The essential namaste
The inhabitants of Delhi are naturally inquisitive people and they will take great pleasure in coming up to talk to you during your stay. When it comes to greetings, unless they take the initiative, forget the traditional handshake, even when greeting your host. There are no kisses or hugging either! Modesty is of the essence in this country where religion dictates everyday life. Put your hands together, palms touching, in front of your chest and give the other person a warm namaste! This expression means “I bow to the divinity within you”. And here is another important rule to respect in public and avoid offence: do not kiss or hug your other half or be too affectionate in front of others.
Respectful attire at holy places
A melting pot of cultures, Delhi is teeming with Hindu temples and mosques. Before going inside one of these holy places, such as the huge Akshardham temple, make sure that you do not stand out with inappropriate attire. Colours are fine, you will not shock anyone, but your clothes absolutely must cover your body. Do not worry though, at the entrance, shawls are usually available for such purposes. Leave your shorts, bermudas, vest tops and short skirts in the wardrobe! At some religious sites, such as Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the city's largest Sikh temple, men and women even have to cover their heads with a scarf. Before you go through the door of a temple or mosque, do not forget to take off your shoes. You can keep them with you in a bag. If you are invited to someone's house, leave your shoes in the hall. Indians keep their rooms clean by walking around barefoot.
With its explosion of flavours and endless variety, Indian cuisine will keep your taste buds happy forever. In the streets, the tantalising smell of food from locals eating out in the open wafts in the air. It makes your mouth water. Even in large restaurants, you are allowed to eat with your hand… but make sure that it is the right hand as the left is considered “unclean”.
Spices are a part of Indian cuisine's DNA. Before ordering, do not forget that some dishes can be really spicy, such as those in masala or curry sauces traditionally from the south. This explosive mix can spoil your meal and even the rest of the day if you are not used to it. To avoid setting your mouth on fire, specify “not spicy” when you order. You might be safer with a korma or kofta, dishes with a creamy, nut-based sauce, the legacy of the Mughal dynasties. You will love tandoori chicken, a Punjab speciality, or a biryani, a Kashmir dish that is more fragrant than spicy. There, most specialities are vegetarian and are bursting with a huge variety of flavours. If your palate shouts out for help, drink a large glass of rose lassi. There is nothing better than this traditional yogurt-based drink to put out the fire of spices.
A lesson in street swerving
The roads of the Indian capital are joyfully chaotic with a continuous stream of cars, rickety taxis, spluttering buses, cycle-rickshaws, motorised tricycles and motorbikes coming from every angle. Seemingly unperturbed by this tumultuous commotion, sacred cows can be found roaming about the streets all over the city. If they wander into a main road, all the cars stop and let them pass. No matter where they decide to plonk themselves down, no one will ever disturb these serene animals. However, be careful, pedestrians are not afforded the same special attention. Be ultra-careful when crossing the road. There are no pavements in some areas of the city, so you will have to walk along the side of the road. Keep to the right so you can see the cars approaching. And, depending where you are from, remember that Indians drive on the left.
A cup of chai to your good health!
Whether you are in a shop, your hotel or a restaurant, wherever you go, you will be offered a chai. Inherited from British colonists, this sweet black tea is made with milk and flavoured with spices (cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, star anis, fennel, pepper and cloves to name a few). It is the national drink of India. If an Indian family invites you to their house, never refuse this symbol of welcome as you will really disappoint your hosts. They will watch as you put your glass down, waiting for your verdict. Their faces will beam with satisfaction and the pride of welcoming a stranger come from afar to admire the beauty of this Indian city.