began life as an attempt to reform Brahmin cal Hinduism. It emerged at the same time as Buddhism, and for many of the same reasons. The Jains now number only about 4.5 million and are found predominantly in the west and southwest of India. The religion has never found adherents outside India. Jains believe that the universe is infinite and was not created by a deity. They also believe in reincarnation and eventual spiritual salvation by following the path of the Jain prophets.

Sikhs
The Sikhs in India number 18 million and are predominantly located in the Punjab. The religion was originally intended to bring together the best of Hinduism and Islam. Its basic tenets are similar to those of Hinduism with the important modification that the Sikhs are opposed to caste distinctions. The holiest shrine of the Sikh religion is the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Other
Approximately 2% of the population is Christian and there are also a few small Jewish communities in ex-colonial enclaves.
India’s population is rich with diverse ethnic and cultural groups. Ethnic groups are those based on a sense of common ancestry, while cultural groups can be either made up of people of different ethnic origins who share a common language, or of ethnic groups with some customs and beliefs in common, such as castes of a particular locality. The diverse ethnic and cultural origins of the people of India are shared by the other peoples of the Indian subcontinent, including the inhabitants of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.

People of India
The overwhelming majority of India's population shares essentially the same physical characteristics. There is no concrete scientific evidence of racial differences within this majority, although there are ethnic and cultural differences, such as language and religion. Tribal Groups
There are also groups of people in India that have been identified by the government as tribal, meaning they belong to one of the more than 300 officially designated “scheduled tribes”. The tribal people are sometimes called hill tribes or adivasis ("original inhabitants"), and in 1991 made up about 8% (more than 65 million people) of India’s population. Members of India’s various hill tribes are thought to be indigenous and tend to be ethnically distinct. These groups typically marry within their community and often live in large, adjoining areas, which are preserved by government policies restricting the sale of land to tribe members.
Major tribes include the Gond and the Bhil. Each has millions of members and encompasses a number of sub tribes. Most other tribes are much smaller, with tens of thousands of members. Very few tribal communities now support themselves with traditional methods of hunting and gathering or with shifting cultivation because of government restrictions aimed at protecting the environment. Instead, they generally practice settled agriculture. Tribal groups tend to live in rural areas, mainly in hilly and less fertile regions of the country. Less than 5 percent practice traditional tribal religious beliefs and customs exclusively, most now combine traditional religions and customs with Hinduism or Christianity. 
Most tribal groups live in a belt of communities that stretches from eastern Gujarât to western West Bengal. The western tribes speak a dialect of Hindi, the central tribes use a form of the Dravidian language, and the eastern tribes speak Austro-Asiatic languages.
The other major concentration of tribal people is in the northeastern hills. Tribe members make up the majority of the population in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Arunâchal Pradesh. These people, many of them Christian, speak languages of the Sino-Tibetan family which are also spoken by the Buddhists who live along the Himalayan ridge, from Arunâchal Pradesh in the east, through Sikkim, northern Uttar Pradesh, and Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmîr state). In the Himalaya particularly, isolation on the mountain flanks has led to languages so distinct that ethnic groups living within sight of each other may not understand each other. Other tribes live in southern India and on India's island territories, but their numbers are not large.

Caste
The caste system is pervasive in India. Although it is entwined in Hindu beliefs, it encompasses non-Hindus as well. A caste (jati in Sanskrit) is a social class to which a person belongs at birth and which is ranked against other castes, typically on a continuum of perceived purity and pollution. People generally marry within their own caste. In rural areas, caste may also govern where people live or what occupations they engage in. The particular features of the caste system vary considerably from community to community and across regions. Small geographical areas have their own group-specific caste hierarchies. There are thus thousands of castes in India. In traditional Hindu law texts, all castes are loosely grouped into four varnas, or classes. In order of hierarchy, these varnas are: the Brahmans (priests and scholars), the Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), the Vaisyas (merchants, farmers, and traders), and the Sudras (laborers, including artisans, servants, and serfs). The varnas no longer strictly correspond to traditional professions. For example, most Brahmans today are not priests, but professionals in a variety of industries. 
Ranked below the lowest caste were the people of no caste, the Untouchables or Harijans "People of God", a term first used by Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. Untouchables traditionally performed tasks considered "polluting," such as slaughtering animals or leatherworking. Physical contact with these people was viewed as defiling. The practice of labeling people Untouchable was outlawed by India’s constitution, though Harijans continue to face discrimination in getting work and housing. Today many former Untouchables prefer to be called "dalits" (Hindi for "oppressed ones"). 
Since independence the importance of caste has declined somewhat in India. Modern travel has brought people of every caste in contact with one another, since it is impossible to avoid physical contact with a former Untouchable in a crowded bus or train. Although caste is intimately linked with the giving and taking of food, no one can be certain of the caste of a person who cooks food in the restaurants and food stalls of towns and cities. 
Many people have also been influenced by the nationalist movement's ideological commitment to the equality of men and women, and lower castes have increasingly used the power of their numbers and their right to vote to gain social status in their local community. Yet castes have shown no sign of disappearing altogether, mainly because of the system of marriage. Almost all Hindu marriages in India are arranged, and almost all arranged marriages occur between people of the same caste. Only a handful of young people make "love marriages" across caste lines, and many suffer socially when they do so.

