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India Travel FAQ

India Travel FAQ

What to expect when traveling to India with Rustic Pathways.

Your most frequently asked questions regarding travel in India, food, accommodations, customs and more answered by Divya, India Country Manager and Sudarshan, India Country Director.

Where does the country name, India, come from?
The name ‘India’ is derived from the River Indus, the valleys around which were the home of the early settlers. The Aryan worshippers referred to the river Indus as the Sindhu. The Persian invaders converted it into Hindu. The name ‘Hindustan’ combines Sindhu and Hindu and thus refers to the land of the Hindus. So India came from the land beyond the Indus river called India.

What languages are spoken in India?
India has no national language. However, there are 22 official languages in India. Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, Odia, Malayalam, Punjabi, Assamese, are majorly spoken by the native people.

The percentage of Indian population with Hindi as their mother tongue has risen to 43.63% from 41.03% in 2001. Bengali remains the second most spoken language while Marathi has replaced Telugu in third place.

English has become the working or the business language of India.

What are people in India like? 
When we talk about what being a true Indian is: friendly, shy, caring, world best host “Atithi Devo Bhava”. We have a strong sense of family, tolerance towards all religions and cultures, incredibly diverse, deeply spiritual, and we love to celebrate all our festivals no matter what religion we come from. Put together all the major religious and cultural festivals in the world and you still won’t get close to the number of festivals that are celebrated in India alone! That is just a testament to how much Indians love celebration, and Indian’s practically invented the art of bargaining.

Why should I travel to India?
India is an exceptionally beautiful and architecturally diverse country filled with forts, palaces, mosques, temples, monuments and ancient ruins. Home to the world’s oldest civilization, the architecture of India is rooted in its history, religion and culture. India is a complete package where you can find high-altitude snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, the Great Indian Thar Desert, the Tropical Rain Forest in north eastern and southern part of India, and some of the best beaches in the world in the backwaters of Kerala.

People say it might take more than 3 years or 3 lifetimes to explore the entirety of India.

What are the most amazing travel experiences in India?
When you travel in India, travel with open mindedness and do not expect things to happen on time. Expect amazing experiences such as; hiking in the Himalayas; learning about the rich history, culture, religion, and philosophy of Hinduism and India; meeting and talking to Tibetan Buddhist monks; learning about Tibetan refugees; riding camels and camping in Thar desert; living and cruising on houseboat in Backwater of Kerala; and exploring the wildlife and beaches of India.

In India after every 50 kilometers (31 miles) dialect, food, dressing style changes which is really very unique with itself.

What is the food like in India?
India has diverse food, with each state having its own cooking style, and many variations within each state. Spices also vary from region to region.

  • If we talk about North India the food is rich, consisting of dry food like kebabs and tandoori. People like to have rice and corn as a staple food.
  • If you go Western India, people eat more wheat, barley and maize, and they prefer very hot food with lots of spices. In this region goat and red meat is preferred.
  • In Southern India you will find many people eat rice, seafood, and they like to add coconut in their most of the dishes.
  • In Eastern India people eat rice and less spiced food. They will eat pretty much everything in this region.
  • People in India love eating with their hands.

Some popular dishes in India include:

  • Masala Chai (Spiced black tea with milk): Masala chai has been around for thousands of years and is a staple in every home. The spices used vary from household to household but generally include black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Indian people love to drink and serve Masala chai to their guests.
  • Dal (Lentils cooked with spices): Lentils are a staple ingredient found in many Indian cuisines. Depending where you order this dish, you may find a thinner bowl of lentils like soup, or something similar to stew that comes with a side of rice.
  • Masala Dosa (Rice pancakes): Dosa, from south India, are thin rice pancakes of fermented batter. They can be eaten on their own, served with chutney, or stuffed with spiced potatoes.
  • Rogan Josh (Braised curry):This curry is often made with lamb or goat with roots in Kashmiri and Persian cuisines. It is flavored with ginger, bay leaves, cardamom, and ground dried chilis.
  • Other popular dishes include: Chicken Tikka Masala, Sag Paneer, Chole Bhature, Makki ki Roti & Sarson ka Sag, Butter Chicken, Awadhi Kebabs, Kashmiri Rista & Gushtaba, Rajasthani Laal Maas, and Rajma.

What is the weather like?
Indian weather itself is divided into Five distinct seasons—winter, spring, summer, monsoon and autumn.

  • Winter: December to January 5-25 °C (Very Cold)
  • Spring: February to March 20-25 °C (Sunny and Pleasant)
  • Summer: April to June 25-45 °C (Hot)
  • Monsoon: July to Mid-September 32-40 °C (Wet, Hot and Humid)
  • Autumn: September to November 32-40 °C (Pleasant)

What is money like in India?
Indian Rupees is the currency of India. USD is not accepted broadly but money exchange could be found easily. ATMs and credit cards are also accepted widely.

How much money should I bring?
For a one-week trip you should bring $100 to 200 USD.

Is it safe to travel in India?
Generally speaking, India is safe for tourists. Some precautions are needed, such as avoiding driving at night and only using trusted vendors.

