Do's and Dont's
Visiting India can be a wee bit unnerving for the first-time visitor. The lifestyle and culture is totally different from the West. We've made a list of some important dos and don'ts for hassle-free and enjoyable travel in in India.
A proper VISA to enter and stay in India is a must. There are reported cases when travelers are advised non-requirement of Indian VISA by their travel agents. Practically every foreign national requires VISA to enter India.
Travelers should get properly inoculated against Yellow Fever if coming through infected regions.
It is advisable to cover yourself with travel insurance for thefts, loss and medi-claim.
Carry proper maps of the places proposed to visit in India, as signboards are often absent. Try to reach a station during daytime if traveling on your own. In any case avoid persistent touts and taxi-wallahs at airport/stations/bus stand to help you find your hotel. Always use tourist assistance desk for proper advice.
Women traveling alone in certain lonely places should avoid walking at odd hours.
Don't ever enter a temple, mosque, tomb, dargah or Gurudwara with shoes on and/or scantily dressed. One should cover his/her head with a cloth while in a Gurudwara or Dargah. Parikrama or walking around the sanctum sanctorum should always be in clockwise direction.
Participating in a social occasion or visiting a home requires conservative dress codes. Do not shake hands with ladies. Always pick up a thing and eat with your right hand. Take only as much as you can eat, do not leave anything uneaten over the dish.
Do not point your finger at any person. It is taken as a sign of annoyance.
While changing money, insist on getting encashment certificate.
Do not checkout of the hotel in hurry. While checking out it has been noticed in some hotels, the extras are unreasonably charged which the guest hurriedly pays without crosschecking.
Do not leave your cash and valuables in your hotel rooms. Keep your cash divided in different pockets.
Take care of proper disposal of your rubbish always whether you are exploring desert, or Himalayas or beaches or anywhere else.
Be careful of cultural and social sensitivities of the regions. There is no single rule for that, the best way is to observe and follow.
Take care of contamination of water and food problem. Always drink safe mineral water and take well-cooked food.
Don't buy antiques more than 100 years old. Selling and buying "shahtoosh" shawls is a crime. The same goes for ivory and wildlife.
Buy at genuine shops only. Bargaining is a popular practice in India and necessary too. Don't ever believe in lucrative offers of antique dealers in which they offer you to carry a parcel of some other buyer back home with your own margin described. Entire transaction should be legal and transparent so that you may claim later if dissatisfied.
Don't eat anything offered by fellow travelers on train or road travels. It might have sleeping pills. Always travel reserved class in trains.
Always chain and lock your luggage under your berth in a train. Don't keep anything valuable near the window. Always carry plenty of water, fluids in trains. A lone woman traveler may request to be accommodated near other women travelers.
Do not visit places that encourage orthodoxy, social injustice and inhuman practices (like visiting a sati temple).
Don't photograph women without permission.
Don't accept offers of visiting anyone's home unless you are confident of the person.
Always use strong suitcases/baggage, as mishandling is common at airports/stations.
Don't tip unreasonably and unnecessarily in a hotel. The NEWS soon spreads in the hotel and by the time you checkout there will be a group of them saluting you to expect something.
While traveling, don't act confused. Keep a posture of a person known to the region.
Avoid eating buffet meals, even in expensive hotels. The food may become contaminated due to over-exposure.
If you are male introduced to a lady or a grown-up girl, don't take the initiative of offering a handshake. If she extends her hand, you must reciprocate, but don't be the first to extend your hand. If you are female and are being introduced to a male: it is up to you – the female – to take the initiative for a handshake. The rule of thumb is: the female extends her hand first, and the male reciprocates.
The Western practice of a peck on the cheek as a form of greeting a lady or a grown up girl is JUST NOT IN when you are in India unless you happen to be in 'Westernised Indian' circles or in the company of people in the glamour industry such as models and beauty queens (even then, DON'T take the initiative if you are male).
The namastay is a local form of greeting. It involves the joining of your palms as during prayer in church – well, not exactly, but it can pass (in church, the two thumbs are crossed, in the Indian 'namastay', the thumbs join but remain parallel to each other: this is only for information as the difference is not visible to the person in front of you).
If you find the lady is not extending a hand shake, go for the namastay. Even with men, the namastay can be an excellent little PR gimmick! Follow it up with a kaise hai (how are you?) and you have broken the first block of ice if one there was!
Politics can be freely discussed in India and most people will have an opinion which they will not mind being contradicted. But avoid discussing religion, especially with Muslims who form 11% of India's population.
Avoid visiting Kashmir in the extreme north as well as areas in the extreme north-east. Foreigners, especially West Europeans ands Americans, are at risk to hostage-taking by terrorists in those areas. The rest of India is safe haven for everybody.
Don't trust strangers with money. Trust your hotel, but not people you may bump into on the streets.
If somebody has invited you home for dinner, carry with you a box of sweets or at least a chocolate bar for the kid.
Don't bargain in proper shops especially those that display "Fixed Price" signs: that will be seen as bad manners.
Never buy food from roadside stalls or mobile canteens. Not that they are bad, but your system may not be accustomed to such delicacies and you might end up spending more time in the loo than normal.
Don't offer bribes to get any job done. Bribe-taking and bribe-giving are a common practice in India but they are intended to speed up things or win a favour that you are not entitled to. Plan well in advance. Use consultants or trade and industry associations. If you expect favours, let them come free or not at all. Warn anyone (even in government) who asks you for a bribe that you would report him to the Anti-Corruption Bureau or the nearest police-station. If he persists, do it discreetly so that he can be caught red-handed.
Indian English has its own delights especially to foreigners of English nativity. Don't show amusement at the different Indian accents and choice of words. This does not take away from the fact that many Indians speak and write better English than many native English speakers.
Many Indians are in the habit of shaking their head in the course of conversation or taking instructions. Don't show amusement if you witness this.
Avoid offers of spiritual salvation and magic remedies from saints, godmen and quacks. There may be some spiritually elevated people in India, but there is no way you can distinguish the genuine ones from the crooks. If you are seriously interested in these aspects of India, take help from someone you know or visit one of the respected spiritual organisations in India.
Avoid driving in India unless you have been trained on Indian roads.