"India was fascinating, invigorating, crazy and exhausting all at once! From the minute I stepped out of the airport to the minute I left, I loved it."
"I suppose I have to admit that like most visitors my ultimate highlight was the Taj. I could have sat and looked at it all day long it is so amazingly beautiful. But coming a close second to that was the time we spent in Karauli in Rajasthan. I soon found out how special it is to spend some time in a place that has been touched so little by tourism. Where the kids don't ask for 'chocolatechewinggumpenrupee' the adults don't want to sell you anything and every single person on the street is fascinated by your face. We strolled around the bazaar and the whole time people just wanted to say hello, kids wanted to shake hands and everyone just wanted to look at our white faces! We had a group of about ten kids follow us excitedly the whole time and when we turned to take photographs their excitement almost reached fever pitch. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. To sum it up, India was a place that I had never much fancied going but now I am so glad I did. It has to be seen to be believed!!"
Michelle Bunn, Publications Co-ordinator – The Imaginative Traveller
Capital: New Delhi
Official Language: Each state has its own official language, however Hindi is most widely spoken. English is the language of national government and law.
Religions: 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.4% Christian, 2% Sikh, 0.7% Buddhist, 0.5% Jains, 0.4% other
Voltage: 230-240 Volts. Sockets are of European two pronged round pin variety. Power cuts are common in more remote regions and occur occasionally in major cities too.
All nationalities require a visa to enter India. Regulations and costs change frequently and differ according to nationality. For the latest information on your specific visa requirements you should contact your local Indian Embassy or Consulate. Visas are usually valid for either 3 months or 6 months from the date of issue and are valid for multiple entry regardless of whether you intend staying that long or re-entering the country. Tourist visas cannot be extended.
Note: Be wary of applying for your visa too soon as all visas are valid from the date of issue, not the date of entry to India.
The monetary unit in India is the India Rupee (INR). Approximate exchange rates (as at May 2008) are as follows:
It is not possible to buy India Rupees overseas as it is not permitted to take India Rupees into or out of India. However, India Rupees are widely accepted in Nepal even though in theory it is illegal to export them from India.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: During your stay in India, you will notice a general lack of small change. We recommend maintaining a small supply of coins and small denomination notes (e.g.10 & 20 INR notes).
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
Banks can be found in most cities and sizable towns where it is possible to exchange cash and travellers cheques. Many hotels also offer currency exchange and may offer a faster service at similar rates. ATM's can be found in most major cities (i.e. Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai). Credit cards are usually only accepted in larger shops and more expensive hotels and restaurants. We recommend that you take either US$ or GB£ currency and travellers cheques, however it is possible to exchange other major currencies. Most major currencies can be changed into rupees in India. Please ensure you have the local payment in India Rupees for the pretour meeting. Left over India Rupees can be exchanged before leaving India on production of your original encashment receipt. It is not possible to change back more than is shown on your encashment receipt. The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre-Departure Information contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in India.
Although Traveller trips include entrance fees to all sites specified in your itinerary there are additional sights that you may like to visit. Adventurer trips do not include any entrance fees. Many sites also levy camera fees (these charges vary but are rarely more than US$2 for cameras, US$7 for videos) and these are not included on either Traveller or Adventurer tours. The average entrance fee is approx US$2, although a handful of sites cost considerably more than this, these are detailed below. (The most expensive is the Taj Mahal at US$15)
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Remember to bring your student card if you have one or are entitled to one as you may be able to get discounts on certain entrance fees – in particular UNESCO sites, though the actual policy on this varies from site to site.
Entrance to the Taj Mahal costs US$15. There are no camera fees however there are restrictions on the use of video cameras (they can only be used from the initial viewing platform, and cannot be taken closer to the building, however lockers are available for storage) Your entrance ticket is valid for one visit only, if you wish to leave and re-visit the Taj Mahal you will have to purchase a new ticket. The Taj Mahal is open daily from dawn to dusk, except Fridays, when it is closed.
