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What are some things that happen only in India?

As an Israeli who has visited India severally; both for business and for sightseeing purposes, and as someone who has studied India’s history and Indian culture in depth, I have a different perspective as compared to Indians living there.

Surely there are Indians who are asking themselves what our India is famous for, so this list represents an outsider perspective about your India.

India is a very unique and complex civilization – one that is not easy to understand but very easy to experience. One can experience India for a few life cycles without really getting to the bottom of everything.

It’s a huge sub-continent with wonderful landscape, a huge population, very ancient history, and an amazingly rich culture.

India is one of the most special places in the world. Anyone who has visited India feels it as soon as he/she lands in it. The uniqueness is expressed in many forms: through the people, their culture, the landscape, their customs, and the festivals.

I chose some of the most prominent attributes that make the Indian culture special. The list of what makes India so special is neither absolute nor is it final. I would love to hear other people’s comments, ideas, and feedback then I will update the list accordingly.

Most Unique Things In The Indian Culture

Please note that the features in the list are not prioritized according to their level importance or uniqueness. Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Languages

India is the country with the highest number of languages in the world. Studies have shown that there are about 1,000 languages that are spoken in India. There are relatively small geographical land cells that contain dozens of different languages.

An interesting example of the language variations can be found on the 2000-rupee bill which contains the words “2000 rupees” in 15 different Indian languages plus two more: English and Hindi .

15 Languages on one bill

It’s worth noting that English is more prevalent in India than it is in other East Asian countries, making the country more convenient for the tourists and business travelers. the high prevalence can be attributed to due to the previous British colonial regime.

2. Cows everywhere

This is part of Indian traditions and one of the most unique phenomenon that do not exist anywhere else in the world. The cow symbolizes the land and the solvency. It is also a symbol of the mother of all gods. According to Hindu belief, the body of the cow contains 33 types of gods.

Cows and kids, the best combination

This symbolism makes the cow a very sacred animal whose consumption is forbidden. Cows roam freely in India. They can be seen in the courtyards of the peoples’ houses, in the squares, and some resting in the center of the highway.

3. Vegan food

Vegan food can be found in many food joints. In other countries, vegan dishes are usually the side dishes and not as the main meal meaning that if someone orders a dish of roast potatoes or salad, then it will usually be vegan but the main course will usually consist of meat or a combination of meat with milk.

My boy enjoying Dal Bhat

In India, vegan food is the norm in Indian Cuisine. Here there are very many vegan dishes that are very nutritional in spite of being devoid of any animal products.

This, of course, makes India a haven for vegetarians and vegans.

4. Marijuana-flavored Cigarettes

I can’t guarantee that these cigarettes only exist in India but I have never seen them anywhere else in the world and trust me, I have been to many different countries.

Bidi cigarettes look like handmade cigarettes with a taste of marijuana.

They’re quite affordable, with each ranging between 15-20 rupees.

The bidi tastes like marijuana because it is a raw/unprocessed tobacco wrapped in a leaf.

5. The oldest cities in the world

In the Indus valley, which is the cradle of Indian Culture, there are ancient cities that are as old as 3500-4000 years.

Harappa ruins, most ancient cities in the world

The two most famous cities are Harrappa and Mohenjo Daro. These cities contained tens of thousands of inhabitants and were incredibly advanced.

The construction of the houses, the drainage of the water, the sewer systems, the urban planning, and the public facilities have been ahead of their time for many years.

Indus Valley it played an integral part in the Hindu culture. Today it is partly part of Pakistan but for about 4,000 years it was part of India and it should be considered as part of Indian culture uniqueness.

6. Huge markets

I have been to many markets around the world and noticed that the largest ones are usually in East Asia. The largest of them all is in Chinatown. Bangkok’s Chinatown is a huge marketplace with endless stalls and people.

There are, of course, big markets in China (sure I have not seen them all …), London, Tokyo, New York and other places of course.

Still, I have not seen a market come close to Chandni Chowk in terms of density and diversity. This market is in old Delhi.

When I checked Google for the largest or most crowded markets in the world, Chandni Chowk did not make it to the top 10 list yet of all the markets of Istanbul, Bangkok, and Tokyo that I visited, none of them reached the density and load of Chandni Chowk.

7. Dhobi Ghat – The largest laundry in the world

Dhoni Ghat can be described in many words but until you visit it, you wouldn’t understand the description well enough.

This laundromat in Mumbai was built in 1890 and is the largest laundry in the world. The laundromat operates between 18 and 20 hours a day and has about 7000 employees in various departments related to laundry and ironing.

Foreigners who come to visit can hire a local guide for a few hundred rupees and take a tour around the place. Dhobi Ghat’s main clients are hotels, clubs, and neighboring laundries. It is an incredibly amazing place to visit.

