India, officially the Republic of India (Bharat Ganrajya), is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the south-west, and the Bay of Bengal on the south-east, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north-east; and Burma and Bangladesh to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives; in addition, India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.
Mountains, jungles, deserts and beaches, India has it all. It is bounded to the north and northeast by the snow-capped Himalayas, the tallest mountain range in the world. In addition to protecting the country from invaders, they also feed the perennial rivers Ganga, Yamuna (Jamuna) and Sindhu (Indus) on whose plains India's civilization flourished. Though most of the Sindhu is in Pakistan now, three of its tributaries flow through Punjab. The other Himalayan river, the Brahmaputra flows through the northeast, mostly through Assam.
South of Punjab lies the Aravalli range which cuts Rajasthan into two. The western half of Rajasthan is occupied by the Thar desert. The Vindhyas cut across Central India, particularly throughMadhya Pradesh and signify the start of the Deccan plateau, which covers almost the whole of the southern peninsula.
The Deccan plateau is bounded by the Sahyadri (Western Ghats) range to the west and the Eastern Ghats to the east. The plateau is more arid than the plains, as the rivers that feed the area, such as the Narmada, Godavari and the Kaveri run dry during the summer. Towards the northeast of the Deccan plateau is what used to be a thickly forested area called the Dandakaranya which covers the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, the eastern edge of Maharashtra and the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh. This area is still forested, poverty stricken and populated by tribal people. This forest acted as a barrier to the invasion of South India.
India has a long coastline. The west coast borders the Arabian Sea and the east coast the Bay of Bengal, both parts of the Indian Ocean.
Everywhere you can get tea (chai in most North Indian languages) of one variety or another. Most common is the "railway tea" , sweet and uniquely refreshing once you get the taste for it. It's made by brewing up tea leaves, milk, and sugar altogether in a pot and keeping it hot until it's all sold. Masala chai will also have spices added to the mix, such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper. For some people, that takes some getting used to.
While Masala chai is popular in Northern and Central India, it must be noted that people in Eastern India (West Bengal and Assam) generally consume tea without spices, the English way. This is also the part of India where most tea is grown.
In South India, coffee (especially sweet "filter coffee") replaces tea as a standard beverage.
There are many things to learn that interest foreigners all over India, but there are a few destinations that become known for certain things:
- Yoga is popular in Haridwar and Rishikesh.
- Ayurveda is popular in Kerala.
- Hindi in Delhi and Varanasi.
- Classical musical instruments in Varanasi.
- Classical vocal music and classical Dance forms in Tamilnadu.
- Sanskrit at 'Samskrita Bharati' in Bangalore and Delhi.
- Buddhism in Dharamsala and Bir in Himachal Pradesh as well as in Bodhgaya in Bihar.
- Study South Asian medicine, Himalayan art, and other unique subjects while in India
- Cooking classes are also popular. The most well-known exported type of Indian food is Punjabi, as the Sikhs have been the most successful in spreading Indian restaurants throughout the western world. However, styles vary a lot throughout the country, so if you have the time and appetite it's worth checking out courses in a variety of areas such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal.
If you really want to see all the worth visiting places in India, one tourist visa of six months can be argued to be considered enough. There are more tourist destinations in India then can be mentioned in one book. Almost every State in India has over ten major tourist destinations and there are cities which can not be fully experienced even in one full week. Not to forget that several states of India are bigger than most of the countries in the world and there are twenty-eight states in India.
- The Taj Mahal : It is actually bigger and more majestic than what it looks in the photograph.
- Varanasi : Hindu religious rituals, some harking back to the Vedic age, 5,000 years ago, Varanasi is the oldest living city of the world and the birth place of Hinduism. Don't miss the evening Ganga Aarti.
- Tigers : They may or may not be present in all the tiger reserves but your chances of seeing a tiger are fairly good in Bandhavgarh or Ranthambore tiger reserves.
- Sundarbans: Largest mangrove forest and delta in the world. Home to the famous Royal Bengal tigers and estuarine crocodiles.
- Hill Stations: India is home to some remarkable, scenic and gorgeous hill stations such as Shimla, Mussorie, Darjeeling, Shillong and Ooty.
- Sangla Valley : Considered one of the most beautiful valleys of the world lies in the upper regions of Himachal Pradesh. It is extremely scenic with photogenic landscapes and unforgettable landscapes.
- Leh : Considered to be on the top of the world. One of the highest inhabited cities of the world. It gives a different idea of high altitude altogether with unbelievable landscapes.
- Srinagar : It is the capital of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Extremely beautiful city in the midst of the Himalayas with a very beautiful Dal lake in it.
- Gangtok : Capital city of Sikkim. Gangtok is a bewitching hill-station located amidst the multiple-hued mountains of Sikkim.
- Goa : Ruled by Portuguese for over 400 years, Goa is a cocktail of Indian and Portuguese culture. Quite a different kind of place altogether, Goa is full of beautiful beaches and flocking tourists.
- Pondicherry : Pondicherry was a French colony over two hundred years and has a lot of sighting of French influence throughout it's territories. Now tourists often flock there for spiritual ashrams or enjoyable pubs and parties.
- Bishnupur : Located in West Bengal, it is home to the famous terracotta temples and a great centre for classical Bishnupur Gharana music. Do not forget to buy a Bankura horse made of terracota(which is the symbol for Indian handicrafts).
- Tirupati Balaji : If you want to see the material richness of a religious place, visit this temple. It is considered to be the richest temple in the world and one surprising sight to see for a non Indian. It is located in Andhra Pradesh.
