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India

This is a country travellers fantasize about – exotic, oriental, ancient India. It is also modern, booming, chaotic India. Between the two lies a wealth of delights – the charm of a golden civilisation still alive and kicking after centuries and to be glimpsed as you turn the corner of a palace or a fort; as you hear the sweetness of the flute in the misty northern hills and the deep rhythm of the sitar at a mesmerizing performance; as you drive past the captivating sound of temple bells that ring out loud amidst the noise of a daily ritual prayer; as you wander into monuments adorned with precious stones – unguarded, still splendid; as you lie deeply relaxed drifting to music, massaged by the strong yet gentle touch of ayurveda healers.

The wonder that is India never stops overwhelming your senses. It is not a country for the frail and the timid. Unpredictable, noisy, spiritual, peaceful, argumentative, complex, intelligent, emotional – a country that has seen and absorbed many invading and colonising cultures and has grown to a chaotic, vocal, economically booming and fiercely independent democracy that embraces both the poor beggar on the street and the ostentatious luxury brand in the mall. Commercialisation jostles with creativity and an ancient heritage and teachings already include and accept ultra-modern changes and a fast-paced evolution of ideas and inventions.

India has on offer the magnificence of a varied landscape that spreads itself out from the mystical Himalayas to the warm serenity of the backwaters of Kerala, from the deep mysterious Sunderbans to the brilliant colours swirling around the deserts of Kutch. Travel here takes you from country-sized bustling cities to forgotten mud-hut villages around rich monuments in locations where empires once existed.

A trip to India is what travel stories are made of. It’s not just the places and the sightseeing that travellers relish, but also the festivals, the art and craft, the people, the cuisines, and of course, the shopping. And we haven’t even talked about the warmth, hospitality and friendliness yet.

Read a little about this large sub-continent: the travel stops in the North, East, West and South of this indescribable country. And you could link into some useful travel information on the following pages.

Destinations

Opulent in every which way, North India is usually the entry point for a trip to India and has many must-see destinations – it is the India of every traveler’s fantasy. A large and historically tumultuous region, it has always been a magnetic draw for travelers throughout its history, many of them invaders who brought with them cultures and customs that are still dazzlingly woven into the fabric of Indian life today. Many came and many stayed, enchanted by the land, and their staying has created a colourful, vivid mosaic that captures your heart and imagination.

Sita will recommend and help you plan itineraries and schedules depending on what you want to see and do. Sita itineraries offer a wide variety for diverse customer and different brochure products.

South India has traditionally been labelled as all the land that lay south of the Vindhya mountain range. While geographically accurate, to most Indians, it generally refers to the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

South India is different in texture, in its taste, sounds, smells and colours. Everything is richer and yet more simple, if you can grasp that essential Indian paradox. It is traditional and seeped in a quiet Dravidian heritage and culture that has remained remarkably unaffected despite a very ancient trade through its splendid seaports, and contact with foreign people and cultures – the Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans and Chinese. You cannot but help appreciate the simple integrity yet extraordinary richness of the region, with its changing landscape of the high Deccan Plateau, the rugged but forested hills and coastal Ghats, the lush green fields of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the surreal beauty of the Kerala backwaters, the long stretches of beach stepping out of thick coconut palm and bamboo plantations. Serene, gentle and quite beautiful.

The region is generally pleasant throughout the year with the monsoons bringing some relief from the heat. The North-East monsoons last from June to September. The best times to visit would be between October and March.

The East of India is as exotic and oriental to India itself, as India is to the world. Largely undiscovered by overseas travelers, mysterious to the rest of India, rich in a culture uniquely arresting and mystical in the wealth of forests and rivers and mountains – East India is a journey worth the wait.

The climate of the region is affected by the Himalayan system and is generally warm and humid with the high temperatures ranging from 35oC to 40oC. The upper reaches of the hills can get quite cold. Heavy rains occur between May and September. The best times to visit are October to April.

Commercially the West of India includes some of the most progressive regions of the country, yet the coastal states of Gujarat and Maharashtra are steeped in the rich cultural traditions of the past. Goa, often referred to as the Ibiza of the East, is famous for its tourist-friendly outlook and the spectacular beaches, which attract hordes of visitors from every corner of the globe.

