India holidays

Experience India

Best Places to Visit

The New Delhi-Agra-Jaipur loop covering the Golden Triangle in northern India is top draw for lovers of culture and intrigue. Not only a hub of travel and used as a base for further explorations, but the capital city is also replete with monuments, museums and bazaars set amid a seething mass of humanity. The National Museum in New Delhi has 5,000 years' worth of relics and is arguably the best museum in India.

Agra, the former capital of the Mogul empire, lies to the south and is worth coming to India for on its own as it has the Taj Mahal. This spectacular mausoleum is as sublime as it gets.

To the west is the Pink City of Jaipur, with its wide boulevards, massive forts and rich Rajput culture. The likes of the Amber Fort, the City Palace and Govind Devji Temple need to be seen to be believed. The Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum at the Moon Palace is a top museum, with exquisite textiles, embroidery, silks and armoury. Also in Rajasthan is India's romantic lake city, Udaipur.

As the glamour capital of Bollywood, Mumbai is loaded with mega cinemas, malls and glass skyscrapers. True to form, however, this modern, west coast finance hub of India rubs shoulders with vast slums.

In the East is the less populous, slightly more ordered city of Kolkata. Also an important financial centre, it is home to India's most impressive colonial buildings, including the well-preserved St Paul's Cathedral.

Lying between Delhi and Kolkata in Uttar Pradesh is the spiritual heart of India, Varanasi. This ancient, living city on the sacred Ganges is a place of iconic, riverside palaces and Hindu religious rituals.

The beaches of Goa in the south-west draw tourists by the millions. This region is one of India's main draws, with everything from cheap backpacker pads to sublime resorts hideaways. Keep an eye out for intriguing Portuguese colonial heritage.

Easily the top spot for lovers of vertical splendour is the disputed Kashmir region in the north. With its colourful meadows and jagged, snowy peaks, it is a trekker's dream, and perfect for lovers of nature and exploring.

Wildlife can be seen at national parks all over India. Keoladeo Ghana National Park and Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan are two of the best, while the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve in West Bengal is popular.

Top Landmarks

The Taj Mahal is the endearing landmark of an Indian holiday. The 17th-century mausoleum in Agra is perhaps the single most striking piece of architecture anywhere, with its towers, domes and shimmering reflecting pool. Agra's Red Fort is another major draw, as is the nearby ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri.

New Delhi has the precursor to the Taj Mahal, Humayun's Tomb. Designed for the second Mughal emperor, the red sandstone structure, is vast, with outlying tombs amid beautiful grounds. The capital also sports the huge Jama Masjid mosque, the Qutab Minar tower and the Jantar Mantar observatory.

Though somewhat unappealing in places, the sacred River Ganges is iconic, especially as it passes Varanasi. Locals come to bathe, burn their loved ones and even wash their clothes in or alongside this sacred river, with lots going on around the city's ghats.

The Temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh are a UNESCO World Heritage site, with some of the structures here over 1,000 years old. Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar, the Sun Temple in Konarak, the Golden Temple of Amritsar or the cave temples at Ajanta are other religious sites worthy of a visit.

India's high points often have hill stations, built by colonial powers for their subjects to escape the heat. The top ones are Kodaikanal and Ooty in Tamil Nadu, Shimla in Himachal Pradesh and Darjeeling in West Bengal. The highest landmarks of all reside in Jammu and Kashmir, while Lake Dal (Himachal Pradesh) is known for its colourful houseboats.

Entertainment

Nightlife tends to be low-key in India, where varied cultures and religions live alongside one another. The big centres of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Goa have bars and clubs, which can be expensive, though other forms of entertainment, like cultural shows and cinema, are also apparent.

The Bandra neighbourhood in Mumbai is one of the top places to party on an India holiday. It is noted for its resto-bars, as they're called, which have food by day and dancing later. The Escobar is one of the most popular. Farther south, the tourist area of Colaba is a good bet for a night out.

Live music is popular in all main cities, with Mumbai having many choice venues. Bangalore, too, has a good night scene, mainly owing to its large expat community, while both Delhi and Goa also have their own unique scenes. Goa has the best nightlife for tourists, with numerous bars and open-air 'trance' clubs, and even casinos.

