India is quite possibly my favourite country to visit in the world. It’s undoubtedly the most exciting place I’ve been to and the most photogenic. India is a photographer’s dream come true, whether you enjoy atmospheric black and white photography or capturing vibrant colours. Even the trucks are dressed up to the nines. However, with a culture so very different from our own, travelling in India can be a bit of a shock to the system. It’s worth doing some research before you go, and this blog post is a great place to start. From how to apply for a visa to the best places to visit in India, from health tips to scams, here are my top India travel tips.
When to visit India?
India is a vast country with many different cultures, languages and landscapes. It’s no surprise that the weather can vary greatly too depending on where you are visiting.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit India is between October and March, when the weather is likely to be warm and sunny.
In the south, it’s better to wait until a little later in the year to at least November if you want to avoid the monsoon rains.
India Wildlife Tip: The best time to see tigers and other wildlife is in April when the vegetation is thinner, and water holes are low. Frustratingly, as I found out for myself, the chances of seeing a tiger remain slim.
above: deer in a Tiger reserve in Rajasthan (with not a tiger in sight)
In April and May, the temperatures and humidity rise but prices drop, and there are some great bargains to be had. The monsoon season is also reputedly the ideal time to enjoy Ayurvedic treatments.
Keep in mind that temperatures are cooler at high altitudes such as in the Himalayas in the north. Between June and September is a good time to visit Ladakh, for instance, with its dramatic, craggy landscapes and stunning Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. The higher mountain passes close between October and May.
Where to go in India?
I’ve travelled around five of the 29 states of India, and each one has been very different from the others. However, India is such a vast country that it’s advisable not to pack in too much into one trip.
Best places to visit in India
Here are my suggestions for some of the best places to visit in India.
If you are undecided about a holiday to India, Goa is a fabulous introduction for the nervous traveller, with a laid-back vibe, beautiful sandy beaches, colourful temples and a Portuguese heritage. It’s far less hectic and overwhelming than other states. Don’t miss a Goan fish curry.
The Golden Triangle
If you are a more confident traveller, then the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra is a must. You’ll visit stunning forts and palaces and witness chaotic city streets where mopeds carrying a family of six vie with tuk-tuks, elephants and lorries. Don’t miss the staggering beauty of the Taj Mahal. This tour covers a large area taking you to three different states, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. You’ll need to allow plenty of time but you’ll have the chance to see many of the most famous sites in India. I’d go back and do it all again in a heartbeat.
above: detail of the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur
Kerala, is another popular choice, especially for the sleepy backwaters where you can drift along the palm-fringed waterways in a converted rice boat. Combine this with a stay in the hills amongst the tea and spice plantations before heading to the city to enjoy the highlights of Cochin. Don’t miss a traditional Kathakali performance (featured image).
Kerala is also the home of Ayurvedic medicine, something I’d love to learn more about. I’ll never forget how energised and relaxed I felt after an Ayurvedic massage. However, not all massages are the real deal, so do check out their credentials.
For hiking, head north to the Tibetan influenced Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas, home-from-home to the Dali Lama. See fairy-tale villages clinging precariously to rocky mountain peaks, Buddhist monasteries amidst staggeringly beautiful scenery and go climbing, rafting, paragliding or skiing. Don’t miss Shimla, one of the most beautiful hill stations with a strong colonial influence.
For spirituality, the best place to visit in India is Varanasi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the ancient spiritual capital of India. Watch Hindu pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganges, visit some of the thousands of temples that line the network of city streets. Don’t miss the ‘Golden Temple’, Kashi Vishwanath, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Applying for an India travel visa
How to apply for travel visas can vary greatly depending on which countries you are visiting, with some being a serious headache. Using an agency isn’t always necessary by any means but can make the process less daunting.
One site that is particularly clear and straight forward is e-visa.co.uk. They offer advice on applying for travel visas to several countries, including how to apply for a visa for India. While it will cost more, the advantages of using them include:
- Their online application forms automatically highlight errors
- They manually check all applications before sending them through to the immigration service
- Their customer service is open 24 hours a day every day including weekends and holidays
- Their refund policy means that if your application is denied, for whatever reason, you are refunded the full cost
You can find out more about applying for an Indian visa online here.
above: a camel herder in Rajasthan
I never travel overseas without insurance. From losing your luggage to breaking your leg, there is plenty that could go wrong while you are away or something may happen that could stop you even taking your trip, such as a family bereavement. When something awful happens, having travel insurance from a reliable company will save you a lot of time, stress and money.
My travel insurance company of choice is World Nomads. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities* from air guitar to spelunking! Many of the sports and activities that are covered as standard are not commonly included in other insurance policies. You can buy and claim online*, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com* is available to people from over 130 countries.
