Dealing with the Indian summer
February 24, 2006 11:13 AM   Subscribe

India: When and where to go?

We’re planning a trip to India and due to various upcoming commitments the window of opportunity is from early May to mid-July. But an Indianophile friend tells me that this time of year carries the double jeopardy of extreme heat and Monsoon rain. I’d like to hear from my fellow MeFites on this point, especially in terms of recommendations for areas less hit by these factors, or if it’s true that the heat and rain makes budget traveling almost impossible? Also, what is the best/cheapest port of entry?

Having trawled all the major travel sites, I’d also like to ask a bonus question: are there any non-mainstream places to look for better than average travel deals to India?
posted by AwkwardPause to Travel & Transportation around India (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I visited in July-August, and I was lucky that we didn't hit the monsoons save for about a week in Rajhastan (they were behaving weirdly in 2004, I guess). It was wicked hot, so we spent a few weeks up north in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh and Leh, which was fantastic and much cooler (I'd recommend them to visit), though I guess you will just have to deal with the heat if you're intent on visiting the south. Accomodations and travel are just fine even with the heat and rain, though, as long as you're not super high maintenance people. My friend and I stayed in places that didn't always have A/C, but at least fans, so it was HOT but not unbearable. As far as trains go, you'll want to travel at least 2nd class anyway, so you'll always have A/C there, and buses... they don't have A/C usually, but they're so *fun* that you won't mind.

Cheapest port of entry: we went in through Delhi, but expect about the same for Mumbai (Bombay). Travel deals: don't know. I booked my ticket through Expedia.
posted by The Michael The at 12:52 PM on February 24, 2006

This is an incomplete answer, but here are some thoughts:
-Not sure about cheapest port of entry.
-You might get cheaper airfare deals from 'Indian' travel agencies. Google for those specifically (ie those that serve mostly NRI (non-resident) Indians))
-My understanding is that the Monsoon rains occur mainly on the two long coasts (east and west) as the humid air breaks up and cools off against the mountains there (the mid-south is a large plateau ('the Deccan Plateau')). However, the north might also be affected because of the Himalayas. It might be more dry in the south (south of Bangalore, perhaps). This is my guess.
-Truth be told, IMO, if you're young at heart, monsoon season is a blast. On par with visiting vermont in the winter - a unique experience. But yes, it might impede visiting certain areas as a tourist.
-I'd say staying on the southern coastal areas (Goa, for instance) would probably be safe. Again just a guess.
-The south is safer and cleaner anyway. ;) Bangalore and Hyderabad are the new preeminent cities in India anyway, both in the south and mid-south.
posted by jak68 at 12:55 PM on February 24, 2006

JetStarAsia flies to Bangalore and Kolkata from Singapore, and they claim to be a low-cost airline, so if you can get there inexpensively, maybe you can connect the dots?
posted by mdonley at 3:02 PM on February 24, 2006

The monsoon will have little effect along the coast of Tamil Nadu (south-east), which has its main monsoon in late September-November instead. I was there is the summer - it was real hot, and for a couple of weeks was very difficult to do *anything*, but the rest of the time was OK. I found that as long as I was in the shade during the hottest part of the day, I was fine (being on a motorcycle was also OK - good breeze). I liked the fact that because of the season, there wasn't much tourism going on. Mornings and evenings were very pleasant. But I wouldn't recommend travelling on a packed bus or train during the day (but there are plenty of options for frigid air conditioned busses in most places).

You can always go up into the hills and mountains. The climate in the Western Ghats (the mountain range in the south of India) is lovely in the summer, and it's beautiful there.
posted by Emanuel at 3:37 PM on February 24, 2006

Best answer: Several things here:
-you've just mentioned your travel window (may-july), but haven't mentioned how much time in that window you'll be traveling. let's say if only one month...then May is the perfect time to hit some hill stations and cool climes (up north - shimla, dalhousie..dehradun, maybe even srinagar in Kashmir; down south - it could be munnar in kerala, ooty, kodaikanal etc). Monsoons typically start mid-June. Until then it's pretty much summer and these cool-climes should do you good. If you like beaches then ofcourse, there's nothing like lazing around on pristine beaches of Goa or Kerala in summer. You'll find many tourists from all over the place to hang around with.

- if your travel either due to duration or due to your start date falls during June-July period, then I'd say stay away from hill-stations. Because they don't have much business those days and they'll be all sloshy etc. You won't have much to do. Even here I'd say monsoons in India are v.fascinating. Indian monsoons are not like intermittent rains in UK or US. Depending on where you are going, mostly monsoons will actually enhance your experience. Some cities like Bombay literally come to life during monsoon. I'd suggest forget monsoon as a criteria in your travel plan. It'll be difficult to chalk out your route based on that. In any case there is no guarantee that it will rain in the days when you are there in a specific place. Ofcourse it might stall you for a day or two, but anyways you can't much plan for it.

- for domestic travelling, three low-cost airlines are: Air Deccan, Spice Jet, Kingfisher Airlines.(they are the southwest/jetblue of India). Other domestic airlines are Jet, Sahara and Indian Airlines. If you are making advance reservations, you should get pretty slick deals on the low cost ones (sometimes as low as 60% discounts on regular fares). You can start your search for travel agents from (a portal targeted at Asian immigrant community). Your port of entry depends on where you are visiting. But there is nothing like cheap port of entries. Indians custom officers are equal opportunity cheaters, as far as that goes :(

- oh yeah, atleast once travel general non-AC in trains and bus. That is where you'll experience the real(or atleast the bulk) of India. Many budget backpackers enjoy their journey this way. If you act too rich sophisticated condescending oh-dont-touch-me-you-poor-people dude, you'll find plenty of scamsters waiting to separate you from your ca$h asap. So just gel in (and act a little cheap) and you shd be fine. Cheap is not considered bad in India.

