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Capital: New Delhi
Area: 3.3 million sq kms
Population: 1 billion +
Religions: Hindu 81.3%, Muslim 12%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Tribal Religions 2.5%
Languages: Hindi (official), English, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit.
Time: GMT + 5.5 hours
When to go
With clear sunny days and mild to cold nights, October to March is generally the best time to visit the sub-continent. The monsoon rains break in coastal Kerala in May or June and travel inland to reach Delhi in July, lasting till early September. May and June are extremely hot except in the hills. The coastal and mountain areas get more rain than the central plains. Regional variations are outlined below.
North: Northern plains are at their most temperate, dry and sunny from October to March. Delhi and neighbouring areas can experience light to heavy fog from mid-December to mid-January but the areas south of Delhi such as Rajasthan remain largely unaffected. In mid-winter night temperatures in the plains north of Delhi can touch freezing point. May and June are extremely hot with July and August being monsoon months. Many visitors travel in these months as the rain is not incessant and air-conditioning tempers the heat. The game reserves in the north normally open from November to May (Ranthambore opens a month earlier in October) with the hotter period better for sightings.
Himalayan Foothills and Beyond: The hilly regions are at their best from March to October except in July and August when it rains. There is often snowfall from late December to early February in hill stations such as Shimla, Mussoorie and Darjeeling. Ladakh and Kashmir lie beyond much of the monsoon rains; here the months of July and August, with their warm days and cool nights, are peak season.
East & West: Kolkata, Mumbai and neighbouring coastal areas such as Orissa, Gujarat and Goa remain hot and humid throughout with winter months being somewhat cooler, especially inland. The monsoon is from June to August. The Kaziranga National Park is open from November to April.
South: There is significant variation in weather among the southern states, with November to April being the best months. It remains hot throughout with only the hill stations requiring a light pullover in winter. For those keen on swimming in the sea we recommend the three-month period of December to February. The wildlife parks here remain open throughout. The monsoon is at its peak along the west coast from June to August – the east coast remains relatively dry with minimal rainfall in the central highlands. Rain falls on the east coast from October to December.