What are one or two of the most popular activities or past times in India?
Cricket is the most popular sport in India and it’s played throughout the country. Any community, town, or city that you visit will have plenty of cricket fields. Another popular activity is playing football (soccer).

What is one favorite memory of a Rustic Pathways program experience?
Seeing that by the end of the trip students are grateful for what they have and what they have accomplished while on the trip. Experiences like working with local community projects or in classrooms and the human connections they have made while they were on the program with locals, group members or with local staff.

What advice do you have for first-time visitors to India?
Come with an open minded, accepting attitude, be eager to learn, and don’t be shy! We always start with a scavenger hunt on every program which is a good way to learn and start interacting with locals.

What are some tips for cultural etiquette?
Some general rules to follow include:

  • Eat with your right hand only. In India and across Asia, the left hand is for wiping your bottom, cleaning your feet and other similar functions. You also put on and take off your shoes with your left hand. The right hand is for eating, shaking hands, etc.
  • Do not point your finger, it is considered rude.
  • Never touch anything with your feet as this is very disrespectful.
  • Do not wear shoes inside a temple or home.
  • Do not show affection in public.

What are the main points of interest and landmarks?
Taj Mahal in Agra, Amer fort in Jaipur, Golden city “Jaisalmer”, Jodhpur also known as “Blue city”, Backwater and beaches in Kerala, Leh Ladakh up north Land of Himalaya, Mcleod Ganj Land of Tibetan Refugees.

What are the major holidays in India?
India is full of events and holidays but the major holidays which fall in ideal travel times are Raksha Bandhan and Independence Day.

What kind of music is widely popular?
The film music or Bollywood music is India’s most famous form of music. But people in bigger cities have also accepted international music as well. Sometimes it’s really interesting to see Bollywood music, western rap and hip hop music, Spanish numbers, and African music being played in one whole community.

What documents are needed to enter India?
To enter India you need a valid passport and an onward/return ticket, and a visa. Note that your passport needs to be valid for at least 180 days after your entry into India, and should have at least two blank pages.

How do people dress in India?
Traditional Indian clothing for women in the north and east are saris worn with choli tops; a long skirt called a lehenga or pavada worn with choli and a dupatta scarf to create an ensemble called a ghagra choli; or salwar kameez suits, while many south Indian women traditionally wear sari and children wear pattu langa.

How should I dress in India?
In cities, villages and towns you should dress conservatively. Wear shirts/T-shirts, pants, pajamas, yoga pants or anything which is covering your shoulders and anything which is below your knees for both genders. While on beaches you could have swimsuits or shorts.

What are bathrooms like in India?
Mostly in cities people do have western toilets. For gas stations and midways please expect squatty toilets and in remote areas 90% houses have squatty toilets.

Can I drink the water?
While in India you will be drinking bottled water or filtered water specifically mentioned by your staff members – only then you can drink it. It is not recommended to drink tap water in India until it’s recommended by your staff members.

What are local traditions or customs?
India is considered the birthplace of some of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. Today, other religions such as Muslim and Christianity are present, but Hinduism remains the most popular.

Namaste Greeting
Namaste is a Indian greeting used often. It is like saying ‘Hello’ respectfully. The Namaste, or ‘namaskar’ is a traditional greeting from ancient Hindu scriptures. In English it translates to ‘I bow to you’, and greeting one another with this it is saying ‘the divine light in me bows to the divine light within you’ with palms placed togther before the heart.

Atithi Devo Bhavah
In India, hospitality is of high importance with traditions to treat guests like God.The saying ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ literally means ‘the guest is equivalent to god’. This is taken from a Sanskrit verse in Hindu scriptures, which later became a part of the ‘Code of Conduct’ for Hindu society.

Festivals and Religion
India sees a huge number of festivals with many diverse religions and groups in the country. Some of the most popular festivals and celebrations include; Holi, the Festival of Colors; Ganesh Chaturthi festival honors the birth of the beloved Hindu elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha; the Navaratri festival honor the mother goddess Durga; Diwali honors the victory of good over evil and brightness over darkness. These are just a few of the countless celebrations held each year.

The Holy Cow
In the Indian culture the cow is considered to be a Holy animal. She is worshipped as a maternal figure and is depicted as the bounty of Mother Earth. Killing any cow or consuming cow meat is considered to be a sin. Some states in India have even banned the slaughter of cows by law.

Fasting
Fasting is an fundemental part of Hindu Culture. A fasting period (Vrat/Upva) is a way to represent your sincerity and resolve, or express your gratitude to Gods and Goddesses. Fasts are observed during religious occasions and also in typical daily life. Some fast on different days of a week in favor of a particular God or Goddess associated with that specific day. It is widely believed that while fasting you are depriving your body of a basic necessity which punishes yourself to cleanse off the sins that you have committed.

Joint Family Structure
The joint family is when the entire family, including parents, husband and wife, children and in some cases, other relatives all live together. The cohesive nature of the Indian society makes this very common and it reportedly helps in handling pressure and stress too.

