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Read the guidebooks, but nothing will completely prepare you for the experience that is India. You can visit remains of civilizations from the 6th century BC in the morning, and still party the night away at a Hard Rock Café. There are over 20 official languages, but with English and a smattering of Hindi thrown in, travellers will be able to avoid any major communication mishaps. Look out for the famous sideways head nod though, it could mean anything from yes, no, maybe, I have no idea, or anything in between!
While most visitors make a beeline for the Taj Mahal and Varanasi, there is much to see off the usual tourist circuit. The beaches of Puri in Orissa, Kerala's backwaters, Pondicherry's French quarter, Khajuraho's temples, and the islands of Lakshadweep are relatively free of the usual crowds and lengthy queues. If you're feeling brave, join in the national religion and play a game of cricket with the locals.
You will never be short of Indian cuisines to choose from. The adventurous can stray from the safer curries to more traditional dosas, biriyanis, dhoklas, and pickles. With the exception of the 'dry' state of Gujarat, alcohol is widely available, although consumption is not openly encouraged in more conservative parts of the country.
There is a wide choice of airlines with direct flights from North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia to India's main international airports in New Delhi (DEL), Mumbai (MUM), Kolkata (CCU), Chennai (MAA), Bangalore (BLR), Kochi (COK), and Hyderabad (HYD). Some airports have departure taxes, so check to see if this has been included in your airfare. Airlines that have frequent international flights to India include Air Canada, Air India, American Airlines, British Airways, and KLM. Domestic airfares between cities can be quite expensive so book well in advance for connecting flights. Which airport to fly to depends on which area you'd like to start your journey at, but remember that the country is a large one and that you could spend three hours or more flying from one end to the other.
Although India has three main seasons — summer, monsoon, and winter — the temperature and humidity differs vastly from North to South. The period from November to February is the best time to visit in terms of climate but fares tend to peak from the beginning of December to mid-January. Try to book well in advance to make the most of November and February cheap fares, as well as the good weather.