Muslims are often treated as just another caste, particularly in India's villages. There are caste-like categories among the Muslims as well. These are called "brotherhoods" in northern India, and they identify Muslims with their traditional occupations, such as butchers or leatherworkers. As with Hindus, Muslims marry within their "brotherhood." Among Christians as well, in the 19th century and to a much less significant extent more recently, converts and their descendants continued to be identified by their Hindu caste of origin.

 

 

Festivals of India
Diwali
Diwali or Deepavali, the “festival of lights” is one of the most important of all Hindu festivals. It is believed that it was on this day that Lord Rama entered Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile. Deepavali is also celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, the day when the demon of darkness and dirt, Narakasura, was destroyed by Lord Krishna. The celebrations commence with a purifying oil bath and the lighting of lamps, symbolic of the spiritual light pervading the earth and the destruction of darkness and ignorance. It also celebrates the day Mother Goddess destroyed a demon called 'Mahisha' & Victory of Good over evil. The day is celebrated by lighting lamps, diyas, visiting relatives, feasting, and displaying fireworks.

 

Dusshera
Dusshera is usually celebrated in October. The mode and the fervor vary by a great deal across the subcontinent; the celebration in Mysore is one of the most famous.
Different parts of India celebrate the festival in different ways. Some celebrate it as Navaratri, some as Vijaya-Dashami, and some as Dussehra, in worship of Goddess Durga or celebrating Rama's victory over Rawana. The celebrations vary from a day to nine days (for Navaratri) to a month (for Mysore Dusshera).

Eid
Besides Hinduism, India is also the home of innumerable other faiths and the religious and cultural diversity of this nation is manifested in the large number of non-Hindu festivals. 
The sizeable Muslim communities have their Eids in common with Muslims across the world. Eidu'l Fitr, Eidu'l Zuha and Eid-e-Milad are the three festive occasions widely celebrated by Muslims in India. 
Eid is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country, and one can see Muslims of all age groups and from all stratas of society attired in new clothes, visiting mosques to offer namaaz. The tombs of Sufi saints attract devotees of all religious persuasions, especially during the urs or death anniversaries. The best-known urs are centered at tombs in towns like Ajmer, Delhi, Manakpur, Nagore and Dongri.

Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesh. It is among the most celebrated of the festivals in India, and one of the few public celebrations (most involve families and friends and are celebrated privately). The festivities include fund-raising, building all kinds of innovative forms Ganesh idols, public performances of music and dance, cooking grand feasts and making a lot of noise. The festivities end when the idol of the year is immersed in water (visarjan), accompanied by loud shouts of Ganapati Bappa Moraya!

Holi
The colorful festival of Holi is celebrated in most parts of India during February-March. The celebrations vary depending on region and local traditions, but the common part is exchange of colors. On the day of the Holi, people (men and women) irrespective of caste and creed mingle together and exchange colors. The celebrations can get wild and rowdy - it is one of the few occasions of the year that the sexes are allowed to mix freely. People use tools and tricks to spray, paint and drown friends and relatives in color

