There are a number of things you should do before you travel to India, but where to start with it all? These steps and information will help you get your trip planned and organized in no time at all, and hopefully take some of the stress out of your preparations.
Decide Where You Want to Visit
Deciding where to visit in India is probably the one thing that causes people the most headaches with the variety and diversity that it has to offer.
Get Your Visa
All visitors need a visa for India, except citizens of neighboring Nepal and Bhutan. There is limited provision for visas on arrival to citizens of certain countries. However, most people will need to obtain a visa before arriving in India. Visitors staying in India for less than 72 hours can obtain a Transit Visa, otherwise an Indian Tourist Visa is necessary. The Indian Embassy has started outsourcing the Indian visa application process to private processing agencies in many countries to make it more efficient.
Book Trains and Flights
Many people prefer not to make advance reservations for transport in India as they don't like to be constrained by set itineraries. However, the number of people traveling on Indian Railways has increased a great deal in recent times, as train travel is a cheaper alternative to expensive flights. Some trains can fill up months in advance on popular routes during holiday times, making early bookings a must.
Places to visit / Things to see
Snorkel in the Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal - a lushly forested archipelago that has exotic plant life and a wide variety of corals and tropical fish. The best sites for diving around the islands are more difficult to reach remote. It is also home to India's only active volcano
Bollywood and Bombay
Escape Indian stereotypes in Mumbai (Bombay), the capital of Maharashtra, where a bustling port and the country's commercial hub, Mumbai’s plate-glass skyscrapers and modern industry jostle alongside ramshackle bazaars and a hectic street life. The city is also the home of the prolific film industry. Welcome to 'Bollywood'!
Experience India's sprawling deserts from the back of a camel. Make sure you camp overnight to experience the desert’s incredibly clear array of stars. Coincide your visit with one of the annual festivals such as Jaisalmer’s Desert Festival (January/February) and Pushkar’s fascinating Camel Fair (October).
Encounter the two sides of Delhi: New Delhi is a modern city, offering Lutyens' architecture; 'Old' Delhi is several centuries old, with narrow, winding streets, ancient shrines and rambunctious bazaars. See the Red Fort, the nearby Jama Masjid (India's largest mosque) and the Qutab Minar's soaring tower.
Although much less mellow than in the heady days of the 1960s, there are still some fabulous full moon parties in places such as Anjuna. Time your visit for the spectacular Carnival for bustling fun, as crowds throng to watch the lavish floats pass by and dance the night away.
Play golf on one of the highest golf course in the world, at Gulmarg. From here there are good views of Nanga Parbat, one of the highest mountains on earth. In winter, Gulmarg is transformed into a lively ski resort (www.skihimalaya.com).
Head for the cool hill stations to retreat from the heat of the plains. Some of the most renowned hill stations include Shimla (Himachal Pradesh), Darjeeling (West Bengal), Ooty (Tamil Nadu), Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu) and the incredibly beautiful Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) with its lotus-strewn Dal Lake.
Orissa state is famous for temples. Bhubaneswar has some particularly notable temples, including the Lingaraj Temple. Puri, a holy Hindu place of pilgrimage, stages Rath Yatra in June or July, where icons of gods are drawn on massive chariots. Konarak is known for its striking ‘Sun Temple '
Wonder at Kashmir's flower-spangled meadows, icy mountain peaks and clear rivers. Jammu is the railhead for Srinagar, the ancient Mughal capital. Lake Dal has houseboats where visitors can live surrounded by scenery so beautiful it is known as 'paradise on earth'.
A complete break from India's urban grit, cruise along the tropical backwaters of Kerala, pausing en route to visit rustic villages and assorted tourist sites. Sample the region’s renowned cuisine whilst you’re there including seafood flavoured in light coconut curries.
Go east to Kolkata (Calcutta), capital of West Bengal. It is a major business centre with many markets, bazaars and impressive, if crumbling, colonial buildings. Central Kolkata contains the Maidan, the central parkland.
Music and dance
Listen to the evocative instruments of Indian music, such as the sitar, sarod and the subtle rhythm of the tabla. There is also a variety of dance forms to marvel at, each with its own costumes and elaborate language of gestures.
Explore the wildlife in over 70 national parks, 400 wildlife sanctuaries and 17 biosphere reserves. The Indian tiger and the Asiatic elephant are still found in certain regions. Among the best known reserves are Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Rajasthan), Ranthambore National Park (Rajasthan), Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh), Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand) and Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (West Bengal).
Visit the most romantic city in Rajasthan, Udaipur. Known as the ‘Venice of the East’, it is built around the lovely Lake Pichola and is famed for its breathtaking Lake Palace Hotel as well as being a key filming location for the James Bond film, Octopussy. The rest of Rajasthan is famous for its colourful people and fairy-tale castles and forts.