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Asia Guide

INDIA TRAVEL GUIDE

Key Facts

Area:

3,287,263 sq km (1,269,219 sq miles).

Population:

1,326,801,576 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

380.8 per sq km.

Capital:

New Delhi.

Government:

Federal republic.

Head of state:

President Pranab Mukherjee since 2012.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014.

Currency: Indian Rupee(INR)
Official Language: Hindi,English
Electricity:

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs have either two or three round pins.

India is a beautiful and bamboozling place, an endlessly fascinating country that is often challenging and always surprising.

Stretched between the golden beaches of the Indian Ocean and the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan mountains lies an incredible tapestry of natural and man-made wonders – astounding temples, mystical monasteries, frenetic cities, pristine national parks, lavish palaces, lost kingdoms, mesmerising markets and some of the world’s most iconic monuments.

Visiting India is an assault on the senses. Sights, sounds, smells and sensations are all experienced at maximum intensity. On day one, it can feel intimidating, but by the end of the first week, the noise and chaos will seem like an ordinary part of life. The sensory stimulation becomes strangely addictive.

India is one of the world’s great melting pots, where an incredible diversity of cultures, religions and ethnicities live in surprising harmony. Presided over by an extraordinary array of gods and deities, one-sixth of the planet’s population can be found here, living in anything from high-rise apartments and inner city shantytowns, to simple huts in remote villages where life has hardly changed in centuries.

You could spend a lifetime exploring the relics left behind by ancient empires and the country’s dramatic landscapes, which range from tiger-filled jungles to frozen Himalayan deserts. On the first trip, almost everyone finds time for the so-called Golden Triangle, zipping from the colonial capital, Delhi, to the Taj Mahal at Agra, then on to Jaipur, the colourful capital of Rajasthan. With more time to spare, you can discover 32 UNESCO-listed sights, from creaking mountain railways and ancient fortresses to mangrove forests and temples overflowing with multi-armed deities.

Don’t expect to absorb all India has to offer in one visit; the country is best appreciated like a buffet table, with repeat visits to sample the next tantalising platter. And with India’s legendary cuisine, rest assured that on every trip, you’ll eat like a Maharaja..