Pongal or Sankranti
This holy day marks the commencement of the Sun's northern course in the Heavens, known as the Uttaraayana patha. Interestingly, this is the only festival in Hindu calendar that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every year (all other Hindu festivals are computed using the lunar calendar). Sankranti is termed as Pongal in Tamilnadu, and is celebrated with a popular dish with the same name. Kolams (Rangoli) and prayers constitute the celebration of the festival. People buy new clothes, ornaments, sugarcane and sweet candy for the festival. The farmers worship their harvested crops and share with friends and relatives. Women and young girls wear new clothes, gold and silver ornaments, offer flowers and visit their relatives and friends. 
In different parts of India, the Sankranti is celebrated very differently. In the west the emphasis is on exchanging sugar coated seeds and nuts of different colors prepared by the housewives. In some other parts, exchange a mixture of teel, jaggery, fried gram, groundnuts (peanuts) which is called "Ellu Bella.
In the Mysore region, people decorate their houses and cattle. They also worship their crop and cattle. As part of the celebration they sing and dance, and look forward for flowering of the trees and singing of birds.
In Hindu belief, a person dying on this auspicious day directly goes to the heaven. Bhishma, an elder in the epic of Mahabharata, is said to have waited for this day to breathe his last. It is also on this day every twelve years the Great Kumbh-Mela is held at Prayag.

Pushkar Camel Fair
Back in a legendary time, Lord Brahma was flying over the Rajasthan desert on his swan, when some petals fell from his hand and drifted down. Miraculously, blue lakes sprang up where the flowers touched the soft sands. Lord Brahma realized that this was the auspicious moment to perform a fire sacrifice so he landed near one of the lakes, completed the powerful ritual and, thus, laid the groundwork for the first Pushkar Fair.
Ever since then, when the full moon shines on Purnima during the autumn period of kartik, the desert tribes meet to commemorate this epic event.

Raksha Bandhan
Brotherly duties and sisterly love are symbolized during the Rakshabandhan (ruk-shaa-bum-dha-na) festival in India. Women, old and young alike tie specially made threads and thread watches (rakhis) to their brothers to ensure their welfare, and protection from the evil.

Snake Boat Race
The most colorful water sport in Kerala is held on Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha on the second Saturday of every August. The Nehru Trophy was inaugurated in 1952 when the then Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru visited the area and traveling from Kottayam to Alappuzha was escorted by the huge Snake boats.
Snake Boats, Chundaanvallam, are the traditional battle vessels of Kerala. They are usually 60-65 meters in length and are named for their high sterns shaped like the hood of a snake. During races the stern is majestically caparisoned and decorated with a flag and brass ornaments. Silken parasols are arrayed along the entire length of the boat. There may be up to 95 oarsmen, 5 amarakkar (controllers) and 10 nilakkar (persons supposed to enhance the vigor and enthusiasm of the oarsmen).
Other boat races are held throughout Kerala in July and August.

Yugadi – Hindu New Year
Yugadi (a.k.a. Ugadi) is the first day of the Hindu calendar. In some parts of India, the tender leaves of neem mixed with jaggery are distributed on the occasion. The neem, extremely bitter in taste, and the sweet and delicious jaggery, signify the two conflicting aspects of human life - joy and sorrow. The combination is exchanged between friends to symbolize renewed warmth and love overcoming the difficulties of life. It is also an occasion to forgive old debts and forget old disputes.

events
Public Holidays 2009

26 Jan Republic Day
23 Feb Mahashivratri
9 Mar Milad-Un-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet)
7 Apr Mahavir Jayanthi 
10 Apr Good Friday
13 Apr Easter Monday
9 May Buddha Purnima
14 Aug Janmashtami
15 Aug Independence Day
20-21 Sep Id ul Fitr (End of Ramadan)
2 Oct Mahatma Ghandi's Birthday
17 Oct Deepavali or Diwali (Festival of Lights)
2 Nov Guru Nanak's Birthday
27-28 Nov Idu-l Zuha/Bakrid (Feast of the Sacrifice)
18 Dec Muharram (Islamic New Year)
25 Dec Christmas Day
26 Dec Boxing Day
Public Holidays 2010

26 Jan Republic Day
Feb/Mar Mahashivratri (date to be confirmed)
26 Feb Milad-Un-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet)
Apr Mahavir Jayanthi (date to be confirmed)
2 Apr Good Friday
5 Apr Easter Monday
28 Apr Buddha Purnima
Aug Janmashtami (date to be confirmed)
15 Aug Independence Day
10-11 Sep Id ul Fitr (End of Ramadan)
2 Oct Mahatma Ghandi's Birthday
Sep/Oct Dussehra (Vijaya Dashami
2 Nov Guru Nanak's Birthday
5 Nov Deepavali or Diwali (Festival of Lights)
16-17 Nov Idu-l Zuha/Bakrid (Feast of the Sacrifice)
7 Dec Muharram (Islamic New Year)
25 Dec Christmas Day
26 Dec Boxing Day
 

