Getting there

British Airways fly direct from London Heathrow to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. Virgin Atlantic have daily flights to Delhi and Jet Airways fly direct to Delhi and Mumbai. Emirates, Oman Air, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways also have excellent connections via their respected hubs to Kolkata, Kochi, Trivandrum, Kozhikode, Goa, Jaipur and Lucknow and fly from airports all over the UK.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights from the UK take between 8 and 10 hours depending on the destination. Flights with stops en-route take between 12 and 14 hours.

Time zone

India is +5½ hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

Holders of British Citizen passports are able to apply for an e-Tourist Visa (eTV). The eTV is valid for 30 days from the date of arrival and is for single entry only. It is also possible to arrange an Indian visa prior to travel if your holiday is longer than 30 days, requires multiple entry or visits restricted or protected areas.

Climate and weather

India is a year-round destination but, in general, the best time to visit the country is from late September to early April when temperatures are comfortable and the risk of rain low. Mid-April to June see a rise in temperature and as foliage dies back are the perfect time for viewing wildlife. The monsoon arrives by the end of June and lasts until early September. Showers tend to be short and heavy but the lower temperatures and fewer tourists make this a good time to travel. Conversely, the monsoon months are the best time to visit the northern region of Ladakh.

Do’s and don’ts

Smoking and drinking in public places is prohibited in India – with smoking this includes public areas in hotels, restaurants and bars.

Always ask permission before entering a temple and remember to remove your shoes and any leather objects such as bags, belts or wallets. It is fine to wear socks.

When in a Buddhist temple you should always walk in a clockwise direction with the main building to your right.

Modest, loose-fitting clothing is preferable and is essential when visiting religious places. When visiting a Sikh Gurudwara the head needs to be covered.

Permission should always be asked before taking a person’s picture.

When eating, only the right hand should be used. Indian culture considers the left hand to be unclean.

Money

The currency of India is the Indian Rupee (INR) and comes in notes and coins. Exchanging money is easy and can be done at international airports, most hotels or banks and it is always a good idea to ask for some small denomination Rupee notes. ATMs are now common and reliable in all main cities and credit cards are widely accepted by most hotels, shops and restaurants. In rural areas or wildlife reserves ATMs and money exchange facilities are limited so having cash is essential. Pound Sterling and US Dollars are accepted but INR are preferred.

Tipping

This is left to your discretion, however, tipping for good service in India is part of everyday life. In restaurants and for room service a 10% tip is appreciated and at smaller hotels and homestays a communal ‘tip box’ is common. For drivers and guides, hotel staff and at national parks, the following amounts should act as a guideline:

Tour driver                          INR/350 per person per day

Local driver                         INR/250 per person per day

Tour guide                          INR/400 per person per day

Tour guide                          INR/300 per person per half day

Hotel porter                        INR/50 per suitcase

Housekeeper                      INR/200 a night

Naturalist                            INR/300 per person per safari

Jeep driver                         INR/100 per person per safari

Mahout                               INR/150 per person

Food and drink

India is known the world over for its food and especially its vegetarian cuisine. Spice plays an important role in dishes throughout the country as do breads, rice, pickles and chutneys. Although nearly every region has its own speciality and there is a divide between the cuisine of northern and southern India – the north with its meat dishes influenced by the Mughals and the lighter, fruitier, coconut based dishes of the south. Desserts are common in India with kulfi ice cream and gulab jamun two of the best known and most popular. Nearly all tend to be very sweet, milk based or fried.

The most common drink in India is chai tea which can be bought on nearly every street corner. The yoghurt drink lassi – whether sweet, salty or fruity – is also easy to find. The popularity of coffee has spread from the south whilst Indian beer is well-respected. There is also a fledgling wine industry centred on Nashik in Maharashtra.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

Secular holidays including Republic Day, Independence Day and Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday are observed throughout India and fall on set dates. Dates for religious festivals change each year and tend to be the most colourful, vibrant and reflective. Holi, with its dancing, singing and colour marks the coming of spring, whilst Diwali, the festival of lights, celebrates the victory of good over evil and is usually observed in November. The Kumbh Mela is celebrated four times over the course of twelve years with the Great Kumbh Mela of 2001 attracting over 60 million worshippers. Other popular melas include the Pushkar and Sonepur livestock fairs. Local celebrations include the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland and the Rajasthan International Folk Festival held in Jodhpur.

Accommodation

There is a vast range of accommodation on offer in India. There are luxurious palaces, contemporary hotels, boutique properties and atmospheric family run homestays. Wildlife lodges range from the rustic to the salubrious, there are hotels with a focus on Ayurveda or yoga and some on working tea and coffee estates. There are houseboats on the Keralan backwaters and in Kashmir on Nagin Lake, both offering authentic accommodation, while cruises run on the Brahmaputra between Dibrugarh and Guwahati and follow the Hugli linking Varanasi, Patna and Kolkata.

Shopping

With wholesale markets and bazaars, innumerable shops and stores, India is a shopper’s paradise. The country is best known for carpets and dhurries with Rajasthan, Kashmir and Leh best for these. There is also a bewildering range of clothing, fabric and leatherwear found not only in the smallest of villages but also the largest cities. Gems, silver and jewellery (valuable or costume) are popular throughout the country but especially in Jaipur and Hyderabad whilst Kochi is noted for its antiques. Spices can be bought all over India but purchased straight from plantations in the south. Darjeeling, Assam and the Western Ghats in south India are all known for tea.

Suggested reading

Footprint, Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Bradt have excellent guide books whilst Nelles Maps have comprehensive and up to date maps of the Indian subcontinent. There is also a wide range of literature including from famed authors such as RK Narayan, Vikram Seth, Paul Scott, VS Naipaul, Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie. Vivek Shanbhag's newly translated book 'Ghachar Ghochar' is also highly recommended. Other good books on India include:

‘India: A History’ by John Keay

‘The Great Arc’ by John Keay

‘No Full Stops in India’ by Mark Tully

‘India in Slow Motion’ by Mark Tully and Gillian Wright

‘City of Djinns’ by William Dalrymple

‘White Mughals’ by William Dalrymple

‘Chasing the Monsoon’ by Alexander Frater

‘The Tears of the Rajas’ by Ferdinand Mount

‘Plain Tales from the Raj’ by Charles Allen

‘Mughal Architecture and Gardens’ by George Michell

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on India the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We will also be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.