Namaste (Greetings from India)
"Namaste" or "Namaskar" is the Indian way of saying hello. The Hindu people throughout India, on local transport, at home or on holiday, initiate a conversation with "Namaste" as the greeting. It is the customary courtesy to begin a conversation and sometimes end it, for young and old, strangers and friends.
How to Namaste! Bend the arms at the elbows and bring your palms together in front of your chest as in prayer. Bow your head slightly and say Namaste.
The Indian people are forgiving when it comes to foreigners not understanding their local etiquette, however there are a few tips to help you, the traveller, get by.
Do not eat or pass objects with the left hand. This hand is considered unclean as it perfoms duties in the bathroom. Therefore try at all times to avoid your left hand coming into contact with food or passing objects to people.
It is good manners to take off your shoes when entering someone's home and a prerequisite to entering temples or mosques. A good barometer to work on is if there are shoes outside - take off yours!
Revealing clothing will attract unwanted attention. Indians have a conservative way of dress, though the bare stomach seems to be considered beautiful! It is considered best to keep your legs covered especially in rural areas. Always keep shoulders and legs covered in temples, a sarong comes in handy for this!
Traditions & Practices
Read about India before you travel there. This will help to allay some of the cultural differences that understandably make the first time traveller slightly concerned. By reading and understanding why a person asks the questions they do, how to eat, how to 'Namaste', how not to offend, will help you enjoy this radically different way of life.
Indian society is cohesive, and personal space and privacy is foreign to most. Try not to be offended by intrusive questions. Indian people are inquisitive and sometimes ask personal questions about how much money you earn or how old you are or why you don't have children. They are truly curious, not trying to be offensive. Ask them the same and they're quite happy to enlighten you.
Many travellers will feel threatened by the mass of people as they leave the airport. This is India with millions of happy smiling people all wanting to help, speak or show you. Learn to say no without being offensive. They are a very curious and warm people and only want to be friendly.
The head wobble! We all know it... but what is its significance?
The head wobble is a source of confusion for the first time traveller to India. It could be a shake or a nod, does it mean yes or no? Sometimes it's a silent wobble and other times it's a side to side without moving the neck wobble but all surely have a meaning?
I have been able to decipher that if the wobble is fast and continuous then the person understands you. If the wobble is quick from side to side then it means that is okay. If the wobble is soft and slow with an accompanying smile it is a sign of friendship.
Having sat through many a conversation in Hindi I have been able to pick up some every-day expressions.
This is a word that you hear in every conversation. It literally means good, but depending on the intonation of the word it could also mean 'really?', 'I understand', 'Oh' and 'okay!'. Achchacha!
This word is infamous in India and is used in the context of a seller or vendor such as kopi-wallah, chai-walla, taxi-walla, punnkah-walla, laundry-wallah, etc.
can be used as question 'shall we go?' and a statement 'move on - move it' but always in the context of the verb 'to go'.
is a simple 'thank you'
Feet are considered unclean, so try not to point your feet at people or at objects, especially books as they are revered items. An apology is customary should you do so accidently.
Indians will often touch their head or eyes, with a slight bend forwards as a show of apology. It is a sign of respect to bend down and touch an older person's feet in India, and this ritual is performed quite frequently in country areas.
Cows In India
Yes, they do roam the streets in all the Indian cities. You will find these fearless creatures on railway lines at busy stations, on the central paving in the middle of highways, walking through villages seemingly on their own with no herder. It's a sight to behold and I must say I am still fascinated by their absolute indifference to everything around them.
The Fascinating Geography of India
If you were to visit the Bharat Mata Temple in Varanasi, dedicated to Mother India, where there is a large relief map of India carved out of marble (or alternatively fly high enough over the sub-continent to be able to down upon it), the thing that is most likely to strike you is the flatness of much of India compared to the majesty of the Himalayas.
India has a great variety - from the high mountain ranges in the north, the deserts of the west, the plains and marshlands of the centre and the plateaux of the Deccan in the south. The vegetation also varies from alpine meadows, to cultivated farmlands, marsh, desert scrub to the unique tropical jungles of the south.
The Himalayas provide a series of interlocking ridges, separated by broad valleys, the source of many of India's rivers including the holy Ganges. From a visitor's perspective, the Himalayas provide excellent hiking or climbing, or because of their isolation, an insight into the fascinating mountain cultures of Kashmir (Islamic), Ladakh and Sikkim (Buddhist) and the Hindu areas of the western ranges.
The North East
The North Eastern states of India consist of the wide Brahmaputra valley surrounded by densely folded hills. The tribal peoples of these areas have cultures and traditions more in common with those of South East Asia.
