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One of the oldest civilizations on earth dating back to 2500 BC, India’s historical wealth is immense and virtually unrivalled. India is a very personal experience, leaving no traveller unchanged. It is an amazing and contradictory place intensely rich in colour and vitality; where time has stood still for centuries in some regions and in others catapulted into the full force of the 21st century.

AIRLINES

Most international flights arrive into Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata or Bangalore. There are also international airports in Hyderabad, Cochin, Trivandrum, Ahmadabad, Jaipur and Amritsar.

AIRPORT TAX

Departure tax is included in the cost of your ticket.

ARRIVAL

All visitors are required to have a valid Indian Visa and to complete an arrival/departure card, which is usually distributed during the flight. The completed card should be submitted with passport to the immigration officials on arrival. The departure portion will be torn off and returned to the visitor - it should be retained for presentation upon departure. Be patient whilst going through the formalities at the airports and bear with the slow procedure.

CLIMATE

Being such a vast country, India has enormous variations in climate and so can be visited throughout the year depending on destination. Overall the climate has 3 major seasons:

The dry season is from early October until end of March, which is the premium time to travel. The months of December - January can be surprisingly chilly in Rajasthan and the central regions with temperatures dropping to 3C at night. Tamil Nadu on the south east coast receives a different monsoon and most of its rainfall during October – November.

The hot season lasts from April to June. During the hot season in the interior and some parts of the Western deserts temperatures rise to 40-45C. The hill stations of the Himalayas and the Western Ghats are particularly beautiful in April – mid June and October - November. Ladakh lying at an altitude of 3500 m and in the rain shadow of the Himalayas is best visited May – September.

The dominant Southwest monsoon is from July to September. The monsoons full force is felt in the North East of the Country and Western Ghats which should be avoided but in some regions it can be pleasant with a unique light and fewer tourists.

CLOTHING

Generally, we recommend bringing light loose fitting cotton clothes for most of the Country or for during the warmer months and pale colours tend to be cooler. Additionally some form of layering will be required due to the range of temperatures which almost all areas of the country experience.

The North and central regions of India are from mid November - Mid February a lot colder than imagined. Adequate warm clothing particularly for the evenings and early mornings should be bought. i.e. fleeces, sweaters, jackets, shawls, socks with shoes.

If visiting the National Parks please bring green or beige coloured clothes as far as possible and take account of the fact that the wind chill factor during November - February can reduce the temperature to below freezing.

For the Himalayas it is imperative to bring sufficient warm layers due to altitude and unpredictability of the weather.

India still has very traditional customs and outside of the hotel it is not appropriate for women to wear shorts, halter neck tops or miniskirts. Men could get away with wearing longer shorts; however they will not be respected by the locals who believe that only labourers wear shorts. In cities such as Delhi and Jaipur ladies can locally purchase some of the renowned Anokhi clothing which is ideally suited to the climate.

Comfortable walking shoes are required due to the uneven and stony surfaces and since shoes and socks have to be removed for all visits to pagodas and temples, we recommend wearing sandals or other slip-on shoes which are easy to put on and take off. When visiting temples or other religious monuments, visitors should be modestly dressed; it is very important that knees and shoulders are covered and ladies should not wear shorts or bra-less T-shirts.

Formal style clothes i.e. jacket and tie are not required. A sarong with its multi uses is a very useful item to bring. Hats and sunglasses are strongly recommended.

Laundry facilities are widely available and quick.

Due to the huge variations in climate, we are happy to assist with recommending appropriate clothing.

CURRENCY

The exchange rate at the banks and hotels is pretty similar. As the majority of local banks do not have an exchange facility, it is more practical to use the hotels for exchanging money.

Most of the larger hotels offer foreign currency exchange; however if staying in some of the very small heritage style hotels or homestays, you will not be able to change money. Always carry sufficient Rupee cash when travelling to remote areas where you are unable to change money or use credit cards.

Travellers can import USD 10,000 or equivalent in cash or travellers cheques without declaring it to customs.

ATM machines are common in all the major cities and cards must be compatible with the following; Amex, Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard, Visa. As a credit card Amex is not widely accepted but MasterCard and Visa are. Only Amex or Thomas Cook travellers' cheques are accepted.

