India is a country where you can experience the diversity of nature from the famous Himalaya Mountains to the southern beaches, and tranquil countryside in-between. Of course, India is also a country where you can see the hustle and bustle of its large population in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata.
But while the chaotic streets may be overwhelming, they also offer an abundance of distinct dishes, amazing architecture, and a little bit of soul searching. While most people think of India as being dominated by Hinduism, there are several other major religions that are popular amongst the population too. No matter which you choose to connect with, India is like transporting yourself to another realm.
स्वागत हे – Welcome to India
New Delhi is the capital of India and it is unique because it is a specific district within the larger area of Delhi, which houses India’s three branches of government. While New Delhi is the official capital, all of Delhi is often referred to as the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT). Delhi is often a major tourist attraction because it has embraced modernity but honors its history. There are technically 8 histories to Delhi, as each new city has been built atop the old foundations. Today, the city is known for being haywire with its busy streets, but it is filled with shopping, dining, museums, and photogenic backdrops.
Culture and Language
India has a long, long history and it is in the category of being one of the world’s oldest civilizations, which started in the Bronze Age with the Indus Valley Civilization. The civilization grew in the area that is now the modern-day border with Pakistan and flourished until 1900 BCE. But soon the land was changing and by 1500 BC, Aryan tribes from Afghanistan and other parts of Asia were making their way into the northwestern parts of the country.
It is during this time from 1500-1200 BC that religions rose into prominence. Hindu’s sacred scriptures were written during this time and with it came the formalization of the Caste System. As India developed, it became divided by the North and South. The Muslim religion dominated in the North, while the South adopted Hinduism, but it wasn’t until the Mughals that India became founded as one.
But India has had its fair share of invasions and by the early 19th century, India was under the control of the British. But even under the British, the country was divided by religion and a civil war was on the horizon between the Muslims and Hindus. It was in this dark time that one of India’s most famous figures emerged. Mahatma Gandhi helped secure India’s freedom from the British and bring the country into a new world. Now, India is more stable, though they do still have much to overcome.
India is also extra unique because they have 22 official languages, though Hindi and English remain the two dominant languages spoken. But the reason for so many is because there are many languages that are based on the region. Punjabi and Bengali are spoken in the North, while the Tamil language is spoken in the south. However, you will find that about 126 million people speak English and the language is often used as a common link throughout the country, which is beneficial for English speaking tourists.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting India, you will need to apply for and be approved of an Indian visa before you will be allowed entry into the country. A tourist visa will allow you to stay in the country for 60 days and can be applied for online at India’s government website. You must be certain that you are applying for the correct type of visa because you cannot change the type of visa you need once you are in India.
For any tourists who are staying in India for less than 60 days and are not conducting any business, you will be applying for an electronic travel authorization. This authorization must be applied for at least four days prior to your arrival in India. Without a travel authorization, you will be denied entry into the country as you cannot apply when you are at a border or airport for entry into the country as a tourist.
But there are different visas that you can apply for and they will all have a different price. The electronic travel authorization or e-Tourist visa, as called by the Indian government, is $10 US dollars from the months of April to June. The rest of the year the e-Tourist visa costs $25 US dollars. If you are planning on spending more time in India or need to enter and exit the country more frequently, a one e-Tourist visa is available for application and costs $40 US dollars. Longer tourists may be interested in the last tourist visa, which is the five-year e-Tourist visa, which is also available for application and costs $80 US dollars. You should also be aware that when you pay online, a bank charge of 2.5% will be applied.
While most tourists are good to go on the 60-day visa or ETA, it is important that you understand the conditions of your visa. All visas grant you time in India, but do not grant you continuous time if you are staying over 90 days. If you apply and are approved for a one or five year e-Tourist visa, you cannot stay continually for that time. Instead, you can stay for 90 days at a time before leaving and returning to the country.
For all visas to be issued, you will need to have a valid US passport that has an expiration date that is valid for six months past the date of your visa application. Two blank pages are required in your passport as well. The currency restriction for India is also quite low at $5,000 US dollars and if you wish to travel with more money, you should contact the Embassy in Washington before you travel to the country.
It is also important to be up to date on all your vaccinations and if you are traveling from a yellow fever country, you will need proof of a recent vaccination. The World Health Organization has the most current information regarding yellow fever countries on their website.