CrimeWomen should use caution when travelling in India. Reported cases of sexual assault against women and young girls are increasing; recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are also at risk. British women have been the victims of sexual assault in Goa, Delhi, Bangalore and Rajasthan and women travellers often receive unwanted attention in the form of verbal and physical harassment by individuals or groups of men. Serious sexual attacks involving Polish, German and Danish women travellers were reported in 2014. In January 2015, a Japanese woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted close to Bodh Gaya and a Russian woman was seriously assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in the Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi. In July 2016 an Israeli national was sexually assaulted by a number of men while travelling in Manali. Women travellers should exercise caution when travelling in India even if travelling in a group.If you are a woman travelling in India you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day. See these travel tips for women travellers.Avoid travelling alone on public transport, or in taxis or auto-rickshaws, especially at night. If you have to use a taxi get them from hotel taxi ranks and exercise caution when using pre-paid taxis at airports as there have been instances of British tourists becoming the victims of a scam by taxi drivers and others who offer cheap transportation and/or hotels, unwanted tours and extended taxi rides. Travellers who accept these offers have reported being threatened with violence when they have declined to pay.Try to avoid hailing taxis on the street. If you’re being collected at the airport by a hotel driver make sure they have properly identified themselves before you set off. If you book a taxi online, there’s a facility whereby you can let your friends/families know the details of your journey in case of an emergency. You can send your details to pre-selected contacts who can then pinpoint your exact location. If you’re the victim of abuse call 100 for police assistance or 1091 or 1096 if you’re the victim of sexual harassment.Take care of your passport and bank cards, particularly when travelling by bus and train. Do not leave your luggage unattended on trains at all. There has been an increase in handbag snatching in Delhi.Keep a photocopy of your passport, Indian visa and flight ticket separately from the originals when travelling. If your passport is lost or stolen notify the police immediately and obtain a police report.Be wary of confidence tricksters, particularly in Goa, Agra and Jaipur, who promise large amounts of cash for delivery of jewellery abroad in return for an initial deposit. The jewellery is worthless and the deposit, often amounting to thousands of pounds, is lost.Local TravelJammu & KashmirThe FCO advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir with the exception of (i) travel within the city Jammu, (ii) travel by air to the city of Jammu, (iii) travel within the region of Ladakh. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the city of Srinagar and travel between the cities of Jammu and Srinagar on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. The tourist destinations of Phalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg fall within the areas to which the FCO advise against all travel.On 3 October 2016, the Jammu and Kashmir government confirmed foreign nationals travelling to the Nubra valley in Leh no longer require a protected area permit to visit the area.In the early hours of 18 September, an Indian army base in Uri, close to the Line of Control in Indian-administered Kashmir was attacked by terrorists. You should remain vigilant and monitor local media and follow the advice of the local authorities and your travel company.Since the death of Hizbul Mujahadeen commander Burhan Wani on 8 July, there have been widespread violent protests in the Kashmir Valley which have resulted in a number of deaths and serious casualties. As a result, curfews are imposed and lifted on an almost daily basis.Foreigners remain vulnerable in rural districts and outside the main population centres and tourist areas. There is a risk of unpredictable violence, including bombings, grenade attacks, shootings and kidnapping. The long-standing policy of the British Government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The level of consular assistance that the British High Commission can provide in Jammu & Kashmir is extremely limited.In July 2012, there was a grenade attack on a minibus carrying tourists at Bijbehara. Three people were killed, including 2 British nationals, and four were injured.Other Northern StatesThe FCO advise against all travel in the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan other than travel across the international border at Wagah. Rocket attacks launched from Pakistani territory landed near Attari, on the Indian side, in 2009. On 2 November 2014, an attack caused multiple fatalities on the Pakistan side of the Wagah border crossing after the flag lowering ceremony.The border between India and Pakistan in Rajasthan is unmarked in some areas. Approaching the border away from an official crossing point could be dangerous, and where unmarked could lead to a visitor straying into Pakistan.Never trek alone. Trekkers should travel in groups and engage local guides. Leave a message at your accommodation about where you are going and when you expect to return. It is extremely unlikely to get any phone signal in the mountains so please register your whereabouts using the online C form. The following hazards exist throughout the year, especially above 3000m: sudden weather changes, avalanches and snow drifts, landslides and flooding, rock falls and thunderstorms. For the more intrepid climbers you will need special permits.There are no commercial mountain rescue services operating above 3,000 metres. In some border areas only the Indian Air Force is permitted to carry out air rescues. However, they are under no obligation to perform air rescues; have limited resources to do so and can only get clearance to carry out rescues during working hours. Make sure your insurance policy covers you for altitudes over 2,400 metres and mountain rescue and helicopter costs.East and North East IndiaThe FCO advise against all travel to Manipur and against all but essential travel to Imphal, the state capital of Manipur. If you plan to travel to Imphal then do so only by air after checking the latest security conditions. There is a risk from insurgent groups, mainly in rural areas. Although