Travellers taking cheap flights to India will discover a country that almost defies description. The world's second-most populous country is a fascinating blend of contrasts, traditions, legends and mystery. Home to more than one billion people, and the birthplace of four world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism), there are about 20 languages spoken. It's the world's seventh-largest country by area, extending from the Himalayas in the north to the tropical beaches of the south. Its 27 Unesco World Heritage sites include the Taj Mahal, one of the new seven wonders of the world, Agra Fort and Humayun's Tomb. You would need a lifetime to experience all that the country has to offer. Luckily, in India, it is said, they treat their guests as they welcome their gods.
Its festivals and celebrations are riots of colour and noise. Entire communities celebrate festivals such as Diwali, Holi, Id, Christmas or Mahaveer Jayanthi. Getting around between Indian's largest cities - Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru - and smallest towns has never been easier.
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India is a big country and the climate can vary depending on where you are. Winters are dry and cool and last from December through February. Summer is still dry, but warms up quite a bit. The southwest monsoon season is from June through September; the northeast monsoon season lasts from October to November.
When to fly to India
Deciding on the best time to take cheap flights to India depends on where you intend to go. India is such a vast country and has such a range of climates that almost every season has its peak time and off-peak time.
Most travellers arrive on cheap flights to India between September (when it stops raining in many parts of India, but not in the southern part of India where there are winter monsoons) and March. December and January can be very cold. In the south of India, winter weather is still warm although it may get chilly at night.
Temperatures between April and August are very high, sometimes unbearable. Savvy travellers head to the hill stations where it is cooler. The monsoons last from June through September.
Getting around India
One of the best and most popular ways of getting around India is by air. Air India has a comprehensive network, and low-cost airlines have become very popular with Indians and tourists alike.
India has the second-largest rail network in the world and moves more than 15 million people each day. Bus services augment rail services to reach the most remote parts of India.
It's more usual to rent a car and a driver than it is to rent a car. Taxis are available at inexpensive, daily rates.
In the cities, there are good public transportation networks - buses, trains, and metro (Kolkata for example). Auto-rickshaw is another good way of getting around. They are cheaper than taxis and are able to nip through congested city streets. Agree a price before your journey starts. Cheaper still - but slower - is the cycle rickshaw.
India insider information
- Tamil Nadu's giant temple cities, such as Madurai, Tiruchchirappalli, Thanjavur and Chidambaram, are breathtaking, its hill stations beautiful. The pace of life is leisurely and Tamils are a welcoming people.
- Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) was a French colony until 1950. A French influence can be discerned in its cuisine but the seafood alone is reason to book cheap flights to India.
- Goa, on the western coast of India, is famous for its beaches, architecture and places of worship. Portugal held it as a colony until 1961 and its diverse cuisine features strong Portuguese flavours as well as traditional Indian spices.
- The Golden Triangle offers just a taste of India. The cities making up this triangle are Delhi, visit for the British Empire-era buildings, Agra for the Taj Mahal, the finest example of Mughal architecture, built in memory of the Mughal Emperor's favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and Jaipur, the former capital of Rajasthan.
- Rajasthan, the land of the Maharajas, is famous for its majestic forts, temples and havelis (private homes). Many people in Rajasthan are Rajputs (sons of kings). Despite the abolition of royal titles in 1970, many families have held on to their political power and local influence. A homestay in one of the ornate havelis is a wonderful way to soak up the atmosphere of this region.
- Kerala, on the Arabian Sea Coast (or, more exotically, the Malabar Coast) at the southern tip of India, is its greenest state. A destination known for its efforts at eco-tourism, it is a place of luscious vegetation, beautiful beaches, hill stations, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The backwaters region runs parallel to the coast, a beautiful region with interconnected rivers, lakes and canals.
- In Wagah the nightly closing of the border between India and Pakistan is a sight not to be missed. It is a very theatrical event. Indian and Pakistani soldiers march and strut and posture before lowering the flags. The event is watched by several thousand spectators.