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December 13, 2012 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Going to India in two weeks and I need some answers to some fairly basic questions.

A group of five friends and I are heading to India on Christmas, starting in New Delhi and then travelling through Rajasthan. We're pretty well prepared, but I have a few basic questions that for some reason I can't really find the answers to.

A) Socks. I have seen recommendations to wear shoes that require socks so you can tuck your pants into them to avoid mosquitoes. Aside from sounding really attractive, is this really done? Is it necessary? I know mosquitoes are nothing to cuss with, but, really?

B) Shoes. Obviously depending on the answer to the above question, I was thinking of wearing Toms and/or boat shoes. I am a lady. Does this sound appropriate? What other shoe types should I consider? I know I should bring at least two pairs. (FYI we are going to be using camping-style backpacks.)

C) Chai. I have, of course, heard the warnings about consuming local water, but I really want to try authentic chai. Is this a fools errand? Would a water purifier wand (example) be useful? (Can those things even work on hot water-based beverages?)

D)LADY ALONE. The group was unable to book our travel at the same time and as it shakes out, I will be alone in New Delhi for one day. We will be staying in a nice hotel so I plan to have the hotel request my cab to the airport. The answers to this ask.mefi question gave the impression that I should just write my will out now and say my goodbyes to all loved ones. True/False? I feel like I'll probably be fine, especially since it's only for one day, but I'll gladly accept my fate should it shake down that way.

E)Long, long flights. Any tips on surviving the 20+ hours of travel would be appreciated. We are not taking laptops/kindles/etc., but we will have iPhones/iPods/books and I am planning on sleeping as much as possible. Is that reasonable? Is there something else I should think of?

I'm super excited for this trip and with your help (hinthint) it could be great.
posted by Flamingo to Travel & Transportation around India (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can only answer E here.

For long trips on a plane there are a few issues:

1. While you might like to sleep the whole way, this is not really possible. But I guess you know this already. For when you do want to sleep, take along a few Benadryl tablets or their cheaper version. Depending upon your drugstore of choice they are usually named (store name)-dryl. They are all diphenhydramine. 25 to 50 milligrams are what you need. I prefer the liquid caps, YMMV. They are used for allergies but can be used as a safe sleep aid. They will make you drowsy when you wish to sleep.

2. Get a bottle of 10 milligram melatonin pills from a drug store or health food shop. You can actually take one of these instead of the Benadryl. Or even take both together. This is what I use for a good night's sleep. As well it seems to help with jet lag. Remember that melatonin takes a while to kick in. This is anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. YMMV.

3. And I can not stress this enough. Get a supply of soft foam earplugs. Once your ears have been acclimated to the cabin pressure change, put them in. Then you can ignore the crying babies, snoring seatmates and various sounds of the plane. Remember to explain to the flight attendant that you are putting in earplugs so that they might give you a gentle tap to warn you of important announcements and landing. Most experienced long distance travelers use them, so this is normal for them.

4. Whenever possible get up and walk around. Usually to the restroom and back. These days the times that you can actually do this seem to be very limited, so do it when you can. it helps with the blood circulation in your legs. And that is very important.

5. Drink a lot of water prior to your flight. Drink nothing but water or juice on the plane. The atmosphere in a plane is very dry. A large part of jet lag is dehydration. Of course a lot of fluids means a few bathroom trips. But on an intercontinental flight this shouldn't be an issue. Just try not to make it an incontinent flight. :-) BTW Benadryl is a diuretic so keep that in mind. Just don't drink alcoholic beverages. That just won't fly.

