One of the fun things about traveling is being able to check out the nightlife. You might not associate India with partying. However, India's nightlife is diverse and growing! Tucked away, you’ll find everything from intimate bars and pubs to multi-level nightclubs. Those interested in something more traditional will find no shortage of cultural performances either. However, you do need to know where to look, and be aware of the legal drinking age in India (it's a lot older than many other countries).
Legal Drinking Age
The age for the legal consumption of alcohol varies across the different states in India, and sometimes even varies depending on the type of alcohol, which can be confusing. In Delhi, it remains at 25 years, despite ongoing discussions about lowering it. 25 years is also the legal drinking age in Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh. In Mumbai (and Maharashtra), it's 25 for spirits, 21 for beer, and no set age for wine. The legal drinking age in Kerala is 23 (raised from 21 in 2017).
India's party state of Goa has the lowest legal drinking age of 18 years, along with Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Pondicherry, and Sikkim.
Elsewhere in India, it's generally 21 years. However, venues aren't usually strict about enforcing these limits.
Prohibition and Dry Days
Gujarat is known as a "dry state", where alcohol is illegal without a permit (foreigners can buy 30-day permits). Bihar also became a "dry state" in early 2016. In Northeast India, alcohol is prohibited in Nagaland (this isn't enforced) and partially banned in Manipur. Restrictions also exist in Kerala, although most were relaxed by the government in 2017 due to the negative impact on tourism and revenue. Currently, hotels classified as three-star and above are allowed to have bars that serve hard liquor.
Two-star hotels can have "beer and wine parlors". In addition, you'll find that alcohol (especially beer) is widely available from places that aren't licensed. This includes the beach shacks in Varkala.
"Dry days" in India often come as a surprise to tourists. Yes, there are specific days when the sale of alcohol is prohibited. These are determined by each state government and usually occur on major religious occasions. National dry days include holidays such as Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15), and Gandhi Jayani (October 2). It's worth noting that five-star hotels are excepted from dry days and can serve alcohol.
Nightlife is generally early to start and early to end in India because of curfews. While Mumbai may have the biggest selection of party places in the country, come 1.30 a.m. most are closing for the night. Nightclubs in luxury hotels are an exception. These will remain open until 3 or 4 a.m. The scene is similar in Delhi and Kolkata (a 2 a.m. curfew has been introduced there, although most places shut by midnight during the week). The majority of bars close by midnight in Chennai and Hyderabad.
However, the curfew was extended to 1 a.m. in Bangalore in 2016. Even in Goa, many places are forced to close by 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. due to noise restrictions. As a result, more venues are throwing day parties.
Pubs, Bars and Clubs
As drinking traditionally isn’t part of India’s culture, the country's bars tend to be divided into two categories –- cheap, seedy local bars frequented by India’s male population, and classier establishments catering to the progressive middle and upper class crowd. The latter can only be found in major cities.
Apart from Friday and Saturday nights, Wednesdays are also popular party nights in India. There will often be free or discounted drinks for ladies at bars and clubs.
An interesting term used in India is that of the “resto-pub” or “resto-bar”. These are restaurants that double as places where you can drink, and sometimes dance later in the night, as many restaurants don’t serve alcohol in India. An eclectic example of a resto-bar is Bonobo, in Mumbai’s hip suburb of Bandra West.
Mumbai is India's most cosmopolitan city. It has a trendy array of bars in neighborhoods such as Bandra West, Lower Parel, and the tourist district of Colaba. Buzzing traveler’s hangouts in Mumbai offer cheap beer and an animated crowd. The live music venues in Mumbai are also excellent.
In Delhi, head to Connaught Place and Hauz Khas Village. Bangalore is known for its pub culture, and you'll find dozens of them along M.G. Road. Apart from Sikkim, Goa is the only state in India to have casinos.
The nightclubs in luxury hotels come with prohibitive cover charges (sometimes as high as 4,000 rupees per couple) and cost of drinks, which only foreigners and the richest Indians can afford. The decor is opulent. If it wasn’t for the music interspersed with the latest Bollywood tracks, prompting a frenzied display of dancing from the crowd, you could easily forget you were in India. Dress to impress as you would anywhere else in the world (skimpy clothes are the norm).
The hedonistic, hippie state of Goa has a reputation for outdoor psychedelic trance parties. They’re still in existence to some extent, despite tough regulation. The scene has become very underground and impromptu, with parties taking place in remote locations in the vicinity of Anjuna, Vagator, Arambol, Morjim, and Palolem. Hill Top, at Vagator, is renowned for throwing iconic psy trance parties.
Other legendary locations for outdoor psychedelic trance festivals are around Manali and Kasol, in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. Most take place from May to July, and September to October.
Police presence is an ongoing threat, and parties are frequently shut down if the required bribe money hasn’t been appropriately paid.
India has some iconic annual outdoor music festivals as well including Sunburn, SulaFest (at Sula Vineyards in Maharashtra), VH1 Supersonic, NH7 Weekender, Magnetic Fields, Enchanted Valley Carnival, Ziro Music Festival (in Arunachal Pradesh), and Ragasthan.
Kolkata has grown into the cultural capital of India. It has much to offer those interested in live dance, drama, and music. Daily evening performances are held at the Rabindra Sadan Cultural Center.
Delhi, the India Habitat Center and India International Center both have frequent classical music and dance concerts. Kamani Auditorium is part of the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra Complex, which is dedicated to Indian classical and folk music, dance and drama. This prestigious theater has all kinds of cultural performances. Nearby, the Sri Ram Center for the Performing Arts grew from what was originally the Indian National Theater in 1948. It holds plays and a Summer Festival.
The cities of Jaipur and Udaipur, in Rajasthan, also have interesting cultural programs. Furthermore, Jodhpur in Rajasthan plays host to a number of world music festivals including the Rajasthan International Folk Festival and World Sacred Spirit Festival.