Don't be offended if the locals stare at you, because they are only being curious. In a country with so many people there is a lack of privacy or personal space. Just smile if being stared at and probably you will receive a smile back.
When visiting temples remove your shoes when entering and dress conservatively in order to show respect for the Indian places of worship. Try not to wear shorts and cover your shoulders as Indians take their religion very seriously.
Women, foreign and Indian, often have to face unwanted attention.When travelling alone looking, staring and/or harrasment often happens in crowded places such as on public transport or in queues.
Where possible, use "ladies only" queues and sitting areas on transport. Trains have separate coaches for ladies. Some buses have sitting areas for ladies only.
Avoid eye contact, and ignore unwanted attention.
Also avoid walking alone in quiet and rougher parts of any city. This, of course, is a common sense practice in any country.
When booking a taxi- use your hotel to make the booking where possible. Note the numberplate. Do not hitch-hike under any circumstance.
Dressing modestly is a good idea.
Be respectful of local customs, and religion. Don't be rude, especially to people less fortunate. ALWAYS keep a sense of humour...try and see the funny side(and there are many) Treat taxi-drivers well but be alert-do not be too friendly either-some chance their luck.If they ask if its your first visit to India- say YES and they will not take you on the "wrong ride"
Do not exhibit public display of affection. eg kissing in public or cuddling. Holding hands is ok.
And in India, what to us is a head-shake meaning no.........is a sort of sideways wobble, which means yes. A bit confusing! Do not expose bare legs or bare stomach.Indians dress modestly, and so should anyone visiting their country.
Indians eat with their right hand. For obvious reasons. So, when passing something to anyone, use your right hand only.
I have found that it is always a good idea to carry a scarf, in case of an unexpected visit to any temple. Heads should be covered, for women. (arms also).
Staying in Guest Houses is always a great way to get to know a family, who in turn will pass on their knowledge of the culture, history and interesting places to see. I have met many wonderful people in this way, and have maintained lasting friendships with them.
Having said that, be careful who you befriend. Solo women travellers appear to be fair game - NEVER carry large amounts of cash on your body. Keep only enough for each day.
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Second only to cows, Goats are ubiquitous. They are in the streets, sleeping under cars, the are garving cricket pitches, standing in flocks on concrete, they are in Mumbai they are in the Thar desert. Every mutton dish in India, isn't mutton (tender Southdown or Merino leg offcuts), no its goat. Sinewy, grissly goat. They are simply everywhere. But why when they aren't as delicious and not as yeilding as Sheep (Mutton)?
Well it seems that our friend the goat is a pretty hardy and handy chap.
India's livestock is comfortable with 206 million cows, 123 million Goats, 88 million buffaloes, and 51 million sheep. Goats constitute a very important species of livestock in India, mainly on account of their short generation intervals, higher rates of prolificacy, and the ease with which the goats as also their products can be marketed.
Goats are the main meat animals in India; their meat is the most preferred and hence the costliest of all meats and represented almost 37 percent of total meat produced in the country. Goat milk constitutes a little of all milk produced in India; the majority of milk coming from buffaloes. The skins produced by Indian goats are considered of very high quality on account of their relatively larger sizes, minimal blemishes, and perhaps high quality processing. The production of pashmina and shatoosh shawls from goats is already a very lucrative and exports oriented industry.
This is why goats are ubiquitous. By the way, before I do sign off on India's Goats. A wee tidbit about pashmina and shatoosh shawls.
Pashmina is cheap, and lovely. And produced from domestic goats. people love it, and thus should buy it. SHATOOSH on the other hand should be boycotted. It is expensive (so only for foreign buyers) and is made from a Gaot endemic to the Himalaya called the chiru.
Actually I heard its against the law to sell shatoosh now. So if you see it on sale, Report it. Don't buy it.
Indian Elephants are very sociable animals and march from forest to forest, seldom staying in one for more than a few days. However, few males in their youth prefer to lead a solitary life. When on the move, the females lead the herd, with the tuskers lagging behind, unless alerted to some approaching danger. Indian elephants are found across India, wild elephants are found especially in the forests of Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Uttara Pradesh, Orissa, and Assam. However many of these are caught to be working elephants.
