India is a spectacular place full of mystery and all sorts of things you’d never expect to see. To say India is a complex country with an eventful, colorful history would be a tremendous understatement, but here are a few choice cuts of neat things most Americans might not know about the world’s second-most populous nation.
1. According to tradition, the Apostle Thomas (of doubting fame) went to India in 52 AD, and eventually died (apparently he was speared) near what is present-day Chennai.
2. Currently India has 28 states and 22 “official” languages.
3. The game of polo took shape in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.
4. The state of Nagaland in India’s mysterious, restive northeast is known as “the most Baptist state in the world.” How about that, South Carolina?
5. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to several unreached people groups such as the Sentinelese, who have been known to fire arrows at those attempting to make contact with them.
6. According to the recently completed 2011 census, the state of Uttar Pradesh has a population of 199,581,477. This staggering number of people lives in an area comparable in size to Oregon or Wyoming. Can you imagine 200 million people living in Oregon? No way the world could fulfill that demand for skinny jeans.
7. Those traveling around India may be startled by the ubiquitous swastikas seen on vehicles. Don’t be alarmed, the swastika is an ancient symbol that was created long before being co-opted by the Nazis. Also do not be fazed by phone booths labeled “S.T.D.,” as this means “subscriber trunk dialing.”
8. Yes you can get McDonalds in India, no you can’t get hamburgers or McRibs. You can however partake in a delightful Chicken Maharaja Mac, McAloo Tiki, McCurry, or McCurry Pan.
9. The Dalai Lama resides in the mountainous, stunningly beautiful northern state of Himachal Pradesh, in Dharamsala.
10. While cricketers are far and away the country’s most popular athletes, tennis player Sania Mirza is wildly popular, despite just having one WTA title to her credit. India also has a potential basketball star training in the US. India’s current world soccer rank is 165, just ahead of Madagascar.
11. If you’re driving around the lovely, lush southern state of Kerala, you may encounter businesses emblazoned with the likeness of Hulk Hogan, who is apparently popular here for some reason.
12. Most will recall that the British ruled India for quite some time. Less known colonizers of India included the Portuguese (Goa), Danish (Serampore, where missionary William Carey worked), and the French (Pondicherry).
13. Up until the 19th century, if you got the death penalty in India, there was a good chance your executioner would be an elephant. For centuries, “execution by elephant” was a pretty common punishment for unfortunate victims.
14. While India is known as the world’s largest democracy, the communist party is quite popular—especially in states like West Bengal and Kerala.