India is a vast country with a very diverse culture. With civilization dating back to 2600 BC, this country has absorbed a lot of history in itself and a lot to share with the whole world. The moment you set foot in this country many a things might surprise, enchant or bewilder you so I suggest to make yourself aware of our lifestyle and traditions before visiting India for first time.
Respect the culture
This rule applies to every country in the world and not alone India. The culture of India is very different and diverse as compared to west. There will be different languages in every state, different ways of living. We believe in ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ i.e ‘Guest is god’ so most of the Indians would be nice to you but we are not direct in expressing ourselves when it comes to dislikes too. So a person’s hesitation in doing things should be a signal to you that it’s a no.
In Indian culture the older people are respected the most irrespective of their social status. When you meet any family always greet the senior most /oldest person first then the younger ones and the kids. We do not address people by names unless they are younger to us. For an elder person it would be ‘sir’ or ‘Uncle’ as deems fit.
Understand the cultural differences
When visiting India you need to understand that way of living changes from place to place. When in the city of Mumbai you will come across the glamorous and party loving people whereas when you move to other smaller cities/towns people would be more conservative and keep to themselves Places where people come across more number of tourists would be easier to make friends.
Remove your shoes outside religious places
We Indians consider the place of worship as very sacred and so leave our footwear (which is covered with dirt) outside when entering them. Also this comes out of the practice that we sit on the floor while worshipping the god or meditating hence the hygiene measures. Most people in India follow the same practice for their homes. So you might check for same when visiting someone.
Watch out for separate Men and Women sections at places
When visiting India you might come across many places which require men and women to stand in different queues. Although this might sound very sexist but has been a practice since long. As privileges our trains have women only bogies and buses have seats same way.
Don’t take pictures in temples
Temples are place of worship and crowded with lots of people who don’t want their pictures to be taken. If you take pictures then people might frown upon you.
Don’t put your legs on table
It is perceived as an extremely rude gesture by the person who’s sitting opposite to you.
Avoid any kind of physical contact with opposite sex
We do not touch anyone unless they are close to us. PDAs like hugging are strictly limited to family or very close friends. Kissing and hugging between couples are private display of affection and should be done in absolute privacy or you will be frowned upon. Initiation of physical contact with members of the opposite sex will be looked at as a sexual advance – with various degrees of shock or alarm or anger, or even lascivity as the case might be.
Be patient while communicating
When asking people for help or directions you need to be patient. In many places people won’t understand English or if they do they won’t catch up your accent so you might have to repeat things 4-5 times for them to understand. Be patient and you will get your answer.
Be open to communicating and learning
In India maps and GPS are still not very reliable. To reach the final point you will need human help. It is very common to ask people directions and they would be happy to oblige. Learn a few commonly used phrases.
Make some local friends
When visiting any country this is advisable as it will help you communicate effectively when travelling through remote corners of India. Even if the person won’t travel with you, he’s still a call away when help is needed.
When visiting India this point is something very important.Wearing revealing dresses like pants and skirts is still frowned upon in most of the Indian society. Depending on the city you are in things might get a little relaxed but don’t get too ambitious in that. Yes you might come across Indians whose fashion statement can knock off the western standards but that scenario is better left for metro cities and party nights.
When visiting Indian temples you should drape your shoulders and wear knee length clothes. For guys full length trousers properly fitted on your waist along with t shirts/shirts if fine. No shorts/ low waist jeans / Sports vests please.
Don’t smoke / drink alcohol in public
Needless to say these are banned in public areas and you can be fined for thi.
Eat freshly cooked
When eating food in India always eat food which is freshly cooked and if its roadside vendor then it better be cooked in front of you.
Avoid spicy food
This is just to save your tongue and stomach from the unnecessary pain. Non-Indian stomachs find it hard to digest oily and spicy Indian food.
An interesting story out of my own experience, one Spanish colleague of mine had a spicy samosa with us and the next day he dint turn up to office, obviously due to stomach upset. After that we treated him with more conservative food like sandwich and pizzas. A week later he wanted to eat the samosa again, reluctantly we shared it with him and this time nothing happened to him. Darwin’s theory of evolution proved !!!
Be prepared to go vegetarian
The meat consumption of India is very less as compared to Western countries so yes you won’t get meat in many parts of the country especially places related to religious and spiritual practices. So for survival be prepared to go vegetarian.
When travelling in the summer season or in coastal areas it is very important that you stay hydrated. The heat wave during summers can be very harsh resulting in dehydration and fainting at times.
Drink bottled water
This is very essential as tap water in India can never be trusted. Always take couple of bottles with you when travelling. Also make sure the bottled water is from a reliable store and brand with non-tampered seals. There are many duplicate manufactures who supply substandard water in the market.
Don’t give money to beggars
If you spare change for one beggar then you would be surrounded by hordes of others and their persuasiveness might scare you. Yes we do give alms to the poor but we are used to being surrounded and hushing them away. This might be not the case for first time visitors.
Always carry cash and keep change handy
When travelling in bigger cities it is easier to find an ATM at some intervals but in smaller remote cities you might find it very hard to find one. Also to buy things easily you would need money of smaller denominations of money. After bargaining if you don’t give exact change then there is quite a possibility that the vendor might not return full money citing non-availability of change as a reason.
Beware of Pickpockets
In tourist places you need to be alert of pickpockets. Keep your valuables concealed properly in layers of clothing.
Stay away from dingy lanes
This is something followed by Indians too. You should avoid going through dark dingy lanes to avoid unnecessary trouble. If in remote places then it’s advisable to stay indoors during evening and nighttimes.
Avoid advance payments
When any kinds of services are required, refrain from paying upfront and ask the payment to be done after completion of job.
Bargain hard while buying
When buying something from the local market, make sure you bargain to get a good price. Many of the times local vendor charge tourist many times more than the actual price.
Have a flight to catch ?? start early
The road traffic in India is unpredictable and at times you can be stuck for hours in Jams, especially in the metro cities. So it would be really wise to leave early to catch the flight.
Pay by meter
When hiring a cab or auto rickshaw be sure to pay by meter. Most of the drivers would try to fix the fare with you before hand, don’t fall for it. I have myself been tricked into these things a few times.
Plan a longer trip
India is such a vast country that it’s impossible to understand it in a short time. Travelling to one part of the country won’t give you the complete picture of it. The non-stop workaholic life of metro-cities like Mumbai and Bangalore is in complete contrast to the highly traditional and spiritual ways of Kashi and Mathura. The deserts of Rajasthan are in complete contrast to ice clad mountains of Kashmir. So if you are someone who is planning to learn the diverse culture of India then give it a month or two to sink in.
Some places I recommend
Explore amazing views in Kodaikanal, a hill station in Tamilnadu
Are you planning to visit India any sooner? or already visited? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below