In India thousands of elephants are owned by temples, and they work during religious ceremonies and festivals. Others work to clear forests for logging. Others lug tourists around on their backs. You'll see Elephants in the streets quite often, but where you won't see them in numbers in is the wild. Why? Because there isn't many.
Asian elephants are listed under endangered. As the human population increases, the elephants' natural habitat is destroyed, and they are forced to live on the farming areas, where they cause damage to crops. However its not just lack of habitat that is endangering Indian elephants, they are also STILL being slaughtered for Ivory.
A study found that both foreign and Indian nationals purchase ivory artifacts such as carvings, jewelry and, even occasionally, name seals. It also identified a continuing link between Indian demand and cultural traditions unique to India that produce religious carvings of Hindu gods, ivory and wood inlay pieces and miniature Mogul paintings on ivory. The most active production and collection areas for raw ivory are Orissa, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, and the most active markets for worked ivory were found to be Murshidabad in West Bengal, Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, and Kochi
However the more I have read the more i realise that the untouchablity feature in the caste system is one of the cruelest features of the caste system. One could even maintain that it is one of the starkest examples of prejudice. Mahatma Gandhi certainly thought so, maintaining that there are two kinds of Slavery in India - Women and the Untouchables.
In the Indian society people who worked in ignominious, polluting and unclean occupations were seen as polluting peoples and were therefore considered as untouchables. The untouchables had almost no rights in the society. In different parts of India they were treated in different ways. In some regions the attitude towards the untouchables was harsh and strict. In other regions it was less strict.
Often (among other things) the untouchables were not allowed to touch people from the four Varnas. In regions where the attitude towards the untouchables were more severe, not only touching them was seen polluting, but also even a contact with their shadow was seen as polluting. If, because of any reason, there was a contact between an untouchable and a member of the Varnas, the Varna member became defiled and had to immerse or wash himself with water to be purified. If the untouchable entered a house and touched things of a Varna member, the Varna members used to wash or clean the places where the untouchable touched and stepped.
In some incidences the untouchables who associated with the Varna members were beaten and even murdered for that reason. See the link below.
The guys in the picture, handle the bodies in Varanasi. That is an 'Untouchables' job.
Ram Leela celebration forms an integral part of the cultural life of the Hindi-speaking belt of North India. Ram Leela is an enactment of the exploits of Lord Rama (an incarnation of God in human form) as he appeared on earth many thousands of years ago.This Leela (or play) illustrates the various occurences that took place during His descent in Treata Yug (the period in time of Lord Rama's descent) including the deliverence of His devotees,the redemption of sinners, His blessings to the saints and sages His various lessons on humanity and of course His restoration of Dharma or the righteous way of life.
It is believed that the great saint Tulsidas started the tradition of Ram Lila, the enactment of the story of Lord Ram. The Ramcharitamanas, written by him, forms the basis of Ram Lila performances till today. The Ramnagar Ram Leela (at Varanasi) is enacted in the most traditional style. This special Ram Leela of Ramnagar lasts for almost one month. Ram Leela of Ramnagar was started in the first quarter of the nineteenth century by the then Maharaja of Benaras, Udit Narayan Singh. Hundreds of Sadhus called the 'Ramayanis' come to watch and recite the Ramayana.
Generally, the Ram Leela is enacted on a single stage but the Ramnagar Ram stands out alone in this regard. Here, almost the whole town is transformed into a vast Ram Leela ground as permanent structures are built and spaces designated to represent the main locations of the story. Thus, we have Ashok Vatika, Lanka etc at different locations in the town. The audience moves along with the performers with every episode, to the next location. The most amazing thing about the Ram Leela of Ramnagar is its sober character. It is incredible to see that electric lights, mikes and loudspeakers are hardly used in the performances, even when the audience number in thousands.
