There’s the playful nature of Rhesus Macaques in the Aravalli Hills, sun-bleached beaches in Goa and soothing sand dunes in the Thar Desert. Luxurious hotels overlooking the Taj Mahal wait for soft white marble to turn shades of amber come sunset and in Varanasi – said to be the oldest inhabited city on Earth – the sacred Ganges is every visitor’s pivotal point. A world away from here, in southern India, Cochin harbour’s famous row of Chinese fishing nets appears as a translucent marvel of strength. If there’s one city to fall in love with, it’s honeysuckle hued, marble-covered Udaipur. On the banks of crystal clear Lake Pichola the opulent side of India unfold as you sail past resplendent Rajput-era palaces. India is one of our favourite countries for touring holidays and if you’re a first-time visitor, a Golden Triangle tour is a wonderful way to see the rich variety of cultures the country is renowned for.
Where is India?
India is in south-central Asia surrounded by the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. Set off from the rest of Asia by the Himalayas and land bordered by Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Burma and Bangladesh, India is the seventh largest country in the world. Its capital is New Delhi and it has a diverse landscape of coastline, beaches, jungle and mountains.
In larger cities and towns, the most convenient way to get around is by auto rickshaw, taxi or private car. Rickshaws can get hot and bumpy but offer a fantastic authentic experience. Public transport is frequent and affordable. As the meters are rarely turned on, it’s always best to negotiate the rate before embarking. In northern India travel in comfortable cars on newly built motorways and look out for the red BEST buses in Mumbai. Direct internal flights operate daily to most national cities, making it easy to get from one place to another quickly. If you prefer to travel by rail, daily Shatabdi trains can be used to travel between the most important destinations.
The heady scent of cardamom pods, the vibrant colours of saris sashaying past and street food on every corner… the markets, shops and bazaars of India are fascinating places to people watch and a shoppers dream when it comes to textiles, handicrafts and concept stores. Expect to return with scarves, shawls and vintage fabrics homespun into innovative new designs. Don’t forget that haggling is a way of life at the markets and bazaars.
Jaipur’s leather makers, weavers and jewellers have been around since the late 1700s so no wonder it’s famed as one of the best places to shop in the world. Interior designers flock here for wooden furniture, silk fabrics, leather sandals, fine jewellery and beautiful antique leheriya (traditional tie dye). Shop for exquisite marble in Agra and tea in both Darjeeling and Munnar.
Food & drink
Deliciously complex dishes vary in flavour depending on the region. Be prepared to have your taste buds tingled in a country where curry doesn’t taste at all like it does back home. Find fresh oysters dipped in coconut cream on the beaches of Goa, classic-style street food such as vada pav (fried potato wrapped in bread and chilli powder) at the markets of Mumbai and elaborate tasting menus in the grand hotels of Jaipur. Local dishes are laced with spices including chilli pepper, cardamom pods, cumin, turmeric and ginger. Southern India uses more coconut oil and northern India favours rich Naan bread and biryani dishes. In Kerala, mussels and crab are plucked fresh from the sea and cooked with delicious spices. Always make sure to drink bottled water, and no tap water or ice.
GMT +5½ hours
Delhi (north): 9 hours; Calcutta (east): 10 hours; Cochin (south): 10 hours; Mumbai (west): 9 hours
Hindi and English (English is widely spoken).
A visa is required. From the 15th August 2015, UK nationals will be able to apply for an E-Visa for travel to India, simplifying the process of obtaining a visa. The E-Visa needs to be applied for online in advance of travel. The eVisa is Valid for 2 entries and travellers can apply for it up to 120 days prior to the date of entry into India.
Travellers with non-machine readable passports will be denied entry. A passport is machine readable when there are two lines of text as letters, numbers and chevrons printed at the bottom of the information page along with the bearer's photo. The majority of British passports issued in the UK are machine readable. British passports issued before 2006 or issued outside the UK may not be machine readable.
A service charge of 7-10% will usually be added to your bill. 20-50 rupees is recommended for hotel porters.
• Loose, light, comfortable clothes made of natural fibres such as cotton are ideal for India's hot summers.
• Winters can be cold - especially in the north - so be sure to pack warm clothes such as jeans, sweaters and a fleece.
• For travel during the monsoon season (July-September) it is advisable to pack an umbrella or waterproofs.
• Travellers should dress conservatively whilst visiting religious places and always remove their shoes before entering temples and mosques.
• Visitors are often required to cover their heads and women should cover their shoulders and wear skirts and trousers that fall below the knees.