Please remember to keep your money exchange certificates as these will be required for reconverting Rupees back into your own currency. You are advised not to change more than you consider necessary towards the end of your holiday in case the bank at the airport is closed leaving you with a stack of rupee notes. It is forbidden to import or export Indian Rupees.

Always keep small denomination notes as small change is always a problem. Torn notes are not accepted although the banks will change them. Watch out for some INR 500 notes which can look very similar to the INR 100 ones.

CUSTOMS AND FORMALITIES ON ARRIVAL

Tourists may bring in all personal effects which may reasonably be required without charge. The official customs allowance includes 200 cigarettes, 0.95 litres alcohol, a camera with film, pair of binoculars and one laptop. Valuable personal effects or professional equipment must be registered on a TBRE (Tourist Baggage Re-Export form) and require the serial number. The import of dangerous drugs, firearms, live plants, gold or silver coins, gold or silver bullion is either banned or subject to strict regulations.

DOMESTIC FLIGHTS

Scheduled airlines include Jet Airways, Indian Airlines and Kingfisher. Many flights are 'hopping' flights meaning they touch down en route.

There are a number of low cost airlines including Air Deccan, Spice jet, Jetlite and IndiGo. These airlines are more prone to cancellations and less reliable; consequently we tend to advise not using them as delays or cancellations can have a large impact on your itinerary. Air Deccan if used allows 15 kgs weight allowance and any excess baggage is subject to additional payment. They do not provide a meal or refreshments.

DRIVING

The first impression will be one of chaotic roads, incessant horn blowing, erratic driving and a complete disregard for any traffic rules. However be reassured that although the rules may not be evident to most travellers, some do exist and your driver knows these. Our drivers are experienced and reliable and their vehicles are checked for compliance with safety standards. Worth bearing in mind is that average speeds tend to be low, around 50-60 kmh and the only general rule is 'might is right' with the one exception bearing that cows have absolute priority on roads. It is normal for drivers to stop frequently to ask directions. They do not usually have maps as the ones available are not detailed enough and the construction of so many new roads makes keeping up to date difficult.

Beware when opening car doors to avoid an accident with a cyclist or vehicle as traffic can come from both sides.

To make your journey more pleasant please do tell the driver if you wish to go faster or slower or stop for photographs, refreshments or a loo stop.

The driver's accommodation and meals are taken care of for the duration of your tour.

ELECTRICITY

The electric current in India is 220 -240 volts, 50 hz. Adaptors for electrical gadgets and power surge cables for laptops should be carried to protect from voltage fluctuations.

Indian uses round pin plugs and socket sizes vary and so you are advised to carry a multi -purpose adapter; one with a triple round pin plug would be most useful.

Power cuts known as load shedding are frequent particularly in the months April – September. However most hotels do have reliable power back up although this often does not include air-conditioning.

Many hotels don't have electric razor sockets.

ETIQUETTE

Despite recent exposure to different cultures, India remains a conservative society steeped in tradition. Religion and family are at the core of Indian society closely followed by National pride.

Greet people with a verbal 'namaste' at the same time pressing the hands together at chest level.

Indians generally are extremely hospitable people and helpful to foreigners. They will ask what we perceive to be personal questions about family, marital status and even earnings but it is not meant to cause offence.

A sense of humour and polite firmness is more likely to achieve a successful outcome in a difficult situation. The universal head shake or wobble from side to side can mean yes, no, may be or I have no idea.

FOOD AND DRINK

Characteristic of many diverse regional dishes of India is the use of spices. Cuisines vary from the south's ancient vegetarian and chill hot meals, to the heavy meaty traditions of the Mughal's and the Punjabi tandoor, through to the Bengali fish curries and Euro –Indian fusion of the former colonies. Rice accompanies every meal in the South whereas in the North bread or roti, in all its many forms (chapatti, poori, paratha, naan,) is the mainstay. The whole of India relishes dahl (lentils) and its preparation ranges from the thin sambar of the south to the thick moong dahls of the north. In most regions beef is not served due to religious reasons and although Indian food is primarily vegetarian, chicken, lamb and goat, known as mutton since the British days are the most common meats. The huge variety of vegetables is either cooked dry or in a sauce and yoghurt served with meals often tempers the spices and aids digestion. The coastal states of Kerala, Goa and Orissa are famous for their fiery fish dishes.

