India is one of the biggest and most densely populated countries in the world. The country has a vast cultural diversity. There are hundreds of population groups and more than 400 different languages are spoken. The majority of the population is Hindu, but there are also Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Sikh minorities.
In addition, India has a wide variety of natural landscapes. There are tropical rain forests, dry plains, and deserts, but there are also mountain ranges, including, of course, the Himalayas in the north. The country therefore has a lot to offer for tourists.
On this page, you can find information about the history, culture, and main touristic highlights of India.
Facts and Figures
|Surface area||3,300.000 km2|
|Language||Hindi, English, and 21 other official languages|
|Currency||Indian rupee (INR)|
|Religion||Hinduism: 80%, Islam: 14%, Christianity: 2%, Sikhism: 2%|
|Time difference||4.5 hours (summer) or 5.5 hours (winter)|
|Flight time||8.5 to 11 hours|
|Electricity||230 Volts, 50 Hz, travel plug required|
|Tap water||Not safe to drink|
|Visa||India visa is required|
India is located on the Indian subcontinent, which is largely surrounded by the Indian Ocean. In the north are the Himalayas, a mountain range with some of the highest mountains in the world. In addition, India borders Pakistan in the northwest; Nepal, Bhutan, and China in the north and northeast; and Bangladesh and Myanmar in the east. Located southeast of India is the island of Sri Lanka.
The Indian prehistory
About 55,000 years ago, modern mankind found its way to the Indian subcontinent. For thousands of years, most people lived here as hunters and gatherers, until around 9000 BC settlements emerged in present-day Pakistan and the western part of India. From ca. 3000 BC on, it is referred to as the Indus Civilisation, also known as the Harappa Civilisation. This civilisation ruled the Indus Valley for more than a thousand years and is, along with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures, one of the first highly developed civilisations in the world. Unfortunately, little is known about the centuries-old Indus Valley, as the script of the Harappa civilisation has not yet been deciphered.
From about 1800 BC, big groups of Indo-Aryans migrated from modern-day Iran to Northwest India. This Indo-Aryan migration led to big changes on the Indian subcontinent. Within several centuries, the Indo-Aryans were the dominant population group in northern India. These newcomers developed the Vedas, the oldest and most sacred scripts of Hinduism. Initially, the Vedas were handed down orally until they were first put down on paper around 1200 BC. In addition to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, a religion centred on non-violence, also had their origins in ancient India. In this period, the caste system spread across India. This system involves a division of the population in which people belong to a certain class right from birth.
Over the course of history, India was governed by many kingdoms. One of the first main empires in India was the Nanda Dynasty, which controlled large parts of northern India around 330 BC. This dynasty was succeeded by the Maurya Dynasty, which controlled almost the entire Indian subcontinent between 320 and 185 BC. In modern-day India, this successful empire is still looked upon with pride. During the Maurya Dynasty, the Grand Trunk Road, a trade route running from north to eastern India, was built and was used for centuries.
The spectacular Badami cave temples are one of the many monuments from Indian prehistory
After the collapse of the Maurya empire, other empires followed, each controlling parts of India. However, none of these dynasties was able to gain control over the entire subcontinent. With the Gupta Empire, which controlled large parts of India between the 4th and 6th centuries, a peak was reached that historians now call the Golden Age of India. During this Golden Age, Indian art, literature and architecture flourished. During this period, India became an important cultural centre that would influence its neighbouring countries for centuries to come. However, even this period of growth did not last. The Gupta Empire eventually collapsed, leaving several smaller kingdoms in control of different parts of India.
The Indian Middle Ages
In the early Middle Ages, India came into contact with new peoples. A people possibly related to the Huns thus invaded the north of the subcontinent. In addition, India could not escape the Arab invasion in the 7th and 8th centuries. The armies of the Islamic caliphate advanced all the way into modern-day Pakistan and western India, causing large parts of the population in these areas to be converted to Islam. In the 13th century, the Islamic conquerors were able to occupy India, which at that time consisted of different kingdoms. The Delhi Sultanate was founded by a Turco-Persian Dynasty, which, in the following centuries, conquered large parts of India.
