India has been getting a lot of bad press lately. Reports of rapes, hangings and general violence against women have made it to the front pages of newspapers globally. That, however, is only part of the picture. While the media must be commended on bringing to us the less than savory reports from that part of the world, it leaves out a lot that could balance that narrative.
If you happen to be an Indophile, or someone who has always wanted to visit India but haven’t been able to, don’t let the recent developments dent your enthusiasm for it.
There’s much to see and do in this country of envious heritage, if you know how to approach things right. Here are a few ways in which you can keep yourself safe and miles away from harm when touring this ancient, diverse, and paradoxical country.
Be with the Crowds
This should not be difficult to accomplish, seeing as India is the second-most populous nation on the planet.
It would be especially easy to accomplish in crowded cities like the capital New Delhi in the heart of the country, or the financial and movie hub of Mumbai, on the western coast.
All Indian cities are crowded, but the bigger the city, the more crowded it gets. Crowds are also the safest.
If you are traveling on your own, stick to areas that get plenty of traffic. The best way to tour India is to team up with someone who knows it well and can take you to all the exotic and lovely places that form the essence of this country but do not get a lot of press.
If, however, you do not know any locals who can be your guide, the second-best way is to either book a tourism package or at the very least a sightseeing bus in any of the big Indian tourist attractions. You will share space with other travelers like you and be driven around your destination without having to worry about finding your way or looking for good places to eat. You will also remain as safe as they come.
- Women Travel has a great selection of tours for Women in India – Read them here
- Accommodation for women in India – Here
Dress to Blend In
India is a developing country which is also witnessing a lot of conflict between the conservative-minded and the progressive-minded. Millions of immigrants throng to the big Indian cities from the interiors of the country and bring with them their own version of what is acceptable and what isn’t. The law and order situation in places where these immigrants hail from is usually not impressive, and they also have rather rigid ideas about how women should be and what they should wear. Much of the conflict that we are witnessing in Indian cities today is due to the rural-urban clash.
As a result, one is surrounded by very progressive as well as very conservative people in India wherever one goes. It’s therefore best to play it safe and dress not to attract attention but to blend in.
As a foreign tourist of the female variety you will attract a lot of attention in many places in India. Don’t make it worse by dressing inappropriately. Now, a caveat. That which is ‘inappropriate’ for the general Indian public, may not be so for you (given where you are from). Pay attention to how Indian women in general dress and stick with that yourself.
Don’t Travel Solo
If you are headed to India all alone you are one very brave soul indeed. I’d highly recommend getting a partner along at some point, or finding trustworthy company once you land there and sticking with them for the most part.
Don’t Trust Strangers Too Much
Yeah, I know. But this has to be said.
It’s not just in India, but anywhere in the world. One needs to trust strangers in strange places, obviously, but at the same time not let one’s guard down to the extent that one leaves themselves vulnerable to exploitation.
I’m not a very trusting person anyway, so I tend to err on the side of suspicion. I know many women who are rather trusting and tend to get into problematic situations. At the end of the day it’s all very subjective. I’m old-fashioned when it comes to these matters so I’ll only recommend keeping a polite distance from strangers who are trying to come close, and sticking to crowded places and daylight.
Don’t Get Sucked in By Sweet Talk
You will see many desperately poor in India, some of them on the streets and as young as 10 or 12 and still holding their younger siblings in their arms and begging for alms.
I will leave it to you whether you should indulge them or not, but beware that if you give alms to one beggar, many others in the vicinity may start trailing you.
Furthermore, considering you are a foreigner you may even be approached by men presenting themselves as guides or tour agents promising to chalk up an excellent itinerary for you, or to take you to the best hotels out there.
Don’t entertain them. Be polite and firm in your refusal. Make your plans via someone you trust and stick to them.
Load Your Phone with Emergency Numbers
Just in case. This will also force you to think exactly where to turn should you find yourself in a threatening situation.
India is a lot of fun and an amazing place to be. The sheer dynamism of its people, the depth of its culture, the diversity at every step of the way, and the history that goes back to forever, all make it a magical cocktail of sorts for the traveler-at-heart.
But it also has its cons, especially if you are a woman. Just keep the above points in mind though and you should be fine.
Korie Canter is our Featured Writer for this post