Eastern India is bordered in the north by the high mountains of the Himalayas, which create a natural border with Nepal, Tibet and part of China. The east coast, on the other hand, lies on the Indian Ocean.
Each region differs in its contrast, as much at an ethnocultural level as in their rich landscapes, with the population being one of the poorest in the world. This is what fascinates foreigners, Westerners in particular, about this country of extreme diversity.
For tourists, India is an extraordinary destination. Visitors can enjoy wandering through the big cities of Eastern India, like Calcutta and Darjeeling, although the ever present poverty may cause a level of uneasiness in relation to the inhabitants.
Surface area : 525000.0 km2
Population : 272616948 inhabitants
Time difference : The UK is five and a half hours behind in winter and four and a half hours behind in summer, as daylight saving is not applied in India.
There are lots of beautiful things to buy in India. To get an idea of the prices and the quality of certain products (carpets, cashmere, cotton) and know how low you can haggle, go to one of the State shops where the prices are fixed for the entire country. You can find them in Calcutta and Darjeeling in West Bengal, and in Gangtok in east Sikkim. In Darjeeling you can also find all sorts of Tibetan objects, such as bronze statues, religious objects and all different types of jewellery. Darjeeling is also famous for its tea, which can make a good souvenir. Nathmull's Tea Merchants is definitely the best shop for tea lovers.
In Gangtok you will find shops that specialise in shawls, carpets and choktse tables, which have an incredible production process. There are also other stores that sell artisanal products from Tibet.
If you visit the Guwahati area of Assam, you will be able to find silk and high-quality locally-made artisanal crafts in many shops.
In terms of gastronomy, there are numerous differences between the north and south of India, mainly due to the climate. Meat, which is often eaten with grains and bread, is very popular in the north. This is known as Moghul Style, similar to the Middle East and Central Asia. Don't hesitate to try the tandoori chicken, one of the specialities.
The south has fewer Aryan and Muslim influences so meat is difficult to find here, and a large part of the population is vegetarian. Don't be shocked if you aren't given any cutlery when you order a meal, it's normal. In the south, Indians use their fingers (on the right hand!) rather than cutlery - following an age-old tradition based on the principle of using all our senses while eating.
Overall, food is not expensive: for 15 rupees (about 60p), you can try sabzi (a vegetable mixture) with dhal (lentils in a sauce), which is very popular in India, and chapati (a type of bread).
The idea of buying food from street stalls or in small restaurants can be off-putting for some people, especially in terms of hygiene. If this is the case, you can eat your fill in the 5-star hotels for only $15 (£10), a sum that is nevertheless quite high for an Indian.
If you visit the east coast, try the dahin maach, a fish curry with a yoghurt and ginger sauce; it is a speciality of West Bengal.
The best time to visit India depends on the region you're travelling to. During any given period, one part of the country can be immersed in cold (or water in the monsoon period) while another enjoys pleasant temperatures.
If you want to travel to the regions bordering the Himalayas, it is better to go between February and May, when the temperatures are at their highest.
Try to avoid monsoon season, which starts in May or as late as June, depending on the region, or take a good umbrella!
Lastly, the period from mid-November to the end of March is perfect for tourism, but don't forget that it is also the high season, so don't be surprised to find yourself surrounded by tourists.
Make sure you visit the huge city of Calcutta during your stay in Eastern India, and dare to try an elephant back ride and explore the large nature reserves.