India stretches from the snowy summits of the Himalayas to the tropical backwaters of Kerala in the south. It’s more like a continent than a country, with the second largest population in the world spread through its 29 extraordinary states. Nowhere on earth quite compares with its devout religions, its varying and incomparable landscapes, the exquisite palaces, formidable forts and rolling tea plantations. It’s a country of contradictions, where flawless national parks sit juxtaposed next to colourful and congested towns. There are pink cities, blue cities and even rose tinted cities, with palaces floating on lakes and monasteries crowning lofty mountains. India is the only place where the world’s religions and great faiths rub shoulders so peacefully; you’ll regularly find Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist temples sitting side by side along dusty streets. Echoes of the Raj sprinkle the country; you can’t go far without finding colonial mansions, tea merchants’ bungalows and extravagant railway stations. Most don’t have a desperate need to visit India, but once you’ve been you’ll know why people become hooked. Often described as life affirming, India is an extraordinary country that most certainly gets under the skin, and there’s no better time to visit.
Food & Drink
Food is a massive element of any trip to India and we advise that you don’t shy away from it; it’s so much more flavoursome in India when compared to Indian food that you find in the UK. Each region has it’s own delicacies and distinctive flavours. In the coastal regions, particularly in Kerala, you’ll find coconut-based curries that contain a lot of seafood and fresh fish. The more traditional and thicker curries that contain juicy gravies are often found further north, where the weather is cooler. Here delicious breads often accompany food. In 4 and 5* hotels you’ll find a range of western and Chinese alternatives. Restaurants outside of India’s hotel vary from elaborate fine dining to cheap and cheerful roadside restaurants. The cheaper alternatives often just recommend veg or non-veg alternatives, so you get little choice. Some of the best food is found in Homestays; it here’s where you’ll get to try true home cooking and learn how to cook some of the basics yourself.
Alcohol should be available in some of your hotels, but not in all. In some states, particularly in Kerala, gaining a license to sell alcohol is getting increasingly difficult. This is normally more difficult for small boutique hotels and homestays. We’ll do our best to inform you prior to travel, but things change quickly so advice on the ground is usually the most up-to-date source. We recommend speaking to your driver about this while you are travelling, as there’s always the option of picking some up to take with you. Please note the first day of each month is a dry day in Cochin.
When to Travel
India’s weather is extremely varied, however in general the best time to visit India is between late October (the end of the monsoon season) and mid-March. April and May can be particularly hot and humid. The monsoon generally arrives on the Keralan coast at the end of May, and from here it moves north across the country for the next month and a half. Between October and November the south east coast (Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, as well as southern Kerala) get a second soaking. This is known as the retreating monsoon, and is less severe.
During monsoonal periods expect short sharp bursts of rainfall interspersed with sunshine. It’s worth considering travelling during this time in places such as Rajasthan, as there are fewer tourists and the region is pretty dry in comparison with other areas.
In the foothills of the Himalayas, in places such as Shimla, we recommend visiting between October and March again, however from December to late February, heavy snow is common and it can become very cold. Make sure you take lots of layers during this time.
Like in all developing countries it’s worth being diligent and exercising a common sense approach when travelling through the country. If you have any safety or security concerns we recommend that you read the FCO Travel Advice.
British Airways, Jet Airways, Air India and Virgin Atlantic all have non stop flights to Delhi and/or Mumbai. Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar also offer good value flight options via Gulf airports. These work particularly well for airports in South India. We hold no allegiance to any particular carrier and have access to hundreds of different fares. Flights are quoted on a case-by-case basis, allowing us to search for the best possible deal for you. Please let us know if you have a preferred option, or if you would like us to look at upgrading your flights.
Airport taxes should always be included in the cost of your ticket, we will inform you if there are any changes.
As a general rule economy flights only offer a 15KG check-in baggage allowance. Business class allows for 25KG or more, and are much more flexible. Please note that extra KGs can be purchased at the airport prior to your flight at check in but not prior to this, and the approximate cost is INR250 per KG (about US$5 per KG). If you have any concerns about this or if you would like to consider the upgrade options to business class please let us know.
GMT + 5 ½ hrs
Approximately 8-9 hours to Delhi.
We only use experienced drivers that are professionally certified, who can moderate their driving to meet with our expectations. Remember, you are in charge. If you feel your driver is driving too quickly or is behaving in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable you must say something to your guide immediately. If the driving does not instantly improve, we will secure a different driver for you. Self-driving is not an option in India.
As we’re not medical experts we feel it is essential that you contact your G.P. well in advance of travelling. It is possible that you may need vaccinations, as vaccinations against a range of diseases are required for much of South Asia. Anti-malarial medication is sometimes a necessity, depending on your itinerary. Please note if you have travelled to Africa or South America recently you may need proof of your Yellow Fever vaccination.
You can visit the Fit For Travel website for details of the recommended vaccinations for the particular regions you will be visiting on your trip. Another good website is The Travel Doctor, an interactive website providing specialist health information for travellers, plus customised lists of travel medicines, vaccines and malaria tablets.
