Christmas Celebrations in Delhi

Christmas is not the most feted day of the year for most people in Delhi, but it definitely does not go by unnoticed. Author Margot Bigg discusses holiday celebrations in India.

What’s your favorite Indian dish—and what do you recommend for first-time visitors?

My favorite Indian dish is kathal ki sabzi, a spicy dish made of young jackfruit. It’s got a bit of a chicken-like texture and is popular with vegetarians. You don’t find it much in restaurants, but it’s worth a try if you can get someone to cook it for you. I think all first-time visitors should try masala dosa, a South Indian crepe-like dish stuffed with seasoned potatoes and served with coconut chutney and lentil stew.

—Margot Bigg

Where is the best place to go for a taste of traditional Indian life?

Anywhere in rural Rajasthan will give you a good idea of what traditional Indian—or at least Rajasthani—life is all about. Pushkar is touristy but is also a major religious pilgrimage site, and it's a good place to learn about Hinduism. If you're visiting Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra by car, make sure to stop off in some of the smaller villages in between your destinations.

—Margot Bigg

What advice would you give female travelers to India?

Dress modestly and be wary of your behavior with men. In certain circles, especially in big cities, women sometimes hug their male friends, but this is more the exception than the norm in India. Short skirts and cleavage-bearing tops are perfectly fine in most Delhi nightclubs but are inappropriate in Rajasthan. Finally, be very careful after dark and don’t be afraid to tell someone off if he or she is behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable.

—Margot Bigg

What should travelers always remember to pack when visiting India?

Remember to bring comfortable shoes and clothing. If you can get your hands on bug spray with DEET in it, bring some of that, too; the local mosquito repellent, Odomos, doesn’t work very well. Most over-the-counter medicines are widely available in India, but it’s a good idea to bring an adequate supply of prescription drugs with you if you need them.

—Margot Bigg

What strikes you most about the people and culture of India?

The diversity. Although India is a single, unified country made up of states and federal districts, it's difficult to compare it to somewhere like the US. Despite regional differences, Americans share a common language and macro-culture. India's more like the European Union; languages, customs, worldviews, and practices can change every few hundred miles.

—Margot Bigg

What are a few handy Hindi phrases to remember when traveling in India?

Bus, which means “stop” or “that’s enough,” is one of the most useful Hindi words I know. You can use it to halt a rickshaw at your final destination or to tell a waiter that you don’t want a second helping of curry. Theek hai is another phrase that people pick up quickly—it means "okay." Kitna, or “how much,” is also useful if you're shopping. However, most people in Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra speak English to varying degrees, some with native-level fluency.

—Margot Bigg