Travelling to India? Get travel advice and inspiration from Wanderlust. Want to know what to see or do? How to avoid the crowds? We have the tips for you
India has the second largest population of the world, with about 1.15 billion people living on the subcontinent. With almost three million square kilometres ahead of you, the first challenge is deciding where to go.
Many travellers coming to India for the first time choose to visit the ‘golden triangle’ – the capital Delhi, Agra with its world-famous Taj Mahal, and Jaipur, the 'pink city' with Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds. After a week on the move you'll start to understand why so many visitors to India end up staying for months - or years.
There are so many alternatives. Rajasthan in the northwest is the India many imagine: women dressed in brightly coloured saris, majestic palaces and forts and camels swaggering through the desert.
The capital of Maharashtra state, Mumbai, is India's fastest-moving city, home to Bollywood and a rising Indian middle class. Calcutta is widely regarded as India's spiritual centre, a seething, hypnotic cauldron of ceaseless toil.
Head south and the pace slows. Portuguese Goa, the most westernised state, with its beaches and resorts. Kerala, with rice-boats cruising idyllic backwaters and the fortified city of Cochin. Sprawling Karnataka, with the ruins of Hampi and Madurai's simmering Meneekshi Temple, packed with devotees offering sacrifice and holy elephants holding court. Tamil Nadu, vast and rural, that also includes Pondicherry, France's tiny toe-hold onto the Indian sub-continent. And if the heat gets too intense, flee to hill stations, built by the British as hot-season refuges and now happy playgrounds for India's growing middle class.
Push at the frontiers and there are more gems. Troubled Kashmir, with its houseboats and guns. Amritsar, with its 'Golden Temple' defended by pensioners armed with swords, at the heart of Sikkhism. The Himalayan foothills, where trekking routes evolved as ancient trade links to remote mountain settlements.
Pack light and stay longer. There are few things you need in India that you can't buy locally, and heavy packs greatly increase stress. Your money is likely to stretch for longer than you expect and you'll also find it takes you longer, in India, to achieve what you want. Leave yourself the flexibility to extend your stay.
When to go to India
The best time to visit most parts of India is from October to the end of March. During the summer months the monsoon brings heavy rainfalls.
Climate varies a lot depending on where you go. Tamil Nadu in the southeast gets most of its rain between October and December, whereas in the northwest Rajasthan and northern Gujarat don’t receive much rain at all.
India has a lot of great festivals and interesting religious celebrations, which are worth considering when you plan your journey. Highlights are: Makar Sankrati on January 14, when people in North India celebrate the start of the northern journey of the sun with a kite festival; Rath Yatra, the chariot festival, in June; and Diwali in October or November, with atmospheric lights and impressive fireworks.
Mumbai (BOM) 29km from the city; Calcutta (CCU) 13km from the city; Delhi (DEL) 20km from the city; Chennai (MAA) 14km from the city; Amritsar-Raja Sansi (ATQ) 11km from the city; Goa (GOI) 35km from the city of Panjim.
For long distances flying is the best option. Domestic flights to all major cities are available, frequently at low prices.
Rail travel is cheap and relatively comfortable. Indian Railways operates a comprehensive network of trains of different standards and with different classes. Be prepared for long journeys – and check if overnight sleeper trains are available for your route to save some time and money for accommodation. Reservations are essential to ensure you get a berth.
If you are not in a hurry you can enjoy the views from a slow steam train up to the hill resorts of Shimla, Ooty (Udhagamandalam), Darjeeling or Matheran.
Many of India’s interesting places can only be reached by road. Buses now get to pretty much every part of the country. They are very cheap, but slow and uncomfortable. Check Red Bus for routes and prices.
A more comfortable way to get around is to hire a car with a driver.
