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India Travel Tips
April 7, 2012 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Solo traveling in northern India. What should I know/prepare? Is it safe for women travelers?

Planning a 2 week trip to northern India in July. I'd like to know everything I should expect for travel in India--

-recommended attire (conservative I'd imagine)
-travel tips getting around on budget (train, plane, bus??)
-good eats
-places to check out (I enjoy outdoor/nature attractions opposed to cities). so far, I am interested in Varanasi, Agra, Delhi.. any national parks/preserves you would recommend?
-border crossing from nepal into india- how did you do it?

And finally a lingering overhead question.. is India REALLY safe for woman solo travelers? I've read and heard mixed reviews. Some people recommend in a group and other women have had some horrible experiences. I can adhere to not staying out late at night, leaving food/drinks unattended.. will I be OK?
posted by melizabeth to Travel & Transportation around India (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would NOT recommend traveling alone in India as a woman (I am from India). It is not a safe place for women and almost every day you hear of foreign tourist mugged or raped or killed. The police is extremely corrupt and you will not get the help you need in time.

Delhi is the most unsafe of these places as it is the political capital and attracts extremely violent and corrupt individuals. You would not be safe in Delhi at all.

Tips

Dont travel alone
Do not stay at any "guest houses" These are nefarious for the way they are handled. The doors will not have locks, at night there is no security.
Trains -travel in only women compartments-you can book these as there are seperate women only carriages
Do not travel at night
Dont eat anything from strangers. The most likely ask will be that they will offer you "prasad" religious offering saying it is from temple puja. Dont eat it. There are now cases where tourist are drugged with these
Water is unsafe so drink only filtered water from bottles. Make sure the lid is tightly shut when you buy it or it will be adulterated. Drink only the brand "Bisleri"
Getting around-usually we take Rickshaws which are okay during the day. Do not take a rickshaw with 2 men driving it. If you see one don't get on it. Also, if you take a rickshaw and you suddenly find another man hopping on the front or worse back seat, immediately raise an alarm and ask that he stop asap.
If you ever feel threatned, DONT take the passive approach and try to talk out of it or question the person, just start creating a lot of attention-scream or shout loudly, raise your voice, collect a crowd. That is the only way you will get out of a tough situation and collect a crowd. Dont be embarrased, people are sympathetic towards women and will help you in such cases.
Dont carry money which is visible to others. carry small bills. pretend you dont have a lot of cash with you.
Never leave your passport in the hotel room, always take it with you and tie it securely
India has a problem of eve teasing which is basically road side romeos who will harrass you seeing that you are alone. Take a bold stance, shout back and be aggressive.
Learn a few words in Hindi which include basic day to day (help, i need help, water, etc.)

Mumbai is safer, much safer than Northern India. Pushkar in Rajasthan is also safe, it is a really a foreigner's paradise as we saw tons of other foreigners there. So is Jaipur and Udaipur (relatively)

I would also suggest you register at your embassy when you arrive and let them know where you are staying.

Make my trip is a travel outfit that we had used, they seem good. However one part of the journey we got booked into a very scarey hotel and we had to really use all our power to get out of that situation.

Bottom line-you will have to be very aggressive and strong to get by safely there.
posted by pakora1 at 8:50 AM on April 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


is India REALLY safe for woman solo travelers?

No.

Especially not the north of India.

And I'm an Indian and a woman.
posted by infini at 9:37 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Check out the forums at IndiaMike.com. I'm not Indian, although I am a woman who has been to India - but not solo. Lots of women travel solo to and within India. The India Mike forums and articles are full of information for and about women who want to travel alone in India. Good luck! Your trip will be amazing!
posted by infodiva at 10:22 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also -- Allow me to put in a good word for Chandannagar; for a lovely, clean, uncrowded town (pop. around 150K) with loads of charm, nice people, cool architecture, and interesting historical (French Colonial) and literary connections (Rabindranath Tagore, among others) it really can't be beat. The riverwalk along the Ganges there is absolutely worth the trip. I felt very safe there - although I wasn't travelling alone. so I can't comment on that. I would (and I will in September this year) return there alone without hesitation, though.

