Wonder at the diversity of its cultural riches, from temple sculptures and murals that rival the best of the Italian Renaissance to the artistry of ordinary people in a land where much is still made by hand.
Makar Sankranti or Pongal
Pongal is one of the most popular harvest festivals of southern India, mainly Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Pongal happens in the middle of January every year and marks the auspicious beginning of Uttarayan (sun's journey northwards). The Pongal festival lasts for four days. Celebrations include a drawing of Kolam, swinging & the cooking of delicious Pongal.
This day coincides with Makara Sankranti.
Vasant Panchami (also called Saraswati Puja by Bengalis and Oriyas) is celebrated for the blessing of Saraswati, goddess of wisdom and the arts.
Thaipusam or Kavadi
Jan / Feb
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community. The word Thaipusam is derived from the Tamil month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star near the location of the moon during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a spear so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.
Kavadi Attam is a dance performed by the devotees during the ceremonial worship of Murugan, the Tamil God of War. It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasises debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan.
Maha Shivaratri is the great night of Shiva, during which followers of Shiva observe religious fasting and the offering of Bael (Bilva) leaves to Shiva.
Holi or Phagwah is a popular spring festival. Holi commemorates the slaying of the demoness Holika by Lord Vishnu's devotee Prahlad. Thus, the festival's name is derived from the Sanskrit words "Holika Dahanam", which literally mean "Holika's slaying"
Feb – Mar
Shigmo is celebrated in Goa as one of the prominent festivals of the Konkani Hindu community.
Navratri is the Hindu festival of worship and dance. In Sanskrit the term literally means "nine nights". During this festival the forms of Shakti are worshipped, and effigies are burned.
Rama Navami is the celebration of the birth of Rama.
Gudi Padwa is celebrated on the first day of the Chaitra month, and is celebrated as New Year's Day by Marathis and the Konkanis. According to the Brahma Purana, this is the day on which Brahma created the world.The date keeps changing every year in the month of march.
Ugadi (meaning "the start of an era" in Kannada) is New Year's Day for the Kannadigas and Telugus. It takes place on the same day as Gudi Padwa.
Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala. It falls around 14 April of the Gregorian year.
Tamil New Year
The Tamil New Year follows the Nirayan vernal equinox. it falls around 14 April of the Gregorian year.
Hanuman Jayanti is the celebration of the birth of Hanuman, Rama's loyal devotee.
Rongali Bihu (mid-April, also called Bohag Bihu), the most popular Bihu celebrates the onset of the Assamese New Year (around 15 April) and the coming of Spring.
The marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated as Sitalsasthi. It is celebrated as a carnival, in which people and artists from different walks of life participate, making it more beautiful and bringing out the true colour of life.
Vat Pournima is observed in Maharashtra. Pournima means "full moon." Women pray for the prosperity of their husbands by tying threads around a banyan tree.
Bonalu is a celebration for a Mother Goddess ( such as the goddesses Pochamma, Yellamma, etc.) in the Telangana Region.
Sep / Oct
Bathukamma is a festival celebrated during the months of September and October in 10 districts of Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh.
Rath Yatra is the festival associated with Jagannath.
Raja Parba is a four day long festival. It inaugurates and welcomes the agricultural year all over Odisha.
Guru Purnima is the day devotees offer puja (worship) to their Guru. This was also the day when Vyasa, author of the Mahabharata was born.
Mahalakshmi Vrata is a puja performed by married Hindu women to seek the blessings of Mahalakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Onam is also known as Vamana Jayanthi, is a Hindu festival and the state festival of Kerala celebrated by the people of Kerala, India. The festival commemorates the Vamana avatar of Vishnu and the subsequent homecoming of the legendary Emperor Mahabali. It falls during the month of Chingam (August–September) and lasts for ten days. The festival is marked by various festivities, including intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunches, snake boat races, Onappottan, Kaazhchakkula in Guruvayoor, Puli Kali, Kaikottikkali etc. These festivities make Onam a unique festival on the earth which is embellished by most number of cultural elements and it can be undoubtedly said that these elements constitute the colorfulness, diversity and richness that no other festival can claim.On Onam day people conduct special prayers in Hindu temples.Although Prayers in Hindu temples are important part of the festival, non-Hindus are not allowed to enter temples..
Raksha Bandhan is a festival celebrated mainly in northern Indian states. Rakhi is a special occasion to celebrate the chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister.
