Diverse culture, incredible people, beautiful ancient cities, and wonderful nature – India is a place like no other. You can be sure that your trip to this vast subcontinent will stay in your memory forever, and trust us, you won’t be able to get India out of your head. For the most part, you will have a great time in the massive country, but there are certain things to avoid in India if you want to keep it that way.
We’re talking anything from a bad case of the ‘Delhi belly’ to things you might think are normal but are considered disrespectful in India. While there are plenty of dos, there is no shortage of don’ts for travelers visiting this unique country, either.
This guide on things to avoid in India outlines 13 things you should never do while traveling this South Asian nation. It’s made up of the most common things that you should stay clear of if you don’t want the trip of your lifetime to end in disaster.
Table of Contents
Drinking tap water
Drinking tap water is number one of the things to avoid in India. Although you may often see the locals drinking straight from the tap, it is never safe for tourists, so make sure to only imbibe water from sealed bottles.
That also goes for when you’re brushing your teeth – avoid getting any tap water in your mouth at all costs, or you might end up on the loo for hours! And trust us, that’s not how you want to spend your time in this amazing country.
You might have heard that everyone gets ill in India, but if you’re really careful, you can dodge the bullet. Water is a key part of doing that. The pipes and tanks throughout the country are of generally poor quality, which is why the water gets contaminated easily. Apart from giving you an unpleasant bout of the Delhi belly, you could potentially land in the hospital with something more serious! Always best avoided.
There is a high chance that the ice you will see in your cocktail in India came from a tap, even if the waiter tells you otherwise! Just like drinking water from an unknown source, it could get you seriously ill, so it’s best to stay away from ice at all times. You can never be 100% sure where your frozen cubes came from, even if it looks manufactured.
When ordering your drinks, simply ask for them to come without ice. (In Hindi, that’s baraff nahi, which translates to no ice.) That is not to say that all ice in India is contaminated. We just think that it’s just better safe than sorry.
Raw fruit and vegetables
Another common cause of food poisoning in India is raw fruit and vegetables. Although one leaf of a salad may seem innocent, it could potentially ruin your trip – again it’s that dreaded Delhi belly!
The reason why raw fruits and vegetables are the things to avoid in India is that they often contain harmful bacteria such as E. Coli or Salmonella. Plus, it’s not uncommon for farmers to use heavy pesticides and fertilizers on their crops in these parts; things you might not be used to digesting.
That said, it’s okay to eat bananas, thanks to the peel that protects them. And they are super yummy here!
When you arrive in India, you will quickly notice that people, especially women, don’t wear clothes that reveal too much. Out of respect to the locals, you too should avoid wearing skimpy garments and always try covering your knees and shoulders.
In some places, such as Goa, Delhi, or Mumbai, you can usually get away with wearing what you like, but even there dressing modestly will help you avoid unwanted stares. That said, you should always make sure to cover up if visiting a temple or other religious place.
Even in coastal towns, keep your bikini to the beach. It’s not respectful to wear beach attire around the town, plus it could result in some unwanted attention.
Although eating meat in India isn’t a problem, you should avoid the meat from street stalls. It’s prone to bacteria that could get you seriously ill. If you’re a meat-eater, stick to the restaurants. Or, better yet, why not stick to the popular veggie diet that many of the locals follow? There is no shortage of delicious meat-free cooking in India, so you won’t miss that steak!
You should also bear in mind that cows are considered sacred by Hindus, and many states prohibit cow slaughter altogether. That’s why we say it’s best to avoid beef in India because it often comes from an illegal source. On the whole, tourists are generally not frowned upon for eating beef dishes. The issue is that you can never be certain whether it’s a black-market protein or not.
Wearing shoes inside a temple
Always take your shoes off before entering a religious site. There are usually places where you can safely leave your sandals outside of temples, so there is no need to worry about someone stealing them. It’s disrespectful to wear shoes in a religious place in India, simple as that. It is also considered rude to wear shoes inside someone else’s home, so unless the host tells you it’s okay, remove your shoes before entering.
Although it isn’t prohibited for foreigners to drive, it is definitely one of the things to avoid in India. Indian roads are famous for being chaotic and having crazy traffic. You will see drivers going in the middle of the road, slow vehicles sticking to fast lanes, and two-lane roads becoming four lanes without warning.
Needless to say, accidents are common. If you’re not used to Indian road customs, driving could be dangerous. At the very least, the constant honking can be mega distracting! We recommend leaving the driving to the locals, who are experienced and used to the highways here. Getting a driver is cheap and easy, too, so there is actually no need to hire a car.
Showing affection in public
Showing public affection to your loved one is frowned upon in many conservative countries, including India. Although holding hands or giving a kiss to your partner at sunset seems romantic and innocent, it’s one of the things to avoid in India. In fact, PDA, as the public display of affection is known, is actually deemed illegal throughout the country, and could potentially land you in jail for up to three months! In the nicest way possible: Get a room!
Walking alone at night
India is generally safe for tourists, and crimes against foreigners don’t happen often. However, we do not recommend walking alone at night, especially if you’re a woman. Although rare, theft, scams, and sexual harassment aren’t unheard of in this country, and those mostly happen after the sun has gone down. That said walking alone at night is considered unsafe in many large cities across the world, so it’s not just a precaution you should take when in India.
Drinking & smoking in public
Drinking alcohol and smoking in public is not allowed in India and could potentially lead to a fine. If you fancy doing any of the two, stick to places such as bars, restaurants, or hotels, or simply do it at home. While drinking in public is considered an offense in many countries, most people think that smoking is okay as long as you’re outside. That, however, is one of the things to avoid in India if you’re in an open space.
Both purchasing and consumption of drugs are illegal in India, and breaking these laws could result in severe problems. Possessing even a small amount of banned substances could land you in jail for up to six months, and having larger amounts could get you in serious trouble. It’s not something you want to risk while exploring this beautiful country, so it’s best to avoid doing drugs while in India. Period.
Be extra cautious if you get approached by someone offering drugs on the street. Sting operations aren’t unheard of. Just kindly refuse and walk away.
Pointing with a finger or feet
Pointing at a person with an index finger is considered rude in India. It’s actually not only an Indian custom, as pointing with a finger is disrespectful in many cultures across the globe, especially in Asia.
Indian people usually use their fingers to point at either animals or objects, so just use a palm or your head to make the gesture instead.
As for feet, they’re considered unclean, so stay clear of using them to point or touch people or objects with them. If you happen to do that accidentally, be sure to apologize right away.
Overstaying your visa
Overstaying your visa isn’t welcome in any country, so you should always plan your trips to match your visa dates. In India, though, you will be liable for fines if you don’t leave the country on time, and, in the worst-case scenario, you could even end up in jail.
Yep, Indian law allows for up to a 5-year sentence for a breach of immigration rules. The fines start at $30 but can go up to $500 depending on the length of your overstay. Plus, you may not be able to visit this incredible country again, so it’s best to stick to the dates you get stamped in your passport.
Things to avoid in India – the conclusion.
There is no reason that your trip to India shouldn’t be one of those unforgettable journeys of a lifetime. There are just a few things to avoid in India if you want to make sure that you don’t get in trouble. From steering clear of tap water in every shape or form to sticking to cooked veg, you might just be able to dodge the infamous Delhi belly. Also, be certain to get a handle on the local customs and stick religiously to your visa dates to stay on the right side of the law.