India, although an interesting place to visit, is a developing country where many people struggle just to survive. Culture shock is unavoidable, and there are a number of problems that travelers should be aware of. Here's what you're likely to encounter.
In addition, do note these issues at top tourist places in India.
India, despite its rapid economic growth in recent years, still remains a developing country with a lot of poverty and begging. It’s prevalent anywhere that there are tourists. This includes important monuments, railway stations, religious and spiritual sites, and shopping districts. Beggars can be quite confronting and persistent, and you should give some advance thought as to how you’ll deal with begging.
Unfortunately sanitation and hygiene is severely lacking in India, and can be the cause of many problems and illness for visitors. Some adjustments are required while traveling in India. However, with a bit of care it’s possible to avoid getting sick.
It’s impossible to come to India and not encounter at least one scam or someone trying to rip you off. As a general rule, when someone approaches you in India (and they will, often), they do so for a reason and more than likely it’s because they want to take advantage of you in some way. You shouldn’t be paranoid, but it’s wise to be very aware and cautious.
Indian Standard Time is more than just the official name for the local standard time. It’s also jokingly referred to as the loose concept of time that the country runs on. Traffic and unforeseen circumstances often result in it taking longer to get to places and get things done than planned. Not only that, Indians have an infuriating habit (by western standards) of saying “in 10 minutes” when in reality the actual time is likely to be half an hour or more. People will also arrive unexpectedly, or on the contrary, not turn up when expected. In addition, many government offices and shops completely close for lunch in the early afternoon, so it pays to avoid trying to do business then.
Saying "Yes" but Meaning "No"
Culturally, giving a direct "no" in response to a question can be viewed as rude or inappropriate in India. Hence, many Indians prefer to give a vague answer, or even say "yes". For example, when asked if something can be completed in a certain time frame, of if they will attend an event. This can be particularly troublesome for foreigners who are used to "yes" meaning a definite commitment. It's a good idea to confirm a number of times to avoid disappointment or avoid having differing expectations. If the "yes" doesn't sound convincing, or the person sounds evasive, then don't get your hopes up for an affirmative outcome!
Crowds and Lining-Up
India’s population has now grown to over a billion people. Many of these people have migrated from rural areas to the major cities in search of work. These cities are teeming with life and the sheer amount of people can take quite a bit of getting used to. It doesn’t help that lining up in an orderly manner are quite unheard of in India. Simply because there are so many people, everyone strives to get in front of everyone else to avoid missing out. Pushing-in and shoving other people out of the way are common practices. Therefore it’s important that you to stand your ground. Don’t be afraid to push back or tell someone off.
Lack of Personal Space
India's large population and the fact that it's a community-orientated country mean that the concept of privacy and personal space in India is very different to western countries. In fact, it's quite non-existent! Large families often live in small homes, so having your own space is unheard of. As a result, when offered more personal space, Indians tend to feel isolated and alone. The more people sharing the space, the merrier! However, it's easy for foreigners to feel that people in India get too close to comfort. Keeping a respectful distance and not being intrusive, things that are commonly accepted as standard polite behavior in the west, are not widely practiced in India. This includes entering bedrooms without knocking, and looking through personal belongings. It can be disconcerting and suffocating if you're not used to it, so try and make sure you have a peaceful place (such as a comfortable hotel room) to retreat to.
Staring and Unwanted Attention
If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to be famous, India is the place to come. Foreigners, with their white skin, height and different clothes, stand out and attract attention. This is particularly a problem for women travelers, and even more so for those that are fair with blonde hair. However, people of African descent can also expect to attract a lot of attention. This is predominantly due to the unusual texture of their hair, which is a novelty for Indians.
Indian will men openly stare and make unwanted advances, often including groping and photographing. Be aware that in many cases a photograph is not a harmless photograph, they will show it to their friends and make up a story to go with it. Ladies will feel much more comfortable traveling around India with a male companion. Although staring will still be prevalent, Indian men will be much less likely to approach you. This book on women's safety in India is an excellent resource. In addition, have a read of this article about whether India is unsafe for foreign women.
India is not a violent country when it comes to robberies. However, there are many thieves waiting for the right opportunities to take advantage of people’s carelessness with their possessions. The majority of thefts in India happen to hapless visitors who have failed to take adequate precautions. Pick-pocketing is extremely common, as is the stealing of purses out of ladies’ handbags that are left open. Don’t flash your valuables around and make sure you carry them safely in a fastened bag, preferably one that is worn across your shoulder. You should also take care not to leave valuables lying around in your hotel room, and make sure your luggage isn’t left unattended anywhere. Small padlocks are useful for securing your bags, especially when traveling long distances on Indian Railways trains.