17 Things You Didn't Know About India

This weekend, Obama will head to India for the second time in his two-term presidency.

He’ll be the first president to visit the South Asian nation twice — and the first in ages to make a long-distance trip just to stop in one single country. Obama also hosted India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, in D.C. back in September.

It’s clear that diplomatic relations with India have become a priority for the president — especially since pro-business, pro-America Modi rocketed to power last May. So if we’re going to sidle up next to India and become better friends, we’d best get to know the country.

Here’s our list of 18 fascinating facts you should know about India.

There's a lake near the Chinese border where, for one month of the year, the water clears and you can see a few hundred ancient skeletons.

Roopkund Lake

The lake is called Roopkund and the skeletons are 1,200 years old.

Local legend has it that an ancient king went on a pilgrimage through the Himilayas with his pregnant wife and a troupe of servants when a hailstorm sent them all toppling over the edge.

Source: Deccan Herald

Mumbai's high court has a 300,000-case backlog, some of which are 20 years old.

As of a couple of years ago, there were some 4 million pending cases across all high courts in India. And only two-thirds of available high court judge positions are filled.

Source: CNN International

Mumbai has just 1.1 square meters of open space per person.

People form a human pyramid during the Janmashtami festival.

Open space is defined as gardens, parks, recreation grounds, and playgrounds.

Compare that with New York's 26.4 square meters, or London's 31.68.

Source: Times of India

Hindus tend to apologise to their books.

Books are really important in Hindu culture. Often, if somebody drops a book, or papers, or some sort of stationery, they will 'apologise' to it by touching it to their forehead. It's not a conscious action -- it's more of a gut reaction, like saying 'Gesundheit' when somebody sneezes.

If you're sending an international package you may have to go see a 'package specialist.'

They may hand-sew your package with a burlap sack. If you're lucky, he'll even seal it with a wax stamp.

Source: CNN International & Bagels and Lakhs (for a first-hand account)

Authorities coined the term 'Super-Dense Crushload' to describe extreme overcrowding on Mumbai's commuter trains.

At rush hour in Mumbai, some 550 people can be jammed into train cars built for only 200 people.

Source: The New York Times

Mumbai has a toilet deficit of 64,157 seats.

That's according to a 2009 government-sponsored human development report.

(India also has an international museum of toilets, located in Delhi.)

Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Allevement via guggeinheim.org

You can get cars, motorcycles and TV sets for offering to be sterilized.

In 2011, health officials hoped these incentives would recruit at least 30,000 people to agree to be sterilized, in an attempt to control India's increasing population.

Source: The Telegraph

The Royal Calcutta Golf Club is the oldest golf club outside of the UK.

Indians like their old, British sports. This club was established in 1829, before British colonial rule, back when the East India Company was running the show.

Many Indians consider it rude to accept money with your left hand because that's the hand you use in the restroom.

Some people in India consider it cleaner to splash water with your left hand after going to the restroom, instead of using toilet paper. Which is why the left hand is thought to be unclean.

It's also rarely used for eating.

(More information here.)

The Calcutta Polo Club is the oldest in the world.

It was established in 1862, four years after the beginning of British Rule in India.

Source: Times of India

Scholars think plastic surgery started in India.

The first recorded 'nose job' is found in ancient Indian Sanskrit texts (600 B.C.)

Source: Times of India

Chess comes from India.

Even the word 'chess' comes from the Sanskrit word 'chaturanga,' which means 'four members of an army.'

Source: The United States Chess Federation

It's illegal for non-residents to take rupees out of the country

A 2013 rule from the Reserve Bank of India requires foreigners and non-residents to exchange rupees for other currencies before taking off.

Source: Times of India

Once every 12 years, India hosts the biggest street party ever.

The Kumbh Mela (Grand Pitcher) festival is a massive religious festival in India.

The last ones took place in 2013 and 2001, and were photographed from space.

Source: BBC

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