See Wikipedia's entry on Chandannagar . It's in West Bengal, a short ride on a commuter train from Kolkata. Kolkata is easily reached by a direct flight from Delhi. Kolkata is interesting, itself - the former capital of British India before that capital was moved to Delhi. If you're interested, I'll be happy to share my experiences in email. Just drop me a message.
posted by infodiva at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2012


I have traveled solo to several places around the world. I have been to India several times although I am not Indian. I would never travel alone in India.
posted by seesom at 10:51 AM on April 7, 2012


is India REALLY safe for woman solo travelers?

It's probably one of the riskier destinations for women travelling solo. Single women are frequently harassed and even groped in public. My sister travelled to northern India by herself, but she had friends there, male and female, local and expat, who insisted on accompanying her everywhere she went so she would not appear to be alone in public.
posted by peripathetic at 11:03 AM on April 7, 2012


I'm surprised by these answers. I'm female and traveled alone in India (all overland) from Nepal, through the North, down the Western coast to the tip, over to Pondicherry and then back up to Mumbai again over the course of 2.5 months. I never felt physically threatened in India, but all the people trying to sell me something, go to their hotel, or talking to me in the hope of some sort of commission really got on my nerves.

-recommended attire (conservative I'd imagine)
I wore normal, long pants and loose shirts. Because I had been on the road for a while my clothes were wearing out and I had two long short sleeved scoop necked shirts that went down to my hips (sort of like a shortened version of the Shalwar kameez top). Sometimes I had a scarf around my neck or shoulders.

-travel tips getting around on budget (train, plane, bus??)
In two weeks you're not going to have a lot of time to travel far unless you take planes, however I can't help you much there. The one flight I bought was out of India, which I purchased from a travel agency I saw on the street in Mumbai. Trains are cheap for the distance traveled. A lot of people like to rent car/drivers in the north but I wouldn't do this alone, and it wouldn't be financially viable without sharing the cost.

-good eats
Just try everything! Despite what everyone says, I gained weight in India (maybe because my stomach was hardened to travel bugs). Mmmmmm, curry.

-places to check out (I enjoy outdoor/nature attractions opposed to cities). so far, I am interested in Varanasi, Agra, Delhi.. any national parks/preserves you would recommend?
I didn't visit any national parks, as they are often out of the way and take more time/money to get to, plus I like cities, sorry!

-border crossing from nepal into india- how did you do it?
I bought my visa in Kathmandu, which took a few days and meant standing in line for hours at a time. I asked for a double entry (just in case I decided to pop into Pakistan—it was less dangerous a few years ago) and was granted one. I took a bus from Lumbini to the border, crossed with no problems and caught a bus to Gorakpur. That was as far as I could get that day so I stayed there one night, then got a train to Varanasi the next morning. Buying a train ticket out of a town as soon as you arrive is a great habit to get into, as they fill up and standing in line can take a while.

I'll me mail you a link to my route and planning so you can decide for yourself. Have fun!
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't have any direct answers, but here's the blog of a friend of mine who has lived in and traveled around India on and off for the last 8 years. She hasn't updated recently, but I think that you'll find a great deal of info in the archive.
posted by kimdog at 1:30 PM on April 7, 2012


A couple of quick thoughts:

-Delhi, Agra and Varanasi are all obviously worth seeing; but they are all large cities and if you are interested in nature/outdoors, they probably dont have as much to offer.

- Distances matter more in South Asia. If you have two weeks and you want to do Delhi and Agra, it may be more practical to fit in some interesting locations in Rajasthan or Himalayas instead of Varanasi. Rajasthan will be even hotter than Delhi in July, but very different in character. Many people do Jaipur - which is interesting and tourism friendly. Pushkar - that someone else recommended - is also interesting, but kinda new agy touristy - if that makes any sense. I have always wanted to go to Jaisalmer; the fort looks very interesting and you get to see the desert.