Interesting Places to Visit


Agra
Agra has become synonymous with the Taj Mahal. Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love it has become the de facto emblem of India. This poignant Mughal mausoleum was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. 
The city's other major attraction is the massive red sandstone Agra Fort, also on the bank of the Yamuna River. The fort's colossal walls rise over 20m in height and are encircled by a fetid moat. Within are a maze of superb halls, mosques, chambers and gardens, which form a small city within a city. Not all buildings are open to visitors, including the white marble Pearl Mosque, regarded by some as the most beautiful mosque in India.
Other worthwhile Mughal gems include the Itimad-ud-Daulah, many of whose design elements were used in the construction of the Taj, and Akbar's Mausoleum at Sikandra which blends Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian motifs, much like the syncretic religious philosophy developed by Akbar attempted to do. Bangalore
Bangalore, the 'Garden City’, capital of Karnataka State was founded in 1537 AD by a Vijaynagar chieftan. In the 18th century it was the stronghold of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. Today it is India’s main industrial city with industries like aircraft, telephones and electronics.

Chennai ( Madras)
India’s 4th largest city and capital of Tamilnadu State. This coastal center of trade has drawn traffic from all over the world for centuries and the legacy of the British East India Company mixes with traditional Tamil culture to create an interesting, cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Cochin ( Kochi)
The port city of Kochi is located on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas. The older parts of the city are an unlikely blend of medieval Portugal, Holland and an English country village grafted onto the tropical Malabar Coast. Down near the waterfront you can see St Francis Church, India's oldest; a 450-year-old Portuguese palace, Chinese fishing nets strung out past Fort Cochin and a synagogue dating back to the mid-16th century. Ferries scuttle back and forth between the various parts of Kochi, and dolphins can often be seen in the harbor. Most of the historical sights are in Fort Cochin or Mattancherry.

Darjeeling
Straddling a ridge at an altitude of over 2100m in the far north of West Bengal, Darjeeling has been a favorite hill station of the British since the mid-1800s. The town remains as popular as ever and offers visits to Buddhist monasteries, tours to tea plantations, shopping in bustling bazaars and trekking in high-altitude spots to the north. Like many places in the Himalaya, half the fun is in getting there. Darjeeling has the unique attraction of the famous miniature train, which loops and switchbacks its way from the plains up to Darjeeling in a 10-hour grind of soot and smoke.
Among the town's highlights is the Passenger Ropeway, the first chairlift to be constructed in India, which connects Darjeeling with Singla Bazaar on the Little Ranjit River far below. It's a superb excursion, though not an obvious choice for vertigo sufferers. Nearby is the Zoological Park, which houses Siberian tigers and rare red pandas in less than ideal conditions. The precious snow leopards are kept in a separate enclosure and get a much better deal. If you're interested in learning about the complex tea-producing process, call in at the Happy Valley Tea Estate.

Delhi
Despite the seeming chaos Delhi is a city rich with culture, architecture and human diversity, deep with history and totally addictive to epicureans. Mix four major religions, thousands of years of history and cultural development, significant movements of different populations, invasions and colonization and you get one of the most vibrant and profound cultures in the world. The power of these influences is evident in the plentiful historical sites around Delhi.

Goa
Goa is a land known for its atmosphere, its wonderfully fresh seafood cuisine, its sense of joie de vivre, its people, its churches and temples, and last but not the least for its beaches. The allure of Goa is that it remains quite distinct from the rest of India and is small enough to be grasped and explored

Jaipur
The capital of Rajasthan is popularly known as the 'pink city' because of the ochre-pink hue of its old buildings and crenellated city walls. The Rajputs considered pink to be a color associated with hospitality, and are reputed to have daubed the city in preparation for the visit of Britain's Prince Alfred in 1853. Jaipur owes its name, its foundation and its careful planning to the great warrior-astronomer Maharaja Jai Singh II (1699-1744), who took advantage of declining Mughul power to move from his somewhat cramped hillside fortress at nearby Amber to a new site on the plains in 1727. He laid out the city's surrounding walls and its six rectangular blocks with the help of Shilpa-Shastra, an ancient Hindu treatise on architecture.
Today Jaipur is a city of broad avenues and remarkable architectural harmony, built on a dry lakebed surrounded by barren hills. It's an extremely colorful city and, in the evening light, it radiates a magical warm glow. The city has now sprawled beyond its original fortified confines, but most of its attractions are compactly located in the walled 'pink city' in the northeast. All seven gates into the old city remain, one of which leads into Johari Bazaar - the famous jewelers' market. 
The most obvious landmark in the old city is the Iswari Minar Swarga Sul (the Minaret Piercing Heaven), but the most striking sight is the stunning artistry of the five-storey facade of the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. The palace was built in 1799 to enable ladies of the royal household to watch street life and processions, and is part of the City Palace complex that forms the heart of the old city.

