Tropical and subtropical, during the Summer months (April, May, June) temperatures can reach 48° Celsius degrees.
The monsoon or rainy season, lasting from June to September, slowly sweeps across the country, changing its intensity according to the area.
The monsoon cannot be predicted very much and every year is different from the previous one. For this reason, based on our experience, it’s better not to plan your holiday according to the moonson or, even worse, cancel your trip to India!
Climate in India varies a lot, from the barren desert of Rajasthan to the cold plateaus of Assam, from the wetlands of West Bengal to the pleasant coolness of Himalayan forests.
Basically, we can say there are 4 seasons in India; Winter, which goes from November to March and can be more or less cold according to the different parts of India; summer, which goes from April to June, and can be very hot and dry; the Moonson season, which starts around June and lasts until September (usually); Autumn, when the rains stop, which can be of mild climate in Northern India.
CURRENCY AND ATM
The Indian Rupee (INR) is the currency of India: 1 USD is about 73 Rupees. 1 Euro is about 83 Rupees (as of October 2018).
Atm’s are widely present in India, so you will easily find them about everywhere (the most spread circuits are Visa and Master Card).
Many shops and hotels accept credit or debit card payments; moreover, there are many Western Union and currency exchange offices. Also, some shopkeepers can change your USD and Euros for a small commission.
We highly recommend, before leaving, to check if your card is valid for international withdrawal.
India standard tiime is 5 hours 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+5.5)
You can check the time difference with your country here https://time.is/India
Besides taxi and buses, the most used and practical way to get around Indian cities is with auto-rickshaws, usually called tuk tuk; at first glance, they seem to be big enough for only two people, but actually they can carry up to eight (or even more, if needed!).
They are way cheaper than taxies (prices may vary according to the city, but a shared ride never exceeds 10 Rs per person) and, thanks to its no-doors structure, you can enjoy the view and the breeze!
Only in Kolkata you will easily get to see men hand pulling their rickshaws; they’re called “horse-men” and most of them come from small rural villages in search of a job.
In some of the bigger cities there is also Uber (and other similar apps), metro and ferries.
Last but not least, the trains: this is definitely the most used mean of transport for mid and long distance travel.
Urban trains do not have different classes, but there’s a women compartment.
Intercity trains, instead, have 1A (i.e. first class AC), 2A (second class AC), 3A (third class AC) and sleeper class (same as 3A but without air conditioned and with window guards instead of glass).
The price of the ticket changes according to the class and, especially during the public holidays, tickets can be expected to go very quickly, so they must be bought some weeks ahead of traveling.
Traveling by train, in India, means so much more than just going from a place to another; it is such an experience that will make you look much more closely to their fascinating and sometimes outlandish culture.
Plugs and sockets have either grounded/earthed 3 Pin connections (Type D) or ungrounded 2 pin connections (Type C). It is recommended to bring an adapter.
India has been the cradle of some of the most spread world religions – such as Hinduism and Buddhism – and, to this day, it’s a country where spirituality greatly influences the daily and social life of almost a billion and a half of people.
The most practiced religion is Hinduism: a very ancient religion, which never fell under the authority of a single school or interpretation, but evolved in an extremely diversified manner, drawing through the centuries from hundreds of local cults, some of them very different between each others, from thousands of sacred texts, from schools of thought with different vocations, and also being shaped by the influence of other religions born in India or arrived from abroad, like Buddhism and Islam. The most important and popular Gods of Hinduism – those you’ll find more frequently inside temples, household shrines and Hindu mythology – are Brahma, creator of the universe, Vishnu, the preserver, Shiva, the destroyer, and Shakti, the dynamic and creative force of nature – feminine aspect of God – who can take different shapes, such as Kali, Durga or Tara. Hinduism is also characterized by the caste system, which is somehow surviving to these days. Traditionally, the castes are four: Brahmins, keepers of religious knowledge and rites, Ksatrya, the warriors and rulers caste, Vaisya, merchants and artisans, Sudra, peasants and servants. Outside of the caste systems are the outcasts, or untouchables, who occupy the lowest strata of society; they are also called Dalit, which means “oppressed”, or Harijans, meaning “children of God”. Dalit usually perform the most humble duties, those considered unclean or impure by the higher castes, such as sweeping the streets or cremating dead bodies. Even though the caste system was officially banished many years ago, it’s still a greatb source of discrimination and social marginalization, where the lower castes are oppressed by the higher ones. The four main castes are then fragmented in a myriad of classes and sub-castes.