All tourists need a visa for entry into India, but another important part of your vacation is planning your budget so that you can make bookings and arrangements. India is a country that can be traveled on a backpacker’s budget, if you are willing to stick to local places and don’t splurge on too much. But India is also a place for the elite and there are many luxury accommodations and experiences available throughout the country. The most important parts of your budget will include the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Airfare will be a large portion of your budget because India is far away, and it takes a long time to travel to this Asian country. While the most convenient way to travel would be to have a layover, how many layovers you have will depend on where you live in the United States. If you live on the coast, your will have to travel less than if you live in the middle. But not matter, the plane ticket will still be expensive.
Most flights to India will be very expensive, but the amount will range in price from about $700 to $1700 US dollars. While there are direct flights to India offered from major cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, many people may choose to have a layover to reduce the ticket price. Plus, taking a 17 ½ hour direct flight may be too long for some people. But the cost of your ticket can also be affected by when you travel and how far in advanced you book it.
The high tourist season in India runs from October to March and this is when airline tickets will be the most expensive. But you may find a small hike up in prices during the monsoon season too, when some tourists are willing to brave the wet weather for a break in the hot temperatures. Your airline ticket should also cost less the further ahead you book the ticket from your departure date. So, don’t wait to book your ticket if you’re are set on going to India.
With expensive airlines tickets, travelers will catch a break with the price of their accommodation. If you are traveling as a backpacker, India is the place to go. Some hostels will offer a dorm room for men for less than $1 US dollar. Yes, it’s that affordable and usually only for men because in all honesty, it won’t be the best location. But if you want to stay in private accommodations and are okay will staying off the beaten path, you can get your own room and bathroom for $4-$7 US dollars. Though in bigger cities the price might rise to about $14 US dollars.
For more of a traditional hotel feel, you’ll have to pay more. Some cost as little as $14 US dollars but the nicer accommodations will cost up to $20 or $30 US dollars per night. You can also always find chain hotels but expect prices to be a lot more expensive than a local establishment. Additionally, there are plenty of luxury accommodations that can cost hundreds of dollars per night.
Airbnb is another option for accommodation in India and there are many places that can be booked for $60 US dollars or less per night. Many private rooms within a larger residence will cost even less and can be booked for $35 US dollars per night. The most expensive accommodation will be having an entire residence to yourself or your group and you should expect to pay upwards of $70 US dollars per night.
Once you’ve decided on how to travel to India and where to stay, the next most important considerations and when you are in India, which is food and drink. Indian food is known for their spices and there are many famous dishes that have been replicated throughout the world. But when you’re in India, you can experience the authentic flavors and delight your tongue with some of the most popular dishes. Plus, food is affordable and some of the best can be bought from the street stalls.
Murg makhani or better known as butter chicken is a marinated dish that is often served with lentils, naan (bread), and a salad. Tandoori chicken is India’s take on barbeque and cooks the meat in a clay oven with spices like ginger and coriander. Chicken tikka masala is one of the most famous dishes that features a thick tomato yogurt sauce and is often served with a side of rice and naan. For dessert, some of the most popular options are coconut cake and kheer, which is a rice pudding.
But with all the tasty dishes, you’ll be even happier to know that you can actually afford to eat out. Many street food items can be bought for about $2 US dollars or less. Restaurants will be more expensive, but only by a few dollars. Many local restaurants will still have affordable prices and you can purchase a meal for about $5 US dollars. In the most touristy areas, you should expect food to cost more. Some meals may be $10 US dollars or more.
If you are looking for a luxurious meal, expect to pay Western prices. There are many fine dining establishments throughout the country that will cost $50 US dollars or more per meal. Some of the most well-known restaurants will have high prices, but most travelers who choose to eat out at them will be on a luxury vacation.
For many travelers, heading out to the bars at night is a fun activity and while you’re eager to enjoy the night scenes, it is important to budget the price of alcohol too. It is expensive to drink in India and a 58% tax on alcohol doesn’t lower the price. If you are drinking out at bars, the prices will be higher. A single beer may cost $5 US dollars, while purchasing at a local shop and drinking local brands will lower the price to about $1 US dollar. One of the most popular beer brands in India is called Kingfisher.
While the vast majority of travelers will stick to more tourist areas, you should expect to pay a higher price. Drinks in well-established bars or hotels can cost anywhere from $4 to $14 US dollars per drink. But then you have to add the 58% tax in addition to the price. So, a fun night out can easily cost upwards of $40 US dollars.
Though overall, India is an affordable country to visit. You will have to decide what type of vacation you want to take and that can determine how much or little you spend. If you really are tight on money, you can visit India for about $20 US dollars per day, but you would be staying off the beaten path and be okay with accommodations that have very poor conditions.