Most internationally well known spirits and imported wine are available in the deluxe hotels. Wines and Spirits cost in hotels can attract duty, mark ups and local taxes of up to 400% so you are advised to check the price before ordering.

Indian wine Sula (red and white) is very drinkable. Locally manufactured beers, gins, vodka and dark rums are often drunk by visitors. In some remote areas tonic and soda are difficult to obtain. The Government has declared 3 holidays as dry days when the hotels are not permitted to serve alcohol. They are 26 Jan, 15 Aug and 2 Oct. Some of the very small hotels or homestays do not have liquor licences and so you may like to carry a bottle with you if this is relevant. Gujarat is a dry state although alcohol is available in varies disguised containers.

GENERAL ADVICE

Poverty is an inescapable face of India. Beggars usually operate in organized gangs with most of the money going to the gang leader and so it is better if you wish to donate to do it through an organized channel. Visitors are requested not to encourage development of begging practice by giving money or sweets to children. If travellers wish to contribute to, say a village community, gifts should be directed to the local schoolteacher or headmaster. Contributions can also be arranged through recognized local charity organizations.

Occasionally for the first time visitor, the noise, hassle from street sellers, lack of personal space, women being stared at, filth and lack of public hygiene can be daunting. These experiences are more frequent in the cities and time spent in more rural areas is usually the antidote. The key to enjoying India is to try not to fit in too much allowing time for spontaneous moments, relaxation and simply absorbing the sights, smells and light. We always endeavour to plan itineraries which take this into consideration. As in most countries a smile can often diffuse a frustrating situation more easily than a confrontation and a flexible attitude when the unexpected happens helps the enjoyment of the holiday.

Litter is a permanent sore eye…remember, it was developed in the west and emerging countries face huge problems with waste disposal.

Use an insect repellent against mosquitoes, especially during the warmer months. Hat and high-factor block cream are advisable as protection against the hot tropical sun when sightseeing. A spare pair of glasses, if worn, is also advisable. A flashlight is also useful for exploring caves or details of temple interiors, which are often not properly illuminated.

Take plenty of film, as locally available supplies are not always reliable. Photography in airports, railway stations, near any military installation, on bridges and in most museums is forbidden. Please use discretion when photographing people, especially with tribal people, who may have superstitions against this. For close-up shots, it is polite to ask first.

HEALTH REQUIREMENTS

No vaccinations are officially required for a visit to India. Travellers should check with their doctor or a travel immunization clinic regarding the advisability of inoculation against typhoid, hepatitis, tetanus and Japanese encephalitis and malarial prophylaxis.

Should you have transited a yellow fever area at least 10 days prior to arrival in India, an inoculation certificate is mandatory.

Prescription drugs are not widely available and visitors should bring any required medication with them. If carrying a lot of medicines, it is advisable to have a doctor's letter stating that medicines are required for personal use.

HEALTH ADVICE

Some general advice includes:

Clean your teeth in bottled water for first few days

Avoid opening your mouth in the shower

Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching the currency and before meals

Carry a tube of mosquito repellent with you

Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. Most incidences of stomach bugs are actually heatstroke. Nimbu pani or Nimbu soda (fresh lemon juice with water or soda ) taken either sweet or salty or a mixture of both is one of the most refreshing and rehydrating drinks available.

In the heat avoid ice cubes and very chilled liquids as the sudden shock of the cold temperature can affect the stomach.

Eat Indian food freshly prepared where possible as opposed to buffets.

Avoid oily dishes for first few days if concerned and order a grilled dish to supplement one with sauce

Avoid pork

Eat fruit you can peel

Avoid salads and seafood away from the coast.

Avoid snacks sold by hawkers

Carry basic health kit

In India public toilets are rare and so take every opportunity to use a hotel or restaurant one.

If you do catch a bug:

Drink coconut water, drink plenty of fluids, take rehydration sachet drinks if you have them, eat plain rice and drink Coca cola as it is an amazingly good reviver.

Should you wish to see a doctor, the hotel can arrange this. In the Metro cities very good doctors and medical facilities are increasingly available.