For cultural performances, Kolkata can't be beaten, with performances typically including traditional dance, music and drama. The city's Rabindra Sadan Cultural Centre is well known, while Mumbai touts the National Centre for Performing Arts (Nariman Point).

Cinema is perhaps the number one pastime among Indians looking for entertainment. The burgeoning Indian film industry churns out a dizzying array of material and, if you're a movie buff, you will be taken aback by the sheer number of multiplex cinemas. Mumbai easily has the best of India's cinemas.

Dining Out

Indian food is world-renowned and often spicy with copious amounts of herbs and greens. India is also a haven for vegetarians, owing to the non-meat-eating Hindus and Jains, and eating out is good value for money.

Well known across the UK, the tandoor-style chicken tandoori (considered mild here) is one of the best-known dishes, along with thali (a selection of curries served with rice and chapattis). Naan bread with a curry is a must. Meat is king in the north; think kebab, biryani and rogan josh (lamb curry). The Punjab region is famed for the flatbread paratha.

With India's long coastline, fish is always on the menu, particularly in Mumbai and Goa, and is especially delicious when cooked with coconut. There's an enormous amount of freshwater fish dishes in Bengal (East), which are usually cooked in mustard oil. Kashmiri food, on the other hand, is more delicate and based around fruits and nuts.

Restaurants run the gamut from small shacks (dhabas) to silver service, hotel-based or standalone places. There are also mid-range table restaurants with air-conditioning, though these are less common out of main towns. The cuisine typically reflects the region, and though menus may appear massive, different meals are usually served at certain times of the day.

Beach

Goa has the best known beaches in India, with miles of golden sands and turquoise seas straddling the state capital of Panaji. Farther north are the easier-going beaches of Tarkali, while north again at Mumbai are Juhu and Chowpatty. In the other direction (south) is Kovalam, Kerala, while the east offers Chennai's huge Marina Beach.

Romance

The Taj Mahal is ionic, vibrant and utterly romantic when viewed from a five-star hotel with your significant other. Udaipur's lake city is also truly romantic and has the well-positioned Lake Palace Hotel. The Andaman and Nikobar islands, meanwhile, offer perfect seclusion for honeymooning couples, as do the hills of Ooty and the peaks of Kashmir.

Family

Goa's beaches are good for families. Kids can enjoy swimming and water sports galore, and the Goa Carnival is fun for all. Though vast and noisy, the major metropolises of New Delhi and Mumbai have family attractions, too, including theme parks and eye-popping monuments. The Uttaranchal region offers an introduction to soft adventure, while the cool hill stations of the south have tea gardens. For teens, try the toy train from Kolkata to Darjeeling or a camel safari in the Thar Desert.

Adventure

The Himalayas boast the world's best trekking and climbing, while great slopes await skiers at Himachal Pradesh's Kufri or Kashmir's Gulmarg. Wildlife safaris are big business, with wild elephants, rhinos, bears and not forgetting the tiger. Madhya Pradesh is good for tigers and camel safaris, while elephant safaris are popular in the south. You can also hang-glide from Bangalore or scuba dive the Andaman. For off beat India holidays, consider a Cochin river trip or chilling on a Vipassana meditation course.

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Need to know

Language

Hindi is the main tongue, spoken by the greatest percentage of the populace, especially in the north. English is also an official language although the local accents can be difficult to understand at first. There are many other regional languages in India, including Bengali and Punjabi (North), and Tamil (South), while Muslims mainly speak Urdu, which is also spoken in Pakistan and is similar to Hindi.

Currency

Indian rupees (Rs) cannot be bought outside of India and cannot be exported either. Banks offer the best exchange rates, and hotels and airports the worst. Cirrus and PLUS debit cards and VISA and MasterCard credit cards are usually accepted at ATMs. Credit cards are accepted at big hotels, shops and restaurants while travellers' cheques should be in US dollars and changed at banks. India is still a cash society. US dollars can be used at some outlets, but most vendors refuse damaged banknotes.

