(THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN MORE THAN FOOD)
Recently, the Indian government announced the launch of e-visa facilities for 43 countries. According to the reports, this facility will soon be extended to most of the other countries as well. This is going to make travelling to India really easy so it’s time to start planning that trip you always wanted to take!
Given the size of the country, the diversity and its rich history, even the savviest tourists find holiday planning for India a challenge. Here are some tips that might be helpful when planning a holiday to India:
All foreigner nationals wishing to visit India are required to possess a valid visa before entering the country. Information on how to obtain a visa, visa requirements, documents and fees can be obtained from the Indian Embassy in your country. Nationals of some countries can also obtain a visa on arrival or apply for an e-visa. Please check this website for eligibility.
What to fly:
South African Airways flies directly to Mumbai from Johannesburg every day. But there are no direct flights to other cities such as the capital of India, New Delhi. Other good options are flying via the Middle East on either Emirates or Etihad. The stop-over will be in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, respectively. Kenyan & Ethiopian airlines also offer regular flights to India.
I usually use www.travelstart.co.za to compare the prices on various flights. Booking in advance can also save a pretty penny especially if planning a holiday during Christmas or other holidays.
When to go:
Most parts of India get very hot in the summer months – April to August. Temperatures can go up to as high as 45 degrees Celsius. The hot weather is accompanied by harsh dry winds that are not conducive to any outdoor activity.
The wet monsoon months stretch from the end of July until September. The country comes alive with new grass and greenery everywhere. However, this also brings mosquitoes and water borne diseases along.
Winter starts from the end of October and continues till February. These months are dry and excluding the higher reaches of the mountains, the temperatures across most of the country are quite comfortable. I always prefer to travel in winter.
Where to go
This is the most difficult question and the answer will vary from one tourist to another. It depends on your individual choice and what you really want to see.
India is divided into four broad regions – north, east, west and the south. And each region is completely different from the other in food, dialect, history and things to see.
North: Most tourists usually fly into New Delhi and use it as their base while visiting other cities. Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, is a short drive from here. Jaipur – rich in forts and palaces, is only 5 hours away by road. Varanasi, located on the banks of the most holy river, the Ganges, is easily accessible through trains. From the Golden Temple in Amritsar to the Bara Imambara in Lucknow, from the breath taking beauty of Ladakh, to the residence of the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala – north India is a traveler’s delight.
East – Calcutta or Kolkata as it’s now called is the queen of the east. Home to Victoria Memorial, a larger marble building built by the British in memeory of Queen Victoria, and the Eden Gardens, a Mecca for all cricket fans. Kolkata is known for its diverse architecture, crowded markets and delicious street food. It is also the gateway to the north-eastern tea growing hills of Assam and Darjeeling and the Himalayan state of Sikkim.
West – from South Africa, most likely your first port of call will be the city of Mumbai. This bustling metropolis is the commercial capital of India and the heart of Bollywood (Indian cinema). Known for its fast pace of life, chaotic streets and maddening traffic, this city is a melting pot of cultures. The coastal state of Goa, known for its beautiful beaches, finger-licking food and a bohemian way of life, is only a short flight away.
South – this region encompasses the tech cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad, the coffee estates of Coorg and the back waters of Kerela – popularly known as God’s own country. The temple towns of Madurai, Thanjavur and Tirupati are few of the other must-see destinations.
All the above mentioned places are just an indicative list and by no means is it exhaustive. It is just to help you start building that itinerary!
How to travel:
Almost all parts of India are very well connected by the railway, roads or air. The quickest way of course, is to fly between cities unless the distance between them too short. Several low cost airlines operate in India and as a result, fares are quite competitive. Some of the websites that you can use to compare fares are www.cleartrip.com/ and www.makemytrip.com.
Trains are another convenient way of seeing the countryside. However, tickets sell out out very quickly and advance booking is highly recommended. The official website of Indian Railways (http://www.irctc.co.in/) allows tickets to be booked 60 days in advance.
Road travel over short distances is good but longer journeys can be exhausting due to heavy traffic, congestion and bad roads. Within the cities, ample public transport is available – cabs, tuk tuks, subway trains, cycle rickshaws, buses, etc. run in most cities and towns.
What to eat & drink
Unfortunately, tap water is not safe for drinking anywhere in India. Always carry bottled water or filtered water. Even when eating in restaurants, order bottled water. However, the water you are offered when visiting someone’s house is safe to drink!
India is a foodie’s delight. The food in different parts of the country differ vastly from one another so make sure you ask about and try the local specialties of each place you visit. As with any city, try to find local eateries that are away from touristy places as the food will be bad and expensive. If you are really adventurous, try the street foods too. But just be careful of where and what you eat because Delhi belly is a reality!