Much like the country Indians are unapologetic, sometimes unforgiving in their nature, but deep seated is a kindness I’ve not experienced anywhere else.
Past the uncomfortable stares and whispers is a curiosity that moves them to invite strangers in for chai, wave like loons from bus windows, ask for countless photos (although careful of that one with guys) and repeatedly ask ‘where from?’, ‘married?’.
I’m not advocating India as the ‘safest’ place for female travel, I’m just advocating that you should travel there.
You are taught a greater sense of compassion and patience just by stepping off the plane, ok maybe not off the plane, maybe give it a week, or two, or maybe just wait till you get home, it’ll come.
Women adorn bright, carefully wrapped saris as they work alongside men on building sites carrying mixed cement precariously on their heads, how’s that for feminism. Children wave at you with unadulterated excitement from passing rickshaws and school windows. You eat delicious food night after night from street sellers and hole’s in the wall and you see the most wonderful sights and women all shapes and sizes bare their stomachs unmarred by the glossy pages in magazines telling them they are not toned enough, not skinny enough.
Yet the main thing you hear (or at least in my experience), when you tell others you’re travelling to India is ‘it’s not safe for women’.
‘Men in India are dangerous’, ‘not to be trusted’, I have perhaps ignorantly cut many good men short because of this conception. Tarred all men in India with the weighty belief that they want to get into my pants.
In a world in which I am living thousands of miles away from the comfort of my own culture, the protection of my family and friends, the security of a familiar and reliable justice system or even good phone service, is this really so bad?
Travelling India for just over 2 months I have had no terrible ordeals, no grabbings, gropings, demeaning comments (to my knowledge), that I heard of before I departed on my trip. I’m not naive, I know they’ve happened, heard first hand of them even, but I’ve never felt unsafe only uncomfortable, and to a degree that comes with the territory when you decide to travel here.
The custom is that men travel more than women. As a female traveller it is sometimes therefore possible that in a waiting room/train cart etc that you may be the only woman, rare, but possible, especially in the lower class trains, families usually travel in 3AC and 2AC and so I found it a little more comfortable there, check out my travelling around India on train post for more info.
It is in their culture that grown men do not routinely talk to strange women, you know this, they most certainly know this, so yeah you do sometimes have to question when a strange man comes and sits with you when, there are at least 3 empty tables surrounding you. Again possibly just curiosity, I’ve had women do it to me too, in fact I’m sat in the airport right now and this has just happened, 3 hours I’ve been here and I’ve had 3 men and 2 women come sit at the table with me.
The men rarely actually do anything but sit, “so why do they sit there then?” I don’t know, you’d have to ask them but do what makes you feel comfortable, you can walk away, or even ignore them. I’ve had suggestions of wearing a wedding band (although sometimes that promotes more questions), or pretending to speak a different language.
I truly believe that women can travel safely in India, defence mechanisms in tact and a bit of savvy awareness mixed with common sense and a knowledge of the culture is all it takes. There are increasingly more modern attitudes towards westerners and tourists in the country and especially in the south there are more travelled and accepting, educated towns.
Some fellow female travellers wanted to share their advice too on visiting this amazing country…
Rachel Jones – Hippie in Heels
I’ve been living and traveling in India for 3 years now and when people ask me for advice on how to stay safe, I share my number one tip on traveling India alone as a girl: act like you know what you’re doing. Over time, my views on how to dress have really shifted. When I dressed in ali baba pants and tourist clothes you can get all over the country, I was treated like a tourist and constantly ripped off. After a few months, when I moved to India I started to wear my “normal” clothes. I dress like I would in London: jeans, boots, leather jacket, or if it’s hot, a dress! I don’t get ripped off anymore and I really think it has a lot to do with dressing “normal” and acting very confident.
While I think it’s important to be friendly and smile, the best thing to do if a man is engaging conversation with you on a bus or train, and you are alone, is to say you can’t talk you are listening to music or an ebook. The truth is, Indian girls never sit and chitchat with strange men (strangers), and to do so can look like you are interested romantically in the man. I know that seems weird, but every culture is different!
So, dress normal, act confident, and don’t chat up strange men 😉
If you want more tips on solo female travel in India please check out these 14 tips.
Anne Slater-brooks – TRAVEL THE GLOBE FOR LESS
India has a bad rep for rapes and women being treated badly. In fact I have heard Delhi called ‘the rape capital of the world,’ not exactly a glowing endorsement for a city, so it is understandable if solo female travellers feel a little nervous travelling to India.
I’m usually someone who likes to wing it, but in Delhi I heeded the warnings about cabs and got a pre-booked one from the airport. Instead of traipsing round the city in a rickshaw, my hotel organised a private car for me. I also avoided the underground, given stories about women routinely being groped on the trains!
On one visit to Mumbai the death of an eminent politician had brought the city to a standstill. I was stranded at the airport and strongly advised not to leave for fear for my safety. A fabulous security guard not only called my hotel to arrange a car but then personally escorted me to the car.
I’ve returned several times since because in spite of this chaos, India is magical, spiritual, colourful and intoxicating!
Patricia Panengal – ZE WANDERING FROGS
India was my first “real” international travel, and as a solo woman, was an eye-opener. While a rich and complex culture, India is not accustomed to independent women traveling alone. I learned to rely on local Indian women: dress with ankles and shoulders covered, sit with other women in the bus even if that meant sitting on their knees, seek the support of a group of women when rowdy men circled around me while visiting the Red Fort in Delhi, and ask for directions with hand signs when listening to platform information in Hindi as I waited for my train in Mumbai. I would reserve a bunk bed in a women-only train sleeper instead of an open-sleeper wagon like I did, especially when young Hockey fans swarm our bunks late in the night. If not for the kindness of a young woman and her male cousin taking me in their wings, the night might have turned into a nightmare as I was surrounded by several men looking at me like a sweet Jalebi. Would I solo travel to India again? For sure. But wiser in my planning, making sure I book transportation and lodging ahead of time for a start, to ensure a safe environment first.
In every country there will always be someone, some group, letting the side down. I’m sure in which ever country you are from there is an unwritten code about keeping yourself safe, it is, it seems, better the devil you know.
I hope you see past the stories and travel far and wide and harm free, ‘you are far to intelligent and beautiful to be the only thing standing in your way’.