India has a very wide range of accommodation. In all major cities you can stay in high-class hotels for a fraction of what you would pay in Western countries, while locally run hotels are even cheaper - especially if you bargain. The YHA run a few hostels all over India, and tourist offices can provide you with a list of families offering homestays. For a unique experience, stay at a Hindu ashram. You're not expected to be religious, but a philosophical interest will help you fit in.
India’s cuisine is very diverse and food is an integral part of Indian culture. The techniques involved in cooking Indian food are intimately connected with communities, regions, religious beliefs and festivities in the Indian culture.
What most regional styles have in common is the importance of spices, used for flavour, as appetite stimulators and digestives. Domestic cuisine can be very hot, but expensive restaurants catering for the tourist trade make their meals very mild.
Other essentials are dal (lentils), rice and dairy products like dahi, a sort of yoghurt or curd.
For vegetarians India is probably the best country on earth: you can be sure that all Hindu restaurants won't serve meat - or even an egg - at all. Tuck into vegetable stews, curries with paneer cheese and many other regional specialties.
Street stall favourites are samosas, three-cornered deep-fried pastry parcels with a potato filling; bhajis, battered and deep-fried vegetables; and dosas, a sort of pancake made of rice.
Depending on where you go and how you travel, several vaccinations are recommended, as is malaria prophylaxis – consult your GP or travel health clinic.
Drink only sterilised, boiled or bottled water. Make sure the bottles are sealed and bear in mind that ice is not always made from sterilised water.
Several places in India have been targets of terrorist attacks. Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for travel advice and information on security issues.
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With the historian Bettany Hughes exploring the 'Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World' on BBC Two tonight, we took a look at the proposed list... More
Tom Morgan, founder of The Adventurists, talks about the Mongol Rally, perils in Peru and becoming a culture institution for ASEAN More
Ben Redmond spent six months working for an NGO in India's most notorious city and discovered a hidden gem More
Great new look, same terrific content – myWanderlust, you spoil us More
Crowded, hot and with more sharp operators than a surgeon’s convention, Delhi is a challenge. Yet among the hawkers and holy cows are moments of serenity More
The author of 'Bearback: The World Overland' gives us his diagnosis on the world of travel More
The co-founder of TransIndus lets slip about the 'next' Varanasi and a hidden Indian wildlife gem More
Former street kid brings Bollywood glamour to the world of Ashtanga yoga to help others More
Tiger, tiger burning bright? Sadly not, but there’s still a fair chance you’ll spot one in our pick of India’s 10 best tiger reserves More
What better way to explore India than by rail? Make the most of your trip with these route ideas More
It's possible to see the best of India on a short-hop rail adventure – take a look at our favourite routes More
Raconteur, broadcaster and Sikh in a Kilt, Hardeep Singh Kohli, gives us his peculiar slant on the world of travel More
Inspired by Kate Humble's new programme, The Spice Trail, we found six spicy and sweet recipes to get your tastebuds tingling More
As a self-styled, seasoned traveller, Alastair was not overly concerned about applying for a visa to travel to India next month More
She travelled the globe to re-discover the lost stories of the world's most famous spices. Here, Kate Humble talks to Wanderlust about her journey More
Rolling tea estates, forest tribes, rare monkeys – and was that a leopard? There’s more to Kerala than those beautiful backwaters More
Christmas is long behind us, the bills are pouring in, it's cold and spring is far off. Here are 10 places to win back that feel-good factor and beat the blues More
Make an April fool of yourself! India’s growing network of early morning Laughter Clubs is aiming to cheer up a nation – and the world More
Not one secret India but ten - with advice from India experts we help you find the hidden subcontinent More
There are almost 3,000 species of snakes on the planet – Here we look at the likelihood of being bitten, and what you should do if you are More
Assam’s Kaziranga National Park is a stronghold for Indian one-horned rhinos. They share the park with elephants, swamp deer, sloth bears and nearly 500 species of birds More
