Overview about India

Travel in India can be challenging and exciting! Get to know a little more before you go about the country with the second-highest population.

Official name: Republic of India

Location: South Asia

Time: UTC plus 5½ hours

Country dialling code: +91

Population: 1.21 billion (according to the 2011 census)

Capital city: New Delhi (population 22 million, according to the 2011 census)

Main religions: Hinduism and Islam

Official currency: Indian rupee (INR)

Availability of ATMs (cash machines): Easily found in tourist areas

Paying by credit cards: Credit cards are only accepted at large hotels and for online bookings.

Tipping: Service charges are added in some hotels and restaurants.

Receipts in India can be a bewildering breakdown of various service charges and taxes (at different rates) for food, drinks, and services. Prices in shops should include tax. However, hotels, bars and restaurants will most likely quote prices without tax and add it on to the bill. Always ask for an itemized receipt in case you are entitled to a VAT (government tax) refund at the airport when you leave India.

ATMs in India are fairly reliable, but those in small towns often run out of cash or have hour-long queues.

Tip: It can be difficult to get change from spending large banknotes (the 1000-rupee note) as many people simply don't have enough cash to pay change. Withdraw smaller amounts from ATMs, save your small change when possible, and use large banknotes for covering accommodation.

Electricity in India

Power: 230 volts/50 Hz

Outlets: EuroPlug (round with two prongs); BS 546 (round with three prongs)

Outlets vary from place to place, with newer tourist establishments offering universal outlets that accept all the popular types of plugs.

If your electronic device wasn’t bought in Europe, you'll probably need a plug adapter. Most electronics with a charger (for example, laptops and mobile phones) will already work at 230 volts. Otherwise you'll need a power converter to reduce the voltage.

Power in India can be 'unclean,' meaning that drops and surges may damage sensitive devices. Do not to charge your electronic devices while you are not around.

Getting around India

India isn't just big, it's huge! Moving to different regions means taking a plane or train (the most popular option), or a bone-rattling bus ride.

Once in a new town or city, you'll have a number of transport options, such as taxis and
auto-rickshaws (the Indian equivalent of tuk-tuks). Driving in India can be a real challenge, so hiring a car with a driver is better than renting a car.

Tourists are likely to get scammed while on transport in India. Always refuse to go inside any shops, even if your driver stops at one. And don't believe your driver when he pretends there was an earlier miscommunication and asks you to pay more.

Things to know before visiting India

India has long been viewed as a symbol of the mystical and exotic East. If you believe this cliché, you run the risk of placing India in a timeless zone outside of the real world, which is increasingly modern and complex.

India is a vast and rapidly developing country with 28 different states and seven union territories. India has many languages, religions and cultures, which co-exist and intermingle.

The real India is far from the random assortment of the Taj Mahal, call centres, poor people and veiled women. The India you'll actually experience is a lot more diverse and complicated than that. Things in India are changing at a hectic pace, especially in the big cities.

Hopefully, these tips will give you a better understanding of what to expect when you travel to India.

Indian festivals

With so many religions and cultures, you will come across all kinds of fairs and celebrations.

Whether it is the shimmering lights of Diwali, the colours of Holi, the extravaganza of Durga Puja, Navaratri, Onam, Dusshera, Id Ul Fitr, or Christmas, you'll experience native customs, amazing Indian cuisine and lively festivities.

Hands and feet

In Hinduism there's a hierarchy of the body parts. The head is superior to the rest of the body, and the feet are lowest on the rung.

Feet are considered dirty in India, so take your shoes off before going into someone's house. Don't step on anything important and, if you do, apologise immediately.

It's a sign of respect to bend down and touch a respected elder's feet.

The left hand is customarily used for wiping after going to the toilet, so Indian people never eat with their left hands. Also remember never to pass anything – money or a gift – to an Indian with your left hand.

Temple etiquette

Always take your shoes off before you enter a place of worship in India, and do not wear revealing clothes.

Tourists in India are often tempted to wear shorts, but it's crucial to keep your legs and shoulders covered when visiting a site of religious importance.

As the land where four major religions started, and many others arrived and never left, many Indian people take their religion very, very seriously.

If you are interested in exploring their religious sites – many of which can be of immense historical and archeological importance – please respect religious beliefs, even if you don’t share them.

Prepare to be overwhelmed!

India has been influenced by three centuries of being a British colony, along with the weight of its own often reworked and redefined history.

The complications and contradictions of India's political realities will stun the first-time visitor.

You'll find huge, swanky shopping malls very close to massive slum settlements that reek of poverty.

Many visitors who stay in India leave with a sense of accomplishment, after surviving the initial shock. And it is a shock to learn what it means to live in India (as over a billion of us do).

Public behaviour

The beautiful lagoons of Kerala or the beauty of the Taj Mahal might make you want to sidle up to your partner and give them a quick hug and kiss, but think twice before doing that in public. Even though you might catch young couples canoodling in public parks, it's best not to show affection in public.

There's a lack of privacy among the teeming millions of India, and the concept of personal space as you know it might not exist.

Also, people will generally be very curious about foreign visitors, and this can lead to openly staring. Try not to take it too personally if people on the street seem to be staring at you, or if people ask you questions that you think are none of their business. Most of the time, it's just friendly curiosity, and if you smile at a staring stranger, many times you will get a friendly smile back. However, never risk your safety for the sake of politeness. This is especially true for female tourists.