Tourists mainly come to India to experience its extraordinary Hindu rituals, to explore its beautiful nature, to visit its rich cultural heritage and to enjoy the delicious Indian food. A culture shock can be a part of your travel; proper preparation is therefore of key importance, as India is a country full of surprises. A trip to India is guaranteed to be an experience for life, which offers a look into the lives of 1.3 billion people who sometimes seem to live in an entirely different world.
Business travellers can also be found in rapidly increasing numbers in India. This is mainly due to Indiaʼs growing economy. The gross national product per capita of India has quadrupled since 2002. However, with £1.809 per inhabitant per year it is still not very high (UK: £42.442). Due to the low wages and growing welfare, India does offer extraordinary opportunities for import, export and knowledge transfer, which companies increasingly take advantage of.
Facts and numbers
India has a population of 1.32 billion people; more than one sixth of the world population. India is a democratic republic with a largely ceremonial president, and a prime minister that runs the cabinet. India is divided into 29 states and 7 territories. About two thirds of Indians work in agriculture. The combination of low wages and a large amount of relatively highly educated Indians has led to India having a fast-growing IT sector.
|Population||1,368,738,000 inhabitants (2016)|
|Language||Hindi and 20 other official (local) languages|
|Religion||Hindu: 80%, Islam: 13%, Christian: 2%, Sikh: 2%|
|Time difference||4.5 hours (summer) or 5.5 hours (winter) later. 1 time zone.|
|Travel time||7.5 to 10 hours by plane|
|Electricity||230 Volt, 50 Hz, travel plug required|
|Life expectancy||68 years|
|Tap water||Not safe to drink|
|Coast line||7517 kilometres|
With over three million square kilometres of land area, India has an enormously varied landscape. The country is located on the Indian plate. Because the Indian plate pushes upwards, the mountains in the Himalaya still continue to grow. India borders Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The first permanent settlements in India emerged around 7000 before Christ. This resulted in the Indus civilisation, which belongs to the oldest civilisations in the world, and from which Hinduism originated. The first five hundred years after Christ, India was part of the Gupta empire, one of the most progressive and prosperous civilisations in the world. From roughly 700 after Christ onward, Islam became increasingly popular in India. Despite the fact that the introduction of Islam was paired with conquests and oppression, harmony between the adherents of the two faiths arose relatively quickly.
Colonisation of India
During the seventeenth century, the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and the British all tried to gain a foothold in India. The Portuguese fleet first arrived in 1510 and established colonies in Bon Bahia (current day Mumbai) and Goa (1510). In 1600, the British East India Company was created. It struggled to gain a foothold in East Asia, and decided to focus primarily on India. The Dutch also had an interest in India; in 1596, four Dutch merchant vessels reached India, and in 1602 the Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) was created. The Dutch established various trading posts, and the French likewise controlled a number of trade colonies in Pondicherry. However, the British, whom established trading posts in Surat (1612), Madras (now Chennai, 1639), Bombay (now Mumbai, 1668) and Calcutta (1690) had the most power and influence.
A hundred years later, about 60% of Indian territory was under direct British rule. The Brits increasingly took their power for granted; their rule become more and more authoritarian, and intolerance towards local cultures and religious traditions of the native population increased. The first major uprising against the colonial British rulers, and at the same time the largest uprising against a colonial power in the 19th century, arose in 1957. The uprising, which lasted until 1858, was put down by the English with barbaric punishments. However, the uprising did lead to the fall of the East Indian Company. British-India was placed under the rule of the Crown; Indians became subjects of queen Victoria, and the country remained a part of the British Empire from 1858 until 1947.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Indian people became more politically aware. During the First World War, Great Britain received a lot of support from the Indians. They hoped that, after the war ended, they would be given the status of "dominion", which would make them a fully self-governing part of the British Empire. However, this did not happen. As a result, nationalism in India continued to grow. In 1919, Mahatma Ghandi emerged as a leader of the Indian national movement. Although the Brits once again tried to brutally put down the revolution, the continued non-violence of the protestors under the guidance of Ghandi and other figures eventually led to Indiaʼs independence on 15 August 1947. British India was divided into India and Pakistan. This led to several battles between the two, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
Naming - India and Indians
A lot of confusion can occur about the naming of India. Until 1947, the country was officially known as British-India, but it was also called Hindustan. Since its independence, on 15 August of that year, the name "India" is used. Residents of India are known as "Indians", which can sometimes cause confusion with the Indians of the northern Americas. This second group is increasingly being referred to as "Native Americans", as the term "Indians" is considered outdated and a pejorative. Regardless, in the US the term "Indian" can be ambiguous.
India has a lot of poverty, and the difference between the rich and the poor is immense. However, the poverty in India is dropping fast; in 1993, 45% of the Indian population had to make do with less than $3,10 per day (= ±£960 per year). In the urban areas of India, more is earned on average than the rural areas, but due to the higher cost of living in the city there is relatively little difference in purchasing power. India does have an increasingly growing number of wealthy people, which reside primarily in the cities. For instance, Mukesh Ambani, the wealthiest Indian and the twelfth-wealthiest person alive, lives in Mumbai in a skyscraper with an estimated worth of 700 million pounds.
The UN describes the caste system in India as “discrimination based on work and ancestry”. Although a caste system exists or has existed in multiple countries, nowhere is it as extensively structured as in India. Society is categorised according to the caste system into thousands of different castes (different per region), ranked from superior to inferior. According to the Hindu faith, the caste in which someone is born depends on his or her accumulated karma in past lives, which expresses itself in certain families with a certain caste. The official status of the Dalit (casteless) and Shudra (the lowest caste) were abolished in 1949. However, the resistance against change by the Indian population is so strong that in practice, a lot of value is placed on the ancestry and (former) caste of a family. Because of this, it is nearly impossible for people from a lower caste to have a career, which is supposedly compensated by achieving a higher caste in a next life.