The other option (if you want nature) - could be Delhi/Agra and some places in the Himalayas. It may get rainy in July... so you probably want to do some research on this beforehand, but I love ..love Indian Himalayas. The mountains are majestic and very different from the rockies.

-If you want do the pilgrim route, I hear that buses now go all the way to Gaumukh (When I lived in Delihi we had buses going all the way to Gangotri (the source of the river Ganges) and we had to walk the rest of the way). You can climb up to Tapovan from there and beyond (depending on how much you are into high-altitude hiking). The view of the mountains from Tapovan is spectacular.

-Another good option is to take the train from Delhi to Nainital. Nainital itself has become very crowded. But it is near Corbett national park. All of Kumaon Himalayas is gorgeous ..you can travel to Ranikhet, hike to Pindari Glacier etc. from that region. very, very different from the Delhi/Agra/Jaipur circuit.

The third way of getting to the Himalayan foothills will be to take the train to Himachal Pradesh. I hear Dharamsala is atmospheric (although I have never been there). If you end up travelling alone, this may make more sense. Kulu and Manali are pretty and very popular with honeymooners from the plains

- Near Delhi/Agra - Bharatpur bird life sanctuary is near Fatehpur Sikri. (in fact, if memory serves me right, it is about 11 kms. You can rent a cycle in Bharatpur and cycle to Fatehpur Sikri and back. It is doable and fun)

- Varanasi is a great destination if you are into Indian history. But I am not sure it is a great destination for a first trip to India.

Crossing from Nepal to India:
I have done this a couple of times, but quite some time back ..so not sure how relevant it is now:
-The cheapest option was to take the night bus from Kathmandu to Birgunj (it is a scenic route - so traveling during the day is more enjoyable, and more exhausting) and take another bus from the Bihar border to Patna.

-The most convenient option is to simply fly from Kathmandu airport to Kolkata airport.

Other people's recommendations -
I have always received great ideas/recommendations whenever I posted travel related questions to Fodors community or to Lonelyplanet thornree forums. It may be worthwhile asking around there.

I didn't want to speak to the safety aspect, because I dont have much knowledge of it. In my experience, Delhi/Agra are quite used to tourists from abroad and is reasonably safe if you are careful. But then I am not a woman, so I dont really have the right perspective. What Northern India does have, is a corrosive culture of what is euphemistically known as "eve teasing", but while this may cloud your enjoyment of the trip (assuming you run into it), it is typically not a safety issue.

Have a wonderful trip!
posted by justlooking at 2:47 PM on April 7, 2012


What Northern India does have, is a corrosive culture of what is euphemistically known as "eve teasing", but while this may cloud your enjoyment of the trip (assuming you run into it), it is typically not a safety issue.

Given that 'eve teasing' is all about public sexually motivated harassment, molestation and all the rest of it, it is very much a safety issue. The safety of not having your body violated.
posted by infini at 2:53 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm also shocked to read all these comments. I traveled by myself through India alone for 3 months when I was 23. Yes, there is harassment. And you certainly want to be careful about walking around alone at night in deserted areas, as you would anywhere.

Do not stay at any "guest houses"

Actually, I would advise the opposite. Stay in guest houses that are recommended by other travelers. This way you'll meet backpackers that you can see the sights and travel with. That way you won't be traveling alone.

Don't talk to random people when you're in heavily-touristed areas. Kind of a bummer, but there are a lot of scammers in the touristy parts of India.

One thing to be aware of is that India will be a sauna in July. If you love the outdoors, you actually might want to head for Ladakh. It's not really "Indian" culturally (it's more like Tibet or Nepal) but it is in the running for the most beautiful place on earth and July is the perfect time to go. I also didn't experience any harassment there.