Jodhpur
Jodhpur stands at the edge of the Thar Desert and is the largest city in Rajasthan. Among Rajasthan's many princely settlements, Jodhpur is one of the most distinctive. This five hundred year old settlement was the headquarters of the Rathore Rajput's celebrations for their tales of daring.

Kerala Backwaters
The complex network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals fringing the coast of Kerala forms the basis of a distinct regional lifestyle, and traveling by boat along these backwaters is one of the highlights of a visit to the state. The boats cross shallow, palm-fringed lakes studded with Chinese fishing nets, and along narrow, shady canals where coir (coconut fiber), copra and cashews are loaded onto boats. Stops are made at small settlements where people live on carefully cultivated narrow spits of land only a few meters wide, and there's the chance to see traditional boats with huge sails, and prows carved into the shape of dragons.

Khajuraho
This quiet, genial, dusty village in northern Madhya Pradesh is awash with temples. Temples for everything - sun gods, sacred bulls and, more memorably and most prominently, sex. The erotic possibilities suggested by the stone figures in the numerous temples have contributed to Khajuraho's international fame. Another prime feature of the temple craftsmanship is that they are liberally embellished with some of the finest handiwork of the Chandela period, a dynasty that survived for five centuries before falling to the onslaught of Islam. 
The largest and most important temples are in the attractively landscaped Western Group. Externally, the temples consist of curvilinear towers with clusters of lesser turrets clinging to them, suggestive of rising mountain peaks (ahem) converging round a great central peak. Round the exterior walls are two, sometimes three, superimposed rows of gods, goddesses, kings and heroes, courtesans, couples in carnal embrace and, in some cases, friezes depicting various forms of bestiality. The interiors are just as ornate, with an open portico leading into a main hall, then a vestibule beyond which is an inner sanctum containing the freestanding cult image. In fact, the sculpture and architecture blend so perfectly that each building appears to have been conceived by a single - and highly sexed - mastermind.

Mumbai
Mumbai is the glamour of Bollywood cinema, cricket on the maidans on weekends, bhelpuri on the beach at Chowpatty and red double-decker buses. It is also the infamous cages of the red-light district, Asia's largest slums, communalist politics and powerful mafia dons. Take the time to explore the majestic remnants of colonial history, the galleries showing the latest in Indian contemporary art, the busy markets and the evening parade of locals at Chowpatty Beach.

Mysore
This charming, easy-going city has long been a favorite with travelers since it is a manageable size, enjoys a good climate and has chosen to retain and promote its heritage rather than replace it. The city is famous for its silk and is also a thriving sandalwood and incense center; though don't expect the air to be any more fragrant than the next town.
Until Independence, Mysore was the seat of the Maharajas of Mysore, a princely state covering about a third of present-day Karnataka. The Maharaja's Indo-Saracenic Palace is the town's major attraction, with its kaleidoscope of stained glass, ornate mirrors, carved mahogany ceilings, solid silver doors and outrageously gaudy colors.
The Devaraja Fruit & Vegetable Market, in the heart of the town, is one of the most colorful markets in India. The other major attraction is the 1000-step climb up nearby Chamundi Hill, which is topped by a huge temple. The stairway is guarded by the famous 5-meter high Nandi (Shiva's bull vehicle) carved out of solid rock.