The Indian constitution officially recognises 21 languages. Aside from those, 392 other (local) languages are used in India, dialects not counted. Hindi is the most spoken language in India, which is still only used by 40% of the population. For many scientific and legal documents in India, English is used, which is spoken by roughly 12 percent of the population. Tourists and business travellers can manage themselves in English in many places. However, it is recommended to use an interpreter when deviating from tourist and business hotspots.
Not Hollywood, but the Indian Bollywood is the largest film producer in the world, with over a thousand movies each year. Bollywood (with the B of Bombay, currently Mumbai) is not just popular in India. In many Asian countries and in the Middle East, it is even more important than its American counterpart. An often recurring part in Bollywood films is the Indian music, which is popular for dancing.
Generally speaking, India is not a clean country, and hygiene can be lacking in many places. Tourists and business travellers are known to become ill in India. However, this is largely influenced by what you do and where you stay; if you pay close attention and prepare well, you can greatly reduce the risk of disease.
Beforehand: Vaccinations and (preventive) medicines
Vaccinations for India are only mandatory if you are travelling straight from Africa or South America. In those cases, you need to be able to show, through the so-called yellow book or vaccination passport, that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever. However, it is strongly recommended to take a number of precautionary vaccinations before your trip to India, including:
- A DTP vaccination (diphtheria, tetanus, polio)
- A Hepatitis A and B vaccination
- An MMR vaccination (measles, mumps, rubella)
- A typhoid fever vaccination
- A BCG vaccination (tuberculosis)
- A rabies vaccination
Aside from vaccinations, it is strongly recommended to bring (preventive) medication to India. Malaria mosquitoes are present in large parts of India. In these parts, it is therefore recommended to take preventive malaria pills. You should also wear long sleeves and pants in these areas, and cover unprotected skin with DEET. If you suspect you have been bitten by a malaria mosquito, you should visit a doctor as quickly as possible; in any case within 24 hours.
You should also be aware of infectious diseases, such as traveller’s diarrhoea, dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV/aids and STDs. Traveller’s diarrhoea is especially common with trips to India. It is therefore recommended to only drink water from sealed bottles and to use ORS. The latter is a mixture of salt and sugar, and combined with Loperamide often offers a good solution against diarrhoea. Loperamide can never be used by young children and pregnant women.
Take note: this is not a medical website, and this text was not written by a doctor. Always let yourself be informed by a specialised doctor (for example, your physician) regarding vaccinations, medicine usage and other medical preparations before going to India!
During the trip: look for hygiene
India is internationally known for its poor hygiene. Despite that fact that more and more higher-end hotels and restaurants have their hygiene in order, many business and tourists travellers become ill in India. It is therefore recommended to keep a close eye on a number of things to minimise the chances of disease. Firstly, it is discouraged to use unfiltered tap water. Drink water and other drinks from bottles, preferably ones you personally broke the seal of (empty bottles are sometimes filled with dirty tap water and sold as new). Furthermore, don’t use ice cubes or food wares which have been in contact with tap water.
The high mountains of the Himalaya in the north of India are almost permanently covered in snow, in the empty Thar Desert in the West it can regularly reach 45 °C in the summer, and the islands in the ocean and the beach in Goa are overgrown with palm trees; it is clear that it’s hard to give a single, general description of the climate in India. Are you travelling to India soon? Check the weather forecasts for the region you are going to.
Best Travel Period India
The best months to travel to India are in the autumn and in the winter. Between October and March, the temperature in India is pleasant for a holiday, and it doesn’t rain a lot. It is recommended to avoid India during the rainy season; from June to September, the monsoon causes heavy rainfall and high humidity. In April and May, the temperatures can run very high and the heat can become unbearable.
India uses the Indian Rupee (INR). International bank passes and credit cards are accepted at many places, but most Indians prefer cash. Withdrawing cash in India is cheapest by using your payment card at an Indian cash dispenser. When withdrawing rupees, select "without conversion", which is cheaper as the exchange rate will then be decided by your own bank, and not by the bank where you are withdrawing the money. Plenty of cash dispensers can be found in the urban environments, but they can be scarce in rural areas, so keep this in mind. Take note: to avoid fraud, many banks have made it so their cards do not work in India. You are required to check and manually change this, which can generally be done online through your bank.
There are different airlines which fly to and from India. There is also a lot of domestic air traffic in India. This is, of course, mainly due to the enormous size of the country, but also because of the underdeveloped infrastructure across the country. The railway might be huge and more and more modern trains are in operation, but trains in India are still regularly filled to the brim, difficult to book, unsafe, slow and unreliable. Regardless, travelling by train is an unforgettable experience for tourists. Indian trains often ride with the doors and windows open, which makes it possible to get some fresh air by hanging from the window or door; a common sight in India.
Aside from trains, buses, rickshaws and tuk tuks are also frequently used in India. They offer a cheaper mean of transportation and can be easily hailed from the side of the road. Like cabs, rickshaws and tuk tuks can generally take you safely from A to B, but especially at night, it’s prudent to be extra alert. It is recommended to keep a close eye on your properties and to check (with GPS) if the right route is being taken. Driving a car yourself in India is discouraged due to the often hectic traffic situation. The unwritten rule is that large vehicles have (or take) the right of way, and unexpected situations also happen on highways. A crossing donkey car or sudden pothole does not surprise any Indian, but for tourists these can cause dangerous situations. Read more about journeying through India.
Travelling to India is only allowed with a visa. Travellers going on a holiday to India for less than 180 days, as well as business travelers staying in India for less than 180 days a year, can apply for an online Indian visa through the application form on this website. Check before applying whether you meet all of the visa requirements.