Famous for its distinct dishes, amazing architecture, southern beaches, and access to the Himalayan Mountains, India is a country where you can experience a little bit of everything while visiting. Home to 1.38 billion people as of 2020, the country is best known for cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Agra.
Home to 94% of the world’s Hindus, the country boasts numerous temples and mausoleums, like the grand Taj Mahal. No matter which you choose to connect with, India is like transporting yourself to another realm.
स्वागत हे – Welcome to India!
New Delhi is the capital of India, and it’s unique because it is a specific district within the larger area of Delhi, which houses India’s three branches of government. While New Delhi is the official capital, all of Delhi is often referred to as the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT).
Delhi is often a major tourist attraction because it has embraced modernity and also honors its history. There are technically 8 histories to Delhi, as each new city has been built atop the old foundations. Today, the city is known for being haywire with its busy streets, and it is filled with shopping, dining, museums, and photogenic backdrops.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
India has a long, long history. It’s in the category of being one of the world’s oldest civilizations, which started in the Bronze Age with the Indus Valley Civilization.
The civilization grew in the area that is now the modern-day border with Pakistan and flourished until 1900 BCE. Soon the land was changing, and by 1500 BC, Aryan tribes from Afghanistan and other parts of Asia were making their way into the northwestern parts of the country.
It is during this time, from 1500-1200 BC, that religions rose to prominence. Hindu’s sacred scriptures were written during this time, and with it came the formalization of the Caste System. As India developed, it became divided by the North and South. The Muslim religion dominated in the North, while the South adopted Hinduism, and it wasn’t until the Mughals that India became founded as one.
India had its fair share of invasions, and by the early 19th century, India was under the control of the British. Even under the British, the country was divided by religion, and a civil war was on the horizon between the Muslims and Hindus.
It was in this dark time that one of India’s most famous figures emerged. Mahatma Gandhi helped secure India’s freedom from the British and brought the country into a new world. Now, India is more stable, though they do still have much to overcome.
India is also extra unique because they have 22 official languages, though Hindi and English remain the two dominant languages spoken. The reason for so many is that there are many languages that are based on the region.
Punjabi and Bengali are spoken in the North, while Tamil is spoken in the south. However, you will find that about 126 million people speak English, and the language is often used as a common link throughout the country, which is beneficial for English-speaking tourists.
An important part of your vacation is planning your budget so that you can make bookings and arrangements. India is a country that can be traveled on a backpacker’s budget if you are willing to stick to local places and don’t splurge on too much.
It’s also a place for the elite, and there are many luxury accommodations and experiences available throughout the country. The most important parts of your budget will include airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Airfare will be a large portion of your budget because India is far away, and it takes a long time to travel to this Asian country. While the most convenient way to travel would be to have a layover, how many layovers you have will depend on where you live in the United States.
If you live on the coast, you’ll have to travel less than if you live in the middle. No matter the distance, the plane ticket will still be expensive, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
While there are direct flights to India offered from major cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, many people may choose to have a layover to reduce the ticket price. Plus, taking a 17 ½ hour direct flight may be too long for some people. The cost of your ticket can also be affected by when you travel and how far in advance you book it.
The high tourist season in India runs from October to March, and this is when airline tickets will be the most expensive. You may find a small hike up in prices during the monsoon season, too, when some tourists are willing to brave the wet weather for a break in the hot temperatures.
Your airline ticket should also cost less the further ahead you book the ticket from your departure date. So, don’t wait to book your ticket if you’re set on going to India.
With expensive airline tickets, travelers will catch a break with the price of their accommodation. If you are traveling as a backpacker, India is the place to go. Some hostels will offer a dorm room for men for less than a dollar, but this is usually only for men and won’t have the best features.
If you’re a woman and want to stay in a private overnight option off the beaten path, you can get a private room with a bathroom for relatively cheap. Those looking to stay in a hotel should be prepared to pay more, although it will vary depending on how nice it is.
You can also always find chain hotels but expect prices to be a lot more expensive than a local establishment. Additionally, there are plenty of luxury accommodations that can cost hundreds of dollars per night.
Airbnb is another option in India, though prices can be similar to or higher than hotels. There are options to just get a private room in a residence, but again, this will be more costly than a hostel. Booking an entire residence will cost the most, but depending on your group size, may be the most suitable choice.
Once you’ve decided on how to travel and where to stay, the next most important consideration when you are in India is meals. Indian food is known for its spices, and there are many famous dishes that have been replicated throughout the world.
When you’re in India, you can experience the authentic flavors and delight your tongue with some of the most popular dishes. Plus, food is affordable, and some of the best can be bought from the street stalls.
Murg makhani, better known as butter chicken is a marinated dish that is often served with lentils, naan (bread), and a salad. Tandoori chicken is made by cooking the meat in a clay oven with spices like ginger and coriander.
Chicken tikka masala is one of the most famous dishes that feature a thick tomato yogurt sauce and is often served with a side of rice and naan. For dessert, some of the most popular options are coconut cake and kheer, which is a rice pudding.
With all the tasty dishes, you’ll be even happier to know that you can actually afford to eat out. While street food is by far the cheapest, a meal at a restaurant won’t cost much more.
