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Lonely Planet India

Lonely Planet India

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Lonely Planet India

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Oct 1, 2019


Lonely Planet: The world's number one travel guide publisher*

Lonely Planet's India is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Marvel at the intricate floral designs on the Taj Mahal, watch the setting sun cast a rosy glow over the otherworldly landscape of Hampi, and listen to monks chanting in the shadow of the mighty Himalaya in Ladakh - all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of India and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's India:

  • Full-colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sightseeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights provide a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, art, food, drink, sport, politics
  • Covers Delhi, Rajasthan, Kashmir, Ladakh, Agra, Varanasi, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Rishikesh, West Bengal, Darjeeling, Goa, Bengaluru (Bangalore), Mumbai (Bombay), Tamil Nadu, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala, Andaman Islands and more.

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's India is our most comprehensive guide to India, and is perfect for discovering both popular and off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Looking for more coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's South India & Kerala; Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra; or Goa & Mumbai guides for an in-depth look at what these regions and cities have to offer.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, nine international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more.

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*Source: Nielsen BookScan: Australia, UK, USA, 5/2016-4/2017

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

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Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Oct 1, 2019

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Lonely Planet India - Michael Benanav



Plan Your Trip

Welcome to India

India’s Top 21

Need to Know

First Time India

What’s New

If You Like…

Month by Month


Booking Trains


Yoga, Ayurveda & Spiritual Pursuits


Travel with Children

Regions at a Glance

On The Road



Activities & Courses




Drinking & Nightlife




Eastern Rajasthan


Around Jaipur

Bharatpur & Keoladeo National Park


Sariska Tiger Reserve & National Park



Ranthambhore National Park

Southern Rajasthan



Chittorgarh (Chittor)


Around Udaipur

Mt Abu

Northern Rajasthan (Shekhawati)





Western Rajasthan


Around Jodhpur


Around Jaisalmer


Around Bikaner



Around Chandigarh

Morni Hills

Pinjore (Yadavindra) Gardens

Punjab (India)


Around Amritsar





Anandpur Sahib


Kurukshetra (Thanesar)

Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary




Around Leh – Southeast

Markha Valley

Nubra Valley

Pangong Tso

Tso Moriri Loop

Leh to Kargil

Kargil & Zanskar

The Kashmir Valley


Pahalgam & Aru


Naranag & Lake Gangabal


South of Srinagar

Jammu & Southern Kashmir



Southern Himachal Pradesh





Sangla Valley

Rekong Peo


Rekong Peo to Tabo

Central Himachal Pradesh



Tirthan & Banjar Valleys


Parvati Valley




Around Manali

Western Himachal Pradesh


McLeod Ganj

Around McLeod Ganj

Dharamsala to Mandi

Chamba Valley

Lahaul & Spiti






Activities & Tours



Drinking & Nightlife


Around Agra

Fatehpur Sikri






Sunauli & the Nepal Border


Ayodhya & Around

Prayagraj (Allahabad)

Western Uttar Pradesh




Rajaji Tiger Reserve

Dehra Dun




Gangotri & Gaumukh Glacier



Valley of Flowers & Hem Kund

Badrinath & Mana Village

Corbett Tiger Reserve



Around Almora











Drinking & Nightlife




The Ganges Delta

Sundarbans Tiger Reserve

Up the Hooghly



Murshidabad & Berhampore

Gaur & Pandua

West Bengal Hills

Siliguri & New Jalpaiguri



Singalila Ridge


Jaldapara National Park




Patna Area








Betla (Palamau) National Park


East Sikkim



North Sikkim



Far North Sikkim

South Sikkim


Ravangla (Rabongla)

West Sikkim


Khecheopalri (Kechuperi) Lake


Dzongri & Goecha La – the Khangchendzonga Trek


Kuluk & Rinchenpong




Around Guwahati

Manas National Park


Nameri National Park

Kaziranga National Park


Majuli Island



Arunachal Pradesh

Western Arunachal Pradesh


Central Arunachal Pradesh




Around Kohima

Northern Nagaland



Loktak Lake



Rural Mizoram



Neermahal & Melaghar





Cherrapunjee (Sohra)



Around Bhubaneswar

Southeastern Odisha



Chilika Lake


Southwestern Odisha


Around Koraput



Northern & Northeastern Odisha




Pusphagiri Ruins

Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary


Northern Madhya Pradesh




Panna Tiger Reserve

Central Madhya Pradesh




Western Madhya Pradesh






Eastern Madhya Pradesh


Kanha Tiger Reserve

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

Pench Tiger Reserve




Around Jagdalpur


Eastern Gujarat

Ahmedabad (Amdavad)

Around Ahmedabad

Vadodara (Baroda)

Around Vadodara



Velavadar Blackbuck National Park




Gir National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary




Around Jamnagar


Kachchh (Kutch)


Around Bhuj

Little Rann of Kachchh (Kutch)








Drinking & Nightlife




Northern Maharashtra


Around Nashik






Around Nagpur

Southern Maharashtra

Konkan Coast




Around Pune




Panaji & Central Goa


Old Goa

North Goa



Calangute & Baga



Vagator & Chapora




Arambol (Harmal)

South Goa








Bengaluru (Bangalore)

Southern Karnataka


Mysuru (Mysore)

Around Mysuru

Bandipur National Park

Nagarhole National Park

Kodagu (Coorg) Region





Karnataka Coast

Mangaluru (Mangalore)





Central Karnataka



Hosapete (Hospet)

Hubballi (Hubli)

Northern Karnataka


Around Badami

Vijapura (Bijapur)








Andhra Pradesh





Around Visakhapatnam

Tirumala & Tirupati

Around Tirumala & Tirupati


Southern Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)

Around Trivandrum



Kollam (Quilon)

Around Kollam

Alappuzha (Alleppey)

Marari & Kattoor



Kerala’s Western Ghats

Periyar Tiger Reserve


Around Munnar

Central Kerala

Kochi (Cochin)

Around Kochi

Thrissur (Trichur)

Around Thrissur

Northern Kerala

Kozhikode (Calicut)

Wayanad Region

Kannur & Around

Bekal & Around



Chennai (Madras)

Northern Tamil Nadu

East Coast Road

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram)



Puducherry (Pondicherry)


Central Tamil Nadu


Tharangambadi (Tranquebar)


Thanjavur (Tanjore)

Trichy (Tiruchirappalli)

Southern Tamil Nadu




Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin)

The Western Ghats

Kodaikanal (Kodai)




Ooty (Udhagamandalam)

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

Anamalai Tiger Reserve (Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary & National Park)


Best Beaches

Port Blair

Around Port Blair

Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep)

Neil Island (Shaheed Dweep)

Middle & North Andaman

Little Andaman


India Today


The Way of Life

Spiritual India

Delicious India

The Great Indian Bazaar

The Arts

Sacred Architecture

Wildlife & Parks

The Landscape

Survival Guide


Contaminated Food & Drink

Credit-Card Cons


Gem Scams




Touts & Commission Agents

Transport Scams

Women & Solo Travellers

Women Travellers

Solo Travellers

Directory A–Z

Accessible Travel


Customs Regulations

Embassies & Consulates



Internet Access

Language Courses

Legal Matters

LGBT+ Travellers



Opening Hours



Public Holidays

Safe Travel





Tourist Information




Getting There & Away

Entering the Country




Getting Around







Local Transport


Shared Jeep




Before You Go



Medical Checklist


Further Reading

In India

Availability & Cost of Healthcare

Infectious Diseases

Environmental Hazards

Women’s Health


Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to India

With its sumptuous mix of traditions, spiritual beliefs, festivals, architecture and landscapes, your memories of India will blaze bright long after you’ve left its shores.

