15 famous Myths about India you must debunk!

It is natural to assume things before knowing a country. I thought most Dutches were stoned all the time because of their Drug Policy until I went there. We assumed most Egyptians would know how to read and write Hieroglyphs. My Mom thought, there is nothing much to see in Thailand other than their beaches and Walking streets. Until we went to Iran, we could not understand why Persians were regarded as the nicest people on earth. As we travelled, we learned what the world thinks of India. Here are the 15 Myths foreigners believe about India.

These are based on actual incidents and conversations during our foreign travels.

1. Snake charmers – India’s main occupation

Sir APJ Abdul Kalaam’s house at Rameshwaram

One of the most genuine people we have met is Ms Hara at Firostefani. We conversed with her over a glass of fine wine and beautiful sunset. Her father was a sailor who visited India 50 years ago. He had got her a King Cobra leather bag from India. She was surprised to know that there are no more ( or countable) snake charmers in India now.

Are snake charmers practised in India?

If you are coming to India after watching the 1983 Bond film, Octopussy – Sorry! You are going to be disappointed. We are educated enough now to get into the real science world. 25% of Indians go to college. (25% of Indians in 2021 is 34 crore). India is one of the major hubs for the IT industry now. To name a few of our accomplishments –

Hindu priest holding a big aarathi lit with diyas at Banaras

2. Indians go to work every day riding the elephants.

Elephant howdah in Dsara procession infront of Mysore Palace

Mysore Dasara Festival

Our guide at Petra talked about astonishing scientific things Nabateans had adapted, like a sloped water canal system and later asked us, “How do you manage the slow pace of elephants? Don’t you get late for work? Is this why they say Indians are never on time”

Are elephants used for transport in India regularly?

Priyanka Chopra Jonas was asked the same question when she moved to the USA In 1995s. Even in 2019, we were asked the same question in Jordan. Clear cut answer -Hell to the NO!

We drive bikes/cars/cycles/ as you do! Until the 1930s, importing cars wasn’t standard. But not anymore. There are 30 Wild elephant sanctuaries in India now. They are part of many Hindu festivals like Dasara in Mysore and Fairs at Guruvayur. The elephants are worshipped, loved and taken care of well by those who own them. You can go on elephant safaris at many places in India. You can book a taxi/auto-rickshaw by Uber, not an elephant ride – But yeah, I agree with our Jordan guide on the latter part – Indians are usually late to everything.

3. Indian food is always spicy and unhygienic

Big bags of red chillis at Bijapur Market

Market at Bijapur – Yes, we grow a lot of spice and have variety in bland food too

My fellow Tunisian passenger on our island hopping tour in Thailand asked – “Do you carry chilli-flakes everywhere you go?” Ashrith met a traveller from Poland in Sikkim, eating only cup noodles for one month in India because he thought all our food was inedibly spicy.

Ragi Balls with curry on steel plate

Is Indian Food Always Spicy?

We love spice – but we do have bland and tasty food too! Any human who eats spices and chillies every day will get stomach ulcers. We are aware of it. So our food is a mixture of all the tastes – Spice, sourness, sweetness and bitterness. You get spicy Andhra meals, sweet Bengali breakfast, medium Spicy dinner of Karnataka and bland Thukpa in Arunachal Pradesh. So Chilly isn’t the only ingredient of our diet, and we eat healthy food just like most of you. About hygiene – Not all our food is cooked with drainage water. Like any other nation, you get both – hygienic and unhygienic food in India.

Pizza on Banana leaf at Gokarna

We cater to your taste in the Indian way – Pizza on Banana leaf at Gokarna.

4. Brown skin people are dumb, rude and poor.

Indian girl patting stray dogs at Mysore early in the morning

We constantly face racism in & outside my country. People judge us that we can’t afford certain things because we are browns.

A large herd of fair-skinned Indians think of us (brown-skinned) similarly. Our IQ and wit neither depend on our skin tone nor our English accent. Scammers who judge fair-skinned as richer leave us out of their scam target – because they think we browns are poorer- It is a Blessing in disguise. Similarly, most media label a picture of a kid picking rags from the pile as India’s. It could be any other country – but no. The media loves to label garbage as India’s national symbol even when we are on our way to solving the problem.

5. Indians greet you with only “Namaste.”

Nupital chain tieing ceremony at Traditional south Indian wedding

At Indian weddings, you see a lot of Namaste happening, but we don’t do it every time we say hello to someone.

A hotel guest whom we met at Aswan did a prolonged dramatic bow and said Namaste after he realised we are Indians, thinking that is how we do every day,

Is Namaste an Indian greeting?

The star-rated heritage resorts, the Ashrams and Indian airlines hostesses may greet you with their folded hands and a prolonged bowing. But, in typical cities/towns, we wave at each other and say “Haaaaai, Magaaaa, Machaaaa, Bhaaaai, Duude” without bowing. When we greet elders, especially grandparents, sometimes we bend down and touch their feet to seek blessings. It is common for Buddhists and Hindus to bow to the god with hands folded.