- Nalanda : Related to Buddhism, It was the oldest university of the world later on destroyed completely during the Muslim invasions of India. Sights of Buddhist interest like Pavapuri and Rajgir are in the vicinity.
- Golden Temple : An actual temple plated with gold is one of Sikhism's holiest shrines. Looks very serene early in the mornings.
- Khajuraho : Supposedly the birth place of Kamasutra, Khajuraho is full of temples with erotic sculptures all around them. One of the most interesting and less talked about aspects of Hindu culture.
- Kochi : In a State full of secluded and ravishing beaches, Kochi is one of the most sought after tourist destination. It is advisable to visit the surrounding beach cities of Kochi. Don't forget to experience backwaters of Kerala in a house boat.
- Andamans : Beautiful Island territory of India in the Bay of Bengal, Andaman islands can be considered one of the best island destinations in the world.
- Jaisalmer : A city located in the middle of desert, Jaisalmer is a place to go for watching the beautiful view of sun lighted virgin deserts of Thar Desert.
How to reach
Visas for India
Do you need a visa?
Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVOA) at the airports in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata for a stay of up to 30 days. It can take some time (no set period, allow 1-6 hr) to process the application once you have arrived at the Airport. The TVOA costs US$60, is valid for a single entry and is not extendible. In addition, there is a minimum two month gap between the expiry of one tourist visa and the issuance of the next. Please contact your local embassy/consulate for more information.
Depending on the purpose of your visit, you can get a tourist visa (6 months), a business visa (6 months, one year or more, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10-year visa (US$150, business and tourist) is available to US citizens only. An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued, not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on January 1 will expire on June 30, regardless of your date of entry. There is a minimum two month gap period between consecutive tourist visas. Tourist visa valid for 6 months can have maximum duration of stay of 90 days per visit, depending on citizenship. Make sure to check maximum duration per visit with your local embassy.
Many Indian embassies have outsourced visa processing in full or in part to third party companies, so check ahead before going to the embassy. For example, in the USA, you must submit your visa application to Travisa, not the embassy. Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee, above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offers visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home, instead of trying to get in a neighbouring country (although, as at August '09, non-residents are able to apply for visas through the Bangkok embassy for an additional 400 THB "referral fee").
Rules and validity of visas will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commission in your country or contact the local office.
It's wise to ask for a multiple entry visa even if you aren't planning to use it - they cost the same, are handed out pretty liberally and come in handy if you decide last minute to dip into one of the neighbouring countries.
For citizens of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Bangladesh, foreigners of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, and "stateless persons": Even on multiple entry visas, there is supposed to be a two-month gap between leaving India and coming back into the country. If attempting to reenter the country before two months have passed, you will be asked for details of your flight home and be made to pay a bribe (up to US$50) to get them to sign you back in to the country. This is true at smaller land entry points. More convenient is simply to visit the Indian embassy in the country from which you plan to enter India and complete the paperwork authorizing the early entry. The embassy will then paste a cool endorsement sticker in your passport, and you'll be set to reenter India. However, you may not need a re-entry authorization sticker if you are following a exact itinerary (for example, if you're travelling to a neighboring country before re-entering India) and present it to Immigration at each entry.
There are other categories for specialised purposes. The missionary visa is mandatory for anyone who is visiting India "primarily to take part in religious activities". This rule is meant to combat religious conversion, particularly of Hindus to Christianity. There have been cases where preachers have been deported for addressing religious congregations while on a tourist visa. You don't need to be worried if you are just on a religious tour of churches in India.
If you are on a Student, Employment, Research or Missionary visa, you need to register within 14 days of arrival with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office where you will be staying. If the place you are staying at doesn't have one, you need to register at the local police station. All visitors who intend to stay more than 180 days also need to be registered.
Overstaying a visa is to be avoided at all costs as you will be prevented from leaving the country until you have paid some fairly hefty fines and presented a large amount of paperwork to either the local immigration office or police station. This whole process is unlikely to take less than 3 days, and can take much longer if you include weekends, numerous government holidays and the inevitable bizarre bureaucratic requirements.
In India, it rains only during a specific time of the year. The season as well as the phenomenon that causes it is called the monsoon. There are two of them, theSouthwest and the Northeast, both named after the directions the winds come from. The Southwest monsoon is the more important one, as it causes rains over most parts of the country, and is the crucial variable that decides how the crops will do. It lasts from June to September. The Southwest monsoon hits the west coast the most, as crossing the western ghats and reaching the rest of India is an uphill task for the winds. The western coastline is therefore much greener than the interior. The Northeast monsoon hits the east coast between October and February, mostly in the form of occasional cyclones which cause much devastation every year. The only region that gets rains from both monsoons is North-Eastern India, which consequently experiences the highest rainfall in the world.
India experiences at least three seasons a year, Summer, Rainy Season (or "Monsoon") and Winter, though in the tropical South calling the 25°C (77°F) weather "Winter" would be stretching the concept. The North experiences some extremes of heat in Summer and cold in Winter, but except in the Himalayan regions, snow is almost unheard of. November to January is the winter season and April and May are the hot months when everyone eagerly awaits the rains. There is also a brief spring in February and March, especially in North India.
Opinions are divided on whether any part of India actually experiences an Autumn, but the ancients had certainly identified such a season among thesix seasons ( or ritus - Vasanta - Spring, Greeshma - Summer, Varsha - Rainy, Sharat - Autumn, Shishira - Winter, Hemanta - "Mild Winter") they had divided the year into.