Arranged Marriage System
Arranged marriage in India can be traced back to the Vedic times (10,000 years ago). In royal families, a ceremony known as the ‘Swayambar’ was arranged for the bride. Today, arranged marriages continue to account for the majority of unions in India.

Do I need a vaccine?
The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccinations for India: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia and influenza. Shot last for 2 years.

All tourists visiting India need to get vaccinated for hepatitis A, tetanus and typhoid. In addition, you will need to take malaria tablets. Depending on what you are planning to do during your program, you may need to consider additional vaccinations.

According to the CDC, you need to start your immunizations at least four to six weeks before you plan to leave. That way the vaccines will have time to become effective. And you’ll also be able to start taking preventive medicines for diseases that don’t have vaccines, such as malaria.

What are the accommodations like?
Accommodations in India are 3-star hotels, hostels, guest houses, campsites and homestays.

Are there bugs?
Yes, India does have bugs, but the most commonly found bug is mosquitos. Their main breeding season is monsoon season. We do have bugs like all countries – commonly found are spiders, moths, etc.

What time of service project can I expect?
We have 4-5 service projects in India:

Service in the Clouds (2 weeks program)
This program is based in Mcleod Ganj and Himachal Pradesh. On this program we work with Tibetan refugees on skill-building and learn about Tibet issues and situations. In the second half of the program, we work with an Indian Nepali community on toilet construction projects – thus far we were able to complete 6 toilets.

Indian Wildlife Conservation Project (1 week program)
This program is based in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. On this program we work with WSOS, who has been working on rescuing dancing bears and elephants from temples in India and trying to rehabilitate them in their natural habitat.

Great India Houseboat Service Adventure (1 week program)
This program is based in Alleppy, Kerala (South India) On this program group stay on a Houseboat and cruise on the lake. They work with the school which is specially dedicated to untouchables and this school has been affected by Tsunami, so you help in conversation class, help in building and creating recreational areas for the school students to play.

Children of India (1 week program)
This program is based out of Jodhpur, Rajasthan. During the morning we go to schools of underprivileged kids and help them teach English, help teachers to make learning interesting, or help in developing or learning English. In the second half of the day we work with an NGO who helps in protecting, cleaning and reviving historical structures called stepwells. Resorting makes them usable for drinking water for the community living around it.

Stepwell

North India Galthani Village Service/ North India Cultural Experiences
This program is based in Mt. Abu and Galthani village. Students learn about the people who can’t hear and see, and then come to Galthani village and stay in a homestay or hotel. They work on education, construction, save the rain or planting trees projects around it and celebrate the local festivals, and go on Leopard safari.

For village/homestays, where do students and teachers sleep?
In villages, students and teachers stay in family homes. All these homestays are divided by genders specific and minimum 2-8 people at the max of same gender. And all these homestays have beds, pillows and blankets. Teachers will be staying in homestays as well, but they will be sharing rooms with same gender teachers. If their male and female teacher there will be 2 different rooms for them, but they might share rooms with same gender Rustic staff members.

For village/homestays, are the families we stay with background checked?
Yes, all families are vetted and background checks have been done. We have been partnered with these families for a long time and they know the protocols and understand the needs of our clients.

Will there be mosquito nets available? How do you manage mosquitos?
No, mosquito nets won’t be available. All hotels do have mosquitoes repellent and while in homestay people do use collies, ointments and repellent.

Can you accommodate dietary restrictions?
Yes, most dietary restrictions can be accommodated. Let us know in advance so we can confirm we can meet the needs.

Will we have any free time? What are good free-time activities?
Yes, you might have a little free time, depending on what program you are on. Good free time activities can be going shopping, team-building, local games with locals, connecting with your own group or learning new phrases from the locals or staff.

How do you all get around?
We use all types of transports which are vetted like cars, vans, tuk tuks and walking or even riding camels. but it mostly depends on program to program where we are at and what all activities can be done.

Can you manage large groups?
Yes, we can manage large groups. We divide the group into small numbers and make them do the same thing but rotate them so they get hands-on experience on all things.

Divya S. Parameswaran

India Country Manager

Divya is been associated with Rustic Pathways for the past 10 years. After completing her Maters in Tourism Marketing she worked extensively with the Thomas Cook in Conference and Event Management Industry in India. She has led programs in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Nepal and Fiji. With a passion to work with the community and youth, she has been an integral part in designing and executing service projects in India and Nepal. Her cooking skills and bubbly nature makes her extremely popular among students.

Sudarshan Singh Deora

India & Nepal Country Director

Sudarshan joined Rustic Pathways in 2007 after completing his Post Grad in Hospitality and Tourism management. He worked in production house as Location Manager and manager for an Inbound luxury travel operator in India. With education degree from JNV university from Jodhpur, Sudarshan passion for outdoor education and providing hands on experience inspires him to provide innovative programs for students in India and Nepal. Sudarshan loves to play cricket and listen to country music.

See Sudarshan’s Profile Page