foreigners have not been targeted, attacks can be indiscriminate.On 18 December 2016 widespread violence erupted in and around Manipur’s capital Imphal as protesters burnt public and private vehicles. A curfew was imposed in some parts of Manipur but was later lifted.On 8 July 2015, following clashes between the police and students a curfew was imposed in greater Imphal (east and west). The curfew was lifted on 4 August 2015. One person was reported dead and 30 injured in the clashes.On 4 June 2015, there was an attack on an army convoy in the Chandel district of Manipur. Eighteen soldiers were killed in the attack. The NSCN-K terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack.Although the overall security situation in the north-east of India is improving, some areas within the north-eastern states, especially in Manipur and Assam, still experience sudden and random outbreaks of violence. There have been several incidents of violence in Assam including a shooting in Kokrajhar on 5 August 2016 resulting in 14 deaths, and grenade explosions in Lakhimpur, Karbi Anglong and Guwahati. Review your security arrangements carefully, seek advice from the local authorities and avoid large crowds.Violent Maoist extremist groups (Naxalites) are active in the rural areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkand, Odisha, along the border with Andra Pradesh and in remote parts of Bihar and West Bengal. There is a risk of violent crime in the rural areas of Bihar and Jharkhand. There have been skirmishes on the India/Bangladesh border. The Odisha government has imposed severe restrictions on the movement of tourists, especially foreign tourists, inside certain rural areas. Follow the advice of the local authorities if you plan to visit the rural areas of these states as it could potentially cause major disruption to your travel plans.Indian government permits are required for travel to Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. You should apply well in advance (at least 3 months). In India, you should apply at the liaison office of the state for which you require a permit or the Foreigners Regional Registration Office. Permits for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands can be issued on arrival in Port Blair but this is not the case for the other states. Permit regulations can change at any time. Contact the respective state liaison office or the Bureau of Immigration – India for the latest guidance.Western RegionThe FCO advise against all travel in the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan, except for travel across the international border at Wagah.The India/Pakistan border in Gujarat is unmarked in some areas. Approaching it away from an official crossing point could be dangerous and where unmarked could lead to you straying into Pakistan illegally.
There continues to be some inter communal tension in Gujarat which can lead to isolated incidents of violence.If you’re travelling into Mumbai International Airport (known formally as Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport) and transiting between International Terminal 2 and the Domestic Terminal 1A and 1B, you should be aware that the shuttle service between them can be inconsistent. You should allow sufficient time for any transit between flights. At any of these terminals please be alert to unofficial taxi drivers who may charge high fares. Official pre-paid taxi services are available and many hotels offer airport transfer facilities.GoaIf you’re staying in a hotel on the smaller roads in the Candolim-Calangute belt, take particular care when walking to or from the main road. There have been reports of bag-snatchings on these roads. The thieves are usually on motorbikes, with headlights on full-beam to blind their victims.There have been reports of drinks being spiked and travellers, including British nationals, subsequently being robbed, sexually assaulted or dying. There have also been reports of locals posing as police officers or government officials in order to extort money, so be alert if approached. Avoid beaches after dark. Travellers should observe and respect local dress and customs.You should follow warnings posted at beaches and instructions issued by lifeguards. Every year several people drown due to the strong currents in the sea. Emergency service standards may differ from those in the UK.Road traffic accidents are common and many fatal accidents occur each year. Wear a good quality helmet if renting a motorcycle or scooter.The possession or consumption of drugs is illegal and conviction for either offence may lead to a very long prison sentence. A number of British nationals in Goa die each year due to drug or alcohol abuse.Road travelCar and motorbike accidents are one of the biggest causes of injury and death overseas. Several British nationals die each year on Indian roads. If possible, avoid travelling at night. Always travel in a well-maintained vehicle with seatbelts. If you travel by motorbike, wear a helmet and proper footwear.Sea travelTourist boats and other small crafts rarely carry life-saving equipment.Although piracy has not so far affected India’s territorial waters, it poses a significant threat in parts of the Indian Ocean, especially for shipping/mariners that don’t take appropriate precautions or follow agreed shipping industry best practice guidelines. Mariners should be vigilant.SwimmingThere are strong currents off many coasts. Most beaches don’t have warning signs, flags or life-saving equipment. Drownings are common.Rail travelDon’t accept food or drinks from strangers. There have been reports of travellers being drugged and robbed on trains often on overnight journeys. Take particular care of your passport and valuables when boarding and while on the train. Avoid individuals at railway stations offering tickets and tours.Air travelIn December 2014 SpiceJet, India’s fourth biggest airline, cancelled over 400 flights and grounded their planes. Although SpiceJet have resumed operations there may be further disruptions and cancellations. Check the SpiceJet website for updates.Political situationPolitical rallies and demonstrations occur frequently throughout the country and can turn violent, particularly around elections. Transport and public services may be disrupted at short notice.Since June 2016 Delhi police have placed a ban on large gatherings in southwest, northwest and southeast Delhi. If you’re travelling in or through these areas you should remain vigilant, avoid protests, demonstrations or large gatherings, monitor the local media and follow the advice of the local authorities and your travel company.

