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Travel Guide
At a glance
India will sideswipe you with its size, clamour and diversity - but if you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies and thrive on sensual overload, then it is one of the most intricate and rewarding dramas unfolding on earth, and you'll quickly develop an abiding passion for it.
India is a litmus test for many travellers - some are only too happy to leave, while others stay for a lifetime.
When to go
mate plays a key factor in deciding when to visit India. Keep in mind that climatic conditions in the far north are distinctly different to those of the extreme south.
Generally, India's climate is defined by three seasons - the hot, the wet (monsoon) and the cool, each of which can vary in duration from north to south. The most pleasant time to visit most places is during the cooler period: November to around mid-February.
The heat starts to build up on India's northern plains from around February, and by April or May it really hots up, peaking in June. In central India temperatures of 45°C and above are commonplace. South India also becomes uncomfortably hot during this time.
Late in May the first signs of the monsoon are visible in some areas - high humidity, electrical storms, short rainstorms and dust storms that turn day into night. The hot season is the time to abandon the plains and head for the cooler hills, and this is when hill stations are at their best (and busiest).
When the monsoon finally arrives the rain comes in steadily, generally starting around 1 June in the extreme south and sweeping north to cover the whole country by early July. The main monsoon comes from the southwest, but the southeast coast (and southern Kerala) is largely affected by the short and surprisingly wet northeast monsoon, which brings rain from around October to early December.
Things don't really cool down: at first hot, dry and dusty weather is simply replaced by hot, humid and muddy conditions. It doesn't rain all day, but it rains every day. Followed by the sun this creates a fatiguing steam bath-like environment.
Around October the monsoon ends for most of the country. This is when India sees most tourists - however, it's too late to visit Ladakh (May to October is the optimum period). During October and November it's generally not too hot and not too cool (October can still be humid in some regions). In the thick of winter (around mid-December to mid-January), Delhi and other northern cities can become astonishingly cold, especially at night - and it's bone-chilling in the far north. In the far south the temperatures become comfortably warm during this period.
It's worth checking the dates of particular festivals - you may be attracted or repelled by the chaos (and jacked-up prices) that attend them. There are virtually no festivals in May/June. The wedding season falls between November and March, when you're likely to see at least one lively procession through the streets.
Fast Facts
Full name : Republic of India
Capital city: New Delhi
Area: 3,287,590 sq km / 1,269,339 sq miles
Population: 1,000,000,000
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +5.5 (Greenwich Mean Time)
Hindi (official) The most important Indian language, though it is only spoken as a mother tongue by about 20% of the population, mainly in the area known as the Hindi-belt, the cow-belt or Mimaru, which includes Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This Indic language is the official language of the Indian government, the states already mentioned, plus Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Urdu (official)
Urdu is the state language of Jammu and Kashmir. Along with Hindi, it evolved in early Delhi. While Hindi was largely adopted by the Hindu population, the Muslims embraced Urdu, and so the latter is written in the Perso-Arabic script and includes many Persian words.
Tamil (official)
An ancient Dravidian language at least 2000 years old, and the state language of Tamil Nadu. It is spoken by 65 million people.
Bengali (official)
Spoken by nearly 200 million people (mostly in what is now Bangladesh), and the state language of West Bengal. Developed as a language in the 13th century.
Kashmiri (official)
Kashmiri speakers account for about 55% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir. It is an Indic language written in the Perso-Arabic script.
English (essential) A product of British rule, English is still widely spoken and written in most Indian states 50 years after independence.
Marathi (official)
An Indic language dating back to around the 13th century, Marathi is the state language of Maharashtra.
Gujarati (official)
State language of Gujarat, it is an Indic language.
Malayalam (official)
A Dravidian language, and the state language of Kerala.
Religion: 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.4% Christian, 2% Sikh, 0.7% Buddhist, 0.5% Jains, 0.4% other
Currency: Indian Rupee
Places in India:
  • Agra
  • Ahmedabad
  • Ajanta-Ellora
  • Ajmer
  • Allepy
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  • Auli
  • Aurangabad
  • Bangalore
  • Baroda
  • Bhubaneswar
  • Baroda
  • Bhubaneshwar
  • Bikaner
  • Chennai
  • Coorg
  • Dalhousie
  • Darjeeling
  • Delhi
  • Dharamshala
  • Fatehpur Sikri
  • Gangotri
  • Gangtok
  • Goa
  • Hampi
  • Haridwar
  • Hyderabad and Secunderabad
  • Jaipur
  • Jaisalmer
  • Kanyakumari (Kanniyakumari in offcial records)
  • Kodaikanal
  • Kolkata
  • Kullu - Manali
  • Ladakh
  • Lucknow
  • Mumbai
  • Mussoorie
  • Mysore
  • Nainital
  • Ooty
  • Pondicherry
  • Puri
  • Rishikesh
  • Shillong
  • Shirdi
  • Shimla
  • Srinagar
  • Thiruvananthapuram
  • Tirupati
  • Udaipur
  • Vaishno Devi
  • Varanasi
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