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Travel Essentials
National Holidays.

26 January
Republic Day
15 August
Independence Day
2 October
Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

Opening hours : Standard shop opening hours in India are Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 6pm. Government tourist offices are open Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5pm.

Post: Post can take anything from six days to three weeks to get to or from India, depending on where you are and the country you are mailing to; ten days is about the norm. Most post offices are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm and Saturday from 10am to noon, but town GPOs keep longer hours (usually Mon-Sat 9.30am-1pm & 2-5.30pm). Stamps are not expensive, but you'll have to stick them on yourself as they tend not to be self-adhesive. Sending a parcel from India can be a performance. First take it to a tailor to have it wrapped in cheap cotton cloth, stitched up and sealed with wax. Next, take it to the post office, fill in and attach the relevant customs forms, buy your stamps, see them franked and dispatch it. Surface mail is incredibly cheap, and takes an average of six months to arrive - it may take half, or four times that, however. It's a good way to dump excess baggage and souvenirs.

Photography: Beware of pointing your camera at anything that might be considered "strategic", including airports and anything military, but even at bridges, railway stations and main roads. Remember too that some people prefer not to be photographed, so it's a good idea to ask before you take a snapshot of them. More likely, you'll get people, especially kids, volunteering to pose.

Time : India is all in one time zone: GMT+5hr 30min. This makes it 5hr 30min ahead of London, 10hr 30min ahead of New York, 13hr 30min ahead of LA, 4hr 30min behind Sydney and 6hr 30min behind NZ; however, summertime in those places will change the difference by an hour. Indian time is referred to as IST Indian Standard Time.

Tipping: Ten percent should be regarded as acceptable if you've received good service - more if the staff have really gone out of their way to be helpful. Taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers will not expect tips unless you've made unplanned diversions or stops. For Bell boys, rickshaw riders, Camel man, Boat man or Elephant or Jeep safaris a good amount of tip is expected.

Toilets: Western toilets are becoming much more common in India now, though you'll probably still come across a few traditional toilets. Paper, if used, often goes in a bucket next to the loo rather than down it. It's a good idea to stock up before going too far off the beaten track as it's not available everywhere. Travelling is especially difficult for women as facilities are limited or non-existent, especially when travelling by road rather than by rail. However, toilets in the a/c carriages of trains are usually kept clean, as are those in mid-range and a/c restaurants. In the touristy areas, most hotels offer Western-style loos, even in budget lodges. The latest development is tourist toilets at every major historical site.

Travel permits : Access to certain parts of India - particularly border areas - is controlled by permit system. A permit known as an Inner-Line Permit (ILP) is required to visit northern parts of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim that lie close to the border with China/Tibet. Entering the northeast states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, tourists require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP), which must be arranged through Foreigners' Regional Registration Offices (FRRO) offices. Most permits officially require you to travel in a group of four (married couples are also permitted in certain areas). Note that you can only travel to the places listed on the permit, often by set routes, and this is hard to change after the permit is issued.

Vaccinations: No inoculations are legally required for entry into India, but diphtheria, typhoid and hepatitis A jabs are recommended for travelers to many parts of the country, and it's worth ensuring that you are up to date with tetanus, polio and other boosters. Vaccinations for hepatitis B, rabies, meningitis, Japanese encephalitis and TB are also advised if you're travelling to remote areas, or working in environments with an increased exposure to infectious diseases. Polio Vaccination certificate is mandatory w.e.f. 1st March 2014 for travel to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Syria.

Dengue Fever: This mosquito-borne disease is becomingly increasingly problematic in the tropical world, especially in the cities. As there is no vaccine available it can only be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites. The mosquito that carries dengue bites day and night, so use insect avoidance measures at all times. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache and body ache (dengue was previously known as 'break bone fever'). Some people develop a rash and experience diarrhea. There is no specific treatment, just rest and paracetamol - do not take aspirin as it increases the likelihood of hemorrhaging. See a doctor to be diagnosed and monitored. At high altitudes, you may develop symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Just about everyone who ascends to around 4000m or more experiences mild symptoms, but serious cases are rare. The simple cure - descent - almost always brings immediate recovery.

