Since the first civilizations rose on the banks of the Indus River almost 5,000 years ago, India has given birth to Buddhism and Hinduism, been touched by the Empire of Alexander the Great, seen the ancient empires of the Mauryas and Guptas rise and fall, and has traded with Pharaohs and Caesars.
India is a feast for the senses; where the air is heavy with the scent of jasmine and dancers trail frenetic melodies in colorful silk saris. Its cooks compose dishes from a palette of exotic spices that may leave a lingering taste of saffron or aniseed. In India's cities, the stench of slum living competes with the cacophony of seemingly endless traffic and a myriad of other textures, colors and movements all jostling for your attention.
In light of the dispute over Kashmir and the possibility of deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan, many governments are urging against travel to the Jammu and Kashmir regions.
The prospect of hostilities raises the stakes of the long-running border dispute, which has been an issue between the countries for more than 50 years. During the 1947 partition that led to the creation of Pakistan, Kashmir was free to choose which country it wanted to join. The local leader allied with India, and the region has been contested ever since, leading to two wars between the neighbors.
In addition to the conflict in Kashmir, religious violence between Hindus and Muslims in the state of Gujarat has claimed more than 900 lives since February 2002. Travelers should exercise caution in these regions.
Full country name: Republic of India
Capital: New Delhi
Area: 3,287,590 sq Km (1,229,737 sq km)
Population: 1.027 billion (2001 census)
Population growth rate: 1,4%
GDP growth rate: 8,5% (2006)
Religion: 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.4% Christian, 2% Sikh, 0.7% Buddhist, 0.5% Jains, 0.4% other
Literacy rate: 53,7% (women) and 75,3% (men)
Major industries: Textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes; cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, poultry, fish
Major trading partners: US, Hong Kong, UK, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Saudi Arabia
Visas: Six month multiple-entry visas are now issued to most nationals regardless of whether you intend staying that long or re-entering the country. Only six-month tourist visas are extendable. Be careful to check whether your visa is valid from the date of entry or the date of issue.
Health risks: Cholera, dengue fever, dysentery, hepatitis, malaria, meningitis (trekking areas only) and typhoid. Many of India s larger cities are highly polluted and travellers with respiratory ailments may wish to take precautionary measures.
Time: GMT/UTC plus five hours 30 minutes
Electricity: 230-240V, 50 HZ
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go
Climate plays a key factor in deciding when to visit India. You should keep in mind that climatic conditions in the far north are distinctly different to those of the extreme south.
Generally speaking, India’s climate is defined by three seasons – the hot, the wet (monsoon) and the cool, each of which can vary in duration from north to south. The most pleasant time to visit most of the country is during the cooler period of November to around mid-February, although there are marked regional variations.
Apart from the weather, the timing of certain festivals or special events may also influence when you wish to visit India.
The number of trekkers visiting the Indian Himalaya is small compared to those tramping the tracks in Nepal, so if you want to peacefully experience the world s greatest mountain range, try trekking in Himachal Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh. The trekking season runs roughly between April and November, but this varies widely and some routes are only open for a couple of months each year. India s main trekking centres are Lahaul, Spiti and the Kullu and Kangra valleys in Himachal Pradesh; north of Rishikesh in northern Uttar Pradesh; Darjeeling in West Bengal; Yuksam in Sikkim; and Leh in Ladakh.
The ski season runs from January to March, and there are resorts at Narkanda in Himachal Pradesh and Auli in Uttar Pradesh. Facilities are rudimentary but that makes it all the more fun. There s usually one lift in working order and a place to hire gear. Après-ski consists of chapatis and a nice cup of ginger tea.
India is not renowned for its beaches, but there are popular beach centres with acceptable swimming in Goa, just across the Karnataka border in Gokarna and at Kovalam in Kerala. There are also beaches at Diu, and at Puri in Orissa. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal have good beaches and boast India s only diving and snorkelling opportunities.
Camel treks can be arranged in the deserts around Jaisalmer and Pushkar in Rajasthan. Treks last anywhere between a few hours and a few days. The best season is between October and February. If camel trekking leaves you feeling scorched and sore, try white-water rafting on the Indus. Trips can be organised in Leh.
Attractions - Kolkata (Calcutta)
In 130 years, Kuala Lumpur has grown from nothing to a modern, bussling city of well over a million people. Superficially, KL (as it's almost universally known) may appear to be just another modern Asian city of gleaming skyscrapers, but it retains much of the character and local colour that has been so effectively wiped out in other Asian-boom cities such as Singapore. It has plenty of colonial buildings in its centre, a vibrant Chinatown with street vendors and night markets, and a bustling Little India.
When KL does something, it likes to do it big. The twin Petronas Towers skyscrapers - the tallest building in the world - dominate the skyline, while in Merdeka Square stands a 95m (312ft) flagpole. Despite the economic crisis, Kuala Lumpur is currently the site of large-scale development, with work underway on a new US$8 billion city on the southern fringe of the capital as well as an adjoining ultra-high-tech multimedia supercorridor . Before the Asian economic crisis hit in 1997, there were also plans to build the world s longest building, too.
Budget hotels and hostels can be found in Chinatown and Jalan Pudu Lama. Mid-range hotels are concentrated in Chinatown and on Jalan Bukit Bintang. The night market in Chinatown is the most interesting place to eat in the evening.