Experience India as an Expat !



Here are some tips for people moving to India and make they stay as easy, enjoyable and safe as possible !!


Accommodation –
Accommodation in India comes in a variety of ways.   

Cities are largely populated by high-rises.  People generally live in flats / apartments.  Individual "houses" are rare and expensive in big cities.  

Towns usually have more “houses” than high rises.  Outskirts of cities, towns and villages are usually populated by bungalows and villas of varying degree of opulence – everything from Colonial remnants to modern design and everything in-between.

Moving houses seems to happen with greater ease in India than in the UK.  Even buying seems to be far less complex.  People seem to move to a location of their choice without the stress of “looking around” we seem to suffer in UK.  

Apartments / flats – Very popular in the cities.  If possible, look for apartments that have a robust security system at the gate / entry point.

“houses”- Popular outside of big cities.

“bungalows / villas” – nice if you can afford them !  Usually they come with a small garden / patio - ideal for entertaining.



Cute as they are – don’t touch animals you don’t know in India.

Stray animals are common and they may carry all sorts of parasites and diseases.

Indians are very tolerant of all life – animals especially.  Traditionally, people used to keep aside some food for the animals and birds in their locality.  This is less common in the cities, but still happens in towns and villages. 

Cows and dogs often disrupt traffic by taking an impromptu nap on the tarmac.  Stray dogs disrupt many a sweet dreams by their nocturnal serenades.

In some of the more ancient towns and cities, monkeys roam around the houses as if they were their own.  Even the government offices in New Delhi are not immune from their casual raids !

Pets are becoming more popular in India, but traditionally animals (even pets) were kept out of the house.

Indian wildlife is wonderful to watch.  There are safari parks all over India, from swamp lands, so savannas, jungles and under-water dives.  India’s varied weather and terrain makes for an interesting time for bird watchers and those who want to see the big game animals – lions, tigers, cheetahs and elephants.

Insects - Of all its wildlife most humans come into daily contact with in India - it is the mosquito ! 
No matter who you are, where you are, or when you go to India, at some point, you will come into contact with the dreaded mosquito !! 
- Best to take precautions – vaccines, creams, sprays, long sleeved shirts / dresses. 
- Local mosquito creams are best, as they are developed with Indian mosquitoes in mind. 
- There are various “insect repellent” incense sticks you can burn or chemical “mats” you can plug into the electrical socket to dispel mosquitoes.



Best not to catch it !
Be careful and be safe no matter what you do.
Remember, AIDS is transmitted by blood or direct exchange of bodily fluids only – not by social contact. 

- Do be safe – condoms should always be an important accessory to your “evening out”.
- In a hospital / Doctors’ surgery, insist on having only fresh needles.  Doctor / nurse should not be offended by this request.  They all understand the importance of it.  If they don’t, go to another hospital / doctor !  Your life is too precious to be wasted for sake of a second hand needle.
- If you need blood transfusion, insist on having blood that has been checked for AIDS and other infections.  If you are not in a position to make sure of this, make sure your employer / family members are aware and insist on your behalf.
- Don’t do drugs – its not good for your health or your career.

Sadly, India has a huge potential for a hidden pool of AIDS victims.  Cultural sensitivity and ignorance helps increase the numbers.  Best advise anyone can give about AIDS is – Be Safe !


Antiques -

India has stringent laws on transporting antiques (anything over 50 – 100 years old depending on item) out of the country.  Check the legal status before you purchase or transport anything that is vaguely ancient !

Safer to buy copies of antiques that look just as good as the antiques and cost a lot less.  Truth be told, it’s difficult to verify an age of an article and rather than paying out lots of money for something you can’t bring back home, buy something that is a modern replica.


Art – Indian art world ranges from the ancient to the ultra modern.  It’s still much cheaper than Europe and USA and very good value for money.  Contemporary Indian art is fast becoming fashionable and is ideal for investment purposes too.

Indian art is diverse in its format, medium and styles.  Indians are very “visual” and express their love for art in everything from drawings, music, drama, dance, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, textiles etc.  Indeed, the ubiquitous sari is often a walking, functional piece of art !    



There are lots of local, regional, national and international banks in India.
- You have to wait in the queue to get anything done and probably have to see 4 people before the task is complete. 
- Best use ATMs were possible.



India is surrounded on three sides by oceans and seas.  Arabian sea is on its Western side, Bay of Bengal on the Eastern side and the Indian Ocean laps it’s Southern shores.  India has some pristine beaches and most are devoid of tourists.  Here are some points to remember -

- Most beaches are still in use by the fisher folk and are working places, so respect the locals and be careful of nets, boats etc.
- Indians outside the metropolitan centres still find it difficult to see men and women in skimpy swimwear.  Respect the local customs and ask before you strip down to enjoy the surf.
- Goa is a fairly safe bet for swimming in anything you want.  It used to be a former Portuguese colony and has been accustomed to beach orientated tourism since the time of the Hippies.
- If there are no coast guards around (usually the case), ask the locals before you venture out, there may be rip tides and other dangers that you should be aware of. 