Other than that, we greet each other like the rest of the world-shaking hands and waving. So when you talk to a streetside vendor or a salesgirl in a Salwar Kameez shop, they welcome you with “Hi, how may I help you” than the bowing and Namaste. You bowing and doing Namasthe at everyone may be “out of place” kind of a thing.

6. All Indians are spiritual and Yogis.

sillhoutte of a girl sitting on a mountain and meditating during sunet by the beach side

An American gentleman asked us in Giza – “Are you here to do Yoga in front of the Pyramids? Are you a Rajnseeshi? “

Is yoga part of Indian culture?

Not every Indian citizen knows / practices Yoga. Most of us haven’t even thought of a spiritual way of life. So when you come to India seeking a spiritual guru, do your research perfectly and choose the master carefully. On your spiritual path, we want you to be enlightened and not become a character on the next Netflix documentary about fake Gurus who misused their disciples.

7. Most Indians live in Slums.

Circular shaped Bhunga houses made of mud and decorated with mirror works at Kutch Gujarat
PC : Murali

Traditional Bhunga houses made of mud and decored with mirrors at Kutch

Many movies (including a few Indian ones) portray India as the land of the slum. Places like my hometown Chikmagalur, Coorg, and Kalimpong with estate homes shock those who believe the movies.

How many Indians live in the slums?

We both are Indians living here since our birth. We live in a lovely 2BHK house in one of the pleasant localities of Bangalore, just like many other Indians. Unfortunately, Around 30+% of Indians live in slums. The rest live in houses, apartments/rowhouses/mansions/ bungalows/ palaces. So every Indian you meet doesn’t live in a slum-like they showed you in Slum Dog Millionaire.

8. Indians shove garbage to make their way to drive.

View of Himalays by the ski resort side in Auli

Auli in Uttarakhand with Nanda Devi peak in the background – One of the cleanest villages I have seen

My friend who moved to Helsinki was new to snow shovelling. Seeing her learning, a neighbour asked, “I heard Indians need to shovel garbage often to clear their footpaths and roads while going to work. Snow shovelling is similar to what you do with garbage in India.”

Why do Indian roads have so much dust?

India is one of the most polluted countries. There is always some or other construction going on. Plus most government works happen at a snail’s pace.

But We don’t walk on garbage; we walk on paved streets. You see garbage dump at many locations. But we don’t shovel our roads and start to make way for our vehicles. We don’t stamp on human faeces right outside the main door.

9. Indians aren’t secular

Muslim woman in Burqa praying for the walls of a mosque with marble walls of lattice work

You see many Hindus praying at Salim Chisti mausoleum , but also see Muslims at Venkateshwara temple at Kadapa

I feel we have more variety of Religions in India many times than the shades of Denim. Among the 130+ crore population, Hindus are major. Along with this, we have the world’s three main Abrahamic religions -Islam, Christianity and Jews. Sikhism. Buddhism, Jainism, Bahai faith, and many more add to the variety.

When you say Indians aren’t secular, think – How nine religions and 22 different languages could live with each other for 70+ years this peacefully. We are a young independent nation recovering from European Colonization. We agree to disagree when opinions are different. With so many different people from various backgrounds, there come clashes. We stop, join our hands again, and rise stronger than before.

How can you prove that India is a secular state?

We don’t have a specific religion to be “State Religion”.If we weren’t open to different religions and cultures, APJ Abdul Kalam wouldn’t have been our President. K J Yesudas wouldn’t be singing songs on Krishna; there would be no Tibetians taking shelter in India. You wouldn’t have seen Hindus going to Muslim Darghas to pray. There wouldn’t have been a synagogue in Kochi or Pune. If we were non-secular, Hindu parents like mine wouldn’t let their daughter study in a lovely Christian Missionary School.

10. Cows are safer than women in India

I don’t want to refer to them as our guides and drivers – They were our buddies – Buddha (Gangtok) and Padma (Kalimpong)

Hindus worship cows, and other religions love to eat Beef. So there is always a heated argument about banning Beef in India, like how Muslim countries ban Pork. An agenda-driven media and citizens started tweeting, “Cows are safer in India than women” a few years ago – Which is false.

Is India safe for women?

. There are a few Creepy+bad men and many gentlemen in India too. Don’t judge all Indian men and nations by the 2012 Delhi horrifying rape case solely. There are more good men in India than you hear on Twitter. There are a lot of women travellers travelling solo in India. Many foreigners who came as travellers have settled in India Some came back for more because they loved it, There are others, to whom my country was overwhelming. Unfortunately, the creepy men troubled them and made them leave the country earlier than they thought.

Girl in bikini holding ribbon poi by the beach side and cow staring at her and a dog passing by

The usual peaceful evenings at Gokarna

I won’t sugarcoat and say India is the safest place for women on earth. When I go walking after 8 pm, many times some men have whistled at me and have passed vulgar comments at me. India surfaces among the top 20 countries with the highest rape cases. Sweden, South Africa and the USA are at the top of the list of highest rape cases. Does it stop you from travelling to any of these countries?

