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China vs India: 16 Major Differences

China vs India: 16 Major Differences

By LauraUpdated Oct. 13, 2022

If you have ever found yourself wondering:

Should I travel to India or China?

Then we're here to help.

In this article, we will compare India and China and discuss some of the major differences that cause travelers to enjoy one country more than the other. By the end, we hope you will have a clearer idea about whether India or China is the best destination for you.

India and China Comparison Overview

  India China
History India's history is a series of many invading foreign forces that have all added to the current diversity and culture of the country. China's history is a series of dynasties and ruling families that fought for power. Historically, China has been less influenced by the West.
Diversity 500 minority tribes with a total of 104 million people. China has a more homogenous society with 92% of people being ethnically Han Chinese.
Religion Religion is a very important part of Indian society. India was the birthplace of 3 major world religions. The majority of Chinese people are atheists, but many still practice ancestor worship and folk religion.
Festivals Diwali and Holi Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival
Travel Route Delhi, Agra, Jaipur Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai
Things to Do Taj Mahal, ancient Mughal forts and monuments, Rajput palaces Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors
Food Bread and curries. Includes more spices and is more likely to be spicy Rice or noodles with delicious stir-fried veggies or meats
Streetlife More open bazaars and chaotic markets Cities are cleaner and more organized
Accommodation Heritage hotels, palace hotels, luxury retreats Newly built clean and comfortable business or boutique hotels
Convenience of Travel Fewer direct international flights and slower less developed domestic transportation. More direct international flights to more cities. Very efficient and convenient trains, metros, and taxi systems.
Best Time to Visit Year-round, but best in winter Year-round, but best in autumn or spring
Budget Cheaper cost of goods and travel. Foreign credit cards are more widely accepted. Slightly more expensive goods and travel. Foreign credit cards are not as widely accepted.
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1. History: China Has Been Less Influenced by the West

Both India and China have incredibly long and interesting histories. These two countries are members of the world's four ancient civilizations along with Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.

While the histories of both countries are rich and complex, China has had less western influence and is a great place for travelers who are looking to go somewhere that is very different from their home country.

While India is also a great place to visit if you are looking to contrast your culture against another, more people in India are familiar with western culture and have adopted certain aspects of it.

China's History: Dynasties and Ruling Families

Forbidden City Beijing The Forbidden City, Beijing

Most of China's history takes place in the Imperial China Period. This period starts in 221 BC and consists of the rise and fall of many different powerful dynasties. The Qin Dynasty was the first to unite all of China under one empire and is how the country got its name.

The Imperial China Period ended in 1911 with the Qing Dynasty. The period of 1911 to 1949 was very turbulent for China with civil war and the Japanese invasion. 1949 was the start of the People's Republic of China and when the country had a communist revolution and entered into a period of stability.

If you are interested in Chinese history you can explore sites like the Forbidden City in Beijing or Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an.

India's History: The Mixture of Many Cultures and Peoples

Taj Mahal Taj Mahal

India's history has been one full of foreign invaders who's people mixed together to create the diversity of modern India. The first civilization in India was the Indus Valley Civilization in 1800BC. Afterward, India was invaded by many different forces including the Arabs, Turks, Mongols, and even Alexander the Great.

More recently, India was invaded by the British and became a colony in the 18th-century. The British controlled India for around 200 years until the country gained independence in 1947. When India gained independence it was split into three separate countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

If you are interested in Indian history, you can explore the monuments of the Mughal empire, palaces of the maharajas, or the large colonial structures of the British and Portuguese.

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2. Diversity: India Has More Minority Groups and Protected Classes

The people of both India and China are very diverse. China's diversity comes from its minority groups and regional differences.

India's diversity is very largely due to differences in religion and ethnicity. Both countries have protected minority groups that have distinct cultures and languages.

Minorities in China

Guilin Rice Terraces minority Chinese woman Minority Woman in Guangxi Province

China has a more homogenous society than India with around 92% of the population being ethnically Han Chinese. Although they make up a small percentage of the population, China does have 55 other recognized ethnic groups.

These ethnic minorities live all over China. The Zhuang minority people who live in southern China are the largest minority group with around 16 million people.

