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India is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world in my opinion. First time travellers to this massive and bustling South Asian country tend to sum it up in three words: Intimidating, busy and shocking.
Although those words describing India make perfect sense to me, I found India to be intriguing, colourful and alive.
India is a melting pot of cultures and traditions, various types of food and will provide you with enough culture shock to have stories to tell for years to come. India is a place that will teach you things about yourself, about others and you’ll learn what travelling is really all about.
If you’ve ever had India on your list of places to visit, I can highly recommend travelling there to gain a whole new perspective on life, on travel and open your eyes to what India is really all about and not to judge a place by what you see in the mainstream media.
India is a land that seems so far away, yet when you visit, the people make you feel right at home.
When visiting this vibrant country, you’ll want to make a good first impression on Indians by respecting their culture and traditions. By showing them you are making an effort, the locals will surely be thankful.
Here are a few cultural do’s and don’ts when visiting India.
Read more: How I Spent Two Weeks Travelling In India
Don’t Wear Tight & Revealing Clothing
Nobody likes being told what to wear, but when visiting a country like India, especially as a woman, it’s important to dress a bit more conservatively then you would say, on the beaches of Spain. Western women tend to have a reputation of being slightly more, umm “loose” if you will, so dressing in revealing clothing will just fuel the reputation’s fire, so to speak, whether it’s true, or not. Although jeans are pretty customary in India among younger women these days, if you do decide to sport skinny jeans, pair your outfit with a light cardigan, pashmina, or kaftan. You might be slightly uncomfortable if it’s hot outside, but if I can survive (I don’t like heat), then you’ll be just fine.
Do Take Your Shoes Off When Entering Someone’s Home
Like in many Asian countries, feet are considered dirty, so it is customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home, or a mosque. When I stayed at an Ashram in Rishikesh, removing your shoes before going inside to eat in the dining hall was required as well.
Do Be Firm If Needed
The people of India are kind, but the salespeople on the streets can be quite persistent. As I walked around the streets of Jaipur absolutely mesmerized by the kindness of strangers, offering a flower for my hair, a piping hot cup of masala chai, or trying to sell me things I didn’t need, like bongo drums, I found that a polite, yet firm “no, thank you” and a smile will work 9 times out of 10…there is always that one super persistent salesman who just won’t take no for an answer. Him? You just ignore completely. That being said, if they still don’t leave you alone, a firmer “NO” will work.
Don’t Be Afraid To Engage In Conversation With Locals
One of the reasons why I love travelling so much is the fact that I love engaging with the locals. You’ll never understand a country until you chat with its people and you might be surprised to learn a whole LOT more than any book, news station, or magazine will tell you. I’ve chatted about politics, economics, customs etc with people in India during my travels and they are more than happy to speak English with you and Indians are known for being honest, so they will ALWAYS tell you the cold hard truth, which is totally refreshing!
Do Greet People With Namaste
A traditional and common way of greeting and bidding farewell to Indians, is the warm salutation Namaste (nah-mah-stay). If saying Namaste to a local, add in a warm smile while pressing your hands together at the palms and you’ll make a new friend almost instantly, plus gain a lot of respect as a foreigner.
Do Be Patient With Everything & Everyone
Although India is a bustling country that seems to always be on the move, chances are, if you need to be somewhere at a certain time, you’re more than likely to be late, or right on time, so be prepared to leave early if you need to get to a destination, or an airport! Practicing patience will be your best friend while in India. You just need to roll with the punches and realize that nobody is getting to where they need to go in time, especially with the amount of traffic, both the car and people kind, that will be jamming the streets. You may even run into some roadblocks of the bovine kind.
Do Haggle At The Markets & Shops
Haggling is considered a sport in India and if it WERE a sport in the Olympics, Indians would be the gold medal champions. Don’t be afraid to haggle in the markets and in shops because you’ll always be able to get a deal ANYWHERE in the country. They have a “foreigner rate” and an “Indian rate,” I kid you not. That being said, don’t try to low-ball the merchants in a disrespectful way. Be fair. I was even able to haggle at the Delhi International Airport for a purse I liked. I got 17% off, so yes, I definitely bought it! Score!
Don’t Eat With Your Left Hand
Another dirty part of the human anatomy according to Indians, is the left hand. Your left hand is often considered to be the hand you use to ummm, clean yourself after going to the toilet. Therefore you should avoid passing things, or touching food with your left hand. I’m right handed, so how exactly does THAT work? TMI? 😛
Don’t Be Offended By Personal Questions
There is NO such thing as a too personal question when it comes to Indian culture. Just embrace the fact that yes, you will probably get asked if you’re married, if you have children, If you’re single, then WHY are you single, how much money do you make and my personal favourite, will you marry them and move to India. Yes, I’ve been asked ALL. OF. THESE! Just have fun with it and don’t take it personally.
Don’t Expect Personal Space To Be Respected
If you’re claustrophobic, or a social distancing nut, India may not be the place for you to travel to. With one sixth of the world’s population crammed into one country, there won’t be a minute of the day that you will be alone on the streets, or inside shops, markets, temples and basically anywhere in the country, so keep that in mind. Hell, some major cities in India have a population that is almost on par with my home country of Canada! Personal space doesn’t really exist within India, so be prepared to rub shoulders and maybe a few other body parts, with the locals. Just warning you now. 😉
Don’t Give Money To Begging Children
As with any country where begging children are gathering in the streets and surrounding tourists while asking for money and grabbing your hand for attention, do NOT pay attention to them, or give them money. Yes, you may feel like a piece of shit for ignoring a child, but keep in mind that contributing and encouraging begging may hinder their lives, more than benefit it. If kids are able to get easy money from begging tourists in the streets, it may encourage them to not pursue schooling, or get real jobs that will help them and their families years down the road. By begging, they will not learn how to contribute to society with an education and career and by giving them free money, you’re adding fuel to the fire. Just say “NO” or flat out ignore them.
Do Respect The Cultural & Religious Differences
The make-up of India’s culture, customs and religions is a diverse melting pot. The major religion in India is Hinduism, but Islam, Christianity and Buddhism is widely practiced as well. Each and every State within India practices a wide range of customs particular to that region. When travelling in India, you’ll find that no two places are alike and if you have a curious mind when it comes to other cultures, you’ll always be learning every step of the way. When travelling in other countries that have other belief systems and customs different than your own, it is always necessary, actually imperative to be a respectful and responsible traveller.
Don’t Judge The Country As A Whole Unless You’ve Been There
Last, but certainly not least, keep in mind that India is a very diverse country full of extremely bold contrasts. Each individual State within India is unique and has its own cultural norms and traditions that people follow. What you see and experience in one corner of the country, isn’t necessarily what you’ll encounter and experience in another end of the country. There are all kinds of different people, religions and ways of behaving in Mama India. That being said, you shouldn’t come to any conclusions about the whole country based on limited experience within India and without experiencing different aspects of Indian culture and heritage. As I always say, you’ll never know unless you go, so just GO!
Read more: Mistakes To Avoid While Travelling
Is India on your list of places to travel to? If it is, what intrigues you most about this far away country? Let me know in the comments below! xo
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