HOTELS

The term 'Heritage hotels' relates to the numerous old palaces, forts, havelis and hunting lodges which have been recently restored and converted into hotels particularly in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Many of these fabulous and evocative buildings are still managed by the former princely families who treat visitors like guests. To stay in a heritage hotel is always a real highlight but it is worth bearing in mind that due to their age, some of these buildings may have quirky architecture, erratic plumbing, open balconies, steep open staircases, low doorways or unguarded drops. Heritage hotel management differs from conventional hotel and service may be slow although it is almost always friendly. Where the owners are not resident, heritage hotels occasionally lack attention to detail in management. In the very small heritage hotels, meals will normally be taken with the family with conversation in English, which can be a wonderful and enriching experience for some but for others an intrusion of their holiday. Overall however we feel that the heritage hotels have a unique charm and romantic atmosphere which more than outweighs any defects.

In India hotels the term 'Double bed' usually means twin beds pushed together. Hotels often have non- smoking and smoking rooms so it is preferable to advise us of your preference.

Hotels follow cycles of renovation and refurbishment and generally the larger the hotel, the longer the duration of these projects. Although hotels endeavour to do the majority of work during the low season, this is not always possible. Certain hotels and hotel chains provide advance notification on renovation programs or swimming pool closures but regrettably many do not. We constantly endeavour to stay up to date on these developments and to keep you informed.

New hotel projects virtually never meet deadlines and so we are cautious in recommending hotels too close to opening dates.

India's hotel industry is booming. New hotels open almost weekly – hence the country faces a shortcoming of well trained staff. Bear in mind that even the best hotels can lack professional staff; it is a fact that employees jump from place to place in order to gain experience which is not always to the joy of the hotel manager.

INSURANCE

It is suggested that visitors consider short-term health and accident policies from your own insurance company prior to leaving home.  As medical evacuations can be extremely costly, we recommend that you take out a comprehensive insurance policy that will cover the costs of a medical evacuation and subsequent medical care.

INTERNET

Now widely available in most hotels with many offering Wifi. Some more remote places will not have very reliable or fast access.

LANGUAGE

Hindi, India’s official language is spoken by over 400 million people. However English is widely spoken in cities and towns and even in most villages, it is not hard to find some-one who has some knowledge. The accent and grammar of Indian English may take some time to adjust to. Other European languages are rarely known excepting for a few specialized tour guides.

PASSPORT AND VISA

Indian visa is mandatory prior to departure. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of departure from India. You are advised to carry a photocopy of your passport and visa with you.

POST AND COMMUNICATION

Telecommunications services are efficient but do check the cost of using hotel services prior to use as these can carry hefty charges.

Yellow singed ISTD (International telephone) booths are available everywhere and are extremely cheap although rarely peaceful to use for the odd long distance call.

India has a well established mobile telephone network apart from some remote areas such as the National Parks in Madhya Pradesh and the Himalayas. Should you wish to bring your mobile, please establish with your service provider the specifications required to use it in India. Alternatively mobile phone rental can be arranged. Roaming can be an expensive matter.

RESTRICTED AREAS

Special permits need to be obtained prior to arrival for some ‘sensitive’ regions of India ie The North Eastern Frontier States (Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh), border areas of Jammu & Kashmir, selected areas of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Union Territories of Andaman and Lakshadweep Islands. We will require at least 4 weeks to apply for a special permit on your behalf.

RELIGION

Four of the world’s major religions originated from India; Hinduism, Sikkism, Jainism and Buddhism. Hinduism with its three hundred and thirty million gods is practiced by around 80% of the population, Islam by 12%, Christianity 2.3%, Sikhism 2%, Buddhists 0.76% and small numbers practicing Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.

RESTAURANTS

Up until recently most top restaurants were located inside the 5 star hotels. In the major cities there are now very good restaurants outside of the hotels. Please ask for a list of recommendations.

SECURITY

India is generally a safe country where others are respected. However some simple common sense precautions with possessions lessen the chances of becoming a victim to petty theft. Carry your handbag or rucksack to the front of you, keeping an eye on it.

Always remember to keep luggage locked while travelling, whether it is stored in the hold of a car or bus, or during domestic flights and train journeys.