Minorities in India

Assamese Indian woman in traditional clothes Indian Adivasi woman from Assam

India is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse countries in the world. Ethnically there are two main groups in India which are the Indo-Aryans of North India and Dravidians of South India.

Besides these two main groups, there are many more groups including the Sino-Tibetan people of the northeastern states and Anglo-Indians of European descent.

India also has minority tribal groups called Adivasi each of which has its own language, religion, festivals, and cuisine. There are 500 different Adivasi tribes in India with a total of 104 million people.

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3. Religion: India is a Very Religious and Spiritual Country

Religion has been an important part of the history of both China and India.

Today most Chinese people are atheists but practice folk religion while in India religion is practiced devoutly and is a very important aspect of society.

China's Ancestor Worship and Folk Religion

Hanging Monastery Datong Shaanxi Datong Hanging Monastery

In China, the government officially recognizes five religions including Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. Although many religions are practiced in China, around 90% of the population considers themselves atheists or non-religious.

Even though most Chinese people do not belong to a faith, many still practice traditional religious rituals in their daily lives. Chinese people often believe broadly in prayer to ancestors and spirits.

You can experience the religious culture in China by visiting during one of their traditional festivals such as Tomb Sweeping Day or Mid-Autumn Festival.

India's Rich Religious Diversity

In India religion is often considered to be one of the most important aspects of a person's identity. India is the birthplace of many world religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Today around 80% of Indians are Hindus, although India also has the second-largest Muslim population in the world. After Hinduism and Islam, Christianity is the most practiced religion.

When traveling in India, it is impossible not to get first-hand experience with the country's religions whether it is by visiting a temple, observing the locals as they practice yoga and meditation, or attending a Ganga Aarti ritual.

Ganga Aarti Hindu ritual Varanasi Ganga Aarti Hindu ritual Varanasi
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4. Festivals: Diwali vs Spring Festival

Both India and China are countries with unique religious festivals that act as incredible windows into the local culture.

So which country has the best festival for you?

China may be a good country to visit if you would like to experience a beautiful festival without dealing with large crowds. India is a great place to go if you want to enjoy the chaos of a beautiful but intense religious celebration.

Top Festivals in China

Shanghai During Spring Festival Lanterns above the street Shanghai Spring Festival Chinese New year

The most important festival of the year for Chinese people is Spring Festival which is often called Chinese New Year. Spring Festival takes place in January or February and marks the start of the new year according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar.

During Spring Festival, most Chinese people return to their hometowns to have a large meal with their family. Spring Festival decorations are bright red and many cities celebrate with fireworks and firecrackers.

Another important Chinese holiday is Mid-Autumn Festival which celebrates the full harvest moon. This festival is sometimes called the Moon Festival and is famous for its mooncake pastries.

Other Chinese holidays include Dragon Boat Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, the Miao minority Sister's Meal Festival, and the Tibetan Shoton Festival.

Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes Mooncakes for Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

Top Festivals in India

Festivals in India are famous for being boisterous and fun affairs. Many festivals in India celebrate a religious story and include large processions of people carrying an idol of a god or goddess.

Diwali Indian Diwali

The most important festival of the year in India is Diwali which celebrates the goddess Lakshmi and the triumph of light over darkness.

Diwali is also known as the Festival of Lights because lanterns and candles are the holiday's main decorations. Diwali is mostly a family holiday that includes a big meal, fireworks, and presents.

Holi Man preparing to throw colored powders at Holi

Another important Indian holiday is Holi which is the vibrant Festival of Colors. Holi is the celebration of the destruction of the evil demon Holika in Hindu mythology. The celebration includes huge bonfires and a country-wide colored powder fight.

Other important Indian festivals include Islam's Eid-Ul-Fitr, West Bengal's Durga Puja, Rajasthan's Pushkar Camel Fair, and Jaipur's Kite Festival.

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5. Nature and Wildlife: Indian safaris vs personal experiences with Pandas

Both countries offer incredible ways to see endangered animals and to take in stunning natural scenery.

