INDIA

Updated: 28 March 2022

BACKGROUND & CULTURE

A BRIEF BACKGROUND

India is a land of ancient civilisation and covers much of South Asia. It originally covered the areas of Pakistan and Bangladesh and in the relative recent history of the 1500s, the Mughal empire was founded and continued for a couple of centuries. By the mid-1800s, British rule established in the area and the Mughal empire waned being partitioned off in 1947 and 1971 respectively.  

Today, India is a very diverse country, with more than 1.3 billion people, making it the second most populous nation in the world after China. The ethnic makeup of India is mostly Indo-Aryan (a general term for people of largely Central Asian descent) and a smaller proportion Dravidian (South Asian descent). 

About 35 percent of the population lives in urban areas with New Delhi being the most populous city in India carrying a population of approximately 32 million people. Mumbai is the second largest city in India with approximately 21 million people.

CULTURE

Snake charming street performer

Indian culture is thousands of years old, making it one of the oldest in the world.

India has been considered as the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, the third and fourth largest religions in the world. Approximately 84 percent of the population identifies as Hindu. About 13 percent of Indians are Muslim, making it one of the largest Islamic nations in the world. Christians and Sikhs make up a small percentage.

CASTE SYSTEM

India has a highly structure traditional social system called  the ‘caste’ system. The term ‘caste’ comes from the word ‘casta’, which was used by Portuguese which described the segrataion and treatment of the different layers of the Indian society. The caste system is an ancient institution that is generally believed to be unique to the Indian subcontinent. 

Broadly there are 4 categories; brahmin (priestly caste), kshatriya (nobility caste), vaishya (merchant caste) and shudra (artisan or labourer caste). The caste system is viewed by some members of the society as an ideal social structure. Traditionally it is very difficult for members of  specific caste groups to mix to a point where it is strictly adhered to in rural areas, leading to discrimination and inability to deviate from the assigned roles.

EXPAT GROUPS

On a modern day-to-day existence in India, particularly in major urban areas such as New Delhi, be aware that as a new entrant, there will be a lot of attention. Stay alert and ensure that the information and advice you receive from strangers is carefully vetted. Many locals are keen to associate with new and naive residents. It is strongly advisable to tap into foreigner and embassy social groups so that you can seek advice and confirmation of your decisions.

There are many countries with Facebook groups, embassy and hotel memberships that will help you to settle into India with confidence. Aspects of day to day can be made easier with recommendations such as, where to buy the best deli meats, which household items for delivery are the most reliable, etc.

SCHOOLS

If you have children, schools are an excellent source of friendships, activities and support. Make sure you get involved to a degree that you feel comfortable, as over time, you will appreciate the group knowledge that is shared. 

MAIN HOLIDAYS

There are numerous religious and general holidays, however, the most festive include Diwali (between October and December) which is a festival of lights celebrated by Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. It extends over 5 days and celebrates the victory of good over evil.

The other reknown holiday is that of  Holi (usually in March), which is the festival of colors and a celebration of spring. 

The other major country holidays include Independence Day (15 August), Ghandi’s birthday (2 October) and Indian Republic Day (26 January).

WEATHER

India occupies a large land mass and so its geography and climate is incredibly diverse. Northern India covers the snowy mountain range of the Himalayas and the Great Indian (Thar) Desert. Meanwhile, tropical jungles, rainforests, coastal plains, islands and beaches contrast in south. The infamous river the Ganga (or ‘Ganges’) in the north and Godavari in the central and southeast play a vital role in much of the rural Indian life and survival providing irrigation,  transportation and religious importance in Hinduism.

Delhi’s has an extreme climate. It is very hot in summer (April – July) and cold in winter (December – January). The average temperature can vary from 25oC to 45oC during the summer and 5oC to 25oC during the winter.

Average Summer temperature : 25oC – 45oC degrees.

Average Winter temperature 5oC – 22oC degrees.

Be aware in the winter, many families do not have access to, or can afford electricity for heating, and so burn wood and materials to remain warm and for cooking. This causes a thick haze across the cities, especially in Delhi, and may trigger or irritate breathing issues.

ARRIVING & GETTING AROUND

ON ARRIVAL

ON ARRIVAL

On arriving into India, you will immediately be confronted with a plehora of smells, sights and sheer numbers of people. Entry can be chaotic depending on the city that you arrive at. New Delhi is particularly overwhelming as its a major entry and exit port for the country.

On exiting the baggage area into the main arrival hall, you will be confronted with opportunistic hopefuls offering taxi rides, luggage carrying and sim card sales. Take care not to spend too much time with individuals that you do not know, and proceed quickly to your transport area, whether it is an arranged pick-up or hiring a metered taxi.