The biggest enigma of India and Indian culture is the Caste system.

Just as race, ethnicity, sexuality and religious divisions play divisive role in other countries, caste is a thorny issue in India. 
In India, vote-bank politics and comfort-blanket of quotas / reservation means government and political parties perpetuate the caste issue long past its due date.

History - Originally, the caste system was a “guild” system to provide apprenticeship, job security and social cohesion within a community.  Later, it was perpetuated as a hereditary aspect within Hinduism to protect business know-how in a family.  Later, this was instituted into rigid laws by non-Hindu rulers to
1) divide and rule the society
2) aid the conversion efforts of their missionaries (Muslim and Christian)

Twisted out of all proportions, it is in urgent need of reform.  Several social reformers in the 19th and 20th century, including Mahatama Ghandi, have worked tirelessly to eradicate the worst excesses of the caste system.  As a result of government and society’s progressive attitude, India has had several Presidents, Chief Ministers and ministers from the “backward castes”.  Government policy of “Reservation” exists at all levels of education and in government.  Student places and jobs have been guaranteed to the low castes to uplift them.

Much still needs to be done.  But some of the government policies on reservation and positive discrimination have gone to the other extreme and now every caste and community in India is fighting to prove itself to be the most backwards and marginalised to get government sops.  Even religions to whom caste is a foreign concept (Christianity and Islam) now fight to be included in government’s caste quotas ! 

It is a tragedy on a massive scale when lives and jobs of millions are held to ransom by government rules on reservation.  It is a very hot topic in India at present and could even affect the private business sector if the government has its way. 

Just as no one would hold excess of the “inquisition” over the modern church, it would be unfair to hold the abuses of the caste system over Hinduism.  Its best to tread carefully when discussing caste in India.  It’s difficult to tell which side of the argument (for or against reservation) a person stands and its best to deal with the subject very diplomatically.  Many foreigners start the topic of “caste” assuming it’s an easy thing for a Hindu to admonish, not realising its complexities, and often cause upsets without meaning to.   



Indian cinema is one of the most prolific in the world.  Almost everyone has heard of Mumbai’s famous “Bollywood” film industry.  It’s glamorous starlets are internationally famous and some have crossed over to the western film industry.  Apart from Bollywood, there are many regional film industries and the ones based in Southern India are even more prolific than Bollywood ! 

Indian films are generally full of melodrama, music and are 3 hours long.  Indian cinema is an experience in itself and one not to be missed during your stay.  Check out the reviews of a film and discuss with colleagues at work before going – there is no point in seeing a flop on your first visit !

Indians love music and Indian films are full of “music”.  Songs from Indian movies will surround you where ever you go – from the corner shop to the restaurant to a birthday party !   


DIY (Do it yourself)

Check with your landlord before doing any make-overs or knocking nails into the walls

Labour being cheap in India, DIY is still an exotic hobby.  Most Indians prefer having a tradesmen come and do what most people in Europe / USA would do ourselves.


Electricians / Plumbing

Go with a recommended source.  Getting someone to come in to do the work is easy when you are offering cash to sort out your problems, but best to do it with someone whose services have already been tried and tested.



Indians love festivals !  Indeed, there are more festivals than days in the year !!
There are festivals that are related to the seasons, historical events, religious celebrations, community specific, regional, ancient and some are very new !

Internet is a wonderful place to get a lot of information on any particular festival you want to participate in.



One of the delights of India is its incredible variety of foods it has to offer.  Every conceivable taste is catered for.  There are amazing game animals, fishes, meats of every kind, domesticated animal and fowl as well as a plethora of fruits and vegetables to eat. 

India is a veritable paradise for the vegetarians.  No other culture or country has cuisines that are as extensive and as rich in tastes, textures and temperament as the vegetarian cooking from India.  Far from eating just salads (a very western concept of vegetarianism), Indian vegetarian cuisine is rich in grains, pulses, vegetables, flora and spices.  There are specialist dishes to complement the various climatic and weather conditions of India – from cool sherbets made from the khas reeds in the summer, to hot spicy foods for the cold winter nights.

Eating is a delight in India.  Try the different foods while you are here and enjoy the experience of the exotic.  Here are some tips to be safely do this without getting the proverbial “Dehli-belly” –
- Eat fresh foods – don’t eat “left-overs” from yesterday’s party.  Due to the hot climate, food spoils easily.  If it’s left outside, insects and bacteria might contaminate the food.
- All meats should be well cooked to kill any bacteria. 
- Peel all fruits and vegetables to avoid eating external contamination and pestercides.
- Wash salads in mineral water (never wash with tap water !)
- Ice cubes used should always be made from mineral water.  Many tourists are caught out by this – they brush with mineral water and than have ice cubes made from normal tap water with their drinks !  Than they wonder where they picked up the bugs ! 