Take care not to overexpose items of value, or leave them unattended at any time. Virtually all hotels have safe deposit box facilities for storage of valuables.

If caught out inadvertently, avoid crowds or situations which look like they may develop into a riot. Many Indians are high tempered and easily express themselves in a loud outcry.

For females travelling alone, India is pretty safe if the usual precautions are taken i,e avoid eye contact with insalubrious men and do not wander alone in cities at night.

SIGHTSEEING

Despite the growth in tourism some facilities have not kept pace and one considerable inconvenience worth keeping in mind is the lack of decent toilets at virtually every site. Most sightseeing usually involves quite of lot of walking on uneven surfaces often including many steps up and downhill. Sites tend to be more crowded at weekends and many museums and some monuments are closed on Mondays. The Taj Mahal is closed on a Friday.

At Sacred places footwear has to be removed and you are advised to carry thick cotton socks in case the floor is hot. Wear modest clothing and no leatherwear can be worn in Hindu temples. Temples tend to close between 1300-1600 hrs when the deity is 'at rest'.

Entrance fees to monuments will normally be included in the cost of your tour, but you will be required to pay locally for any camera or video camera fees.

India's economic boom now allows a great number of local tourists to travel. You therefore are never alone at any site. Bear in mind, that Indians travel in groups, enjoy laughter and for many of them, it is the first time that they are 'out', hence are not yet well experienced travellers.

When on your own, and asking for directions, ask shopkeepers, not pedestrians and cross-check with at least two people.

Taxi and auto-rickshaw fares keep changing, and therefore do not always conform to readings on meters. Insist on seeing the latest rate card (available with the driver) and pay accordingly.

Insist on the taxi/auto meter being flagged down in your presence

SHOPPING

India is a shopper's paradise. Best buys include textiles, silverware, brassware, stoneware, handicrafts, artefacts, jewellery and herbal products

Jewellery buyers should check that 'gold' is not, in fact, gilded silver. All gem and jewellery purchases should be made through an authorized dealer, who must issue an official receipt, which is required for export of such items.

Bargaining is essential for all souvenir shopping, if travellers are to obtain reasonable prices. Possible price reductions of up to 50% are not uncommon. It is considered rude however to bargain if not genuinely interested in buying.

Be particularly careful when purchasing antiques, jewellery, pashmina shawls and rugs checking they are genuinely what you are paying for. Antiques over 100 years old require permission to be exported which can be time consuming.

It is recommended that where-ever possible you take any purchases on the flight with you. Shipment of merchandise may be risky due to inordinate administrative delays and substitution of original goods. VIP TOUR ASIA.,JSC India can not be held responsible for any purchases.

The selling or buying of ivory and Shatoosh amongst other items is forbidden.

A list of recommended shops is being compiled.

If a tour guide suggests visiting a shop and you are not interested, decline politely but firmly.

SMOKING RESTRICTIONS

Domestic flights, trains, tour vehicles, certain parts of hotels and all public buildings and areas are now non smoking. This includes train stations and airports.

TIME

GMT + 5 ½ hours throughout the year and all of India

Everything in India takes time - longer than in most places. So always give yourself extra time for whatever you may have to do - even it is just a visit to the Post Office or changing money. Indians joke about the concept of "Indian Stretchable Time" (IST). Certainly, if you're a super-punctual character, India can be frustrating. Make allowances for this.

TIPPING

Tipping is widely practiced in India, which some first time visitors find unnerving and a hassle. There are no norms for tipping but the following may be useful as a guideline:

Porterage at railway stations and airports is included.

In restaurants check the bill before deciding as in many larger ones, service charge is included. Where it is not 10-15% is usually fine.

Hotel porters expect approximately INR 20 per bag.

Anyone offering a personal service such as masseur or a hairdresser would expect 15-20% Tipping taxis or auto rickshaws is not necessary. Do not feel under any compulsion to tip, or tip more should you incur an expression of dismay.

Tipping drivers and guides is discretionary and should only be given for 'good service'. As an extremely approximate guideline and this should be adjusted taking various things into consideration, such as the sophistication of the guide, size of the group and duration of drive or tour:

Please ask us for any further tipping guidelines relevant to your trip or for trekking.