We recommend that you take a good mosquito repellent with you. We personally recommend RID that can be bought from The Safari Store, but we also find Jungle Formula (available in Boots) can also work well.
We advise that you don’t drink tap water in India. Bottled water can be found throughout India at a very affordable price and safe filtered water is often available in restaurants and hotels. Please be aware of the environmental implications of drinking bottled water and attempt to refill them with filtered water where possible.
Passport and Visas
All UK nationals to India must obtain a visa prior to arrival. There’s no option of obtaining a visa once in India, and without one you will not be able to board your flight from the UK. It’s important to note that your passport must be valid for 190 days from the date the visa is issued, and you mist have two completely blank pages spare.
The India High Commission has conveniently outsourced the visa application process to VFS Global. Please visit http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk for more information. After booking your trip with us we will send you a comprehensive guide to help you with the application.
Money and Tipping
The India currency is the Rupee (Rs). It is technically a ‘closed currency’ so you will need to get this on arrival in India and you will not be able to change it back into pounds once you are back home. Your guide or driver will assist you with this when you first arrive. There are plenty of ATMs throughout India, but mainly in the larger towns. The rupee is split into the following denominations: Rs1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Please remember to tell your bank before you leave that you are travelling to India to avoid any problems.
If you are visiting the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bhutan, you can carry Indian currency as long as the denomination of the notes is less than Rs 1000.
A prepaid cash travel card is the very latest way to carry cash in India. The card is loaded with a pre fixed amount and it is a safe and secure way to carry cash. You can draw cash at ATMs or use it as a debit card. The exchange rate is fixed at the time of purchase, so it is not affected by fluctuating rates and the uncertainty of credit/debit card charges on return. Unused amounts are refunded to you on your return to your home country. You can purchase these prior to travel to India.
Tipping is a standard practice in India, but only as a reward for good service. We recommend:
Guides, Escorts and Transport
Guide (Full Day) Rs 800 to 1000 per day
Guide (Half Day) Rs 500 to Rs 600 per day
Tour Escort Rs 1200 to Rs 1500
Driver for the tour Rs 750 to Rs 1000 per day
Driver for local duties Rs 500 per day
Bell Boy Rs 30 to Rs 50 per member of staff
Room Service & Restaurants About 10% of the bill total (Unless service is mentioned as included)
The electric current is 230-240V AC and sockets are the three round pin types. European plugs should go into these sockets. We recommend taking an adaptor with you.
The country phone code for India is +91. All hotels in India offer WIFI services, however these are usually on a chargeable basis and the policy and amounts vary from hotel to hotel. In general you can buy connectivity ranging from one hour to 24 hours and have a onetime fee for multiple devices. However, please check with the hotel for their policy of WIFI connectivity so that you are aware of the charges that will reflect on your bill when checking out.
Swimming in the ocean around India is a wonderful pleasure, however in some areas the coastline is rocky and the sea can become rough due to strong currents. Remain cautious and if in doubt only swim if there’s a lifeguard nearby.
Travellers Code of Conduct
We provide all of our clients with a “Travel Facts” document upon confirmation of your booking. This details useful facts and travel advice for your chosen destination, including restaurant recommendations, reading tips, basic language, cultural traditions, climate information and brief historical overviews. We feel that this offers a useful insight into the country you are visiting, and can help you interact with local residents in a more sensitive, well informed manner. Please try to take the time to read this information before your visit, if at all possible.
– A number of the countries in which we operate holidays are religious societies with a widely observed set of customs. Always respect these norms, particularly when visiting religious buildings.
– To the best of our knowledge, all of the hotels, lodges and camps within our portfolio operate stringent measures to minimise water usage. Many of our destinations have issues with water supplies to a certain extent so feel free to raise any possible wastage should you encounter it during your stays, either with the accommodation or with us upon your return.
– Please ask before taking photographs of people, and respect their wishes should an individual not be happy to be photographed. We find that friendly requests and a smile are usually met with assent.
– Strive where possible to make your own contribution to environmental practices within the destination you are travelling. This might include minimising your electricity usage, avoiding smoking in protected areas, sticking to marked roads at all times while self-driving, avoiding coral while snorkeling and safely disposing of all litter (recycling where possible).
– Where possible, try to purchase from local suppliers. This includes shopping for souvenirs, eating out in restaurants and booking further excursions during your free time. In areas where haggling is an accepted part of daily life, don’t become angry or offended if you are unable to obtain what you perceive as a fair price for an item. We emphasise to local suppliers that our clients should never be taken on unsolicited shopping trips, but if this does happen, try to retain your sense of humour, provide a firm refusal to participate and tell us about this on your return. We pass on all feedback from every trip undertaken with Holiday Architects to the relevant local suppliers, who share our commitment to travelling sensitivity.
– Please don’t remove any indigenous items from their natural habitat and attempt to bring them back as a souvenir. This particularly applies to coral, shells, plants and food in the natural world, and to cultural artifacts and antiques.
– If you are unsure about anything relating to the above, please feel free to ask our local suppliers or your Holiday Architects specialist. All of these people either live or have travelled extensively in the country you are visiting and will be more than happy to offer their considered advice.