India never fails to astonish: her powerful contrast between old and new, poverty and extravagance, efficiency and chaos guarantee the visitor a roller- coaster ride of adventure. Humanity presents itself in a vibrant and creative diversity of cultures, religions and landscapes. But India’s deep cultural roots entwine her people inseparably as one.

India is the world’s sixth largest country and with over 1 billion citizens is the second most populous. It has one of the most ancient civilizations, dating back to 4000BC; yet it is India’s modern history that preoccupies most visitors: astonished by the West’s and, moreover, Britain’s detrimental role in shaping the India we see today.

British occupation of India was born out of international trade, the British East India Company giving way to British supremacy in 1852. Mahatma Ghandi is the popular face of Indian independence and his Non-Cooperation Movement exposed colonialism’s dependence upon the compliance of ordinary Indians. However, despite India technically winning independence in 1930, it was not the united India that Ghandi had dreamed of: in 1948 the creation of the separate Muslim state of Pakistan resulted in extreme conflict and violence that still persist to this day. While Indians never tire of paying homage to the British institutions of cricket and the railways, visitors should not be fooled into thinking all is forgiven. Feelings about British imperialism are deep seated and complex and, sadly, are not restricted to the past: today’s corporate-led globalization is now widely viewed as neo- colonialism.

Eighty per cent of Indians follow Hinduism and the remainder are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jains. Women visitors should respect the tradition of cov- ering shoulders and legs – this is an Indian, rather than Muslim, tradition; men should refrain from wearing shorts. The handshake is a British tradition, so visitors should greet Indians by placing their hands together in a prayer like gesture – espe- cially women greeting Indian men, as the handshake has become somewhat of a ruse for Indian men, with heavy sexual undertones. Environmentally, India faces huge challenges. But the banning of plastic bags in various states, including Maharashtra, Goa and Bangalore, highlights India’s progressiveness and puts richer nations to shame.







Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Child sexChild Sex tourism:

The sex industry in India includes prostitution, pornography and human trafficking. Although local men make up the majority of the purchasers of sex, foreign tourists are also involved

Kerala has become a den for sex tourism, the sought-after houseboats in the backwaters of Alleppy has become a hidden spot for sex tourism, away from the public eye. It is believe that the industry is made up of unsuspecting young victims who are tricked into the sex trade, along with others that are forced into the profession for quick income. A total of 1860 sex workers have been spotted in the region, mostly coming from villages or broken families.

A study titled ‘Trafficking in Women and Children in India’ was conducted in 2006 by the ‘Institute of Social Sciences’ in New Delhi and sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission. The study revealed that Alappuzha reported the highest number of child sex incidents; second to Goa.

Orphanage Tourism:

According to figures from India’s ‘National Crime Records Bureau’ (NCRB), one child goes missing in India every eight minutes – and forty per cent of these missing children are never found. This alarming statistic is at the basis of orphanage tourism and must be considered when tourists visiting India want to experience the latest must-do activity on the tourist trail: a volunteering stint at an orphanage.

India’s minister of ‘State for home affairs’ claimed that 60,000 children had been reported missing in India in 2011. Furthermore, according to Indian child-rights NGO, ‘BachpanBachaoAndolan’, only half of the cases of missing children are reported to the NCRB.

It has been found that the child traffickers in India pass on children to orphanages with a license to offer children for adoption abroad. A large portion of these lost children end up as prostitutes, bonded laborer’s, adopted by international people, or become homeless in one of India’s big cities.

Once these stolen children reach the orphanages – many kids have their identities changed by the orphanage. With a simple click on a search engine; hundreds of options for volunteering in an Indian orphanage appear. These good intentions of taking a GAP year or volunteering stint in an orphanage are unwittingly feeding a growing industry – in the worst cases, tourists may be unwittingly complicit in child trafficking. For more information about the Tourism Concern Orphanage Tourism campaign; click here.

Displacement of local peoples:

Tourism development has caused many communities to be forcibly displaced. Indigenous groups, people living in informal settlements, or people who lack official title deeds to their lands are particularly vulnerable to displacement or loss of access to lands and waters essential for their livelihoods. This often happens with little or no warning, compensation or alternative provision.