In China, you can spend time with Giant Pandas or explore the incredible scenery of the Avatar Mountains in Zhangjiajie. In India, you can search for wild tigers and rhinos or take in striking views of the Himalayas in Leh.

Pandas in Chengdu

Giant Panda Giant Panda

The Giant Panda is one of the most famous animals in China.

There are many options to see pandas in China from visiting one of the special panda research centers in Chengdu to spending time as a panda keeper or following wild pandas in a nature reserve.

Tigers at Ranthambhore

Wild Indian Tiger Ranthambhore National park Wild Tiger at Ranthambhore

The wildlife experience in India is a little different than that of China.

In India, if you want to see any of the beautiful endangered animals such as the tigers at Ranthambhore or the one-horned rhinos at Kaziranga National Park you will need to go on a safari.

Taking a safari is a more exciting and adventurous way to experience a country's wildlife, but when you take a safari it is not guaranteed that you will see the animals. In order to see them, you might need to spend multiple days at the park.

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6. Things to Do and See: Great Wall vs Taj Mahal

Both China and India have certain cities that are must-see destinations for travelers. These places are often called the 'golden triangle' itinerary. In China, the golden triangle is Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai. In India, it is Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.

In both countries, the golden triangle itineraries offer travelers incredible experiences. In China, travelers will walk along the Great Wall, see the Forbidden City, and explore the excavation site of the Terracotta Warriors.

In India, travelers will take in the beauty of the Taj Mahal, visit ancient Mughal monuments, and explore the palaces of Indian princes.

Example China Travel Itinerary

Great Wall Great Wall

When traveling to China, most people will start in Beijing. Beijing is full of incredible locations such as the Forbidden City which was the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

After exploring the Forbidden City, visitors can try crispy Beijing Roast Duck for lunch and then visit the Temple of Heaven complex.

After seeing the sites in downtown Beijing, travelers can leave the city to take in the Great Wall of China. There are many sections of the wall that are open for tourism, however, our favorite is Mutianyu for its gorgeous scenery.

Once travelers have explored Beijing, it's time to head to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors which date back to 206 BC. At the Terracotta Army Museum, you can explore the excavation sites and learn how the warriors are maintained.

Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an Terracotta Warriors

After exploring the Terracotta Army Museum you can ride a bike around the Ancient City Wall, visit the Shaanxi History Museum, or explore the Muslim Quarter for some great street food.

After Xi'an, the next stop on the golden triangle itinerary is Shanghai. In Shanghai, visitors will tour the famous Bund, explore the Yu Garden, try street food on Shanghai Old Street, and get a bird's eye view of the city from Shanghai Tower.

Shanghai skyline, the bund Shanghai skyline, the bund

Travelers with more time can also see the gorgeous karst mountains of Guilin, hold pandas in Chengdu, or try spicy hot pot in Chongqing.

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Example India Travel Itinerary

Most travelers who visit India will start their trip in Delhi. In Delhi, start your day by exploring Old Delhi which is a Mughal-era walled city. First, head to the Red Fort, once the home of the Mughal emperors, and then explore Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India.

Afterward, take a rickshaw ride through the chaotic Chandni Chowk market and then learn about Mahatma Gandhi at the Raj Ghat Memorial. >>>How to Plan a Perfect Delhi Itinerary in 2022 (First Timers’ Guide)

In the afternoon, visitors can explore Humayun's Tomb, drive past the seat of the Indian government at Rashtrapati Bhawan, and walk under the iconic India Gate.

Jama Masjid, Delhi Jama Masjid, Friday mosque, Delhi

Once you've explored Delhi, the next stop on India's golden triangle is Agra. In Agra, you can check out the beautiful Itmad-Ud-Daula, which is often called the Baby Taj, and explore the gardens of Mehtab Bagh to catch a glimpse of the Taj Mahal.

The next morning, head to the Taj Mahal bright and early to catch the sunrise over its white marble walls and then explore the nearby Agra Fort. End your day in Agra by relaxing in a resort hotel at the spa or in the dining room with a glass of wine.