Entrance to various monuments in Delhi, such as the Red Fort, Humayuns Tomb, and Qutab Minar, cost US$5 each
Entrance to the Agra Fort and the abandoned Moghul capital of Fatehpur Sikri (just outside Agra) cost US$5 each. Camera fees are payable at both sites. Entrance to Khajaraho is US$5.
Please note all prices are subject to overnight change.
All of our itineraries include some free time, the amount of which usually depends on the style of tour you are travelling on (Adventurer trips generally have more than Traveller). If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area.
On Traveller tours you will find the meal plan clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Breakfast is provided each day on most Traveller tours, and many tours also include a number of dinners. Lunches are rarely included to give you more freedom. Meals are not included on Adventurer tours.
Approximate costs for meals and snacks not included are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in India see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Tea and coffee is always provided with breakfast on Traveller tours. All other drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense.
Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below. Note: Prices in restaurants and hotels can be as much as double those specified.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in India however bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the country.
Getting from A to B in India usually involves a taxi, auto rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Taxis are the most comfortable method of local transport, and recommended for longer journeys but are more expensive than rickshaws. Auto rickshaws usually take 2-3 people (although the driver will tell you that your party of 6 can all fit in!) and are great for shorter journeys and nipping through the traffic within a city. Cycle rickshaws (a three wheeled cycle with an uncovered seat at the back) usually take 1-2 people (depending on how heavy you are!) and are ideal for shorter journeys and tours as the slower pace allows you to take in everything around you. Both auto and cycle rickshaws are happy to wait for you and cycle rickshaws, in particular, can be hired for a whole or half day for around US$2.
In India, taxi and auto rickshaw meters are for show only and you will find yourself engaging in a bit of haggling with the driver to agree upon the fare you will pay. This can be fun, but it is a good idea to find out, from your Tour Leader or the hotel receptionist, approximately how much the fare should be for the journey you propose. You will probably have to accept that you will pay more than the Indians do.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are certain items of equipment (e.g. sleeping bags, towels) that you will need on some tours and not on others. Please note that you DO NOT need a mosquito net on any of our tours in India. Check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. In India's hot summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. In the winter months (Dec-Feb) North India (including Rajsthan) can get very cold so you should bring plenty of warm clothing.
You should bear in mind that India has conservative attitudes towards dress, particularly in remote areas. Women, and also to a certain extent men, will find that the way they dress will often determine the degree of respect they receive from both men and women. The issue is not nearly of such importance in places like Mumbai (Bombay) and Goa where 'western' dress is more acceptable.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends Make sure you bring lots of clothing that covers shoulders and knees and also more than one outfit which covers your legs to ankles and your arms past the elbows. A sarong is an invaluable item to carry as it can be used to instantly cover any exposed areas (i.e. head, legs). In certain areas and religious sites your Tour Leader may ask you to dress conservatively. Out of respect for local values, we ask that you follow your Tour Leader’s advice at all times.
Make sure you allow for climate changes and remember that even in very hot countries, night-time and early morning temperatures can be extremely cold. You will generally find it is better to have several thin layers rather than one thick layer as it gives you more flexibility and warmth. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
Some trips may have a few days where toilets are not available. When you do answer the call of nature please burn your toilet paper – do not bury it. If it is not possible to burn it take it back to the camp where it can be placed in the rubbish bin and disposed of appropriately.
Whenever you use a western or squat style toilet please place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You may find it useful to take along a supply of antiseptic wet wipes and plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt.
In some parts of India (particularly Rajasthan) water is in extremely short supply. Poor monsoons over the past few years have led to major water shortages and you may notice rivers and lakes which are completely dry. Please bear this in mind when washing and showering and try to limit your water usage as much as possible.
Travellers should respect that religion is an inherent part of Indian life. We encourage travellers to experience religious festivals and visit temples and shrines but ask that you follow religious rules such as removing your shoes and refraining from taking photographs at certain sites. At Hindu temples, non-Hindus are not usually permitted to enter the inner sanctum – look for signs or ask for advice. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to advise you of local sensitivities.