Krishna Janmaashtami is the Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Krishna. It is actually called as Krishna Jayanthi. The date falls not only on the eight day of the waning moon of Bhadrapad, but always on Rohini Nakshatra.
adhastami is celebrated all across India especially in Northern India on Bhadrapad Shukla Paksha Ashtami as birth anniversary of Goddess Radha, consort of lord
Gowri Habba is celebrated in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. Gowri is worshipped for her ability to bestow courage to her devotees. Newly wed couples are invited to the house of the groom's parents and served with varieties of food.
Ganesh Chaturthi is the celebrated as the arrival of Ganesh on the earth.
Nuakhai is celebrated to welcome the new rice of the season. This is an agricultural festival mainly observed by people of western Odisha (Kosal).
Navarathri and Bathukamma
Navarathri is the Hindu festival of worship and dance. In Sanskrit the term literally means "nine nights". During this festival the forms of Shakti are worshiped. Bathukamma, one of the most well-known festivals in Andhra Pradesh, is celebrated by women during Navarathri to honour goddess Gauri.
Vijayadashami is the Hindu celebration of good over evil.
Deepavali which means "row of lights/lamps" in kannada and telugu and Sanskrit is called "Diwali" in North India, Deepa means lamp and in Hindi a lamp is mostly called a Diya or Di. The festival is celebrated on the occasion of Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama killing a demon Narakasura. Another story says the festival is celebrated for the return of Rama and Sita to the kingdom Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile.
Rama is exiled to the forest for 14 years, his devoted wife Sita and humble brother Laxman decide to join him, after 14 years the whole village know he is returning so light lamps or 'divas' to guide him, his wife and brother home. So every year lamps are lit to represent Rama finding his way back home after the harsh punishment of being sent to exile in the forest.
Bhai dooj, also referred to as Bhaubeej, is the ceremony performed by Hindus, generally, on the second day of Deepavali. It is celebrated among brothers and sisters and is similar to Raksha Bandhan, except there is no tying of rakhi involved.
A unique festival is celebrated in Varanasi this day which is called Dev Devali. The Kartik Purnima festival also coincides with the Jain light festival and Guru Nanak Jayanti
Chhath is mainly observed in Bihar and Terai, but is also celebrated elsewhere. It is a festival dedicated to the Sun God for bestowing the bounties of life and fulfilling wishes.
After 8 days of Kartik Purnima
Prathamastami is a festival that originated in Oriya. It is held on the eighth day of the month of Agrahayana, when older female relatives pray for the prosperity of their eldest child. The festival is followed by rituals and recitations of the Glory of Mahalakshmi and Shashti devi.
Oct – Mar
Yatra (also Zatra and jatra) refers to the pilgrimage festivals celebrated at Hindu temples. Idols and murtis are taken out on special procession in a palkhi (a palanquin) or a chariot called the rath. Every temple observes this festival once a year on the traditional day.
Nov / Dec
Karthikai Deepam is an ancient festival of lights celebrated by Tamil Hindus on the full moon day of Karthikai month (November/December). This occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades) and purnima. It is the same as Kartik Poornima; however, since Tamils follow the Hindu Solar calendar with correction for precession of the equinoxes, the Tamil date matches the actual constellation.
Pancha Ganapati is a modern Hindu festival celebrating Lord Ganesha, the Five-Faced Maha Ganapati—Lord of Categories.
14 Jan. – March
The Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve years, and is an ordinary large Kumbh Mela. The Ardh (half) Kumbh Mella, a smaller Kumbh Mela, is celebrated every six years. The normal Kumbh Mela is celebrated every 4 years. The Maha (great) Kumbh Mela, a special large Kumbh Mela, occurs every 12 'Purna Kumbh Melas', or 144 years.
In the climate of India strongly influence the Himalayas and the Thar Desert, which favor the development of the monsoon. The Himalayas prevent entry of cold Central Asian katabatic winds, keeping the bulk of the Indian subcontinent warmer than most locations that are located in similar latitudes. The Thar Desert plays a crucial role in attracting the monsoon winds laden with moisture from the southwest, which between June and October, provide the majority of the country's rainfall. The four main climatic zones prevailing in India are: tropical wet, tropical dry, subtropical humid, and montane.
VISAS & PASSPORTS
1. You require a valid passport for travel to India. Please check that your passport has a minimum of 6 months validity beyond date of intended departure from India.
2. A Tourist Visa, which must be obtained in advance, is necessary for entry into India. Please contact the Indian Embassy/High Commission in your home country for further information. If you are including a visit to Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka or any other neighboring country and will be returning via India please make sure you have a multiple entry visa. India is outsourcing all visa USA visa applications to a private contractor. For more information please visit:
When completing the Visa Form you will be asked to supply two addresses in India, please contact us so we can supply you with the proper information.