Indians are generally very friendly and often seem eager / over-eager to be “friends”, especially with foreigners.  Don’t be frightened or overly anxious about it.  This is often their curiosity coming through – they would be just as open and friendly with anyone from outside their town / city !  Indians love to know what’s going on in the lives of others and given half a chance, will talk at length about their own.

At work, Indians love to form a friend-circle to make the work day go faster and lunch time more interesting.  Going out with work colleagues out of work hours is also very popular.

To an Indian, true friendship is synonymous with loyalty and is a sacrosanct bond between people that is highly valued.  To a “friend”, they will offer anything and everything at their disposal.  It is very common for friends to borrow each other’s household items and even clothes, especially during festivals and family functions !!



Funeral processions are solemn occasions and traffic usually works its way silently around pall bearers.

Hindu, Jain, Buddhists, Sikh
These four religions recommend cremation for their dead.  Seeing a body burn for a number of hours can be very upsetting.  Hence, only men go to the charnel ground, women stay at home.  In the cities, with electric or gas fired cremations, no one "sees" the burning and so women and children also come to the funeral.

Post-death rituals go on for up to 15 days.

Jews, Christian, Muslim
Burial is recommended by these three religions.  Men and women attend the grave side funeral.

Zoroastrians expose their dead in special “Tower of Silence” to be devoured by vultures.  Non-Parsis are not allowed in the "Tower of Silence".


Gold / Silver / Jewelry

Indians are avid buyer of gold.  It is estimated that as a percentage, there is more gold in private hands in India than all the rest of the world put together ! 

Gold is often bought at every possible opportunity, from birth and weddings to promotions and New Year celebrations.  It is considered to be far safer bet than banks and is often kept as an insurance against hard times and old age.

Silver comes a close second and is very popular in all its forms.  Indians often make presents of silver “utensils”, coins and ornaments to each other.  At weddings, silver is popularly presented as everything from coins to dinner sets !

Often as guests, you will be presented with water or sherbets in silver glasses and the after dinner-mints / sweets will be passed around in a silver plate. 

Gold and silver shops abound in India.  But be aware, buy only from reputed shops or places that have been recommended to you.  Even here, there is always an opportunity to bargain a bit, so try your luck !  If possible, take an experienced Indian friend with you who knows the goldsmith and is good at bargaining !


Hair cut

Hairdressers can be found in five star hotels, air conditioned malls, high street and even under a shady tree !  You largely get what you pay for.  As always, go to a recommended barber, its difficult to mend a bad haircut. 


Health -

There are plenty of books on how to eat healthy, so I wont repeat them but just say – be sensible !  Your stay in India should be free from food related problems if you follow just these simple tips -
- Eat freshly prepared food,
- only hot, well cooked meats
- never drink water from the tap! 
- Eat at restaurants rather than the street hawkers
- peal your fruits before eating them.   

India has some fantastic private hospitals and institutes promoting every type of medical therapy going.  If need be, use your doctor to refer you to the right place for you.  Government hospitals are generally over-crowded and not ideal for expats.

Here are some simple, but essential rules to follow -
- Insist on fresh needles and "checked" blood only.
- Use medication from reputed pharmacies only.
- Read the expiry date on the box / bottle and make sure it hasn’t been tempered with ! 



India is ancient by its very nature.  History will surround you in India.  Buildings, people, languages, traditions, cultures, they are all stamped by India’s most colourful history.  Over the millenniums, India has absorbed various visitors to its shores. 

Indian history is rich in its diversity and full of intrigues, wars, empires, sorrow, joys and human achievements.  One of the joys of visiting India is seeing the effortless mingling of past and present, of seeing the history living side-by-side with the present.

There are hundreds of books on Indian History, exploring its rich tapestry of events from diverse view points.  All I can say is, read as much as you can to enjoy and understand what has gone in to the making of “India”.

“Discussions” on history with the locals should be dealt with as diplomatically as possible.  There are too many sides of the “story” and unless you are sure the person you are talking to is on the same wavelengths, it’s easy to cause offence and be labelled as an “arrogant foreigner”. 



Indians are very friendly people and love to invite colleagues, neighbours, friends to their home for tea / dinner. 

When visiting people,
- Take a small gift for the kids / home.  Chocolate or flowers are fine. 
- Wine etc is a hit and miss thing.  Some Indians don't drink for religious reasons and may find it awkward to keep or decline the gift.
- No outdoor shoes in the house.  Indians feel shoes worn outdoors pollute / dirty the house.  Once you take your outdoor shoes off, you can either keep your socks on or ask for indoor slippers.  Out of politeness, they may say, "You can keep your shoes on." but its best to switch to indoor shoes as a matter of etiquette.
- Remember to invite colleagues and neighbours around for tea or dinner.  It’s the best and fastest way to fit in the local scene.
- People "drop-in" on each other regularly, especially neighbours.  You can carry on doing your house work and no one will think badly of it !  Its just the Indian way !! 