India’s Great Outdoors

India’s landscapes are as fantastically varied as its cultural traditions. From the snow-dusted peaks of the Himalaya to the sun-splashed beaches of the tropical south, the country has a bounty of outdoor attractions. You can scout for big jungle cats on scenic wildlife safaris, paddle in the shimmering waters of coastal retreats, take bloodpumping treks high in the mountains, or simply inhale pine-scented air on meditative forest walks. Among all these natural treasures is a wealth of architectural gems, from serene temples rising out of pancake-flat plains to crumbling forts peering over plunging ravines.

So Delicious

Indian cuisine is a scrumptious smorgasbord of regionally distinct recipes – from the competing flavours of masterfully marinated meats and thalis (plate meals) to the simple splendour of vegetarian curries and deep-sea delights. Spices lie at the heart of Indian cooking, with the crackle of cumin seeds in hot oil a familiar sound in most kitchens. The country is also renowned for its tempting array of street food, with vendors selling everything from spicy samosas and kebabs to cooling kulfi (ice cream) and lassi (yoghurt drink).

Expectedly Unexpected

A go-with-the-flow attitude will help keep your sanity intact when traversing the chaotic canvas that is India. With the country’s ability to inspire, exasperate, thrill and confound all at once, be prepared for unexpected surprises. This can be challenging, particularly for first-time visitors: despite India’s wonders, the poverty is confronting, the bureaucracy can be frustrating and the crush of humanity may turn the simplest task into a frazzling epic. But love it or loathe it – and most visitors see-saw between the two – to embrace India’s unpredictability is to embrace its soul.

Soul Warming

Spirituality is the ubiquitous thread in India’s richly diverse tapestry, weaving all the way from the snowy mountains of the far north to the tropical shores of the deep south. Hinduism and Islam have the most followers, while Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism are also widely practised. The array of sacred sites and rituals pay testament to the country’s long and colourful religious history. And then there are its festivals, from formidable city parades to simple village harvest fairs that pay homage to a locally worshipped deity.

Holi festival celebrations | INTELLISTUDIES/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Why I Love India

By Sarina Singh, Writer

The moment I start to think I’m right on the precipice of unravelling one of India’s deep mysteries, the country has an uncanny way of reminding me that it would take many lifetimes to do so. Indeed, demystifying India is a perpetual work in progress. And that is precisely what makes the country so alluring: the constant exploration; the playful unpredictability; and knowing that, just when it’s least expected, you can find yourself up close and personal with moments that have the power to alter the way you view the world and your place in it.

For more, see Our Writers

India’s Top 21

Taj Mahal

Perhaps the single most famous building on the planet, the Taj Mahal is as much a monument to love as it is to death. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan constructed this magnificent mausoleum to honour his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died tragically in childbirth. Clad in pearlescent while marble, and intricately inlaid with calligraphy, semiprecious stones and intricate floral designs representing the eternal paradise, the Taj is the pinnacle of Mughal creativity, and one of the most perfectly proportioned buildings ever constructed.


Top Experiences

Other-Worldly Hampi

Magnificent even in ruins, Hampi was once the cosmopolitan capital of a powerful Hindu empire, Vijayanagar, whose temples and water tanks sprawled for miles over a landscape of granite outcrops and boulders. Ransacked by warring armies, its toppled temples are today almost continuous with the rocky terrain. Traverse the centuries on foot, rock-climb among the outcrops, or drift through the ruins by boat on the Tungabhadra River: however you explore, Hampi will transport you to another world.

Virupaksha Temple | PIKOSO.KZ/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Ladakh’s Moonscapes

Rolling north from the sun-baked Indian plains, the air grows cooler and crisper and the terrain more rugged as you climb into the high Himalaya. In culture and topography, Ladakh is closer to Buddhist Tibet than Hindu India, and centuriesold monasteries cling on in its wild desert valleys. Snow closes off this former Buddhist kingdom for half the year, so most visitors come for the brief summer when the snow melts on the mountain passes and patches of greenery appear. Even in a country of superlatives, there’s nowhere quite like Ladakh!

Phyang Gompa | SKAMAN306/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Caves of Ajanta

They may have lived a life of austere humility, but the 2nd-century-BC monks who created the Ajanta caves certainly had an eye for the dramatic. Thirty rock-cut grottoes worm through the face of a horseshoe-shaped cliff, protecting some of the finest carvings ever produced. The caverns were originally hollowed out to provide peaceful spaces for meditation and contemplation, but later generations adorned the chambers with exquisite carvings and paintings depicting the Buddha’s former lives. Renunciation of the worldly life was never so sophisticated.


Top Experiences

Wildlife Safaris

Spotting India’s national animal in the wild takes perseverance and a bit of luck, but if you do spy a tiger burning bright in the Indian jungle, the experience will stay with you for a lifetime. Even if you don’t encounter one of Shere Khan’s cousins, look out for leopards, bears, monkeys, rhinos, elephants and a host of other wildlife in national parks such as Bandhavgarh, Kaziranga and Nagarhole. There’s hardly a corner of India that doesn’t have some kind of natural reserve where you can join a safari in search of adventure.


Top Experiences

Boating the Backwaters of Kerala

Lazily navigating the radiant backwaters of Kerala is like floating off into a dream. Probably India’s most laid-back state has 900km of interconnected rivers, lakes, canals and lagoons lined with swaying coconut palms and picturesque villages. The most atmospheric way to explore this waterlogged rural heartland is on board a teak-and-palm-thatch houseboat. Spend the days watching village life drift past in a timeless tableau, before feasting on Keralan seafood curries and falling into a restful sleep beneath a canopy of twinkling stars.


Top Experiences

Cuppa in a Hill Station

India’s lowlands are full of wonders, but come summer it can get darn hot down there. Indian royals and imported colonials escaped the heat by heading to cool mountain refuges, such as Darjeeling, Shimla and Kodaikanal, tucked into the forested foothills of the Himalaya or crowning the peaks of the Western Ghats down south. Dripping with Raj nostalgia, India’s hill stations are places to curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of locally grown tea, watching mist drift through the tea plantations beneath grandstand views of the peaks.


Top Experiences

Risqué Khajuraho

Ever fancied being a fly on the wall at an orgy? Where couples intertwine in positions that defy the physically possible? Khajuraho could well be your place. Some say the sensuous carvings on Khajuraho’s temples depict the Kamasutra, or tantric practices for initiates; others claim they’re a reminder to the faithful to set lust aside before entering holy places. But pretty much everyone agrees that they’re delightfully mischievous. Once the titillation wanes, you’ll notice that the skill and delicacy of the carving on these historic temples is even more impressive than the subject matter.