Udaipur
The most romantic city in Rajasthan, built around the lovely Lake Pichola, has inevitably been dubbed the ' Venice of the East'. Founded in 1568 by Maharana Udai Singh, the city is a harmonious Indian blend of whitewashed buildings, marble palaces, lakeside gardens, temples and havelis (traditional mansions). It boasts an enviable artistic heritage, a proud reputation for performing arts and a relatively plentiful water supply, all of which have helped make it an oasis of civilization and color in the midst of drab aridity.
Lake Pichola is the city's centerpiece and it contains two delightful island palaces - Jagniwas and Jagmandir - the very definition of Rajput whimsy. The former is now an exquisite luxury hotel. The huge City Palace towers over the lake and is bedecked with balconies, towers and cupolas. It contains a museum, some fine gardens and several more luxury hotels. Other attractions in Udaipur include the gates to the old walled city and its lovely alleyways; the fine Indo-Aryan Jagdish Temple, dating from the mid-17th century; and the lakeside Bagore ki Haveli, once a royal guesthouse, but now a cultural center.
Despite the long list of sights and attractions, the real joy of Udaipur is finding a pleasant lakeside guesthouse, scrambling up to the roof and watching the activity at the ghats, listening to the rhythmic 'thwomp!' as washerwomen thrash the life out of their laundry, and sensing the gentle changes of light on the water as the slow days progress.

Varanasi
For over 2000 years, Varanasi, the 'eternal city', has been one of the holiest places in India. Built on the banks of the sacred Ganges, it is said to combine the virtues of all other places of pilgrimage and anyone who ends their days here, regardless of creed and however great their misdeeds, is transported straight to heaven. Varanasi is also an important seat of learning, and is the home of novelists, philosophers and grammarians. This has been reflected in its role in the development of Hindi - the closest thing to a national language in India.
Varanasi has over 100 bathing and burning ghats but the Manikarnika Ghat is the main burning ghat and one of the most auspicious places that a Hindu can be cremated. Corpses are handled by outcasts known as chandal, who carry them through the alleyways of the old city to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher swathed in cloth. You'll see huge piles of firewood stacked along the top of the ghat, each log carefully weighed on giant scales so that the price of cremation can be calculated. There are no problems watching cremations, since at Manikarnika death is simply business as usual, but leave your camera at your hotel.
The best ghat to hang out at and absorb the riverside activity is Dasaswamedh Ghat. Here you'll find a dense concentration of people who come to the edge of the Ganges not only for a ritual bath, but to do yoga, offer blessings, buy paan, sell flowers, get a massage, play cricket, have a swim, get a shave, and do their karma good by giving money to beggars. 
Apart from the many ghats lining the river, the city's other highlights include the Golden Temple, built in a roofed quadrangle with stunning gilded towers; shopping at markets famous for their ornamental brass work, lacquered toys, shawls, silks and sitars; losing yourself in the impossibly narrow labyrinthine alleyways which snake back from the ghats; visiting the nearby Buddhist center of Sarnath; and taking the compulsory dawn river trip slowly down the Ganges.

Travel Information
accommodation
?Chosen where possible for their character and location, Intrepid's Indian hotels are clean and comfortable without providing too many fancy frills.
?Small, family run guesthouses, modern business style hotels and converted minor palaces and merchant houses are all used. 
?The rooms are fan cooled and twin bedded with private facilities, this normally means western style but occasionally Asian style toilets. 
?Hot water is often provided from individual room heaters (most hotels have Geysers fitted in bathrooms to supply hot water), so make sure you turn them on when entering your room. 
?Rooms will occasionally have a television for you to catch up on the latest Hindi movies but (unless you are travelling Comfort style) will not have hair dryers or mini bars. 
?On occasions it may be necessary to use multi share accommodation 
?In the more remote areas the accommodation can be very basic often with primitive bathroom/toilet facilities.
?Although equipped with electricity and hot water things in India don't always go to plan and you might find there are interruptions or difficulties with plumbing. A sense of humour is essential. 
transport
Trains

?Traveling by train is one of the great experiences of India. It's a system, which looks like chaos, but it works, and well. Trains are often late of course, sometimes by hours rather than minutes, but they do run, and with amazing efficiency too.
?Journeys frequently last twelve hours or more which allows us the opportunity to meet people from all the different echelons of Indian society
?We use a variety of train classes 
?The faster day trains will often be air-conditioned and have reclining, padded individual seats 
?Sleeper carriages can be crowded during the day but between 9pm and 6am anyone with a bunk reservation is entitled to exclusive use of their bunk. 
?When traveling overnight, always padlock your bag to your bunk; an attached chain is usually provided beneath the seat of the lower bunk.
?For most train journeys we use second class reserved carriages, normally fan cooled though not always air-conditioned. 
?Each partitioned unit has padded sleeping berths for 6 people, which become seating during the day.
Buses