Other religions born in India are Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but they are nowadays practiced by a very small percentage of the population. Jainism has many affinities with Hinduism, and is especially characterized by the absolute nonviolence towards all living beings and by very extreme practices of asceticism performed by Jain monks. Buddhism was born around 2.500 years ago in the region which is now the Indian State of Bihar, in North East India, from a prince who became an ascetic: Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha. Despite being at one point in history the most spread religion in India, Buddhism has known a strong decline, to the point that, today, it is practiced by only 1% of the Indian population. Sikhism was born more recently, in the 15th century, and is a monotheistic religion, which strongly condemns idolatry and polytheism. It was formed in the span of 200 years through the succession of ten gurus. Sikhs are restrained from drinking alcohol and consuming tobacco; they cannot eat meat, eggs or fish; they cannot cut their hair. Sikh men are easily recognizable by their long black beards and colored turbans on their head.
The second most spread religion of India is Islam. Islam is the religion revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the doctrine contained in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. With about 170 millions of Muslims, India has the third largest Muslim population of the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Islam was brought to India by the invaders from the West; dynasties of Muslim rulers who conquered and ruled large parts of the Indian subcontinent for centuries; a period marked by fierce clashes between Muslims and Hindus, sacks, looting, insurrections, but also years of peaceful coexistence. In parallel, Islam was brought and spread in India by a wave of Sufi preachers and ascetics – mostly coming from Persia and Central Asia – who walked the streets of all India, going from towns to villages, carrying the peaceful and syncretic message of Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam) to the masses. This way, Sufism influenced and was influenced on his part by the meeting with Hinduism and other religions of the subcontinent. The shrines of these itinerant preachers are now scattered all over India, and they are visited for worship by both Muslims and Hindus.
At last, they survive in India some minorities of Christians – especially in the South – Parsi or Zoroastrians (mostly in Mumbai, where there are the famous “Towers of Silence”, where the dead bodies of the Parsi are left there to be eaten by crows) and Jews, with some notable synagogues in Kolkata and Mumbai.
In culinary terms, India is the country of spices and curry. Food is considered an art, and it is often linked to religious and social rituals.
Indian food is extremely varied like its people and its society, it varies not just from a State to another, but also from region to region, from city to city, it varies within different castes, social classes and religious groups: anyway, we can distinguish between the North Indian cuisine, which is more spicy, heavy with oil and butter, and meat-based, and the South Indian one, usually vegetarian and less spicy.
As it is well known, in India it is customary to eat with hands, or rather just with the right hand, since the left one is considered impure and it is used for cleaning oneself after going to the bathroom. When it comes to rice, use your thumb, index and middle finger to pack a portion of the rice into a ball and pour some curry on it, than eat it!
When it comes to roti, the delicious Indian bread, you can break a small piece of it (only using your right hand) and use it to spoon your food with it.
However, cutlery are always available (normally they are given to foreigners even if not requested!).
Moreover, an extremely important aspect of Indian cuisine is the street food, which is a fully-fledged culture as well as a sensory experience.
Usually, streetfood is prepared by the expert hands of the seller who, in less than 3 minutes, will serve you a dish as delicious and complex as the ones served in the restaurants. There are no exacts recipes and you’ll never get to eat the same papri chaat, samosa, or dosa in India, as each seller, each region, each family has its own way of preparing it, a personal dose of spices which makes every recipe unique and different from every other.
Even for street food, every city has its typical snack and there is plenty of variety.
One of the most common street food is the Samosa, a fried triangular shaped snack made of flour with a savoury filling of potatoes, onions, peas, lentils and much more, or the Pakora, very similar to the samosa but made of chickpeas flour.
Another common snack is the pani puri, also known as golgappa or puchka, which consists of a round, hollow puri, fried crisp, filled with a mixture of super spicy and flavoured water, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, potato, onion or chickpeas. You’re supposed to eat it all in a single bite!