Top Experiences

Jaisalmer’s Desert Mirage

A gigantic golden sandcastle that rises like a mirage from Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, the 12th-century citadel of Jaisalmer is impossibly romantic and picturesque. With its crenellated ramparts and barrel-shaped towers, this is the very vision of a desert fortress, emerging from and almost continuous with the camel-coloured scrub landscape on all sides. Inside, a royal palace, atmospheric old havelis (merchants’ mansions), delicately chiselled Jain temples and maze-like lanes conspire to create one of the country’s most atmospheric places.


Top Experiences

Mumbai’s Architectural Visions

Mumbai is more than just a city. This frenetic, fabulous metropolis is the beating heart of Indian film, fashion and finance, built on the hopes and dreams of its 22 million inhabitant. Sprawling over seven islands, Mumbai is prosperous and desperate, brash but also life-affirming. From the skyscraping towers of north Mumbai to the art deco apartments of Marine Drive and the faded Victoriana of Fort, Mumbai wears its history, and its ambitions, on its sleeve – come for the food and culture, and be seduced.


Top Experiences

Goan Beaches

With swishing palms sandwiched between sugar-white sands and lapping kingfisher-blue waves, the coastline of Goa has a laid-back, hedonistic charm that’s like nowhere else in India. With a string of what could be India’s most beautiful beaches, this is no undiscovered escape, but the coastal strip bustles with beachside snack shacks, accommodation for every taste and budget, and markets full of blissed-out tie-dye-clad travellers. It’s a slice of paradise that appeals to social animals and fans of creature comforts who like their seafood fresh and their holidays easy.


Top Experiences

Holy Varanasi

Life, death and all things in-between play out in vivid colour in Varanasi, India’s most sacred city. Like the sacred Ganges that traces its eastern edge, centuries of ritual and tradition flow over Varanasi’s riverside ghats, where holy men fill the air with incense, pilgrims bathe in a vast human tide, and devout Hindus pass into the life hereafter on funeral pyres. To be here is to witness India at its most open, so step into the dizzying spiritual whirlwind and get carried away by Varanasi’s kaleidoscope of colours.


Top Experiences

Amritsar’s Golden Temple

The holiest Sikh shrine, Amritsar’s Golden Temple is a place where spirituality pushes through into the material world. A continuous chain of pilgrims circles the Saravar, a water tank excavated by the fourth Sikh guru in 1577, while priests chant passages from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, in the gold-encased chapel at the centre of the pool. To visit is to glimpse the soul of the Sikh religion, characterised by honour, courage and hospitality – best exemplified by the Guru-Ka-Langar, the vast kitchen for pilgrims that feeds 100,000 people daily.


Top Experiences

Epic Rail Journeys

A train journey across India, passing lime-green rice paddies, jungle-cloaked hills and jutting temple spires, is an epic experience. Sure, you could save time by flying, but it’s tricky to mix with the masses and soak up India’s dramatically diverse scenery from 35,000ft. Riding the rails is a chance to chit-chat with locals over a hot cup of chai, or gaze out the window at the ever-changing landscape, contemplating India’s contradictions. Ramp up the romance on the toy train from Kalka to Shimla, or one of India’s other delightful mountain railways.


Top Experiences

Historic Delhi

India’s captivating capital bears the scars of a string of former empires, from tombs and fortresses left behind by sultans and warlords to the broad streets laid out by British colonials. Delhi may be chaotic today, but it rewards visitors with an abundance of riches: fabulous food and culture; Mughal relics and maze-like markets; New Delhi, with its political monuments and museums; the ancient forts of Tughlaqabad and Purana Qila; and ruined wonders at the Qutab Minar complex and Mehrauli. Come and be mesmerised by 3000 years of history.


Top Experiences

Tribal Northeast

If the crowds wear you down in Rajasthan or Kerala, point your compass northeast to India’s rugged tribal states, linked to the rest of India by just a narrow strip of land, and culturally closer to Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh. For decades the region was off-limits due to colonial-era red tape, but visiting is getting easier all the time. If you venture to the mountainous north of Arunachal Pradesh, or former headhunter villages in forested Nagaland, you’ll be stepping off the tourist map into a world of tribal customs and untamed scenery.

Apatani woman from the Ziro Valley | DAVID EVISON/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

French-Flavoured Puducherry

Where else in the world could you start the day with Ashtanga yoga, breakfast on pain au chocolat, wander streets full of French-colonial villas, glean spiritual tips at a legendary ashram, then dine on fabulous Indian fusion food before strolling beside the tropical ocean? In this former French colony, mustard-coloured houses line cobblestone streets, grand cathedrals overflow with architectural frou-frou, and the croissants are the real deal. But Puducherry (Pondicherry) is also a Tamil town – with all the history, temples and hustle and bustle that go along with that.


Top Experiences

Meditative Rishikesh

India’s self-styled yoga capital has been a source of enlightenment since long before the Beatles stopped by in full-blown hippie mode. Blessed with a glorious setting in the Himalayan foothills, tracing the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh is the perfect place to settle for a time to practise your downward dog, try some laughter therapy, ritually bathe in the Ganges or whatever else floats your spiritual boat. Then there’s that mountain air, blissfully fresh and clean after the polluted fug of the plains.


Top Experiences

Grand Mehrangarh

India is awash with magnificent fortresses, but Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh is particularly humbling. A Rajput maharaja raised this mighty bastion to defend his newly founded capital at Jodhpur, and the fortress saw a string of bloody battles as rival powers eyed its magnificence. With its inlaid interiors and gateways big enough to accommodate war elephants, Mehrangarh showcases Rajasthan’s grandeur but also its tragedies – handprints of royal wives who immolated themselves on the funeral pyre of Maharaja Man Sing still mark the walls.


Top Experiences

Elegant Udaipur

An ice-white city of faded splendours, sitting on the bank of a mirror-like lake, Udaipur is one of India’s most romantic locations. As the sun sets over its turreted palaces, reflected in the millpond-calm waters of Lake Pichola, and voices float upwards from its busy bazaars, Udaipur will transport you to the India of fables. Sure, you’ll have company on the journey, but as you look out over the Rajput elegance of the graceful Lake Palace or wander Udaipur’s backstreet mansions and gardens, you certainly won’t mind!


Top Experiences

The Wild Western Ghats

Stretching like an emerald scarf from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu, the Western Ghats are the south’s answer to the Himalaya, here you’ll find ridges choked in jungle, nostalgic hill stations, scattered tea and spice plantations, and national parks teeming with elephants, leopards and tigers. There’s even a charming, steam-powered miniature train, chugging uphill to Ooty (Udhagamandalam) via Coonoor. You’ll find plenty of colonial-era bungalows turned hotels, where you can sit with a cup of Indian tea and watch the mists swirl over mountains.


Need to Know

For more information, see Survival Guide


Indian rupee (₹)


Hindi and English (official)


Required for most visitors; e-Visa (valid 60 days) available for more than 150 nationalities. Longer trips require a standard six-month tourist visa.


