Planning a trip to India? Great! This India Holidays Guide will help you do just that.
Tourism in India is an important part of the economy, and the most recent figures show that over 10 million international visitors traveled to India in 2017, a number which is growing every year.
The most popular tourist attractions are the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra, the capital New Delhi’s Red Fort, and the pink city of Jaipur.
India offers some fantastic destinations for nature lovers too, with the Himalaya mountain range in the north of the country, Goa’s pristine beaches on the west coast, and the canals and coastline of Kerala in the south.
India is the 7th largest and 2nd most populous country in the world. It shares borders with Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. India is one of the original members of the UN and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
- Indian holidays: quick facts
- Indian regions
- How to travel to India
- How to travel around India
- What to bring on your Indian travels
- The best time to travel to India
- What to eat in India
- Famous events in India
- Public holidays in India
- Cultural customs to be aware of in India
- Where to stay in India
- Don't forget travel insurance
- Is India safe to travel to?
- The use of cash and cards in India
- Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in India
- Tipping in India
- A brief history of India
- All India posts
Indian holidays: quick facts
Size: 3,287,263 km² or 1,269,219 mi
People living there: 1,324,171,354
Capital: New Delhi
Governmental structure: federal parliamentary democratic republic
National day: 26th January
Time zone: Indian standard time (UTC + 5.30)
Currency: Indian rupee
Official religion(s)/Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion. 79.8% of Indians practise Hinduism, 14.2% Islam, and 2.3% practise Christianity. The rest of the population is made up by Buddhists, Sikhs, Jainists, and other religions.
Official language(s) and general knowledge of English: India has 14 official languages, with one of them being English. Many of the official languages are regional, although there are over 1,500 in total. English is widely spoken as it’s used in higher education and government.
Drives on this side: left
International driver's licence accepted? yes
Phone code: +91
Do you need travel shots for India? Yellow fever certificates are required if you’ve been traveling in an at-risk country. There are no compulsory vaccines, but diphtheria, hepatitis A, tetanus, and typhoid are advised.
Can you drink the tap water? No. Some restaurants will offer treated water, but it’s best to stick to bottled. You can also always bring a Steripen.
India has over 30 states, so I have decided to divide them by region rather than state. There are no set boundaries for the regions of India, but for the sake of this guide, it will be split into six. India’s states and regions are a highly sensitive topic, so you might want to avoid mentioning them until they're brought up in conversation.
Some regions are very popular with tourists, whereas there are others that are rarely visited. I didn’t want to leave any out, so this should give a concise overview of all regions.
1. North India
This includes Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.
Northern India loosely defines as the states mentioned above, and one of the first ports of call for tourists in the country, as it’s where you’ll find the capital New Delhi and one of the country’s four major international airports.
The most emblematic symbol of India, the white marble tomb of the Taj Mahal is found in the historical city of Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Northern India is also known for the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas and their hill stations, which are great spots for trekking and hiking, the exquisite flavors of Punjabi cuisine, and pilgrimage sites such as the Sikh Golden Temple, Varanasi, and Ayodhya.
Although this part of India is a popular tourist destination, tourists should exercise caution in Jammu and Kashmir, as tensions are high between Pakistan and India at the time of writing.
The main cities in North India are New Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Lucknow.
2. West India
This includes Goa, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.
Western India is home to the commercial capital, Mumbai (also known as Bombay). This region generates 24% of India’s GDP from only 10% of the population.
After spending some time in one of the world’s most vibrant but hectic cities, it may be a good idea to head to the relaxing and pristine beaches of Goa. It’s a popular tourist spot in India and a primary seaside destination, with beaches to suit every time of traveler, whether you want to relax, do yoga, or party. The tropical climate means it’s a year-round destination.
In this region, you’ll also find ancient Buddhist caves in Gujarat, the habitat of Asiatic lions, and a number of national parks and wildlife reserves dotted throughout. There are also a number of popular picturesque hill stations including Karjat and Khandala.
Other than Mumbai, important cities in West India are Pune, Bhavnagar, and Ahmedabad, where you’ll find the famous kite festival. Mumbai is very well known for the Bollywood film industry.
3. South India
This includes Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana.
This natural paradise has mostly been left alone throughout history, meaning it’s one of the best places to visit if you’re interested in traditional Indian history. Filled with temple towns such as Mahabalipuram, Madurai, and Kanchipuram, Southern India will give you a truly spiritual experience of the country.