Then we have the dosa, a speciality from South India, kind of an oversized crunchy crepe made from rice batter and black gram, stuffed with spicy vegetables. The dosa is always served hot along with sambar, a stuffing of potatoes and chutney.
Furthermore there is the pav bhaji (a doughy spicy vegetables stuffed sandwitch from Maharastra state), papri chaat (crisp fried dough wafers known as papri, along with boiled chick peas, boiled potatoes, yogurt, tamarind chutney and other spices), chole bhature (spiced chickpeas served along with fried bread) and jhal muri (puffed rice mixed with mustard oil, spices, onion and lemon)
HEALT AND HYGIENE
Due to the poor hygiene conditions of most indian cities, it’s not recommended to eat raw vegetables sold in the streets without washing them properly (since they might have been previously washed with dirty water).
It goes without saying, is strongly recommended not to drink tap water, but only sealed bottles (always check before drinking!), and not to drink beverages with ice.
To keep yourself healthy and to avoid dehydration, is very important to drink very often.
It would be advisable to bring with you an hand sanitizer.
We suggest not to lay or sit down on your bed with the same clothes you wore during the day.
We suggest, also, to carry with you some dysentery medicines, insect repellent creams (easy to find on the spot), and a high-protection sunscreen, especially during the Summer months. Anyway, in the main cities – but also in the smaller ones – there are plenty of pharmacies where you can easily find everything you need.
Although it is not compulsory for travellers going to India, in order to avoid any preoccupation and problem, you need to have a medical travel insurance to take part to our tours.
India has got a lot of excellent private medical structures, with European standards (and prices!).
Although no vaccination is compulsory to enter India, it’s still suggested to consult your doctor to assess the need of the following vaccinations: hepatitis A and B, cholera, malaria, typhus and tetanus booster.
SCAMS AND OTHER TROUBLES
From a street criminality point of view, India is generally a very safe place to be and the big cities (such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata) are generally safer than most European capitals and North-American cities.
Even so, there are few precautions that will help you not to get into uncomfortable situations, keeping in mind that using common sense is always the way to go, from Milan to Kolkata. Avoid stumbling drunk or drugged in the streets at night and you will spare yourself most troubles.
The first rule in India is: bargain! Regardless of what you’re buying, be it food or jewels. Since you’re a foreigner, shoekeepers will increase the price, sometimes even double it or more.
This also applies to taxi and rickshaw rides; before getting in, always ask the rickshaw driver the fare of the ride and the taxi driver to switch on the meter.
In the markets, never trust any “authorized guide” (they even have a fake badge!) who, on the pretext of helping you out to find what you’re looking for, will bring you to some shop – involved in the scam – which will ask you a far greater price than usual and later give a percentage to the “guide”.
Even though India has got no specific dress code, it is still recommended, especially for women, to wear dresses which cover legs and shoulders.
In most places of worship removing your shoes is mandatory; we suggest you to carry a pair of socks with you if you don’t feel comfortable walking barefoot.
Moreover, for women it is always recommended to carry a pashmina (or any scarf) since many temples and every mosque and Sufi shrine will not let you in without your head covered. It will also come in handy in restaurants, clubs and other closed premises with very cold AC.
Regarding shoes, we suggest you to bring an old pair rather than buying a new one, because streets are ruined and dirty, so they will easily get spoiled.
If possible, you better bring a pair of shower shoes, very useful during monsoon season when streets easily get flooded, as well as sneakers, much more comfortable for walking.
WHAT TO PACK
- Power plug adapter
- A camera
- A small flashlight
- Comfortable clothes (cotton is be the best choice) and something warm for winter tours.
- For women, is recommended to carry dresses which cover decollete, legs and shoulders, and a foulard to cover your head
- A credit/ debit card
- A copy of your passport in case it gets lost
- A very basic first aid kit
- Mosquito repellent
- A K-way, especially for the monsoon season
- A book to read when traveling by train
- A pair of comfortable slippers and sneakers
- A lock (better a key-pad one) for your backpack and the hotel room
- Hand sanitizer
- For those who want, a sleeping-bag for the nights we will be spending on the train
- Earplugs and sleeping mask for the train
- A microfiber towel