Unexpected Things You Should Know About India Before You Go

As far as stereotypes and misconceptions go, there’s a lot of them swirling about when it comes to India.

Just like with any country different than your own, you can expect there to be an adjustment period when you first arrive, and you’re going to learn a lot about how others live, but isn’t that the whole point of travel? There’d be no point in traveling to a country that’s exactly the same as where you’re coming from!

Cows Really Do Wander Around

cows standing in busy street in northern india
Photo Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images

You might have thought it was just a cliché, but cows actually do wander the streets of India, even making their way through major cities. Cows are held in high esteem by Hindus, so give the cows some space and go on your merry way.

Air Pollution Is A Huge Issue

example of air polution at india gate
Photo Credit: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

According to CNN, of the 30 most polluted cities in the world in 2019, 21 of the 30 cities were located in India. It’s estimated that breathing the air in Mumbai for just one day is equivalent to smoking dozens of cigarettes. The poor air quality is primarily caused by industrial pollution and pollution from vehicles.

Indian Housewives Hold More Than 10% Of The World’s Gold

indian woman dressed with hennai and jewelry
Photo Credit: Pexels
Photo Credit: Pexels

Housewives in India are estimated to hold more than the reserves of the U.S., IMF, Switzerland, and Germany put together, with approximately $600 billion in gold owned by Indian housewives.

Know Your Head Wobble

group of indian children laughing
Photo Credit: Harsha Vardhan / Pexels
Photo Credit: Harsha Vardhan / Pexels

If you’re going to India, you’ll quickly pick up on the all-purpose head wobble. The head wobble can be used to say “yes” or “okay,” it can be used as a greeting, or to acknowledge what someone is saying. Don’t be surprised if the only answer you get to your question is a wobble.

India Is The Largest Vegetarian Country

vegetarian food festival in india
Photo Credit: MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images
Photo Credit: MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images

Vegetarianism is a traditional feature of Hinduism, so because Hinduism is widely practiced, so is vegetarianism. More than 50% of Indians are vegetarians, and India has the world’s lowest per capita meat consumption.

Be Prepared For Beggars In Popular Places

bombay india children begging
Photo Credit: robert wallis/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo Credit: robert wallis/Corbis via Getty Images

When visiting an area that’s popular amongst tourists, you should be prepared to encounter beggars, and they can be very persistent. Locations such as important monuments, railway stations, shopping districts, or spiritual sites are likely to have beggars who can be quite insistent.

Lining Up In An Orderly Fashion Doesn’t Really Exist

new delhi railway station crowded platform
Photo Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images

India has grown to a population of more than one billion people, many of whom reside in major cities, so you can expect to encounter a lot of people. Due to the sheer number of people trying to go about their day, things like lining up to enter a train car are not common practice. Instead, be prepared to stand your ground if someone tries to cut in front of you and be ready to be in the middle of a crowd.

You Can’t Take Rupees Out Of India

stack of indian rupees
Photo Credit: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In order to prevent tax evasion, it’s nearly impossible for non-Indian residents to take rupees with them when they leave India. You either need to spend it all before you leave, or change it to a different currency, but you’re not allowed to leave India with rupees as a non-resident.

Don’t Accept The First Price You’re Given

shopping stalls in india
Photo Credit: Exotica.im/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Exotica.im/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you’re going to India and you’re very obviously a foreigner, there’s a good chance that vendors in a market or store will try to overcharge you. Always try to talk down the first price you’re given to see if you can get it for less.

They Have Six Seasons In India

flooded road in mumbai after heavy rain august 2020
Photo Credit: Himanshu Bhatt/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Himanshu Bhatt/NurPhoto via Getty Images

According to the Hindu calendar, there are actually six seasons in India, not four. You’ve got the usual summer, autumn, winter, and spring, plus monsoon season and the winter’s eve season (or pre-winter).

Don’t Drink The Tap Water, And Always Check The Bottle Seal

new delhi water vendor
Photo Credit: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A lot of tap water in India is generally considered unsafe to drink, though some local residents might argue with that. Save yourself the tummy troubles and stick to bottled water. When purchasing water, you should always check the seal of the bottle, too. An old scam in India is to refill old bottles with regular tap water and resell them to tourists.

Butter Chicken Is Not The Only Dish You’ll Want To Eat

new delhi india street food vendor serving customers
Photo Credit: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images
Photo Credit: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images

Just like how Asian cuisine in North America is different than in Asia, Indian cuisine in India goes beyond what you’re used to. It’s not all going to be spicy, either. Every region of India is known for its own style of cooking, like in Kolkata where seafood is common, or how rice is favored in the south.

Keep An Eye On Your Bag

kolkata india people on busy street
Photo Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pickpocketing is a very common crime in India, with thieves waiting for the right moment to steal your wallet out of your back pocket or snatch a bag that you’ve left unattended, so make sure you keep an eye (or a hand) on your bags.

All The Major World Religions Are Represented

indian muslims celebrating eid in august 2018
Photo Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images
Photo Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

While the majority of people in India are practicing Hindus, the country is home to a number of large, well-established communities for all of the major world regions, as well as smaller pockets through the large country. In fact, despite it being only a little over 10% of the population, India is home to the second-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia.

There Are More Than 1600 Dialects Found Across The Country

women lined up at polling station in india
Photo Credit: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP via Getty Images
Photo Credit: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP via Getty Images

The two official languages of India are Hindi and English. India is therefore the largest English-speaking nation in the world, but the government also accepts 17 other languages. On top of those 19 languages, there are more than 1600 other dialects found throughout the country.

Sanitation Standards Are Very Different Than What You’re Used To

street sweeper cleaning up garbage in new delhi
Photo Credit: NOEMI CASSANELLI/AFP via Getty Images
Photo Credit: NOEMI CASSANELLI/AFP via Getty Images

For many people in India, their primary concern is keeping their homes clean. As long as the garbage isn’t inside their house, they’re generally not bothered, which is how you end up with so much garbage or mess on the streets.

Snake Charming Is Illegal In India

indian snake charmer
Photo Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images

There’s a lot more to India than the stereotypical snake charming image you might be used to seeing on television or in books, and snake charming has actually been illegal in India for many years. It still happens in some places, but it’s not going to be the most memorable part of your trip.

Some Police Officers Are Paid For Their Mustaches

police in mumbai india in streets
Photo Credit: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images
Photo Credit: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

Police in certain regions of India are paid additional money if they grow a mustache. This is because they believe that it adds a certain air of authority to an officer.

Great Emphasis Is Placed On The Importance Of Education

bombay india private high school girls
Photo Credit: Jerry Cooke/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Jerry Cooke/Corbis via Getty Images

You may think that people from India are uneducated because they come from a poorer country, but education is highly valued in India. Even the poorest of families strive to give their children a great education because they know that it’s the key to a better future for their family.

Scams Are Quite Popular

woman on streets begging in delhi
Photo Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images

There’s no need to be constantly paranoid about being scammed, but you should have a healthy amount of caution for local people approaching you in public. There’s a good chance that if someone is approaching you, they’re looking to try to sell you something or convince you of something.