Manners are Essential
When visiting a country where customs are vastly different than what you are accustomed to, it is always a wise decision to make a note of them, especially those customs dealing with age-old beliefs. We will cover here a few of the basics you should be aware of when visiting India.
Indians, whether Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, have a strong code of conduct and are polite when addressing strangers. Long train and bus journeys are often punctuated with inquisitive grillings by fellow travelers.
Hindus and Muslims traditionally use the left hand for performing ablutions, so it is never used for eating or touching others. If eating with your fingers, use only your right hand. Body contact in public is not accepted, except in very Westernized places where hand shaking may be permitted. Very often the most you will see is men holding hands - a sign of comradeship.
Feet should be kept on the ground as they too are perceived as "unclean". When entering any home, temple or mosque, always remove your footwear. If necessary, carry a clean pair of socks with you to protect your feet.
Remember above all to respect worshippers. In some inner sanctuaries, non-Hindus are forbidden to enter. This also applies to mosques for non-Muslims. Jain temples post strict rules outside, which include banning menstruating women, any items of leather and often cameras.
Give donations when appropriate but never under duress. If a temple guardian or priest takes time to explain the history or significance of a site, he will appreciate a small tip.
Women especially should dress modestly, avoiding cropped tops, shorts, above the knee skirts and tight clothing. Local clothing is often the best bet for appropriate dressing when visiting India. You can often find these items in abundance and at very cheap prices in just about any area.