Governments and private companies have forced many tribal peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for national parks and so called ‘eco-tourism’. Fishing communities are removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels are built and beaches are privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life. Informal settlements are bulldozed under beautification projects in the lead up to major international sporting events.

The tsunami of 2004, which killed many thousands of people in Asia and Africa, also washed away roads and homes. But post-disaster reconstruction has brought more pain to local people. Governments have seen the tsunami as an opportunity to plan for bigger tourism projects.

In India, for example, where the tsunami made thousands homeless, the coastal states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been earmarked as emerging tourism destinations. When coastal communities were destroyed, villagers had to relocate, away from the sea.This created an opportunity for land developers to move in, buying up the coastline for hotel developments, forcing up land prices, and squeezing the people away from their homes and traditional livelihoods.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:

gail (1)Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of the friendly people of India is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.

Women’s safety in India:

Recent high-profile sexual assaults against women in India, such as the atrocity of the Dehli gang rape in 2012, have shed light on the various threats facing Indian women and foreign visitors alike (such as staring, groping, stalking, and most seriously, rape). The much-needed attention on women’s rights in India has cast a shadow on the country’s thriving tourism industry. In 2013, many western countries updated their travel advice, warning women to take extra caution when travelling in India.

Fearing the impact on the tourism sector of such measures, Indian authorities such as the Indian Association of Tour Operators has demanded the implementation of tourism police and better access to helplines for tourists in India. When travelling in India, especially as a solo female traveller, consider there following tips:

  • Research: spend time learning about your destination and its customs before arriving. Avoid regions where crime and especially drugs are rampant.
  • Dress conservatively: India is a conservative country, respect this by covering your shoulders and legs.
  • Avoid travel at night: ensure your arrival and departure is in daylight hours, and avoid walking or taking public transport in quieter areas.
  • Travel in a group: If you are visiting India for the first time it can be intimidating, especially the pace and ciaos of the big cities. Consider beginning your visit on a tour and finding your feet, then flying solo once you have acclimatised.

elephant riding resizedElephant rides & ‘Elephant Polo’: So-called elephant “joyrides” are anything but joyful for the elephants who are forced to give them. An investigation of elephant training revealed that elephants who are being used to give rides are physically and emotionally abused every step of the way.

When they are just 2 years old, baby elephants are torn away from their loving mothers and tied up out of reach. The frantic babies cry and struggle for days to reach their mothers, who are also tethered. Elephant calves are restrained during training for as long as 14 hours at a time with ropes that cause painful burns and with heavy chains.

Over and over again, calves are put through terrifying “desensitisation” sessions, in which trainers tie the elephants tightly to a pole, surround them, startle them with loud noises, hit them, prod them with sticks and wave flaming torches at them – often singeing the elephants’ skin.

Trainers routinely pierce the animals’ sensitive ears and yank on them with hooks in order to force elephants to walk a certain way. To control the elephants, restraints studded with iron nails, which dig into elephants’ skin and cause infections, are used on their feet. Barbed shackles are also frequently placed around the elephants’ legs during rides, with the other end of the shackles attached to the saddle so that riders can punish the elephants for any misstep. Trainers routinely beat elephants on the head with sticks to punish them for “mistakes,” leaving many elephants with open wounds.

In addition to Elephant rides, Elephant Polo is a ‘novelty’ that many tourists want to see – but consider how the trainers get the elephants to ‘play polo’ and you will think again. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Elephant riding.

Photo Prop animals – Dancing Bears:

Tourists travelling around India may be offered the chance to pay for pictures of themselves with a ‘dancing bear’. Please do not pay to take such photos. ‘Bear dancing’ involves severe cruelty. Cubs are often stolen from the wild and trained to perform for tourists for the rest of their lives. 

Alleppey backwaters pollution:

For centuries the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala in South West India, have been used by local people for cooking, drinking and washing. Furthermore, the backwaters of Alleppey are used by local for transportation, fishing and agriculture – it truly is the key life support system in the region. The backwaters are also increasingly popular with tourists, who hire thatched houseboats to explore the tranquil palm-fringed waters and picturesque villages.