ATMs widely available; carry cash as backup, especially in remote regions. Don’t accept damaged banknotes: they won’t be accepted by others.

Mobile Phones

India operates on the GSM network at 900MHz, the world’s most common standard. Roaming connections excellent in urban areas, poor in the countryside and the Himalaya. Local prepaid SIMs widely available.


India Standard Time (GMT/UTC plus 5½ hours)

When to Go

High Season (Dec–Mar)

A Pleasant weather – warm days, cool nights. Peak tourists, peak prices.

A Cold or freezing conditions from December to February at altitude.

A Temperatures climb steadily from February.

Shoulder (Jun–Nov)

A Passes to Ladakh and the high Himalaya open from June to September.

A Monsoon rains persist through to September.

A The southeastern coast and southern Kerala see heavy rain from October to early December.

Low Season (Apr–Jun)

A April is hot; May and June are scorching. Competitive hotel prices.

A From June, the monsoon sweeps from south to north, bringing draining humidity.

A Beat the heat (but not the crowds) in the cool hills.

Useful Websites

Incredible India ( Official India tourism site.

Lonely Planet ( Destination information, the Thorn Tree travel forum and more.

Templenet ( Temple talk.

Rediff News ( Portal for India-wide news.

Down to Earth ( Focuses on Indian environmental issues often overlooked by the mainstream media.

Important Numbers

%91), then the number (minus the initial ‘0’).

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates, see

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than ₹3000

A Dorm bed: ₹400–₹600

A Double room in a budget hotel: ₹400–₹1000

A All-you-can-eat thalis (plate meals): ₹100–₹300

A Bus and train tickets: ₹300–₹500

Midrange: ₹4000–₹10,000

A Double hotel room: ₹1500–₹5000

A Meals in midrange restaurants: ₹600–₹1500

A Admission to historic sights and museums: ₹500–₹1500

A Local taxis/autorickshaws: ₹500–₹2000

Top End: More than ₹10,000

A Deluxe hotel room: ₹5000–₹24,000

A Meals at superior restaurants: ₹2000–₹5000

A First-class train travel: ₹1000–₹8000

A Renting a car and driver: ₹2000 and up per day

Opening Hours

Banks (nationalised) 10am to 2pm/4pm Monday to Friday, to noon/1pm/4pm Saturday; closed second and fourth Saturday

Bars and clubs noon to 12.30am

Markets 10am to 7pm in major cities; rural markets may be weekly, from early morning to lunchtime

Post offices 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday

Restaurants 8am to 10pm, or lunch (noon to 3pm) and dinner (7pm to 10pm or 11pm)

Shops 10am to 7pm or 8pm, some closed Sunday

Sights Museums (& other sights) are often closed on Monday

Arriving in India

Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi) Express metro to New Delhi station ₹60. Frequent 24-hour AC buses to Kashmere Gate station ₹50. Taxis from ₹450; Uber and Ola Cabs cheaper (add ₹150 to fares for airport parking/entry).

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (Mumbai) Non-AC/AC taxis ₹670/810 to Colaba and Fort, ₹400/480 to Bandra. Train (avoid 6am-to-11am rush hour): autorickshaw (₹18 per km) to Andheri station, then Churchgate or CST train (₹10, 45 minutes). Off-peak UberGo ₹250 to Bandra Kurla Complex, ₹260 to Bandra (W), ₹460 to Fort, ₹560 to Colaba.

Kempegowda International Airport (Bengaluru) AC taxis ₹750 to ₹1000; Uber/Ola ₹550 to ₹650. Frequent AC Vayu Vajra buses ₹170 to ₹260.

Chennai International Airport Metro ₹50 to ₹70. Taxis ₹450 to ₹600; Ola cheaper.

Getting Around

Air Flights are available to most major centres and state capitals; cheap flights are on offer with budget airlines.

Train Frequent services to most destinations; inexpensive tickets are available, even on sleepers.

Bus Buses go everywhere; some destinations are served 24 hours, but longer routes may have just one or two buses a day.

For much more, see Getting Around

First Time India

For more information, see Survival Guide


A Ensure your passport has six months’ validity past your arrival date and two blank pages

A Arrange vaccinations

A Apply for an e-Visa ( ), if required, at least four and at most 120 days before your arrival date; carry a copy of your electronic travel authorisation (ETA)

A Inform your debit/credit-card company you’re heading away

A Arrange travel insurance

What to Pack

A Well-concealed money belt

A Sunscreen and sunglasses

A Earplugs – essential for nuisance noise

A Mosquito repellent

A A reliable padlock for budget hotel doors

A Sheet sleeping bag for budget hotel rooms and dorms

A An MP3 player to help pass the time while waiting for delayed transport

Top Tips for Your Trip

A Make a plan, but don’t be over-ambitious, and allow time for for flexible travel.

A Alternate between cities and the coast, hills or countryside to recharge.

A To stay healthy: use hand sanitiser, eat freshly cooked food and never drink tap water.

A Book long-distance train journeys ahead, especially during festival times.

A Be ready for hassle in touristy places.

A Dress to respect local culture.

A Wear thin, covering cotton for the plains, warm-weather gear for the hills.

A Bargaining is part of life, but keep a sense of proportion.

What to Wear

Male and female travellers should wear non-revealing clothes as a sign of respect for local social mores. This is essential at holy sites (carry a thin headscarf to cover your hair).

Follow the lead of locals. The salwar kameez – a long, flowing shirt with loose-fitting trousers – is practical for women, as is the kurta (a long, loose-fitting shirt) for men. Bring comfortable covered shoes/trainers, plus slip-on shoes for sacred sites, and cold-weather clothing for the Himalaya.


In most of India you’ll get a cheaper rate as a walk-in guest than if you book ahead, except at higher end places, hostels and chain hotels where online discounts are the norm.

Hostels Good-quality hostels offer clean, well-equipped dorms and a backpacker vibe.

Homestays Usually away from tourist hubs, but a great opportunity to experience ordinary Indian life.

Guesthouses & Hotels India has the whole gamut, from top-end five stars to no-frills cheapies.


To avoid India’s legendary scams, note the following:

A Buy train and bus tickets from official outlets where possible; people offering to lead you to the ‘ticket desk’ may steer you to a commission-paying travel agency.

A Find your own way to hotels and guesthouses; arrive with a ‘guide’ and the rate may be hiked to cover their commission.

A Be dubious of detours to shops by rickshaw and taxi drivers; this is usually a ruse to earn a commission.


Bargaining is a way of life in India, including at markets and most shops. Keep things in perspective: /haggle hard, except where fixed prices are displayed, but not without a sense of humour. You’ll usually have to agree to a price before hiring a taxi or autorickshaw, or a car and driver for longer trips. Uber or Ola use fixed prices.


Restaurants and hotels Service fees sometimes added automatically; otherwise, 10% is reasonable.

Hotel/train/airport porters ₹10 to ₹20.

Taxis and rickshaws Not expected, but appreciated.

Private drivers ₹200 per day for good service.