CUSTOMS & RITUALS

India is a land of often bewildering diversity.  It is a jigsaw puzzle of people – of every faith and religion, living together to create a unique and colourful mosaic.  There is a festival for every reason and for every season.  Many festivals celebrate the various harvests, commemorate great historical figures and events, while many express devotion to the deities of different religions. Every celebration centres around the rituals of prayer, seeking blessings, exchanging goodwill, decorating houses, wearing new clothes, music, dance and feasting.

Namaskar –  Namaskar or Namaste is the most popular form of greeting in India.  It is a general salutation that is used to welcome somebody and also for bidding farewell. While doing namaskar, both the palms are placed together and raised below the face to greet a person. It is believed that both the hands symbolise one mind, or the self meeting the self.  While the right hand represents higher nature, the left hand denotes wordly or lower nature.  Other common forms of greetings by various communities and regions in India are Sat-sri-akal by the Sikhs, Adaab by the Muslims, Vannakkam by the Tamilians, Juley by the Laddhakis and Tashi Delag by the Sikkimese, amongst others.

Tilak –  Tilak is a ritual mark on the forehead.  It can be put in many forms as a sign of blessing, greeting or auspiciousness.  The tilak is usually made out of a red vermilion paste (kumkum) which is a mixture of turmeric, alum, iodine, camphor, etc.  It can also be of a sandalwood paste (chandan) blended with musk. The tilak is applied on the spot between the brows which is considered the seat of latent wisdom and mental concentration, and is very important for worship.  This is the spot on which yogis meditate to become one with Lord Brahma. It also indicates the point at which the spiritual eye opens. All thoughts and actions are said to be governed by this spot.  Putting of the coloured mark symbolises the quest for the ‘opening’ of the third eye.

All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begin with a tilak topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the indix finger or the thumb. The same custom is followed while welcoming or biddig farewell to guests or relations.

Arati – All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begin eith a tilak topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the index finger or the thumb. The same custom is followed while welcoming or bidding farewell to guests or relations.

Arati – Is performed as an act of veneration and love.  It is often performed as a mark of worship and to seek blessings from God, to welcome the guests, for children on their birthdays, family members on auspicious occasions or to welcome a newly wedded couple.  Five small lamps called niranjanas are filled with ghee or oil and arranged in a small tray made of metal.  A wick is made out of cotton wool and placed in the lamps. A conch-shell filled with water, auspicious leaves or flowers, incense or lighted camphor are also placed in the tray. The lamps are lit and the tray is rotated in a circular motion in front of the deity or the person to be welcomed.  The purpose of performing arati is to ward off evil effects and the influence of the ‘evil eye’.

Garlanding  –  Flower garlands are generally offered as a mark of respect and honour.  They are offered to welcome the visitors or in honour to the Gods and Goddesses.  The garlands are generally made with white jasmine and orange marigold flowers.  They are weaved in thread tied at the end with the help of a knot.

Bindi  – A bindi is an auspicious mark worn by young girls and women. Bidi is derived from bindu, the Sanskrit word for dot.  It is usually a red dot made with vermilion powder which is worn by women between their eyebrows on their forehead.  Considered a symbol of Goddess Parvati, a bindi signifies female energy and is belived to protect women and their husbands. Traditionally, a symbol of marriage, it has become decorative and is worn today by unmarried girls and women as well.  No longer restricted in colour or shape, bindis are seen in many bright colours and in different shape and designs. They are also made of coloured felt and embellished with coloured glass or glitter.

Nose Pin – Many Indian women wear a pin on their nose studded with stones, called a nose pin. A symbol of purity and marriage, the nose pin is today adorned by many unmarried girls as well.

Mangalsutra –  Is a necklace made of black beads, worn only by the married women as a mark of being married. It is the Indian equivalent of the western wedding ring.  The mangalsutra is tied by the groom around his bride’s neck.  Mangalsutra is generally made out of two strings of small black beads with a gold pendant. The black beads are believed to act as protection against evil. The married women wear this to protect their marriage and the life of their husband.  In southern India, the mangalsutra is called ‘tali’. It is a small gold ornament, strung on a cotton cord or a gold chain.

Shakha-Paula  –  are a pair of shell (shakha) and red coral (paula) bangles worn as marriage symbols by the Bengali women.

Fairs & Festivals of India

The ancient tradition of celebrating festivals goes back to the Vedic times of the Aryans. Ancient Indians used to express these occasions through the words SAMAJA (a gathering of people), UTSAVA (a festival) and YATRA (a pilgrimage or temple chariot procession). And today we use the word MELA (meaning a fair) rather than a SAMAJA. The Vedic scriptures and literature give many references to festivals when celebrations were carried on to honor gods, rivers, trees, mountains, the coming of monsoons, the end of winter or the first flush of spring. The celebrations not only include fasting & prayers, but also equally events of social & cultural significance, Performances of music, dance and drama took place side by side with more rugged physical activities. Even today, festivals are symbolic of a link between the home, the villages and a larger outside world. Colour, contribution, enthusiasm, prayers and rituals are the characteristics of the Festivals of India. The travellers are attracted to the scale and elaboration of the merrymaking that populate the cultural scene of the country. The various festivals in the country can be categorized on the national, regional, local, religious, seasonal and social grounds. The popularity of Indian fairs and festivals are spread far and wide and attract a large number of foreign tourists.