Visas

Most people including North Americans and EU nationals need a tourist visa, which should be applied for before travel. A multiple-entry visa for a stay of up to six months is 32Rs (52Rs for a year), while single-entry transit visas are 17Rs. India tourist visas are valid from the date of issue. Passports should be valid for at least six months with two blank pages.

Climate

India has many different climatic regions, from the alpine Himalayan north to the balmy tropical south. It is usually hot and humid in the most popular areas, with average temperatures in the 25-30°C range and highs into the 40°C. India holidays are best in the November to February cool season, with the hottest time from March to June. It rains most from July to October, which is also hot and muggy. The country's main climate influence comes from the Himalayas and the Thar Desert, which create a monsoonal regime. Regional differences: central, western, and southwestern India are best visited in winter, the northeast is pleasant from March to June and September to November while many Himalayan mountain passes close in winter.

Main Airports

India is massive and has many major gateways. The main hubs are New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport (North), Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (West), Kolkata's Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport (East), Chennai's Anna International Airport (South-East) and Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (Centre). Direct flights with major carriers connect Indian with Europe, North America and the Middle East. Dabolim Airport in Goa is one of the main secondary airports, receiving flights from the Middle East and Europe.

Flight Options

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic serve the capital, New Delhi; flight time from London is about 9 hours. United Airlines comes in from the US while both Air India (the main local carrier) and Jet Airways offer connections around the world. Flights from Europe to Goa are available with Thomson Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines and Monarch Airlines, among others, and Kolkata is served by Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

Travel Advice

Flying via the Arabian Gulf is the best option for cheap India holidays, including with Etihad (via Abu Dhabi), Emirates (through Dubai) and Qatar Airways (via Doha). Air India and Air India Express usually offer better rates than the main international carriers. From Southeast Asia, budget Malay carrier AirAsia has good prices (when booked in advance).

Other Transport Options

Even if in a neighbouring country, it is best to fly to India as it is just so big, but the Samjhauta Express train and buses run in from Lahore in Pakistan through the Punjab region, while intrepid travellers from Europe can book an all-encompassing bus tour.

Getting Around

Flight is preferable as India is massive. Train travel is mostly unromantic but the next best option, with a comprehensive rail network and excellent connections, while travel by bus or car is cheap but uncomfortable. Be aware that some areas require visitors to have a Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit, such as the northeast and Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Bus

Buses are only useful for short trips to places where trains don't go, as Indian roads can be rough and hectic. There are ordinary government-run buses and private services, both of which are crowded.

Train

India has a good rail network and there are many classes, including air-conditioned cabins. Some of the tour trains, like the Royal Rajasthan, have excellent facilities including Wi-Fi. Journeys are often long though speeds are fast.

Air

All main cities have airports, including New Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras) and Hyderabad. Prices are reasonable and there are several local airlines, including state-run Indian Airlines (which has the most connections), Jet Airways, Alliance Air, JetLite and Kingfisher Airlines. Extra fees usually accompany advertised prices and foreigners are usually charged in US dollars and pay more.

MAP

INDIA`S WEATHER TODAY

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MONTHS

AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

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FACTS

  1. Until 50 million years ago, India was an island. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was a slow northwards-moving continent, then it eventually collided with the Asian coast, pushing the land up to form what are now the Himalayas.
  2. India's capital has a severe strain of resources due to its crowded population. Water remains unavailable as a regular supply for nearly a quarter of the city's households.
  3. There are hundreds of varieties of mangoes grown in India, including the Alphonso mango. The fruit is produced and eaten by this country more than anywhere else in the world.

FACTS

  1. Until 50 million years ago, India was an island. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was a slow northwards-moving continent, then it eventually collided with the Asian coast, pushing the land up to form what are now the Himalayas.
  2. India's capital has a severe strain of resources due to its crowded population. Water remains unavailable as a regular supply for nearly a quarter of the city's households.
  3. There are hundreds of varieties of mangoes grown in India, including the Alphonso mango. The fruit is produced and eaten by this country more than anywhere else in the world.

Where to go in India

Islands

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