The Northern Plains
The vast northern plains are flat and there is a fall of only 200 metres between Delhi and the marshy Ganges delta. These were the heartlands of the Mughal Emperors and it is in these regions that the great forts, tajs and temples were built.
Central and Southern India
The Deccan Plateau is the historical divide between the Mughals and the Dravidians of the south and there are obvious cultural differences for the discerning visitor.
The Deserts of the West
The plains of the Punjab merge into the Great Thar Desert in western Rajasthan and there is desert in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. The lifestyle of the tribes in these areas was significantly different to other parts which makes Rajasthan an interesting place to visit.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Geographically closer to South East Asia than India, these coral-ringed, forested tropical islands have a relaxed beach culture for the visitor: and an incredible marine life.
India's Turbulent Past
The sweep of Indian history is enormous and for thousands of years the sub-continent has been the setting for great civilisations, invasions from Asia and overseas, the birth of new religions, and numerous debacles. From the earliest Harappan civilisation that developed in the Indus Valley over six thousand years ago, India has been the target of invasions from the north - Persians, Aryans, Huns, Afghans, Mongols and even Greeks under Alexander the Great. During these times Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism all developed.
Southern India has always had its own unique history as the northern invasions rarely reached this area. As a result it is strongly Hindu whereas Islam was forcibly introduced from the north. For those who are interested in the historical development of modern India I suggest that you search on the internet or in your local library to gain an understanding of the kaleidoscope of events terminating in the arrival of the first European trading nations, the British Raj and modern Indian independence.
However, it is important to note that the great historical buildings of India that attract the most attention of the discerning tourist were generally built by medieval Muslim rulers. In visiting Agra, the main attractions are the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, both of Islamic design. In Delhi, the Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb, the Jama Masjid, the Chandni Chowk, and the Red Fort are all of Mughal (Islamic) origin. On your way to Rajasthan a visit to the fortified ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri is a must - another Mughal construction.
Who were the Mughals? It is worth knowing a little about them before you visit northern India because their names crop up everywhere. Islam was introduced by Turkish-Afghan raiders from the north by about 1000 A.D but it was not until the 1500s that the Mughal invaders arrived from their base in Afghanistan. The founder of the Mughal influence in India was Babur, a descendent of legendary Asian conquerors, Tamerlane and Chenggis (Genghis) Khan.
Babur (1483-1530) was of Mongol origin (Mughal in Persian) but embraced Turkic and Persian culture including Islam. He was largely responsible for the expansion of Persian cultural influence into India, with brilliant literary, artistic and architectural results.
Humayun (1508 - 1556) whose Persian wife built a tomb in his honour, a prototype of the later Taj Mahal
Akbar (1542 -1605) The greatest of all the Mughal rulers - who consolidated Mughal power over northern India and even into parts of southern India. Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri as his new capital but water shortages forced the abandonment of the city soon after his death.
Jahangir (1569 - 1627) created world famous gardens in Kashmir.
Shah Jahan (1592 - 1666) built the Taj Mahal, and the Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Delhi.
Aurangzeb (1618 - 1707) a bigoted man whose ruthless rule caused rebellion against the Mughals and the end of the dynasty.
The sub-continent of India is huge and it is very important to be aware of the climate patterns in the part of India you wish to visit. Obviously the difference between the Himalayan mountains and the steamy jungles of South India is evident but this is not the information that you should note.
On the whole, the climate of India comes in three categories, which differ from north to south.
The Hot (approx. March-June)
- Starts about February and by April is over the 40C mark
- Unbearably hot in May and June, this is a good time to visit the 'hill stations' and also Ladakh.
- By late May the first signs of the imminent monsoon are appearing (dust storms, lightning, rain storms, humidity).
The Wet (monsoon approx. July-September)
- The south-west monsoon starts slowly with the south receiving rain by June and the north by early July.
- The weather changes from hot, dry, dusty to hot, humid, wet.
- Rain most days (but not all day).
- The north-east monsoon in Kerala occurs in October and early November.
The Cool (approx. October-February)
- The monsoon ends for most of India in October.
- October/November beginning to cool down and by December Delhi can be quite cold at night.
- In the mountains a time of extreme cold whereas in Kerala it is comfortably warm during this period.
The best time to make a general visit to India is during the 'cool' months of November to February, although there are few major festivals during this period to see: unless you are heading for the mountains, the beaches or the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Festivals, Fairs & Important Events
There is always a festival on somewhere in India. Between the various religions it is possible for the visitor to find something of significance at some point of their visit. The sheer mass of humanity at India's festivals provides an amazing sight with people mingling among the temple processions of Ganesh in Mumbai or the harvest festivals of Kerala.