The Indian Festivals
Makar Sankranti, Return of the Sun to the North – This is the time of the year when the Sun enters Capricorn in the month of Magha (January-February). It’s a time of great festivities throughout the nation with people taking a dip in the holy rivers and seas. In Gujarat particularly, it is the time to witness and extravaganza of Kite flying in what has become an International Kite Festival.

Pongal –mainly held in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. A 3-days colourful Tamil harvest festival.

Shiva Ratri, the Great Night of Shiva –Jubilated on the new moon night in the month of Phalguna (February-March), this Hindu festival is committed to Lord Shiva.

Holi, The festival of colors –the most lively of all Hindu festivals, which falls on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun (March) according to the Hindu calendar. It heralds the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring and marks the rekindling of the spirit of life. This festival is also associated with legends of Lord Krishna.

Ramanavami, the Birth of Lord Rama –This Hindu festival goes on for nine days where it is celebrated in the bright fortnight in the month of Chaitra (March-April) and commemorates the birth of Lord Rama who took birth to annihilate the demon King Ravana.

Kumbha MelaKumbha Mela –the oldest and most important of the Hindu festivals. It takes place every three years, at one of the four great holy cities – Nasik (Maharashtra), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), Prayag or Allahabad and Haridwar (both in Uttar Pradesh). It is attended by millions of pilgrims who take a holy dip in the holy rivers.

Hanuman Jayanti, the Birth of Lord Hanuman, the Monkey God – celebrates the birth of the monkey god, Hanuman, during Chaitra (March-April).

Baisakhi –celebrated mostly in North India, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, this marks the Hindu Solar New Year.

Pooram –celebrated in Trichur, in the State of Kerala, it marks the New Moon. The main feature of the festival is the spectacular sight of large number of elephants carrying ceremonial umbrellas going round the temple and the midnight fireworks display.

Id-ul-Zuha – or Bakr-id –is a Muslim festival celebrated on a National level. It commemorates the martyrdom of Abraham and is marked by the sacrifice of lambs.

Id-ul-Fitr –is a Muslim festival that marks the end of the month of Ramzan, a month long period of fasting.

Raksha Bandhan –is celebrated mostly in North and West India. It’s a legendary reenactment of sisters tying colourful ‘rakhis’ (bracelets or talisman) on their brother’s wrists.

Krishna Janmashtami, the Birth of Lord Krishna –Krishna Janmashtami falls during the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadra (August-September) and is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Krishna to bring an end to the injustice of Kansa.

Ganesha UtsavGanesha Utsav –This is a ten-day festival, jubilated during the bright half of Bhadrapad (August – September), celebrates the birth of Ganesha.

Dussehra( Vijay Dashmi), the trimph of good over evil – falling on the last day of Navaratri or Durga puja arrives in the month of October. Dussehra literally means that which takes away ten sins. This Hindu festival is celebrated all over India to mark the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra symbolises the triumph of good over evil. The ‘Ramlila’ – an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day, larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother -Meghnath and Kumbhakarna, are set alight.

Durga Puja, The Victory of Good over Evil –Celebrated in the month of Ashvina (September-October) in the state of West Bengal, Durga Puja is a nine-day festival (of which five days from Sashthi to Dashami are the most celebrate one in West Bengal) of the Hindus. It highlights the winning of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura after a long battle, bringing forth the victory of good over evil.

Diwali, the Festival of Lights –This is one of the oldest and the most important Hindu festivals falling in the month of Kartik (October-November), which celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years. Diwali or Deepawali also marks the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated with the lighting of lamps, burning of crackers.

Guru Nanak Jayanti –Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, was born in the month of Kartik (October/November), and his birthday is known as Guru Nanak Jayanti. He was born in 1469 A.D. at Tolevandi some 30 miles from Lahore. The anniversaries of Sikh Guru’s are known as Gurupurabs (festivals) and are celebrated with devotion and dedication.

Christmas, the Birth Anniversary of Jesus Christ –The most important and the most rejoiced festival of Christians is Christmas celebrated on the 25th of December. The festival marks the birth of lord Jesus and is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country.