India has over 21 official regional languages !  There are hundreds of dialects and sub-dialects.  India has very ancient oral and written tradition.

You will be glad to know English is the “lingua franca” in business and government.  Most people, especially in towns and cities, will know English and generally there is no problem getting by in English.


Maharajas / Royal India

India was famous for its glittering royals.  People the world over were fascinated by stories of the opulence, grandeur, extravagance and limitless wealth of Indian kings and queens.

In ancient times, India was divided into several hundred kingdoms.  Ambitious kings would go around "whipping the butt" of neighbouring kings to exact tribute.  But at no time did they "replace" the incumbent royal family with their own.  Everyone seems to have believed in keeping within their ancient borders while extending their sphere of influence.

From about 400 AD, invasion by Huns, Mongols and Afghani Muslims changed the order of things.  Islamic despots and generals did not care for the "old-order" and royal families across northern India paid the price for war-lord’s greed disguised as jihad.  From 1500s, after several centuries of constant warfare, accommodation was reached between invaders and natives.  Emperor Akbar married the princess of Amber and allowed her to keep her religion.  Hindu and Muslim royals worked side by side for a few generations before Emperor Aurangzeb broke the established order.  Those fighting to free India from Islamic shackles broke the Mughal empire in late 1700s, creating their own royal dynasties.  British, French and the Portuguese promoted their own favorites in their bid to control the wealth of India.  British East India Company rose to power by selling arms to warring princes and became “king makers” before handing over power to the British monarchy. 

British Raj in India was a merry mix of old and new royals.  Some royals had ancestor lists going back thousands of years and others were upstart generals whose grandparents were of peasant origins.  Above this conclave of jeweled royals sat a British widow in black lace.  British government ruled India for 90 years, presiding over a “Raj” made of "native" kingdoms surrounded by lands controlled by the British Empire.  During the British Raj, Indian royals became famous for their fabulous palaces, glittering jewels, wild parties and magnificent hunts.  Indian royals were unstintingly loyal in their solid support for the British during the two world wars. 

However, as Independence loomed, the royals of India were threatened with extinction like the tigers they loved to hunt so much.  Britain abandoned their "treaties" with the native rulers.  Democratic government of India promised to preserve the titles and privileges of the royals if they willingly assimilated their lands into the new singular nation of "India".  They even promised to pay them privy purses to compensate them for the loss of their revenue.  After much deliberation, most of the kings agreed.  However, within 2 decades, politicians changed their minds and rescinded all payments and privileges.  Indian royals were reduced to being mere citizens of the "Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India". 

Royals of India had to reinvent themselves to survive.  Many turned their fine palaces, mansions and hunting lodges into "heritage hotels" to make the ends meet.  Their ancestral royal heritage is now confined to glass cases in museums.  Their luxurious trains provide a thrilling experience for the well heeled.  Their servants serve Cobra beer to back packers who want to "get-away-from-it-all".

Royals of India are now like the Disney Corporation - providing a "unique travelling experience" for the tourists. 


Meat eating in India

Indian cuisine is extremely varied. 
Having hosted almost every race, culture and creed from around the world, Indian cuisine is a kaleidoscope of tastes and textures.

Though all sorts of meat dishes are popular in India, beef and pork are less popular than they would be in the west.

By cultural decree, beef is forbidden for Hindus and pork is forbidden to Jews and Muslims.

Fish is popular in the coastal areas of India.


National Flag

The Indian flag is made of three horizontal stripes of colour – saffron, white and green.  There is a blue, multi spoked wheel in the middle.  Colours of the flag represent the unity of the four major religions in India – Hinduism (saffron), Christianity (white), Islam (green) and Buddhism (the wheel).  The tricolour graces official buildings and currency notes of India.  It is displayed in abundance on the 26 th January and 15th August every year.

In the west, national flags grace everything from boxer shorts and bikinis to bags and tags.  In India, the flag is sacrosanct.  Well meaning celebrities have got into trouble for “wearing” and “eating” foods decorated with the national flag of India.  When the national anthem is played, everyone is expected to stand.  A prominent CEO of an IT institution got into deep trouble when his foreign guests did not stand up to respect the Indian national anthem.  No one had told the foreigners to get up, and as a “polite host”, he did not wish to inconvenience his guests !



You have to be wonderfully patient in India.
If the British love their queues, Indians seem to live in the queues ! 

There is queue for everything, from getting your morning milk, to booking a ticket for a train.  There are queues in temples and cinemas, as well as at the doctors and restaurants.  So, be patient. 

The maid, the rickshaw driver, the guard at the gate, they will all demand your patience.  You may have to explain yourself several times before your vision of what you "want" marries up with what the local service personal think you "need".  So, be patient.



Best avoided if possible !

