Aam: The Hindi word for mango—also called the “King of Fruits.” Summer is mango season, bringing with it roadside stands overflowing with these sweet, juicy delights and offering fresh juice to beat the grueling heat.
Bollywood: It may be named after America’s Hollywood, but Indian cinema has been around since 1913 and has its own long history. The popular conception of Bollywood (the hours-long film full of dramatic dance numbers) is one genre of an industry that includes action, thrillers, comedies, and dramas.
Chai: The word means “tea” in India, which is usually served with plenty of milk and sugar. Masala chai refers to the Indian-spiced version of Britain’s infamous drink. First popularized by the English, chai is now found everywhere from the fanciest of restaurants to street corners, and is served to guests in every Indian household.
Dharamsala: This city in north India is a masala, or mix, of cultures, peoples and languages. The Tibetan government is located here, in exile from China. In the mountains just above Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama resides in his house and temple when he isn’t circling the world on a mission for peace.
Elephants: The Indian elephant is a sacred animal, as it represents the god, Ganesh, who has an elephant form. Wild herds roam the country, but some are used for entertainment, transport, or donation-seeking at temples. If you want to meet one up close, visit a sanctuary for rescued elephants, such as Wildlife SOS in Agra.
Fennel: Perhaps you’ve been to an Indian restaurant and been confused by the little bowl of green seeds offered after the meal. These are fennel, which has a licorice flavor. Indian people commonly eat small amounts after meals as a digestive aid and breath freshener, often with a pinch of sugar. Leave your Tic-Tacs at home!
Ganges: The Ganges is India’s most holy river believed to represent the Hindu goddess, Ganga. Because millions depend on it to survive or to dump waste, it is incredibly polluted. This huge waterway supports life for thousands of species living along its length.
Holi: This ancient Hindu festival commemorates the god Vishnu. Celebrated differently around the country, many Holi events involve large bonfires and crowds of rainbow-splattered people hurling colored powder at each other.
Indira Gandhi: Having served as the fourth Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi is regarded as one of the country’s most powerful modern leaders. She ruled with a fierce hand but made lasting changes to the constitution while in office between 1966 and 1984. Today she is remembered with memorials and the name of the international airport in Delhi.
Jaipur: Named the “Pink City” for its dusty-rose architecture, Jaipur is a place of stunning palaces and airy temples. The capital of the state of Rajasthan offers many museums and historical highlights to explore. Head up to Amer Fort for a hilltop view of the old city.
Krishna: One of the most widely-revered Hindu gods is Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the supreme god, Vishnu. Krishna can be recognized by his blue skin and flute, though he has various forms across different visual depictions.
Lassi: Forget those drinkable yogurt packages in American lunch boxes, this Indian specialty is the real deal. A lassi is similar to a smoothie, made with yogurt, and commonly comes in salty, sweet, or fruit-blended varieties. In warmer months, go for mango for the ultimate experience.
Monsoon: If you travel to India in summertime, don’t forget your raincoat. The annual monsoon sweeps the country during June and July, ending the dry spell with pouring rains and thunderstorms. The amount of water replenished in this period hugely impacts the region’s agriculture, ecosystems, and economy.
Naan: Just one of many flatbreads that accompany Indian meals, this classic is cooked in the tandoori oven. Diners use pieces of buttery, chewy naan to scoop up bites of curry or cooked vegetable. Here, it is fingers over knives and forks; traditionally, Indian people eat with their hands.
Ola: If you need to get around the city and an auto or rickshaw just won’t do, call an Ola cab. In keeping with modern times, you can download the app to book a ride. Other popular companies are Meru and EasyCabs.
Paani: The Hindi word for “water”—very important during the sweltering summers. Make sure to drink bottled or filtered water if you are visiting India! This will help avoid an upset stomach.
Qawwali: A type of Sufi devotional singing originating in Persia, qawwali has gained popularity throughout India in recent times. There are often eight musicians in a group: several main singers and a chorus, along with some percussionists. The songs can be a half hour long or more, meant to invoke a hypnotic kind of state for the audience.
Rickshaw: Visit any city in India, and you will likely find yourself in a rickshaw to get to your next destination. If you are willing to brave the crowded streets riding in a bicycle taxi, hop right in. Make sure to confirm the price of the trip with the driver beforehand—and don’t be afraid to bargain for lower!
Shah Rukh Kahn: Arguably the most popular Bollywood actor, Shah Rukh Khan has been dominating movie screens for decades. He has appeared in over eighty films, and is still going strong at 49 years old. His face also shows up in many a cheesy commercial shown before the feature film.
Trains: The primary long-distance transportation system in India. The Indian Railway stretches all across the country, connecting cities from coast to Himalayan foothills.
Urdu: While Hindi is the official language of India, Urdu is relatively similar in spoken form. However, it is written with a version of Arabic script. It can be found on official road signs in Delhi, along with Hindi, English and Punjabi—a glimpse of the vast linguistic diversity in India.
Varanasi: This special city is a mecca for Hindus. Millions of worshipers come to the banks of the Ganges seeking purification, and on Hindu holidays, the town is a sight like no other.
Wallah: A “wallah” is basically anyone who sells a particular item or service; the word is added as a suffix to their trade. Look out for chai-wallahs (tea brewers), auto-wallahs (autorickshaw drivers), or kulfi-wallahs (ice cream vendors). Whatever your need, there is bound to be a wallah on the street to fulfill it.
Laxmi or Lakshmi: She is the goddess of spiritual and material prosperity, fortune, and beauty. Lakshmi is also the source of power of the supreme god Vishnu. The Hindu festival of Diwali is celebrated in her honor.
Yak: These furry cattle of the mountains are found in northern India as well as Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and other Himalayan regions. Nomadic tribes herd yaks for a living, producing such items as woolen clothing, scarves, and cheese.
“Zed”: A trademark of the British, this is how Indians pronounce the letter “z.” Tip: although many people speak English, saying your words with a Hindi accent helps get your message across.