 

Infant begging in a busy intersection

GETTING AROUND

As a visitor in India, using the public transport system would be daunting to say the least. It is crowded, smelly and, at certain places, quite dirty and unkept. Furthermore, as a foreigner, locals tend to view your presence as unusual and so will attract a lot of attention. It is more advisable to use taxis, private hire cars, or have your own car with driver (see the section on Driving below)

For longer trips, such as seeing the Taj Mahal, these can be done in your car, or first class train travel. First class rail travel is relatively affordable and will enable you to have space and some freedom. 

For longer destinations, domestic flights are available and an efficient alternative to road/rail options.

DRIVING

Transport by auto rickshaws

While it is relatively easy to convert your home country’s driving licence (depending of course on the home country and convertibility of the driving licence), whether you decide to drive yourself or not is the most important question. Purchasing a car is not overly expensive in contrast to countries such as Singapore, which carries an additional licencing cost with each vehicle. Most families take advantage of the proportionately healthy industry of drivers. It assists with the difficult navigation of daily driving, but also parking close to your destinations is not easy and safety of the car will be more assured with a driver present in the car.

Driving in India is a new and challenging skill you can add to you expatriate skill book. Almost all expatriates choose to engage the services of a full-time driver. It is a common choice not just for foreigners, but also for locals. Driving is not only daunting but is confronting and difficult. Lanes are not respected where cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles and motorbikes cram into what seems to be impossibly small spaces. The horn is used readily, constantly and unabashed. It seems that the horn is not used as a warning signal, but as an indication rather that you are nearby on the road. As you can imagine with the density of India, this means there is a lot of horn usage!

In the city, there are always children and maimed adults knocking on windows and begging for money or food at most intersections adding to your need to focus. Additionally, the country roads tend to be stressful and chaotic and best driven by a local, such as your own driver. In some areas there are few road markings and in rural areas, the truck drivers are under high pressure to deliver their loads, resulting in overtired and undertrained drivers that overtake when they wish or drive on the wrong side of the road. There are also numerous distractions on country roads such as cows and livestock, pedestrians and busy country stalls nearby. 

HOME & FOOD

HOUSING

One of the new style farm houses available for rent

In the major cities, the predominant choice is between city apartments or ‘farm houses, particularly in New Delhi. There are of course some independent homes in the city areas, but not commonly rented by foreigners due to budget constraints. However, there are many attractive apartments available for rent and those that meet most budget boundaries.

There is an sizeable amount of domestic support available to those resident in India. These include, cleaners, drivers, housekeepers, nannies, gardeners, staircleaners, and gatekeepers. The extent to which a family avails of the possible domestic support is a personal choice and requirements of their residence.

It must be noted that to rent a farmhouse, a minimum amount of domestic support will most likely be required as grounds are often extensive, internal size is impressive and security is imperative. For example, 1-3 gardeners may be required as well as 1-2 security individuals. Household cleaning would be too much for any 1 individual and opportunity for assistance is easy to obtain and affordable.

HOUSE HUNTING RESOURCES

Backyard of a farmhouse
Backyard of a farm-house

While it is possible to find a property on your own, it’s best to engage the services of a relocation agent or real estate broker to assist you with finding a home. The possibilities are quite wide and navigating a new city with or without a driver can be daunting. Furthermore, local knowledge and connections can not be underestimated.

It is always also a good idea to tap into Facebook groups that would help you in determining which areas or styles of housing would suit your needs in terms of locality to school and office. There are many empathetic and helpful foreigners already residing in cities that are keen to help out in terms of sharing advice.

FOOD

When the Mughul Empire invaded during the 16th century, their influence left a mark in the present Indian cuisine. There is a distinct style of cooking being a fusion of Turkish and Persian cuisine, using ground spices are used in the preparation of unique flavor and taste. Indian cuisine is also influenced by many other countries, which brings a large variety of dishes and liberal use of herbs and spices. Cooking styles vary from region to region.

There is no shortage of local style food, however alternative cuisines are less easy to find. The major hotels are a first point and reliable choice to explore as they do offer a variety of restaurant styles.

Being a more internationally influence city, Mumbai does offer many more options in the array of restaurants. All major malls also provide for the traditional fast food chains. Please do note that in chains such as McDonalds, there are no beef burgers, but is substituted by chicken or mutton options.

As the predominant population practice Hinduism, it promotes vegetarianism and requires observance of dietary laws and traditions. There are certain meats that are consumed, however beef is strictly prohibited as the sacred teachings declare the cow as sacred. The other major religion in India is Muslim, which prohibit eating pork.

Local markets selling sheep's heads

Shopping is a choice of local markets where you will see meat preparation using rudimentary methods and little refrigeration, to foreign supermarkets in select city areas. and malls. It is wise to be very selective when choosing the shop location and ensure the freshest produce is purchased. Deli meats should be inspected carefully and trusted shops that are recommended by other expatriates only frequented to ensure that “Deli belly” occurrences are experienced at a minimum.

While beef is not available in shops, there are merchants that will deliver cuts of beef (which will most likely be buffalo) to your door.

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