by Gill Charlton, The Telegraph, June 16, 2017
Essential advice on what to consider before you travel to India, from visas to health requirements. By Gill Charlton, Telegraph Travel's India expert.
How to get a visa
All tourists need to apply for a visa in advance of travel. The Indian High Commission has introduced a single-entry e-Tourist Visa for UK citizens staying under 30 days.You must apply for an e-visa at least four days before travel and enter the country within 30 days of its issue. It costs US$60 (£48) and you are allowed to apply for two e-visas per year.
Visit the official site - indianvisaonline.gov.in - and fill in the application form carefully. You must put NA next to any question you cannot answer. Use Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome or Internet Explorer 9 to do this. Apple’s Safari browser is not compatible especially when loading images and paying. Note that you need to upload a scan of your passport information page and a square photograph not the usual portrait format. It must be in a particular pixel size too. If you need a multiple-entry visa or are staying for more than 30 days, you will need to apply for a full tourist visa through in.vfsglobal.co.uk which costs £119.44 for British passport holders. Postal applications take around two weeks to process, longer at busy times
The best source of advice is NATHNAC (travelhealthpro.org.uk), which is also used by GPs to assess health risks abroad.
For India it is essential to have up–to–date 10–year boosters for diphtheria, polio and tetanus. Typhoid jabs are optional.
Malaria risk varies with the season. In winter, there is a very low risk over most of the country however, the use of antimalarials is advised in that states of Assam and Orissa and some areas of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where the risk is higher.
I tip for good service in hotels and tourist establishments. Many places have a tip box for staff. Local guides and drivers expect reasonable tips for a day's work as it makes up a large part of their salary. Pay a tip of Rs 500-1,000 (£7-12) per day to a driver; Rs 1,000-1,500 (£12-£16) for a good guide.
An Indian friend who leads tours says that the incidence of illness among his charges has fallen sharply since the use of handwashes. The best is Boots Anti–Viral Hand Foam (byotrol.co.uk).
It is really important to keep hydrated. Drink two litres of water a day. Fresh lime soda and lassi (a yogurt drink) are other good options and help your body absorb the liquid. If you have a headache or feel light–headed and nauseous you may be succumbing to heat exhaustion (the symptoms can also be very similar to food poisoning). Dioralyte rehydration sachets, available from all chemists, are a good remedy.
If you do succumb to a dose of Delhi belly try not to take pills or potions. Stick to a diet of plain rice and yogurt and drink plenty of fluids for 24 hours.
Books, films and apps
What to read
I'm a fan of the India Handbook (Footprint Guides, £19.99, or PDF downloads for smartphones and tablets) for its depth of information and reliable choice of hotels and restaurants. However, Lonely Planet's India guide has much better mapping (£14.99, or buy by PDF chapter). Take both if you can.
Basic grounding in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain iconography is essential to appreciate temple architecture and sculpture: try India: the Cultural Companion by Richard Waterstone (Duncan Baird, £9.99). RK Narayan's modern prose versions of the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics will help you interpret temple artworks.
For a whizz through early history, try AL Basham's The Wonder That Was India. India Unbound by Gurcharan Das is a lively account of the making of modern India. City of Djinns by William Dalrymple evokes Old Delhi superbly. Holy Cow! by Sarah Macdonald recounts an amusing search for spiritual India. Views from an Indian Bus by Alistair Shearer is an excellent book of essays on contemporary India. Hundreds of novels have been set in India by British and Indian writers, including much loved classics by Paul Scott, Salman Rushdie, MM Kaye and EM Forster. Here are six that illuminate different aspects of Indian life, past and present: Kim by Rudyard Kipling, Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga and Ladies Coupé by Anita Nair.
Film and television
For an amusing if clichéd account of a first visit to Rajasthan, watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I and II. Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is another must–see. I have also enjoyed Gandhi, Heat and Dust and Monsoon Wedding.
There are many thousands of Bollywood films. Two epics that stand out are Lagaan, an East–meets–West tale centred on a cricket match, and Jodhaa Akbar, which recreates Mogul and Rajput court life.
Jewel in the Crown, the Eighties Raj–era series, remains prescient. For historical background nothing beats Michael Wood's documentary series, The Story of India. Both are available in boxed sets through amazon.co.uk.
Web and apps
The India Tourism website – incredibleindia.org – is worth browsing. The App Store has hundreds of India apps but most are simply collections of photographs with no commentary. Google is better for uncovering specific recommended apps. In this way I found the excellent Birds of India produced by mydigitalearth.com.
The Audio Compass company (audiocompass.in) has created an App to access its superb commentaries to 1,000 sights and places across India which can be downloaded to mobile phones.
For the latest news on train times, download the Indiantrains app. Google Translate is good for learning how to pronounce greetings and will enable you to have fun communicating with locals on train journeys.