The capitol city, Leh, is really lovely and makes a great base for treks and daytrips - definitely enough to do to keep a nature-lover busy for 2 weeks. It's a short, cheap flight from Delhi (you can also go overland, which is beautiful but can take up to 3-4 days).
posted by lunasol at 12:05 PM on April 8, 2012


Friend's daughter is traveling in India right now. Here is her blog: http://yanagoestoasia.blogspot.in.
posted by m1dra3 at 1:05 PM on April 8, 2012


I am an American female, mixed race, and lived and worked in India for a year in West Bengal. I agree with some of these points. My personal anecdata:
-Touristy areas were worse for harassment than non-touristy areas. Golden triangle area area was the worst.
-That being said, I was approached and harassed by men in small rural towns and large urban areas where there were no a foreigner in sight.
-Mostly, you need to be beware of cocky young men with that look in their eye. If you see them coming walk quickly away. I would commonly get groped by men riding on motorcycles who would slow down just to take a chunk out of my ass or a boob grab. I learned to move off to the side quickly when I saw/ heard them coming toward me on their bikes.
-I carried a knife with me (plain ole pocket knife) as a safety measure and was not afraid to whip it out if I felt threatened.
-On buses and trains sometimes there is no escape and you will get groped by someone in a large group they think they can get away with it. This is the worst since you can't retaliate. Stay away from large swells of people if at all possible (mostly unavoidable in India, I know).
-Take advantage of ladies-only lines (for example at the train station ticket counter) and ladies sitting areas, ladies buses, etc.
-Don't be afraid to fight back. They will back off when you see that you mean business and aren't going to let them get away with it. Many Western women are taller (and bigger) on average than Indian men. I found my height to be advantageous.
-Hostels and guesthouses may seem safe because you are surrounded by other Westerners but these are the places where you are mostly likely to get your shit stolen (by other dirtbag travelers).
-That being said, finding a short-term male traveling partner will go a long way to reduce the amount of harassment.
-I shaved my head about 9 months in and the harassment stopped immediately. You may come across many widowed women, often cast out by their families because they are bad luck, and can be identified by their shaved heads and white saris. Men will not touch you if they think you are bad luck. I realize this is a drastic measure, but I did shave my head for other reasons (the heat), and this was just a beneficial, serendipitous discovery.
-Also, western men get harrassed and groped too. Some of it is curiousity, some of it just plain ole sexual harassment.

All that being said, India is a wonderful place to travel solo. I would go back in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 1:30 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, conservative dress is a must. Try to wear traditional clothing...the salwar kameez is so, so comfortable and made for hot climates. Leave the shorts and skimpy bathing suits at home. Also, bring only black (or dark) underwear, as you will never get the dirt out of the whites. I would also bring sunscreen and a menstrual cup (as tampons are hard to come by).
posted by ch3ch2oh at 1:48 PM on April 8, 2012


If you are concerned about safety, and you enjoy nature, you're much better off in the south. You still have to take precautions, but harassment and swindling is a lot less than around Delhi, and there are some awesome tropical forests and hill stations in the area. Check out Bandipur/Kabini -- I've had leopard sightings on the safaris there, and it's not uncommon to see tigers and other rare wildlife -- and the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary, which is phenomenal if you go in the right season... there are a few places in the world where you will see such variety and number of birds in the wild at close quarters. Ooty, Chikmagalur, and Coorg are mostly estates and plantations rather than real nature, but they're worth a visit.

Bangalore is a good base, since it is centrally located to all these places, as well as sites of historical interest (Mysore, Hampi, Belur), and Goa, if that's your thing. Mumbai is a good central point as well, though I'm not as familiar with that area. Both Mumbai and Bangalore, and the surrounding regions, are relatively modern and friendly towards Western travelers -- you can get by quite well with English, and while it is better to dress conservatively, people won't raise an eyebrow if you wear a tank top.

I would reserve the north for a later trip when you can travel with people, and after you're more familiar with the country and pick up some Hindi.
posted by redlines at 9:50 AM on April 9, 2012


Also, the weather is fairly nice in July in the places I mentioned... a bit on the hot side, but way milder than, say, the East Coast of the US in July. It will rain, though, so plan for that.
posted by redlines at 10:14 AM on April 9, 2012


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