Things you should know about India before you go…

This is a guest post by Amanda King from

From someone who has traveled extensively around Asia (I lived in China for a year and traveled decently far afield) I can tell you that the Himalayas are a proper division between India and the majority of the rest of what is considered “the East.”

There are two things that I can name off the bat that India has in common with the rest of Asia –
  1. Fascination with Westerners: The number of times I had my picture taken when I was traveling in India were too numerous to count. Two times I remember out and out – I was handed someone’s toddler out of the blue and the father whipped out the camera. The other time two of my colleagues and I were swarmed by school children at the Badami caves. We legitimately could not get out until the children’s teachers called out to them repeatedly to leave us alone.
  2. Ridiculous driving: And by that I mean that like most other Asian countries I have been to (Vietnam, Cambodia, and China – I’m not counting Mongolia, Japan or Singapore) the center lane, stop signs and traffic lights are all taken as mere suggestions. Driving in India is like playing a perpetual game of chicken – whomever has the bigger vehicle, doesn’t back off – and doesn’t get in an accident – wins.
Other than that, India is vastly different than any other Asian country I have been to, not counting any country during a major celebration – Tet,  New Year or the like.
If I had to describe India in one word, it would be color. If I had to describe it in two, it would be color and noise. India is a visceral, emotional country; there is not the (perceived) reservation of Japan nor the rigidity of China. While (communist) China is defined by their atheism, the geography of India is dotted with sacred places to numerous religions. It’s hard to go a week without some relatively major celebration or another in India.
And color is not limited to the visual spectrum either, though it is surely an enticing feast to the eyes. There is a vibrant hue to just about everything in India – the sounds, the smells, the food, the people.
While that is my ruminations on past travels, here is some advice for you if you are traveling to India…
  • You are not going to get forks to eat with! At least not most places. Really work on that hand-eye coordination, and if you’re left-handed, learn to become at least somewhat ambidextrous. It’s considered impolite to use your left hand for anything during the meal as it’s considered unclean.
  • Go to an active temple at least once – Temple in India is unlike anything I’ve been to in my life – people are pushing and shoving to receive darshan – that is, to be in the presence of the deity as represented by the effigy. The noise and clatter of prayer cymbals, the chanting of priests… The amazing color of the dressed embodiments of the gods & goddesses, the various powders used for marking a tilaka… These are all amazing manifestations of the Indian society and culture!
  • Go to a “dead” temple – I say “dead” because at the inactive and even World Heritage sites, there will always be small offerings around. But the feeling that I got walking around all of the inactive temples I visited was one of peace and well-being, not emptiness. It’s a great moment for reflection.
  • Ride in a rickshaw – With the understanding that you could be simultaneously gripping the side of the rickshaw darting forward through traffic and laughing, riding a rickshaw in India is an exhilarating experience! Just make sure that you get the driver to bargain down – they tend to charge Westerners double.
  • Go to a market – This is something that I would tell someone going to any country, but if you go to India, make sure to head over to a local market. You’ll get a sense of the community there, and maybe you’ll find some really great deals!
  • Get fitted for a sari or salwar kameez (If you’re a girl, that is) – Many tailoring shops will have ready-made suits for the tourists, but if you have the time (mine took about five days – or maybe less), choose the fabric and get it tailored. The seamstresses will fawn over you and fall over themselves to find the perfect fabric for you. Smile and allow them to do so – it’s a great memory to have.
  • Become comfortable with your bodily functions! The reason the left hand is considered unclean is because…well, it’s traditionally used for unclean things. Like the rest of Asia, India uses “squat pots” as I fondly call the hole-in-the-floor toilets, but unlike most of Asia, toilet paper is much more of a foreign concept.
  • Go barefoot – While this is true for showing respect in temples and people’s homes in a good number of countries in Asia, this rule applies much more pervasively to India

One Response to “Things you should know about India before you go…”

  1. These would have been same advice I would have given anyone from foreign land visiting my country.
    And it’s truly said Color and Noise are two words to describe India in general.
    We have a saying in Bengali (Yeah diversity in language), which if translated to english will mean-twelve months and thirteen festivals.
    In terms of visiting religious sites, apart from bare foot, it’s good to cover your head too with some scarf or handkerchief.


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