A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR ADVENTUROUS LADIES WHO WANT TO EXPLORE THE
ENERGY, CULTURE and natural beauty THAT IS INDIA!
India is a place full of magic and mystique. We fell in love with the unique culture, friendly hospitality and incredible landscapes, which is why we’re so excited to experience this beauty again as we bike, hike and traverse through Rajasthan on our WHOA India Adventure. Here are some travel tips and cultural cues that might come in handy along the way!
culture and customs: DID YOU KNOW...
India’s culture is among the world's oldest, beginning about 4,500 years ago with the arrival of the Aryan's in the Indus Valley civilization. Today, India is a very diverse country, with more than 1.2 billion people. It's expected to surpass China in both population and economic growth in the near future!
In 1757, the British arrived in India and established the British East India Company to gain control over the Dutch spice trade. After many years of colonization, backlash, and peaceful protests by leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, India gained it's independence on August 15,1947.
Indians have influenced the entire world with their significant advances in architecture (the Taj Mahal), mathematics (the invention of zero) and medicine (Ayurveda).
- India still operates under the caste system, which is an ancient classification of people into four hierarchical classes according to occupation. It is used to determine access to wealth, power, and privilege. Because caste is tied to one's family name, it is difficult to transcend positions. The four castes are: Brahmana (priests and spiritual leaders), Kshatriya (public service providers, politicians, and national defense), Vaishya (businessmen), and Shudra (semi-skilled and unskilled laborers).
Street smarts: Navigating through the chaos
Look both ways before crossing
The streets of India are filled with horns and honks, monkeys and cows, smells and sights, and every mode of transportation possible - from horses to bikes to rickshaws (a small, open air three-wheeled vehicle). People are always in a hurry, so keep up your walking pace and don't be shy to let somebody else pass by you. Crossing a street can be difficult, as there are little to no traffic lights or street rules (blinkers are not common practice, and you will often see trucks with "please honk" signs to notify the driver of passing). So grab a buddy, stay confident, and calmly walk, not run, to the other side.
keep your body language open
Smile and say hello to people you pass on the street. Greet elders with 'Namaste' and don't feel the need to act tough or unapproachable, as Indian's will see this as rude and disrespectful to their culture. Indians take body language very seriously, and you will soon pick up small cultural cues, like a head bobble to mean 'okay' or folding your hands in front of your chest as a gesture of gratitude.
Haggle with reason
It's expected, especially in outdoor markets, to bargain down prices of clothes and souvenirs. Start by offering half price, and then gage the vendor's response. It's not rude to walk away (or at least pretend to) if you are not satisfied with the price, this will force your vendor to cave on your asking price. Also, dollars are accepted in most places, but you will usually receive a lower price if you use rupees because you can haggle down to exact change. Download a converter app before shopping and know the rates! Bargaining also applies for cabs and rickshaws. Sometimes it helps to make it a show of writing down the price in a notebook, so the driver will know you have a record of the promised fee and not try to cheat you.
Don’t force pictures where they're not wanted. Judge the scenario, snap subtly, and always ask people before taking close-ups. Often, people will ask for money in exchange for a shot, but avoid this if you can - it's not best practice for sustainable tourism. Lastly, don't be surprised if people try to jump in your photos, or ask to take a photo with you. It's fine to take pictures with locals, but use judgement if it is on their personal device, as you don't know where that picture will end up.
Sit or squat?
The most common toilet in India is a "squatty potty," a ceramic bowl in the ground with two placeholders for your feet and a small hole in the center (watch your aim!). Squatty potties are what you will find in most public restrooms, as well as upper-class establishments. To flush, there will be a bucket of water and a cup to the side of the toilet. Use it! Bring wipes because toilet paper and sinks are scarce. Believe it or not, it is custom to use the left hand to wipe, then wash (so never accept money, food, or valuables with this hand!).
use your table manners: dining etiquette and favorite foods
The rules of eating in India depend on whether you're in the north or the south, but one thing that remains the same wherever you are - never say never! Food in India is the primary sign of hospitality, so try their snacks! Very often, you'll be offered a biscuit or chai upon entering a shop or a home. At least take a nibble or a sip. Chai (tea) is a safe bet nearly 100% of the time because of the high temperature it is boiled at - and it's delicious too! Wash before every meal (bring wipes, since many bathrooms won't have soap), don't accept food with your left hand (see: section on squatty potty), and don't be afraid to try the street food! Here are some of our favorites...