Trekking Per day from ₹350/200 for guides/porters.

Tour guides ₹200 to ₹350 per day is fair.

Long-distance motorcycle touring is popular in India | SOLOVIOVA LIUDMYLA/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


Dress Avoid offence by eschewing tight, sheer or skimpy clothes.

Shoes It’s polite to remove your shoes before entering homes and places of worship.

Photos It’s best to ask before snapping people, sacred sites or ceremonies.

Feet Avoid pointing the soles of your feet towards people or deities, or touching anyone with your feet.

Greetings Saying ‘namaste’ with your hands together in a prayer gesture is a respectful Hindu greeting; for Muslims, say ‘salaam alaikum’ (‘peace be with you’; the response is ‘alaikum salaam’).

Hands The right hand is for eating and shaking hands; the left is the ‘toilet’ hand.


India’s cuisine is a feast for the senses, but consider the following precautions to avoid food-related illness:

A Avoid tap water, and food rinsed in it.

A Eat only freshly-cooked food.

A Avoid shellfish and buffets.

A Peel fruit or wash in purified water.

A Eat in busy restaurants with a high turnover of customers.

What’s New

Handy Hostels

A reaction to rising hotel prices, India’s hostel scene is going from strength to strength; Delhi’s Madpackers and GoStops, Jaipur’s Jaipur Janta, Beehive in Mysuru (Mysore), Rishikesh’s Live Free and Shalom Backpackers and Mumbai’s Cohostel are leading the charge.

Airports Everywhere

Kannur’s new international airport took off in 2018, while Sikkim’s sparkling new airfield at Pakyong promises one of India’s most dramatic mountain flights. Even Hampi now has domestic links from upgraded Jindal Vijaynagar Airport.

Hassle-Free Andamans

Permit requirements for the Andaman Islands were eased in 2018; genuine luxury accommodation in the form of Exotica and Jalakara on Swaraj Dweep (Havelock) only adds to the appeal.

Taxi Apps

Uber and Ola Cabs are revolutionising city travel – no more brain-shattering haggling over cab fares! Both are banned in Goa, but Goa Tourism launched its own competitor, Goa Miles in 2018.

Colossal Statues

At 182m, Gujarat’s new Statue of Unity is the biggest statue on earth, but it may soon be eclipsed by a rival in Mumbai. Over in Sikkim, Pelling’s 42m-high statue of Chenrezig is just the latest in a string of giant deities.

Unravelling Punjab’s Secrets

Newly opened in Amritsar, the Golden Temple Interpretation Centre is doing amazing work demystifying Sikhism’s rich history and traditions, while the new Partition Museum shines a light on Punjab’s darkest days.

Easier Northeast

Easing permit restrictions (now just required for Arunachal Pradesh) and improved transport links are opening up the Northeast Region. A 5km-long bridge over the Brahmaputra near Dibrugarh has shaved hours off the journey from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh, and border crossings now link Myanmar to Manipur and Mizoram.

Goa’s Craft Beer

Goa’s love of beer has brought the craft movement to its tropical shores, with several new microbreweries flaunting sophisticated brews.

Metros, Finally!

As Delhi’s metro continues to expand, Hyderabad’s new system offers a speedy, air-conditioned escape from the city’s congestion; Kochi’s much-anticipated metro opened in mid-2017, zipping above frenzied Ernakulam.

Heritage Homestays

Homestays are going upmarket; the Keralan capital’s fabulous Padmavilasom Palace, reborn in 2018, delights with banana-leaf feasts and boutiquey sleeps in a 150-year-old royal Travancore home.

Goa Cruises

At last! As of 2018, Angriya Cruises transports travellers in style between Mumbai and Mormugao port, near Vasco da Gama in Goa.

For more recommendations and reviews, see

If You Like…

Forts & Palaces

India’s architecture tells a tale of conquest, domination and inordinate riches.

Rajasthan Nowhere matches the Land of Kings for romantic splendour; Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Amber and Udaipur top the fort and palace stakes.

Maharashtra The land of warrior king Shivaji prickles with defensive masterpieces, including Daulatabad and island fortress Janjira.

Hyderabad Royal relics fill the Telangana capital, from time-ravaged Golconda fort to the lavish Falaknuma Palace.

Delhi This historically strategic city has imperial forts like other places have traffic islands.

Mysuru (Mysore) The majestic Mysuru Palace once housed one of India’s most extravagant maharajas.

Grand Temples

No one does temples like India – from psychedelic South Indian Hindu towers to serene and silent Buddhist cave temples.

Tamil Nadu Bursting with gopuram (gateway) temple towers that climb to the sky in rainbow-coloured tiers of sculpted deities.

Golden Temple The greatest of all Sikh temples rises like a treasure box above a sacred pool in Amritsar.

Rajasthan Jain temples at Jaisalmer, Ranakpur and Mt Abu offer some of India’s most mind-blowingly intricate carvings.

Khajuraho Exquisite carvings of deities, spirits, musicians, regular people, mythological beasts – and sex, lots of sex.

Ladakh A wealth of Buddhist monasteries in a stunning lunar landscape.

Ancient Ruins

The ruins left behind by countless cultures and empires lie scattered across cities and countryside.

Hampi Rosy-hued temples and palaces of the mighty capital of Vijayanagar are scattered among other-worldly boulders and hilltops.

Mandu The tombs, palaces, monuments and mosques on Mandu’s green plateau are among India’s finest Islamic structures.

Delhi Conquered and built up repeatedly over 3000 years, Delhi is packed with the monumental ruins of ancient powerhouses.

Fatehpur Sikri A ghostly abandoned Mughal city, close to Agra and the Taj Mahal.

Maharashtra Magnificent rock-cut Buddhist temple caves at Ajanta and Ellora.

City Sophistication

India’s cities offer fabulous fine dining, star-studded nightlife, five-star shopping and the cream of the arts.

Mumbai Home of Bollywood, Mumbai has it all: fashion, film stars, elegant dining, ritzy bars and top-notch art galleries.

Delhi Sophisticated Delhi is famous for its cultural life, with a packed festival calendar, exceptional shopping, stunning museums and fabulous dining.

Kolkata Renowned for music, poetry, literature and film, Kolkata also offers magical markets, grand colonial-era buildings and delicious seafood-based cuisine.

Bengaluru (Bangalore) Karnataka’s burgeoning IT hub is loved for its nightlife, with microbreweries, gastropubs and music bars packed with partying locals.

Chennai Towering temples, stylish bars, swish hotels, fabulous shopping and a booming restaurant scene filled with the flavours of the south.

Hill Stations

Those with the means have always fled to the hills to escape the hair-dryer heat of summer.

Tamil Nadu Kodaikanal and Ooty serve up misty forests, rolling tea plantations, mountain hikes, and accommodation in colonial-era bungalows.

Munnar Kerala’s not-too-touristy hill station sits amid rolling tea and spice plantations, where tropical birds give song in the morning mist.

Shimla Packed with Raj-era relics, Shimla is a great appetite-whetter for the magnificent Himalayan peaks visible from its ridge-top promenade.

