INDIA - Travel guide for first-time visitors

India is an eye opener for most first time visitors. All pre-conceived notions that a tourist may have before they come here are more often than not cast aside as she opens her warm arms to you. Those who still believe in the cliché of elephants and snakes dominating the cultural scene are pleasantly surprised to see the technological advancements of Modern India. On the other hand, people who think India has become too commercialized often find themselves wonder-struck by the color and beauty of Indian traditions.
Visiting beautiful palaces, fragrant temples, listening to peaceful chanting, running your hands over thousand year old sculptures and eating authentically delicious food will make you amazed. And then there is the reality of the crowded airports, smelly restrooms, loud traffic, dusty streets and if you're not careful, the water that can make you sick. Still you will enjoy it.
About INDIA:
India is set apart from the rest of Asia by the Himalayas, The subcontinent as it is rightly called, touches three large water bodies and is immediately recognizable which has over 1.2 billion people(approximately), and makes it the seventh largest and also most populous democratic country  in the world .
India holds virtually every kind of landscape imaginable. An abundance of mountain ranges and national parks provide ample opportunity for eco-tourism and trekking, and its sheer size promises something for everyone. From north to south India extends a good 2000 miles (3200 km), where the island nation of Sri Lanka seems to be squeezed out of India like a great tear, the synapse forming the Gulf of Mannar. 

Getting there:
Most international flights land at Delhi or Mumbai. But you can also fly into any of the other major metropolitan cities of Kolkatta and Chennai or Bengaluru.
All visiting foreign nationals require visas. Valid for 6 months from date of issue and allow for multiple entry. Check online for costs, application procedures, process times etc.
In India “Rupee” is the currency .You can exchange your currency in any of the centralized banks or Exchanges.
India is a land of a variety of linguistic communities, each of which share a common language and culture. Though there could be fifteen principal languages there are hundreds of thousands dialects that add to the vividness of the country.
18 languages are officially recognized in India of which Sanskrit and Tamil share a long history of more than 5,000 and 3,000 years respectively. The population of people speaking each language varies drastically, however English is spoken widely by all in the tourist industry and educated classes.
Major Places to look for:

The highly visited part of India is undoubtedly the "Golden Triangle". This comprises of Delhi (the nation's capital), Jaipur and Agra. The city like other major metropolitan cities around the world is polluted, crowded and noisy. Delhi is rich in history and has several impressive monuments including the Mughal Red Fort, the solid stone tower of Qutub Minar and the India gate (built to honor the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died during World War 1). There are many temples and mosques including the Birla Mandir, the Bahai Temple and the Jama Masjid Mosque.
Delhi prides itself in the beautiful gardens in the city such as famous Lodi Gardens and the Mughal Gardens located in the Presidential Residence. Delhi is centrally located for travel to Agra and Jaipur.

The Taj Mahal is in Agra and the center of attraction for the visitors. A three hour train journey or a 30 minute flight will bring you to the great Moghul monument that took over twenty years to build. Emperor Shah Jahan built this magnificent monument to immortalize the love for his wife who died during childbirth. The Taj Mahal is made entirely of pure white marble and its pure white walls are decorated with exquisite "pietra dure" (stone inlay work).Agra fort made out of red sandstone, the fort was home to several great Mughal Kings and even comprised the largest state treasury and mint. Within its walls lies the grand enclosure for harem festivities and included pools and fountains. While a neighboring structure housed the King's wives and mistresses. This reflects the bygone era of luxurious royal living.
The final corner of the "Golden Triangle" is Jaipur which is popular as the "Pink City" for its imitation pink stucco buildings and walls. The most famous palace is the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds). The breeze that circulates through the 953 small windows facing the street gives the palace its name. Another interesting monument is the "Jantar Mantar" which is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments built in 1727. Some other tourist attractions in Jaipur include the Jal Mahal or "Water Palace" (which sits in the center of the Man Sarobar lake), the Amber Fort, the Jaigarh Fort (that still houses the medieval cannons including the world's largest cannon on wheels). Jaipur is also famous for its Johari Bazaar (a jewelry market).
For those who do not wish to be too adventurous on their first trip to India, a relaxing beach vacation in Goa maybe a great alternative. With its beautiful beaches and large Roman Catholic presence the city lends a much more western feel unlike any place in India. One of the main tourist attractions is the Christian religious site the Basilica of Bom Jesus (that holds the mortal remains of St.Francis Xavier).
The southern state of Kerala presents several five star luxurious hotels such as the Kumarakom Lake Resort that provide travelers with ayurvedic massages, dance performances, along with boat rides as well as delicious food. Tourist attractions include a bird sanctuary and the largest backwater Vembanad Lake.
The warmth of Indian hospitality is best felt in the smaller towns in the interiors of the country. If your itinerary allows, do not restrict yourself to bigger towns but do explore the heart of India in cities like Jaisalmer, Aurangabad, and Lucknow etc.

