Although it’s usually possible to arrive overland from neighbouring Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan (the border with Nepal is the least problematic and most popular), most visitors fly into India. There are numerous nonstop services from the UK, plus a few nonstop flights from North America and two from Australia. Most of these arrive at either Delhi or Mumbai, although from the UK it’s also possible to reach Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru without stopping.
Fares worldwide always depend on the season, with the highest being roughly from November to March, when the weather in India is best; fares drop during the shoulder seasons – April to May and August to early October – and you’ll get the best prices during the low season, June and July. The most expensive fares of all are those coinciding with Diwali in October/November, when demand peaks as Indian emigrants travel home for holidays with their families.
For Goa or Kerala, you may find it cheaper to pick up a bargain package deal from a tour operator. At the time of writing a government prohibition on flight-only charters had been lifted, and a restriction of 28 days on the period of time a charter ticket can cover had also been dropped. It was also now possible to buy one-way charter flights, but the law on such matters is always prone to change, so check when you are booking.
It takes between eight and eleven hours to fly from the UK direct to India. A number of carriers fly nonstop from London Heathrow to Delhi and Mumbai; these currently include Air India, Jet Airways (jetairways.com), Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, who also fly nonstop to Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Numerous other European and Middle Eastern carriers offer one-stop services via their home city in Europe or the Gulf. From elsewhere in the UK and Ireland you’ll have to take an indirect flight, changing planes at either Heathrow or somewhere else in Europe, the Middle East or Asia. Both nonstop scheduled fares and flight-only charters usually start from around £450, although indirect routes, usually via the Gulf, can be found for as little as £330 return at slack times.
India is on the other side of the planet from the US and Canada. If you live on the east coast it’s quicker to travel via Europe, while from the west coast it’s roughly the same distance (and price) whether you travel via Europe or the Pacific. There are currently nonstop flights from New York to Delhi and Mumbai on Air India and United. Otherwise, you’ll probably stop over somewhere in Europe (most often London), the Gulf, or both. Nonstop flights take around 15–16 hours, with fares from New York to Mumbai/Delhi starting at around US$800, while indirect flights go from as little as US$660. Apart from Air India’s new nonstop service from San Francisco to Delhi (16hr), you will have to change when travelling from the west coast, with fares starting at around US$900.
Air Canada fly nonstop from Toronto to Delhi (14hr) from around Can$1100; otherwise you’ll have to travel via a connecting city in the US, Europe or Asia with a minimum travel time of around 20 hours.
Air India offer nonstop services to Delhi from Melbourne and Sydney, each taking around thirteen hours; otherwise you’ll have to make at least one change of plane in a Southeast Asian hub city (usually Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Bangkok). Flying from Melbourne or Sydney fares start from around Aus$900, while from Auckland the cheapest fares start at around NZ$1250; add on approximately NZ$200 for flights from Wellington or Christchurch.
There are no nonstop flights between South Africa and India, with most services routing via Addis Ababa, Nairobi or the Gulf. Fares start at around ZAR6000 return.
If India is only one stop on a longer journey, you might want to consider buying a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket. Some travel agents can sell you an “off-the-shelf” RTW ticket that will have you touching down in about half a dozen cities (Delhi and Mumbai feature on many itineraries); others will have to assemble one for you, which can be tailored to your needs but is apt to be more expensive. Prices start around £1600/US$2500 for a RTW ticket including India, valid for one year.
Lots of operators run package holidays to India, covering activities ranging from trekking and wildlife-watching through to general sightseeing or just lying on the beach, not to mention more specialist-interest tours focusing on anything from motorbike adventures to food. In addition, many companies can also arrange tailor-made tours where you plan your own itinerary. Specialist trips such as trekking and tailor-made tours do not necessarily work out a lot more expensive than organizing everything independently, especially if you want a degree of comfort. Tour operators pay a lot less for better-class hotels and flights than you would, plus they save you time and hassle by knowing the best hotels, routes and sights to feature. On the other hand, a typical package tour can rather isolate you from the country, shutting you off in air-conditioned hotels and cars.