When the Mongols invaded India in the 13th century, they were stopped by the armies of the Delhi Sultanate. However, the Indian resistance to the various invading forces did not last forever. In the 14th century, the Turco-Mongol ruler Timur managed to seize and plunder Delhi. Despite Timur's desire for conquest, there was no long Turco-Mongol occupation. The Delhi Sultanate was weakened but slowly recovered. For Delhi, the final blow happened over a century later during the conquest of Babur, a direct descendant of Timur. Babur subdued large parts of India and founded the Mughal Empire, which would rule the subcontinent for at least three centuries.
The Mughals and Marathas
During the Mughal Empire, the Hindu-Islamic culture in India reached its peak. Many of the buildings that were built during this period are still standing today and are known all over the world. For example, the Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Agra Fort were built during the Mughal period. In addition, the economy on the subcontinent developed steadily, and in the 17th century, India had the largest economy in the world. Due to external attacks, the Mughal Empire fell into decay in the 18th century. The Marathas, a people from southwest India, served the grace of defeat by finally defeating the Mughals and taking over the majority of their empire. The Marathas then remained in power until the 18th century, when they were defeated by the English and had to surrender their empire to the British East India Company.
Contact between Europe and the Indian subcontinent
In Indian history, there was direct and indirect contact with European rulers on multiple occasions. For example, Alexander the Great fought a war with the Indian king Porus in 326 BC, and Roman traders founded a trading colony in the south of the Indian subcontinent. However, there was only more direct contact when the Portuguese sailed around Africa in the 16th century and founded trading ports on the Indian coast. In the centuries that followed, the Dutch, the French and the British each founded their own colonies. Eventually, the British came out on top and became the dominant colonial power in India.
During the 19th century, the British East Indian Company continued to establish its influence in India. The British fought several wars and played out the different Indian rulers against each other. Because of this, the company soon had large parts of India under direct rule. In addition, the British had many satellite states under their control. In 1857, a large uprising broke out against the European rulers in northern India. However, within a year it was struck down in blood and India became a British crown property, known under the name British Raj. This British India consisted not only of India but also of modern-day Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, an example of the British influence in modern-day India
The independence movement
In World War I, over a million Indians fought alongside the British on the European battlefields. When these soldiers returned to their homeland, many of them dedicated themselves to the upcoming Indian independence movements. The British brutally crushed any resistance. One famous Indian independence fighter is Mahatma Gandhi, who motivated hundreds of thousands of Indians to protest peacefully against the rulers. For more than two decades, the Indians resisted with civil disobedience. Gandhi was arrested several times, and Indian protesters were persecuted.
After World War II, the British position turned out to be untenable. The British were weakened by the war and knew they were not able to keep India under control. In 1947, the area known as British India became independent and was divided into a Hindu India and an Islamic West Pakistan (modern-day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (modern-day Bangladesh). The following year, in 1948, Gandhi was murdered by an extremist Hindu. Even today, the independent movement is still regarded with respect, and Gandhi is revered by many Indians.
The India of the 20th century
The Indian independence movement started with ethnic conflicts. Generally, Muslims tried to migrate to Islamic Pakistan, while Hindus tried to make their way to independent India. Rulers in the former province of Kashmir, located in northern modern-day India and Pakistan, did not want to be part of the two countries. They feared that a part of the diverse population of Kashmir would be oppressed under Indian or Pakistani rule. When both the Pakistani and Indian armies invaded Kashmir, a bloody war broke out. India and Pakistan both succeeded in occupying parts of the region.
In the years that followed, there were three more wars between the two countries. As a result of the 1971 Indian-Pakistani War, which pitted the leadership of then East and West Pakistan against each other, Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Bengalis lost their lives during this period, which is why it is also referred to as the Bengal Genocide. However, despite all these armed conflicts, the borders in Kashmir did not change much. Still, neither side recognises the other’s sovereignty over the region.
