Twenty Things I Didn’t Know about India (Before I Went)

Everybody has a  picture of what  India must be like.  H R F Keating wrote the Inspector Ghote novels without ever having visited the country.  Having just returned from a holiday in southern India myself,  this is what I learned:

  1. To enter India you need a visa from the Indian High Commission.  Most people purchase the (cheaper) e-visa, only to find that, on arrival, they will be questioned and fingerprinted.  Indians take the terrorism  threat very seriously.
  2. The caste system continues as strong as ever.  Even in 2016, every Indian citizen must carry a caste certificate.
  3. All marriages are arranged, in all religions.   When sons and daughters reach a certain age (about thirty for aIMG_1947 man, younger for a woman), parents search the ‘matrimonials’ in the local newspaper, or online, for a suitable bride/groom, prioritising those with good education and good job, preferably non-smoking and non-drinking.
  4. When a couple marry, the bride adopts the groom’s religion.
  5. IMG_1088 - CopyAlthough 79% of Indians are nominally Hindus, there are even more churches in southern India than in the American Bible Belt, particularly in Kerala.  The Catholic churches are very well maintained, because, in Kerala, young men go abroad to work in Arab countries to earn lots of money and, on their return, they buy a business and give money to the church.  The Anglican churches (CSI), after having been neglected after the Raj, are now being restored, energetically.
  6. When you enter a church, temple, ashram, or any important building, you remove your shoes, out of respect and as a courtesy to people kneeling down on the floor to pray.
  7. Indians are always cheerful, even those who are poor and don’t enjoy the things we take for granted.
  8. IMG_1600Adult Indian women hardly ever wear western dress.  Mostly, they wear saris, which are always beautiful, clean and worn correctly with a loose sash over the shoulder, even when they are doing manual jobs like sweeping the floor or making bricks.  Schoolgirls tend to wear salwar kameez  (tunics and loose trousers), although pupils at some private schools wear British-type uniforms.
  9. Adult Indian men wear a western long-sleeved shirt with a lungi (loose wrap tied around the middle, either full-length or folded vertically so as to be knee-length).  Occasionally, you see older men wearing the dhoti, which is like a loin-cloth.
  10. Neither women nor men cover their heads, even though the heat can be intense.
  11. Indians in southern India tend to be very dark-skinned.
  12. English is spoken widely.  Also, most signs are printed in English as well as in Asian scripts.
  13. IMG_1090Motorbikes outnumber cars on the roads.  It is possible to cram a whole family on a motorbike, with Dad driving, children behind him and Mum sitting side-saddle behind them.  (Sadly, I don’t have a photo of this.)  Nobody bothers with crash-helmets.  Many of the cars were 1960s models, like the one here. IMG_1543
  14. In India, meals are often advertised as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘non-vegetarian’ – completely the right emphasis, in my opinion.  On the Sri Lankan plane on our way out, my husband asked for the meat meal, only to be told that all the food was vegetarian.  (Result!!!)
  15. In India, if you don’t eat salad or unpeeled fruit, don’t have ice in your drinks and use common sense, you won’t get food poisoning, but your poor old western stomach will not be able to cope with so much spicy food.
  16. For breakfast, Indians spicy food, just like at any other time.
  17. Tea in India is not the Proper Cup of Tea we know and love.  Indian tiffin (which H R F Keating wrote about repeatedly) is drank with – a lot of – condensed milk and sugar and tastes like warm kulfi;  it is also served in a little tin cup on a rack carried at shoulder height.IMG_1594
  18. Although most cows wander where they want, most are tethered and oxen pull carts and ploughs.  Indian cows look fitter than British ones, leaner, able to move comfortably and not stuffed with antibiotics.
  19. IMG_1166No cats.  No sheep.  Many goats, particularly black ones.
  20. Fly-tipping in India is epic.

India has been on my bucket list for decades.  Do I recommend it?  Definitely.


4 thoughts on “Twenty Things I Didn’t Know about India (Before I Went)

  1. Looks like you had a wonderful trip. After watching a TV series set in India as a teenager and after a close schoolfriend went to work with Mother Teresa I really wanted to ‘do’ India – but since first venturing to Africa it has vanished from my list out of necessity – and also because my interest in the built waned as my experience of the un-built grew – there’s only so much I can manage and it has to be wherever ‘he’ is working in Africa really, Not a great hardship!

    1. I haven’t been to Africa, although One and Only Husband wants to go to South Africa. Still, don’t rule out India, Mary. You would really enjoy it.

    1. You’d be all right, Julie. Indoors they have air conditioning and, outside, you wear a hat – even though the locals don’t.

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