Mom and I roamed at night in Ahmedabad. My friend and I travelled for 15 days in Sikkim with two Sikkimese men – All went well. So with proper research and good travel strategies by choosing the right neighbourhoods and locations, millions of solo travellers have enjoyed and loved India without getting raped. You will not be sacrificed to save a cow in India.

11. All Women are forced to wear sarees and Bindis.

That is me at Goa and at Amritsar gurudwara

There are no official “Moral Policies” in India. Certain religions and families make their own rules and laws. The women who want to follow it will follow. Of course, specific religion and communities do force their laws. Others may be selective followers- like me. I wear Bindi, toe ring, necklaces along with Jasmine flowers on my hair when I wear my favourite Mysore silk Saree- just because I like to dress up that way. When I wear shorts, I don’t even wear my Nupital chain. Nobody has beaten me up and put me in Jail for not following Hindu customs. Specific lose talkers pass on lame comments about Indian women wearing shorts, not Sanskaari enough. Guess what – We don’t give a damn.

What is the condition of women in independent in India?

Pre-independence, most of our women lived a hard life. Social activists fought against the odds to make our women’s lives better. The Patriarchy problem is still there like in any other country, but our women drive, and girls go to schools and colleges. Most of them wear what they want. Indian women are CEOs of many companies. There are women doctors, women scientists, and taxi drivers– We are not restricted from taking up any particular professions.

12. Indians dance on the street when they fall in love – like in their Movies.

Indian couple dancing to beats of traditional drums at their wedding

Dancing our hearts out – A day before the wedding at the venue.

Most Indian movies are dramatic. There are only a handful of movies that are practical without crooked romance. In a typical Indian movie scene – Hero is fighting gangsters all by himself. Though the heroine knows martial arts, she is made to stand and scream, “Help me.” Hero kills the villain and saves the heroine. She hugs him in tears and smiles -– Kaboom.

Why do Indian movies have dances?

They are dancing in the Alps the next moment. The hero wears a full suit so that he doesn’t feel cold. Poor girl has to wear a short skirt or a saree even if she shivers in the snow- All for a romantic song which is unnecessary for the movie. This happens only in the movie, not in real life. We celebrate love, as same as yours. PDA is frowned upon in India, but it doesn’t mean we don’t hold hands and walk.

Do Indians dance like in the movies?

It is common to see street dance and music during festivals and processions, not when two Indians fall in love.

13. Entire India falls under Tropical climate

Sillhoutte of palm trees during glowing golden sunset

Most people know about the Himalayas and India’s beaches. It does confuse many travellers on how can a country be tropical and have snow mountains at the same time.

How many climate zones are in India?

India has six climatic zones. The Thar desert, Himalayan mountains, beaches, waterfalls, rocky mountains, lush green forests – the geology and geography vary drastically between North and South. As per the International classification, we are an almost tropical country. But when you plan your visit, consider India’s six different climatic regions.

Camel carts at Thar desert in India
PC – Murali

14. All Indians speak Hindi

Okay, I am touching the last nerve of a few Indians now. Hindi isn’t our national language. There are 22 official languages and hundreds of variants in each language.

Can you get by in India with only English?

India is the second-largest English-speaking country next to the USA. So knowing Hindi isn’t a must to travel in India. English takes you a long way than Hindi for a traveller in South India. In every state, the signboards are in regional language and English if you don’t know Hindi – No worries.

15. The chaos and rush of India aren’t worth my time.

Buddhist flags on poles stuck on to snow in front of Himalayan mountains

Yumthang Valley and Buddhist prayers on the flag

The way India works is quite miraculous- Multilinguistic, Religiously pluralistic, different climatic regions, large area, high population density, hundreds of tribes – We proved East India company officer wrong who said – “India won’t remain a single nation for long” In the second-highest populated country is the largest Democracy, there exist misunderstandings and problems. It is like the dictator Alladin’s speech – “Democracy is flawed, she isn’t perfect. But Democracy, I love you.”

What attracts foreigners to India?

What is unique about India’s culture?

Lush green hills of western ghats
  • Our scientists send a satellite to Mars and believe in the magic that black thread on our ankles gets rid of the “Evil eye.”
  • The world’s 10th richest man and the world’s biggest slum live in the same Indian city.
  • Our opinion and thinking range vary from talking about COVAXIN  quality and a black cat crossing the road bringing bad luck.
  • We cheer for Indian Athletes at the Olympics, but we don’t want our kids to take up sports as a profession.
  • We have built more religious places than public toilets in India.
Collection of Jain temples at Palitana hilltop

Palitana – Perhaps my most favourite & least touristy place in India

Do foreigners like to visit India?

India is vibrant and full of life and celebration. With more than 40 festival celebrations, you can never have a dull moment in India. Yoga to pubs, beaches to mountains, deserts to evergreen forests, Tasty veg food to the Chicken curries – You can experience many worlds inside one nation. India is beautiful beyond its pollution and population density. It is all worth taking a spoon of sourness to have a barrel of tasty wine.

Which of these myths about India do you think is true? Let us know in the comment section below.

Heads up, we are super honest, and we keep it no secret.
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