Every religion, in every region, has something to celebrate.
The best thing to do is to contact the local Indian Tourist Office on your arrival in a town/city/region and ask for details.
The following is a list of the more famous festivals but it is quite possible for a visitor to explore any city, town or village and chance upon an interesting and colourful festival or celebration of some sort.
If you wish to view an impressive military display, with soldiers in colourful regional costumes, then a visit to Delhi on 26 January (Republic Day) is a must. It is a remarkable cavalcade with grand march-pasts, floats, cultural displays and shows watched by huge crowds lining the roads to view them.
Celebrated in Northern India as the destruction of the evil demon Holika, Holi also recognises the end of winter and the beginning of spring (the festival usually occurs in March). Holi is known as the 'Festival of Colours' as Hindus build bonfires and throw coloured water and gulal (powder) over anybody in the near vicinity.
Kerala Temple Festivals
The unique feature of these festivals held in the different temples in Kerala (South India) during April/May is the large numbers of decorated elephants. Each temple has its own legends and there are processions, floats, music and drumming.
Eid ul Fitr
The most important Muslim festival in India is Ramzan (Ramadan). During this time the festival becomes a nationwide fair, with the Islamic areas becoming bright and lively through the night. Other non-Muslim communities enthusiastically take part in the merrymaking. Eid ul Fitr or the 'festival of fast breaking' is the most celebratory of all the Islamic festivals and a lot of Non- Muslims participate in the Eid celebrations. The three day festival marks the end of Ramzan. Women prepare sweets at home and all Muslims dress in new clothes. Eid ul Fitr is a time of joy and thanksgiving and occurs generally in August.
This festival celebrates the birth of the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, and is particularly popular in Mumbai. Devotees compete to make the most elaborate statues of the god. Held in late August or early September, the 11-day festival ends with the ceremonial immersion and destruction of the clay statutes in the sea or water.
Govinda (or Janmashtami)
This 2-day festival celebrates the birthday of Lord Krishna and is held in late August or early September throughout India. The highlight of the festival - and a unique activity to watch for the observer - is the attempt by young devotees to reach pots of curd, butter and money hung high from buildings by forming human pyramids.
The 10-day festival of Onam is Kerala's largest Hindu festival. Held at the end of August/early September people decorate in front of their houses with floral patterns to celebrate the return of the mythical King Mahabali. The unique features of this festival are the competitions for the best pookalams (flower displays) and the snake boat races, as well as the feasts.
This festival, held generally in September or October, is West Bengal's most important religious occasion. Best viewed in Kolkata, it celebrates the victory of the Mother Goddess, Purga, over the wicked buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. Statues of the goddess are made and displayed in many homes and the festival ends with a parade of these statues, along with much music and dancing, before final immersion in the river or the sea.
The Hindu Festival of Lights usually occurs in either October or November and is the start of the Hindu New Year. It is a 5-day festival during which Hindus give gifts, light fireworks and burn lamps and candles to lead Lord Rama home from the darkness of exile. The mood is joyous and happy. It is celebrated in most parts of India (but not Kerala)
Pushkar Camel Fair
For five days towards the end of November each year, the small Rajasthan desert town of Pushkar is the setting for India's largest camel fair, when up to 50 thousand camels are present. Religious observances are made by pilgrims in the temples around the central lake and the camels are raced and traded as well as groomed and shaved to enter competitions. Along with all of this are the fairs, snake charmers, acrobats and musicians. Cattle are also traded.
The Kumbh Mela is regarded as the world's largest religious gathering. At the last Maha (great) Kumbh Mela held in Allahabad at the confluence of the three sacred rivers of India (Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati) in 2001 estimates of more than 50 million devotees, of all branches of Hinduism, attended to take a ceremonial immersion in the Ganges River. Of most interest are the mendicant Naga Babas, naked ash-covered spiritual men, who lead the charge from the Sangam into the river. The next Maha Kumbh Mela will take place in Allahabad from 27 January to 25 February 2013.
Like much of Indian life, there is a rewarding gastronomic experience with Indian food and a huge diversity of local and regional dishes. There is no single Indian cuisine. The staple diet of Indians includes rice, atta (whole wheat flour), beans, peas and other vegetables. The food is often very different to that found in Indian restaurants outside of India.
Meals generally include several dishes, dessert and a staple such as rice and chapatis. Just about every dish is flavoured with a distinct combination of Indian spice blends (known as masalas).
The range of choices, put in a very simple example, is from the vegetarian fare of the south, to the meaty tradition of the Mughals (known as Mughlai), to the Punjabi tandoors.