Darjeeling The quintessential summer escape, surrounded by emerald-green plantations, with a backdrop of Himalayan giants.

Nainital Uttarakhand’s favourite hill station, whose once-grand colonial-era hotels lie scattered around a lovely lake.

Confluence of the Zanskar and Indus rivers, Ladakh | SZEFEI/SHUTTERS5TOCK ©


India has some stunning stretches of coast that more than fulfill the tropical dream.

Kerala Backpacker favourite Varkala is backed by beautiful sea cliffs, Kovalam curls around a golden bay, and more deserted Thottada is shaded by nodding palms.

Goa Even when overrun with travellers, Goa’s beaches are still gorgeous; Mandrem and Palolem are two of the prettiest.

Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) In the Andaman Islands, one of the world’s most gorgeous beaches, with clear, aquamarine water lapping against white powder.

Gokarna Sun seekers and devotees mix on Gokarna’s beautiful beaches, which back onto an ancient pilgrimage town.

Puri Atmosphere lures people to this seaside pilgrim town, with a lively beach festival each November.

Yoga, Ayurveda & Spiritual Pursuits

India was the birthplace of myriad spiritual traditions from yoga and meditation to plant-based ayurvedic medicine.

Bihar Pilgrims and the spiritually curious flock to Bodhgaya to study and meditate where Buddha attained enlightenment.

Kerala This lush, green southern state is where ayurveda originated, and there’s a herbal-oil-based treatment on almost every corner.

Rishikesh One of India’s most popular places to salute the sun, with lessons for every level.

Mysuru (Mysore) K Pattabhi Jois developed Ashtanga yoga here, and it’s still a great place to join a long or short course.

Ladakh Leh is packed with places offering meditation courses and yoga, and anyone can join in the real deal at a Buddhist monastery.

Wildlife Safaris

India’s legendary Royal Bengal tigers can be elusive, but leopards, elephants, antelope, bison, one-horned rhinos and deer are often less shy.

Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh This is serious tiger country, and sightings are likely in a string of national parks, including Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench Tiger Reserve.

Assam Kaziranga National Park is the world’s rhinoceros capital; you may see dozens on a single safari.

Kerala Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the few places where you have a good chance of spotting wild elephants.

Gujarat Gir National Park provides a sanctuary for Asia’s only wild lions, along with over 300 species of birds.

Rajasthan Spot tigers and other signature species amid the jungle and fortress ruins of Ranthambhore National Park.


View the peaks from the comfort of a hill-station bungalow or see the summits up close on a mountain trek.

Ladakh Traverse 5000m passes between saw-tooth crags and sleep in villages that have survived unchanged through the centuries in this desolate moonscape.

Lahaul & Spiti Green Lahaul and rain-starved Spiti are divided from the rest of Himachal Pradesh by soaring mountain passes; even the drive up here is an epic adventure.

Darjeeling Overnight in simple lodges on the Singalila Ridge Trek, or sit pretty in one of Darjeeling’s historic hotels for incredible views of the eastern Himalaya.

Sikkim View mighty Khangchendzonga, the world’s third-highest mountain, up close from Pelling or the trekking trails to Goecha La and Dzongri.

Uttarakhand Join the pilgrim crowds bound for the dramatic Char Dam temples, or find true peace in Uttarakhand’s mountain meadows.

Traveller Enclaves

Sometimes you just want to find some like-minded souls to swap stories from the road and discuss life-altering bowel events.

Goa Traveller magnet and beach haven, with Palolem and (cheaper) Arambol as its chief enclaves.

Rishikesh Yoga practitioners are irresistibly drawn to this self-styled yoga capital at the foot of the Himalaya.

McLeod Ganj The spiritually minded flock to this Buddhist community near Dharamsala to glean wisdom from the Dalai Lama.

Pushkar Travellers and pilgrims converge on this holy town for its Camel Fair, but you’ll find a lively crowd here year-round.

Parvati Valley People linger for weeks or months sampling local ‘herbs’ and enjoying the ethereal beauty of this Himalayan valley.

Leh In summer half of Goa decamps from the coast to the lofty capital of Ladakh to continue the party.

Camels at the Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan | PZAXE/SHUTTERS5TOCK ©

Month by Month


Holi, February or March

Ganesh Chaturthi, August or September

Onam, August or September

Navratri & Dussehra, September or October

Diwali, October or November


Post-monsoon cool lingers throughout the country, with downright cold in the mountains. Moderate weather and several festivals make it a popular time to travel (book ahead!), while Delhi hosts big Republic Day celebrations.

z Republic Day

Republic Day commemorates the founding of the Republic of India on 26 January 1950; the biggest celebrations are in Delhi, with a vast military parade along Rajpath, and the Beating of the Retreat ceremony three days later. There are pigeon races in Old Delhi.

z Sankranti

Sankranti, the Hindu festival marking the sun’s passage into Capricorn, takes place on 14 or 15 January, and is celebrated in many ways across India – from banana-giving to decorating sacred cows. But it’s the mass kite-flying in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra that’s most spectacular.

z Pongal

The Tamil festival of Pongal, equivalent to Sankranti, marks the end of the harvest season. Families prepare pots of pongal (a mixture of rice, sugar, dhal and milk), symbolic of prosperity and abundance, then feed them to decorated and adorned cows.

z Vasant Panchami

Hindus dress in yellow and place books, musical instruments and other educational objects in front of idols of Saraswati, the goddess of learning, to receive her blessing. The holiday sometimes falls in February.


This is a good time to be in India, with balmy weather in most non-mountainous areas. It’s still peak travel season, and sunbathing and skiing are still on.

z Losar (Tibetan New Year)

Losar is celebrated by Tantric Buddhists all over India – particularly in Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Ladakh and Zanskar – for 15 days. The event usually falls in February or March, though dates can vary between regions.

z Shivaratri

Held in February or March, Shivaratri, a day of Hindu fasting, recalls the tandava (cosmic victory dance) of Lord Shiva. Temple processions are followed by the chanting of mantras and the anointing of linga (phallic images of Shiva). Upcoming dates: 21 February 2020, 11 March 2021.

z Carnival in Goa

The four-day party kicking off Lent is particularly big in Goa. Sabado Gordo (Fat Saturday) gets the festivities going with elaborate parades, and the revelry continues with street parties, concerts and general merrymaking. Can also fall in March.


The last month of high season, March is full-on hot in most of India, with rains starting in the Northeast Region. Wildlife is easier to spot, as animals emerge to find water ahead of the monsoon.

z Holi

In February or March, Hindus celebrate the beginning of spring according to the lunar calendar by throwing coloured water and gulal (powder) at anyone within range. Bonfires the night before symbolise the demise of demoness Holika. Upcoming dates: 9 March 2020, 28 March 2021.


