The Best Indian Guidebooks for your suitcase: Our Verdict

csGuidebooks are getting more complex these days: some of them are moving purely into the digital market, others such as the Love Travel Guides offering a sort of true insiders approach, with it’s handmade paper editions and true local knowledge. For most travellers, however, the main stream publications of Lonely Planet, Rough Guides or Frommers are likely to be the ones which find their way into your luggage. All of them have their pluses and minuses and the hardworking team here at theindiaphile have put them through their paces once again this year, listing (in no particular order) the ones we find useful. Do let us know if there’s one we’ve missed, we’d like to make this list as comprehensive as possible. Here are our thoughts on the best Indian guidebooks.

(1) India Culture Smart – India Culture Smart is a great little book, providing essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in Indias, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Most commonly used by business travellers, there’s actually a huge wealth of knowledge in` this series and we feel anyone seeking true contact with India and it’s diverse peoples and faiths should swot up on some of this stuff.

Our Verdict: A Well researched, solid cultural guide.

(2) Rough Guide to India, 9th Edition – We love the Rough Guides here at Indiaphile. Well researched and regularly updated, this is a great book to have with you on the road. Easily up there with the more famous Lonely Planet, it’s our backpacker guidebook of choice at the moment. However, that’s with one caveat which is that the Kindle Edition appears to be extremely lacking in editing. There are sections of text missing and poor links – and from what we hear it’s virtually illegible on a black and white Kindle. So full marks for the print edition and sort it out on the Kindle please RG!

Our Verdict: The best backpacker guide, but avoid the Kindle Edition.

(3) Eyewitness Guide to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur – Nice little book for first time visitors to the Golden Triangle. Includes new full-color photos, illustrations, and enhanced maps. Extensive information on local customs, currency, medical services, and transportation. There aren’t much on the way of hidden gems in here but then what do you expect from a mainstream book like this. Looking a bit dated now as some of the other guidebooks really start to take things to the next level.

Our Verdict: Works for first time Golden Triangle visitors but lacks real depth

(4) Frommer’s India – Offering a slightly more upmarket approach than Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, Frommer’s is reliable and great on places to eat. This guide is biannually updated (and personalized) by a small team of writers including Pippa de Bruyn, an award-winning journalist and travel writer; Dr. Keith Bain, who also has a doctorate in film; Niloufer Venkatraman, a Mumbai native who has a doctorate in anthropology; Shonar Joshi, a travel writer and reporter; and more. All are not afraid to speak their mind and give their opinions — and share their passion for India. The ‘getting ready’ bit is, in our opinion, a bit over zealous in its recommendations on immunizations and so forth: India is nothing like as scary as thing section will have readers believe. That aside, it’s a very well put together guidebook.

Our Verdict: Superbly produced broad spectrum travel guide, ideal for middle budget travellers.

(5) Lonely Planet Guide to South India – From the lush waterways of Kerala, to Mumbai’s bazaars, charming hill stations and seafood in Goa’s beach shacks. This is an ideal south India book for backpackers, not quite as heavy as the all India tome and containing LP’s customary blend of research, detailed facts and tips, some nice colour photos. Weak on off the beaten track destinations but then that’s not really LP’s remit anyway.

Our Verdict: User friendly, solid South India guide. We like the itineraries sections.

(6) India handbook – Footprint Travel Guide – Footprint are making quite a few converts for themselves these days, offering a detailed and intelligent mid way point between Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. They’re especially good on historical details, but lack the precision of Lonely Planet when it comes to festival dates and opening times.

Our Verdict: A heavy hitting guidebook, with strong cultural insight. Missing a few key details.

(7) A Girl’s Guide to India -A Survivor’s Handbook – Louise Wate’s book continues to sell well, many years after its first publication. It’s highly personal to the author in some regards but this is really part of it’s charm. It’s also hilariously funny, and packed with relevant, informative tips for the female traveller going it alone in India. Many readers have told us they continue to read it after their trip simply because the tone so completely reminds them of their experience. High praise indeed.

Our Verdict: A brilliant and useful guidebook for the female traveller in India

(8) Trekking in the Indian Himalaya – A useful handbook to some of the best trekking in the world. LP’s walking guides do an excellent job and the quality of research is superb. Some travellers have reported missing areas they’d like to have seen in there but then with an area of this immensity, that’s to be expected. We rate this book highly actually.

Our Verdict: Excellent Himalayan trekking guide: still the best thing out there in the mass market

booksLove Travel Guides: Aussie Fiona Caulfield, now living in India for many years, has produced something really special with these handmade paper guidebooks. There’s one for Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa, and Jaipur so far and these are just flat out some of the best guidebooks you’ll ever lay your hands on. They’re not intended as a substitute for things like Lonely Planet or Rough Guides: rather they’re an eclectic mix of true insider knowledge: the best chai stand on a street corner you would simply never have visited, the out of the way paratha shack which is going to blow your mind. What seems to be very different about these books is that Fiona has tapped into true insider knowledge: people who’ve lived in these places for generations. A little pricey compared to some of the others but we feel this is absolutely worth forking out for.

Our Verdict: Every one a gem: Love Travel Guides are indispensable gems of insider knowledge and local know-how. 

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