There’s more to India than temples and pilgrimage sites though, with Kerala’s palm-lined beaches and backwater canals are a great place to take a houseboat cruise, perfect for disconnecting from the real world. The state’s national parks also give an opportunity to see wildlife such as tigers and elephants.
Southern Indian food is perfect for beginners trying local cuisine – the use of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and tamarind with a healthy dose of coconut milk means that food here is sweet rather than hot. The biggest cities in the region are Chennai (Madras), Bangalore, and Hyderabad.
4. East India
This includes Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal.
East India has a rich cultural heritage, home to historical sites related to India’s independence, as well as temples, monasteries, and stunning rural landscapes. The Kanchenjunga mountain range in Darjeeling is where the famous tea comes from, and it’s possible to take a journey on the stunning Darjeeling Mountain Railway for unparalleled panoramic views of the Himalayan foothills.
There’s a strong football and cricket culture in this part of India, as well as another unique take on Indian cuisine – sweets made from milk are a popular dessert here. It’s also where some of India’s great literary figures have come from, including the Nobel Laureates Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore.
You’ll find India’s biggest city in this region – Kolkata (Calcutta). The vibrant city grew from being established as a British trading post in the 17th century to one of the best-known cities in India. Today, it's thronged with rickshaws, brightly painted buses and trucks, as street vendors navigate through the chaos to hawk their goods.
Other important cities in East India are Patna, Jamshedpur and Dhanbad.
5. Central India
This includes Chhattisgarh and Madya Pradesh.
Probably the least developed of India’s 6 states on this list, the center of the country is home to lush green forests, mineral reserves, and even diamond mines. Wildlife lovers should head to Bandhavgarh National Park in Madya Pradesh, probably the best-known of all the state’s tiger reserves.
You can still see evidence of Palaeolithic settlements in the region, with evidence of this in the Bhimbetka Caves. You can also find cave paintings which date back to 30,000BC in several locations across Central India.
The largest city in the region is the capital of Madya Pradesh, Indore. Other important cities in the region are Bhopal and Raipur. Central India is responsible for generating more than 10% of the country’s electricity, mostly through coal power plants.
6. Northeast India
This includes Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura.
People from other parts of India are often quick to annex this part of the country as not part of India, and there are certainly influences on northeast Indian culture from the countries that it shares borders with. It represents both a geographical and political-administrative division of the country. It’s connected through West Bengal by a narrow strip of land which is as narrow as 21km at one point.
There are several Buddhist sites across the region, including the scenic Rumtek Monastery and Sikkim’s Yumthang Valley of the Flowers. Here, you’ll also find grazing yaks, rivers, and hot springs. Alpine lakes such as Tsomgo, reached by gondola, and sacred Gurudongmar are great places to see the beauty of the Himalayas.
The most important cities in Northeast India are Guwahati in the Assam region, Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim and a trekking base for the Himalayas, and Cherrapunji, a town known for its stunning waterfalls.
How to travel to India
Most tourists require an e-visa to visit India. This grants you a trip of up to 60 days. Note that e-visas are only available at designated airports and seaports. If you’re planning on staying longer, you can get a 6-month tourist visa. Your passport must be valid for 180 days after entering, with 2 blank pages.
If you’re planning on entering India overland, you must have a valid Indian visa in advance, as no visas are available at border crossings.
How to go to India
There are buses operating to all 4 India – Bangladesh border crossings. You can also get buses all the way from Kolkata (Calcutta) to Dhaka, which will drop you at Benapol (international checkpoint), before you can switch to another bus operated by the same company on the other side of the border.
If you arrive in India by air, exiting Bangladesh by land can be complicated, as you’ll need a change of route permit, also known as a road permit. Most visas are issued on arrival at Dhaka airport too, causing further complications.
A bus operated by the Bhutan government leaves from Kolkata at 7 pm daily (except Sundays) to the border crossing at Phuentsholing. Before entering Bhutan, you’ll need a visa and tour booking from a registered operator. Entering India from Bhutan is easier, but make sure you have your Indian visa.
There are 2 border crossings in India’s border with northern Myanmar. Buses operate between Imphal or Moreh (India) and Mandalay (Myanmar). You can also get shared taxis, minibusses, or even a helicopter. At the Aizawl Rihkhawdar border, only jeeps make the border crossing.
There are 6 border crossings between India and Nepal. If you’re planning on leaving India and returning, it’s best to have a multiple entry visa, as getting an Indian visa in Nepal can be difficult. There are regular buses at all border crossings between the two countries.