- Bureaucracy nightmares are made of visits to the Indian police department.  Avoid doing anything to antagonise them or get more involved with them more than you have to.  Generally, foreigners only get to see them if there is robbery or an accident.  Messy affairs at best of times.  
- Seek help from your legal department if at all possible.  A lot can be achieved by placing a phone call to the right person, and you are not necessarily going to know who that is !  Leave it to the experts. 


Political Awareness

- At the time of Indian Independence, despite every analysts grim analysis to write it off, even after 60 years, Indian democracy is strong and robust.
- India may be best known to us as the Land of Mahatma Gandhi, but its not all full of smiling pacifists !  India is a melee of every shade of political thought and people often express their views more colourfully than in Europe / USA.    
- Indians are very passionate about their politics. Indian politics is a complex affair and its best not to offer an opinion unless you know all the facts. 
- Certain parts of rural India are heavily influenced by the Maoists (called Naxalites) and its best to avoid them.  Ask advise before travelling to the “interior” if possible. 
- Rallies, hunger strikes, enforced closure of markets are common place during the election time.  Be patient, its all part of the Great Game of politics !
- Political rallies and protests are best viewed from the comfort of your TV, they can sometimes turn violent and the Indian police is happy to use force to bring things under control



- This is usually the most visible part of Indian's gulf between “haves and have nots” and this is usually hard for most foreign visitors to stomach.  Most find it difficult to come to grips with conspicuous consumption living side by side with utter desperation.  Sadly, it’s common throughout India.  Hard as it seems, you have to get over it and realise that often the poor work in the houses of the rich with no ill will or guilt on either side. 
- Poverty is often visible as cities and towns have expanded very quickly and the basic infrastructure has yet to catch up with the flood of people who have migrated to the cities looking for work.
- If possible, don't give money - tempting as it is, it often does not solve the problem.  Give food, clothes or work - it helps in a better way than cash. 
- If you eventually have a maid / servant, help them to get an education, even if its only simple maths or reading the alphabet or buying school books for their children.  This will help remove poverty in the long run and be more positive. 


Religious Awareness

- India is the cradle of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. 
- Judaism was sheltered here since the time of the Babylonian exile. 
- Christianity came to India’s shores within a generation after Christ’s death. 
- Islam came to India during the 9th century.
- Zorastrian / Parsies came as refuges from Persia when Islam forced them out in 10th Century AD
- Religion plays a big part in the country and you will find places of worship (big and small) of all faiths all over the country. 


Visiting a religious place –

Fantastic architectural legacy of thousands of years of coexistence is a constant wonder to all visitors to India.  Respecting the etiquettes of the particular religion will help you explore their shrines, old and new.   

- Hindu / Jain / Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim shrines - Remove your shoes outside the shrine.  Usually there is a safe place to deposit your footwear for a small fee of a few Rupees.  Dress modestly.  Take photos only if permitted (usually there is a sign if this is not allowed - but ask anyway !). 
- Don't be pressured into buying flowers / food during your visit.  Decline politely but firmly. 
- If you wish to donate to the temple, do so in the donation boxes or the temple office - don't give cash to anyone in their hands, its a recipe for a mini riot. 
- Don't swat / stamp / kill even insects on temple premises – especially Jain temples.  It may not be taken to kindly, as all life is considered sacred.
- Some temples are only open to their own devotees - it will be mentioned outside the main gate - respect their rule and please don't force the issue. 
- Hindu temples are usually very busy in the evening.  It may be the ideal thing for some, “too crowded” for others.  Check with a friend or a local before you go.
- Festival days are exceptionally busy and long ques are normal.  In my humble opinion, only the faithful and foolhardy would try to visit a temple during a major festival. 
- Jain temples are beautifully carved and usually an oasis of peace and quiet in a crowded world.  To Jains, all life is considered sacred.  While worshipping, they wear a mask over their mouth and nose to filter out tiny insects that might inadvertently die in ingested.
- Sikh shrines - Similar to the Hindu shrines, the only thing to add is, men and women have to cover their hair / head.
- Zororastrian (Parsi) fire temples – for fire worshiping Parsies only.
- Synagogues - Some are more liberal than others, best to check with the management.  Men and women may need to cover their hair.
- Churches - Usually there is no problem with dress code or wearing shoes, but just see what the others are doing, or ask the guard at the gate.  Sundays and Mass times are busy.
- Mosques - Remove shoes, dress modestly, observe gender segragation and women usually need to cover their hair.  Mosques are busy on a Friday and during month of Ramadan / Ramzan. 

Large number of ancient / architecturally beautiful religious monuments are under the Archaeological Survey Of India's (ASI) care.  Generally, such monuments have no active religious worship taking place and people can be fairly relaxed in their environs.

Festival days are generally great for photos and getting in to the spirit of things - but, they are also easy to loose things in, especially your wallet !  Be careful and be extra vigilant.

Indians love to talk about religion.  Tactfully avoid the subject unless you know the person well.  Its difficult to know when you have inadvertently offended someone by some unintentional faux pas !  Generally, just smile and say how fascinating it all is !


