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India remains one of the greatest and most challenging travel experiences in the world. It is also, without question, the most engaging, colourful, chaotic, spiritual and life-affirming country in the world.
Even returning visitors to India are amazed at the beauty of its cultural treasures, with temple sculptures and palace murals that rival the bestthe Italian Renaissance, to the artistic skills of ordinary people in a country where so much is still made by hand.
- India travel guide
It's something Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese encountered during his recent official visit to India, where he was feted by his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.
His official visit, along with the much-anticipated tour of Australia's cricket team, put the spotlight on a country with which we share long-standing Commonwealth and sporting ties.
The widespread use of English, a legacy of the British Raj, also means that for first-time visitors, India is an easy place to navigate and communicate.
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Nonetheless, it still isnot a country for the faint of heart, of which Albanese himself – as well as current and former Australian cricketers in the subcontinent – would be well aware, having first traveled there as a backpacker.
Much is shocking: the poverty, the noise and pollution, the overloaded cars romping the streets - and the complete lack of personal space.
But in a country of 1.4 billion people -- and a country that is poised to overtake China as the world's most populous country -- it's important to recognize that the looks and questions are often just a demonstration of polite hospitality towards foreigners seeking protection from left their families.
Delhi is the best place to start for a first-time visit: the orderly, tree-shaded streets of monumental New Delhi, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the 1920s, offer a soft landing — and a chance to pack loose cotton clothes on a visit Khan Market shopping center - before heading into the maelstrom of modern India.
Trying to cover too much on a first visit is a mistake. A leisurely exploration of a small corner, combining some of the Golden Triangle's top tourist attractions with stays in rural palace hotels and game reserves, will avoid the fatigue of forts and temples and keep your sense of humor.
Nobody moves fast on India's roads. Expect to be driving at just over 50 kilometers per hour, even on expressways between cities, as there are constant stops to avoid hitting stray cows and careless pedestrians.
Trains are slow with shared facilities - even in first class - but the scenery is more interesting by rail than by road (British rail travel expert Mark Smith is excellentseat61.comTrain Travel website explains everything you need to know).
For couples and groups of friends, the best way to see India is by chauffeur driven vehicle. Qualified and experienced drivers are usually knowledgeable and take great care of their air-conditioned cars.
There is a wide range of guided tours for solo travelers, from small group adventures to classic bus tours of the Golden Triangle.
What follows is an essential guide to everything else you need to know for a successful first time visit to incredible India.
The plains of northern India are arid and dusty, dotted with extraordinary cities built by Mughal emperors and Rajput princes. Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur should be on every beginner's itinerary, but they are all crowded places that can easily become overwhelming.
Mix city trips with days in the country. Plan a few nights in Ranthambore National Park, where tigers are now easier to see, and a stay in one of the magnificent owner-run palaces or fort hotels that will introduce you to the wonders of village India.
Life in the lush green hills and valleys of southern India is generally slower and less crowded, the landscape dotted with the ruined capitals of long-gone medieval empires and bustling Hindu pilgrimage shrines.
Many visitors head to the well-governed state of Kerala. Unfortunately, Keralan's beaches are far from clean and most host large fishing communities. They are not places to spread out your towel or swim in the sea.
After a visit to Kochi on the coast and perhaps a night on a rice barge in the backwaters, head inland to Munnar or Thekkady in the Western Ghats, wooded hills where wild elephants roam and tea and spices are grown on estates dotted around the Colonial times sociable host families offered bungalows.
From here, head to Tamil Nadu to explore the communities of Madurai, Chennai and Pondicherry before flying to the Andaman Islands for a few days on a white sand beach.
For sun and sand in mainland India, Goa is the best place to go. The beaches north of Panjim, the capital, are popular for their nightlife, although during the day they look rather unkempt and overdeveloped.
For cleaner, whiter, and quieter sandy beaches, head south to Colva and Benaulim: Alila Diwa Goa and the St. Regis (formerly Leela Beach Resort) are notable accommodation options.
when and with whom
The best time to travel to India is from late October (end of the monsoon season) to mid-March, with April and May often being hot and muggy.
Daily highs of over 40 degrees are regularly recorded on the plains of northern India, although it's a good time to visit the Himalayan foothills and the hill stations of Shimla and Darjeeling. High summer, on the other hand, is pleasant in Kashmir and Ladakh.
The monsoon rains begin in the south in late May and gradually move north over the following six weeks, although timing varies and it does not rain all day every day.
If you like a quiet hotel, avoid the 10 days surrounding the Diwali festival in November, when Indian families holiday en masse and stay up late. The best time to find rooms available at short notice is the first two weeks of December.
As this is your first trip to India, you may prefer the security and peace of mind of traveling as part of a group tour operated by a trusted operator. There are several experienced and reputable Australian escorted tour companies that offer regular tours to India.
