A to Z of India

24th April 2019


A is for the Andaman Islands

Located 1,000 miles from the Subcontinent, the Andaman Islands are actually closer to Thailand and Myanmar than they are India. They certainly feel more South East Asian with their miles of golden beaches, coral reefs offering fantastic snorkelling and thick jungle interior.

The capital Port Blair has an interesting history – it has an infamous prison which was once used by the British to inter Indian independence fighters, and which was later used by the Japanese who occupied the island during World War Two. But the biggest draw is the miles of unspoiled beaches.

B is for Bollywood

Bollywood, the affectionate term for India’s Mumbai-based film industry, is known as the world’s largest producer of films. But here are some more facts you may not know about India's glitziest industry:

  • Around 14 million Indians go to the cinema every day. That is 1.4% of the entire population.
  • The longest ever kiss in a Bollywood film stands at four minutes. Devika Rani and her real-life husband Himanshu Rai shared the embrace in the 1933 film Karma.
  • The most awards a Bollywood film has ever won and so earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records was a staggering 92. The film was Kaho Naa…Pyar Hai.
  • Bollywood is older than Hollywood. The first Bollywood movie was released in 1899 but Hollywood’s debut film came out in 1907.
  • Bollywood films often run at the cinema for longer than Hollywood films. One of the biggest Bollywood film of all time ran for around 1000 undeterred weeks.

C is for Cricket

There is no doubting India’s national pastime; cricket is played pretty much everywhere, from the streets of Kolkata to the mountains of Shimla. The country has the most important cricket league on earth – the Indian Premier League - which attracts stars from all over the world to play in the 20/20 format. Cricket has certainly come a long way since the first ever match in India in 1864 when Madras took on Calcutta.

Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi holds an interesting distinction meanwhile. Of royal descent, the 8th Nawab of Pataudi played for both England and India. Born in Delhi, Iftikhar Ali Khan went to Oxford University where he played multiple times, notably scoring 238 not out in the University Match against Cambridge, a record which stood until 2006. He was then selected by England for their 1932-3 Ashes tour. Despite scoring a century in the first test in Sydney, he disagreed with captain Douglas Jardine’s infamous bodyline tactics (whereby the world’s greatest batsman Don Bradman was targeted with aggressive bowling aimed at his body and head) and was dropped after the second test.

In a disagreement worthy of a modern-day Twitter spat, Jardine said of Pataudi, “I see His Highness is a conscientious objector,” whilst Pataudi said of Jardine “I am told he has his good points. In three months, I have yet to see them.”

He never played for England again but later captained the India team which toured England in 1946.

D is for Darjeeling

Famously the home of tea, Darjeeling was once just a cluster of small villages. In the middle of the 19th century, the British established a hill station there to escape the summer heat of Calcutta, now Kolkata.

The story of the tea with which the region is associated began in 1841 when a civil surgeon by the name of Archibald Campbell brought seeds of tea from China and began experimenting with growing different strains. The British were attempting to break the Chinese monopoly on tea production. The conditions proved to be perfect for growing tea and today the region grows over 9 million kilograms a tea a year, in an industry which employs over 50% of the people in Darjeeling district.

E is for Elephants

Elephants hold an important place in Indian mythology, with Lord Ganesh being one of the Hindu religion’s most popular gods. Yet the wonderful animals are currently the victims of a human-elephant conflict, as their natural habitat diminishes. Yet there are plenty of positive stories about elephants if you look hard enough. One such story involves Rajan, a 66-year-old swimming elephant and the last of his kind on the Andaman Islands. Watch our video above.

F is for Food

You only have to walk down any high street in Britain to see the influence Indian food has had on UK culture – curries are the nation’s most popular takeaway and most of us have at least one go-to-curry recipe in our repertoire. But the influence wasn’t all one-way.

During the days of the British Raj, British wives interacted with their cooks resulting in some interesting mash-ups. Mulligatawny soup, for example, originated in south India (milagay means chilli and tanni means water in Tamil) and became extremely fashionable in the UK in the 19th century.