The National Holidays
Republic Day –Every year, a grand Republic day parade is held in New Delhi, India’s capital city to observe the anniversary of the Indian Republic. This is the National Holiday. The Government of India spends a lot of energy and resources to put up a good show and the various government agencies spend the several months planning for the event.

Independence Day –Celebrated on 15th August every year marks the day when India got her Independence. It’s marked by celebrations throughout the country. In Delhi the Prime Minister delivers his annual address to the nation at the historic Red Fort.

Gandhi Jayanti –This is a National holiday that marks the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.

Nepal Travel Guide

Key Facts

Area:

147,181 sq km (56,827 sq miles).

Population:

28,850,717 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

214.4 per sq km.

Capital:

Kathmandu.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari since 2015.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli since 2015.

Currency: Nepalese Rupee (NPR)

Official Language:Nepali

Electricity: 220V/60Hz (multiple plugs as they have retrofitted many to fit American and European plugs. Be careful of plugging in some electrical devices as the the U.S. runs at 120V).

Airport: Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM)

Water: Not safe. Drink bottled, or consider the merits of a SteriPen or LifeStraw for your trip.

Officially the highest country on Earth, lofty Nepal is commonly referred to as the “roof of the world.” That seems like a fitting moniker for this Himalayan nation, where soaring, snow-capped mountains disappear into the clouds like stairways to heaven.

Mount Everest is the star attraction. Tourists come in their droves to climb, hike and admire the world’s tallest peak, which flirts with the stratosphere at 8,848m (29,029ft). But this charming country is much more than just mountains.

The birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal is an important pilgrimage site for millions of Buddhists, who come from far and wide to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lumbini, a temple complex where Buddha once lived.

Holy places abound in Nepal, but not just of the Buddhist variety; Hinduism has a strong foothold in the country and there are many Hindu temples scattered across the country (though some have been severely damaged by the 2015 earthquakes).

Also hit hard was the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, which is encircled by soaring mountain ranges. A beautiful, bustling city it stands at a cultural crossroads between India and China, whose influences can be seen in the architecture and tasted in the cuisine. Meanwhile, a Western vibe prevails in the lively Thamel district, which is lined with bars.

Kathmandu is a good starting point for travellers venturing into the jungle at Chitwan National Park, which is home to Bengali tigers, crocodiles and one-horned rhinos, plus myriad bird species. Phewa Lake is another draw for tourists, as are the hiking trails in the Himalayas.

Wherever you go though, wide smiles will be there to greet you; Nepalese people are amongst the friendliest in the world and it’s not uncommon to be invited into a stranger’s home for tea.

Sitting atop the world, Nepal is just one step away from heaven – and for those who have discovered the country’s many charms, it feels like it too.

Visas: Nepal issues visas on arrival for citizens of most countries. These can be purchased for 15, 30, or 90 days and range from $25 to $100.  You must bring a passport-sized photo, or stand in line and pay for one when you arrive. Volunteers technically require a visa arranged by the place they are working with as volunteering on a tourist visa is expressly forbidden, though harder for them to enforce.

Festivals of Nepal:

Phalgun Festivals, Kathmandu (Feb/March). Dashain, country-wide (September/October). Indra Jatra, Kathmandu (September).

Safety: One of the most common issues facing travelers is gastrointestinal issues. There is very poor sanitation in Nepal so you will need to be careful with your food and water consumption. You must carry a medical kit; make sure you have several courses of antibiotics as well as a decent supply of oral rehydration salts. These ORS can save your life in the case of diarrheal illness.

Budget: Nepal is very budget-friendly and cheap to travel. Hiking and trekking will add some expenses, but even those are reasonable. A solo traveler can anticipate rock-bottom budget of $15 per day if traveling around. If you’re volunteering some daily rates are in the $10-15 per day range to cover food and board. A little extra budget goes a long way here and you can upgrade to nice digs and eat decent food on just $30 per day per person when you are not trekking. Once you add in trekking fees that gets a bit more. Baseline though — it’s cheap.

 

When to Go: You’ll need to plan your visit around your planned activities. If you’re hiking, the trails are closed during monsoon season, which runs from June through August. Trekking season is September through May. Autumn and spring are beautiful; lush and green in the fall and flowering and cool in the spring. Winter can be chilly at altitude, but is pleasant in the Kathmandu Valley.

