Visitors are drawn back to India time after time, seduced by the diversity of its landscape and the vibrancy of its culture and traditions.
Our specialists have unsurpassed knowledge of India, having lived in India or visited several times, so they understand what makes the perfect itinerary for a first-time visitor who wants to experience the essence of what this fascinating country has to offer.
In India the choice of accommodation is extremely varied, with the opportunity to stay in a restored fort or palace, try Keralan cuisine in a traditional homestay, or travel through the country on a luxury train in a style reminiscent of the days of the Raj.
Discover the main highlights of tropical Kerala including Cochin, the Backwaters and Munnar, with time on the beach to relax at the end of your trip.
Golden Triangle & Tigers
10 days exploring the highlights of North India’s cities with the opportunity to go on the trail of the royal Bengal tiger at Ranthambhore National Park.
Temples and Backwaters
12 nights exploring the main highlights of Southern India including Chennai, Tanjour, Madurai and Cochin with a relaxing cruise around the Backwaters
Things to see & do in India
Depending on whether you are visiting the north or the south, there are plenty of sights to see to enrich your experience of India.
Take an evening;boat ride on the Ganges in Varanasi to see the ghats come alive as hundreds of pilgrims return to worship. Visit the tea plantations of Darjeeling where you can see tea pickers hard at work against the dramatic backdrop of the Himalayas,or for some rest and recuperation at the end of your trip enjoy the white sandy beaches, emerald waters and seafood of Goa on the south coast.
Here are just a few of the activities and excursions available through Audley on a first-time visit to India...
Tiger Hill Scenic Walk
An early start is recommended for the visit to Tiger Hill, situated around 11km from Darjeeling. This scenic walk takes around two hours.
Evening Boatride to the Ghats
In the early evening the ghats (or bathing steps) come alive once more as hundreds of pilgrims return for evening worship. Young priests from nearby ashrams perform their daily rituals looking out to the sacred Ganga, whilst conch shells and bells create a cacophony of sound.
Tea Plantation Visit
The stunning scenery of the Himalayan foothills can be experienced by walking through some of the many tea plantations, where you can often see the tea-pickers hard at work delicately removing "two leaves and a bud" to create the best quality tea.
Darjeeling Mountain Railway (Toy Train)
The Darjeeling Mountain Railway is also known affectionately as the Toy Train. It is the ideal way to take in the stunning views of the mountains.
Types of accommodation in India
Forts and palaces
Many forts and palaces have played a crucial role in Indian history and have now been wonderfully restored to offer unique places for visitors to stay. Often in spectacular locations with amazing views, many forts and palaces make a great base for visiting local towns and villages.
Fort Barli is an intimate heritage fort, which dates back to 1675. There are just eight rooms and each is individually styled with traditional Rajasthani decor.
Ravi and Gitanjali have lovingly restored the walls of this 17th century fort to enclose six tents of their own design and part of the palace to hold 4 stunning suites.
The concept of the homestay in India was first developed in Kerala and the naturally friendly Keralities continue to welcome visitors to their homes. Cuisine is often made from home-grown ingredients and meals are usually taken together with the family, a great opportunity to learn more about local life.
This is a great base from which to explore the Tellicherry area and meet local people employed in the cottage industries or attending theyyam festivals at nearby temples.
Tranquil is a wonderful country retreat in the heart of a large coffee plantation.
Here at Audley we regularly inspect the accommodation we use, updating our knowledge on existing properties and where possible we try to track down characterful accommodation to add to your travel experience. We have a range of hotels to suit all budgets and tastes in key locations throughout India.
Located only 600 metres from the Taj Mahal and with every bedroom facing the monument, this has to be one of the best situated hotels in the world.
Located to the south of Connaught Circus in the heart of New Delhi and housing four restaurants, a swimming pool and a health club, Claridges is an excellent place to recharge your batteries and enjoy the colonial comforts.
Frequently asked questions
Q. Will I get ill when I visit India? Food hygiene doesn't seem to be very good.
A. This is probably the most common concern for first-time visitors to India, as unfortunately the country does have a bad reputation for making people ill. However, India is home to some of the world's greatest cuisine and there really is a wonderful range of delicious dishes on offer. Of course travellers must be careful about what they eat and we would warn people about eating shellfish and raw vegetables and salads that may have been washed in tap water. It is also important to stick to bottled water for drinking and also for brushing your teeth, and to wash your hands thoroughly before eating.