The Taj Mahal, Agra The Taj Mahal, Agra

After Agra, the next city is Jaipur. Jaipur is often called the 'pink city' because many of the buildings in the old sector are painted a beautiful desert pink. In Jaipur, travelers can start by exploring the City Palace and then head to Nahargarh Fort to watch the sunset over the city.

City Palace City Palace

On your last day, you can explore the gorgeous Amber Fort and take a cooking class to learn more about authentic local cuisine.

Travelers who have extra time in India can also visit Ranthambhore to see the tigers, Varanasi to observe religious rituals, or Jaisalmer to take a camel caravan into the Thar Desert.

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7. Food: Chinese Food is Typically Rice, Noodles, and Stir Fry whereas Indian Food Commonly Includes Rice, Bread, and Curry.

Both India and China have incredibly delicious and diverse options for food and in both countries, the flavor profile and ingredients used in the food changes drastically depending on which region you visit.

Food Comparison

Chinese food vegetables and meats that are cooked quickly at high temperatures

Overall most Chinese food is eaten with rice or noodles and consists of vegetables and meats that are cooked quickly at high temperatures.

Indian food is sometimes eaten with rice but also commonly eaten with bread. Indian food often involves cooking vegetables and meats for long periods until they become gravy.

In general, Indian food uses more spices than Chinese food and is more likely to be spicy. Chinese food can also be very spicy especially in the western provinces.

Chinese food is normally cooked with oils such as vegetable oil, peanut oil, or sunflower oil. Indian foods are sometimes cooked with oils but are more commonly cooked with clarified butter. Indian food can also include dairy such as cheese and yogurt whereas Chinese food does not.

An Indian spinach dish with bread and kebabs An Indian spinach dish with bread and kebabs

Tea Comparison

Both India and China are completely obsessed with tea. Although tea originated in China, it was brought to India by the British and since then has become one of the country's most beloved beverages.

In China, tea is often drunk plain with no sugar or milk added. The most popular types of tea in the country include green, jasmine, black, and oolong.

In India, tea is called chai. Chai is made by boiling black tea with equal parts milk and water. Once the tea has steeped sugar as well as fragrant spices including, cardamon, cinnamon, clove, and ginger are added to the beverage.

Indian Chai Indian Chai

Food Safety

In general, the average restaurant in China tends to have better food safety practices than the average restaurant in India.

However, in both countries, it is a good idea to avoid consuming raw vegetables, ice, and tap water. Street food can also cause problems so it is best avoided unless recommended by your tour guide.

At Asia Highlights, we usually plan meals in hotels and quality restaurants in order to minimize the chances of feeling ill.

We arrange for our guests to eat meals at the hotel restaurant or at upmarket specialty restaurants which offer both local and western options. We also recommend specific restaurants that serve delicious regional foods like Peking duck in China or barbecue tandoori kebabs in India.

India restaurants India restaurants picked by Asia Highlights

8. Streetlife: India Has More Open Bazaars and Chaotic Markets

If you are looking to visit a country that has a vibrant street life scene, then India is the place to be. In India, you will find large open markets and bazaars in every city some of which have been there since the Mughal era.

However, India's more active street life does come with a cost. Streets and public areas in India are often thought to be less clean than those in China and there are more beggars and scammers to deal with in India.

Indian market, indian shop Food market in India
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9. Accommodation: India has More Unique and Luxury Hotel Options

Both India and China have nice clean hotels that are perfect for every type of traveler.

The main difference is that India also offers an abundance of beautiful colonial-era hotels, palace hotels, and luxury resorts that can really add to your experience.

India's Heritage and Resort Hotels

As far as accommodation goes, India has most places beat. In India, it is common for families who own palaces, forts, or colonial buildings to take those buildings and turn them into beautiful historical hotels. Staying in one of these hotels is a truly unique opportunity that adds to a traveler's experience.

In Delhi, many travelers choose to stay in gorgeous colonial-style heritage hotels where they can have tea on the lawn or explore the gardens. In Jaipur, there is nothing better than staying in a decadent palace hotel which was once the home of the Maharajas.

India is also well-known for its luxurious resort hotels. In Agra, travelers can stay in a resort that offers spa services with treatments and tea in the afternoon with a view of the Taj Mahal.

