What should I know if I want to travel across India?
First of all, even though India is one country, with so much diversity, it is more like amalgamation of multiple smaller countries. There are no standard rules (except the laws), and what is advisable at one place could be competely avaoidable at another.
Here are a few things I would recommend:
Privacy levels are very different. Look at the population density, and you will quickly realize that personal space is much smaller. Don't get offended if someone seems to be interfering with your personal matters. They might not see realize that it is an invasion of your privacy.
India is a Foodie's paradise, with its wide culinary variety. Having said that, unless you are used to spicy food, avoid coastal food. Mainland food is not as spicy as coastal food, still is very spicy for someone from Western Europe.
Steer clear of all religious places unless accompanied by local residents. You are much likely to be fleeced or face unwarranted criticism. Offense may be as small as having eaten any non-veg food on the day of visiting a temple.
Hire a cab or enroll a driver instead of driving yourself. Haphazard traffic and flouting the traffic rules is more of a norm than exception. Accordingly, punctuality is a luxury that not everyone can afford to observe.
If you are a tourist, you ought to visit the north east, and south west to understand the richness and diversity of Indian culture. If you are traveling on business, you will still be treated like a tourist by many.
There are no snake charmers or elephants roaming on the streets. If you happen to come across one though, please share the pics. 🙂
People are usually helpful, except some places, where people are usually rude and arrogant. It is advisable to avoid generalizing or having any pre-conceived notion. Approach people with respect, and you would probably get more help than you could have anticipated.
Smalltalk and gossiping is a part of life, and people are usually uninhibited in such matters. You are part of the group if you are around a group; you are part of the group even if you are travelling in the same public transport vehicle and are withing the earshot. You can laugh at a stranger's joke, and even offer unabashed opinions. People are not likely to take offence. That way, it is one of the most OPEN cultures.
Street food is something you must try. It may not look hygienic, but most likely it would not harm a person with normal (non-fragile) constitution. However, have a taste first to check the spiciness.
Urban pollution level is very high, and you are less likely to see a clear sky, even at night. Rural areas, on the other hand, boast really fresh air and clean sky, except during rains. Do visit some village, and try to make sense of how people live contentedly on such meager family income.
You will also see many examples of innovative mindset (commonly referred to as Jugaad), click some pics, and you may very well conduct a session on innovation back home. 🙂 Also, why I didn't stop at 10? Coz 11 is an auspicious number for Hindus. 😉
India has the highest no. of vegetarians and many restaurants serve only vegetarian food.
No single state is similar to the other. The food, culture and climate are different
There is no language called "indian". So, depending on where you are planning to stay, you might have to get familiar with a couple of languages. Although Hindi is the national language, many do not speak or understand it. In the cities, people speak and understand English but in rural areas, the local/state language is spoken.
People eat with their hands and it doesnt mean they are dirty. In fact, we make it a point to keep our hands clean since we eat with our hands.
Toilet paper will not be available in every place since we use water instead.
People are friendly which is a nice thing (but be careful as some might misuse and cheat if they know its a foreigner)
You can find animals walking on the road just like you and I do (cows, buffaloes, horses, dogs etc) and dont be scared. They wont harm you unless you do something wrong.