There are many horror stories and prejudices about travelling in India as a woman. I travelled one month from the North to the South of India, most of the time on my own, and had an amazing time. So I thought I might share my experiences with you and give some recommendations.
When I told people I would travel to India alone, many were very surprised, sceptical or even shocked. «Alone, as a woman, really?», is a phrase I heard often. Many told me to be careful and talked about all the stories they had heard about girls getting robbed or raped, if not even killed.
After all those stories I thought I would better ask someone who definitely knows whether travelling through India as a blonde European girl was a big risk or not: My (female!) Indian friend who is living in Ahmedabad. Her answer: «It usually not a problem (given that you practice caution)»
So I started my journey in November. The first two weeks I travelled with her and her friends, then I visited the touristic part (Rajasthan, Agra and Delhi) on my own, spent another few days with her and then travelled alone down to Kochi. And I must say: It was absolutely fantastic! I had no bad experiences, neither with men nor with women (okay, one bad encounter was the one with a street dog who bit me, but I doubt it was because I am a blonde European girl travelling alone….).
Of course, I cannot tell whether I was just lucky or if I was just very careful. Also, I must say I travelled in touristic places only (on purpose, as it was my first time in India and on my own, I felt it would be more secure to go to places where they are used to see tourists). Anyhow, here are my few basic rules I followed during this trip:
- Dress properly – as conservative as this may sound, it is important. I do not say that it is the ultimate protection and that only lightly dressed women get stared at or raped. You can be sure that as a (very) blonde woman I got a lot of attention anywhere anyhow. But it is important not to provoke either. And even if a girl does not mind having men staring at her, in my opinion, it is also a sign of respect to dress appropriately to the culture. In hot and not very clean India loose and wide pants or a long skirt are more comfy anyway than hotpants. Instead of tank tops, I wore long thin blouses which would also prevent me from getting sunburnt so there are several reasons which speak for such an outfit.
- Hitting the bed early: I always tried to reach my accommodation before sunset, so I could see the surrounding area during daylight. If I felt secure I would maybe just go grab a bite close by, but not going out wandering the streets in the dark on my own. As a tourist, it is hard to know which areas are safe or not, so I preferred to stay in my room, read a bit and most of the time I would fall asleep early anyway, exhausted after a long day. And – theoretically not being a morning person – I started enjoying the early hours of the morning when the city just wakes up.
- The thing with the ring: Many people recommend to wear a ring and to pretend to be married. Actually, an Indian guy I met on the street told me if someone annoys me, I should just tell this person that my husband would not allow me to talk to strangers. This seemed to be a good answer, especially coming from a local and male person. In the end, I did not wear a ring but I felt like every second person I was talking to would ask me anyway sooner or later whether I was married or not. It is not necessarily because I felt safer when I started replying with «yes», but because I actually got a bit annoyed by their surprised, even shocked reactions when I told them I was not. 26 years old seems to be rather «old» for getting married for some Indians, so I prefer to say «yes» anyway.
- Taxi/Rickshaw drivers: When I would take a rickshaw or taxi, I would usually either write down or take a picture of the license plate of the vehicle (in a way the driver sees it) or call my hostel/guesthouse and hand over the phone so he could explain the way to the driver who rarely knew the small, cheap places I stayed in – and in this way he would also know there was someone waiting for me and knowing where I was. I also used Uber a lot, which made me feel more secure, too.
- Look for female accomplice or families: In public transportation, I tried to sit next to women, old couples or families because I felt more secure that way. And not only foreigners risk getting stuff stolen from a train ride, so sometimes families showed me how I could tie my backpack to the metal pole underneath my seat to be sure it does not get stolen while I would be sleeping.
- Special lines for women only – actually, not only foreign women take care in India but also local women. In train stations or at the subway, the lines for the security check were usually separated for men and women, which was a big advantage because fewer women than men take the subway in India, so the line was moving quicker for the girls – finally the opposite to the bathroom lines… Also, waiting rooms are separated by sex which was very comfortable. At the subway in Delhi, there is even one waggon reserved for women only at the very beginning of the subway. But do not think it is easier to get into this one than into the common ones – Indian women are really good at pushing their way through, too. 😉
So after travelling one month through India on my own, I can say it is an amazing country definitely worth a visit – also for the female solo traveller. I met many amazing people and had a great experience. Talking with many Indians I actually got the impression that Indians seemed to feel sorry for this bad image India has gotten, and they wanted to show that it is just a minority that treats women disrespectful or is only interested in your money.
The good side about this whole polemic is that it raised awareness for solo female travellers. It is not only important in India to be cautious when travelling alone, but also in other countries. I recommend being rather safe than sorry, stick to a few basic rules and also listen to intuition. With this mix, travelling in India – and in other countries – as a woman is definitely a great experience!