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Things to know before travelling to India

Travelling to India? Learn the customs and traditions before you arrive in India. Know how to handle different situations in India. Distinguish between proper and improper ways of doing things in India. Consider all these aspects for having an enjoyable and memorable trip to India.

India will take you by surprise. No matter where you come from, nothing can really prepare you for this uniquely diverse, yet magnificent country. India is huge, it's mystifying – with different languages being spoken and many cultures and traditions. In cities, you will witness a flurry of activity and roaring traffic that can be chaotic, yet amazing. Hordes of people, dressed in brightly coloured clothes, going about their business is a common sight. You will probably be astonished, but do not let that ruin your holiday. You will soon realise that it is not as bad as it looks. If you really want to make the most out of your holiday you best follow these vital tips.

Avoid exhaustion

The most common grouse, beyond a doubt, which travellers (especially those travelling to India for the first time) have is fatigue. They complain of extreme tiredness and exhaustion. Tiredness could be because of the weather conditions in the country – most parts are hot and a few places are humid as well. Excessive sun can cause dehydration. To avoid exhaustion caused by fluid loss, up your fluid intake. Carry your own water and trust only reputed packaged juices and drinks bought from reliable outlets.

The second reason for a burnout is attempting too much, in too short a time. India is massive, vibrant and addictive, but your expectations must be realistic. You cannot see the entire country in a short time, without feeling burnout. A well-planned itinerary is what you need. The sights are not going anywhere, and you can always return to see what you missed the first time. Plan your holiday such that you limit the sights you want to visit, so you can soak in the unique fabric of those places. An itinerary must be planned before you arrive in India, so you have a clear idea of what you are going to see. Decide on places of interest in India based on specifics.

Explore, and be adventurous

Limiting your holiday to major cities is not going to be much fun. If you truly want to experience India have the villages of India on your itinerary too. You will move out of the rambling and massively overpopulated locales, to smaller, cleaner and less densely populated places and catch a glimpse of rural India, in all its glory. Certain tour operators offer excursions to rural villages, prefer these than going on your own.

Rural tourism is catching up in the states of Punjab, Haryana Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The tours include trips to the local farmer's markets, to the farmlands and cattle sheds and to rural hutments that have hand-drawn water wells etcetera.

Be careful of what you drink and eat

You do not want to catch a stomach bug, so watch what you eat. Try not to be too adventurous when eating out in India; your stomach might not be able to stomach it. Avoid street food and stick to eating at well-established eating joints.

Indian local delicacies can be too fiery for you. Some restaurants will cut down the spice if you are eating a la carte, others will suggest dishes that are mildly spiced. Prefer cashew based curries as they tend to be mildly flavoured.

Try tandoori dishes, as the cooking process is quite similar to grilling. Indian sweets are to die for, they can be milk based sweets, like gulab jamun, rasgulla, raj bhog or dry fruits based such as kaju katli and badam katli or pista katli made respectively from cashew nuts, almonds and pistachios. Some sweets are made from lentils and pulses; others use gram flour and white flour. All said and done all sweets are delectable.

Beef is easily available in restaurants in five-star properties. Indians prefer goat meat (which they call mutton) over lamb. Every place will have its own speciality. The one dish that is available in all parts of the country is a rice based dish called biryani. However, the preparation in every city is different – the biryani in Hyderabad, for instance, will be different from the one available in Lucknow.

Drink only bottled water, better still carry water purifying tablets.

Personal space – what's that?

The crowds make it impossible to maintain personal space. Be prepared for a bit of shoving and squishing and jostling, wherever you go. Queues are a foreign word here - people generally don't have the patience to wait their turn. They'll jump the line. Also, be prepared for meeting some really inquisitive people. Indians do not hesitate to ask apparently intrusive questions. There is nothing rude in their behaviour because it is an acceptable norm for them. Bear in mind that this is an entirely different people and culture. The questions might appear impertinent, but they generally are suggestive of the natives' courteous interest in you.

Are you married? Is this your wife/husband? How many children do you have? How much do you earn? These are typical questions you may be asked.

Wear conservative clothes

Indians are a relatively modest people. They dress rather conservatively. It is not that they do not wear jeans or dresses or shorts; they do, but only in metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chandigarh, to name a few.

Do not expose too much skin. No cleavage and micro shorts. No bikinis either on beaches. The only places where you can safely wear bikinis is on the beaches of Goa and by the poolside, at the hotel/resort, you'll be staying in. If you get invited to someone's home and are shown around the house, remove footwear when entering the kitchen and a sacred place. Some shops do not allow shoes inside either – if you see a bunch of slippers outside a shop that is a sign that you need to remove your footwear.

