INDIA TRAVEL GUIDE
India, India, India… No matter how long one spends with you, you are still a mystery! Poetry aside, this sure is one diverse country with so much to offer and understand, that a whole life of study would still leave a lot to be desired. Fortunately, there is some exceptional reading out there, which will guide your journey of realizing just how complex this land is.
Indians represent 17.6% of the human race, that’s right almost every 5th person in the world is Indian. The country’s population density is one of the highest in the world, with its northern states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal running up to around 1000 people per square kilometer. With the current urbanization rates standing at only around 30%, huge metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi are set to become monstrously big in the near future. Perhaps not too surprisingly WHO’s monitoring of air quality around the world suggests that a whooping 6 out 10 most polluted cities on earth are in India.
On the brighter side of life, Indian cuisine will most definitely lighten up your day. From street food to glorious upscale restaurant, Indian cuisine has so much to offer. Different regions serve up different dishes as well, so make sure to try as many delicacies as possible.
In addition to the great resources, which I listed below, you can do a quick read up on some fascinating aspects of India, in my India explained in 20 maps post.
The following lists are a collection of my personal favorites, which are going to take you far in getting to know about India today. And believe me no travel is more rewarding, than when you have a deeper understanding of the country you’re visiting.
You can get all these books by following the links to Amazon or wherever else you like to do your shopping.
A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs; following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse; opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood; and delving into the stories of the countless villagers who come in search of a better life and end up living on the sidewalks.
The White Tiger
The White Tiger follows a darkly comic driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. A poor villager whose great ambition leads him to the zenith of Indian business culture, the world of the Bangalore entrepreneur.
No Full Stops in India
India’s Westernized elite, cut off from local traditions, ‘want to write a full stop in a land where there are no full stops’. From that striking insight Mark Tully has woven a superb series of ‘stories’ which explore Calcutta, from the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad (probably the biggest religious festival in the world) to the televising of a Hindu epic. Throughout, he combines analysis of major issues with a feel for the fine texture and human realities of Indian life. The result is a revelation. ‘The ten essays, written with clarity, warmth of feeling and critical balance and understanding, provide as lively a view as one can hope for of the panorama of India’ – K. Natwar-Singh in the “Financial Times”.
Super Power – The amazing race between China’s hare and India’s tortoise
Clearly there’s a huge difference in how India and its arch-rival China work on the ground. China is spectacularly effective in building infrastructure and is now reinvesting almost half its GDP. Meanwhile, India is still a “promising” economy: more than half its GDP is consumed by its billion-plus people, yet India has some unique advantages: Half its population is under twenty-five, giving it a strong demographic edge; 350 million Indians understand English, making it the largest English-speaking country in the world; and it’s the world’s largest democracy. In the race to superpower status, who is more likely to win: China’s hare or India’s tortoise?
2 States – The Story of My Marriage
Love marriages around the world are simple: Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. They get married. In India, there are a few more steps: Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. Girl’s family has to love boy. Boy’s family has to love girl. Girl’s family has to love boy’s family. Boy’s family has to love girl’s family. Girl and boy still love each other. They get married. Welcome to 2 States, the story of Krish and Ananya, who are from two different states of India, deeply in love with each other, and want to get married. Of course, their parents don’t agree. To convert their love story into a love marriage, the couple has a tough battle ahead of them; for it is easy to fight and rebel, but harder to convince. Will they make it?
Some of these can be watched for free on channels like YouTube, while others can be purchased by clicking on links to Amazon or alternatively use your internet wit ;).
When a penniless, eighteen year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai comes within one question of winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, a police investigation reveals his amazing story.
Prostitutes of God
VICE news travels to the Indian city of Sangli to meet a group of sex workers selling their bodies in the name of the Hindu Goddess Yellamma and uncover how a religious icon became a justification for child prostitution.
India is generally an extremely affordable country, depending on your style of travelling you could do it on a ridiculously low shoestring budget or you could spoil yourself like a king.
