At a glance
Capital city: New Delhi (population 295,000)
Population: 1.14 billion
Language: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Kashmiri, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, English
Time zone: (GMT+05:30) Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi
Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin) Type D (Old British 3-pin) Type M (see D)
Dialing code: +91
Culture and customs
Indian fashion Praying, Varanasi
As one of the oldest living civilisations in the world, India’s customs are based on an ancient cultural heritage. As contemporary India changes at a rapid pace, it stills clings to time worn traditions that have been in existence for centuries. Modern India is made up of a fascinating blend of ethnicities and religions, and as the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, any visit to India will undoubtedly be steeped in spirituality as it permeates most aspects of society. Although there are significant populations of Muslims and Christians, most Indians belong to one of the four main religions mentioned above.
Regardless of a person’s religious beliefs, the family unit is given paramount importance in life and society, with generations of family members living together under one roof, often with the eldest male acting as head of the family. Indian weddings are usually elaborate affairs and arranged marriages are still common – being arranged according to caste, social standing and sometimes, favorable astrological alignments at birth. Giving the world everything from playing cards to prayer flags, yoga, cotton cultivation, ayurvedic medicine, Bollywood films, as well as many other important contributions in mathematics, science, literature and political theory, India’s evolution has impacted on the entire world.
Indian cuisine, architecture, dance and fashion are also admired and reproduced worldwide, which is partly due to Indian populations who have immigrated to other parts of the world, taking their culture and beliefs with them.
Eating and drinking
Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you’re sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.
Indian food is one of the world’s most favoured cuisines, and travellers will be in for a real treat when visiting India. Relying heavily on spices and vegetables, vegetarians will be delighted with the multitude of meat-free dishes available and visitors will be able to notice marked differences in the cuisines of each region.
Things to try in India
The tropical climate and coastal location ensures the seafood is fresh and tasty here. Pungent seafood curries bubbling in coconut milk, as well as fresh crab, lobster, squid and prawns are all great picks in this region. A Kingfisher beer also goes down well with a Goan sunset.
With little access to water, Rajasthani cuisine relies on milk or ghee as a base, making it quite rich. Legumes, pulses and breads feature heavily as access to fresh vegetables is scarce.
A great producer of many spices so expect hot and spicy dishes when eating here. Rice is abundant, as is coconut, so expect coconut-based curries laced with chilli, ginger, cardamom and pepper. Having access to many waterways, seafood also features on the menu here. Dosa (pancake-like crepes) are popular breakfast items in Kerala.
Cuisine from western India is predominantly vegetarian. Daal, rice and roti (flat bread) are the main dishes, which are sometimes supplemented with stir fried vegetables.
Geography and environment
India shares land borders with Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan, and also has wide stretches of coastline along the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. As the seventh largest country in the world, India is home to a variety of terrains – the Himalayas of the north, the deserts and plains of the west, the fertile waterways of the south and the hills and forests of the east. Development is occurring at a rapid pace, with India’s large, sprawling cities consisting of everything from five star hotels to shanty towns, and with modern malls and cinemas sitting comfortably alongside bazaars and street food vendors. A trip through India will reveal a diverse range of landscapes, villages,
India has been inhabited by humans for as long as 75,000 years, with early civilisations flourishing as early as 3300 BC. Subsequent civilisations showed advanced technology and infrastructure with drainages systems and houses made of brick appearing sometime between 2600 and 1900 BC. Over the centuries, India both influenced and was influenced by other nations and kingdoms, with far reaching trade, conquest and migration spreading the subcontinent’s culture far and wide. Trading with the Romans, Persians and Greeks ensured that Indian culture had an impact on civilisations that seemed worlds away. Empires rose and fell over the centuries, with the wealthy Mughal Dynasty ruling most of India by 1600. At the same time, different European nations started showing an interest in India after being brought to the area for trade. The Portuguese, Dutch, British and French all had vested interests in India, with the British East India Company being given the rights to trade in India in 1617. The 1857 rebellion and War of Independence culminated in the decline of Mughal rule and were considered the first movements against the British Raj’s heavy handed rule of the country. India’s independence movement continued to grow and soon changed the face of India’s future.
By the 1920s, India’s independence movement had grown considerable momentum with Mohandas Gandhi leading mass movements based on passive resistance and non-cooperation against the British Raj. Although it took decades, India finally gained independence in 1947. More recently, India has seen dramatic changes in society mainly due to modernisation and globalisation. A new wave of prosperity has seen the rise of the middle class, with men and women entering into new work roles in telecommunications, manufacturing and business. India’s large cities are dealing with mass migration of rural citizens, who are moving to the city to seek better employment, education and opportunities for their children. Delhi successfully hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010, further putting India on the map as an increasingly cosmopolitan, modern country.
