There are few countries in the world that can overload your senses as India does. From the moment you arrive, you will be dazzled by the rainbow of colorful saris and mesmerized by the smells of fragrant spices from the local market. Where else in the world, will you find ornately decorated elephants ridden like horses through the city streets and where cows always have right of way?
Away from the chaos of the cities, you will find the charm of rural life, where self-sufficient farming traditions continue as they have done for centuries. In the north you have the snow-capped mountains of the Himalaya and in the south palm fringed beaches. It's no wonder Rudyard Kipling took inspiration for the famous 'Jungle Book' in the forests of central India; lush, green and home to tigers and bears. India has something for everyone.
There are so many companies offering study, volunteer and travel programs throughout India that you are going to be spoiled from choice. Consider, where you want to be based : city or rural and how much of the country you wish to visit after your program. You may even wish to do some volunteer work in a different part of India after your study.
- General Travel: There is so much to see in India but traveling in summer, you need to consider the Indian weather. Generally the monsoon starts in June in the southern state of Kerala and then moves across India. It normally takes about a month to reach Delhi and by the end of July a lot of India will be covered. Rain fall during this time can be sudden and torrential and can cause flooding. Don't let this put you off traveling as the main tourist areas are less crowded, accommodation and airfares are cheaper. The monsoon is critical for the farmers leaving the country lush, green and rejuvenated. If the humidity is too high, do as the British Raj used to do and head to the hill stations where the weather is cooler. The main wildlife parks are generally closed between the end of June through to early October.
- Volunteer Abroad: Despite having one of the fastest growing economies, the gap between rich and poor is very visible when traveling through India. Types of volunteer work available include teaching, health care, orphan care, women's rights and community development. You can do a minimum of a week's voluntary work and there are programs throughout India so you may wish to consider doing a couple of programs to see different parts of India.
- Short-term Study: There are many companies offering summer semester study opportunities in India. These are mainly focused in the main cities of Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata. Courses range from a semester to a full academic year. Courses include language, Asian and cultural studies. India has also become a centre of excellence for I.T. and medical industries. As India is an integral part of the global business world, studying in India can only enhance your resume and may be of benefit for future employers who have commercial interest in India.
Planning Your Trip
It is important to plan ahead if you are considering visiting India. You need to allow time to obtain the appropriate visas and vaccinations.
You will need to make an application with the relevant company for study or volunteering in India. Each has different requirements.
Many volunteer and study programs include accommodation and meals. You may be accommodated with other volunteers or students or placed with a host family. Indians have strong family values therefore living with an Indian family will be a great way to immerse yourself into the Indian culture. Accommodation may be simple with basic shared facilities, but you will experience warm hospitality and incredible home cooked food. It may be advisable to take your own sleeping bag and mosquito net. If you are traveling around after your program, there is a huge range of hostel, backpacker and guesthouse and homestay accommodation available throughout India.
The main international arrival cities are Delhi and Mumbai. Over the past few years, there has been a boom in 'no frill' airlines connecting most of the major cities. Competition has resulted in cheap air fares, for example a one way ticket between Delhi and Varanasi would cost approximately $60.
Train travel is a popular and cheap way of exploring India and meeting the locals. The railway stations can be chaotic, but don't be afraid to ask for help if you are unsure, most Indians are happy to practice their English and will go out of their way to help you. A train ticket from Delhi to Varanasi can start from as little as $6 (non air-conditioned) to $40 for an air-conditioned tourist class seat.
Religion plays an important part in Indian life, so ensure that you dress appropriately when visiting temples. Women travelers should always dress conservatively in order to avoid unwanted attention.
Visas are required for all US citizens visiting India. If you are visiting India to pursue study at a recognized Indian institution, you can apply for a multiple-entry student visa that is valid for the duration of your study. The visa is valid from the date of issuance, not the date of arrival into India.
It is advisable to check that you have the appropriate vaccinations before traveling in India. Consider having rabies vaccination, particularly if you are visiting rural areas. Malarial prophylaxis may be required in some states.
An average summer travel /study program is approx. $2000 excluding international flights to and from India. A typical 4 week volunteer program starts at $400, excluding international flights to and from India.