Sleeping costs go as low as 200-300Rs a night for a room when you’re travelling out of cities like Mumbai and Delh. Go for accommodations that are usually not listed on websites like Booking.com, instead try searching Trip Advisor for suggestions from other travelers. Street snacks and basic restaurant are extremely cheap and the likelihood of getting some sort of food poisoning is about the same as in a fancy restaurant – a distinct possibility. Trains are a great option to travel in the country and using general class means you’ll be paying peanuts (as in 50RS for a 5h train ride). Do know what you’re getting yourself into however. For getting around rickshaws are a good option and you can drive the initial stated cost down considerably by negotiating.
You can expect to pay around 2,000 Rs to 3,000 Rs for a lovely double room and often even less. A meal in a nice, but not top end restaurant will set you back about Rs300 to Rs600. Using internal flights is a good idea when jumping over considerable distances as travel in India invariably consumes a lot of time. Air conditioned coaches in trains are another great option (~500 Rs for 200km, ~800 Rs for 500km). While in cities the most straightforward and easy way to get around is by getting a taxi through the use of apps like Uber or OlaCabs, which has outstanding coverage in India.
Five star hotels are a real bargain in India, starting at Rs 6,000 and going up to Rs 15,000 for a double room, even in the big cities like Mumbai or Bangalore. Dining in top end restaurants means paying from Rs 1,000 to rarely over Rs 3,000 (you’d really have to search hard for that). Getting your own driver is a worthy option for exploring the country, where you can’t reach with a flight.
When to go
Low Season: Apr - Jun
Shoulder season: Jul - Oct
High season: Nov - Mar
The high season running from November through March is the most pleasant time to visit, with the monsoon rains still not messing up your travel plans and the temperatures being moderate throughout most of the country, except the Himalayas which are covered in snow.
The shoulder season which spans from July to October depends heavily on your preferences of what you’re looking to see and do in India. The Western coast gets drenched between June and October, while places like the Deccan Plateau (think Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Coimbatore,…) don’t get a disruptive amount of rain in general. The northern plains on the other hand are a bit on the hot side of things. August and September are considered as prime time for exploring the Himalayas.
The low season between April and June is best to be avoided as most of India becomes baking hot, with temperatures in the central and northern regions like Delhi shooting up even to 50C.
See & Do
This magnificent group of Unesco protected temples depict sex scenes in a remarkably in your face fashion. Nothing is left to the imagination and even dragons and horses get their fair share of action. Suffice it to say that the Victorian era British conquerors were appalled by the sight. If you aren’t the prudish kind yourself, be assured that the temples will leave a lasting positive impression on you.
The stereotypical image of India’s claim to tourist fame is worth all the hype around it. It’s one of the rare mass tourism darlings that justifies the footfall it gets and strikes awe into the yearning souls turning their gaze upon it.
Being battered by the human elements of India’s sprawling metropolises is a must for any traveler visiting this land. The sights, sounds and smells will leave your head spinning and your senses reeling from the onslaught. You don’t need to look hard to find it, just pop your head into places like Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and the like.
From lions, tigers, elephants to monkeys, crocodiles and peacocks, India’s wildlife reserves are teeming with life. There are some great sightings to be head at very affordable prices. Some of the best parks include Bandavgarh, which allegedly has the best chance for spotting a tiger, Bandipur for elephants and the sheer beauty of the surroundings and Sunderbans for an adventure into the mangroves. There are of course many more parks on the same or similar level and wildlife enthusiasts will not leave this country disappointed.
An enticing way to see and experience the breadth of human existence. A guided walk in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum by no means entails only looking at how poor people live, it is first and foremost a glimpse of just how incredibly entrepreneurial and resourceful the people of India are. Similar tours can be had in other big cities of the country.
The striking group of temples at Hampi, positioned amidst boulder strewn surroundings are one of India’s highlights for the history buff in you. The laid back atmosphere attracts backpackers from wide and far, with rock climbing a popular activity in the area.
The world’s highest mountain range might be synonymous with China and Nepal, however India has its own big slice of this heaven as well. From the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga, to the travelers’ favorites of Leh and Darjeeling, there are many paths for a hiker to explore.