India is a place of contrasts and extremes. The same is true for its visitors: between love and hate for this country, many a traveler who comes to India for the first time feels torn.The culture shock is practically pre-programmed for Europeans. But that is exactly what makes this country so fascinating.
No matter how much time you have to travel India: It will always be too little, and there will always be more places and cultures left to discover that are worth a new trip. That’s simply because India is the seventh largest country in the world.
The capital of India
With a population of over 1.3 billion, India is the second most populous country on earth after China. The capital, Delhi, is the third largest metropolitan city in the world with a population of just over 28 million. This corresponds to about one third of the total population of Germany, some of whom live densely packed in a large city in Delhi, India.
New Delhi replaced Calcutta (now Kolkata) as the capital in 1931.The new capital was planned as an ideal city, and its many green spaces and spacious streets and avenues set it apart architecturally from other cities in India.
If you’re not put off by the chaos of India’s capital, New Delhi is worth a trip on its own. It is home to some of India’s most interesting sights.
Lotus Temple in New Delhi
The building, modeled after a lotus flower, is a sacred building of the Bahá’ís, a religious community originally from Iran. Completed in 1987, the temple is an architectural masterpiece that is unique in the world.
National Museum in New Delhi
5000 years of history are represented in the museum by Numerous exhibits. Archaeological findings, carvings made of wood, sculptures, musical instruments, textiles, weapons, armor, jewelry, paintings, manuscripts, various works of art and religious relics and historical statues from Buddhism are among the objects on display in the museum.
Akshardham Temple in New Delhi
The huge temple complex Akshardham belongs to the Swaminarayan Hindus and is (controversially) the largest temple complex in the world. In addition to the temple, which can be visited free of charge, there is a whole range of amusements here, such as a wonderfully manicured garden, a water feature and much more.
Language and Culture in India
The official languages in India are Hindi, English and, depending on the region, one of about 20 different regional languages of equal status, each of which still has different dialects. Not surprisingly, the most commonly used official language is actually English. Often Indians also speak English to each other, as their respective regional languages would remain misunderstood.
The Flag of India
The Indian flag is also known as the Tiranga, which means “tricolor”. Here the saffron yellow stands for courage, white for truth and peace, and green for faith, prosperity and loyalty. The central charkha (wheel) symbolizes the 24 hours of the day. Great importance is attached to the Indian flag in the country, and there is a long list of rules of conduct on how to deal with it.
The caste system in India
One of the biggest differences from Western culture that many Europeans struggle to come to terms with is the Indian caste system.
The caste system strictly divides people in India into different groups. At the top are the Brahmins, who belong to the caste of scholars, including high officials, princes and warriors (Kshatriyas), followed by farmers and merchants (Vaishyas), and in last place servants, servants and service providers (Shudras). Below them are the so-called “untouchables,” who also call themselves “Dalits.” According to religious distinction, they do not belong to any caste. They are left only with the jobs considered the lowest, such as garbage disposal, laundry or hairdressing.
Breaking out of one’s own caste is unthinkable, as children are already born into their fathers’ caste. Their surname quite often already tells to which social group (Jati) and thus to which caste they belong. For example, the name “Dhobi” means launderer, while “Gandhi” means perfume seller. In India, there are about 2000 different Jatis. A marriage outside of one’s own social class is absolutely unthinkable and so social advancement over generations is also virtually impossible. Although in the cities the caste system has been relaxed somewhat in the meantime, it continues to be practiced without restriction in the countryside, and even the most modern Indians do not consider marrying outside their own caste.
Despite this, there are early signs of steps toward equality: Despite resistance from high castes, Dalits are being granted more and more rights. The current state president Ram Nath Kovind is already the second “untouchable” after K.R. Narayanan to become India’s head of state.
Traveling to India as a woman
There is indeed a cultural difference that you should never lose sight of as a woman, especially alone. Indians, for their part, have a perhaps somewhat distorted image of “permissive” European women. So you should by no means reinforce this if you want to avoid, or at least minimize, sexual harassment.