- Several vaccinations are recommended before visiting India, so it is advisable to talk to your GP or travel nurse well in advance. You can read more about recommended vaccines here.
- Take anti-malaria tablets as advised by a doctor.
- Always wear tropical grade mosquito repellent, especially in the evenings and at night.
- Always carry hand sanitiser in the form of gel or anti-bacterial wet wipes.
- Take a packet of electrolytes. They’re essential if you do fall foul of Delhi Belly.
- Take a high-quality probiotic at least two weeks before and during your travels. They boost the naturally occurring friendly bacteria and help ward off any possible stomach upsets (both constipation and diarrhoea).
What to eat in India?
- Only eat freshly cooked food and never eat from buffets as the chances are the food will be kept at just the right temperature for bacteria to thrive rather than at a high enough temperature to keep them at bay.
- Don’t eat anything raw including salads as they may have been washed in tap water which is invariably contaminated.
- Only eat fruit that you can peel yourself.
- The most popular restaurants are also likely to have the best hygiene standards and busy restaurants have a high turn over of food that hasn’t had a chance kept lying around.
What to drink in India?
Tap water in India is not safe to drink, but it’s essential to stay hydrated. Bottled mineral water rather than treated water is best as the quality of treated water can vary. The recommended amount of water varies depending on whose advice you take, but I always try to drink at least two litres a day.
- Drink plenty of bottled water, making sure the seal isn’t broken before you open it.
- Don’t use tap water to clean your teeth. Don’t even open your mouth in the shower!
- Avoid fruit juices as they may have had water added to them.
- Ice cubes are also best avoided, as they may have been made with tap water.
- Coconut water is extremely refreshing and great for hydrating you or settling an upset tummy but do make sure you’re satisfied that the knife used to open the coconut and the straw your given is clean.
- Sweet and salty lime sodas are better still.
I got totally addicted to lime soda sweet and salty. When you sweat, you lose water and salt, making it the perfect drink to refresh you. So if you order lime soda and are asked sweet OR salt, I highly recommend you ask for sweet AND salty.
Learn a little Hindi
While there are hundreds of languages in India, there are two official languages, Hindi and English. I’ve never had too much of a problem communicating apart from in more remote areas. Nevertheless, do learn a few local phrases. Hindi, while not Indian’s first language, is commonly understood, so it’s handy to learn a few words and phrases. To start you off…
dhanyawad thank you
There are many great apps and online courses, such as Rosetta Stone*, which is one of the most popular.
Save 50% today*! Rosetta Stone – Learn the language, not just the words!
I’d recommend dressing modestly wherever you travel in India, but especially in less touristy places. Dress codes for religious sites can be strictly enforced and ignoring them causes great offence. Women should carry a scarf with them as you never know when you might need to cover your hair and shoulders. And don’t be surprised if you need to take off your shoes before entering a religious building.
Common tourist scams
Remember, there’s a lot of poverty in India, so try not to judge too harshly but be aware there are numerous scams regularly played on tourists. Look out for incorrect change being given, real banknotes being swopped for fake notes and taxi drivers hiking up fares or taking you place you didn’t want to go to. When you arrive in India remember… your hotel hasn’t changed its name, burned down or been disintegrated by a plasma gun. The taxi driver just wants to take you to his cousin’s hotel.
Please don’t let the thought of possible scams (and they are only potential scams that you may or may not come across) put you off, but be on your guard and read up on common scams, so you know what to look out for.
…and don’t forget your travel adaptor
We’re ridiculously dependent on our gadgets these days, but even if it’s only your camera you want to charge, you’ll most probably need an adapter. I’d recommend taking a universal travel adapter to India. This Worldwide USB Travel Adapter* or this one are both great for UK travellers* wherever you travel or buy this one if you are a from the USA*.
*These are affiliate links so if you click on them and go on to make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
above: Sunset in Pushkar, in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan
India is a vibrant, varied and colourful country, rich in history, heritage and beauty. Travel with your eyes, heart and mind wide open, and you’ll have an unforgettable time. There’s no country in the world I’d more dearly love to return to, my camera in one hand and hand sanitiser in the other!
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You’ve nailed it with my favorite country, although to date, I’ve not been on any type of safari there. Jaipur is a city I could return to every year. With so much to offer, I’m sure I’ll never get to every state, but that won’t stop me from trying! The photo of you and the kids is the best!!
It’s such an exciting country, isn’t it, Alison? I’d love to visit every state too! Highly unlikely to happen but, as you say, we can try and at the very least, dream. Some of those dreams will come true.