India is a popular destination among first-time adventure travellers. There are many questions we're asked time and again so, to help ease some of those worries, our India experts have answered some of the most frequently asked questions. For a seasoned traveller these may seem like no brainers but for many, they're the main worries when travelleing somewhere new...
What should I see on my first trip to India?
It’s easy to underestimate the size and diversity of a country like India. You won’t see it all in two weeks but you might be able to scratch the surface. Most people start with many of the iconic sights and sounds of the country. An obvious choice is the Golden Triangle in the north, with Delhi, Jaipur and Agra - home to the Taj Mahal. A slower-paced option option is Kerala, spending ten days discovering the backwaters, spice trails and teas of southern India. If you have a bit more time you can combine two of our adventures - the highlights of the north and the highlights of the south - for a more comprehensive introduction to the country.
What is the main difference between the northern and southern states?
In simple terms, the south is the gentle introduction to India. The pace of life is pretty laidback and quiet, especially Kerala. In comparison, the north can be much louder and busier. Most people would associate the north with forts and palaces (including the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Golden Palace in Amritsar) and the south with beaches, backwaters, hill plantations and nature. What both have in common, and in abundance, is the delicious food.
What is the best time of year to travel to India?
India is a truly year-round destination. If you're looking to see the north, October through to April is best. It can be surprisingly cool in January and February and then from May onwards you can expect the temperatures to rise significantly. In the northernmost areas around Ladakh and Kashmir, June through to September is the best time as the high passes are reopened after the winter. January through to April is great for visiting the south. As with the north, from May the temperatures rise and it becomes gradually wetter too. September onwards also has good temperatures but the area can be wet through the year as it is more tropical - though this does lead to more lush greenery.
What wildlife will I see in India?
Ranthambore National Park is home to the magnificent Bengal tiger - the animal which is often the sole reason many people visit the country. The chance to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat draws wildlife enthusiasts and, if you're an animal lover, it's a chance not to be missed. Many of our trips visit Ranthambore but with Tiger, Tiger... the search for the animals is the highlight of the tour, with four game drives included in the adventure.
What clothes should I take?
We'd recommend packing light, with thin cotton tops and simple trousers. For women it is always worth taking some long sleeve tops and longer trousers or skirts; India is a conservative country and showing too much bare flesh may cause offence or attract unwelcome attention. Your clothes might get dusty so we wouldn’t recommend taking your best outfits! Keep the garments light to rinse or dry and also keep you cool. Take plenty of layers in case it gets chilly at night and on those early mornings. Fleeces are easy to carry and pack so it's worth bringing one along.
What is the current visa process?
There has been rumour of a visa on arrival process being implemented, but nothing official ahs been confirmed. For the moment you will need to obtain your visa prior to arrival in India. You will need to use a visa company, such as Visa Swift, or alternatively liaise directly with VSF Global (the Indian visa application centre) who in turn speak with the embassy. Give yourself a couple of weeks for the full process, although once submitted the turnaround time should be around four working days.
If we arrive late at night, where can we get local currency?
There are ATMs at the main airports after you’ve collected your luggage and exited customs. It is probably easiest to get a small quantity of cash out using a Visa card. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of when and where there will be other opportunities to change money during the tour. It is easy to change both US Dollars and pounds sterling and cards are frequently accepted, plus there is access to ATMs in most larger towns and cities.
Do people speak English?
Each time any of us have travelled to India we've never experienced problematic language barriers. You will find that many people will speak degrees of English; your Tour Leader will also be on hand to help. We always encourage passengers to learn a few words of the local languages when travelling on tour too; if nothing else it will amuse the locals!
What are the trains like?
Travelling by train in India is quite the experience. It can be slightly overwhelming as the stations can be really busy but travelling with a Tour Leader makes the world of difference. Explore uses air conditioned carriages and depending on the length of the journey, it would either be in seated areas or in the sleeper carriages where you sit on padded benches which later become your beds. You can watch the world go by (albeit through never polished windows) and frequently interact with the Indian families who are also on their travels. Inevitably you will be offered a share of their packed lunches or have their families join you on your bed. Be sure to try the chai and snacks that are sold by vendors walking up and down the aisles. It can get chilly on the trains, so take some extra layers. If you want to sleep, ear plugs and eye masks are recommended. It's the best way to travel on some of the long journeys!
Will the food make me ill?
The foods in India are incredibly varied and there should always be something that you enjoy. If you haven’t been to India before, spend a couple of days easing into the foods, and only after a few days or longer trying the food from stalls and stands. It tends to give your stomach more time to adjust to the new tastes and spicy ingredients. Everyone has probably heard tales of “Delhi belly” but if you allow yourself time to adjust and drink plenty of clean bottled water, you should be fine.
Can I get western food because I don’t like curry?
In most of the bigger cities and towns then you will be able to find some familiar fast food restaurants and other eateries which sell plenty of western options. This might be more problematic in the smallest of towns, but there is always rice and naan options. For us though the food is an absolute highlight of India so we would encourage everyone to try something new; start on the mild curries and see what you think. Eating curry in India is nothing like eating it back home! If you really don't like curry, India may not be the ideal destination for you; just about everything has some kind of spice included as an ingredient, even at breakfast!