Travelling in India
The airport’s your first point of physical contact with India, and unless you land at a really busy time, you’d be surprised at how quick the Immigration process can be. You need to fill out an arrival declaration form which your cabin crew should hand over to you before landing. The major airports like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai are pretty well organized, but some of the smaller airports could do with better signage. When in doubt, ask; Indians are generally very helpful to visitors. We recommend that you prebook our airport meet & greet services so that you can be transferred comfortably to your hotel, but If you haven’t arranged to be met on arrival, most airports offer prepaid taxis. They’re a better option to negotiating on the curb.
No inoculations are necessary for visiting India, unless you’re coming from a Yellow Fever zone, in which case you need to have the necessary vaccination certificate. India is a vast country and some areas have a malaria risk. You ought to consult your doctor regarding prophylaxis before you leave home.
We strongly recommend that you purchase adequate trip cancellation and interruption, baggage and health insurance and carry the details on your tour. Do also check with your insurance company for a local helpline number in India.
The Indian currency is the Rupee. Notes are in denominations of 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10. There’s no restriction on the amount of foreign currency you may bring into India, but cash and instruments in excess of US$ 10,000 must be declared on arrival. Change some money into Indian Rupees before you leave the airport so that you’re not inconvenienced in case you want to buy a bottle of water, or tip the hotel bellboy, or whatever. It’s best to use authorized money changers since the rates are generally a little better than what you’d get at a hotel. Do retain all receipts/certificates for exchange so that you can reconvert your Indian Rupees into your home currency when you finally leave the country. All hotels and most shops and restaurants accept credit cards.
All foreign nationals require a visa to enter India. You can get a list of Indian Consulates and Embassies on our Utilities page. In November 2014 the Indian government announced an E-visa facility for citizens of 43 countries. India also offers a visa-on-arrival facility for nationals of 12 of these countries. Click here to see the list. If your journey involves more than one entry into India on this trip, please bring this to the notice of the Indian mission where you apply for your visa. Holders of a Tourist Visa are not permitted to reenter India for 60 days after their departure- unless this has been cleared in advance.
Food & Drink
The sheer variety of Indian cuisine makes the country a gastronomic delight. But be wary the first few days- Indian food can be very hot and spicy! When ordering food in a restaurant, ask the waiter to instruct the kitchen to go easy on the chillies. Ideally, sample one Indian dish with every meal for the first few days. Once you’re in the flow of things, do try a ‘thali’ which offers you six or seven different vegetables or meats with rice, rotis, pickles, pappadums and traditional Indian sweets. Tap water’s to be avoided. Most upscale restaurants serve perfectly safe filtered drinking water, but most tourists prefer to be even more safe and opt for bottled water- just check that the seal’s intact. Indian wine’s yet to come of age, though the Sula and Grover’s vineyards are producing some palatable wines, but Kingfisher beer’s become an Indian icon. There are some reasonably decent Indian whiskies and Indian rum compares with the finest. As always, drink responsibly!
If a service charge is not included in your restaurant bill, 10-12 % is the norm. For bellboys at hotels or porters at the airport Rs. 50/- per bag (that’s about 1 US$) should be adequate- of course, nobody minds more and you’d be surprised at what a difference that extra dollar can make to the recipient. For drivers it should be a minimum of Rs. 300/- (US$ 6) per day, though a good driver who’s sensitive to your needs should get twice that. Guides- about Rs. 500/- per day (US$ 10). Drivers of metered cabs don’t expect tips, but might well say that they don’t have change. You could be magnanimous and tell them- “Keep the change.”
The Delhi Metro is a delight but the local trains in Mumbai are not for the faint-hearted and figuring out bus routes can be a challenge. For planned or unplanned sightseeing we can arrange a car and driver almost anywhere in the country. In most cities you can also hail a taxi on the street but do check that the driver knows your destination and that it’s a metered taxi. Tipping taxi drivers isn't the norm. The Indian Railways carry more people in a day than all the domestic airlines carry in a year! There’s a tourist quota on long distance trains and you can generally get a reservation by approaching the Station Master or the reservation counter at any major train station.
The Indian roads are quite chaotic and first timers can be shell shocked at the sheer number of people and the variety of transportation sharing the road. It might seem that there are no rules, but there is a method to the madness. The horn, however, is as integral to driving as the brake or the accelerator and carrying a set of earplugs in the city, especially if you’re driving through the older parts of a city, can preserve your sanity. Of course, if you use one of our cars, you’ll notice the difference. Our cars are all comfortably air conditioned and our drivers are sensitized. Self-drive is not common and you’re unlikely to find self drive cars except in some big cities.
India is a shopper’s delight. From luxury branded goods to one-off exquisite creations, the choices are mind blowing. Carpets, textiles, clothes, jewellery, gifts and handicrafts- you can see them in the stores and you can see them on the streets. We’ve even had people ship back the delightfully retro Royal Enfield motorcycles. If you’re buying high value jewellery, do make sure you buy from a reputable store and get a proper invoice which lists the goods. We’ll be happy to make recommendations in case you need any help. If you’re having things shipped home to you, it’s advisable to use a credit card so that you can dispute the payment in case you don’t get what you paid for.
Safety and Security
India’s a very safe country and people might occasionally irritate you with their persistent attention but muggings are very rare. Of course, it’s prudent to keep your eyes open, be aware of your surroundings and not to accept food or drink from overly friendly strangers. Another very important thing to remember is that pedestrians have very few rights! Be very careful when crossing the road- look on both sides even if you’re on a zebra crossing. Cars don’t stop for pedestrians, you’d better watch out for yourself. Like in any other foreign country, don’t flash your money or valuables obviously and stay away from certain areas- every city has some no-go zones for tourists.
Cotton, cotton cotton! It’s the best fabric for India, ideally suited to the weather. Of course if you’re going up into the mountains, you’ll need some serious warm clothing. Same for early morning game drives in wildlife parks. Layering helps. Shorts or short dresses are not the norm. Indian men and women tend to dress conservatively and blending in deflects unwanted attention.
Visiting Religious Places
Shoes are a no-no in temples. In Jain temples even leather wallets or belts need to be removed. Carry a pair of slip-on socks if you’re squeamish about walking barefoot and to avoid dirtying your regular socks. Sikh gurudwaras require you to cover your head- ladies can use a scarf and men can use a handkerchief if nothing else is handy.
Visiting Indian Homes
It’s quite likely that you’ll get invited to an Indian home for a meal. Again, in many homes it’s customary to leave your shoes at the door, or just inside. Carrying a small gift for your host or hostess is always a good idea- sweets, flowers, or a bottle of wine are fine. Or if you’ve carried any small gifts from your home country, that makes it more personal. A word of caution- be prepared to have seconds forced upon you… so don’t fill your plate the first time around- your host will insist- “Oh you can have more” even after you're totally satisfied. The more traditional the family, the greater the insistence! Just watch the calories...