Chutneys meanwhile originated in India – where they had been making chilli, coconut, mint and cucumber dips for centuries. The British borrowed the technique to create chutneys using ingredients such as rhubarb, damson and apples, which helped improve the shelf-life of autumnal fruit.

G is for Golden Temple

Amritsar’s Golden Temple is one of north India’s most iconic and beautiful sights. It also holds an unusual record; it has the largest free kitchen in the world.

Langar’s are meals served at Sikh temples to people of all faiths who come to visit. Every day of the year between 50,000 and 100,000 people are served meals at the Golden Temple. The cooking and serving staff (not to mention the washing up staff!) is largely made up of volunteers. The temple has a roti making machine which can churn out an astonishing 25,000 roti’s an hour!

H is for Headshake

The Indian head shake, or wobble, is unique to the subcontinent and can confuse visitors. It’s a half nod and half shake…or is it half shake and half nod? Therein lies the confusion for visitors, does it mean yes or no? Well, it usually means that what you have said has been understood and can also mean yes. But it can also mean thank you, can be a gesture of welcome and can acknowledge someone’s presence. Still don't quite understand? Watch the video for more clarification.

I is for the Iron Pillar of Delhi

Don’t be fooled by its somewhat unassuming appearance; it’s just over 23 feet high but it’s the age and condition of the pillar which has intrigued archaeologists and scientists. It has hardly any visible signs of rust or corrosion, despite being created in 402 BC! So, it really should have been carried off with the wind by now. This is truly a testament to the high level of skill of the ancient Indian iron smiths.

J is for Jagganath

Jagganath literally means “Lord of the Universe” and is a deity worshipped in Hinduism and Buddhism. He is often represented by a decorated wooden stump with large round eyes. In India’s eastern states, the image of Jagganath is paraded through the streets in an annual festival, pulled along an enormous carriage. This is where the term ‘juggernaut’ originates.

K is for Kathakali

Kerala is home to the ancient storytelling dance form of Kathakali. Performers are renowned for their intricate make-up, elaborate masks and expressive gestures, which together with their footwork, help to tell the story. Although not clearly traceable, this classical dance form is considered to have originated from temple and folk arts that trace back to the 1st millennium CE or before.

We met up with a local Kathakali dancer in the video above.

L is for Ladakh

Ladakh means ‘land of high passes’ and is a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its culture and history are closely related to Tibet and its mountain scenery is some of the finest in India. Its capital is another L, Leh, which was a key stopover on trade routes between India and China.


Ladakh is a region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the culture and history are closely tied to Tibet. In fact, Ladakh is sometimes referred to as Little Tibet. It has some of the finest mountain scenery in India. See it for yourself on our Journey to Ladakh tour.

M is for Meghalaya

Meghalaya is a state in northeast India which borders Bangladesh. It’s famous for its living root bridges made by the local Khasi people. These handmade bridges are made of the roots of rubber fig trees. The pliable roots are guided across rivers and allowed to grow and strengthen over time until they can support the weight of people crossing the river.

See these amazing bridges on our Meghalaya Tree Bridges and Nagaland Hornbill Festival tour.

N is for Nehru

Image courtesy of livemint.

Gandhi is a name recognised the world over. But the man whom Gandhi had faith in to continue his efforts for an independent India was Jawaharlal Nehru.

He became India’s first Prime Minister after the country gained independence from the British. He played an intrinsic part in the fight for India’s freedom and lead the country towards democracy and socialism. He was nominated eleven times for the Nobel Peace Prize but unfortunately, never won.

O is for Odisha

The Eastern state, formerly known as Orissa, is characterised by its indigenous tribal groups and its numerous temples, such as Bhubaneswar and Konark. Odisha is one of the more off the beaten path destinations in India and largely untouched by mass tourism.

To really get an insight into to this offbeat India destination, check out our Orissa Tribal Odyssey tour.

P is for Plastic Surgery

Image courtesy of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.

One of the first surgeons in recorded history hailed from India an impressive 2500+ years ago! Known as the ‘Father of Plastic Surgery’, Sushruta was the first to describe surgical procedures for cosmetic purposes in his ancient treaty ‘Sushruta Samhita’, in which he discusses skin grafts and nasal reconstruction, the first known of such practises which we have a record of.