3. Restricted Area Permits – To visit some areas in India you will need a RAP. In most instances we will obtain these on your behalf but we will require further forms to be completed, passport photographs and copies of your passport. Full details will be forwarded at the time of booking.
4. Whilst traveling in India you will be required to carry some ID at all times. It is advisable to keep extra photo-copies of your passport in your luggage, and also to carry extra passport photographs with you.
For Tourist Information on India
Please write to Govt. of India Tourist Office, 1270 Avenue of Americas, Suite 1808, New York, NY 10020. TEL. (212) 586-4901, Fax (212) 582-3274.
It is most important to be covered by a Comprehensive Travel & Medical Insurance Policy, which will cover you in case of trip cancellation, lost luggage/property damage and any medical problems once in India. Your medical cover from your home country may not be applicable for overseas travel. If you are undertaking any adventurous sports ie river rafting, trekking, polo or riding or travel to remote regions, please check that your policy will cover participation in these events and that the medical cover is adequate in case of evacuation.
HEALTH & INNOCULATIONS
Please contact your doctor or local travel clinic and provide them with all information of where you will be staying in India. Let the doctor make all final recommendations regarding vaccinations. Leave plenty of time to get your vaccinations before you set off: some of them require an initial shot followed by a booster, and some vaccinations should not be given together. It is recommended you seek medical advice at least six weeks prior to travel. Record all vaccinations on an International Health Certificate, which is available from your physician or government health department. Discuss your requirements with your doctor, vaccinations that may be required include:
- Hepatitis A - The most common travel-acquired illness after diarrhea, which can put you out of action for weeks. Havrix is a vaccination which provides long term immunity (possibly more than 10 years) after an initial injection and a booster at six to 12 months. Gamma globulin is not a vaccination but is ready-made antibody collected from blood donations. It should be given close to departure because, depending on the dose, it only protects for two to six months.
- Hepatitis B - This disease is spread by blood or by sexual activity. Travelers who should consider a hepatitis B vaccination include those visiting countries where there are known to be many carriers, where blood transfusions may not be adequately screened or where sexual contact is a possibility. It involves three injections, the quickest course being over three weeks with a booster at 12 months.
- Tetanus & Diphtheria - Tetanus can be a fatal wound infection and diphtheria can be a fatal throat infection. Everyone should have these vaccinations. After an initial course of three injections, boosters are necessary every 10 years.
- Typhoid - This is an important vaccination to have where hygiene is a problem. Available either as an injection or oral capsules.
- TB – TB is still prevalent in India so you should check your cover is up-to-date.
- Polio – polio is still prevalent in India so you should check your cover is up-to-date.
- Yellow Fever – if you have visited a yellow fever zone within 6 days of travel to India you will be required to provide proof of vaccination.
Mosquito borne diseases
Antimalarial drugs do not prevent you from being infected but kill the malaria parasites during a stage in their development and significantly reduce the risk of becoming very ill or dying. Expert advice on medication should be sought as there are many factors to consider including the area to be visited, the risk of exposure to malaria-carrying mosquitoes, the side effects of medication, your medical history and whether you are a child or adult or pregnant. Travelers to isolated areas in high-risk countries may like to carry a treatment dose of medication for use if symptoms occur.
Dengue is another serious disease carried by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine or prophylactic available so it is important to avoid being bitten, the mosquito which carries dengue is active during the day and early evening.
To avoid both Malaria and Dengue Fever use a good DEET based repellent day and night. Keep arms and legs covered, particularly in the early evenings when the mosquitoes are most active.
To take full advantage of your trip to India it is best to be in good health and fit. Sightseeing, particularly in warmer weather, can be tiring and many of the temples and forts are only accessible by foot. Any trip to India involves long, active days.
Prior to your departure you should start taking long, brisk walks for at least 10 to 15 days and exercise regularly to tone up the body muscles in order to prevent injuries early on in the journey.
It is advisable to have a dental check-up before travel.
Adequate medical care is available in the major population centers in India, but it can be limited in the rural areas of the country. (Adequate medical insurance is essential – see later note).
If you are already taking prescription medication please ensure you bring enough with you to cover your time in India. When you pack, make certain that you have
ALL your medication in your carry-on luggage. NEVER pack any of your medications in your checked luggage.
Eye Glasses and Contact Lenses
If you wear eyeglasses, it is advisable to carry an extra pair on the trip. If you wear contact lenses, you may want to take an extra pair or back-up regular glasses. The dust in India can cause problems with Contact Lenses. If your contact lenses require treatment in an electric sterilizer, make sure to bring plug adopters and a voltage transformer that will allow you to use the equipment on 220 volts.