 

Food Considerations: Vegetarians will love traveling through Nepal because the national dish, dal bhat, is lentil soup and traditionally served with rice and veggies. Warning though, don’t be fooled into thinking that the food is similar to India — there is much less variety and the Nepalese do eat meat (unlike most of India). The Tibetan momos (dumplings) are fantastic and a staple of any vegetarian diet in Nepal. Also, many travelers get gastrointestinals issues as there is very poor sanitation. Avoid unpeeled fruits and salads. Please always sterilize your water.

Accommodation: Nepal has a huge range of options. From cheap, basic rooms for backpackers to much nicer hotels. And even some eco-lodges and fun things like treehouses and such. While the links in city guides below go to a hotel booking site, many are also found on AirBnB if you are member. (A Little Adrift readers get a $20 AirBnB credit here to give it a go.) For backpackers, Hostelworld is perfect for pre-booking hostels; in high season the bigger towns book up fast. Consider Agoda for researching hotels as it’s one of the best sites for Asia travels. And if you buy a local SIM (which you should), you can easily call ahead and directly reserve spots en route. Hotel owners are often on Whatsapp, and you should use that if trying to get a quick response in-country.

 

Transportation: Transportation between cities is easy to organize and takes the form of buses. If you’re faint of heart, don’t watch as the buses careen around curves and the rusting carcasses of other buses dot the bottom of the hillsides. The buses are the main form of transportation, but Nepal has serious infrastructure issues so be careful. But, the buses are effective and they’re virtually the only budget option. In more recent years, there has been a rise in micro-buses of 10-12 people — a bit more but likely a bit safer. If you’re in a group, it’s fairly affordable to hire a private driver or taxi for longer distances. Bicycle and taxis are great for navigating around Kathmandu.

 

Possible Issues: Women should not trek alone in Nepal, not under any circumstances. Go with a guide, or use a one of the buddy trek sites to find a trekking partner. Be particularly cautious as a woman hiking in the Langtang area. Transportation issues are a serious safety threat. Landslides and road accidents are high all year round, but particularly during the summer monsoon rains. I highly recommend travel insurance as health care quality is low and you’ll likely need to be airlifted out of Nepal if something serious happens.

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Key Facts

Area:

65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles).

Population:

20,810,816 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

336.1 per sq km.

Capital:

Colombo.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President Maithripala Sirisena since 2015.

Head of government:

President Maithripala Sirisena since 2015.

Currency:
Sri lankan rupee
Official Language:
Sinhala, Tamil, English
Electricity:

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with three round or three square pins are used.

Airport:

Bandaranaike International Airport,Ratmalana Airport,Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport.

Southern India meets Buddhist Asia; Sri Lanka is a land of ancient ruins and religious relics, palm-fringed beaches and colourful reefs, balmy rainforests and local legends.

With memories of civil war receding, and a new government intent on healing the scars of the past, this sun-kissed island nation looks set to regain its position as the holiday capital of the Indian Ocean.

Life in Sri Lanka is dictated by the sea. Monsoon winds create the seasons, rainbow-coloured fishing boats deliver the bounty of the Indian Ocean to the nation’s tables and tropical surf washes endlessly against the island’s golden beaches. For many, this is the perfect introduction to the Indian Subcontinent.

While Hinduism holds sway in nearby India, Buddhism dominates Sri Lanka. Ancient temples and enigmatic dagobas (stupas) enshrine relics of Buddha, shaded by saplings taken from the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. At times, Sri Lanka’s Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minorities have struggled in the face of Buddhist domination, but it has shaped this island nation for millennia.

Across Sri Lanka, the ruins of ancient cities emerge from the jungle, while the remnants of Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and British settlements add to the delightful mishmash of historic architecture. Perhaps the most evocative monuments are Sri Lanka’s ancient monasteries, which are still major centres for pilgrimage and devotion, particularly during the island’s epic festivals.

In the Hill Country, the centre of the British occupation, colonial-era trains still wind their way through tea plantations and cascading paddy fields, but this highly populated little island is far from frozen in time: the coastline is peppered with modern resorts, beach bars, bronzed surfers and boutiques full of designer swimwear.

Elsewhere the forests of Yala, Udawalawe and other national parks teem with monkeys, leopards and wild elephants, while sea turtles, dolphins and blue whales can be spotted around the coast. Not bad for an island similar in size to South Carolina.

