About India

 

A potted History

Five thousand years ago on the banks of the Indus River, India's first major civilisation flourished for nearly a 1000 years, before being devastated by tectonic destruction around 1770 BC.

The coming of the Aryans around 1500 BC also assisted the demise of the civilisation. The Four Vedas – the mainstay of Hinduism were compiled in this time. During this early period the founder of the Buddhist Religion Gautama Buddha was born, and Mahavira, the founder of the Jain Religion.

Two hundred years later, in the 4th C. BC, Emperor Ashoka, one of the greatest Indian Kings founded the Mauryan Empire laying claim to what is now almost all of modern India. This great leader embraced Buddhism and built the superb monuments at Sanchi (a UNESCO world heritage site). The Ashoka pillar at Sarnath has been adopted by India as its national emblem and the Dharma Chakra on the Ashoka Pillar adorns the National Flag.

Next came the Guptas in the north, while in the south powerful Hindu empires were led by the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras.

Legend has it that St. Thomas the Apostle arrived in India in 52 A.D. He was preceded by Jewish settlers. In the 7th C. AD a group of Zoroastrians, or Parsees, landed in Gujarat adding to the distinctive flavour of Indian religions. In the 15th C. Guru Nanak laid the foundation of the Sikh religion in the Punjab.

In 1192, Mohammed of Ghori, a ruler from Afghanistan, conquered many areas of North India including Delhi leaving behind a General to rule. Eventually he became the first Sultan of Delhi, and Islam was gradually introduced (although in Kerala Arab traders had brought their religion with them since the earliest times).

Blossoming over the next 200 years the Delhi Sultanate was sacked by Tamberlane and gradually diminished in power until the great Mughal dynasty gained control led by vibrant and charismatic leader’s including the greatest of all – Akbar. Building took on a new meaning with the Mughals and they built many superb buildings and cities including the Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.

In the south, from 1336, the mighty Hindu Vijayanagar Empire grew in strength.

The Europeans - Portuguese, French, Dutch, Danish and British - started arriving in the early 1600s. After a number of battles and political machinations the British final gained the upper hand and the 'British Raj' was born.

After a long struggle led for the most part by Mahatma Gandhi, India gained her independence in 1947. Since then India has made huge progress and is now developing into a world leader particularly in Modern Technologies and manufacturing.

Climate

India has three major seasons - winter - summer and the monsoon! Winter months (November-March) are bright and pleasant, with snowfall in the northern hills. Summer time (April-June) is searingly hot in most parts of India. During the monsoon, rainfall is heavy along the west coast between June and September, and along the east coast between mid-October and December.

Currency

The unit of India currency is the rupee. Depending upon the fluctuating exchange rate there are between 75 to 85 rupees to the UK pound. 100 rupees is written as Rs 100/-. There are 100 paise to the rupee.

Language

There are 18 officially recognised Indian languages - Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, Kashmiri and Urdu to name but a few - and literally thousands of dialects. All giving the ‘language’ colour and depth.

Food

Food in India is wide ranging in variety, taste and flavour, with each region having its own specialities. The Mughlai cuisine of the north differs sharply from the preparations of the south with a mainly meat based diet against a delicious vegetarian fare. The Wazwan style of Kashmir is luxurious but the same can be said about Bengal's Macher Jhol, Rajasthan's Dal Bati, Uttar Pradesh's Kebabs and the Punjab's Sarson Ka Saag and Makki di Roti.

The unique and strong flavours in Indian cuisine are derived from the judicious use of spices and seasonings. Most of the spices used in Indian cooking were originally chosen thousands of years ago for their medicinal qualities and not for flavour. Many of them including turmeric, cloves and cardamoms are very antiseptic, others like ginger, are carminative and good for the digestion. Fresh produce is the mainstay of the kitchen.

In Indian cuisine, food is categorized into six tastes - sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent. A well-balanced Indian meal tries to contain all six tastes. This principle explains the use of numerous spice combinations and depth of flavour in Indian recipes. Side dishes and condiments like chutneys, curries, daals and Indian pickles contribute to, and add to, the overall flavour and texture of a meal and provide the balance needed.

Dress

India is a conservative but tolerant country, and visitors should dress accordingly. When visiting religious sites both men and women should have shoulders and knees covered. Visitors should be prepared to remove footwear when entering any religious building. Leather in not permitted in Jain temples, and in some Hindu temples.

Medical and Health

Please consult your doctor about inoculation and any other medical requirements. Advice about inoculations varies, but you should at least be protected against typhoid and tetanus. You will also need protection against malaria. Depending on personal factors, other precautions may be appropriate. There is also a free telephone number 0800 555 777 to take advice.

India has an undeserved reputation for health problems! As in any different environment, some simple precautions will greatly reduce the likelihood of problems. Most of these are common sense.

  • Keep clean. Most bugs are transferred by touch, so always wash before eating.
  • Avoid food that could be contaminated. Do not eat food that has been left lying around. Do not eat fruit unless you can peel it or wash it thoroughly. Avoid salads. Avoid ice cream and fruit salad - this is a difficult one because it is a favourite in many hotels.
  • Never drink tap or unbottled water (bottled water is always available) and always check the seal on the bottle. If the weather is hot, drink lots, and take reasonable precaution against the sun.
  • By its nature Indian food produces a freer bowel than Western food. This is generally healthier, and no 'remedy' should be sought. If you do get upset stomach the best treatment is simply not to eat for 24 hours. This is usually more effective than proprietary diarrhoea treatments.
  • Good medical facilities are available in Indian cities, although not always up to Western expectations off the beaten track. Travellers should carry appropriate medical insurance.

It is your responsibility to check if your medication/pharmaceutical items are legal in the country that you are visiting. Carry a doctor's prescription for any medication you may need to avoid unnecessary delays at customs and immigration checks. For further information please go to: www.foc.gov/knowbeforeyougo.

Customs and etiquette

Indian people are remarkably tolerant. But there are some easily observed rules of conduct that will help avoid some of the worst faux pas.

  • Never hold food with your left hand. If passing it to someone else, try to avoid touching it and always use your right hand to pass a plate. In country places try to avoid putting used dishes near clean ones.
  • Men should avoid physical contact with women. Namaste, traditional greeting is much preferred.

Conversations can be surprising. You will often be asked what appear to be rather impertinent questions about your financial or family circumstances. These are not meant to be rude. Do not forget that Indians reveal a lot about themselves to each other simply by their names and the way they dress. You do not automatically give that information, and if people are interested they will ask.

Do

  • Exchange money only through authorised banks or money changers.
  • Insist on a receipt when exchanging money.
  • Retain all receipts to facilitate re-conversion of unspent money on departure from India. Shopping is recommended from Government Emporia. The exportation of most wildlife and their products is either banned or strictly regulated. Export of the few permissible items even as passenger's personal luggage is allowed only under an exportation permit.
  • Avoid the touts and brokers of shopkeepers.
  • It is obligatory to cover your head before entering Sikh shrines.
  • Leave copies of important information with family and friends.
  • A copy of your passport and details of your next of kin.
  • A copy of your insurance document plus the 24-hour emergency number.
  • A copy of your ticket details.
  • A copy of your itinerary and a way of contacting you such as e-mail.

Do not

  • Do not get lured by shopping bargains on the street.
  • Do not exchange money with unauthorised money changers.
  • Do not encourage beggars by giving them money or other articles.
  • Do not buy silver, ivory articles or peacock feathers in bulk.
  • Do not purchase any wildlife products and antiques more than 100 years old.
  • Do not photograph airports, bridges, military installations and soldiers in uniform.
   
 

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