Over thousands of years, invaders - such as the Aryans, Persians, Arabs, Portuguese and British - have passed through India and left their impression on its cooking. The result is a cuisine that is colourful, full of flavour, spices, curries, exotic fruits, smells and personality.
In the south, rice, dals and curries are popular, along with coconut. Fish meals are common. In the north and west, chapatis or rotis are popular along with dal, vegetable and yoghurt (curd). Chutneys and pickles are widespread as are milk-based sweets. There is a strong influence of Kashmiri (meat cooked in milk, chillies) and Mughlai (quite spicy) food in these areas.
In the desert areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat, with their lack of vegetables, there are dals and achars (pickles).
India is a great place to enjoy different foods but it is important, as a western visitor, to take some common sense precautions and not suffer the legendary, but now increasingly out-dated if one is careful, 'Delhi-belly'.
Precautions such as the following should ensure you enjoy your Indian foods and suffer no consequences:
- Only eat in modern, clean restaurants and never from street vendors
- Be wary of salads and peeled fruit although this should not be an issue in a good restaurant
- Never eat food that has been standing in the open for a while
- Avoid buying fresh fruit juice on the street but rather drink the bottled variety
Use Common sense and You Will Be Fine
It is recommended that you take the following precautions before your visit to India because food, waterborne and insect borne diseases are common.
Make an appointment to see your local doctor to receive all the appropriate vaccinations as recommended by travel advisers and the World Health Organisation. Check the validity of previous injections. Or alternatively, visit a specialist travel medical clinic.
While with your doctor, get medication prescriptions for common ailments that you could encounter while in India, e.g. diarrhoea. Consider taking such items as wipes, hydrolyte, throat lozenges, painkillers, antifungal cream, insect repellant, etc. as well as a small first-aid bag with elastoplast and sunscreen.
Organise a comprehensive travel insurance and check the medical details closely
During Your Visit
Self-medication of minor ailments is best. If buying additional supplies in a chemist always check the 'use-by' date.
For more serious problems get to a quality city health clinic as quickly as possible for examination by a doctor. It is not easy to find suitable medical aid in the countryside.
Complete any 'courses' of medication that you had started.
Alert your doctor to any lingering ailments.
Unless otherwise specified, information on this page pertains to holders of normal Australian passports only. However, the process will be similar whatever your nationality and wherever you are living.
Obtaining a Visa
For Australians, all visa applications are completed and paid for online at www.indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html
Information about photos, itinerary, processing fees, length of process, multi-entry visas, etc. can be found on this website.
Likewise, information on Business Visa applications can be found at: www.vfs-in-au.net
Visa on Arrival Facility
International Travellers whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sightseeing, casual visit to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or casual business visit.
- Passport should have at least six months validity from the date of arrival in India. The passport should have at least two blank pages for stamping by the Immigration Officer.
- International Travellers should have return ticket or onward journey ticket, with sufficient money to spend during his/her stay in India.
- International Travellers having Pakistani Passport or Pakistani origin may please apply for regular Visa at Indian Mission.
- Not available to Diplomatic/Official Passport Holders.
- Not available to individuals endorsed on Parent's/Spouse's Passport i.e. each individual should have a separate passport.
- Not available to International Travel Document Holders
Map of India
National Parks & Wildlife
India has a huge and diverse range of wild life, estimated to include as a much as 70% of the world's biodiversity. Enthusiasts can see the 'Big Six' (tiger, Asiatic lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) as well as an enormous variety of other animals and birds.
Bandhavgarh NP (season Nov-June) has the best chance of seeing a tiger in the wild. The park is best known for its spectacular scenery, its large biodiversity, as well as having the highest concentration of tigers in India. The park features rocky hill country and impenetrable green valleys and has an ancient fort built on an 800 metre high cliff. Bandhavgarh has a large breeding population of leopards, and various species of deer.
Chitwan NP (open all year round) is situated at the foot of the Himalayas in the dry subtropical southern part of Nepal. In altitude it ranges from about 100 m in the river valleys to 815 m in the Churia Hills. The park, which was granted World Heritage status in 1984, is especially famous for its protection of one-horned rhinoceros, tigers and gharial crocodiles. A total of 68 species of mammals, 544 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles & amphibians and 126 species of fish have been recorded in the park.
Corbett NP (season Nov-May), in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, is India's oldest park, established in 1936, and named after the famous hunter-turnedconservationist, Jim Corbett. The dense moist deciduous forest, home to some of the best birdlife in India, contains 488 different species of plants and a diverse variety of fauna, including both tigers and wild elephants. The elevation ranges from 400 to 1,220 m so winter nights are cold but the days are bright and sunny. It rains from July to September. Elephant safaris are possible.