When to go: 

It is hard to tell when to go to Sri Lanka because you will find many things to do any time of the year regardless of season. If you are focussing on specific activity and a targeted area then it is definitely better to follow the below information

  •  Weather can be rough in monsoon rain period. There are two monsoon in Sri Lanka

    1) Northeast monsoon (December to March) –  Affect North and East and Ancient cities

    2) southwest monsoon (June to October) Affect South and West including Colombo

  • Middle of the contry (Kandy and Nuwara Eliya) could affect by rain at any time of the year (Hard to predict)

  if you are targeting some part of the country then avoid monsoon rain period in that area will give higher chance of success. Although you avoid monsoon rain period… there will unexpected short rain as Sri Lanka is a tropical island.

Changing Money – There are lots of Western Union Money transfer places where you can change any currency. They particularly dont ask for your passport at these places. The rates however is at the whim of the person sitting at the counter. You can negotiate a better rate. The best rate for any currency was at the counter in Negombo market near airport.  Next to this ATM’s accepting Maestro/Cirrus cards are widespread in all bigger towns, but compare the cost with TC/cash as many Western banks add withdrawal fees.

Tipping: have plenty of very small notes at all times, tipping is normal and everyone expects to be tipped.  Guide prices are: 20rupees loo attendants; 50rupees porters, etc; 500rupees a day for a driver (where it is part of a package holiday). Others at your discretion but you might feel pressurised to tip.

Bhutan Travel Guide

Key Facts

Area:

38,364 per sq km (14,812 sq miles).

Population:

784,103 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

19.3 per sq km.

Capital:

Thimphu.

Government:

Constitutional monarchy.

Head of state:

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck since 2006.

Head of government:

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay since 2013.

Electricity:

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins are most common.

Official language:   Dzongkha
Currencies:    Bhutanese ngultrum, Indian rupee
Airport:  Paro international Airport
Closed to the outside world until the seventies, Bhutan may have opened the door to tourism, but it remains something of an enigma to modern travellers.

Nestling high up in the Himalayas, Bhutan’s mysterious reputation is thanks largely to the government, which requires all visitors to join pre-planned guided tours in a bid to limit the impact of tourism on the country’s culture and environment.

On one level, this is restrictive; footloose, freewheeling, make-it-up-as-you-go trips are not an option here. The trade-off, however, is that these restrictions have preserved one of the most fascinating cultures on earth, in a pristine mountain environment that has changed little over the centuries.

To visit Bhutan every visitor, whether alone or in a group, must make all their travel arrangements through a Bhutanese tour operator, or associated organisation, and pay a fixed daily fee of US$200-250. However, before you baulk, this fee includes all meals, accommodation, transport and guides.

Having made this investment, travellers are then free to explore this mesmerising mountain kingdom, known to its people as Druk Yul, or “Land of the Thunder Dragon.”

Some tour the ancient dzongs (fortress monasteries) in the valleys surrounding the capital, Thimphu. Others seek out snow leopards and yetis – known here as migyur – in remote national parks. Those with the stamina and budget take on the legendary Snowman Trek, a 24-day odyssey over high Himalayan passes.

Wherever they go, visitors will encounter exquisite scenery and the famously friendly Bhutanese people, who, though fascinated by foreigners, remain in touch with the value, and values, of their traditional way of life.

By subscribing to a “high value, low impact” brand of tourism, Bhutan has made concessions to the modern world, but on its own terms. And that seems to be working for this magical kingdom, which regularly polls as the happiest place in Asia.

Visas

Tourist visas have to be approved prior to your arrival in Bhutan. With prior approval visas are then issued only on your arrive in the country, either at Paro airport or (if by road) at Phuentsoling. Once your are ready to confirmed your tour arrangements we will apply for your visas. We need the following details in order to start applying for visas.

01 : Your full name (as it appears in your passport) –
02 : Permanent address –
03 : Occupation –
04 : Nationality –
05 : Passport number –
06 : Date of issue and expiration of passport –
07 : Date and place of birth –

The actual visa is stamped in your passport only when you arrive in Bhutan. You need to pay US$ 20 and present a passport photo with your passport number written on the back. You will then receive a visa for the period of your stay in Bhutan. We will process visa extensions for you if they become necessary.

When to go:

October to December is the ideal time to visit Bhutan as the air is clear and fresh with sunny skies. January and February are colder, but from then until April the climate remains dry and pleasant and in late spring the famous rhododendrons bloom spectacularly, flooding the valleys with colour.