A more reasonable budget that would encompass your daily costs would be to spend about $40 US dollars per day on accommodations, food, and drink. A midrange budget anywhere from $55 US dollars per day to $140 US dollars per day. If you are spending more than $140 US dollars per day, you will likely be on a more or very luxurious vacation.
How to Get Around
India is a big country and it will be nearly impossible to explore the entire place on one vacation. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t want to do a little traveling while you are in India. But it is important when you are planning your budget that you consider the cost of transportation.
The fastest way to travel when you are on a tight schedule would be to use domestic flights. There are a few budget airlines established in India and flights will cost about $50 to $85 US dollars. While it may seem expensive, you have to remember that depending on your destination, other methods of travel could take up to 20 hours.
If you are willing to take more time to travel, there are trains that service the country and can expose you to an authentic look at the country. Trains will have classes and third class is the most affordable but also bare bones. Some third-class tickets will cost as little as $0.30 US cents for a trip. A second-class ticket would cost about $4 US dollars and will be much more comfortable. A first-class ticket can cost up to $15 US dollars but will be the nicest way to travel.
Another option is to take a bus. Buses are the slowest way to travel throughout India but are extremely affordable. An 11-hour journey will cost less than $7 US dollars. A nicer bus for the same distance will cost a few dollars more but should not be more expensive than $11 US dollars.
For groups of people traveling, one of the surprisingly affordable ways to travel is to use a long-distance taxi. Some taxis will take you on an 8-hour journey and will charge about $110 US dollars. When split between a traveling group, the price can be just as affordable as other methods of transportation.
Finally, rickshaws are very popular in cities and will cost almost nothing. Short distances will cost about $0.15 US cents and longer distances won’t be very much more expensive. For quick travel options around a concentrated area, this is the best way to go.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
India is filled with a variety of unique cities. Here, we will give a brief overview of the country’s most popular cities for tourists.
Delhi is a bustling capital that beautifully combines the past and present. Old architecture is sprinkled throughout modern construction and there are endless sights to see. Tourists can tackle the heavy traffic, walk the packed streets, and peruse the overflowing markets.
Jaipur is most well-known for its Amber Fort, which was built in 1592. The site is large and has courtyards, gardens, and corridors that you can explore. With a picturesque lakeside location, Jaipur is known for its beauty.
Mumbai is most popular for being India’s hub for culture, food, fashion, and finance. There is a large disparity between the population with some of the richest and poorest people in the country calling the city home, so you will see a large different in luxury and overcrowded architecture.
Agra is home to the Taj Mahal, which is a famous icon of India. The Taj Mahal sits on the Yamuna River and was built as a mausoleum to the wife of an emperor. The unmistakable white structure is made of marble and it currently draws millions of tourists. But with the main attraction being the building, the city of Agra is rather small and humble, and tourists are happily welcomed.
Kolkata was founded by the East India Trading Company in 1773 and since then the city has developed to become a mega center for the country. Similar to many places in India, tourists will witness the large distinction between the rich and poor. But with ornate temples, museums, and the Howrah Bridge, the city doesn’t not fail to entertain its guests.
While not all tourists want to make the trek to Varanasi, the city is famous for its riverside location on the Ganges and their ornate temples. The city is also one of the oldest cities that has been continually inhabited and is also a sacred and holy place. The ghats are what the city is known for where people go to bathe, practice ceremonies, and cremate the dead.
Points of Interest
While cities are vast and expansive, you may also find that there is a specific point of interest you wish to see in India.
The Golden City
Made of yellow sandstone, the Golden City sits in Jaisalmer and rises from the sand dunes of the Thar Dessert. The area is popular for the Golden Fort, palaces, temples, and intricate homes. One of the most stunning structures is the Maharaja’s Palace, which has seven stories and is decorated with manuscripts and paintings.
The Red Fort
Located in Delhi, the Red Fort was constructed of red sandstone and it is known for its two large gates. The Lahore and Delhi gate are popular sites at the fort, which were once used for ceremonial processions. The Lahore gate is now the fort’s main entrance.
Beaches in Goa
For a little relaxation time, the beach in Goa are a must do in India. The beaches are pristine and lined with colorful buildings that make for a beautiful setting. With resorts, spas, and yoga retreats, you can sit back and relax in nature’s luxury.
Get Out and Go
India is large, but its size will only entice you to take more journey to this enchanted land and tourists can experience everything from jam packed streets to the tranquility of nature. With plenty to see and do, India is also home to some of the world’s most stunning architecture. Whether you’re looking to experience the colonial past or the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, India will be your trip of a lifetime.