India is a country that has an almost mythical status among travellers and those taking a gap year. It is such a vast country in just about every sense. Geographically it is huge, the seventh largest country in the world, whilst when it comes to population only China is home to more people. India also offers enormous cultural, religious and topographical diversity.
From the captivating chaos of the surprisingly modern cities of Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore to the remote foothills of the Himalayas; from the boundless beaches of Goa and Kerala to the dense jungle that accounts for around 20% of India’s mass, and the vast deserts around Jaisalmer, India is a country that offers something for all tastes.
For those on a gap year it has many obvious advantages beyond the seemingly endless opportunities for exploration and culture. Perhaps chief among these is the low cost of living. Despite huge growth in the economy and advancing modernisation and westernisation, India remains a very affordable country in which to travel, volunteer or study.
When it comes to the available gap year programmes in India, there are, unsurprisingly, many options. Those wishing to volunteer may be able to help in the fields of medicine, the environment or education. If self-improvement is more your aim then there is a plethora of possibilities, with cooking schools, yoga and meditation retreats and language learning placements just some of the available opportunities.
Of course, volunteering and learning are superb ways to spend time but those just wishing to gain enrichment through travel also have decisions to make. India is the birthplace to four of the major religions of the world: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, and it has a commensurate number of temples, shrines and monuments. Agra’s Taj Mahal may be the most famous, but there are literally hundreds of thousands of others.
Nature lovers can spot tigers and leopards in national parks such as Ranthambore, whilst sloths, rhino, elephants and hyenas may also be seen. Birdwatching is also spectacular, with Bharatpur a highlight and easily accessible for those heading to Jaipur, New Delhi or Agra.
The vast majority of trips to India are enjoyable, exciting and trouble-free. Apart from a few areas of the country, such as Jammu and Kashmir close to the immediate border area with Pakistan, where tourists rarely venture, most places in India are safe and secure. Those on a gap year are far more likely to experience warm Indian hospitality than they are to experience any form of crime or harassment. All travellers, but especially those travelling alone, should follow the normal rules of common sense and, of course, respect local dress code and etiquette.
However, if you are happy to pose for a selfie with the locals (expect to be asked a lot, especially at tourist hotspots like the Taj Mahal!), then dealing with beggars is likely to be the only hassle most visitors to India will experience.
Most travellers to India will need a visa and you can find more information about this at the relevant page of the GOV.UK wesite. You’ll also find information there about general safety, health and local laws and customs.
When it comes to vaccinations and medical precautions such as malaria prevention, much will depend on where in the country you travel. However, most people will need at least some vaccinations and the NHS Scotland site FitForTravel is a great port of call. Alternatively, visit your local travel clinic.