Best months are October to March – the weather is perfect, the world comes down to Goa and its one long party. Goa in the monsoons is a delicious treat as well, so July to September is a different experience altogether – you have the place to yourself and there is a romance about the season, which is indescribable.

Right in the heart of India is Madhya Pradesh, literally ‘middle state’ , and this along with the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh make up Central India. Not only does the region boast of a rich heritage and culture, as well as spiritual and religious centres, it is a nature lover’s delight – covered with dense forests, woods and wildlife reserves. Central India is still largely undiscovered by the foreign tourist.

The best time to visit Central India is between November and February. This is when the weather is pleasant and comfortable. In Madhya Pradesh most of the National Parks remain closed in the wet monsoon season from July to October.

Mysterious even to Indians are the brilliantly unspoiled islands off the West and East Coast of India.

The Andamans have an ancient history dating back to the Ramayana, the venerated Hindu legend and scripture. Isolated till the beginning of the 18th century, the islands were home to tribes of Mongoloid and Negrito descent. Dominated by the Marathas, the British and the Japanese, the Islands became a part of India after independence in 1947.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands, are famous for their long clear beaches great for sunbathing and water sports including scuba-diving and snorkeling off the capital of Port Blair, and also off Jolly Buoy and Redskin. The coral reefs around the area can keep you spellbound even through the glass bottom boats if you don’t want to get into the water.

Besides the Marine National and Marina Park, the sound and light show at the Cellular Jail is fascinating – this is where prisoners from India were exiled and sent to the gallows!

The highlight of your travel are the dazzling beaches of the many islands that have regular boat service from Port Blair – Havelock Island, Long Island, Neil Island, Mayabunder, North Passage Island, Baratang, Diglipur, Cinque Island, Rangat, and Chiriya Tapoo. You will need special permits to visit the Middle Islands, North Andaman, Little Andaman and Nicobar Islands which are out of bounds for visitors.

The Lakhswadeep Islands are a stunning archipelago, set like gems of brilliant coral reefs well off the coast of Kerala. About 50,000 people live here, and they survive mainly on fishing and coir making. 5 islands are open to tourists and only 2 to foreigners. Special permits are required and group travel is the way to go, the best months being between November to May.

Useful Information

You require a valid passport from your country and a visa from an Indian mission abroad to enter India.

E-Visa Facility

E-Visa facility is available to nationalities of 164 countries.

For the complete list of nationalities covered under the e-Tourist visa scheme, please visit https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html

Travellers who do not require a visa:
  • Citizens of Bhutan and Nepal, who do not require a visa.
  • Nationals of Maldives do not require a visa for visits of up to 90 days.
  • Persons of Indian Origin and Non-Resident Indians who possess either an OCI or a PIO card, which are the equivalent of a long India visa.
India issues the following types of visas

[Source / link to http://passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/online/visaServices]

  • Tourist Visa: Up to 6 months. Apply with: documents supporting your financial standing.
  • Business Visa: One or more years. Apply with letter from the sponsoring organisation.
  • Student Visa: For the duration of the academic course of study or for a period of five years whichever is less. Apply with: proof of admission to recognised Universities / Institutions in India
  • Transit Visa: Maximum period of 15 Days. Apply with: Evidence of onward travel to a destination outside India.
  • Conference Visa: For the duration of the conference or seminar. Apply with: letter of invitation from the organiser of the conference.
When you apply for a visa at an Indian Embassy or High Commission you must include the following:
  • Your passport valid for at least 6 months.
  • Visa fee in cash or by postal order (cheques are normally not accepted).
  • Two passport-size photographs.
  • Supporting documents, where necessary.
  • Duly completed application form.
  • Note: Allow one month’s processing time for postal applications.
  • Some parts of India are “restricted areas” and require special permits.

Government Offices/Shops: Monday – Friday, 10:00 – 17:00 hrs.

Banks: Monday – Friday, 10:00 – 14:00 hrs, Saturdays, 10:00 – 12:00 hrs.

