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.
Nothing in this country is ever quite predictable; the only thing to expect is the unexpected, which comes in many forms and will always want to sit next to you. India is a litmus test for many travellers - some are only too happy to leave, while others stay for a lifetime.
Monsoon Flooding - Areas of Conflict
The 2007 monsoon season caused severe flooding in several parts of the country. West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were among the worst affected, with many thousands left homeless by floodwaters. Travel through these areas may still present occasional difficulties.
Several Indian regions are prone to occasional conflict; Jammu and Kashmir (as distinct from Ladakh) are subject to political violence and travellers should seek consular advice before entering any area bordering Pakistan in Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat.
Similar advice should also be sought before travel to Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur in northeast India. There are militant groups operating sporadically in some rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Orissa.
Travellers should remain alert wherever they travel in India, particularly in big cities and when attending large public gatherings.
Deadly bomb attacks have occurred in Mumbai, New Delhi and Hyderabad over the past couple of years, and political and sectarian tensions occasionally boil over into street violence.
Check out Safe Travel for updated government warnings or the Thorn Tree travel forum for some good advice from travellers.
When To Go:
Climate 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 June 1 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 generally rains every day. Followed by the sun this creates a fatiguing steam bath 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 (although October can still be hot and/or 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.
India Fast facts:
- Full Name: Republic of India
- Capital City: New Delhi
- Area: 3,287,590 sq km / 1,269,338 sq miles
- Population: 1,000,000,000
- Time Zone: GMT/UTC +5.5 ()
- Daylight Saving Start: not in use
- Daylight Saving End: not in use
Hindi (official); Hindi is 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 and 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 India's 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 around 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.
Kannada (official); over 2000 years old, Kannada is spoken by over 20 million people worldwide and is the official language of the state of Karnataka.
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.
Telugu (official); Telugu is the Dravidian language spoken by the largest number of people;it is the state language of Andhra Pradesh. Malayalam is also a Dravidian language; it's the state language of Kerala.
English (essential); a product of British rule, English is still widely spoken and written in most Indian states 50 years after independence.
- Religion: 82% Hindu, 12% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, 1.9% Sikh, 0.8% Buddhist, 0.5% Jains, 0.5% other
- Currency: Indian Rupee (Rs)
- Electricity: 230-240V 50HzHz
- Electric Plug Details: South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin. European plug with two circular metal pins
- Country Dialing Code: 91