In most cases your Tour Leader will brief you on etiquette; however there are a couple of good points which are worth noting. For most rural Indians cutlery is an alien concept and all food is eaten with the right hand (as the left is associated with washing after visiting the toilet). Therefore you should remember to use your right hand for giving, receiving, shaking hands or eating (if there is no cutlery). You should also note that public displays of affection (such as kissing and holding hands) are generally not acceptable even though you will see Indian men holding hands (this is a sign of friendship rather than sexuality). You should also avoid pointing the soles of your feet at anyone. This may seem unlikely to happen but you could inadvertently do this while laying down or sitting with your feet up.
You should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph and respect their decision if they say no.
The Imaginative Traveller Often people will ask for a few rupees in return for a photo so you should carry a supply of small notes if you intend on taking lots of 'people' shots.
Begging is a way of life in India. Ultimately donations are a travellers personal choice, however in line with initiatives and government policy in many of our destinations, our recommendation is NOT to give money, pens, gifts or sweets as this encourages a begging mentality and is largely ineffectual. If you do want to help it is probably better to give to a recognised charity. If you choose not to give simply say no with a smile and keep on walking. If you learn nothing else of the local language, learn to say ‘no thank you’!
Haggling is also a way of life in India. In the shops there is no fixed price so the shop keeper will start with a high price which you are then expected to haggle down until you reach a fair price. Haggling should always be relaxed and can be a lot of fun – you will find most shop owners are very friendly and will probably invite you in for a cup of tea to break the ice before the haggling starts!
Upon arrival, please look for our representative who will be holding an Imaginative Traveller sign. He should be waiting for you outside the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the arrival terminal). Although in general Indians are very laid back, taxi drivers seeking business at the airport exit may try to whisk you away to your meeting point hotel before you have a chance to locate our ‘transfer man’. Please take your time to establish that you have met our transfer person and not just a taxi driver with a business card for our hotel.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers. A complete list of all meeting point hotels can also be found at www.imaginative-traveller.com/ downloads.
It is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point if you are not being transferred. At all International Airports in India you will find, either inside or immediately outside the arrival terminal, a ‘pre-paid taxi booth’. At this booth you give your destination, pay the fare and are given a receipt with the taxi number on it. Simply give the receipt to the driver when you reach your destination (not before!). It is recommended that you avoid privately run travel agencies as their charges are much higher.
Approximate taxi fares (All prices are per taxi) and distances from the airport to our hotels are:
Most people find that India is a very friendly and hospitable country and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any country you are not familiar with (and in particular in large cities such as Delhi), it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night and generally take taxis rather than walk especially if you are a lone female.
Your Tour Leaders role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regionally based office staff and, in most cases, a locally based manager.
In India we also use the services of specialist guides at selected sights of particular historical interest (such as the Taj Mahal, Varanasi and Jaipur). In most cities the Guide Association operates a rota system to ensure work is shared equally amongst its members.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. On Adventurer tours our accommodation can best be described as comfortable "simple hotels" or "rest houses". Most hotels have twin share rooms with private bathrooms, however there are some locations where we are forced to use 'dormitory' style multi share rooms and/or shared bathroom facilities. Hotels on Traveller tours are generally "medium range" and can vary from a business class hotel in one city to a family run guesthouse in a smaller town. All Traveller hotels have private bathrooms and generally air conditioning and/or a ceiling fan and bar / restaurant facilities. On many tours we spend a few nights in Heritage hotels such as old havelis, Maharajah's residences or ancient forts. These hotels are full of character, and staying at them invariably proves to be a highlight of the tour. Travellers should however be cautioned against expecting princely comfort! Please bear in mind that all levels of hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex (unless you have paid a single supplement*). If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
On rare occasions we may have to use triple share rooms, and whilst this is certainly not common we do ask that travellers be prepared for such circumstances.
Please note that whilst many hotels have air-conditioning to help cope with the heat in summers, very few hotels have heating to cope with the cold in winters, and may also suffer from a shortage of hot water at this time. If you are travelling between December and February in North India (including Rajasthan) please be prepared for cold rooms, and possibly cold showers.