WHAT TO PACK
Pack Light – you are bound to add to your luggage!
India is a conservative society and we discourage people from wearing shorts and revealing tops; besides offending people it can lead to unnecessary attention.
Light weight, cotton fabrics are the most comfortable. Casual non revealing clothing for day activities and semi and formal wear for evening functions.
It is essential to have comfortable, sturdy shoes – pavements (side-walks) and roads can often be uneven, and whilst exploring monuments and forts you will encounter uneven paths and stairs.
Whilst visiting some monuments and places of worship you will be required to remove your shoes, so it is advisable to have shoes that are easy to take on and off, socks are also advised if you do not wish to go bare foot (in the hot months the ground can become very hot). In some places canvas covers to put over your shoes will be available, but not everywhere.
Whatever the time of year you should include a sweat-shirt/fleece or shawl. Even in the hottest months air-conditioning in restaurants can be cold, and early morning game drives are often very cold.
- General items that should be included:
- Baseball cap or hat for sun protection.
- Sunglasses with safety strings attached.
- Sun screen lotion and lip balm.
- Insect / Mosquito repellent.
- Bathroom needs.
- Dr. Scholls Molefoam.
- Water bottles (1 Qt. size)
- Photo camera and plenty of film/memory card. Extra batteries.
- Good daypack.
- Torch/flashlight with spare batteries
- Guide book
- Small personal medical kit
- Ear plugs – even in rural areas it can be noisy at night – dogs, temples, mosques etc!
If your itinerary includes any specific activity ie rafting, trekking,riding we will send a more detailed suggested packing list.
India currency is measured in rupees (Rs) which is divided into 100 paise (p). Rupees appear in 1 and 5 rupee coins and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 notes. Indian rupees are not available outside India.
Current rate of exchange is approximately US$1/INR48 UKsterling1/INR80
American Express and Thomas Cook traveler checks are the most widely recognized in all major cities in India. However they may be more difficult to cash in small towns.
ATM’s and Credit Card
Most credit cards are acceptable in the upscale stores and market areas. Automated Teller Machines are available in all metros and larger cities.
Virtually all hotels we use can exchange foreign currency and are the best place for you to do so. The ROE here is similar to those prevalent at the banks, as the hotels obtain the exchange rates from the banks on a daily basis. Please exchange money through authorized channels only.
When you have exchanged money into Indian Rupees, please retain the Encashment Certificate provided for each transaction, as these will be required to convert any unused Indian Rupees to foreign exchange at the end of your holiday.
When exchanging money or collecting change, take care to ensure that local currency notes you obtain are not partly damaged. It may be difficult to make any transaction with such currency notes or even re – exchanging them.
As cash and Travelers checks can be exchanged easily at most hotels in mayor cities it is advisable to travel with a combination of cash and Travelers checks.
When traveling to smaller towns and country/jungle areas please make sure you are carrying enough cash as credit card and exchange facilities may not be readily available.
Please note that even if a hotel says it accepts Credit Cards this facility may be unavailable due local power problems. Do not rely on travelling with a Credit Card only.
The Import or Export of Indian Rupees is strictly prohibited.
Credit Card Fraud
While most credit cards are accepted at larger establishments in major towns and cities, a few regrettable incidents of fraud have come to light. When making a purchase, we would caution you against allowing your credit card to be handled outside your direct visual supervision and recommend that you double check your charge slip entries and amounts.
The electricity current used in India is 220 volts, 50 Hz.
Sockets vary and include triple large round pins, triple small round pins and two large round-pin holes so bring adaptors (although these are readily available in India). In addition if you are traveling with a lap top you may wish to bring a power surge cable to protect against voltage fluctuations.
The electricity supply can be erratic, especially in the Summer months and although most properties do have generators it is always a good idea to travel with a small flashlight/torch.
ON ARRIVAL IN INDIA
In general, personal effects of tourists are exempt from import duties provided they are definitely for personal use and will be taken with the visitor on leaving India. You might be invited to list cameras on the Customs Declaration Forms especially if you have more than one. Participants may be requested to declare their valuable personal jewelry upon arrival. Firearms must not be carried. In general it is advisable to travel with the minimum of valuables.
Please ensure safe custody of your internal flight and train tickets. No refunds are possible against lost / misplaced / stolen domestic tickets. It is sensible to carry photocopies of you tickets and store these separately in your luggage.