Some commercial offices operate on a five-day week, with Saturdays and Sundays off. Others work a half-day on Saturdays. Office hours tend to be 09:30 – 18:00 hrs.

Shops do not have any standard timings. In major metros, you may find malls and department stores open until 20:00 hrs, seven days a week. Shops in business areas tend to close a little after office closing time. In tourist areas, you will probably find small stores open late into the evening. In many small towns, shops would tend to close around 20:00 hrs.

Restaurants and bars have different legally-enforced closing hours in different states. In most parts of the country, this would be around midnight or even earlier. The only food establishments legally open 24 hours a day are coffee shops in five-star hotels.

Note: Some government and commercial offices are open on alternate Saturdays.

India is a tropical country. Nevertheless, there are huge variations according to the region and the season. The coolest months are from mid-November to mid-March, which also happens to be the tourist season. In the south, and on the coasts, day time temperatures even in the cool months can be in be the mid-20s centigrade, though the nights are cool. In central India, and in the hills in the southern part of the country, night temperatures can drop to under 10°C in winter. In the north, winter temperatures can approach 0°C even in the plains, and of course it drops below freezing in the Himalayan region. Summers are very hot, with some parts of south and central India, and the plains in the north, getting temperatures over 40°C. The monsoons, the rainy season, stretch from June until October, with different levels of intensity in different parts of the country. The West Coast and the north-east get the heaviest rain (two towns in Meghalaya vie for the title of the place with the most rainfall in the world).

Clothing

Winter – In the south, in the hills, you may need a light jacket in the evenings and early morning, or on overcast days. In the north, you may need to dress warmer, with light woollens even during the day. Consider dressing in layers and carrying a small day-pack to stow away some clothes as the day gets hotter.

Summer – Light cotton tropical clothing, sun hats or caps, and sunglasses are recommended. For those travelling in the hills or mountainous areas light woollens may be needed for the nights.

Monsoon – Light, quick-drying clothing, and either a raincoat or an umbrella or both (especially in places where there is a heavy monsoon).

International airports operate the conventional green and red channels, with officials liable to carry out sudden spot check on passengers passing through the green channel.

If carrying items of high value such as cameras, laptops and the like for your personal use during your trip, you may be asked to fill in a Tourist Baggage Re-export Form (TBRE) when you enter the country, which allows you to bring items into India free of duty, provided you take them back with you when you are leaving.

Personal allowances are one litre of spirits, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 gms of tobacco per passenger over the age of 18 years.

Security

In domestic flights in India, penknives and other sharp objects, liquids, matchboxes and lighters, batteries and some electronic items are not allowed in your cabin baggage, so pack them into your check-in luggage, or they will probably be either confiscated or taken away from you only to be returned at the other end of the flight.
As with airports all over the world in this era, security checks are stringent, and you and your luggage may be searched more than once before you get on the plane. It may be necessary to identify your baggage on the tarmac before it is loaded on to the aircraft.

Baggage Allowance

The normal free allowance while flying he government-owned Indian Airlines is 30 kg in Economy and 40 kg in First Class. For the private airline operators it is 20 kg in Economy and 30 kg in First Class, where available. You can carry only a single piece of hand baggage (within certain size specifications) on domestic flights.

Airport Departure Tax

Airport departure tax is usually included in your international tickets and does not have to be paid at the airport.

The Rupee, which is divided into 100 paise.
Rupee symbol: rupee
Currency code:INR
Coin denominations: 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees.
Note denominations: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 2000 rupees.

There are no restrictions on the importation of foreign currency by tourists, provided a Declaration Form is completed on arrival. The import and export of the Rupee is, however, prohibited and may not be spent in Duty Free Shops or on board aircrafts. Receipts for all currency must be kept, as it may be reconverted on departure.

It is advisable to carry money in the form of travellers’ cheques, preferably in US Dollars, as it is widely recognised and accepted.

Changing money through unauthorised persons is illegal as well as risky in respect of receiving counterfeit money.