The heat has officially arrived in most places, which means you can get deals and avoid tourist crowds. The Northeast, meanwhile, is wet, but it’s peak time for visiting Sikkim and highland West Bengal.

z Mahavir Jayanti

Mahavir Jayanti commemorates the birth of Jainism’s 24th and most important tirthankar (teacher and enlightened being). Temples are decorated and visited, Mahavir statues are given ritual baths, processions are held and offerings are given to the poor. Upcoming dates: 6 April 2020, 25 April 2021.

z Rama Navami

During this one- to nine-day festival, Hindus celebrate Rama’s birth with processions, music, fasting and feasting, enactments of scenes from the Ramayana and, at some temples, ceremonial weddings of Rama and Sita idols. Upcoming dates: 2 April 2020, 21 April 2021.

z Easter

The Christian holiday marking the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated simply in Christian communities with prayer and good food, particularly in Goa and Kerala. Upcoming dates for Easter Sunday: 12 April 2020, 4 April 2021.

z Ramadan (Ramazan)

Thirty days of dawn-to-dusk fasting mark the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims traditionally turn their attention to God, with a focus on prayer and ritual purification. Ramadan begins around 24 April 2020 and 13 April 2021.


It’s hot almost everywhere – incendiary, in fact. Festivals take a back seat as humidity builds up, awaiting the release of the rain. Hill stations are hopping, though, and in the mountains it’s pre-monsoon trekking season.

z Buddha Jayanti

The celebration of Buddha’s birth, nirvana (enlightenment) and parinirvana (total liberation from the cycle of existence, or passing away) is calm but moving: devotees dress simply, eat vegetarian food, listen to dharma talks and visit monasteries or temples. Upcoming dates: 7 May 2020, 26 May 2021.

z Eid al-Fitr

Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with three days of festivities. Prayers, shopping, gift-giving and, for women and girls, mehndi (henna designs) may all be part of the celebrations. Upcoming dates: 24 May 2020, 13 May 2021.


June is low season because of the heat, but it’s a good time to trek up north, as the passes open to Ladakh. The rainy season starts just about everywhere else, making national-park access tricky.

z Rath Yatra

The Chariot Festival in June or July sees effigies of Lord Jagannath (Vishnu incarnated as Lord of the Universe) and his siblings carried on vast, colourful chariots, most famously in Puri, Odisha (Orissa). Millions come to see the festivities. Upcoming dates: 23 June 2020, 12 July 2021.


It should be raining almost everywhere now, but flooding causes problems in many regions. Consider visiting Ladakh, where the weather’s surprisingly dry and pleasant, or do a rainy-season meditation retreat, an ancient Indian tradition.

z Naag Panchami

Held in July or August, Naag Panchami, particularly vibrant in Pune and Kolhapur (Maharashtra) and Karnataka, is dedicated to Ananta, the serpent upon whose coils Vishnu rested between universes. Women fast at home, while serpents are venerated as totems. Upcoming dates: 25 July 2020 and 13 August 2021.

z Eid al-Adha

Commemorates Ibrahim’s readiness to sacrifice his son to God; Muslims slaughter a goat or sheep and share it with family, the community and the poor. Upcoming dates: 31 July 2020, 19 July 2021.


Monsoon should be still going strong, but this is the best time to visit Ladakh. Tropical areas such as Kerala and Goa boast lush, green jungle, and it’s often raining only a few hours a day.

z Independence Day

This public holiday on 15 August celebrates India’s independence from Britain in 1947. Celebrations include flag-hoisting ceremonies and parades. The biggest celebrations are in Delhi, where the prime minister addresses the nation from the Red Fort, and there events such as pigeon racing and kite flying in Old Delhi.

z Janmastami

Krishna’s birthday celebrations can last a week in Krishna’s birthplace, Mathura; elsewhere the festivities range from fasting to puja (prayers) and offering sweets, to drawing elaborate rangoli (rice-paste designs) outside homes. Janmastami is held in August or September. Upcoming dates: 11 August 2020, 30 August 2021.

z Onam

In August or September, Onam is Kerala’s biggest cultural celebration. The entire state celebrates the golden age of mythical King Mahabali for 10 days. Upcoming dates: 30 August 2020, 21 August 2021.

z Ganesh Chaturthi

The birth of the much-loved elephant-headed god is celebrated over 10 days, particularly in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. Clay idols of Ganesh are paraded through the streets before being ceremonially immersed in rivers, sacred temple tanks or the sea. Upcoming dates: 22 August 2020, 10 September 2021.

z Ashura

Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Imam Hussain on the 10th day of Muharram with beautiful processions, especially in Hyderabad. Sunni Muslims commemorate the fast of Moses (Moosa) when Allah saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. Upcoming dates: around 28 August 2020 and 18 August 2021.


Many festivals follow the Indian lunar calendar (a complex system based on astrology) or the Islamic calendar (which shifts 11 days earlier each year relative to the Gregorian calendar). Because of this, the dates of many festivals change annually. Contact local tourist offices for current dates, or see for a list of the year’s gazetted government holidays.


The rain is petering out (but temperatures are still relatively high), and the monsoon is usually finished in places such as Rajasthan, which can be surprisingly green. Autumn trekking season begins mid-month in the Himalaya.


This is when the travel season starts to kick off in earnest. October, also known as shoulder season, brings festivals and mostly good weather, with reasonably comfy temperatures and lots of post-rain greenery.

z Gandhi Jayanti

This national holiday is a solemn celebration of Mohandas Gandhi’s birth, on 2 October, with prayer meetings at his cremation site in Delhi, Raj Ghat.

z Navratri

The Hindu Festival of Nine Nights preceding Dussehra celebrates Durga in all her incarnations. Festivities, in September or October, are particularly vibrant in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Gujarat; in Kolkata, Durga images are ritually immersed in rivers and water tanks. Upcoming dates: 17 October 2020, 7 October 2021.

z Dussehra

Colourful Dussehra celebrates the victory of Hindu god Rama over demon-king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. It’s big in Kullu: more than 200 deities are carried into the town on palanquins, and festivities last a week. Upcoming dates: 8 October 2019, 25 October 2020, 14 October 2021.

z Durga Puja

The conquest of good over evil is exemplified by the goddess Durga’s victory over buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. Celebrations occur around the time of Dussehra in October, particularly in Kolkata, where thousands of images of the goddess are displayed, then ritually immersed in rivers and water tanks.

z Diwali

In the lunar month of Kartika, in October or November, Hindus celebrate the Festival of Lights for five days. There’s massive build-up, and on the day people exchange gifts, let off unbelievable amounts of fireworks, and light lamps to lead Lord Rama home from exile. Upcoming dates: 27 October 2019, 14 November 2020, 4 November 2021.


The climate is blissful in most places – still hot, but not uncomfortably so – but the southern monsoon sweeps through Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

z Eid-Miladun-Nabi

The Islamic festival of Eid-Milad-un-Nabi celebrates the birth of the Prophet with prayers and processions. Upcoming dates: around 10 November 2019, 29 October 2020, 19 October 2021.

z Nanak Jayanti

The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, is celebrated with prayer, kirtan (devotional singing) and processions for three days, especially in Punjab and Haryana. Upcoming dates: around 12 November 2019, 30 November 2020 and 19 November 2021, but some mark the festival on 14 April, possibly Nanak’s actual 1469 birth date.

z Pushkar Camel Fair

Held during Kartika (the eighth lunar month, usually falling in October or November), this fair attracts 200,000 people, who bring some 50,000 camels, horses and cattle. It’s a swirl of colour, magic and mayhem, thronged with musicians, mystics, tourists, camera crews, traders, devotees and animals.

