There are a lot of things not to do in terms of cultural codes and proper behavior while traveling in India. In this post, I will tackle only two travel tips for India which belong to the Don’t section!! These are two things that always makes me so upset when I see it happening when I’m traveling. It’s important to say that I don’t blame anyone only the lack of knowledge and awareness. I’m sure that after you will read this post you will be more alert and will also make others feel better. These two don’ts are based on long conversations I had for years with some of my Indian friends who work and operate in the heart of some of the most touristy places in India.
DO NOT WALK HALF NAKED IN INDIA
A friend of mine once told me: “Imagine that a woman enters the Vatican half-naked, almost topless, or rock-climbing on the Western Wall in Jerusalem dressed up only in a bikini? This is how we feel when tourists are coming here absolutely ignoring the religious and holy nature of places.”
“So how come nobody is doing anything about it? Why not tell tourists do not bath in the Ganga or elsewhere naked or half-naked? Or don’t walk in the street like you just came back from the beach? If you want to avoid frontal confrontation out of respect for the tourists put signs,” I suggested.
Firstly, it’s a matter of common sense, people should know that when they visit such places there are cultural codes to follow and to obey out of respect. Secondly, for local Indians, there is a big dilemma when it comes to prohibiting misbehavior of foreign tourists. It is hard to prioritize what is more important and what is less and where to stop? The streets can’t be filled with signs saying don’t do this and don’t do that! The tourists at the end of the day are guests in the country. Added to this is, of course, the economic aspect of foreign tourism especially in rural areas where this is their only source of income. Tourists bring money and this means food onto the table and this, of course, a big thing.
However, it is heartbreaking to see people coming from the most remote places in India for a once in a lifetime Yatra (pilgrimage) and spending their savings to visit the holiest place for them. Sometimes the entire village helps them financially to fulfill this Yatra so they will know that at least one of them made it. When they come to the place what do they see? Foreign tourists breaking the codes of Dharma (set of religious, social, cultural and behavior standards). We as visitors at holy places should be committed to these standards as well.
DO NOT SMOKE IN PUBLIC PLACES
Another big don’t in our travel tips for India section is not to smoke pot in public places. Smoking pot on buses, in restaurants, trains, and other public places is inappropriate. I have heard so many travelers say that this is part of Indian tradition and therefore it is not offending anyone and pointing out babas (holy men) as examples of those who smoke Chillum everywhere and nobody tells them anything.
It doesn’t matter how appealing a baba’s style may be. A tourist can’t be part of it, no matter what you do, no matter how you will be dressed up or even if you don’t cut your hair for thousand years we will never be perceived as part of Indian tradition while Indian Sadhus are and always be. Indian Sadhus have a traditional justification to ‘break the rules’ within Indian society. This ‘privilege’ is something we as tourists simply do not have. Their relationship with Indian society is a complex issue that is under debate as far as Indian history goes back in time. Using Sadhus as a sign of Hindu society’s approval for smoking pot in public places is ignorance.
So next time you are India remember these cultural no’s it will be appreciated