ACCLIMATIZATION & ‘DELHI BELLY’
Most first time visitors to India are concerned about hygiene and sickness. In our experience few people staying in good accommodation will fall really ill, but some may suffer from a mild stomach disorder. This is caused not just by the food but by change in climate, water and general fatigue after long distance travel. Take things easy in the first couple of days, stay out of the sun as much as possible and drink plenty of water (bottled). It is advisable to avoid fruit which can not be peeled and salads. Do not buy food from street side stalls, however tempting it may look. Wash hands frequently. If you follow these simple precautions you are unlikely to suffer any major problems.
Do not drink the water from the tap. Always use bottled water for drinking, or water that has been filtered and treated. All accommodation will provide drinking water in your room. It is advisable to clean your teeth in treated/bottled water.
Due to the heat it is necessary to drink plenty of water, and not become dehydrated. Make sure you carry water with you at all times, particularly on sightseeing excursions.
TRAVEL WITHIN INDIA
During your tour you may visit several domestic airports, a few of these may be relatively basic. Due to an increase in the domestic air traffic in India delays are possible. We request you to be prepared for any inconvenience.
For security reason you may be asked to personally identify your baggage before boarding the aircraft.
On domestic flights, the checked baggage allowance (in economy class) is 30 kgs / 62 lbs per person. However in small planes like ATR, the allowance varies from 15 – 20 kgs / 33 lbs –44lbs. Only one piece of hand baggage per person is permitted. Kindly ensure that any scissors, sharp implements, canned food and batteries (including your Camera Batteries) are carried in your checked baggage, without fail. All checked baggage should be securely locked.
Most airports have electronic scanners, which are mostly “film safe” Please check this or request the security officer to have your camera and film carried around the X- Ray Machine.
Your checked baggage may also be X -rayed on certain domestic and outgoing international flights.
Railway stations can be extremely crowded and you may feel disoriented when disembarking at the end of a train journey. We therefore request you to wait at the disembarking point where your train carriage comes to a halt until our staff member or local representative establishes contact with you.
The ‘tourist quality’ trains you may use during your trip, however, are very comfortable and train travel is a good method of traveling across India.
When traveling by train it is advisable to have small, ‘squashable’ grips that will fit onto the luggage racks, or small size suitcases on wheels.
NOTE: Smoking is no longer permitted on any flights and on air-conditioned trains.
When traveling on internal flights and trains always ensure that your baggage is securely locked. Baggage left in hotel storage facilities must always be locked. Always have tags on your baggage.
Travel on the roads in India can be a bit daunting for the first time visitor. As well as cars; buses, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, rickshaws, camel carts and cows will be using the roads which can lead to ‘interesting’ driving techniques! The transporters we use all have excellent drivers well suited to the chaotic conditions, but if at anytime you are unhappy with the speed at which you are traveling do tell the driver to slow down – remember you are the one hiring his services.
Please note that not all vehicles will have safety belts in the back seats as these are not mandatory in India.
Guides and sightseeing
After a sightseeing tour your guide may ‘encourage’ you to visit a relative’s store. Although we discourage this as much as possible it is unfortunately an established system in India. Please though remember that you are hiring the guide and if you really do not wish to visit a shop please say so, and don’t feel pressurized.
Video cameras may be used at most monuments provided you are not filming for commercial purposes. However, specific areas of some monuments may be off limits for photography. Restrictions may also apply on the use of tripods and flashguns.
Please note that photography is prohibited inside a few airports and certain government buildings. Please do not photograph defense and police personnel in uniforms. Our representative and guides will be on hand to direct you and to clarify any further doubts.
Where appropriate we prefer to use smaller, heritage hotels, often this type of accommodation will not have a liquor license but they are quite happy for clients to bring their own.
In the larger hotels wine, beer and drinks will be available, although imported alcohol can be expensive.
Early morning jeep rides inside the National Parks can be very cold, even in the hot months, and sometimes bitterly cold during the winter months. Please make sure you bring a warm fleece/jacket and scarves/gloves and hats will not be out of place up until the end of March. Choose neutral colored clothing and bring binoculars.
You may be moved by the sight of poverty, but we request you not to offer alms. Recognized charities often have collection boxes in hotels and we recommend you give donations this way so you can be assured that the funds will be properly used. Alternatively we can recommend specific charities.
Please note it is sometimes necessary to travel with a flexible attitude and a sense of humor when traveling within the Indian sub-continent! Things can stray from the planned particularly if traveling in mountain regions or off the beaten track. Domestic flights in India are frequently subject to delays however in all instances we will do our utmost to maintain your planned schedules as far as possible, or make alternative arrangements where necessary.