Dress sense:
Though India is modern in many ways, Indians still dress more conservatively as compared to people in many western countries. Though, it is a common sight to see foreigners in halter tops and shorts, one should avoid extremes so as not to attract unwarranted attention. Big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are less conservative than others. While roaming Indian streets, it is best to be dressed in jeans/ pants/ skirts (knee length and below) with a half sleeve top for women and a t-shirt with pants/ jeans/ shorts (knee length) for men.
Temple traditions:
Most religious places in India like temples and gurudwaras should be entered barefoot. There is a provision for you to remove your footwear before you enter. Please make sure your head is covered with a scarf before entering gurudwaras.
One of the richest traditions of temple building that India has produced took shape in the 7th century A.D., centered in what is now the state of Karnataka, and lasted until the 13th.  This was one of the two main branches of Dravida or 'Southern' temple architecture, giving rise to such famous temples as the Virupaksa, Pattadakal, the Kailasa, Ellora and the Hoysalesvara, Halebid.
Few Famous temples in southern india are Tirupathi – Andhra Pradesh, Isckon Temple, Chamundeeshwari temple – Karnataka,Meenakshi Temple ,Brahadeeshwara Temple– Tamilnadu, Guruvayor & Sabarimala Tempe – Kerala.
North India : Goden Temple – Amristar,Vishwanath tempe – Kashi, Kailash Temple, Bahai Tempe - Dehi
Each Temple has certain restrictions for visitors, Better to check out the rules before in hand to avoid mess up.
Avoid being scantily dressed as that may hurt people’s religious sentiments

Climate & Time to Visit:
Climate in India can be extreme for some visitors. Do some researches before your travel date on the temperature and climate in the cities that you will be visiting. Summers in North India can be very hot at 45 degrees Celsius on summer days. The best time to visit most of India is Feb/ March or Sept/ Oct/ Nov.
Try to schedule your visit such that you experience the wonder of an Indian festival. Indians celebrate most festivals like Holi, Diwali, Eid, Navratri etc. with great gusto and these are the best times to see the people shed their inhibitions and have fun without a care.
Food habits:
Food in India is wide ranging in variety, taste and flavour. Being so diverse geographically, each region has its own cuisine and style of preparation. Indian cuisine, renowned for its exotic gravies seems complicated for any newcomer. Though most visitors avoid eating on the streets due to fear of infection, they are missing one of the best experiences of true Indian food. The Mughlai cuisine of North differs sharply from the preparations of the south. The Wazwan style of Kashmir is luxurious but the same can be said about Bengal's Macher Jhol, Rajasthan's Dal Bati, Uttar Pradesh's Kebabs and Punjab's Sarson Ka Saag and Makki di Roti.If you are experimental in nature, there are options in most cities where you can enjoy this in hygienic conditions. For example, the famous gol-gappas of Delhi (flavored water filled in fried hollow balls) can be savored in Greater Kailash  Market where it is made with mineral water. Find out the local food of the area you are traveling to by talking to locals and make sure you try it.
 Drink water only from sealed distilled water bottles to prevent the popular malady "Delhi belly".

Transport System:
Public transport in India, though reliable, comes with a disclaimer. Depending on the city you are in, the best form of transport will differ. For example, Mumbai trains are convenient but difficult to use and thus the best way to travel there is by cab, which is quite economical. Cities like Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, etc. are best traversed in auto-rickshaws. Private taxis are too expensive and should be used only during odd hours.
Shopping :
While shopping on the streets, bargain your heart out. The fun of shopping in Indian streets is that the shopkeepers expect you to bargain and enjoy the game of negotiation with a chuckle. Most things will be quoted as double of what they should actually cost. This however cannot be done at shops and malls.
Be aware:
As with travel anywhere beware of scam artists and pick pockets. Avoid dark streets alone at night. Like any other country, this could land you in a bad situation. If you are followed or pestered by touts or beggars, the best way to deal with them is ignore them, smile, shake your head and keep walking on.

VISA Issues:
Obtaining an Indian tourist visa and making multiple trips to India, or staying there for extended periods of time, has recently become more difficult after recent regulations.
You can get the details from Indian Embassy.

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