India is a favourite tourist destination for Westerners. Although an estimated 8 million foreign nationals visit India annually, the number of women visiting India has been on the decline. This is due to a range of reasons including safety concerns. Travelling in India is safe, but requires certain precautions if you are a woman. Here are a few top tips for women travelling to India.
Tips for women travelling to India
Luckily, a few of us in the team at if i could… have had the wonderful opportunity to travel to India. If you’re looking to intern in New Delhi, we have a few tips we would like to share with you. These tips will help you gear up for your Indian travel adventure.
1. Immerse yourself in India’s rich culture and traditions
Regardless of India’s global growth, it is still a conservative country in many ways. In India, there are different ways of doing certain things.
For instance, it is regarded as very disrespectful if you address an elderly person by their name. Using ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ with their name is a usual practice in Indian society.
Religion is one topic you must refrain from discussing with the locals. Almost every Indian is driven by religious beliefs and you don’t want to offend anyone.
First-time travellers to India may consider starting their trip with a homestay. This is an ideal way to learn invaluable lessons about culture and safety. One of the joys of travelling solo in India is that you are more likely to be ‘adopted’ by families, especially if you are a woman. It is a great opportunity to make friends and get a deeper cultural understanding.
2. Do as the Indians do
Although there is no proven link between a woman’s clothing and sex crimes, in India, the western sense of dressing could be seen as an invitation to hassle. India is a conservative society and dressing modestly shows a sign of respect for the elders around you.
It is best to avoid wearing tank tops, spaghetti straps, short skirts and shorts in public. Instead, it is advised to imitate the local Indian women and dress as they do. Wear long, flowy tunics (kurtas) and loose bottoms (pyjamas).
Accompanying your western wear with a scarf (dupatta) may also work to cover skimpy or see-through tops. However, in large metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore etc. you may notice the majority of the women wearing non-traditional clothing (especially in affluent areas, markets and malls).
As long as you have reliable, safe transport and someone accompanying you to such areas, it is fine to wear moderately revealing clothing. Another exception is Goa. Here, you will often see women in bikinis and skimpy clothing, as it is a state highly driven by tourism.
3. Be assertive and speak up
In a country whose classic head bobble can mean “yes, no, maybe, not now”, or “we’ll see,” it is indeed difficult to make sense of one’s intentions and even harder to firmly say ‘no’ to someone in India. But as a woman on your own, this is necessary at times, just as it’s occasionally necessary to ignore unwanted or uncomfortable conversations.
When you are travelling alone, your safety is your own responsibility and hence saying ‘no’ to unwanted conversations with strangers and vendors on the street should come to you easily. If there is one thing that foreigners travelling to India for the first time should know, it is that Indians love to stare.
As a woman, you feel the intensity and its important to be firm and clear as to your boundaries. White skin is quite exotic in India and attracts attention. If you receive unwelcome attention or feel uncomfortable, do not hesitate to name and shame the man in public. At the very least, people around will know that he did something wrong and he will feel embarrassed. Depending on the level of harassment, you may want to take a picture of him and report him to the police.
4. Travel cautiously
Inconveniences and annoyances are more frequently encountered than criminal behaviour, and many travellers don’t face any trouble at all. However, it’s necessary to be cautious. To begin with, you must rule out all possible situations in which you are required to travel alone at night. Buses and auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks) are safe to use during the day, but not after 8 pm or so.
If you are travelling alone, it is best to use cabs from trusted companies like Uber and Ola, or else take a ride via Metro. Delhi and Bangalore are the only two cities with metros operating at the moment. These trains have separate compartments for ladies and it is extremely safe to travel in them – not only during the day but also at night.
The only other concern should be your transport to and from the metro station. Make sure you have someone who can pick you up or drop you at odd hours. Alternatively, have a cab at your disposal. If you do face any challenges during your commute and sense something fishy, do not hesitate to create a fuss and get out of an auto or change seats on a bus or metro, or stop the cab and look for another one. Also, never get into an empty bus or train at any given time of the day.
Indian women travel inside a ‘women-only’ metro train compartment in Delhi.
5. Have a list of emergency contacts handy
Helping people is the nature of Indians. As a woman traveller, you may receive offers from people walking on the street to help you if you are lost. Although the majority of these people will help you with the right intentions, you must be careful about who you trust and to what extent.
For instance, if you are looking for a particular address and you ask a man or even a woman to help you locate it, as a courtesy they may offer to walk with you and help you find the place, which is fine. But, if the person starts asking you too many personal questions on the way and keeps hovering around even after dropping you at your destination, be alert.
First, politely ask them to leave you alone, else walk away and do not make further conversation with the individual. There are now interesting safety apps such as Safetipin, made for women to ensure that they keep their loved ones informed about everywhere they go. It may be useful to download one to your device and activate it when you land in India.
It is also helpful in many situations for foreign women travellers to pretend to be engaged or married. This helps avoid unwanted attention from men.
There are many true gentlemen in India. They are equally outraged by some of the incidents of gender-based violence that have occurred in India. Do not generalize and stereotype all men as untrustworthy. There are some who will cross your path and go out of their way to help you. Every country and every society has its good and its bad.
India with its beauty and mysticism will both frustrate you…yet fascinate you at the same time.