Grab your flower crown, it's festival season!
Or maybe your Mala instead? Malas are colorful flower garlands people display in homes and place around statues to celebrate the gods and goddesses during festivals. Indians know how to celebrate - there was a time when there was a festival on every day of the year! Traditionally, festivals symbolized religious holidays and were centered around the worshipping of a god or goddess. Today, about forty major festivals remain widely celebrated throughout the country. Most of them include street parties, parades, live music, loud chants (mantras), and the sharing of delicious traditional foods.Here are three notable one's you should know about:
Diwali is a five day festival that celebrates the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to their kingdom following the defeat of the King Ravana. It's known as the "Festival of Lights" for all the fireworks, small clay lamps, and candles that are lit. The festival symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness. Rangoli designs are also very popular during this festival. They are geometric patterns made out of colored powdered and left on the streets to be taken by the wind after the festival is over. The candlelight and colors make Diwali a very warm and atmospheric festival, and we're so excited to celebrate Diwali in India this year on our WHOA India Adventure!
Holi is a two day festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, and one of the most photogenic festivals of them all. It's commonly referred to as the "Festival of Colors" because people throw colored powder and water all over each other, have enormous parties, and dance under water sprinklers until dawn. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebrations. Holi is a very carefree festival that's great fun to participate in if you don’t mind getting down and dirty!
This eleven day festival is famous for its never ending street parades and beautiful decor. Ganesh Chaturthi festival honors the birth of the beloved Hindu elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha. People build huge, elaborately crafted statutes of Ganesh that are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much singing and dancing, and never ending parties! At the end of the parade, the statues are submerged in the ocean and left to dissolve over time, representing Ganesh’s merging with consciousness and preparation for his peaceful journey back home.
INDIAN SPIRITUALITY: worshipping the divine
Hinduism originated in Northern India, near the river Indus, about 4000 years ago. It developed out of Brahminism, an ancient sacrificial religion, and because of this, does not have one singular origin or creator. It is the world's oldest existing religion and has over 750 million followers. Hinduism is practised by more than 80% of India's population, and there are believed to be over 330 million gods and goddesses that are worshipped, each with the own unique significance and story. With so many deities, followers, and thousands of years of history, we've created a FAQ to help answer all of the questions you may have about the world's third largest religion!
What do Hindus believe?
For many Hindus, religion is a matter of practice rather than of beliefs. It's more what you do, than what you believe. Hindus believe in a universal soul or God called Brahman. Brahman takes on many forms that Hindus worship as the many gods or goddesses in their own unique ways. Hindus believe that there is the spirit of Brahman in everyone, called the Atman, and it is possible to reach eternal tranquility through the practice of reincarnation.
What does reincarnation entail?
Reincarnation is the belief that the soul is eternal and lives many lifetimes, in one body after another. The soul is sometimes born in a human body, sometimes in an animal body and sometimes in a plant body, taking the shape and form of whatever it desires. Hindus believe that all forms of life contain a soul, and all souls have the chance to experience this same life in different forms. One is reincarnated into different forms through the action of Samsara, a cycle of repeated births and deaths. The existence of this cycle is governed by Karma. Once one reaches the final stage of Moksha, their soul is free.
Okay, so Karma? Moksha?
What goes around, comes around. Karma is the cause of any particular destiny. Hindus believe that misfortunes in our present life are the result of acts that we have committed in the past. In the same way, our actions in our present lives will determine our fate in the lives that follow. With good Karma comes Moksha, the freedom of the soul and the release of Atman (the spirit of Brahman). Until Moksha is achieved, Hindus believe that they will repeatedly be reincarnated through Samsara to work towards self-realization of the truth (the truth being that Brahman is the ultimate).
Hindi lessons: Basic words and phrases of the ancient language
How are you?
Aap kai-sey hai?
Fine, thanks // So-so
Mei theek hoon, shukriya! // Acha, Acha
What is your name?
Aapka naam kyaa hai?
My name is ______ .
Mera naam ______ hai.