India conjures up many images : the Taj Majal, the Ganges river, the spicy food, and welcoming people. As a huge country, its culture is rich and diverse. This is very much attractive for foreign travellers, but can also be unsettling when we don’t understand the customs or rules of etiquette. To make friends, rather than offend, here are three of the most important to do’s and don’t in this beautiful country.
Respect the cows
Cows are sacred in India, and while many travellers know this, they don’t always expect to have to bow to their will ! It’s one of the many specifities of India, which can appear odd at first – just like the fact you cannot play cards on trains, or that you greet others with a friendly Namaste – but one that becomes natural after a while.
The Hindu religion is predominant in India, and as such, all Indians and foreigners are to respect this belief that all cows are sacred. It is therefore common to see them hanging out on the roads, by houses, or on the beach. Even if they can be at times a nuisance – creating a traffic jam for instance – cows are still held in high esteem, and as a traveller you are expected to also show respect. If you do get stuck in a traffic jam, it will be an excellent opportunity to work on your patience skills and admire the scenery!
Adopt the local way of dressing
Just like in many other countries, the gender roles in India can be somewhat stiffled. Women and girls are expected not to wear revealing clothes – that means no tank tops, no short skirts, not shorts. Especially in temples and other sacred places where this is particularly significant. In a country where temperatures and humidity can skyrocket, it can be unconfortable at first. One solution is to adopt the local way of dressing, and treat yourself to a beautiful saree, particularly if you are attending a wedding.
In some places, a head cover will also be required, so do pack a scarf. Or even better: buy one in India. You’ll find beautiful scarves, made with cashmere, silk… for a fraction of a price that you’d pay at home.
Don’t use your left hand
In Indian culture, the left hand is considered unclean as this is the one used when going to the bathroom. In practice, this means you should never use your left hand when greeting someone, or for handing out something, particularly food. You take the risk of not only appearing disrespectful but also unclean and unhygienic. Pointing fingers is also considered rude, especially if done with your left hand, so if you want to raise attention to something, it is best to nod or wave the full hand (the right one of course!).
There are many customs that are specific to India, we hope you take your trip as an opportunity to learn about them. This will increase your understanding and appreciation of the diversity and beauty that India can offer.