Sacred Cow

Hindus consider it a mortal sin to eat beef – something to remember if ever inviting a Hindu for dinner.

The cow is sacred because at one time it was THE economical centre of the community.  Everything from its milk, dung to its hide and its use as a “beast of burden” made it the sacred animal it is today.

Sadly, now its synonymous with traffic-jams as too many old cows are abandoned by their owners in lean times.  Stray cows tend to congregate around markets and rubbish tips to try and scavenge for food.  Sad as it is, animal husbandry in India needs a major overhaul and cows are only a small part of the equation.



- International Schools and schools that cater for children of the expatriates abound in the main cities.  In the best interest of the children, put them in a school whose schooling can be taken abroad with them.  There is no point in re-starting schooling every 4 years.
- Boarding schools are also there for those who wish to do their parenting from a distance.  There are some world renowned boarding schools in India and some have been around since the time of the Raj and the Empire. 
- Best to check out an institution and talk to other parents before making a choice.
- If its possible, leave your teenagers home !! 

Sounds strange, but its tough enough for teenagers to cope with all the bodily and hormonal changes, let alone a cultural shock and the potential of loosing all their friends !  Expat life is nomadic at best and to move children around during their crucial educational period is something all parents must weigh up seriously before doing it.  Leaving them back home allows them to continue their studies uninterrupted and they can always join you during holidays ! 


Servants / Domestic help

- Most Indian homes have maids or house servants.  In most cases, they work “part-ime” at several homes throughout the day.  Generally, there will be a different person to cook, clean and taking care of the children.  In cities, domestic servants have their own unions and guard their work monopoly jealously !
- If a maid or a servant is living with the family, they may have their own room.
- Don't feel bad about having a "servant", its a good way to help eliminate poverty and gives employment to the masses who have emigrated to the cities.  Without "unemployment benefit" from the state, this is the only way many can earn a living.  Most have children who are studying hard to make sure they get a better start in life.
- It is illegal to hire “children” as domestic help.  If in doubt, ask to check the age before you hire the home help.



No outdoor shoes in the house.  Indians feel it pollutes / dirties the house.  Once you take your outdoor shoes off, you can either keep your socks on or ask for indoor slippers.   



- Staring is a common past time in India.  Babies, old men, dogs and even ruminating cows do it !  Don't take it personally.  It’s what everyone does with nothing particular in mind.
- Paradox - though staring is common place, when you are talking to someone, looking them in the eye is considered "aggressive" !  You can focus on the face, but should avert the gaze regularly so as not to appear too forceful.


Street Hawkers

- selling everything from food (cooked and uncooked) to hair accessories, toys to lottery tickets.



Metal – steel, bonze, silver, rarely gold, aluminium for the poor

China – very common as dinner services in most middle class houses and in all hotels

Plastic – ideal for picnics and used in the houses of the poor.

Earthenware – very fashionable now, very eco-friendly and recycleable.

Leaves – either dry or fresh – very eco friendly and fashionable in the houses of the rich, also used at marriage functions of the very rich or very poor !

Dry leaves are expertly formed into plates and bowls by using sticks.

Fresh banana leaves are used in various parts of India, especially South, as plates.



(To add later)



Curiously, Time seems to acquire an elastic quality in India !

Culturally, everything is bound to an exact science of TIME, where there is an auspicious time to begin and end any activity in life.  Everything should happen precisely at the right time for it to be fortuitous, yet, for most Indians, this “exactness of time” is only maintained at weddings. 

So, be patient

Give yourself plenty of “time” and have an activity you can get on with while waiting for your host / guest / servant / customer / colleague to arrive.  Usually, in business, people do make every effort to be on time, but, somehow, Time itself seems to be elastic in India and best laid plans go awry ! 



Not the nicest of topics to discuss, but essential none the less.
When going out, take a roll of toilet tissue with you !  You never know when you need it. 

If you find a western style toilet – wonderful – but be careful and if in a public place, use your own toilet paper – you have no idea what has been sprayed on the one in the public place (all sorts of pesticides and insect repellents are used).

If you find yourself in an Indian style, hole in the ground one, don’t despair, here are a few quick steps you can take to make life easy.

1)      Men - remove your trouser and hang it securely on a hook.  This is really to protect the contents of your pockets.  When we squat, the pockets empty very quickly and no one fancies picking up the pieces off a toilet floor.
Women, if you are wearing a skirt, you can squat without the “emptying of the pockets” trick, but its still safest to take it off and hang it of at all possible.
3)      Use water to push the stool away and towards the “hole”.  Not a nice thing to mention, but, its even more discomforting to have to “smell” the stool for any length of time.
4)      Indians usually “wash” their butt rather than “wipe” it.  It’s more hygienic in a hot climate.  Indians use their left hand to wash their butt, and hence always eat with their right hand !
5)      Be careful – don’t spill water in the area where you intend to dress before leaving the toilet.  This may seem difficult, but with some practice, it is possible !
6)      Dress carefully inside the toilet and make sure your pockets are not emptied in the toilet while you try to get everything back on.
7)      Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.