- you asked for non-mainstream places. It's not clear if you are asking within India or outside. In India, non-mainstream places would be Alibag(beach/scenery), Udaipur(lake palace) Pondicherry(it was a French settlement, and still retains much of culture of that era), Pune and surrounding western ghats/hilly regions in Maharashtra, any of North-eastern states in India. Outside India, Kathmandu Nepal (or is that mainstream already?), or Lakshwadeep Islands/AndamanNicobar Islands which are technically part of Indian territory but outside the mainland.

- also, keep yourself flexible. Don't plan every little nitty-gritty like some westerners are wont to do. I don't mean it offensively, just that it's a culture difference. for eg. don't plan that 9 am you would visit this museum and 4pm go for this cultural show by catching this local bus from that place going over this route. Things might not really work out that way and you'd be unneccessarily losing sleep over small things. Don't rely too much on maps. In many places you won't even find maps. Rather be ready for some impromptu action. As they say, half the fun lies in the journey. Nowwhere it is more truer than in India.

- Don't be afraid of asking anyone anything. In India it's perfectly okay (and even expected) to stop absolute strangers on the streets, or just walk up to a corner paan-shop(convenience store) and ask for any guidance. Indian culture doesn't have that strong privacy & personal space going for it. (for one billion people, there is absoeffinglutely no scope for personal space, is there? :)). So if you are standing in a queue, it's perfectly okay for the person behind you to be within breathing distance. He's not a Brokebacking gay, he's just wired to queueing up like that. So don't freak out if you don't get two-feet space in front and behind you ;-)

- Even many illiterate, poor labourers can manage English, sometimes v.fluently. This is especially true in South. Even otherwise you can easily spot someone (college/office goer dudes) to translate on your behalf. Indians study English, so you don't have to :p

- Take yr standard pills, but don't unncessearily get paranoid abt diseases. There was no SARS scare in India and as of yet no bird flu. Somehow, despite all the dirtiness and filthiness and poverty and malnourishment, these killer viruses-of-the-season which spread like wildfire in sanitised Singapore, don't touch India. Even otherwise for small health issues (cough, cold, headache, fever etc). you can easily get good inexpensive medication straight off the pharmacy counter or through private practising physicians. India doesn't have all that insurance crap going for it and you don't have to take doctor's appointment a week in advance. Simply walk-in.

One last word: Everything that I mentioned above has exceptions. It's difficult to capture the whole India in paragraphs above. India is a very diverse country (and by that I don't mean just accent differences like a Texan drawl vs a badass yankie) but total change in linguistic, cultural and scenic landscape. So your experience of visiting Kashmir might be diametrically oppposite of visiting Kerala. Be prepared for it.

Let me know if this was helpful or you need more clarifications.

As they say: Come to India, one billion people can't be wrong :-)

Enjoy !!
posted by forwebsites at 5:11 PM on February 24, 2006 [6 favorites]

Oops..I probably went total ga-gaa over India and mentioned too many things - quite a few of which you didn't even ask. Somehow I just read your query as a general Indian tour enquiry.

Whatever... might be helpful for someone else in future.
posted by forwebsites at 5:14 PM on February 24, 2006

I've had no experience with India in the time frame you're looking at. But I can recommend a specific travel agency - Alanita. They're in the Boston area, but you can call and book from anywhere.
posted by darsh at 6:03 PM on February 24, 2006

Response by poster: Let me know if this was helpful or you need more clarifications.

I think that comment was pretty close to the dictionary definition of helpful. Thanks, forwebsites!

And thank you all for your comments - they have been very helpful. You guys are saying what I wanted to hear. I just got a little scared when my friend said that India was 'impossible' in the summer, but you've helped me set that straight.

We'll be travelling the whole period from early May to mid-July, so two and a half months in India. It looks like we'll come in and out of Delhi (we're from Northern California), but further than that we have yet to plan how to go about it. Most likely we'll only have a loose plan, and then make our way around when we hit the ground, according to how we like it there - and of course according to the great tips in this thread (",)

Thanks for your help, y'all!
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:53 PM on February 24, 2006

Response by poster: Also wanted to add: Even if only one answer got marked as 'best' I'm grateful for all the comments in this thread - keep 'em coming!
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:55 PM on February 24, 2006

Slight derail/
Just wanted to point out to forwebsites, your wonderful reply will help many, many other mefites who will look up AskMe search over the coming years as they are planning India trips. Welcome and thanks for the great reply.
posted by Wilder at 8:46 AM on February 25, 2006

AwkwardPause (and Wilder), glad that my comment was helpful. If Delhi is your entry point, then I'd suggest skip Delhi, Agra and nearby cities during the first one month as it'll be too hot to move around. Plan your trip around up-north Chandigarh, Srinagar etc (easy accessibility by trains/plane frm Delhi) until you hit monsoons. You can visit Delhi, Agra and pretty much rest of the places on your schedule during the remaining period.

Have a nice trip!
posted by forwebsites at 2:43 PM on February 27, 2006

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