You can cross the Pakistan border on buses to Delhi, Rajasthan, or Amritsar (Punjab). However, given that the relationship between India and Pakistan is volatile, you should check before travelling if you’re able to cross the border.
The Wagah border is usually only open between 8.30 am and 3 pm, so make sure you time your journey accordingly. Note that the Caravan of Peace bus route is only open to Indian and Pakistani nationals.
Crossing the border by train is only possible in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal must be done by road.
It’s possible to travel between Dhaka and Kolkata (Chitpore) four times a week on the Maitree Express train. You’ll need a rubber-stamped visa on leaving Bangladesh, and make sure it says entry or exit by train on the visa. You’ll also need to buy tickets at least 10 days in advance.
There are also twice-weekly trains which travel via the Dharsana border post, and Akhaura is on the Dhaka to Comilla and Dhaka to Sylhet train lines.
Although there are twice-weekly trains between Lahore (Pakistan) and Attari (India), the government warns tourists against using trains to cross the border, due to tension between the two countries. The Thar Express between Jodhpur (India) and Karachi (Pakistan) is only open to Indian and Pakistani nationals. Border trains have extremely high levels of security.
Fly to India
India has 4 main gateways for international flights, which are the capital New Delhi (north central), Mumbai (west coast), Chennai (southeast coast), and Bengaluru (south center). A number of smaller cities airports also service international flights.
Good to know: You must show a copy of your passport and your ticket to enter the airport.
How to travel around India
Independent travel through India
It can be overwhelming to explore India, especially as a solo, female, or first-time traveler. However, touring India on your own is perfectly possible thanks to its extensive public transport system. India offers a number of budget airlines for domestic travel, offering very competitive prices. It’s a much quicker way of covering long distances than by bus or train.
The cheapest way to travel is by bus and you can usually get on without an advanced booking. Buses go everywhere and are sometimes the only way to travel in mountain areas. However, avoid night buses unless there are no other options as road conditions can be perilous, and drivers may be exhausted.
Traveling by train should be done at least once in India – it has one of the largest rail networks in the world, with over 7,000 stations across the country. Trains are smoother and more comfortable than buses, and a much better option for overnight travel. Book far in advance for overnight journeys, and make sure you check what ‘class’ you’re getting.
Hiring a car in India is affordable, but few people bother due to the poor safety record of India’s roads. Over 200,000 people are killed a year on the roads, with more than half of these being vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists). Most hire cars in India are not permitted to travel outside of their own state – meaning you’ll have to pay state taxes if you cross any state lines.
It’s more common to rent a car and driver to visit tourist sites in India. The majority of towns have agencies for this, and you can rent for short or long trips. Make sure that you get everything in writing, including sightseeing stops, petrol prices, destinations, and the driver’s meals and accommodation), so that there are no surprises later.
You can rent or buy a motorcycle to tour India, if you plan on the latter, you’ll need to get insurance. It’s not recommended to use a motorcycle here if you’re a novice rider.
What to bring on your Indian travels
India is a huge country, and there is a lot of variation between regions in their climate and weather. Across the country, the coolest weather last from November until March, when the days are mostly sunny, but the mornings and evenings are cool.
Between March and June is when India is at its hottest. During this time, it can be really dry, dusty, and unpleasant. Monsoon rains can occur any time between June and October.
As there are so many regional differences in climate in India, the best thing to do is to look up the weather report before packing for your trip and potentially also ask some locals what to expect on forums on sites such as TripAdvisor.
The best time to travel to India
The best time to go to India completely depends on what you want to get from your holiday. Although the high season for much of the country is December to March, where you’ll find pleasant weather, snow will cover many of the Himalayan mountain passes.
For visiting the Himalayas, come after June when Ladakh’s mountain passes are open and accessible. October to December sees Kerala and other areas of the south coast experiencing heavy rain.
Low season is from April to June and sees scorching heat across most of the country. It’s the cheapest time to travel, with lower accommodation prices, but it can be uncomfortably hot, especially in big cities.
What to eat in India
Indian cuisine is as varied and diverse as the regions and languages of the country. Each region or sub cuisine may have its own take on a dish, but here are 10 of the most popular that are available across the country.
- Chaat – a staple of Indian street food, made from a base of puffed rice, vegetables, peas, and spices.
- Samosa – another street food favorite – these deep-fried flour snacks are often filled with potatoes, peas, and spices.
- Vada Pav – a vegetarian mix of a potato patty, chili, and spices are the filling in this sandwich roll known as a pav.
- Dhokla – A savory vegetarian snack made from fermented rice batter mixed with chickpeas. Garnished with mustard seeds and coriander.