Credit cards

Most hotels, restaurants and some shops accept major credit cards such as American Express, Diners Club, Visa and Mastercard. They will usually display signage to that effect.

Time

UTC + 5 hours and 30 minutes.

Yellow Fever – Vaccination Certificate is required if arriving from an infected area.
Cholera/Typhoid – Innoculation recommended.
Malaria – No certificate required, but advisable to have a course of pills.

Medical treatment in India is inexpensive by European or North American standards, though India has a pool of some of the best doctors in the world. Most hotels have a doctor on call.

Sunshine stronger than you are used to, heat, especially if you are travelling in India’s summer months, digestive upsets, insect bites for which you have developed no immunities, all these can spoil your trip. So please take a few basic precautions.

Carry a kit containing sunscreens and other lotions for protection from the sun, insect repellents and sting relief creams, water sterilising tablets and medicines for possible stomach upsets or indigestion.

To protect yourself from mosquitoes when outdoors in the evenings, use an insect repellent on exposed skin, and wear socks, trousers and long-sleeved shirts.

Eating and drinking

Tap water is not purified for drinking. Unless you have access to a water filter, or are sure water has been boiled, it is safer to stick to bottled water. Avoid ice in your drinks outside your hotel.
Avoid ice cream or food sold by roadside vendors, uncooked or undercooked foods, fruit or vegetables that cannot be peeled.

The majority of India works on 220 volts AC 50 Hz. However, it is possible that certain areas have DC supplies and it may be a good idea to check before using electical appliances. Socket sizes vary, so it is well to take along a set of plug adaptors.

Note: You will probably need to get an adapter for your devices. It’s pretty easy to get “all-in-one” adapters that you can use to plug your device’s power chord into before plugging into the power supply.

English is widely spoken, especially in areas that are used to tourists, though accents and grammar may vary considerably. Hindi is the most widely spoken language in the country, but it also has regional variations and accents. There are totally 15 major languages 544 dialects spoken in India in addition to English.

Note that we always ensure that our clients are paired with guides who can speak their language.

Communication

India has both GSM and CDMA cellular phone systems. Reception is usually clear in urban areas, but can get patchy or non-existent in remoter parts of the country. If you plan to use international roaming, check with your phone service provider on whether they have tie-ups with any Indian providers that will give you favourable roaming rates. If you use a GSM phone, you may want to consider buying an Indian phone card to use for your trip. We can help you choose a good plan for your stay.

Landline telephone calls to most countries are now direct. Fax and Telex facilities are now ubiquitously available. Internet facilities are also easily available in most cities and tourist centres, in cybercafes and business centres, but free wireless connectivity is rare.

Connectivity – wireless or conventional broadband – in five-star hotels tends to be many times more expensive than cybercafes in the same areas though some hotels are now wi-fi.

The Indian postal service is huge; you’re likely to find post offices in the most remote towns. You can usually buy stamps and leave letters for posting at most hotels.

In India, a huge number of things are still hand-made, using skills and secrets passed down for generations. Dazzling silks and other hand-made fabrics, clothing, hand knotted carpets, religious imagery and decorative articles in bronze, wood, stone and more, jewellery, leather, musical instruments, perfumes… the list goes on and on, and each region has its unique specialities. And prices, you will find, are very reasonable. (Do note that we’d be happy to provide you with expert shopping assistance.) You can bargain hunt at colourful, crowded bazaars, (be prepared to haggle!) on roadsides in the hinterland, in air-conditioned hotel arcades and bustling modern malls. Many reliable establishments that cater to tourists offer to deliver purchases to you in your homeland. Remember, though, that these deliveries can take a long time to reach you.

Indian law prohibits the export of antiques over 100 years old. Keep sales receipts and certificates to show proof of purchase and legitimacy when you’re leaving the country.

Indian food is as varied as the country itself, with every region having its own specialities. It therefore, does not always have to be “hot” nor can any one dish be labelled a “curry.” (That said, many Indian cuisines can be pungent to those unaccustomed to it. Even if you have eaten at Indian restaurants outside India, remember that many such establishments tone down the spice quotient for local tastes.)