However, unregulated tourism expansion is threatening rural communities and their environment, as well as undermining the economic benefits it brings to local people. In Kerala, local people say that the increase in tourists has led to a loss of fish stock and a decline in biodiversity. As the concreted world of tourism creeps over more coastal land, the water table is lowered; and water that once went back into the soil now pours off straight into the sea. Key environmental threats includes:

  • Sewage and plastic waste is being dumped into the waterways. Over 80 per cent of households living along or near the backwaters rely on its water for daily drinking and cooking. However, less than half of these residents reportedly treat the water before consuming it and many have no alternative water supply.
  • Local fishermen state that fuel, sewage and plastic are affecting fish and prawn catches.
  • Livelihoods within the agricultural sector are also being severely hit. Paddy fields are directly irrigated by the backwaters, which means that oil, sewage and rubbish from the houseboats easily flows into these agricultural units. Furthermore, farmers attribute recent incidences of ill health to prolonged contact with polluted water.

In 2015, Tourism Concern has been working with local partners and the Ministry of Tourism to develop a code of conduct for houseboat owners. To learn more about the Tourism Concern Campaign follow this link.

Water Equity:

For tourism to be truly sustainable, its development and management must be premised upon a respect for human rights, including the right to water and sanitation for essential personal, domestic and livelihood needs. In many cases, tourism development is negatively impacting the quality, availability and accessibility of freshwater for local people, amounting to an infringement of their water and sanitation rights. This is posing risks to community health and well-being, hampering socioeconomic mobility – particularly of women – harming livelihoods, threatening food security, and undermining the sustainability of the tourism sector itself.

Tourism to Goa began in the 1960s and the state remains India’s beach tourism capital. However, Goa is fast becoming a victim of its own popularity and is facing huge water challenges as a result of poorly managed tourism development. Goa’s water issues are threatening the sustainability of Goa as a tourism destination, as well as the well-being and livelihoods of local communities. These include small- scale tourism entrepreneurs, such as guesthouse and beachside restaurant owners.

Tourism development is generally poorly planned and regulated throughout Goa’s coastal belt. The state government’s drive towards high- end tourism, characterised by 5-star resorts boasting swimming pools and golf courses, is seeing the increased privatisation of Goa’s coastlines, while placing an intense burden on the already strained freshwater resources and infrastructure. Such high-end tourism typically consumes greater volumes of water (up to 1,335 litres per room per day) than smaller guesthouses (573 litres of water per room per day).

Tourism Concern research in the coastal villages and resort areas of Cavelossim, Colva, Benaulim, Palolem and Calangute, indicate that water is being allocated and appropriated based on capacity to pay, rather than on human rights and needs. This is leading to the depletion of groundwater and the vastly inequitable appropriation and consumption of water by the tourism sector.

A Goan cartoonist, Alexyz, depicted the water equity situation with these words:

‘Goa has been declared a drought area’, says one local. ‘Except the areas of tourist hotels, tourist spots and ministers’ bungalows’, says another.

Tourism Concern carried out a detailed campaign on Water Equity and tourism between 2010 and 2013, for more information follow this link.

Useful Information

Due to India’s vast size the climate aaries from tropical monsoon in south to temperate in north. The weather is mostly hot all of the year – the coolest weather lasts from November to the February, with fresh mornings and evenings, and mostly sunny days.

The really hot weather, when it is dry, dusty and unpleasant, is between March and June. Monsoon rains occur in most regions in summer anywhere between June to October.

Environmental challenges:

India’s population has surpassed 1 billion people and there are numerous environmental issues that face the bustling nation. Interestingly, there is no shortage of government legislation protecting the environment – but enforcement continues to be a main hurdle. Some of the key issues include:

  • The lack of access to vital fresh water resources.
  • 65% of the land in here is degraded.
  • Litter and waste management is of key concern.
  • Environmental education and awareness is low
  • Soil degradation is decreasing agricultural productivity
  • Deforestation is rife; Mangrove Forests have halved in the last 20 years.
  • The health of India 7516 km of coastline struggling due to overfishing, industrial waste and raw sewerage.
  • India has some of the worst air quality in the world – especially in major cities. The major contributor is diesel transport fuels used in older engines, producing toxic Sulfur oxide emissions. As a result, the asthma rate for children in the larger cities is rising fast.