- Sexy clothes stay at home. In India, wearing revealing clothes is an outright invitation to sexual harassment. At the same time, your concept of revealing is probably different from India’s. Be sure to wear loose clothing that covers at least both knees and elbows. Daring necklines, short skirts, shorts and tank tops are off limits.
- Dresses make the man. Again, it’s all about your appearance. To be respected, you should make sure your clothes are always clean and neat. Tattered clothes are not appropriate if you want to be treated well.
- You’re single? Don’t tell anyone. Unless you’re in male company anyway, you should emphasize that you’re married in any conversation. Best, you also get a ring that you wear as a wedding ring dummy on the finger.
- Do not talk to strange men. This is especially true in India, as men will misinterpret your friendly behavior as sexual interest towards them. If you need to ask someone for directions or otherwise strike up a conversation, always stick to women and older people.
- Try not to travel alone. As a woman, traveling to India is safer with a male companion, but even a female travel companion already makes a difference.
The top 5 sights in India
Taj Mahal in Agra
Probably India’s most famous landmark in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in northern India, the Taj Mahal was commissioned by Grand Mogul Shah Jahan in 1631 and completed in 1653. The imposing marble palace is the landmark of India and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you should be already at sunrise, when the crowds of visitors are not yet too numerous, the air is clean and clear and the play of light around the palace is particularly impressive.
Red Fort in Agra
Also in Agra and also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Red Fort. The fort was first mentioned in documents as early as 1080. The huge fortress, steeped in history, has been repeatedly expanded and rebuilt over the centuries and today shines in breathtaking splendor. Due to the proximity to the Taj Mahal, the visits can be ideally combined in one day. The Red Fort in Agra should not be confused with the Red Fort in Delhi, which is also worth a visit.
Goa and its beaches
100 km of coastline on the Arabian Sea with tropical climate conditions, hippy flair, party atmosphere and yoga schools are the slightly different part of India. Dreamlike endless sandy beaches, inviting Indian coastal villages, excellent food and sacred cows sunbathing among the tourists characterize this paradise. It is no coincidence that Goa has been a destination for mass tourism since the 1960s, when the first hippies discovered the beach. Accordingly, the tourist infrastructures here are also well developed.
Jim Corbett National Park
British Jim Corbett played a pivotal role in establishing this first national park in India, originally called “Hailey.” The park is primarily dedicated to the protection of the Bengal tiger. Other endangered wildlife such as the Indian Leopard, Asian Elephant and Great Rhino are also allowed to live here protected from poachers and habitat destruction. Visitation is possible from November to June, trekking tours are organized around the park. Actually spotting a tiger could prove difficult, as the animals are very shy and perfectly camouflaged. Nevertheless, the visit is guaranteed to be worth the journey.
Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) in Jaipur
For those who would like to get a firsthand look at life in a harem, the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur, to the north, is not to be missed. Der Maharaja Pratap Singh had the magnificent building built in 1799 from red and pink sandstone and provided with 953 tiny windows.The women of the palace should thus have the opportunity to observe the hustle and bustle on the street without being seen themselves. The architectural feat is also reflected in the feature that gave the palace its name: There is always a light breeze blowing inside it, which makes the temperatures inside the palace comfortable even on the hottest days. The Palace of Winds is the most photographed building in India. The palace museum is open daily
Entry requirements and visa India
Germans need a visa issued in advance to enter India.This can either be applied for at the embassy, or obtained electronically (E-Tourist Visa).
For now, no entry into India as a tourist is possible through Corona
Due to the Corona pandemic, it is not possible to travel to India as a tourist at this time. Currently, no visas are being issued to tourists. Indian borders are also closed for medically related travel. The regulations for entry can change again at any time by Corona, so you should check with the Foreign Office for current regulations.