India is an enormous country with over 1 billion inhabitants. Because of this, the country is quite culturally diverse. As a result, you cannot speak about Indian culture as a whole. For example, India has 23 official languages, including Hindi and English, which are both used by government authorities.
Family plays an important part in Indian society. It is common for multiple married couples of different generations to live together in one house. Even the income and expenses are often shared. Almost all marriages are arranged, mostly by the parents or even grandparents of the couple. Marital spouses are chosen based on economic status, education, kinship and caste. Even though the caste system was officially abolished when India became independent, in practice it is still highly valued.
The vast majority of Indians are Hindu, but there is also a significant Islamic minority. In addition, there are small groups of Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jainists.
The success of Bollywood
The Indian film industry has a long history. At the beginning of the 20th century, multiple movies were produced in several Indian languages. This number has only increased over the decades. Since 1986, more than 800 films have been made in India each year, making India the world’s largest film producer. Presently, Bollywood produces more than 1,000 films each year.
The main holidays in India
India has many official holidays, which can vary greatly by region. Below are the most important ones. As most Indian holidays follow the Hindu calendar, they take place on a different date each year according to our Gregorian calendar.
|Date and holiday||Festivities and traditions|
|Republic Day – 26 January||The national holiday of India. On this day, people celebrate that on this date in 1950, the country became a democratic federal republic. Most businesses are closed on this day.|
|Basant pantsjami - usually in February||On this holiday, Hindus plant a castor oil tree, on which branches are stacked every subsequent day. This continues until the next full moon, when the pile is set on fire in order to drive out the demon Holika and honour the goddess Sarasvati. This holiday marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year.|
|Holi-Phagwa - March||This holiday, which is also known as Holi, is celebrated at the start of spring. During these festivities, people throw coloured powder and coloured water at each other. The colours symbolise the bloom of nature.|
|Independence Day - 15 August||On this date, India’s independence from the United Kingdom is celebrated. Several ceremonies take place where the Indian flag is raised. Military parades are also organised.|
|Dashera - September and/or October||Dashera is the last day and highlight of Navratri, a ten-day festival. It is one of the most important festivals of Hinduism, but it is celebrated differently almost everywhere in India. Most festivities centre around the major gods of the Hindu faith.|
|Diwali - October and/or November||Diwali is known as the festival of lights, celebrating the victory of light over darkness. It is celebrated over a five- or six-day period. Lights are lit in homes and temples, and families gather to enjoy festive meals.|
During Holi, the beginning of spring is celebrated
Generally, India has a tropical climate, but because of the country’s size, there are many regional differences. For example, northern India is in a temperate climate zone, and the Himalayas in the far north have a wide range of microclimates. Small parts of this mountain range are covered in snow all year round, while vast pine forests characterise other parts. The Himalayas prevent cold air currents from China and Russia from blowing across India, ensuring that the country rarely experiences freezing winters. This is one of the reasons why southern India has high temperatures and plenty of rainfall throughout the year. The western part of the country, bordering Pakistan, has a hot desert climate throughout the year.
The Himalayas mark the northern border of India
Additionally, the climate of the Indian subcontinent is dominated by the monsoon. The monsoon refers to a strong wind that blows from one direction for a certain period of time. During one half of the year, there is a dry monsoon with air currents from the northwest, while in the other half of the year, a wet monsoon blows across India with storms from the Indian Ocean. As a result, large parts of India experience heavy rains in June and July.
India has a wide variety of tourist highlights. Tourists visit the country because of its diverse culture, monuments, or warm weather. Even though Indian metropolises such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are highly popular destinations, it is recommended to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and visit the countryside. The life of Indians here is a lot calmer, and many travellers do well to unwind a bit in the countryside. However, there is plenty to do here too. For instance, you can explore the natural landscape or become acquainted with the local rural culture.