Note: Single supplements are only applicable to single travellers who wish to have their own room. Single supplements are also only available on Traveller tours and are not applicable on overnight boats, trains and while camping. On rare occasions a single room may not be available.
An inexpensive laundry service is available in most of the hotels we are use (especially in cities and sizable towns).
One of the great myths about India is that the food is poor. This is definitely not the case! Another myth is that Indian food is always hot. In fact North Indian food, whilst often very rich and indeed spicy, does not contain as much chilli as South Indian food. Both North and South Indian food is predominately vegetarian; however more meat dishes are available in the North.
In many restaurants the spices are mixed specifically for each order so you may have to wait 30 minutes or more. In more remote places hotels often prepare an evening buffet, with a wide range of food, much of it vegetarian.
Common meat dishes (meat will be either mutton, chicken or pork - never beef) include rogan josh (stew with onions and tomatoes), tandoori (meat marinated in yoghurt and spices and cooked in a clay oven) and biriyani (flavoured rice with chicken or mutton). Common vegetarian dishes include palak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese), aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower), Chana masala (chickpeas in a spice mix), raita (yoghurt mixed with vegetables) and boondi raita (balls of gram flour batter fried and soaked in yoghurt).
You will also find several different kinds of bread such as whole wheat roti or chapatti, tandoor baked nan bread and batura, a leavened deep-fried bread.
Tea – known as Chai – is available everywhere. It consists more of milk and sugar than tea, and often contains spices such as cardamom or ginger. Each tea-stall prepares it in a slightly different way. Coffee is more common in South India. A wide range of soft drinks are available throughout India. Pepsi, Coca Cola, Sprite and Fanta or Mirinda and canned fruit juices are widely available. A local drink found on every menu is Lassi, this is yoghurt based and can be salted, sweetened or flavoured with a variety of fruits.
A variety of surprisingly good and strong local beers are available, all of a light, lager type. Local spirits are also available and some of them are very good. Imported wines are available in the larger cities but can be expensive.
India is a fantastic place for vegetarians! As mentioned above much of the cuisine in both North and South India is vegetarian and you will often find a much better (and tastier) selection of vegetarian options. Set hotel buffets will always have as many, if not more, vegetarian dishes as meat based ones.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Internet cafes can now be found in most cities and sizable towns. Finding a café is not usually a problem, but speed can be. Connection times are often painfully slow although this does vary from city to city. The average cost for an hour is approx. US$2.
The Indian phone system is fairly good. Look out for shops/booths labelled with a yellow "PCO-STD-ISD" sign which can be found almost everywhere (except in remote areas). A 3 minute call (to the UK) will cost approx. US$10 from a hotel and approx. US$5 from a shop/booth. There is no such thing as international or pre paid phonecards in India.
The postal service is fairly good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp will cost approx. US$0.20.
Availability of Film
Camera fees are levied at almost every notable site in India. These changes do vary (and are usually more for video cameras) however you will rarely have to pay more than US$2 for cameras and US$7 for videos, except in some wildlife parks. Please note camera fees are not included on either Traveller or Adventurer tours.
Due to its size and varied topography, India experiences great extremes of climate. Most of the country experiences three seasons:
Cool – North India's cool season is from October to April and South India's cool season is from November to March, however cool does not necessarily mean cold. Daytime temperatures are still quite high - the sky is clear but it is not blisteringly hot. Evenings are cooler, and nights can be surprisingly cold. Warm clothing is recommended during this period. This is the most pleasant time to travel in sub-Himalayan India.
Hot – From April to June the whole country experiences a hot and humid climate by day and night.
Wet – The monsoon falls on North India from July to September and in the South from July to October. During this time the climate is humid and wet by day and night.
The main exception to the above is far North India (Himachal Pradesh and Punjab). From October to April the nights are VERY COLD and from Dec to Feb daytime temperatures can also fall considerably – don’t forget to pack for this!
The following shows average daytime temperatures (in degrees celcius):
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
All of the worlds’ major religions are represented in India. Here are some of the more important holidays:
These, and many other, books are available cheaply in India.
Please note: Hindi will be no use to you in South India where the languages are so complicated and differ so much that English is the common language.