Many local restaurants will still have affordable prices, and you can purchase a meal for a few dollars. If you’re looking for luxurious options, expect to pay Western prices. There are many fine dining establishments throughout the country, with the most well-known having a price tag to match.
For many travelers, heading out to the bars at night is a fun activity, and while you’re eager to enjoy the night scenes, it is important to budget the price of alcohol too. It’s expensive to drink in India, and a 58% tax on alcohol doesn’t lower the price.
If you are drinking out at bars, the prices will be higher. Drinks from local shops, particularly ones made in India, will cost less. One of the most popular beer brands in India is called Kingfisher. While the vast majority of travelers will stick to more tourist areas, you should expect to pay a higher price.
How to Get Around
India is a big country, and it will be nearly impossible to explore the entire place in one vacation. That doesn’t mean that you won’t want to do a little traveling while you are in India. It is important when you are planning your budget that you consider the cost of transportation.
The fastest way to travel when you are on a tight schedule would be to use domestic flights. There are a few budget airlines established in India, and flights will cost less than one hundred dollars. While it may seem expensive, you have to remember that depending on your destination, other methods of travel could take up to 20 hours.
If you are willing to take more time to travel, there are trains that service the country and can expose you to an authentic look at the country. Trains will have classes, and third-class is the most affordable, although they are also bare-bones.
A second-class ticket would cost a few dollars and will be much more comfortable. A first-class ticket is the most expensive, but the overall price is still relatively cheap.
Buses and Taxis
Another option is to take a bus. Buses are the slowest way to travel throughout India, though they are extremely affordable. An 11-hour journey will cost only a few dollars, meanwhile, a nicer bus going the same distance will only cost a little more.
For groups of people traveling, one of the surprisingly affordable ways to travel is to use a long-distance taxi. Some taxis will take you on an 8-hour journey and will charge around one hundred dollars. When split between a traveling group, the price can be just as affordable as other methods of transportation.
Finally, rickshaws are very popular in cities and will cost almost nothing. Short distances will cost minimal and longer distances won’t be very much more expensive. For quick travel options around a concentrated area, this is the best way to go.
Top Cities to Visit
India is filled with a variety of unique cities. Each home to various attractions, there is plenty to see and do in each one of these locations. Here is a brief overview of India’s most popular cities for tourists.
Delhi is a bustling capital that beautifully combines the past and present. Old architecture is sprinkled throughout modern construction, and there are endless sights to see. Tourists can tackle the heavy traffic, walk the packed streets, and peruse the overflowing markets.
Jaipur is most well-known for its Amber Fort, which was built in 1592. The site is large and has courtyards, gardens, and corridors that you can explore. With a picturesque lakeside location, Jaipur is known for its beauty.
Mumbai is most popular for being India’s hub for culture, food, fashion, and finance. There is a large disparity between the population, with some of the richest and poorest people in the country calling the city home, so you will see a large difference in luxury and overcrowded architecture.
Agra is home to the Taj Mahal, which is a famous icon of India. The Taj Mahal sits on the Yamuna River and was built as a mausoleum for the wife of an emperor. The unmistakable white structure is made of marble, and it currently draws millions of tourists.
With the main attraction being the building, the city of Agra is rather small and humble, and tourists are happily welcomed.
Kolkata was founded by the East India Trading Company in 1773, and since then, the city has developed to become a mega center for the country. Similar to many places in India, tourists will witness the significant distinction between the rich and the poor.
With ornate temples, museums, and the Howrah Bridge, the city doesn’t fail to entertain its guests.
While not all tourists want to make the trek to Varanasi, the city is famous for its riverside location on the Ganges and its ornate temples. The city is also one of the oldest cities that has been continually inhabited and is also a sacred and holy place.
The ghats are what the city is known for, where people go to bathe, practice ceremonies, and cremate the dead.
Points of Interest
While cities are vast and expansive, you may also find that there is a specific point of interest you wish to see in India. Home to ornate temples, historic sites, and beaches, there are plenty of attractions to see while visiting. Here are some of the top tourist destinations in India.
The Golden City
Made of yellow sandstone, the Golden City sits in Jaisalmer and rises from the sand dunes of the Thar Dessert. The area is popular for the Golden Fort, palaces, temples, and intricate homes.
One of the most stunning structures is Maharaja’s Palace, which has seven stories and is decorated with manuscripts and paintings.
The Red Fort
Located in Delhi, the Red Fort was constructed of red sandstone, and it is known for its two large gates. The Lahore and Delhi gate are popular sites at the fort, which were once used for ceremonial processions. The Lahore gate is now the fort’s main entrance.
Beaches in Goa
For a little relaxation time, the beaches in Goa are a must-do in India. The beaches are pristine and lined with colorful buildings that make for a beautiful setting. With resorts, spas, and yoga retreats, you can sit back and relax in nature’s luxury.
“Satyameva Jayate” (“Truth Alone Triumphs”)
While India may be large, its size will only entice you to take more journeys to this enchanted land, and tourists can experience everything from jam-packed streets to the tranquility of nature. With plenty to see and do, India is also home to some of the world’s most stunning architecture.
Whether you’re looking to experience the colonial past or the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, India will be your trip of a lifetime.