Dudhwa NP (season Nov-May) is located on the border between India and Nepal, in an area known for its marshy grasslands, savannahs, and forests which support a large number of endangered species, with rare species of tall wet grasslands and flora.
Gir Forest NP and Wildlife Sanctuary (season Dec- June) is the world's only place where lions and tigers coexist. Situated in western Gujarat, it is a dry, rugged area of thorn forest and scrub; with a diverse, protected ecosystem of flora and fauna. Gir NP is the only home of the Asiatic lion and is considered one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species (hyena, boar, etc.).
Kanha NP (season Oct-June) is the largest national park in central India. It is home to one of the great tiger reserves of India and is a favourite with tourists because the mahouts on their elephants track the tigers daily. The park has a significant population of tiger, leopard, sloth bear, bison, swamp deer and Indian wild dog living among the lush sal and bamboo forests, grassy meadows and ravines.
Kaziranga NP (season Nov-April) is in the NE Indian state of Assam. A World Heritage site, the park hosts two-thirds of the world's great one-horned rhinoceroses and is recognized as an important bird area. The park has the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and is home to large breeding populations of elephants, wild buffalo, and swamp deer.
Nagarhole NP (open all-year round) is in Karnataka state in South India. It is the largest park in South India with an astonishing abundance of wildlife including tiger, leopard, wild elephant, dhole (Indian wild dog), and gaur (Indian bison). The change in terrain throughout the park, from shallow valleys and gentle slopes to precious timber, dry forest and swamps is refreshing and the river system provides a unique wildlife viewing experience.
Panna NP (season Oct-June) is in Madhya Pradesh, central India. Among the animals found here are the tiger, chital, chinkara, sambhar and sloth bear. The park is home to more than 200 species of birds including the bar-headed goose, honey buzzard, king vulture and blossom-headed parakeet. Through the mixed forest runs the Ken River. It is a very beautiful park, and although tiger sightings are rare there is a good chance of seeing other elusive animals including sloth bear. It also has the benefit of far fewer tourists visiting it.
Pench NP (season Nov-June) is situated in Madhya Pradesh, central India. Commonly seen wildlife include chital, sambhar, nilgai, wild boar, and jackal. Other wild animals found are leopard, sloth bear, wild dog, porcupine, monkey, jungle cat, fox, striped hyena, gaur, chowsingha (4-horned antelope) and barking deer. There are several tigers in the park but sightings are infrequent. There are more than 170 species of birds including several migratory ones.
Ranthambhore NP (season Oct-June) is one of the best places in India to see tigers in their natural jungle habitat. The park is a fascinating blend of history and nature. Inside the park is a formidable fort that was built in the 10th century and coveted by many rulers due to its strategic position between north and central India. Today there are occasional tiger sightings amongst the ruins of the ancient fort. This park is very popular due to its proximity to Delhi and the fact that tigers are relatively easy to spot here. However, the park's popularity has resulted in overcrowding and mismanagement of safaris, which is a problem and something to be aware of. Other major wild animals include leopard, nilgai, wild boar, sambar, hyena, sloth bear and chital. The sanctuary is home to a wide variety of trees, plants, birds and reptiles.
Satpura NP (season Nov-June) in Madhya Pradesh State, central India, is very rich in biodiversity. The prime attractions are black buck, leopard, wild dogs, Indian bison, Malabar giant squirrel, and crocodiles, although there are many other species. There are a variety of birds. Hornbills and peafowl are common birds found here. In previous years, there have been sightings of lions, elephants, wild water buffalo and swamp deer, although these are rare.
Sunderban NP (season Sept-May) is a national park and a tiger and biosphere reserve in West Bengal, India. It is part of the Sunderban on the Ganges Delta, and adjacent to the Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. The delta is a magnificent tangle of mangrove jungle that is unique. The park spreads over 54 islands and extends into neighbouring Bangladesh. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile. The Sunderbans is only accessible by boat which is an experience in itself. Tiger sightings are rare as they remain well hidden in the reserve.
Tadoba NP (season Oct-June) is in the central India, in the state of Maharashtra. It is one of India's 47 Project Tiger reserves and is an excellent place to see tigers in the wild. The landscape is dominated by teak and bamboo forests along with rugged cliffs, lakes and marshes. The most recent census found that there are over 100 tigers in the park and its surrounding areas. Other wildlife includes leopards, sloth bears, hyenas, jackals, wild dogs, bison, barking deer, nilgai, sambar, and cheatal.