Let me begin with a disclaimer. This comes straight from an Indian, who has clocked a fair bit of international air miles. There are some basic rules which a solo woman traveler should keep in mind when traveling in India. Things have changed a lot in the Indian society. A woman can now shed her inhibitions and can actually travel solo without much discomfort. Travelling solo for a female traveler can be a thrilling experience but she needs to keep certain things in mind before she packs her bags and starts a journey, even to a foreign country.
Being a part of a populace upwards of a billion, I think it’s safe to address myself and other fellow Indians as “WE”. Now as far as you are concerned, the “WE” has two kinds. Let me introduce you to both.
We find your dressing style a little too flashy. We think the enlarged nose ring is a little over the top. We think your shorts are corrupting our men and your brazenness is wrongly encouraging our women. We think you getting too friendly with our kids is worrisome. We are hypocritical enough to criticize your tank tops and still lay a wandering hand on you. We are unforgiving of your habit of taking shoes inside our places of worship, even though we know you hardly know about our rituals and beliefs. We think you’ll pay us handsomely for the tiniest of favors and that we have the right to fleece you for every item or service you buy or rent. Finally, we will make your Indian experience an absolute torture and ensure you have the worst things to say about us and our country. We are the small minority of illiterate, inconsiderate and evil Indians who make our guests suffer on their trips to India.
We are educated, broad minded, well-traveled and welcoming. We think you coming here is a positive indicator of our country’s image worldwide, something that we are so proud of. We know you bring valuable foreign exchange to our GDP and contribute more than a third to our country’s tourism revenues. We will lend you a helping hand whenever we think you’re being mistreated by WE 1. We will welcome you to our homes, provided you don’t overstay your welcome. Although we still don’t like it when you take shoes inside our places of worship and when your books and movies refer to our country as “The Land of Snake Charmers”, we’ll still laugh at your jokes and understand your predicament. And no, you don’t need to speak slowly when talking to us – we understand your language perfectly even though you don’t understand ours. We like you here.
It would look foolish to even ascertain what kind do I belong to. I hope you noticed the keyword in WE 1 introduction – MINORITY! Yes, there are douches in India, like in any other country. The first thing you, the woman traveler, have to remember is that India is just like any other country. We are curious about anyone who is of a skin color different from ours. Now this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Good thing because, honestly, we are intrigued by you. We want to know more about you, your culture, your background, your lifestyle. The bad thing is our approach. We are working on it!
I have one and only one tip for woman travelers to India – Please do not cut back on your budget. Maybe your guy friends can get away for a lot less. I’ll tell you why. Because your male pal can hitchhike on a highway truck, can sleep in the open, can roam about after midnight, answer nature’s calls in the open and bunk in third class lodges. You, my dear lady, need to be a lot more careful. So spend a little extra and book with only a registered tour operator. Not only would this safeguard you against being highhanded by scrupulous vendors, it would also ensure you squeeze out the maximum out of your deal. Plus, deal only with an established tour operator because, even if they charge a little extra, they go out of their way to ensure your safety. Forget hitchhiking, I’d advise you avoid public transportation altogether and use rented cabs instead. Remember, rafting in Rishikesh is adventurous, roaming alone after 2 at night is suicidal.
I’d still say it doesn’t take much to stay safe when traveling in India – a little confidence and a lot of common sense should see you through.