Visiting one of India's many beaches is, of course, also an option. If you wish to stay in the city for a longer period of time, keep in mind that daily life in Indian cities can be quite chaotic; people seldom take traffic rules into account, and throughout the day there is a lot of noise. The abundance of rickshaws (a cart pulled by a bike) and tuk-tuks (motorised rickshaws) makes it relatively easy for tourists to go from one place to the next. The drivers of these means of transport usually ask for a reasonable price for a ride through town.
A couple of India’s most beautiful monuments
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal in central Agra is one of the most famous monuments in the world and one of the modern wonders of the world. The fifth ruler of the Mughal Empire, Shah Jahan, had the mausoleum built in the 17th century in memory of his deceased wife. The pearl white construction is known for its symmetry and luscious gardens that would symbolise love.
The Agra Fort
The Agra Fort is a large fort in the city of Agra that is located 2.5 kilometres from the Taj Mahal. It was built in the second half of the 16th century by order of Mughal ruler Akbar and, for almost a century, served as a home for members of the Mughal Dynasty. The double walls of the fort are up to 20 metres high and add up to 2.5 kilometres in length. Inside the fort, there are numerous buildings on display that were built during Akbar’s time or later.
The Agra Fort is one of the main tourist attractions in India
Jaisalmer: The Golden City
Jaisalmer, located in the Thar Desert, is a relatively small city by Indian standards and has a population of about 70,000. In the first place, the city owes its nickname to the many buildings that are built with yellow sandstone, but also to the imposing Fort Jaisalmer. This fort stands on a hill on the southern edge of Jaisalmer and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding area.
The Red Fort (Delhi)
The Red Fort of Delhi was also built by order of Mughal ruler Shah Jahan. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in India. Each year on 15 August, the Indian prime minister delivers a speech here on the occasion of Indian Independence Day. Within the walls of the fort, there are many things to do for tourists. It is possible to shop there, but of course, the most special thing is the spectacular architecture that can be admired here.
The Ajmer Fort, which was built at the end of the 16th century, is located in Jaipur in northern India. The imposing complex consists of red sandstone and marble and overlooks Lake Maota. Inside the fort, there is little information available for visitors, so it is recommended that you visit the fort grounds with a private guide.
Economy and currency
India is ranked fifth in the list of the largest world economies, and in addition, the country has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The three most important trading partners of India are the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates. The service sector accounts for half of the Indian gross national product, but significantly more people work in industry and agriculture.
In India, the Indian rupee (INR) is used as currency. One rupee can be divided into one hundred paisas. Paper money exists in notes of 1 to 2000 rupees. Coins are available in the amounts of 50 paisas, 1, 2, and 5 rupees. Although it is generally possible to pay by credit card in major restaurants and hotels, it is useful to have enough notes and coins on hand as well. Especially outside the major cities, people almost exclusively pay in cash. In Indian culture, it is customary to haggle over the products you buy. If you pay the asking price without haggling, in many cases, you will end up spending significantly more money.
A busy market in Haiderabad in Central India
Most regions in India are safe to travel to, but there are some regions to which travel is strongly advised against, such as Kashmir in the north or the areas bordering Pakistan in the west. Assam in the east is also best avoided. For comprehensive travel advice, check this page or the current travel advice on the website of the British government.
It is recommended to get adequate vaccinations for a trip to India. Hygiene leaves something to be desired in many parts of the country. So be careful, and at least make sure you have good travel insurance that covers possible medical expenses. It is also recommended that you take preventive malaria medication with you, as the malaria mosquito is present in large parts of India. Traveller’s diarrhoea is also common among European travellers who are not used to Indian bacteria. You should therefore only drink water from closed bottles and always be careful with the food you choose.
Take note: this is not a medical website, so you should therefore always get adequate information from your GP regarding vaccinations and medication before your trip to India.
It is mandatory to apply for an India visa for your trip to India. You can apply for this e-visa quickly and easily through this website for £59.95 per person. Once it is granted, all you have to do is print it out and take it with you on your trip.
Apply for the India visa now
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