?Have you ever wondered how it would be to travel on a bus where people travel packed to the gunnels, with there livestock and luggage and cover most routes with missing windows and doors. Travelling on these buses is a great way to interact with the locals, but remember that you may not get a seat!
?Maintenance to Indian buses is very creative and buses have a long shelf life. 
?On the major routes buses are more modern and in some cases it is even possible to reserve seats.
?Smaller private bus companies may be only semi-legal and have little backup in case of breakdown.
?On state-run buses, you can usually squeeze your luggage into an unobtrusive corner, although you may sometimes be requested to have it travel on the roof 
Rickshaws

?The auto-rickshaw , that most Indian of vehicles, is the front half of a motor-scooter with a couple of seats mounted on the back. These three-wheeled vehicles are by far the best way to get around the larger cities. Noisy, suspension and their drivers often rather reckless, but that's all part of the fun
?Slower and cheaper still is the cycle rickshaw - basically a glorified tricycle. The same as for autos but they move slower and are paddled by the driver - great way of helping the locals earn their livelihood since cycle rickshaw-wallahs are invariably emaciated pavement dwellers who earn only a pittance for their pains. In the end, though, to deny them your custom on those grounds is spurious logic; they will earn even less if you don't use them, and are one of the most ecofriendly mode of transports.
Most Public Holidays are observed on a regional basis. Only the secular holidays of Republic Day, Independence Day and Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday are universally observed. Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given above are approximations.

food & drink
Meals

?Indian food has a deserved reputation throughout the world for being aromatic and delicious
?With a large number of Hindus and Muslims, you will find beef and pork hard to come by except in the Christian areas such as Goa and near Tibet
?What is called 'mutton' on menus normally means goat 
?Broadly speaking there are four types of eating establishments - dhabas and bhojanalayas, restaurants, tourist restaurants, and fast-food joints. 
?Dhabas and bhojanalayas are cheap Indian dinners. Often found along the sides of highways, dhabas traditionally cater to truck drivers, and you can tell the good ones by the number of trucks parked out front. Bhojanalayas are common in the north of the country. These eating establishments can be a bit grubby so look around before you commit yourself. They have the advantage though of being dirt cheap.
?Restaurants vary in price and quality and offer a wide choice of dishes
?Deluxe restaurants such as those in five-star hotels can be expensive by Indian standards but they offer a chance to try classic Indian cooking of very high quality, and still a fraction of the price you'd pay for such delights at home. Try a meal in at least one.
?If you are lucky enough to be invited into someon's home you will get to taste the most authentically Indian food of all. Most Indian women are professional cooks and housewives, trained from childhood by mothers, grandmothers and aunties, and aided by daughters and nieces. They can quite easily spend a whole day cooking, grinding and mixing the spices themselves, and using only the freshest ingredients.
?Indian sweets are usually made of milk and tend to be very sweet
?Ice cream is popular and can be found in parlours as well as from uniformed men pushing carts around.

Drinks

? India seems to run on tea or chai grown in Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiri Hills and sold by chai-wallahs on just about every street corner.
?Tea is usually made by putting tea dust, milk and water in a pan, boiling it all up, straining it into a cup or glass with lots of sugar and pouring back and forth from one cup to another to stir. Ginger and cardamom are often added.
?In the south coffee is just as common as tea and far better quality than in the north. The India Coffee House chain can be found in almost every town. A whole ritual is attached to the drinking of milky Keralan coffee in particular, poured in flamboyant sweeping motions between tall glasses to cool it down.
? India's greatest cold drink is the lassi, made with beaten curd and drunk either sweetened with sugar, salted or mixed with fruit. It varies widely from smooth and delicious to insipid and watery and is sold at virtually every cafe, restaurant and canteen in the country.
?Freshly made milkshakes are also commonly available at establishments with blenders.
?Fruit juice is also widely available and is usually made from fruit, water and sugar liquidised and strained. Street vendors sell fresh fruit juice and often add salt and garam masala.
?For hygiene reasons you should exercise great caution in deciding where to buy food and drinks
?Alcohol prohibition is no longer as widely enforced as it once was. Some states retain partial prohibition in the form of 'dry' days, high taxes, restrictive licences and health warnings on labels ("Liquor - ruins country, family and life" reads Tamil Nadu's). Even in areas where alcohol is readily availabel, dry days are often observed once a week (usually Thursday) and liquor shops remain shut. 
?Beer is widely available, though expensive by local standards. Kingfisher and Black Label are the leading local brands although there are plenty of others.
?Lagers tend to contain chemical additives including glycerin but are pretty palatable if you can get them cold
?In some unlicensed restaurants beer comes in the form of 'special tea' - a teapot of beer which you pour into and drink from a teacup to disguise what it really is.
?Toddy (palm wine) is a cheaper and often delicious alternative to beer in Kerala
?In the Himalaya the Bhotia people, of Tibetan background, drink chang (a beer made from millet) and one of the nicest drinks of all - tumba - where fermented millet is placed in a bamboo flask and topped with hot water, then sipped through a bamboo pipel
?Spirits usually take the form of 'Indian Made Foreign Liquor' although the recently legitimised foreign liquor industry is expanding rapidly. Some Scotch such as Seagram's Hundred Pipers is now being bottled in India and sold at a premium, as is Smirnoff vodka.
?Some brands of Indian whisky are not too bad and fairy affordable. Gin and brandy can be pretty rough, while Indian run is sweet and distinctive.
?In Goa, feni is a spirit distilled from coconut or cashew fruit.
?Steer well clear of illegally distilled arak which often contains methanol (wood alcohol) and other poisons.
?Legal drinking ages vary from 18-25 depending on the state
Vegetarians