8. Eat using your hands

Most people are keen to use forks and knives when they dine at their homes. Eating using your bare hands is not considered hygienic and so it rarely happens.

Well, in India you do not need to struggle with a fork and knife. In local restaurants, it is acceptable to eat using just your right hand.

All you’re required to do is to trim the fingernails of your right hand and in a sweeping motion, take rice, together with some sauce or dish, and then put it in your mouth.

Some adults, find this technique quite difficult to get master but for children, it is as easy as a-b-c.

9. Special head movement

When you ask an Indian a question to which the response is positive, they answer “yes” as they shake their head as though they’re doing a dance using their head.

Anyone who sees this for the first time might get confused because while the response given by mouth is positive, the movement of the head looks like “no.” This head movement is very hard to imitate.

The shaking of the head would make you think that the answer given was “no.” Some Westerners are really caught unawares and tend to repeat the question, just to be clear.

Again, they get a “yes” response that is accompanied by the “weird” head movement. With time, most foreigners eventually get used to it.

10. Buses and trains loaded with masses of passengers

The trains or buses in India are always crowded with people from all sides and directions. Funny enough, even in all the commotion, everyone still finds their own place and space.

There is no tense atmosphere of urgency or argument. It seems that everyone is sitting together well. I can’t quite imagine a similar situation in another country. There would be total chaos.

Let’s not forget the enormous luggage that goes on these buses and trains that is beyond what is acceptable.

11. You are not judged

It’s not something you see in India. This is something experienced in India. You feel it. I believe that Indians are the least judgemental people on earth.

Westerners usually grow up in a society that judges them, criticizes them. The society always dictates what is right and what is not.

In India, this is very different. The people here are filled with respect and do not judge. The atmosphere here allows you to be what you choose to be and do what you feel is right for you.

12. Affection to small children

When you travel in Europe, you feel a sense of indifference towards the little children and apparently, this is not by chance.

This population sees children as a burden and, therefore, they avoid having many babies (Europe’s population is shrinking and getting older) so the kids do not attract much attention.

In Manikaran, kids are a competitive attraction

In the United States, there is a little more affection shown towards the children. However, it’s the polite affection which sometimes feels more of “politically correct” behavior.

East Asia has a great affection for children, a lot of attention. A feeling that they love little children.

In India, they take it up a notch higher. We walked around Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi with two small children for a month. Some of the places we visited, we barely made any progress due to the attention given to the children.

Friendly Indian ladies

So many people wanted to hold and hug them. While some visitors may be bothered by this, it was the complete opposite for us- we did not see anything wrong with it.

For us, it was part of the trip, the experience. I personally prefer a society that loves small children. From my point of view, these societies tend to be happier.

13. People

The people of India have good vibes. They smile a lot and always seem happy around visitors. This is a way of showing you that you are welcome and should feel comfortable.

It’s not a show-off and neither is it hypocrisy; it’s real and genuine behavior. This is something you feel everywhere around you whether it’s in local transportation, in the marketplaces, in the parks, or at the tourist spots.

The locals are always smiling and welcoming

Indian people are very warm and welcoming. This is not something you experience every day in the western countries. It’s definitely not at the same level.

14. Many Hindu gods

In Hinduism, there are 33 types of Gods ( as per Vedas )

In practice, there is a little less … The worship of gods in India is more common than in any other religion across the world.

The various Hindu gods are scattered all over the place: they can be in the mountainous roads, in the temples, in houses, at workplaces, on the main roads, etc. You just cannot miss it.

Nandi, the gate guardian deity of Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva

The most common gods are Shiva, Vishnu, Kali, Krishna, Ganesha, and their vehicles, the Nandy bull, the Garuda eagle and many more.

15. Cremation

For those who are accustomed to burying their dead in the ground, the sight of burning the dead body is extraordinary and thought-provoking. It concerns a very deep place and cultural habits that are embedded in us.

Everyone understands that the dead person does not feel anything but when they place him in the ground, the process of decomposition of the corpse takes place secretly, deep underground.

Cremation in Varanasi, all day long

The photos below are from Pashupatinath, Nepal, the little sister of India

Preparing a man for cremation

Participants in the cremation ceremony

The flowers are a sign that the man was affluent

Lighting the fire

The face first

Additional combustible materials and the fire getting stronger

Death and life, side by side

During cremation, the fire consumes the body of the dead person before our very eyes. This makes it really difficult to take in and digest. Cremation illustrates the finality of death.

In the Hindu culture, reincarnation is accepted as a part of the cycle of life and death that can continue in a loop unless we find a way of breaking it, after which death becomes more peaceful than Western culture.

Click here to keep reading about the things you can see only in India.

Below you can watch my YouTube video about this topic.