Perhaps you are considering or have already registered for IPG’s Autumn Conference 2016 in New Delhi.
For ages, India has been viewed as a symbol of the mystical and exotic East. Dismissing India as a cliché runs the serious risk of placing India in a timeless zone outside of the real world, which is increasingly modern and complex. India is a vast and rapidly developing country with twenty-nine different states and seven union territories. India hosts a great many languages, religions and cultures, which co-exist and intermingle. The real India is hardly the random (yet homogenous) assortment of the Taj Mahal, call centers, poor people and colorful women you might expect. The India you’ll actually encounter is a lot more diverse and complicated than that. Things are changing in India at a frenetic pace, especially in the big cities.
Please read on to learn some general information about the Indian sub-continent and the unique country called, India. Hopefully, these tips will give you a better understanding of what to expect when you travel to India.
Land of Contrasts
India is as beautiful as it is challenging. In the same moment, you might see the most awe-inspiring sight while witnessing the desperate poverty that is evident through much of the country. It’s important to prepare yourself for this prior to your journey to minimize culture shock as much as possible. Read guidebooks and stories written by others who’ve traveled to and through the country to get a better idea as to what to expect.
In India, there is a saying that “Guests are Gods” and tourists are generally treated quite well. You might find that you become the center of attention, that the locals are eager to become your friend, that they want to practice English (or other foreign languages), or they want to have their picture taken with you. Sometimes this can be quite overwhelming. You’ll need to remember that their intentions are usually quite good and that if you need some personal space or need to take a rest from the attention, it’s OK to do so.
Sometimes it can feel like everyone wants your rupees – a shopkeeper, a beggar, the street children, musicians … the list goes on. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to teach yourself to be blind to this in order to preserve your sanity. We encourage you NOT to give to beggars and street children, as tempting as it is. Instead, keep your rupees and donate to a reputable non-profit organization that is doing something to help those in need. We can help you identify appropriate organizations.
Prepare to be OVERWHELMED
India carries the burden of three centuries of British imperialism, along with the weight of its own often reworked and redefined history. The two make a very post-modern combination. The complications and contradictions of India’s political realities will stun the first time foreign visitor. You’ll encounter huge, swanky shopping malls very close to massive slum settlements that reek of abject poverty. Many visitors who stay in India leave with a sense of accomplishment, after having survived the initial overpowering shock. And rest assured: it can be overwhelming to learn what it means to live in India (as over a billion of us do).
November in northern India is just on the cusp of the warm season and winter. While it will be pleasant, plan to dress for a variety of weather conditions as it can be pleasant now to cooler the next, requiring a light jacket.
Depending on your visit, you may be traveling in a variety of modes of transportation including trains, planes and private cars. In most cases, these will be quite comfortable, with air-conditioning provided.
Vegetarians, take heart. Many Indians are vegetarian and it’s very common for restaurants to offer a choice of “veg” or “non-veg” food. While often times the food can be hot/spicy, it’s relatively easy to find food that is mild and that won’t send sensitive stomachs into a tailspin. Be careful with street food, and avoid uncooked food such as salads. Ensure that you consume only bottled water.
If you have specific allergies (i.e. peanuts, wheat, gluten, dairy, etc.), it will be harder, but not impossible, for you to find food that suits your needs. Many dishes are prepared with dairy, and yogurt is often used to temper the spicier dishes.
You’ll be overwhelmed with all the potential for shopping – from jewelry to clothing to trinkets to spices and tea. And much of these are so cheap that it will be difficult to curb your urge to spend. We’ll be visiting emporia (where handicrafts from around the country are available) as well as many small shops in all of the cities/villages will be visiting during the conference and pre- and post-conference tours. Be prepared to purchase an extra bag in order to carry home all the souvenirs you’ll be interested in!
The Indian currency is the rupee. Currently, the exchange rates are approximately Rupees 65 to one US dollar and Rupees 75 to one Euro. We suggest that you carry some cash with you in US dollars or Euros, some travellers checks, an ATM debit card and a credit card. The cash will allow you to exchange money quickly and at small shops that are willing to take foreign currency. Travellers checks can be cashed as a backup in case you aren’t able to access your debit/credit card. ATMs are located in most of the places we’ll be visiting.
By purchasing a power converter, you can charge and use your electronic equipment rather easily. Most outlets in India use a standard adapter that you’ll be able to find in any travel or luggage store near you. Amazon also carries them. While power outtages are common throughout India, it’s unlikely that this will cause any great issues during your trip. These outtages are generally short-lived and when they do happen, they can be kind of fun! Be sure to carry a small flashlight.
Always take your shoes off before you enter a place of worship in India, and do not wear revealing clothes. Travelers in India are often tempted to wear shorts, but it’s crucial to keep your shoulders and the lower part of your body covered when visiting a site of religious importance. As the land where four major religions originated, and many others arrived and never left, many Indian people take their religion very, very seriously. If you are interested in exploring their religious sites – many of which can be of immense historical and archeological importance – please respect religious sentiments even if you are not a believer.
Public Displays of Affection
The beautiful lagoons of Kerala or the beauty of the Taj Mahal might make you want to sidle up to your partner and give them a quick hug and kiss, but think twice before doing that in public. Even though you might catch young couple canoodling in public parks, it’s best not to perform public displays of affection in India.
Questions and Eyes
What might be considered intrusive in many Western cultures is only a matter of course in India. Also, people will generally be very curious about foreign visitors, and this can take the form of unabashed staring. There’s a lack of privacy among the teeming millions of India, and the concept of personal space as you know it might not exist. Try not to take it too personally if people on the street seem to be staring at you all the time, and if Indian acquaintances and friends ask you questions that you think are none of their business. Most of the time, it’s just friendly curiosity, and if you smile at a staring stranger, many times you will get an amicable smile back. However, never sacrifice safety for the sake of politeness. This is especially true for women travelers.
We Are Like This Only
English is widely used throughout the Indian subcontinent, and is the “co-official” language of the country. Indian English has a distinct flavor and inflection that differs as you travel around different parts of the country. Official Indian English often uses many phrases that are passé in the West, so don’t be surprised if you’re doing some paper-work and someone asks you to “do the needful”.
Compiled by Prasant Saha (CIMGlobal), Rahul Chadha (Chadha & Co.)