‘Potent Pleasures’ – Local chopping fresh chillies Spice market stall in Rajasthan, India Silky Sophistication – Lady wearing pink sari and sparkly bangles
Top 10 Sensory Experiences of India
1. Potent Pleasures. Breathe in the intoxicating aroma of fresh spices while wandering through the bustling markets of India. Cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg are classic spices of the subcontinent and aren’t hard to find – the fresh scent envelopes markets across the country.
2. Fiery Flavours
Treat your tastebuds to the spicy flavours of India with a traditional aromatic curry. Indulge in the heady mix of coconut mlk, chilli, ginger, ghee and spices, then cool down by sipping on a refreshing Lassi – the prefect antidote to the unrelenting heat of an Indian curry.
3. Colorful Chaos
Experience the urban cacophony of Delhi – a unique collision of cultures, cattle and people. Hear the rumble of cars, truck and buses, the frantic calls of street vendors and hawkers, the sizzle of food and the rustic ring of a cow bell in this unforgettable and irrepressible city.
4. In The Pink
Admire the dazzling pink hues of Jaipur. Watch the historic palaces, forts, temples and monuments of the ‘Pink City’ be bathed in a dusky pink glow as the golden sun sets over the dramatic Aravalli Range.
5. Rat Race
Walk barefoot through the Karni Mata Temple as thousands of rats scamper across the marble floor. Just felt a furry rodent scurry over your feet? Fear not – it’s a sign of good luck in this unique rat-worshipping temple.
6. Instant Karma
Experience the multi-sensory wonder of an Aarti ceremony on the banks of the Ganges. Hear the clanging of bells, watch the luminous glow of fire, smell wafts of pungent incense and hear rousing devotional songs and mantras. Be immersed in the fire and prayer of this Hindu ritual and be changed forever.
7. Gorgeous Goa
Sit beachside in Goa and gaze into the sublime beauty of the ocean. Take a moment to kick back and soak up the clear skies and deep blue sea of this exotic island. Watch the sun’s rays shimmer on the horizon and bask in the golden glow of this balmy retreat.
8. Silky Sophistication
For a slice of extravagance, feel the soft, luxurious touch of traditional Indian silk. Made in a variety of vibrant colours and perfect for making everything from saris to prayer mats and decorative hangings to upholstery, the inimitable feel of finely crafted silk is a simple pleasure in life.
9. Answered Prayers
Hear the flutter of prayer flags as they flap in the wind near the isolated monasteries of Dharamsala. In a stark environment of rugged, mountainous landscapes, quietness permeates the air, except for the unique sound of prayer flags collecting prayers and sending them to the heavens above.
10. Big Screen Brilliance
Be treated to a feast for the senses at a bombastic Bollywood movie screening. Covet the glamorous costumes, marvel at the energetic choreography and delight in the lively music. Revel in the razzle dazzle of the whole spectacle and be swept away by the irresistible charm of India’s triumphant cinematic phenomenon.
India’s fragrant bazaars, modern boutiques and village markets are brimming with wares harnessing centuries of artistic traditions. With talented artisans and top quality items at low prices, India is a shopper’s paradise.
It’s a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.
Things to buy in India
From big, chunky ornate silver earrings to vibrant bangles and bold statement rings, India’s silversmiths and jewellery makers ensure there are lots of pieces to choose from in the bazaars and shops.
2. Wraps, Scarves and Shawls
Whether you’re looking for pricey pashmina, luxurious silk or colourful cotton, India has a huge variety of materials to wrap yourself in.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to bring tea into your home country, then pick up some of the world’s finest tea from the Darjeeling, Assam or Nilgiri regions.
Indian cotton sheets, embroidered bed spreads and colourful cushion covers can be picked up in bazaars at a fraction of the price paid elsewhere.
Festivals and Events in India
Travelers get a chance to revel in a tangible rainbow at this festival, which occurs throughout different regions of India. While northern India has the largest celebrations, Goa and some other areas also participate in this festival with Hindu origins. Colourful powders fly through the air onto crowds of people; water balloons explode in the street, food and drink flow and devotees slip into trances – all culminating into a wonderful festival of vibrancy.
See firecrackers, lanterns, gift giving and gift receiving during this Hindu festival of lights. While many shops and businesses close during this period of spiritual significance, it’s still a special time to visit, with moving pujas (offerings) and rituals to witness.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Thousands of camels (and their owners dressed in their finest garb) descend upon Rajasthan’s Pushkar for the annual camel fair. Camels are traded and raced, acrobats and performers entertain crowds at a nearby fair, while finely dressed males and bejewelled females take the chance to let their hair down.
FAQs on India