Most dishes with a gravy are normally called curries but are prepared with a different masala (a combination of spices and seasonings) containing among other things coriander, cumin, garlic, onions ginger, turmeric, chillies, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper, cloves cinnamon, bay leaves, saffron, mace and nutmeg; all the aromas and flavors that brought traders to India for centuries.

A traditional meal in large parts of India is usually served in large metal plate called a ‘Thali’ (when you see the word in a menu, usually prefixed with a region name, it means you’re getting a full traditional meal from that region) with a number of small bowls used to hold the gravy dishes. The meal is normally accompanied with unleavened bread, usually wheat-based, in the North, or rice in the South.

The more upmarket hotels also provide a fair selection of international cuisine as well, and in the major cities, you’re also very likely to find Italian, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, and Lebanese speciality restaurants. Aside from international fast food franchises, which are making inroads even into smaller towns.

While India is by no means teetotal, in most parts of the country people do not usually drink alcohol with a meal. (More likely is a glass of salty or sweet or spiced buttermilk, a soft drink, or water!) But most large hotels, and restaurants with liquor licenses, will be happy to serve you a drink at your table should you want one. The Indian wine industry is still a young one, but it is improving steadily, and is close to international standards on some counts. Imported wines and liquors are usually reasonably easily available, and tend to be much more expensive than local beverages.

North

North Indian food has been strongly influenced by Mughal cuisine and is broadly non-vegetarian characterised by the use of yoghurt, fried onions, nuts and saffron. Outstanding dishes worth trying would be biryani, gushtaba, tandoori dishes and kababs. Beef is rarely eaten in the North, since many Hindus consider the cow sacred. Pork, forbidden by Islam, is a rarity in areas with a substantial Muslim population.

South

Southern India is renowned for its spicy curries, rasam (millagu tannir or literally pepper water, before it was anglicised to mulligatawny), masala dosai or crisp potato pancakes and a variety of rice-based dishes. The hot food has to be tempered with pappadums, yoghurt and buttermilk. Coconut tends to be extensively used. Places well known for their non-vegetarian cuisine are the Chettinad area in Tamil Nadu, and large parts of Kerala. And of course the coastal areas get you some very good fish.

East

Southern India is renowned for its spicy curries, rasam (millagu tannir or literally pepper water, before it was anglicised to mulligatawny), masala dosai or crisp potato pancakes and a variety of rice-based dishes. The hot food has to be tempered with pappadums, yoghurt and buttermilk. Coconut tends to be extensively used. Places well known for their non-vegetarian cuisine are the Chettinad area in Tamil Nadu, and large parts of Kerala. And of course the coastal areas get you some very good fish.

West

Western India is a very diverse area in terms of cuisine. Gujarat with its strong Jain traditions is almost entirely vegetarian with a sweetish touch to all its dishes. Goa is famed for its Portuguese-influenced meat and seafood dishes. Maharashtra’s coastal regions also have their traditional seafood cuisine.

Note:

Gujarat is the only dry state in India at present. However, foreigners visiting India can obtain liquor permits either from embassies/missions/tourist offices abroad or at a Government of India Tourist office at Bombay, Delhi, Madras or Calcutta.

India grows some of the finest, most in-demand tea in the world, and though in many parts of India what you get served is milky, oversweet tea made from powdered leaf that has had its antioxidants boiled out of it, in the better hotels tea is still served as it should be. India also grows good coffee, and the people of the South drink a lot more of it than North Indian tea lovers.

Water from the tap is not purified for drinking in India. To be safe, apart from the flasks of water in your hotel rooms, tea, coffee, mineral water and bottled drinks, you should carry around and use purifying tablets. If you are away from your hotel for an extended period, it may be a good idea to take along a bottle of water or, if you’re buying bottled drinks, to use a straw.

Contact Info

Mr Neeraj Bhatt
Senior Vice President

Sita,
Tower B, Delta Square, M.G. Road,
Sector – 25, Gurgaon- 122001,
National Capital Region of Delhi
Haryana, INDIA

Tel: +91 124 4703400

Fax: +91 124 4563100

Email: info@sita.in