Common courtesies

Indians are bound by traditions. There is a lot that is unacceptable in their culture. Here is a lowdown of common courtesies that you need to practice when in the country –
  • Do not use your left hand while receiving or giving anything. Someone offers you something to eat or drink, take it in your right hand. When making a payment use your right hand to make the money exchange
  • Eat using your right hand. It is almost a sacrilege to eat with your left hand
  • Remove footwear while entering a temple
  • Cover your head, in places of worship. Men too need to cover their heads when entering a Gurudwara (Sikh temple)
  • Feet are considered impure, so if your foot accidentally brushes against someone be quick to apologise for it
  • If you are entertaining an Indian guest don't take their 'no' for a 'no'! Offer them food, coffee, tea repeatedly, until they say 'yes'
  • Indians are very hospitable and will not ask you what you want, but will force food down your gullet, well, not literally
  • Indians bob their heads a lot when they talk. You'll need to differentiate the 'yes' from a 'no' – they bob their head for both

Indians have no sense of time

Don't be offended if you are left waiting for an appointment. Very few Indians value your time. If they say five minutes, it could easily mean half an hour or more. People blame their delays on traffic snarls etcetera, but you end up waiting.

Another funny characteristic you'll find here is that distance is measured in time. Ask someone how far a place is and they will probably tell you it's ten minutes away, but not the actual distance.

Safety in your hands

Avoid overly friendly strangers. Don't accept food items from strangers. You perhaps know the drill and are aware of obvious ways of staying safe, in a foreign land. Muggings are uncommon in India, but your pockets or bag might get picked in crowded areas. Always carry valuables safely. Keep cash as close to your body as possible so pickpocketing can be avoided. Do not carry huge amounts of money with you, when moving around.

Stay in safe lodges. Read online reviews before you check into a place.

Learn to bargain

Other than big stores you won't find fixed-price shops easily. Most vendors hike price when they see foreigners. You need to be shrewd at negotiating prices and haggling. You'll be cheated outright if you pay the price the shop owners' quote. Walk out of the store and you'll have the shop owner bringing down the price.

Keep in mind the cost of things when you convert into your money might appear negligible, but in Indian rupees, the same would be exorbitant. Do not let people fleece you.

Be prepared for high decibels of noise levels

Indians are a loud people; don't be affronted if you have people raise their voice when they talk. They aren't fighting, that's just them, being them. You will also find loud music blaring in busy streets and marketplaces. The cacophony of street vendors at tourist destinations and in markets can sometimes be raucous. The ear-splitting, incessant honking of vehicles can be another irritant. You may want to use earplugs to shut off some of the sounds.

Dodge hawkers and beggars

Small time hawkers and beggars will pester you to either buy their wares or give them alms. Do not be compelled to do either. Keep walking or going about your business. The moment you give them attention or look at them or refuse they get 'charged' to beleaguer you some more. If you stop to purchase something from them or to give alms, you'll soon be surrounded by more of their cronies and this can put you in danger.

Detect scamsters

If anything appears too good to be true know that you are being cheated. Shop at Government run outlets to ensure quality products and fair pricing. Do not swipe cards at small retail stores; instead, pay in cash for any services rendered or goods purchased. Do not trust small shops to ship purchases to your city. If you want anything shipped to have a trusted person do it for you.

Exchange money only at authorised points. Tricksters will tempt you with better exchange rates, don't fall into their trap.

These are broad guidelines that you must follow as a tourist in India.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Author: Swati Sarnobat26 Mar 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 4

Although this article highlights some of the features of Indian food, Indian people, Indian lifestyle, climate etc, let the negative points be not highlighted because India has achieved fame in many aspects since beginning of civilization. Many foreign tourists too commend Indian culture.

The people who visit India for the first time need not wear conservative clothes, because even many Indians are dressing up in a modern way. To avoid exhaustion, they can just drink lime juice or prepare lime juice instantly by buying sugar around. They can consume fruits consisting of Vitamin C to feel relaxed.

Many Indians too are broad minded to understand that foreigners do not know the basics of Indian culture such as using left hand etc.

Author: Juana21 Apr 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

When an article is written as a piece of advice it must contain facts. Any advice to foreigners on what to expect when they arrive in India must be truthful. The intention is to help them blend with our people and our culture. It is meant for them to be able to deal with the culture shock they receive on their arrival. It is an advisory to prepare them for their visit. I do not see what you think as negative information in my article.

As far as dressing is concerned I request you to go through my article again and understand the advisory given.

Indians might be open-minded about foreigners not understanding our culture. However, that in no way means that the people arriving here should not prepare themselves about basic etiquettes before arrival. These are common courtesies that visitors adhere to, all over the world. Even when Indians go overseas, we try to blend with their culture – it is just a way of showing respect.

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