?Vegetarians should have no trouble in India
?Indians are used to special dietary requirements (Hindus don't eat beef, Muslims don't eat pork, Buddhists are vegetarian, etc) so they will be accepting of your requirements and willing to help you
communication:

Email

?There are cyber cafes in most of the big metro cities that we visit
?Internet connections are unreliable in the smaller villages
?If you wish to use the internet you will usually be asked for a photocopy of your passport
Telephone

?If you wish to purchase a local sim card, you will need to bring some passport photographs for proof of identiy. You can purchase a prepaid sim card easily form an AIRTEL or a VODAFONE shop and phone calls are relatively inexpensive. 
?The other option is calling from phone booths that have ISD ( INTERNATONAL SUBSCRIBER DIALING ) or STD (SUBSCRIBER TRUNK DIALING ) facility availble and the rates may vary from place to place. 
Post

?Receiving post is not convenient as we are usually doing something or travelling during the opening hours of most post offices
?Mail to international destinations takes around a week 
what to buy
?Shopping can be done in shopping centres, stores, or markets
?Each region is famous for different items but fabrics, silverware, carpets and leatherwork should top your list
?Bargaining is expected
?Look for silks from Varanasi, cotton in Rajasthan and Chennai and woollen items from Kashmir
?India has a large carpets industry with those from Darjeeling being particularly good
?Tailor-made clothing can be made quickly and cheaply in some shops
?Indian silverwork is well-regarded internationally and Hyderabad is also famous for pearls
?Other items to look for include woodwork, spices, tea, perfumes, soap, handmade paper and musical instruments
?Check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to import some items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand for example have strict quarantine laws.
?It is prohibited to export from India antiques, art more than 100 years old and any items made from animal skins. 
culture
People

?The majority religion in India is Hindu, followed by Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis.
?Indians will be curious about you and why you are in India and may stare and ask lots of questions
?Couples should be aware that public displays of affection are frowned upon
?Indians will often have different attitudes to time, privacy, and service. A sense of humour and a little patience are essential attributes.
?Eating, offering and taking things, or greeting people should all be done with the right hand as the left hand is considered unclean.
Dress

?Men and women should dress conservatively and keep knees and shoulders covered
?Shorts are acceptable in beach areas but should not be worn outside of those areas
?A sarong is a useful item to have as it is lightweight and cool and can be used to cover up
Toilets:

?Toilets in India are mix of squat style, western style, and 'compromise style' where they are raised from the ground but have flat sides on the seat for squatting on
?If you pay to use a restroom you can expect it to be reasonably clean but no so for free restrooms
?Paper is rarely provided. It is a good idea to carry some with you
Smoking:

?Smoking is banned in restaurants and hotels
 

Bhutan Visas

Visa approvals are only issued to authorized travel agents when you book your tour. Once the approval has been issued it is then possible for your agent to book your flight. It is not possible to book seats prior to the visa approval being issued so it is important to confirm your trip and provide your agent with a copy of the details page of your passport as soon as possible.

Your actual visa will be issued on arrival at Paro Airport.

Trip Grading
Easy – relaxed sightseeing with private transport to sights.

Moderate – Whilst no strenuous activity is involved conditions will be harsher than you are used to. Accommodations may be basic.

Challenging – All the aspects of a moderate trip, but sustained over a longer period of time.

 

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