3 International Film Festival of India

Held in Panaji (Panjim) in Goa in late November, India’s largest film festival draws Bollywood’s finest for premieres, parties, screenings and ceremonies. See for details.


December is peak tourist season, and no wonder: you’re guaranteed glorious weather (except in the chilly mountains), the humidity’s low, the mood’s festive and the beaches are blissful.

2 Wedding Season

Marriage ceremonies peak in December, and you may see many a baraat (bridegroom’s procession), featuring white horse, nervous protagonist and fireworks, on your travels. Across the country, loud music and spectacular several-day-long parties abound, with brides adorned with mehndi and pure gold regalia.

2 Birdwatching

Many of India’s 1250-plus bird species perform their winter migration from November to January or February, and excellent birdwatching spots are peppered across the country; is an excellent resource.

z Christmas Day

Christian Goa, and parts of Kerala and the Northeast Region, come alive in the lead-up to Christmas, Mass is celebrated on 24 December, and Christmas Day is celebrated with feasting and fireworks.


The Golden Triangle & the Land of the Kings


Linking Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, India’s Golden Triangle combines some of India’s most jaw-dropping sights. The princely splendours of Rajasthan make for a natural extension.

Kick off in Delhi, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of Old Delhi. Explore its Mughal-era Red Fort and Jama Masjid, and experience living Islamic culture at the captivating Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Dargah. Next, catch a train to Agra and gasp at the beauty of the Taj Mahal. Explore Agra Fort and devote a day to the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri. Continue on to the Pink City of Jaipur; don’t miss the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and Amber Fort.

Return to Delhi, or travel on to Pushkar for a few days of chilling out around lakeside temples. Drop into Ranthambhore National Park to spot tigers, then roll south to elegant Udaipur, with its floating palace and serene lake. Next, visit magnificent hilltop Kumbhalgarh and the temple at Ranakpur, en route to Jodhpur; Mehrangarh fort offers the definitive view over Rajasthan’s Brahmin-blue city.

Enjoy a camel trek through the dunes in fortified Jaisalmer before looping back to Delhi for an early-morning trip to the ruins of Qutab Minar.


North & South


Tourist visas last six months, allowing you to mix famous highlights with detours off the established tourist grid.

Start by exploring Delhi, then ride the rails north to Amritsar to see Sikhism’s glittering Golden Temple. Connect through Chandigarh to lofty Shimla; from this classic hill station you can roam northwest to Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama, before doubling back to adrenalin-charged Manali, starting point for the thrilling overland journey to rugged Ladakh (June to September). When you’ve had your fill of mountain air, head south for some yoga in Rishikesh, and descend to Agra to admire the vision-like Taj Mahal. Next, go south to Khajuraho, with its risqué temples, and scan the jungle for tigers in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Continue to Varanasi for a mesmerising boat trip along the sacred Ganges.

Roam east to Kolkata, bustling capital of West Bengal. Swing north as far as Darjeeling or Sikkim for sweeping Himalayan views, then drift down the coast to the temple towns of Konark and Puri in Odisha (Orissa). Continue south to Chennai for a big-city view of South India.

From Chennai, detour south to the temple wonders of Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), continuing to French-colonial Puducherry (Pondicherry). Rumble on to Madurai, with its deity-encrusted temple towers. Enjoy some beach time in Kerala before roaming inland to nostalgic Mysuru (Mysore) to see how maharajas lived.

Continuing north, head to Hampi, where collapsed temples lie strewn among the boulders, then unwind on the sun-stroked coast of Goa. Wine, fine-dine and go Bollywood-crazy in Mumbai, then admire the glorious cave paintings and carvings at Ajanta and Ellora.

Finish with Rajasthan’s triumvirate of coloured cities – pink Jaipur, blue Jodhpur and white Udaipur. There might just be time to detour to the fascinating temples and nature reserves of Gujarat before you take one last train ride to Delhi.


Mountains & Tribal Culture


Sikkim and the Northeast States, with their incredible mountain scenery, are still a well-kept secret for many travellers, but plan ahead as permits and security can be an issue.

Starting in Kolkata, make your first stop genteel Darjeeling – here you can sample the subcontinent’s finest teas and pick up a permit for Sikkim, one of the most serene retreats in the country. Rumble by jeep to Gangtok, the Sikkimese capital, for trips to historic Buddhist monasteries and views over epic mountain scenery. Roll on to Namchi to see giant statues of Shiva and Padmasambhava, and to Pelling for inspiring views of the white-peaked Khangchendzonga and the beautiful Pemayangtse Gompa. Take the weeklong trek from Yuksom to Goecha La, a 4940m pass with incredible views, then exit Sikkim via Tashiding, with more wonderful views and another stunning monastery, before you travel to Siliguri for the train journey east.

Arrange tours and permits for the Northeast States in Guwahati or online. Then head from Guwahati to Arunachal Pradesh to admire the stunning, city-size Buddhist monastery at Tawang, before exploring the fascinating tribal villages around the Ziro Valley. A visit to Nagaland opens up fascinating tribal villages around Mon, dotted with traditional longhouses and squeezed into remote forested valleys, and the capital, Kohima, with its moving WWII relics. Going south, you can encounter Meitei culture in newly accessible Imphal in Manipur and Mizo culture in Aizawl in Mizoram before you fly back to Kolkata.

As an alternative, you could try this classic loop (for which Arunachal Pradesh permits are not required): from Guwahati, head to Kaziranga National Park to spot rare rhinos. Detour to sleepy Shillong, and hike to the waterfalls and incredible living root bridges of Cherrapunjee (Sohra). Take the long overland road trip to Agartala, dusty capital of Tripura, before you return to Kolkata by air or overland through Bangladesh.


The Spiritual Centre


India has a wealth of temples, and this trip around the central plains takes in some of the most fabulous.

Start amid the chaos and culture of Kolkata, then swap the big-city bustle for the peace of Bodhgaya, where the historical Buddha attained enlightenment. Roll across the plains to Sarnath, where Buddha later gave his first dharma lesson.

Move on to one of Hinduism’s most sacred spots, ancient Varanasi, then swap living history for ancient erotica at the Hindu temples of Khajuraho. Next, head southwest to Sanchi, where Emperor Ashoka first embraced Buddhism, and zip on through Bhopal to the caves

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  • (2/5)
    I didn't find the suggestions in this Lonely Planet useful, nor I found it a valuable source of ideas on where to go. Everything mentioned in the guide is almost a must see, when if fact it might not be worth the bus journey so I didn't find this guide useful for India. You'd better look elsewhere...
  • (5/5)
    A bit old but Lonely Planet quality. Histories, good maps, photographs. Even if you can't make the tirp right now a good place for some vicarious traveling.
  • (3/5)
    Tremendous amount of information but not a book you can carry with you. I used this a reference prior to the trip and took Fodors with me.