Dos and Don'ts when travelling in India
10 Feb 2022
"Incredible India!" – that’s the advertising slogan of the international tourism campaign with which the Indian Ministry of Tourism has been promoting India as a travel destination for 20 years now. India is indeed a unique and fascinating country that, with its size and cultural diversity, feels more like a continent than a single country. The country consists of so much more than the vibrant metropolises of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata or the world-famous buildings such as the Taj Mahal or the centuries-old temples in Khajuraho. It is definitely worth it to leave the common tourist routes and get to know India in all its diversity!
However, India’s unique culture and diversity also pose some challenges for travellers: Social norms and customs can differ greatly from those in Germany and other European countries. Good preparation is therefore essential in order to avoid negative surprises as much as possible and to turn your trip to India into a unique experience that you will remember for years to come. The following tips can help you with that.
If you would like to find out more about India’s diverse traditions and customs, we recommend the book "Kulturschock Indien" (in German) published by Reise Know-How Verlag. To get a first overview of India’s regional diversity, you can also read our articles on Karnataka in the south, Uttar Pradesh in the north or on the states of India in general!
When traveling through India, you should always be aware of the diversity of this seventh largest country on earth. The financial hub and Bollywood film factory Mumbai is worlds apart from the former French colony of Puducherry or a village in rural Bihar. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that societal norms can differ from place to place. A custom that you will see almost everywhere in India is the consumption of food with the right hand. While knives and forks are certainly offered to you in fancy restaurants in big cities, eating with bare hands is the traditional and still very common way of eating. Since the left hand is often used for going to the toilet and usually water is used instead of toilet paper, food should always be brought to the mouth with the right hand. Money or other things should also only be handed over with the right hand.
Another important issue for every India traveller relates to the dress codes that are appropriate in different settings. In the large metropolises, the younger Indians in particular often don’t dress that much differently than is the case in large European cities. In smaller towns and villages, however, shoulders and legs should always be covered and especially women should avoid figure-accentuating clothing. While you can find many young men dressing in jeans and shirts outside of the big cities, the vast majority of women in rural areas and smaller towns wear traditional Indian clothing such as the salwar kameez, a combination of wide-cut fabric trousers and a wide blouse that usually reaches up to the knees, often worn together with a long, wide scarf (dupatta).
In India, as a very religious country, it is particularly important to behave and dress appropriately and respectfully at religious sites. As a general rule, clean and modest clothing should be worn when visiting such sites in order to show due respect at these places of worship. In addition, in temples and mosques (as in many Indian households), shoes must be removed before entering. It is therefore advisable to wear slip-on shoes so that you can quickly take them off and put them back on. Shoe racks are often available on site for free use or someone is waiting in front of the entrance to keep the footwear for a few rupees. Even if the shoes have been taken off, they should never be taken inside, but always left in front of the entrance. In the temples of the Jainas, whose religious community originated more than 2,500 years ago in the north of the Indian subcontinent, any objects made of leather are also taboo. This rule is based on the principle of nonviolence (ahimsa). This principle is of central importance in Jainism, which is why Jainas eat only vegetarian food and do not wear clothing made from animal products such as fur and leather.
In mosques and Sikh temples, on the other hand, the visitor should ensure that the head and hair are covered with a cloth or something similar. In Islamic places of worship, this obligation usually only applies to women, but in some cases men are also asked to wear a head covering. When visiting gurudwaras, the temples of the Sikhs, the rules are clear: Women and men must cover their heads. In most cases, colourful headscarves are available for this purpose, but you can of course also bring your own scarves. In Sikhism, a monotheistic faith originating in the northern Indian region of Punjab, covering the head shows the respect and humility of all believers towards the formless Creator God.
Photography is often prohibited in religious sites, and if it is allowed, you should take photos with respect. You should also ask people outside of the places of worship before photographing them.
We hope that with the help of this article you could gain an initial overview of what you should consider when traveling to India. Check out New2 India regularly to find out more about India as a travel destination, but also to get to know a lot more about this fascinating country and its people!
Have you already been to India yourself and want to share your experiences and tips? Then feel free to write to us in the comments or directly to [email protected].
Written by: Ferdinand Schlechta
Cover Photo: Alka Jha - Unsplash
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