Q is for Q&A

The novel which inspired the multiple Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire - Q & A by Vikas Swarup - is about a young waiter in India named Ram who wins a huge quiz show, only to be accused of cheating and subsequently arrested. Upon questioning, he reveals to the police the events in his life which explain how he knew the answers.

Swarup claims he was inspired by the British army major who cheated on the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? because “If a British army major can be accused of cheating, then an ignorant tiffin boy from the world’s biggest slum can definitely be accused of cheating.”

R is for Rupee

The Indian Rupee in currency notes has been in circulation since the 18th century, but did you know that since 2007, a zero rupee banknote has been distributed by a non-governmental organisation as a means for people to peacefully (and without repercussion) protest corruption within an industry notorious for soliciting bribes for free services. They resemble 50-rupee bank notes and are only printed on one side of the paper, so they can’t be considered counterfeit.

S is for the Siddi People

The Siddi community consists of up to 60,000 people and are primarily based in Karnataka, Gujarat and Hyderabad in India, and some regions in Pakistan.

The Siddi people were first brought to India from East Africa, mostly as slaves, in the seventh century. Once the slave trade had been abolished, these descendants of the African Bantu people fled and set up communities in the jungles to avoid repercussions following their new status. Only a few of their traditions have survived, including the Goma music and dance form.

T is for Thali

This staple Indian meal is made up of a selection of various dishes in small bowls which each serve a different palate; sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy etc. Served on a round platter, the intention is that every meal should have a perfect balance of these flavours.

U is for Uttar Pradesh

The state of Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India. Its area is very similar to that of Britain, but it is in fact slightly bigger.

Home to 200 million people, if Uttar Pradesh were its own country, it would be the fifth most populous in the world. Home to the Taj Mahal, Varanasi and the River Ganges, it also hosts the largest gathering of people in the world, Kumbh Mela, which can be viewed from space.

V is for Vishnu

In Hinduism, Vishnu is one of the three main Gods who each are responsible for the creation, the preservation and the destruction of the world.

Vishnu, the preserver and protector of the universe, is often depicted with blue skin and four arms which all hold different items.

The lotus flower represents glorious existence and liberation, the conch, which produces the ‘om’ sound, represents the primaeval sound of creation, the chakra symbolises the mind and the mace symbolises mental and physical strength.

W is for World Heritage Sites

With 37 UNESCO World Heritage sites, India is the sixth most UNESCO listed country in the world. Including a mix of temples, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, churches, caves, forts and even the mountain railways of India, these cultural and natural sites afford us so much more than just something pretty to look at. The Bhimbetka caves, for example, display the earliest evidence of human life within the Indian subcontinent and the Taj Mahal has served as a monument to one of the greatest love stories in history.

X is for X-Rated Kama Sutra

Image courtesy of Ancient Origins.

The Kama Sutra, contrary to popular belief and the horror of noticing it in your parent’s book collection, is not all sex positions and erotic depictions of pleasure. The ancient Indian Sanskrit text is a guide on fulfilment within all aspects of life, including the nature of courtship, cleanliness, how to conduct oneself in society and even how to properly respect prostitutes.

Y is for Yoga

These days yoga is everywhere, but the ancient Hindu texts called the Vedas, show the origins date back more than 5,000 years in the Indus Valley region. The number of yoga styles also varies, from six to 14 different types, depending on ability, physical fitness and what the yogini wishes to benefit from the practice. For example, meditation-heavy Hatha yoga is best for beginners, while Ashtanga yoga is more physically demanding.

Z is for the Ziro Valley

In the state of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India, you can find the Ziro Valley. When you want your landscapes to be all about the rice paddies, lush green pine forests and traditional villages with very few tourists to distract you, this offbeat India destination is hard to beat.

Home to 26 major tribal groups, the Apatami people are very recognisable, as the older women sport nose plugs and have their faces tattooed. It is said that the women were the most beautiful in the state, and so neighbouring tribes would kidnap the women for their own. This practice was introduced to deter kidnappers.


Hayley Cleeter

Hayley would have to thank the multi-culturalism of London for first sparking her interest in travel. She remembers dressing up in saris from India, e…

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