India is an incredible place to visit – an explosion of culture and colour and diversity. The food is incredible, the cinema brilliant, and the people generally warm, open and friendly. You’ll get a lot of stares as a foreigner, but you’ll make a lot of friends too. India’s history may be fraught and complex (thanks in no small part to the British Empire), but for travellers it can be an absolute joy to visit.
There’s way more to it than the Taj Mahal – though that’s definitely a highlight – but it would take months if not years to explore all its vast and varied terrain. Here are seven things you should know before you go. It’s probably even bigger than you think As the 7th largest country in the world, you might realize that India is pretty big. But it’s only when you get there and have to navigate the transportation system that you realize its true scale.
Prepare to spend whole days travelling between places. After all, it’s a country housing over 1.3 billion people – that requires a lot of space! It’s incredibly diverse (Picture: Grad Gone Global) India has loads to offer: intricately decorated mosques and busy markets and shiny new shopping malls. You can go from the peaks of the Himalayas to the beaches and liberalism of Goa, exploring temples and forts and palaces. But pro tip: if you’re planning a trip there, be aware that you might be going from scarves and coats in the mountains to bikinis on the beach.
Most locals don’t call them ‘tuk-tuks’ Parking (Picture: Grad Gone Global) Those fun three wheeled vehicles that run off a scooter engine are more often referred to as ‘autos’ (short for auto-rickshaw). People will know what you mean if you say ‘tuk-tuk’, but it’s good to have the insider knowledge. Motorbikes are a family vehicle You might see a whole class of school children stuffed into an auto, but even more mind-boggling is when you spot a family of five all aboard a motorbike.
There are 23 different recognised languages Though Hindi and English are the two official languages used in the central government, there are plenty of others besides. Hindi is by far the most widely spoken, but Bengali, Gujarati, Telegu and Marathi are all used regionally – among many others. Chai is not just a drink, it’s a way of life The delicious concoction known as ‘chai’ – tea leaves brewed for hours on end with cloves, ginger and all manner of other spices – will quickly become an addiction. When you go home you will probably begin to feel that bog-standard English breakfast tea is quite boring. And, fun fact: ‘chai’ is the Hindi word for tea. So ‘chai tea’ should not be a thing. There’s almost more festival days than not One good reason to visit India is that the country is obsessed with festivals. Religious diversity means that there are all manner of different groups celebrating at different times of year – and everyone else tends to join in anyway. If you want to time your visit, I’d highly recommend going for the colourful festivities of Holi around March time, or Diwali, the festival of light, around November.