Tourism –

Diverse landscapes, cultures, architecture, colours, sounds, sights, all these make for an exciting tourist destination.  Take all of these and multiply them by 100 and you have an approximation of India !

India is a veritable paradise for tourists.  With history stretching back into antiquity, it has some of the most fantastic monuments to man’s genius.  Its art and culture have absorbed the best from everyone it came into contact with.  Tea from China ; Chillies from South America, English from its former rulers and architectural styles from every part of the globe.

Christopher Columbus and co left their European shores in search of India, discovering new continents and lands in their wake.  India was, and still is, the veritable store house of spices, gems, textiles, science, music and more !  It has provided refuge for Jews, Christians and Zororastians.  All these have contributed to India’s wonderful mix of culture, colour, sights and sounds.

Touring India during your stay is a must.  It’s too good an opportunity to miss.  No matter where you are “stationed” (lovely colonial word), there will be a fort, temple, beach, mountain, monument near you.

Indian Tourist Board

- In a bureaucracy driven India, the Indian Tourist Office is a wonderful oasis of efficiency !  They are helpful and have an enormous amount of information to hand – everything from how much a hotel should cost in any given town, to what’s best to see in the region.

- There is usually a local state tourist board and a country wide Indian Tourist Board.  Visit them both for best information.



One of the greatest pleasure in India is – being able to travel by all the different modes of travel invented since history began !

CAR - Unless you are supremely confident or have a death wish, avoid driving yourself if possible.  The Indian traffic functions on the chaos theory that has been undefined since the advent of the car.  Amazingly, though it all seems impossible, the traffic actually moves !  Unless you have to drive yourself, get someone else to do the driving.

Having a driver in India is not very expensive on an expatriate’s salary.  Its safe, and will enhance your status – a very important thing in the East !
If you must drive, do it in the country side where the crowds are less and you have a better chance of getting a clear road. 

Motor Cycle – DON’T !!!  Even teenagers too young to sprout a beard seem to be comfortable driving a motorcycle / moped / scooter.  This makes the road doubly dangerous for the expat.  Apart from anything else, if you accidentally hit / nudge / knock someone / something – there will be an almighty ruckus and demands for compensation.  Police case will probably ensue and it’s just not worth it !

If you must – do it on an open road, away from crowds and cities.

Air – a good choice of airlines now link up most Indian cities.  Ask your travel agent or go on-line for best deals.

Local transport – Bigger metropolises have excellent local transport. 

- New Delhi and Kolkotta (Calcutta) have wonderful metro system that is clean and efficient enough to be the envy of the London tube.
- Mumbai (Bombay) has a train system that runs 24x7 with great efficiency.  However, transporting millions of people per day on its limited tracks has its down side – hugely crowded trains !  The masses can’t fit in the carriage and seem to spill out, hanging on with Zen-like calm, cultivated over years of practice – not something to be tried by a novice expatriate please !  If possible, buy a 1st class ticket and travel in a carriage that is less crowded than the rest.  You stand a better chance of getting on and off that way.   

Bus – It’s a fantastic mode of transport in India !  Its cheap and comes in all the various categories of comfort.  From the “bone shaking” to the ultra comfortable, air conditioned variety.  It would be great shame if you do not experience it at least once during your stay there.

Local - The “local bus” seems to move by the sheer momentum of the masses stuffed into its narrow carriage.  How the “conductor” collects the fare from all the passengers is a mystery best left to the Gods.  But, if you can brave it, try it atleast once !  Its fun trying to just get on and off the “local bus” !

Bus to the country side / inter-city – These buses come in all shades of comfortable.  Try them out !  But be-careful and guard your cash / valuables.  Better still, travel with as little as possible, so you can enjoy this great drama of life without worrying about your Amex card being safe.

In the cheapest category, there is usually no booking – even if one is advertised.  The bus is crammed to the full and the driver and conductor are in soul charge of hundred of lives every day – trust them, they are professionals !

At the other extreme, you have the “luxury” buses that have padded seats and air-conditioned environment that is soooo welcome in India’s heat.  This is the preferred mode of travel by those who can afford it.

Trains – Not to be missed at any cost while you are in India !!

One of the “blessings” of the “Empire” was the railway.  India is criss-crossed with railway lines that seem to run forever in this vast subcontinent.  There are trains to suite every pocket and every fancy, from the simple trip from A-B, to miniature mountain railways, to the sublime luxury of former Maharajas’ private trains !

Most train tickets can now be booked in advance.  There is a “tourist” quota for the foreigners, and sometimes, in an emergency, its best to avail tickets in this elite quota set aside for foreign visitors to India.  There are rules and regulations around this, such as having to pay with foreign currency or proving the Rupees in your pockets were converted from foreign currency.  Best consult the nearest Indian tourist office for latest rules. 

