Introduction to India
You probably know that the largest city in India is Mumbai, which has over 15 million people. And the fact that Yoga has its origins in India is familiar to you. But do you know that chess was invented in India? Have you ever heard that about 30% of Indians are vegetarians and that they believe that red is the luckiest colour? Read our introduction to India below!
Country local name: Republic of India/Bharatiya Ganarajya
Government type: federal republic
Capital: New Delhi
Time difference: UTC+5.5 (10.5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
Independence: 15th August 1947 (from the UK)
National holiday: Republic Day, 26th January (1950)
Population: 1,236,344,631 (July 2014 est.)
Etnic groups: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3% (2000)
Languages: Hindi 41%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%
Religions: Hindu 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.1% (2001 census)
Terrain: upland plain (Deccan Plateau) in the south, flat to rolling plain along the Ganges, deserts to the west, Himalaya mountains in the north
Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
Highest point: Kanchenjunga 8,598 m
Natural resources: coal (fourth-largest reserves in the world), iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, rare earth elements, titanium ore, chromite, natural gas, diamonds, petroleum, limestone, arable land
Agriculture – products: rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, lentils, onions, potatoes; dairy products, sheep, goats, poultry; fish
Industries: textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, software, pharmaceuticals
Exports: petroleum products, precious stones, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, vehicles, apparel
Shopping hours: Monday to Saturday, after 9am to 7pm. Some shops are open on Sunday
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: very high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, and malaria
water contact disease: leptospirosis
animal contact disease: rabies
Climate: varies from tropical monsoon in the south to a temperate climate in the north
Natural hazards: droughts; flash floods, as well as widespread and destructive flooding from monsoon rains; severe thunderstorms; earthquakes
India’s weather is highly varied and dependant on region. The weather in the north is colder than states such as Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh in the centre and south.
During the monsoon period, coastal regions, such as Kerala, are lashed by tropical monsoon rain. The central, subtropical region, famous for the Rajasthan desert, is hot and dry, but also experiences a lot of rain during the monsoon season.
India’s climate has three seasons: winter, summer, and the monsoon season.
The best time to visit most of the country is the cool winter season, which occurs between November and February. It is a great time for sunbathing in Goa, Kerala and Karnataka in the south. In contrast, temperatures in the north of India can drop to below freezing during this time.
Summer runs from March to May and is very dry and hot with temperatures in many places exceeding 40ºC (105ºF). If you visit India at this time, go to the coastal areas where it’s comparatively cooler and more humid. A popular summer retreat is Nainital, which has a more temperate climate and a maximum summer climate of 27ºC (81ºF).
The monsoon season occurs between June and October, which is divided into two monsoons: the southwest monsoon comes from the sea and affects India’s west coast in June. However, the northeast monsoon starts making its way up India’s east coast during November and December. It is especially rainy during July and August. Flooding often occurs in cities at the start of the monsoon season and after heavy downpours. Some areas are rainier than others. It is usually cooler and drier in the north.
Given the variations in temperature and rainfall, the best time to travel depends on where you want to go.
India is a country with a great diversity of religious tradition with accompanying festivals and celebrations to be enjoyed.
Indian cuisine is one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. It reflects a unique blend of cultures and ages. The main ingredients are rice and a variety of spices (chili pepper, cumin, black mustard, garlic, asafetida, turmeric, ginger etc.). About 30% of Indians are vegetarians.
North Indian food is wheat-based (such as chapatis,rotis, paranthas and naans), with meat and vegetables, served with yogurt-based sauces. On the other hand, South Indian food is rice- based and almost exclusively vegetarian, often prepared in fruity, coconutty dishes and served in its natural state or as pancakes (such as idli, dosa and uttapam).
You must try Indian food such as dhal (lentils), dosa (popular in the south, a crispy rice-batter pancake with vegetables, meat and a lentil sauce), biryani (rice with spices and chicken or mutton), idli (a breakfast in the South made from a batter of rice and lentils), jalebi (batter deep fired in circular-shaped in sugar syrup), chole bhature (spicy chick peas with fried flour bread), kati roll (street-food, a kebab wrapped in a paratha bread, filled with vegetables, eggs and spices), gulab jaamun (fried or boiled dough balls in a sugar syrup) and Kulfi (Indian-style ice cream made from pistachios, almonds and thickened milk). And the icing on the cake are samosas (popular baked or fried triangular snack filled with a potato stuffing, cheese, onions, mushroom and peas).
Some food and juices can be found at street stalls. If you have not washed fruit yourself, only eat fruit that you can peel, in order to avoid any chance of getting a stomach bug.
What about drinks?
You can get non-alcoholic drinks like sweet, milky tea (chai) flavoured with spices (cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves). Coffee is more popular in the south then tea. Lassi is a great cold drink that is made with fruits and beaten curd, then salted or sweetened with sugar. Another variation is iced yogurt. Nimbu Pani (lemon water) is also popular.
Alcohol such as beer (e.g. Kingfisher, Foster, King Black Label), toddy (palm wine) and fenny or feni (Goan liquor) are widely available.
Popular fruits such as coconuts, papayas, pineapples are easily found especially in the south of India while other seasonal tropical like strawberries, apricots, or apples are more readily available in the North. However, you can get fruit around the country.
SOME LINGUISTIC CURIOSITIES
· The name of the country comes from the Indus River.
· India has over than 440 languages and dialects, but the national language is called Hindi.
· Yoga originated in India about 5000 years ago.
SAYINGS AND SLANG PHRASES
नमस्ते – Namastey! – Hi!
आप कैसे हैं? – Aap kaisey hain? – How are you?
