One of the great things about traveling is being able to check out the different types of nightlife that other countries have. 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.
Curfews and Legal Drinking Age
The age for the legal consumption of alcohol varies across the different states in India. In Delhi, it remains at 25 years, despite ongoing discussions about lowering it. India's party state of Goa has the lowest legal drinking age of 18 years, along with Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. Elsewhere it's generally 21 years. However, venues aren't usually strict about enforcing these limits. Gujurat is known as a "dry state", where alcohol is illegal without a permit.
In most cities in India, nightlife is early to start and early to end because of the curfews in place. While Mumbai may have the biggest selection of party places in the country, come 1.30 a.m. they’re all starting to close for the night. With a few exceptions, the scene is similar in Delhi and even worse in Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad which have 11-11.30 p.m. curfews. Even in Goa, most places are forced to close by 10 p.m. due to noise restrictions. Many venues have found that the solution to the curfews is to open during the day, or early evening. A ban on dancing was introduced in Bangalore in 2008, but it was finally removed in late 2011, after a series of protests.
Surprisingly, the nightlife in Kolkata offers the most for late night party people. There’s no curfew in place like the other cities, enabling bars and clubs to stay open until the wee hours of the morning. This is quite unexpected in a city once known for its wide-spread poverty. (Note: a 2 a.m. nightlife curfew has now been introduced in Kolkata).
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 venues catering to the progressive middle and upper class crowd. The latter can only be found in major cities.
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. A elegant example of a resto-bar is Escobar, in Mumbai’s hip suburb of Bandra.
Mumbai has become very cosmopolitan in recent years and is constantly serving up an array of trendy new bars in and around Bandra, and as well as in south Mumbai and the tourist area of Colaba. Goa is also renowned for its plethora of bars and clubs. In addition, it’s the only state in India to have casinos.
Large clubs that are exempt from the curfews are usually only found in 5-star international hotel complexes, and sometimes in shopping malls. Due to their prohibitive cover charges (sometimes as high as 3,000 rupees or $70 per couple) and cost of drinks, only the richest Indians can afford to party at these places. The facilities are world class and 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.
Mumbai is the place to come for busy traveler’s hangouts offering a lively atmosphere and cheap beer. The live music venues in Mumbai are also excellent. Bangalore, with its large blend of expatriates, has a booming pub culture with plenty of live gigs. In addition, some great traditional and rock bands can be found playing in Goa and Delhi.
The hedonistic, hippy state of Goa has developed a reputation for its outdoor psychedelic trance parties, and 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 around Anjuna, Vagator, Arambol, Morjim, and Palolem.
Other popular locations for outdoor psychedelic trance parties are around Manali and Kasol in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, and Guwahati in Assam, in north east India.
Police presence is an ongoing threat, and many parties are shut down if the required bribe money hasn’t been appropriately paid.
From its impoverished background, Kolkata (Calcutta) has grown into the cultural capital of India. It’s got much to offer those interested in live dance, drama, and music. Daily evening performances are held at the Rabindra Sadan Cultural Center.
In Mumbai, those interested in cultural performances should head to the National Center for Performing Arts at the tip of Nariman Point. Delhi, as well as the cities of Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, also have interesting cultural programs.