- Biryani – A rice dish served with raita (yogurt, cucumber, and onions). Often includes meat or vegetables too.
- Masala Dosa – Pancake made of rice and white lentils before fermenting overnight. Served with potatoes, chutney, and sambar.
- Butter Chicken – This chicken dish is served with a thick, buttery sauce – perfect for mopping up with garlic naan (Indian flatbread).
- Rogan Josh – several variations across the country, but the original Kashmiri dish includes lamb, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and a range of spices.
- Thali – Not a single dish, rather a platter of Indian favorites – anything from 6 up to 20! Includes rice, bread, poppadum, dal, chapati, sambal, and vegetarian curries. Sometimes you’ll be able to get meat curries too.
- Chole Bhature – spiced chickpea curry served with deep-fried bread.
Famous events in India
Kumbh Mela – time varies (banks of the River Ganges) – This festival only happens 4 times every 12 years, meaning you’ll be very lucky to witness it. The Hindu pilgrimage to the bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges is a spectacular display of customs and traditions, and it attracts the largest gathering of people in the world.
Uttarayan Kite Festival – January (Ahmedabad, Gujarat) – This festival sees thousands of people including professional makers and flyers taking their kites to the sky over Ahmedabad, to mark the beginning of Summer in the state.
Holi – March (countrywide) – Also known as the festival of countries and widely being celebrated outside of India, Holi gather in wide open areas and throw wet and dry paint at each other, some even have coloured filled water guns and balloons.
Arattupuzha Pooram – March/April (Kerala) – This is a 7-day festival across the state of Kerala, which sees regal elephants beautifully dressed in order to honour up to 23 Gods and Goddesses.
Bihu – April (Assam) – The harvest festival of Assam is a festival of dance, music, and laughter. During the month-long festival, community feasts are held, and young men and women perform the Bihu dance in traditional clothing.
Hemis – July (Ladakh) – A two-day festival celebrated the birth of the founder of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, Padmasambhava, one of the most important religious festivals in India sees priests dressing up in elaborate costumes and doing the Cham dance.
Navratri – September/October – A 9-day festival which celebrates female divinity, by honoring the Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati with dancing, singing, and drama. The best place to celebrate Navratri is Gujarat.
Dussehra – October (countrywide) – One of India’s most famous festivals is also known as Vijayadashami and celebrates Lord Rama’s victory over the demon King Ravana. The ten-day festival ends with the spectacular burning of an effigy of King Ravana.
Diwali, Festival of Lights – October (countrywide) – one of the most important Hindu festivals, Indians celebrate Diwali by decorating their houses with clay lamps and candles, wearing new clothes, and buying gifts such as sweets for friends and family.
Pushkar Camel Fair – October and November (Pushkar, Rajasthan) – this annual festival sees farmers descending on the village of Pushkar to trade their livestock. There’s a four-day fair including rides and competitions. One of the highlights is the best mustache competition!
Public holidays in India
India has a number of public holidays, some of which are specific only to some regions. In this guide, I’ve only included the ones that affect several states or the entire country. If you know which region(s) you’re going to visit, then it’s a good idea to check regional bank holidays so you can be prepared.
- New Year’s Day
- Vasant Panchami – February 10
- Guru Ravidas’ Birthday – February 19
- Republic Day – January 26
- Holi – March 21
- Mahavir Jayanti (most important holiday in Jainism)
- Ram Navami – April 13 or 14
- Vaisakhi – April 13 or 14
- Good Friday
- May Day
- Buddha Purnima
- I’dul Fitr
- Independence Day – August 15
- Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) – October 2
- Muhammad’s birthday – November 9 or 10 (depending on state)
- Guru Nanak’s Birthday
- Christmas Day
Cultural customs to be aware of in India
There are a few things you should know about India and its culture as not to cause offense. First of all, avoid pointing at or touching anyone with the soles of your feet.
For eating and shaking hands with people, use the right hand as the left is ‘the toilet hand.’
Avoid wearing tight or skimpy clothes, especially when visiting religious sites. When you’re there, it’s polite to remove your shoes, the same as if you are entering someone’s home.
Cows are holy animals. Killing and eating them is considered a sin.
Last of all, before taking photos of people, sacred sites, or ceremonies, it’s best to ask permission first.
Where to stay in India
I always use booking.com to look for hotels or guesthouses. It has a bunch of filtering options that allow you to easily find accommodation that fits your criteria, like having free WiFi and a good review score. If you're looking for accommodation in India, I highly recommend you check there.