I wandered around the stunning sites watching elegent Indian ladies with their sarees flowing and floating, adding colour and texture and grace to the environment, their make up and hair in place, their jewellery shining and sparkling.... and they would, always friendly and very politely, often shyly and usually giggling, approach me (puny, white girl in clothes crumpled, straight from the bottom of the backpack and in big, old walking boots) weilding their cameras asking if they could have their photos taken with me!!! Sometimes the numbers of people and cameras and photos would be ridiculous and my cheeks would be aching but it didn't matter where I was... it was always the same. I asked a woman from Bangalore why this was and to my amusement my fair hair and skin is appealing and exotic! ...and my two children... they had NO escape - I would be rather surprise if there is a single sole in India who does not now have a least a couple of shots of them!
BUT, by the same token, when I finally felt I was able to approach these beautifully turned out ladies that I had been admiring and whom I thought were exotic, and ask if I could photgraph them, they thought I was crazy but had the biggest smiles and were very proud and only too happy to pose!
And, through this exchanging of modelling for one another and together I met some remarkable people, mae some friends and even got medical help! People are the same the whole world over - curious of difference and yet underneath strikingly similar!
Grab your camera, a smile and see where you get!
As a general rule of thumb any female over the age of about 12 keeps her shoulders and legs fully covered. Obviously temples/mosques and other religious sites may request that arms are completely covered and heads too - always good to have a nice, big scarf in your bag for this purpose and saves paying to hire something).
There is a little tolerence of westerners being slighly more risqué on the old exposure front eg sun tops as opposed to tops with shoulders BUT in my travels I only saw 1 lady (outside of Goa) who had decided to sport a pair of short shorts... and she was definitely feeling uncomfortable and self conscious!
The ONE time (in Aurangabad) I swapped into shorts and suntop to lounge about my room, ran across the road dressed thus to buy an emergency... an older lady looked at me with no attempt to hide her contempt (which made me feel bad) and a car of men slowed down with their tongues hanging out (which made me feel uncomfortable) - that was the only time I ever forgot myself!!!
Swimwear and bikinis, short shorts etc... are accepted as the norm in places like Goa and you will not be out of place dressed like this. I saw one lady sunbathing topless on the beach and I was not alone in thinking that, in a country where the Indian women are headed into the sea in their sarees and burkas, it was more than a little disrespectful and inappropriate.
Walking through any Indian city or village, I love to make a note of signs and posters that are 'unusual'- Despite the obvious language barrier, they are inventive and mostly very eye-catching. I thought that I might share a few ...........
Kolkata had a couple of politically interesting ones on the steps of the Queen Victoria Memorial , and in the park , warning to 'observe decorum'.
Delhi (especially OLD DELHI) had many fascinating ,oriiginal and colourful signs, and in Udaipur it was fun to walk around and I copied the words into my little note book, as a fond rememberance.
Being curious, we often popped into the various businesses advertised- and were always welcomed with a cup of chai and a chat. And realised that although the 'wording' of the advert or sign was a bit obscure, it was always honest, and to the pount.
In India, bread is eaten more in the norther regions of the country because of its dry climate.
There are varity of breads consumed in India like roomali roti. naan, alloo parathas.....etc
So dont miss rotis or naans....
Chai (Indian tea) is the lure.Buying their wares is the hope.
It is customary in India that upon entering an shop (of almost any kind) you will be offered a seat, and a cup of chai. This is an Indian welcome. Often the shopkeeper will a send out a helper discreetly for the chai, and it would not be polite to refuse, in my opinion. Sometimes it is a welcome treat to rest and refresh after or during a shopping spree.
The chai is always very sweet, very milky and spicy.Delicious. It is served in tiny cups.
I think that this chai offering is very hospitable. In too many western countries it seems like an effort to even get a smile out of sales staff, let alone a cup of tea.
I love browsing, chatting and sharing chai with locals in every Indian city that I visit. There is so much to gain, and nothing to lose.
It would be better if women while travelling in India,especially in remote or rural areas dress modestly.You could wear trousers,jeans or skirts,but too much exposure of skin could lead to embarrassing stares from locals!!
In many places of worship in North India, the head needs to be covered with a scarf.
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