Energy production & Climate Change:

As of 2015, India is the world’s third biggest emitter of polluting greenhouse gases. Prior to 2015, India has not committed itself to major emissions cuts or implementing a carbon reduction target, arguing that it will not set itself targets that undermine efforts to end poverty.

India has the world’s fifth-largest coal reserves and coal fired energy production dominate the Indian energy mix. Gas, Hydro-power, Nuclear and renewables make up the remaining energy production. India has pledged to increase renewable energy production, in a bid to lower coal use and also provide electricity to more than 300 million poor people currently without power. India has set a target to have 100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022.


Whilst India faces many environmental challenges, it is also home to about a tenth of the world’s known plant and animal species, making it a global biodiversity hot spot. It is home to lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, black panthers, cheetahs, wolves, foxes and bears. India is home to some of the world’s most biodiverse regions, and has 89 national parks and over 400 wildlife sanctuaries.

India’s tropical forests have a rich variety of mammals, the most well-known are the Asian Elephant and the Bengal Tiger. India is also a birdwatchers paradise. The Keoladeo National Park is one of the world’s finest bird sanctuaries, and is ideally situated along the north-south migratory route attracting birds such as cranes, hawks, pelicans and flycatchers.

India has mapped the flora and fauna of only around 70% of its total land and sea area – documenting some 150,000 plants and animals. The government openly admits that there is a “wide gap” in mapping all species. However, India spends about £1.25billion per year on biodiversity and which indicates there is a willingness to protect and conserve their endemic species.

The influence of the traditional Indian caste system has created a culture that emphasizes established hierarchical relationships. Indians are always conscious of social order and their status relative to other people, be it their family, friends, or strangers. All relationships involve hierarchies:

  • In schools: where teachers are called gurus and are viewed as the source of all knowledge.
  • In families: the patriarch, usually the father, is considered the leader.
  • In business: the boss is seen as the source of ultimate responsibility.

Indians do not like to express ‘no,’ be it verbally or non- verbally. This behaviour should not be considered dishonest. An Indian would be considered terribly rude if he did not attempt to give a person what had been asked. Since Indian people typically do not like to give negative answers, Indians may give an affirmative answer but be deliberately vague about any specific details.

When meeting and greeting an Indian person:

  • Due to the hierarchical culture, greet the eldest or most senior person first.
  • When leaving a group, each person must be bid farewell individually.
  • Shaking hands is common: Men may shake hands with other men, and women may shake hands with other women. However it is rare to exchange handshakes between men and women because of religious beliefs. If you are uncertain, wait for them to extend their hand.

Indian food is world-renowned for its delicious spicy flavours. Curries are created from blending spices such as cumin, turmeric, cardamom, ginger, coriander, nutmeg and poppy seed – however, there is a huge variation from region to region.

Vegetarian dishes are very common. In the south you will find fruity dishes based on coconut milk. Breads like paranthas, chapatis, naans and rotis are also part of the main diet in several states. Pickles, relishes and chutneys add zing to the already amazing meals. Sweets tend to be milk based, some dripping in syrup and others fried. Famous northern sweets include gulab jamun, jalebi, kulfi, kheer, halwa and laddu. Make sure you try a couple of these typical dishes:

  • Dhal: curried lentils
  • Kulfi: firm Indian-style ice cream
  • Dosa: fermented crepe stuffed with vegetables, meat and sauces.
  • Chai tea: try a cup from a street stall.

Keep in mind that food poisoning is common in travellers through India. Filtering water bottles (such as Tourism Concern partner ‘Drink Safe’ water bottles) or bottled water is recommended (make sure the bottles are properly sealed.)

The Central government decided that Hindi was to be the official language of India, it is therefore also the official language in all states. The different states of India have various languages, some of which are not officially recognized by the central government. Some states have more then one official language. Bihar in east India has three official languages – Hindi, Urdu and Bengali. Sikkim, also in east India, has four official languages.

Here are a couple of basic Hindi phrases:

  • Hello/Goodbye: Namaste
  • How are you?: aap kiaseh hain?
  • Thank you: shukriya
  • Yes: haan
  • No: nahin

India is predominately a Hindu nation, with Hindu representing 81.3% of the population. Additional religions include Muslim 12%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi 2.5%.