Q. Will the poverty be too much for me to handle?
A. It is no myth that there are many areas of extreme poverty in India. Interestingly these areas are often juxtaposed against areas of extreme wealth. The poverty can be a shock to the system, especially for first-time visitors. If your itinerary is to include larger cities such as Delhi or Mumbai, then it is very likely that you will experience something of the poverty. The sheer size of the population puts a tremendous strain on the country's infrastructure, one of the problems being the lack of adequate housing so people often end up living in slums or even on the streets. It is important to realise that these problems won't go away overnight and there is very little that individuals can do to resolve the issue.
Q. What should I do if approached by beggars?
A. Beggars are often found in the cities, which visitors can sometimes find distressing. It is a matter of personal choice as to whether you give any money, however, if you do feel you would like to help then we would suggest you do some research or perhaps speak to your local guide in order to find out a way to help that will make a difference. View our Responsible Travel section for more ways you can get involved if you wish and the charities Audley Indian Subcontinent team support.
Q. Is there much crime in India?
A. Petty crime can sometimes be a problem in the cities, so use common sense and do not wear expensive jewellery etc. and take care of cameras.
Q. Social etiquette, conventions and dress
A. Here are some guidelines to take into consideration when travelling around India to avoid offending the local people:
- Scant, tight clothing will draw unwanted attention and offend local sensibilities. Indians are generally conservative and it's important that women are modestly dressed. Adopting local dress is an easy solution, or wear a long scarf or tunic.
- Displays of intimacy are not considered acceptable in public. Although it is common for Indian men to hold hands as a symbol of friendship, it does not mean they're gay. Homosexuality is technically a criminal act under the penal code, but there is a growing tolerance in major cities.
- Visitors to all religious places must be dressed in clean, modest clothes. Always remove shoes before entering a temple or mosque. It's a good idea to carry a pair of socks to wear on hot stone floors.
- Smoking is banned in all public areas, including bars and restaurants in hotels.
- India is very photogenic, but always ask permission from people before taking their photo to avoid offending them.
- Handshakes are common amongst Indian men, however, it is considered rude to touch an Indian woman and they may feel uncomfortable. Never use your left hand; it is considered unclean. It is customary to remove your footwear upon entering Indian homes.
- The headshake: here in the UK we nod up and down to signify yes and side-to-side for no; in India the most famous gesture is a rotational headshake. This can be very confusing as it can mean yes, maybe or I've no idea!
Q. How bad is the transport?
Airports can be quite hectic, security checks can take a while and result in long queues, particularly at Delhi and Mumbai. The smaller airports of Bangalore, Cochin, Calcutta and Chennai are generally easy to navigate but do not have the best facilities.
Taking a train in India is a great way to cover long distances as well as an experience in itself. The platforms are often full of life, with tea vendors ready to quench your thirst, and the aromatic smells of fresh samosas on sale. They can also be chaotic, which is why we will usually provide a guide to ensure you get on the correct train with your luggage. Indian trains are generally not as comfortable as those in the West, they could be cleaner and there is little privacy on the night trains. Delays are not uncommon but the train is probably still the best way to travel.
Always ask a taxi driver to use his meter, though this might be met with various excuses why it isn't working. Mentioning that you will take another taxi sometimes gets it working! If this doesn't work always agree on a price before you start your journey.
Auto-rickshaws / cycle rickshaws
Cheaper and quicker than taxis, auto-rickshaws can be fun, but agree on a price before you set off. If hassled by rickshaw-wallahs whilst wandering around a town, just be firm and say 'no' as you may be taken to several shops en route to your final destination. Tipping is appreciated by cycle rickshaws as it is extremely strenuous work; never accept free journeys as you will end up in a shop, which could be a light hearted adventure or very stressful.
Q. I don't like spicy food - will there be anything I can eat?
A. It is a common misconception that all Indian food is very spicy and there will be nothing to eat but fiery curries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Luckily this is not the case. The big cities and larger hotels will cater for all tastes and often serve a wide range of different cuisines. Those keen to try the local food will actually find that there is a big difference between the 'Indian' dishes we know in the UK and those served in India, and dishes do vary from mild to very spicy. You will often be asked how spicy you like your food and hotel staff will be happy to recommend the less hot dishes if you are interested. A top tip is to ask for yoghurt to accompany your meal - not only does it help counter the spice in the dish, it also helps your digestive system.