If you’re traveling to India, there are several distinct cultural differences you should know and understand before setting out. As a non-western country, India may seem very strange, especially if this is your first trip out of the United States. While it will be impossible to gain a complete understanding of a country beforehand, researching India can ensure you’re better prepared for your trip. Here are five important things a first-time visitor to India should know.
India’s Primary Religion is NOT Christianity
Regardless of your own religious beliefs, Christianity remains the primary religion in the United States. This isn’t the case in India, where the largest religions are Hinduism and Buddhism. As a result, when you’re visiting India, you’ll likely notice major religious and cultural differences. You might see unfamiliar religions symbols, varying styles of dress, new deities, and different worship practices. The experience will be unlike anything experienced in the United States, making your visit a perfect opportunity to learn about a completely different religious culture.
India Was Once Much Larger
One major difference between India and the United States is that while the United States has continually grown in size, India has gotten smaller. This is due to the 1947 Partition of India that broke nation into two separate countries – India and Pakistan. The division wasn’t an easy one and distrust between the two nations still exists. If you’re interested in learning more about the Partition and its impacts on India, consider reading “Train to Pakistan” by Khushwant Singh. The books was later adapted into a film by the same name and could likely offer a lot of good insight into the nation’s history.
The Taj Mahal is more Than Just an Impressive Building
Any trip to India would be incomplete without visiting the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is widely considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire world. Somewhat less known, however, is that the building is a physical representation of love. In the 17th Century, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had the Taj Mahal built as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. This magnificent building is a must-see for anyone visiting India.
Family Structures are Different in India
No, you didn’t misread the above paragraph. Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jahan’s favorite wife. Polygamy, the practice of having more than one wife, was practiced in India until the 1950s and still influences the nation’s culture. It’s also common for many generations to live together in a single household. Whereas family units in the United States are generally limited to parents and children, homes in India will often house several generations at a time.
Street Markets are Common
While there are malls in India, many people obtain the goods and foods they need from street markets. As you walk the major streets in the country, you’re sure to see a number of market vendors selling produce, meats, handmade baskets, and other household goods. Shopping in this manner is undoubtedly different, but absolutely worth trying.
Visiting any country can be an amazing opportunity. While there will be differences, new cultural experiences enhance your worldview, as well as your ability to think critically. One of the most important things to remember during your visit to India is that, despite all the apparent differences, the people living halfway around the world are remarkably a lot like you. Embrace the opportunity to learn about the differences while also appreciating the similarities.
Contributed by Amanda Vosloh Bowyer