TRAIN TRAVEL

Indian Railways is the world’s largest employer, moves over 14 million passengers a day and for its size remarkably efficient and uniquely ‘romantic’. The express trains with their 1st class and 2nd class AC are well insulated from the heat, dust and ticketless travellers.

Take a jumper or shawl as the air-conditioning is fierce. Your guide will escort you to your seat and take care of the porters. On arrival at your station, stay on the platform next to your carriage as the guide will have been advised of your seat numbers. At Agra Station the guides are allowed to hold up signboards. The halt at some stations is only for a few minutes and so you are advised to listen for the announcements, which are in English.

TOUR GUIDES

Major tourist areas

Tour guides in India are free lance with a Government controlled licence. They are University educated and usually speak good English, sometimes excellent. Language guides are harder to obtain as demand exceeds supply and therefore as much notice as possible is advisable for us to confirm this.

Remoter tourist areas

In less touristy areas language guides are not available. Escort guides can be arranged but at considerable higher cost. The guides will know the local monuments and sights but the quality of their general knowledge may vary. One realistic problem encountered is that guides and escorts tend to pick their own assignments!

TRAVEL INFRASTRUCTURE

India remains backward in terms of travel infrastructure and an acceptance of this is required.

Airports

Airports are mostly overcrowded and chaotic especially at peak times. Despite some improvements in facilities, they do not keep up with the demand from ever increasing numbers of international and domestic travellers. The recent explosion of new airlines means that airspace is overcrowded resulting in frequent delays to flights both on take off and arrival. Overcrowded international airports mean lengthy queues at check in counters, luggage x ray machines and immigration therefore making arrivals slow and departure requiring longer than usual check in times. On departure checked luggage is occasionally x rayed prior to check in.

Delhi is scheduled to have its new international airport in operation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and is currently undergoing renovation; until then it remains inadequate for a National Capital.

During the period from mid December – end January, Delhi airport occasionally suffers heavy fog during the early morning hours. Flight delays for both arriving and departing flights are frequent. Bear this in mind while travelling through the capital.

Roads

A recent Government road building program has improved many of the roads but expect to encounter delays in the cities. Roads vary in standard from newly build 3 lane motorways to bumpy untarred tracks. Every year the Monsoon takes its toll washing away the top layer allowing potholes to form. Surprisingly in the mountains where the Border Roads Organisation constructs the roads, the surface is superior. Distances are huge often necessitating long drives. Breaking the journey by stopping to look at interesting things en route or for refreshment often helps.

Distances and time to travel

A piece of advice when travelling is not to count the kilometres but the time it takes you from A to B. This then can determine your mode of transportation.

Hotels

The September – April peak season brings with it a shortage of hotel rooms due to difficulties of obtaining prime land. As demand outstrips supply, the shortage additionally means higher prices as compared to the rest of Asia. Visiting dignitaries can at extremely short notice take over part of or a whole hotel at the expense of travellers whose reservations may get cancelled. The same applies to monuments which can be partially or fully closed during the dignitaries visit.

Indian Holidays

The Indian holiday season is generally May/June when the whole Subcontinent appears to be on the move and the popular destinations such as some hill stations are extremely crowded.

TRANSPORTATION

The Ambassador, a Morris Oxford unique to India and made locally is still a great favourite for some. It has character, is relatively spacious and the new models have better suspension and more power for the air-conditioning or going up hills!

The Toyota Qualis is slowly being phased out but remains a popular land cruiser type vehicle with excellent visibility and comfortable seats.

The Innova is our recommended first choice for comfort, space, safety and visibility for 2 to 3 passengers.

In the metro cities luxury cars are additionally available for supplements.

Tempo Traveller minibus' come in various sizes but are suitable for more than 3 passengers or small groups.

Taxi

Taxi and auto-rickshaw fares keep changing, and therefore do not always conform to readings on meters. Insist on seeing the latest rate card (available with the driver) and pay accordingly. Insist on the taxi/auto meter being flagged down in your presence.

WATER

Drink only bottled water of a reputable make and check the top has not been tampered with.

Each vehicle during your journey will be adequately stocked with bottled water.

Well known brands are: Bisleri, Himalaya, Kinlay and Aquafina. International hotels tend to sell expensive imported brands.