India treatments Most heritage hotels and all luxury resorts offer spa services

China's Hotel Boom

China doesn't have unique historical hotels like India, however, China has been building hotels faster than any country in the world. In China, visitors can find clean and comfortable international business hotels and charming boutique hotels.

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10. Convenience of Travel: China has a Better-Developed Transportation System

China definitely has India beat when it comes to providing affordable and convenient transportation.

If you choose to travel to China, you will find that there are many more options for international direct flights to various different cities within the country.

When flying internationally to India, you are less likely to find a direct flight and the two main international airports are in Delhi and Mumbai.

Domestic Travel

When it comes to domestic travel, the quality and efficiency of China's transportation system is much better than India's. This means that when traveling in China it is possible to use more public transportation whereas in India private cars are often the best method of travel.

China has a convenient high-speed rail system which is fast and cheap whereas Indian trains are slow and sometimes uncomfortable. Both countries have subways in their main cities which are convenient but can get crowded.

China's high-speed train China's high-speed train

Traveling with a Private Car and Guide

To make your trip easier, we recommend taking a private car with a chauffeur in both China and India. This way, visitors will be more comfortable while traveling between attractions and also spend less time traveling and more time exploring.

To get the most out of your experience traveling in India and China, it is best to see attractions and monuments with a guide. Guides add to the experience of traveling because they are able to explain the history and other interesting points about what you are seeing.

Travelers who choose not to use a guide often do not have as many meaningful experiences and learn less about the country and culture overall.

Private tour Traveling with a Private Car and Guide

11. Language: Indians Tend to Speak Better English

Just like kids are taught Spanish in the US, school children in both India and China study English as their second language.

Although both countries study it, the average Indian tends to speak more English than the average Chinese person. This is most likely due to the influence of British colonial rule.

If you travel with a private tour, your guide will speak great English so the language barrier is unlikely to be a problem.

China's Native Languages

Mandarin is the official language of China and the most widely spoken. Another important Chinese language is Cantonese which is predominately spoken in South China such as the cities of Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Although there are two main languages in China, there are also countless dialects and regional languages that exist within the country. Today, many linguists believe that 297 languages are spoken in China.

India's Native Languages

India is also a very linguistically diverse country with 22 languages that are officially recognized by the government.

Out of these languages, Hindi is the most commonly spoken followed by Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, and Tamil. English is considered an official language in India and is used in government and business settings.

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12. Best Time to Visit: Both Can be Visited Year-Round

China is a destination that can be visited year-round. The most popular time to visit is in autumn when the weather is the most pleasant all over China. Spring is also a great time to visit for cooler weather in northern China, although southern China does experience monsoons during this time.

Winter in China offers unbeatable views of the Great Wall and the Ice Festival in Harbin. In summer, the heat can be avoided by visiting attractions in the early morning.

India is also a destination that can be visited year-round. India has three main seasons which are winter, summer, and the monsoon season.

The high season for tourism in India is winter which is from November to February. Summer in India is from March to May and is the best time to see the tigers and other wild animals.

India's monsoon season typically lasts from June to September. Although visiting India during the monsoons can seem daunting, there are actually plenty of beautiful places to see in India that aren't affected by the rain.

The cities of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Leh, and more can be visited during the monsoon season.

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13. Economy: China's Economy is Growing Faster

China and India are the two major economic powerhouses in Asia and both are often compared to each other when it comes to economic growth and the rise of the middle class. China and India have both experienced some of the highest economic growth rates in the world as they both head towards modernization.

Still, China has India beat when comparing economies. Currently, China's economy is estimated to be five times larger than India's. China also continues to have higher economic growth rates each year as well as a higher overall GDP and income per person.

What this means for travelers is that you can expect a higher degree of modernization in China than you can in India. While India is a cashed based economy, China's is almost entirely based on mobile payments. China also has faster internet speeds and better public transportation including modern metros and shared bikes.

While India's economic growth has not been as quick as China's, the country has made a lot of major achievements since its independence in 1947. Although poverty is still a major problem, the country has managed to develop a large and growing middle class. India is also the world leader in the software development and customer service industries.

