How to avoid Common Cultural Pitfalls while travelling in India

Speaking of ideologies, India might be said to be in a transition period where a confluence of conservative ideas and liberal thoughts is paving the way of a culture that balances heritage and progress. But nevertheless, the cultural ethos that India is known to harbour is not going to fade away any soon.

So, here’s a guide on how to avoid cultural pitfalls in India:

1. No prejudices, please

Maybe you’ve got it from the movies and TV series, but it will only do you good if you refrain from going about expecting scenes of elephants on dusty streets, cows blocking roads. This is as much 21st century here, as anywhere else. Let’s not have any presumptions or prejudices!

Snake charmer

2. Know when to shut the lens

No Photography

If you’re asked not to take a photo of something or somewhere (e.g. taking photos in religious places, or crematory grounds is often prohibited). Doesn’t matter how much you find the scene worth the click, if they say it’s against the practice, take it cool and comply. It’s advised that you seek permission from the people before taking photos of them.

3. Be Instinctive

Indian people are generally very hospitable and play the role of hosts very seriously. You might exchange pleasantries, have chats and food together. Being tolerant people, they might hesitate to complain about, if any of your action might displease them, try to sense it.

4. Religion is an issue

When you’re in a religious place, take care about where you step. It’s often considered disrespectful to step over certain places, or wearing shoes into temples, etc. Further, it’s wiser to cover up properly in the sacred places, so as to not offend the people. Cows and pigs are considered to be sacred animals by the Hindu and Muslim religions, respectively. Disrespect of religious practices might not be received very well. Also, avoid them in your cuisines unless you come across the few restaurants that serve the items.

5. Avoid public display of affections

Taj Mahal Agra

If you’re travelling with your spouse, avoid public display of affections. Although, it’s usually considered okay to hold hands in public, and of course, there are lover points where you might cuddle up. But then again, there are limits to be maintained. Just follow the suite of the locals, check the environment and come up with the suitable act of romance that seems acceptable.

6. Win them by greetings

Photo by Marji Lang

If you need to call someone, prefer to do so by folding your hands at the palm and uttering ‘namaste’, instead of any physical contact, like tapping on shoulders etc. This Indian form of greeting won’t only prevent any awkward situation, but also win you hearts!

7. Notions of Physical Contact

There are some notions of physical contacts. Don’t touch anyone on the head. This gesture signifies ‘aashirwaad’ (blessing) in India, and is performed by someone superior to a person. Now, you don’t wanna come up as imposing, do you?

8. Respect the prohibition on cuisines

If some places are strictly notified to be vegetarian, don’t succumb to temptations of non-veg dishes. Alcohol is also restricted in some places, and even beer can be considered a violation.

9. Punctuality is one aspect that you might have to compromise upon

Late running trains, traffic jams will make you realize the validity of Einstein’s theory of relativity- time indeed is relative! Further, you might often find it amusing that distance is usually measured in time by people. You’ll be told how long it would take you to reach someplace, rather than the distance. It might seem a logical option owing the large population and it’s pressure on commutation.

10. Public attention might be a tricky issue

Female tourists in Delhi, India

Being a foreigner, you’re likely to attract some attention. Don’t be bothered about it, but rather cherish the celebrity feeling. If someone seems friendly, you might engage in some conversations which might be concerning your native place and such curiosities. You can share a photo session with your new friend and take them back home as memories. Don’t entertain stalking or harassment. You can call for help from people around, should you feel insecure. Even if not for sake of morality, Indians won’t let a fellow ruin the reputation of the country.

11. Sanitation and cleanliness

India railway station dirty
We need to make this cleaner!

might be more than an eyesore and to frankly accept, India doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to support the waste management of it’s ever growing population. You might often encounter filth and garbage, and the only thing you can do her is follow the principle “be the change you want to see”. Don’t litter and be an example.

12. Dressing up

The Tourist in Varanasi

Dressing up in the sultry summer might coax you to slip into your shorts and casuals. But you could rather go for Indian clothing (doesn’t have to necessarily ethnic), which are comfortably light and suited for the weather. Its better that you cover up, as some places might be strict on the issue.

13. Don’t get nervous by the crowd

Mumbai Local Crowd

Go with the flow. It’s a huge population and everyone might seem to be in a hurry. If you’ve to shove and push your way into a train or bus, do so. Be wary of pickpockets in these crowds.

Since India is a country that accommodates a vast diversity, it’s needless to say, the geography won’t be the only thing changing as you travel. The social and ideological structure will also vary, and all you need to do is observe the people around you, the way the locals interact, and follow suite. It might be a very different culture, in contrast to where you hail from, but that’s what adds to the identity and uniqueness! Rest assured, you will have a pleasant experience as Indians are very welcoming and consider the principle ‘athithi devo bhava’ (Guest is god.). Further, we have our hosts helping you out!

Welcome to a unique cultural experience, padhaaro to India!

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