The entire Indian way of life seems to exist in a miniature in an “Indian train journey”.  People hustle bustle on and off, hawkers come and go with food, toys, food, people chat about everything from the cosmos to the chai-walla in their neighbourhood and children run around as if in a mini fair ground.  If Indian films are to be believed, romance sometimes blossoms and dies like a desert flower on a train journey !

The simple trips are often the best.

Book in advance and have your supply of mineral water at hand – can’t always trust the bottles sold by hawkers in the trains.  Carry as little as possible, so as to enjoy the trip without undue worry.  Don’t worry about food – there is plenty on board the train.  Ofcourse most of it is not from “restaurants” and so be careful what you eat.  Eat only hot, well cooked foods, avoid meat, and if in doubt, take a course of anti-biotics before the journey to fortify your stomach !!

Indians are wonderfully curious and more so on a train journey.  Within half an hour of the journey’s start, everyone knows what their neighbouring party is travelling to, why and for how long.  Conversation on business, size and health of the family, latest cricket news follow in quick successions.  When people do this, they are not being rude or intrusive, just polite !  Indeed, if an Indian does not quiz you about these things, he / she is being very rude indeed !  Feel free to decline to answer questions you feel are too personal, or diplomatically evade a question with a question !  Its all part of the travel experience !

To see India in a miniature, travel in the general class.

To see India comfortably, travel in A/C chair class.  The windows here are coloured to make sure no one can peer in.  No one talks to their neighbour and the hawkers are kept firmly out of the rarefied seclusion of the A/C chair class.  It makes for sterile, but peaceful journey. 

If travelling overnight, go by A/C sleeper class.  It has the wonderful friendliness of the general class, and has the comfort of the A/C chair class.

Rickshaw – the three wheeler that transports most of India !

Noisy, polluting and decidedly dangerous, this little vehicle transports Indians around its bustling towns and cities.  It ducks and dives between trucks, coaches, buses and people with determination that would make any British Sergeant proud !  Best to sit, give the driver your destination and close your eyes till the destination is reached.

Children going to the Nursery are often packed like sardines in these and though they make a great photo opportunity, it is very unsafe.  Gods truly must favour India, as few accidents with a rickshaw are fatal.

Hand Rickshaw – Rare sight outside Kolkatta, where its Marxist government still sticks to this most horrid form of transport while espousing freedom from serfdom ! 

Elephants – just for tourists and the hopelessly romantic.  Indians don’t ride elephants to school – and never have done !  Riding elephants was always an elite pleasure and now its reserved for the tourists and safari parks. 



One of the constant delights of India is Shopping !  There are different types of shopping establishments to cater for different tastes and budgets.

Smart shopping malls are springing up all over India.  In and out of town, they cater for those who wish to shop in the style more reminiscent of the west.  No bargaining, or haggling, no noisy hawkers calling out their wares, just the piped music from the latest MTV release as part of the retail therapy.  

Indian markets are more colourful, noisy and varied.  From the fantastic shops in the gold and silver markets to the busy aromatic spice markets.  The flower markets sell everything from cut flowers for the vases to the garlands and fragrant packets of loose flowers for the home shrines.  Fruit and vegetable markets are constantly busy with housewives buying fresh produce for the evening meal.  Bargaining and haggling for prices are the rule.  Checking the produce before buying is essential, as there is no “returns” policy here ! 

Clothes industry in India is as ancient as time.  Cottons, calicos, silks, brocades etc are what drew the west to India.  Indians have been experimenting with colours, shapes, sizes and textures for centuries.  “Outsourcing to India” first happened in the clothing industry and hence India is a great place to buy the latest fashion. 

If you fancy something more unique, there are tailors and designers a plenty to create that special outfit “just for you” !

But remember, unless in a shopping mall, bargain !  It’s the only way to get the best price !!


Spouses of the Expats in India

Victorian novels were made of this !
Being a spouse of an expat can be a very rewarding life.  It can be an ideal time to indulge in your favourite hobby or concentrate on enjoying parenthood. 

Spouses of expats have a busy life, managing children, school, servants, tradesmen, coping with water and electricity outages, entertaining other spouses of expats, “kitty parties” – and this is while you are at work !

Dinner parties, Sunday picnics and trips to the country side are wonderful projects for the “ladies who lunch”.


Vegetarian foods

India is a veritable heaven for vegetarians.

There are so many vegetarian dishes, so many different cuisines, so many different options, that vegetarians in India never tire of their food and never need to experiment with tofu or “meat substitutes”.

India is a veritable paradise for the vegetarians.  No other culture or country has vegetarian dishes that are as extensive or as rich in tastes, textures and temperament as the vegetarian cooking from India.  Indian vegetarian cuisine is rich in grains, pulses, vegetables, flora and spices.  There are specialist dishes to complement the various climatic and weather conditions of India.

In the big cities, every possible foreign cuisine is “vegetarianised” for those who prefer to avoid eating meat.


© Bhagwat Shah
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