Frequently Asked Questions

Weather

India is a large country, and there are considerable variations in weather across the country. Basically, however, there are three seasons (though the traditional Indian calendar defines six): winter, summer and monsoon. The winter lasts from about October / November to mid February, when it begins to warm up for the summer.

The hottest months are April and May (The average maximum temperature in Delhi in May is 40C, the average minimum in January is 6C). The monsoon reaches different parts of India at different times, but generally July and August are the wetter months, with rain continuing longer in the South(Cherrapunji is the wettest place on earth, with an average of more than 2.5m of rainfall in June). Mountain areas are inaccessible in winter.

If you are booked on a Soul of India tour you will receive more detailed information about the weather specific to your itinerary.

Dress

India is a conservative country, and visitors should dress accordingly. Both men and women should always have shoulders and knees covered. (Shorts are considered to be a sign of low status, and can cause offence). Women need to cover their heads if visiting mosques, and in some temples; men and women should cover heads in Sikh gurdwaras. Visitors should be prepared to remove footwear when entering any religious building.

Leather is not permitted in Jain temples, nor in some Hindu temples.

Air conditioned hotels can be surprisingly cool! A hat is recommended against the sun, at least in the middle of the day. An umbrella is also useful during the monsoon.

Medical and Health

You should consult your doctor about inoculations and any other medical requirements. Advice about inoculations varies, but you should at least be protected against typhoid and tetanus. You will also need protection against malaria. Depending on personal factors, other precautions may be appropriate.

India has an undeserved reputation for health problems! As in any different environment, some simple precautions will greatly reduce the likelihood of distress. Most of these are common sense.

  • Keep clean. Most bugs are transferred by touch, so always wash before eating.
  • Avoid food that could be contaminated. Don’t eat cooked food that has been left lying around. Don’t eat fruit unless you can peel it or wash it thoroughly. Avoid salads.

  • Avoid ice cream and fruit salad — this is a difficult one because it’s a favourite in many hotels.
  • Never drink unbottled water (bottled water is always available) and always check the seal on the bottle. If the weather is hot, drink lots, and take reasonable precautions against the sun.

By its nature Indian food produces a freer bowel than Western food. This is generally healthier, and no “remedy” should be sought. If you do get an upset stomach the best treatment is simply not to eat for 24 hours. This is usually more effective than proprietary diarrhoea treatments.

Good medical facilities are available in Indian cities, although not always up to Western expectations. Travellers to India should carry appropriate medical insurance.

Money and Shopping

The unit of Indian currency is the rupee. 100 rupees is written as Rs100/-. There are 100 paise to the rupee.

There are 24 hour banking facilities at international airports. Travellers cheques are exchangeable at most hotels, but sometimes there can be a shortage of currency for exchange in out of the way places. Travellers cheques are acceptable in sterling or American dollars. There is something of a market for US dollars on the streets, but it is illegal to exchange money except through authorised channels.

It always used to be possible to exchange Indian and Sri Lankan rupees, but currently this is difficult in both countries, except at airports.

Prices vary widely. Hotels for foreigners are often priced in US dollars, as are many of the more expensive souvenirs. Hotel shops usually have high quality goods, but with prices to match. Even in such “fixed price” shops, some negotiation is appropriate. In the bazaars and smaller shops bartering is part of the shopping experience. There is an art to this, and the unwritten rules often evade foreigners. The more touristy a place, the higher its asking prices will be, and the greater its price flexibility. Vendors can be very persistent and persuasive, which can become wearing. In any transaction, take account of the economic distance between you and the vendor.

Tipping is part of life. Many people will offer you small services, for which they will expect a tip, and they will always look as though they expected twice as much as you have given them. It is impossible to generalise, but as a guide, a small service in a hotel might justify a tip of Rs20. In a restaurant a 5% tip is quite enough. Rickshaw wallahs and taxi drivers should be tipped.

When visiting temples and other religious places, a small offering is usually made. An enthusiastic priest might suggest you donate Rs100, but you will see that most worshippers give coins or small notes.

How much money will you need? A few pounds or dollars a day will more than cover the normal personal expenses such as lunch, laundry and drinks. After that, it’s entirely up to you what you spend. You can find very authentic souvenirs for a few Rs, or you can spend many hundreds of dollars on a silk carpet. Don’t buy peacock feathers, however; their export is prohibited.

Customs and Etiquette

Indian people are often remarkably tolerant of the (accidental) rudenesses of foreigners. But there are some easily observed rules of conduct that will help avoid some of the worst faux pas.

  • Never hold food with your left hand. If passing it to someone else, try to avoid touching it, and always use your right hand to pass a plate. In country places try to avoid putting used dishes near clean ones.

  • When sitting on the floor — yes, you will be expected to do that! — never point your feet towards another person or a religious image.

  • Men should avoid physical contact with women. Even shaking hands is regarded as rather forward. A traditional Indian greeting is much to be preferred.

Conversations can be surprising. You will often be asked what appear to be rather impertinent questions about your financial or family circumstances. These are not meant to be rude. Don’t forget that Indians reveal a lot about themselves to each other simply by their names and the way they dress. You don’t automatically give that information, and if people are interested they will ask.

Suggested books to read or bring with you…

  • V.S. Naipaul, India, A Million Mutinies Now, Minerva, 1990
  • V.S. Naipaul, India, A Wounded Civilisation
  • Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India
  • Roger Housden, Travels Through Sacred India, Harper Collins, 1996
  • Gitanjali Kolanad, Culture Shock India, Times 1994
  • Michael Wood, The Smile of Murugan, Penguin, 1995
  • Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West, The Vintage Book of Indian Writing, Vintage, 1997
  • Rabindranath Tagore, plays, poems and stories
  • Premchand, various collections of stories
  • R.K. Narayan, stories
  • Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
  • Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
  • Richard Waterstone, India, Belief and Ritual, MacMillan, 1995