Here’s a preliminary introduction to the country
Ethnic communities of India
The ethnic communities of India includes Negroids (the first to arrive in India), ProAustraloids (they laid the foundation of Indian civilization), Mongoloids (those who live in the North East of India close to the Chinese border), Dravidians (people who live in South India and believed to have come from the Mediterranean), Western Brachycephals (mostly people of Western India) and the Nordic Aryans (believed to have come from
Central Asia and the last ones to arrive).
India has a variety of communities
India has had a long history of invasions and immigrations. Since ancient times, invaders have come specifically to plunder the country and then return back again for more plunders. Fallen for the charm of the land, some have stayed behind and married the locals. Some communities have come to India to seek refuge. You think of a religious
community and you will find them in India. Due to India’s strategic location and due to the fact that it is surrounded by water on three sides, the country also experienced trade with other countries for centuries. All these experiences added to the incredible richness of the country.
India is also very much a layered country in terms of cultural traditions. A section of Indian society lives in urban areas while the rest lives in the villages. Some Indians receive Western education while others receive traditional education and follow their traditional community beliefs. Some communities, particularly the tribal people of India especially in the rural or remote places are illiterate but have rich cultural heritage and following oral traditions. Some historians believe that they were the first inhabitants of India. India is a very fascinating country where people of many different communities and religions live together as a country.
Variety of languages
The Indian people speak a variety of languages. The Indian languages are divided into two major categories namely the IndoAryan languages of which about 75% of Indians speak and the Dravidian languages spoken by about 24% of the population. The rest speak languages belonging to the Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman languages.
But for convenience, the country recognizes one main language - the Hindi language. Hindi has been recognized as the official language in the constitution of India. While quite a lot of people do know English well, knowing a little bit of Hindi can be helpful in dealing with locals and those who you will interact the most such as taxi drivers, waiters, shop-keepers, hotel bell-boys, porters and so on.
Whenever you visit a country, learning a bit of its language is one of the best things you can do as a traveler. A few Hindi basic words to guide your direction is ‘seedha’ which means ‘straight’, ‘nahi’ which means ‘No’, accha or haa’ meaning ‘yes’, and so on. Make sure you have a traveler’s guide to Hindi at hand when you travel especially in the Northern part of the country. I have included some basic Hindi words in this book.
Variety of religious beliefs
Four major world religions originated in India namely Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhism and Jainism were offshoots of Hinduism but developed their own structures and belief systems, becoming independent religions later. Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism are a few other religious belief systems in India. People with these different beliefs and cultural practices live harmoniously which has been the usual practice for centuries. This is why you find a variety of religious structures in India including temples (mandirs), mosques (masjids), churches (girja ghars), gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and even synagogues. Interestingly, there’s a community in Eastern India called the ‘Bene Israel’ that claims to be the descendents of the lost Jewish tribe.
Variety of cultural customs and traditions
When you visit India, you will realize that Indians have many different kinds of traditions and customs. For example, in many Indian homes (though not all), it is customary to remove your shoes near the main entrance either inside or outside before you step into the room. If you do happen to be going to an Indian home, it might be polite to ask your host if you need to remove your shoes. Temples and mosques that are open to visitors also require you to take your shoes off and some of the larger and traditional places have places marked for visitors to keep their shoes. In religious places, like gurdwaras (a place of worship for the Sikhs) both men and women have to cover their heads. A traditional greeting among Indian Hindus is ‘Namaste’ in which both palms are joined and folded.
Variety of political practices
Just like different religions, India also has diverse political beliefs. There are a few pan India political parties, as well as many regional parties pushing for the development and growth of a particular Indian state. There are parties with a slight militant streak to those with pacifist and democratic goals - the diversity in this as in other things in India is quite fascinating. Usually, except for ‘bandhs’ (close-down) called by a political party in which commercial activities comes to a stand-still in a particular place, you won’t be affected as a traveler.
In terms of diversity, India is unmatched and some of the bad stories you hear about India will most probably be true but many will fade away when you come to India. If you are thinking of travelling to India, here’s a simple suggestion – just leave all your previous notions about India behind and simply soak in the experience the country has to offer.
Indian food is one of most liked food in the planet. No matter where you go in the world, you are bound to find an Indian restaurant. Unfortunately, many of these restaurants may not be serving the range and variety of cuisines that India has to offer. You will find that food varies from region to region in India. In addition; immigration, foreign invasions, trade, settlements and colonialism all have contributed to the kind of food India eats. In fact, every Indian state will have a specialty and is very much influenced by religion and culture. Remember many Indians are vegetarians but significant portion of the Indian people do eat meat. Eating of Beef is forbidden in the Hindu religion and it will be difficult for you to get hold of pork on the menu.
Some of the most popular Indian dishes include chicken tikka masala, butter chicken, matar paneer (made of Indian cheese and pees), chaat (a street food), malai kofta (creamed vegetarian meat balls) samosas (snacks), Indian styled chow mein, vegetable cutlets and naan bread. This is just a sample of what’s popular but you will find a variety of dishes to cater for your taste buds.