This includes the quality and value-oriented Bunnik Tours (bunniktours.com.au)and Wendy Wu Tours (wendywutours.com.au)while for the more adventurous, budget conscious and environmentally conscious, Australia-based global group Intrepid Travel(intrepidtravel.com) will fit.
For travelers seeking a bespoke, exclusive experience that combines adventure, comfort and style, consider the small group or independent trips offered by Classic Safari Company (classicsafaricompany.com.au)
What you need and what to bring
Australians, likemost nationalities, need a visa to visit India. However, in order to encourage tourism in the country, the Government of India has streamlined the Indian Visa application process from Australia.
The availability of an e-Visa means that Australians can apply for an Indian Tourist Visa online without the need for a trip to the nearest Indian Consulate or Indian High Commission.
Prospective Australian travelers to India are encouraged to apply through the official government site atindianvisaonline.gov.in
Be prepared to provide all the required personal, educational and professional information as well as the places you plan to visit in India, your points of entry and departure and the countries you have visited in the last ten years.
A passport photo of specific sizes and other requirements is also required as the eVisa approval processing time is US$80 (US$120) and typically takes between two and three business days. Note that there is a minimum of four days to apply before leaving Australia.
What to take with you, start with a wheeled holdall, which is much easier to pack on trains and coaches than a large rigid suitcase.
The other must-pack for India is a universal sink plug; a flashlight (preferably a small headlamp); slip-off shoes or sandals for temples and entering homes; Sunscreen with a high sun protection factor and a sun hat. Insect repellent with DEET, earplugs and eyecups for trains and city hotels; binoculars for birds and murals and a bottle of filtered water to reduce the use of plastic bottles.
Staying healthy in India
An Indian tour guide reports that since the spread of hand sanitizer, his clients' illness rates have decreased. It pays to travel with an antiviral hand foam.
Drink at least a liter of safe bottled water daily. If you succumb to Delhi belly, stick to a diet of regular rice and yogurt and drink plenty of fluids for 24 hours.
The Sydney-based Travel Vaccination Clinic (travelvaccinationclinic.com.au) recommends travelers to India to ensure all children's vaccinations are up to date, get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid or ensure you have these vaccinations up to date.
Before you leave, consider getting a COVID-19 booster, the annual flu shot and follow strict hygiene rules when eating and drinking the local food and drink, avoiding mosquito bites whenever possible
Malaria risk in India varies by season in winter with a low risk outside of the states of Orissa and Assam.
This cover story is adapted from the Travel section of the Telegraph UK and is reproduced with permission.
Ten more things you need to know for a first-time visit
As a first-time visitor, prepare to be shocked, appalled, and accosted (about food and money) in a disturbingly unequal society. Be kind, respectful, caring and generous and know that you cannot solve all the problems of such a populous and complex country.
Watch your modesty
In India, avoid tight-fitting undershirts, knee-high shorts and see-through skirts (Indians consider these to be underwear). Showing a lot of décolleté is a no-go away from the beach.
Only use your right hand
During your visit to India, even if you are left-handed, always use your right hand when eating and handing money or goods. (As an explanation: Indians use their left hand for their ablutions, so it is considered dirty).
Be prepared to tip
Many places have a tip box for staff, and local guides expect a reasonable tip of around $15 for a full day's work. Give good drivers about $20 a day and ask them to skip the unsolicited shopping stops.
Don't skimp on your stays
If you're not backpacking, don't skimp too much on the quality of your accommodation (find savings elsewhere). In general, hotels four stars and above, with those belonging to well-respected chains like Taj, Oberoi, and Park, are your best bets.
Greet the day and beat the crowds
Getting up early in a crowded India has its rewards. For example, instead of taking a day trip to the Taj Mahal, stay in Agra, the city where the white marble mausoleum is located, and experience the building at dawn before the crowds descend.
First (aid) things first
Pack a small and portable first aid kit just in case. In the event of a serious illness, take a packet of doctor-prescribed antibiotics with you (chances are you won't need them, but you'll be glad if you do) and those bags of electrolytes to stay hydrated.
Ask before your snap
Indians love nothing more than posing for photos at famous landmarks, preferably with an exotic westerner in the family group. But they don't like to be photographed in everyday clothes doing menial work. Always ask beforehand and respect their wishes.
Survive the coffin of glory
Delhi is notorious for smog, with the worst months being from November to February, which happens to be peak tourist season. Being practically two cities in one (Old Delhi and New Delhi), the capital has a lot to recommend, but pack a decent mask.
take a leaf
Find out before you go and while you are there.city of jinnby William Dalrymple is skillfully reminiscent of Old DelhiHoly cowby Sarah Macdonald is an amusing quest for spiritual India. Amitav Ghoshssea of poppiesand Vikram SethsA suitable boyare also recommended.