Women travelers: Although things are changing, particularly in the big cities, India remains a conservative country, especially so when it comes to the role of women. Despite a long history of erotic art, female sexuality is hidden away in modern Indian society. Combined with local attitudes to sex, Avoid skimpy clothing like sleeveless tops, shorts, miniskirts, see-through or tight-fitting clothing as these are viewed culturally inappropriate. Indian dress, when done properly, makes a positive impression and can dramatically cut down the harassment and stares. The salwar kameez is regarded as respectable attire and wearing it will reflect your respect for local dress etiquette. Try to check the reputation of any teacher or therapist before going to a solo session. Keep conversations with unknown men short - getting involved in inane conversations with men can be misinterpreted as a sign of sexual interest. While there's no need to be paranoid, you should be aware that your behavior and dress code is under scrutiny, and that local men may have a misguided opinion of how foreign women behave. Getting constantly stared at is something you'll have to get used to. Just be thick-skinned and try to rise above it. It's best to refrain from returning male stares, as this may be considered a come-on; dark glasses can help.

When to Go: India's weather is extremely varied, the best time to visit most of the country is during the cool, dry season, between November and March. Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are ideal at this time, and temperatures in Goa and central India remain comfortable. The heat of the south is never less than intense but it becomes stifling in May and June, so aim to be in Tamil Nadu and Kerala between January and March. From this time onwards, the Himalayas grow more accessible, and the trekking season reaches its peak in August and September while the rest of the Subcontinent is being soaked by the rains.

Suggested readings - books offering brilliant insights into India

What Young India wants
Chetan Bhagat
Makers of Modern India
Ramachandra Guha
Nonstop India
Mark Tully
India grows at Night
Gurucharan Das
Target 3 billion
APJ Abdul Kalam
The White Tiger
Arvind Adiga
Delhi Stopover
Tulika Mehrotra
A suitable Boy
Vikram Seth
The inheritance of loss
Kiran Desai
Hullabaloo in Guava orchard
Kiran Desai
Midnight's children
Salman Rushdie
Behind the beautiful forever's: Life, death & hope in a Mumbai under city
Katherine Boo
Six suspects'
Vikas Swarup
The Romantics
Pankaj Mishra
East of the sun
Julia Gregson
A fine balance
Rohinton Mistry
Family matters
Rohinton Mistry
Unaccustomed earth
Jhumpa Lahri
Climbing the mango trees: a memoir of a childhood in India
Madhur Jaffrey
Jhumpa Lahri
The god of small things
Arundhati Roy
Gregory David Roberts
Sea of poppies
Amitav Ghosh
The hungry tide
Amitav Ghosh
White Mughals
Wllian Ddalrymple
City of djinns
William Dalrymple
The age of kali
William Dalrymple
Red earth and pouring rain
Vikram Chandrav
A river sutra
Gita Mehta
Holy cow: an Indian adventure
Sarah Macdonald
Liberty or death: India's journey to independence and division
Patrick French
Breathless in Bombay
Murzban F Shroff
The blue bedspread
Raj Kamal Jha
Slowly down the Ganges
Eric Newby
Half a life
VS Nainpaul
An area of Darkness
VS Nainpaul
The smile of Murugan
Michael Wood
Karma Cola
Gta Mehta
Om: an Indian pilgrimage
Geoffrey Moouhouse
Desert places
Robyn Davidson
Chasing the Monsoon
Aexander Frater
City of Joy
Dominque Lappiere
A passage to India
E M Foster
The Krishna Key
Ashwani Sanghi
The Nagas
Ashwani Sanghi
The Vayuputras
Ashwani Sanghi
The Chanakya's Chant
Ashwani Sanghi
Sacred Games
Vikram Chandra
Journey to Ithaca
Anita Desai

Must see - Indian cinema

Mr. & Mrs. Iyer
Aparna Sen
Deepa Mehta
Deepa Mehta
Deepa Mehta
Slum dog millionaire
Danny Boyle
Being Cyrus
Homi Adajania
Monsoon wedding
Mira Nair
Mina Nair
Kama sutra
Mira Nair
Salaam Bombay
Mira Nair
Ashutosh Gowarikar
Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Richard Attenborough
Gandhi my father
Feroz Khan
The Darjeeling limited
Wes Anderson
Meenakshi: tale of three cities
M. F. Hussain
Rain coat
Rituparno Ghosh
Jogger's park
Anant Balaniv
Subhash Ghai
Welcome to Sajjanpur
Shyam Benegal