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14. Budget: India is a More Affordable Destination

When compared to traveling in a western country, both India and China are very affordable.

Because these countries offer great value for money, many travelers find that they can take private tours and splurge on luxurious hotels without breaking the bank.

Overall, it is slightly more affordable to travel in India than it is to travel in China. India has a lower cost of goods, so things like food and souvenirs will often be cheaper. Hotels and services in India can also be more affordable depending on your style of travel.

Mid-range hotels often cost less in India than they do in China, but India offers guests the chance to stay in incredible luxury hotels which will increase the prices of travel in the country.

Guests who want upscale and special experiences will most likely NOT see a large difference in affordability between the two countries.

For our private tours, the starting price is approximately 160 USD per day in India and 200 USD per day in China. This cost includes guided tours, private cars with a chauffeur, 4-star accommodation, free breakfast, and a hearty lunch.

The price of our tours can change depending on the wants and needs of the traveler. Travelers who want to have special experiences or stay in luxury hotels will spend more.

Currency and Cash vs Credit

Chinese currency yuan renminbi Chinese currency yuan renminbi

China's currency is the yuan which is sometimes called renminbi (pronounced ren-min-bee). One U.S. dollar is equal to about 7 yuan and one euro is normally equal to 8 yuan.

Businesses in China will only accept Chinese currency. Some hotels do accept visa credit cards, but most restaurants and stores will not. Therefore, before traveling to China it is important to exchange money. Many Chinese ATMs will accept visa cards if you should need to withdraw during your travels.

India's currency is the Indian Rupee. One U.S. dollar is equal to 70 rupees and one euro is equal to 80 rupees. Indian businesses will also only accept rupees, however, credit cards are much more widely accepted in India than in China.

The vast majority of large businesses and ATMs in India accept Visa and Mastercard and some also accept American Express and Discover cards. You should still keep Indian rupees with you while traveling for tipping or if you would like to buy goods from small shops.

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15. Access to Wi-Fi: China has High-Quality Wi-Fi but Limited Access to Western Websites

Access to Wi-Fi in both countries has its positives and negatives:

In China, most hotels, airports, and cafes offer free Wi-Fi. However, while in China you will not be able to access certain websites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google.

It should also be noted that even if you buy an international data plan, it is very unlikely that you will get any cell service in China with a foreign SIM card.

In India, websites are not blocked, but it can be more difficult to find free Wi-Fi. The good news is that your hotel will have Wi-Fi, although most hotels do charge for this service.

If you buy a temporary international data plan from your cell service provider it should work just fine in India.

16. Visas: Indian Visas are Easier to Get

For most people, the process of getting a tourist visa for India is easier than getting one for China. To get a tourist visa in China, travelers are often required to visit the Chinese consulate or hire an agency to do it for them. India allows tourists to apply for a visa online through third-party sites.

The price of a 30-day tourist visa to China changes drastically depending on your home country. For Americans, visas cost $140. For people from other countries, the price can range from 30 to 90 USD.

The price of a short-term e-visa to India is usually around $100 for Americans, but it can vary from 40-100 USD depending on where you come from.

Conclusions

You May Enjoy India More if:

  • You are interested in the incredible cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity of the country.
  • You are drawn to tiger and rhino safaris or an abundance of royal palaces and monuments like the Taj Mahal.
  • You are interested in all the spices that come together to create Indian dishes.
  • You are planning a trip during the winter or spring.
  • You want to participate in spiritual activities like yoga and meditation.
  • You are looking for unique accommodation options or luxury resorts.

You May Enjoy China More if:

  • You are interested in visiting a country that has been more isolated from western culture and influence.
  • Access to comfortable and convenient public transportation is important to you.
  • You are planning your trip for autumn or spring.
  • You are interested in Chinese cuisine and history.
  • Seeing pandas or the Great Wall is on your bucket list.
  • A more clean and organized city life appeals to you.

Visit India and China with Asia Highlights

Asia Highlights welcomes the chance to help you design your perfect trip to India or China. Check out the following links to learn more about our tours and get a head start on planning your hassle-free vacation today!

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