शुक्रीया (बहुत धन्यवाद) – Shukriyaa (Bahut dhanyavaad) – Thank you (very much)!
अलविदा। – Alvida! – Good bye!
क्या आप मेरी मदद कर सकते हैं? – Kya aap meri madad kar saktey hain? – Can you help me?
मेरे साथ आइए! – Mere saath aaeeyé! – Come with me!
मुझे अकेला छोड़ दो! – Mujhe akelā choḍ do – Leave me alone!
अंट संट बोलना – Ant Sant Bolna – to talk rubbish
भैंस की आँख – Bhains Ki Aankh – to get surprised
गोली देना – Goli dena – to let-down someone
कोईना – Koi Na – no problem, doesn’t matter
· To greet someone of the same sex, shake their hand gently and say “Namaste”.
· It is not usually considered acceptable for men and women to shake hands because of religious beliefs. Avoid hugging and kissing as a form of greeting.
· Public displays of affection are not appropriate although showing affection is common in families.
· India’s people value personal space, so try to stand about 3 or more feet apart.
· Always eat with your right hand, because the left hand is considered unclean.
· Never touch another person’s head because it is considered to be the seat of the soul.
· Avoid the word “no”. It is better to answer in an evasive way rather than directly refusing.
· Say “thank you” only at the end of a meal because these words are used like a form of payment.
· Take off your shoes before entering your host’s house and remember to take them off (leave them at the door) when visiting temples.
· If by chance your feet or shoes touch another person, you should apologize. Feet, like the left hand, are considered impure.
· Hindus revere cows and most of them are vegetarians, so leather products (belts, handbags, etc.) are considered offensive.
· Dress modesty and avoid skimpy clothes. Nudity is not acceptable.
· Titles are very important. Always use the person’s surname or name. If you don’t know their name, use “Sir” or “Madam”. Titles like Professor, Engineer and Doctor are greatly appreciated.
· The head wobble or wave up and down means “yes”. The side-to-side wave means “no”.
· Red is considered the luckiest colour.
Rajasthan, located in the northwest, is India’s largest state and is one of the most popular tourist destination in the country. The name literally means “Land of Great Kings”. It’s mainly arid and its desert scenery offers a unique charm. The most popular places, which you must see, are: the Pink City of Jaipur, Umaid Bhawan Palace or Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the Jaisalmer Fort (known as the Golden City), Lake Palace in Udipur, City Palace in romantic Upaipur. You can also find out more about India's culture thanks to the street stalls and festivals of Rajasthan.
India is famous for Goa, a state on India’s West coast, and a former Portuguese colony. It is a perfect place to rest, play and eat well. Every year in December is the Sunburn Festival, that is a Electronic Dance Music Festival. If you are looking for more energetic entertainment, choose from activities such as water sports, Quad Bike expeditions or a trip to bustling Bombay. The list of things to do is endless!
New Delhi, the capital of India, is one of 11 districts within the ancient city of Delhi, which has a population of about 25 million people. Sites to visit include the Swaminarayan Akshardham (massive temple complex and amazing architecture), the Red Fort (famous monument), Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk (the main magic street of old Delhi), Bahai Lotus Temple (which looks like an enormous lotus blossom), Lodi Gardens, National Gandhi Museum, Sai Baba Temple and Humayun's Tomb (which is similar to the Taj Mahal).
Agra is situated in the north of India, about 200 km from Delhi. The city has one of the eight wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal, which draws many tourists! Besides admiring the medieval palace and taking part in evening rituals you can check out other places such as the Agra Fort (2 km from the Taj Mahal), Akbar’s Tomb or enjoy the superb ruined city of Fatenhpur Sikri.
Mumbai (Bombay) is located on the west coast of India. The city is famous for its movie industry (Bollywood). It is also a place of sharp financial contrasts as it is home to both Asia’s biggest slums and largest population of millionaires. Moreover, traditions, religions and customs are the power here. Without a shadow of a doubt, Bombay has its own rhythm of life and charm and fuels the imagination.
Kerala is a state along India’s southwest coast and is known as a tropical paradise. The most popular destination is Kochi (Cochin) where you will find a relaxed atmosphere. In Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) you can sample Kerala’s cultural and artistic life. Don’t miss Munnar, Thekkady and Periyar, which are breath-taking. And more historic places like Alappuzha (Alleppey) or Kollam (Quilon) are also a must if you are there. Kerala is home to a lot of wildlife and you can also watch kathakali or other ritual theatre forms.
Odisha, one of the poorest states, is located in the east of India. Generally speaking, it boasts a rich culture and tradition but is one of India’s less frequented tourist destination. It offers relaxing beaches and national parks with plenty of different species of wildlife. If you can, visit the Sun Temple in Kolkata (Calcutta) the famous Jagannath temple in Puri. Additionally, Chilika Lake is here.
Manali is a city at the northern end of the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh. The majestic mountain scenery and thermal springs attract honeymoon couples, families and people seeking spiritual solace. Attractions include paragliding, trekking, skiing and rafting.
Sikkim is a state of India, located in the northeastern part of the country in the Himalayan hills that border with Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. It is a paradise of beauty. You can find peace, but also opportunities for adventure sports and treks. Sikkim is famous for its aesthetic Buddhist monasteries, monumental religious statues and amazing Himalayan Zoological Park.
Gangtok, the state capital of Sikkim state, is a colorful and cheerful town with many attractions like Tashi View Point, Flower Exhibition Centre, Ganesh Tok View Point, Hanuman Tok, Himalayan Zoological Park, Banjhakri Falls, Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and the local bazaar, Lal Bazaar. Other places which you can visit include Palzor Stadium, Enchey Monastery and Rumtek Monastery.