On the occasions that I want to book an apartment rather than a hotel, I use Airbnb.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan and research your trip to India, there's always something that can happen beyond your control and in India, it's very likely something will. A reservation might get canceled, you can get ill and need medication or your digital camera might fall to pieces.
When misfortune strikes, good travel insurance has got you covered. I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on. Don't have insurance yet? You can get a free quote here:
Is India safe to travel to?
India is ranked 106th out of 162 countries in the safe travel index; and there is a high risk of petty theft, armed robbery, scams, and natural disasters.
Female travelers, especially those on their own, should be vigilant as sexual assaults are common both during the day and at night. Avoid poorly lit streets, travel in a group where possible, and do not accept food or drinks on public transport (they may be spiked) to minimize the risk.
India’s roads are some of the most dangerous in the world, and vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists) should be especially careful, as they make up more than half of the fatalities on India’s roads. Always wear helmets if using a bicycle or motorbike and avoid night-time travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.
There are some low-level scams that tourists should watch out for, including taxi drivers pretending not to know where your hotel is, gemstone import scams, altered taxi meters, unofficial road fees from police officers, and fake train tickets.
Due to the current unrest between India and Pakistan, traveling to Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh is not recommended at the time of writing.
Although there are plenty of risks traveling to India, many travelers do not experience anything more than minor inconveniences and still have a great trip. Don’t let the risks put you off, just remain vigilant!
The use of cash and cards in India
ATMs are widely used in India and are easiest to locate at airports or in large urban centers. It’s a good idea to carry some cash with you that you can exchange when getting to India though, as some banks will block cards used here even if you have notified them of your travel plans, and Indian ATMs regularly suffer technical issues. The largest banks usually offer the best exchange rates with their ATMs.
Credit cards often carry a 3 – 5% foreign transaction fee which can considerably add to the price of your trip, so if possible, carry both a credit and debit card.
You’re not allowed to take rupees out of India, so you’ll have to exchange your cash here. Many shops will change money. If in doubt, ask your hotel on the best place to change cash as fake currency and scams are prevalent.
Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in India
Because of roaming charges, quickly checking your email or looking something up on Google Maps can cost you a lot really fast. If you don't want to depend on WiFi in public places, I highly recommend getting or renting a mobile hotspot. That way, you have unlimited data wherever there's network availability and you know exactly what you'll pay upfront.
I've been using a Solis Wifi hotspot for a few years now. Solis Wifi used to only have daily passes but now they also offer monthly subscriptions. As most of my trips aren't longer than two or three weeks, I just make sure I have enough day passes to provide me with 4G throughout my trips.
Sounds interesting? If you decide to get or rent your own hotspot, I have a 10% discount for you with Solis Wifi. Just fill in the code WONDERFULWANDERINGS when ordering. You can find their offer here.
Tipping in India
Tipping in India is a bit of a delicate business. While locals don't tend to always tip, visitors are expected to do so though not too much because that may come off as rude. If you're not sure how to go about things, check these guidelines for tipping in India.
A brief history of India
The earliest civilizations arose around 5,000 years ago on the banks of the Indus River, in an area that is modern-day Pakistan. They built the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, which were abandoned without explanation in around 1,700BC.
Around 200 years later, in 1,500BC, the Aryan people arrived in Central India bringing the Sanskrit language with them, one of the oldest in the world that is still spoken today. It’s agreed that the Vedic Scriptures, which form the base of Hinduism, were written in the time of the Aryan reign.
The 4th century AD brought the Gupta Empire, where science, arts, and crafts flourished. Aryabhatta, an Indian astronomer, theorized that the Earth revolved around the sun, long before this was accepted in Western civilization.
Muslim forces invaded India in the 16th century, and the Mongol Babur founded the Mughal Empire. The empire built roads, mosques, gardens, and tombs such as the Taj Mahal in a Golden Age of art, literature, and architecture, which lasted from 1527 to 1707.
In the late 1700s, Europeans began arriving in India to set up trading companies in rubber, tea, and spices, amongst commodities. Britain assumed control of the majority of India in 1757. In 1856, uprisings began against British rule. Gandhi started non-violent protests against the British in 1920, but it was not until 1947 that India gained its independence.
Nowadays, India is a growing economic powerhouse and home to more than 1 billion people. Its population is expected to overtake that of China in 2028, making it the world’s most populous country.
And that's it! I hope this guide has given you some information on where to go in India and how to plan your trip there. Safe travels!
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