Five of the world’s most scenic cisterns and panoramic privies – from Zambia to the Antarctic More
Photograph of the Year judge, Steve Davey shares the best-kept secrets on where to capture the most thrilling photographs More
Photographer Steve Davey left Ladakh just as the unprecedented wet weather was closing in More
A guided tour of Mumbai's teeming Dharavi slum raises moral questions for visitors More
Beyond the bustle of India’s Golden Triangle lie quiet villages and desert camps that receive few visitors. Wanderlust-award-winning tour guide Sameer Singh Rathore leads the way More
We highlight seven destinations that could benefit from a new approach to tourism, and three that could do with more visitors More
Hiking through the Himalayan Kumaon region takes in the best of India, with hints of Nepal and Tibet. Just beware the leopards More
Get your tastebuds tingling with these top foodie trips, from learning to cook in Kerala to sampling the exotic fare in Mexico More
Here we highlight six iconic locations in need of urgent care More
Rallying's not just for playboys and petrolheads - it can be the most entertaining way to travel More
Here we unearth 10 extraordinary destinations that were impossible to visit a decade ago More
India is rich in culture and life – but there are some cultures and some life that you really want to avoid. Here we highlight the subcontinent's biggest risks More
Lyn Hughes looks at the planet's great wetland wildernesses More
David Abram ventures to the isolated region of Kutch – brought to the world's attention by the 2011 earthquake – and finds a different enclave of India More
A journey through undiluted India to the source of one of the world's mightiest rivers More
David Abram scours the backwaters and palm groves of India's Portuguese corner in search of the most authentically Goan places to stay More
William Gray tells of how he fell under the spell of the tiger More
Take a walk through Hampi's bloody history and temple with David Abram More
To help you get higher in life we take a look at some classic and some not-so-well-known mountain hotspots More
There's more to Jodhpur than the fort and a trip to the desert. David Abram hunts for hidden gems in the back alleys and back country More
David Abram hunts for hints of chilled-out, pre-hippy Goa More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
India wildlife tour to the most famous tiger sanctuary in India. This bespoke tiger safari with the best local guides lets you get under the skin of Ranthambhore with 7 jeep safaris.
Discover the main highlights of north India & Rajasthan on board the characterful and charming Palace on Wheels train.
Ramblers Walking Holidays
A Journey through lesser known India...
Travel with us on this wellness and spiritual journey where you can practice Yoga and Meditation in the Himalayas and by the holy Ganges
Explore Delhi's bustling streets with an expert guide, marvel at the monuments of Agra and the Taj Mahal, gaze upon the ancient city of Fatephur Sikri
Enjoy the best of both worlds; travel through the Golden Triangle on the luxurious Maharajas' Express before exploring western Rajasthan the Audley way; with a private driver, guides throughout and...
Wild Rhino Adventures
Discover the magical land of North East India and its icons- the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, endangered Rhinos of Kaziranga, a tour of where your Assam Tea comes from and the Naga tribes.
Get off the beaten track in central India without leaving the comfort of the luxurious Deccan Odyssey train. Also explore the bustling metropolis of Mumbai before unwinding in the peaceful state of...
Explore the diverse foothills of the Himalaya including Amritsar, Dharamasala and time in Shimla to relax and experience the remains of the British Raj.
Retrace the incredible journey of Saroo Brierley - stopping off at Mumbai, Aurangabad, Khandwa, Burhanpur, Maheshwar and finish your trip in Calcutta.
Asia is the continent where overlanding all started, and Dragoman has been the leading operator there since our first trucks went through in the 1980s - take advantage of our years of experience an...
Discover the main highlights of tropical Kerala including Cochin, the Backwaters and Munnar, with time on the beach to relax at the end of your trip.
KE Adventure Travel
Photographic highlights of Bhutan with the Gasa and Paro festivals
This itinerary allows you to avoid the crowds and visit lesser-known national parks to go in search of the elusive tiger and sloth bear.
Discover the main highlights of North India and Rajasthan, including the Taj Mahal, Meherangarh Fort and ending your trip at Udaipur.