Good luck.
posted by Splunge at 9:11 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Re melatonin and Benadryl: make sure you try them at home, first. Some people get more alert, not less, on Benadryl, and some people don't like melatonin.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:14 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Briefly (I am a younger female who has a high tolerance for risk and adventure)--

a) socks. I have never heard of this. The local people have skin exposed all the time. If you are taking antimalarial medication, you'll be fine. If you aren't and you don't go hang out in swamps, you'll be fine (imho). This isn't the tropics and I believe it is winter in Delhi now, anyway. Feel free to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts--that will work out well in terms of modesty and it might be chilly enough for it--but I don't know that you have to worry about tropical-style mosquito risk. *However*, I would defer to your medical practitioner on this. They have maps of the risk zones. (You are going to or have gone to see a travel doctor?)

b) shoes. Sure, those are fine.

c) chai. I didn't have a problem with this. This should be hot, boiling water, so I think that gets rid of most of the bad stuff.

d) lady alone. I am not reading that link you posted and want to say I think you'll be fine. DO be careful (smart careful, not paranoid), read up on cultural norms, cover your skin appropriately (pants/skirt at least to calves, ideally to ankles; don't expose your shoulders; not too tight; not too much skin in general but a t-shirt is fine), and know where you are going and how to get there in case Plan A doesn't work out. Read the tips on women's traveling blogs/websites and IndiaMike so you know things like how to ask for help from a family or another woman rather than a man. I think you will be safe in New Delhi if you aren't foolish. Reading up on it can help a lot. Don't go with anyone you didn't approach and do listen to your instincts. Speak up if you think someone is taking advantage of you.

If in doubt, go to Connaught Place and hang out around the stores all day. There's also a coffee shop.

e) long long flights. My tactic is to NOT sleep as long as possible before the flight, and then to sleep/watch the inflight movies during the flight. Make sure to move your muscles once in a while.

unsolicited f) learn some Hindi so you can communicate with people. bring kleenex or baby wipes because you don't know about the toilet paper situation (and using the cup every time might not be ideal...). and have an open mind! have fun!
posted by ramenopres at 9:41 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


A) If you are taking your malaria medication and using insect repellant you will be fine. We never did this. We always wore pants, but we never tucked our pants into our socks.

B) I can't see any reason why those shoes wouldn't be fine as long as the soles are good. Streets and roads in India have a huge degree of variance and so you want shoes with good soles, otherwise you may have problems. So even sidewalks often have large cracks, debris, and other impediments. You need shoes with good soles.

C) There are lots of places in India that make their drinks from purified water. It is OK to ask about it. So just make sure that they are making the tea with purified water and you should be fine. We often drank locally made drinks, but only from places that used purified water.

D) My sister did exactly what you are describing and she was fine. She had to travel alone a couple of times during our trip because of a different itinerary and she was always fine. If you get a cab from the airport you should not have anything to worry about.
posted by bove at 9:44 PM on December 13, 2012


B) Get some good comfortable shoes. My feet swelled up on the flight (I should have taken them off! when on the plane) and I ended up getting horrible blisters on my big toes even though I walk for miles all the time.

C) I doubt these wands would work in an opaque beverage.

E) Take off your shoes, stay away from caffeine and alcohol, drink a lot of water. walk around.


I ended up taking Malaria prophylactic (Larium) for my trip to india. Are you looking into that? It makes some people crazy though.

Bring a sun hat! Also prepare for both cold and hot if you can (esp in Rajasthan if you are planning on camping out)
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:45 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A. You'll be in a fairly dry area and it won't be particularly warm at night (particularly in Rajasthan, depending on where you go). I personally wouldn't be concerned about mosquitoes unless you travel to wet areas (which, by the sounds of it, you're not). I wore open-toe, Birkenstock style shoes throughout my travels in India and never had a problem. I only put on closed-toe shoes when I went trekking, and I didn't worry about tucking in my socks. (Whereas I usually get eaten alive during humid summers in Canada.)

B. Wear any shoes you like, but make sure they are extremely comfortable and can handle daily long walks for the duration of your trip. Don't anticipate trying to buy new ultra-comfy walking shoes in India if yours fail. (You might eventually find them, but it won't be easy, depending on which major cities you're in.)

C. I'm not sure about street vendor chai, but if you're worried about that, you can always get local chai from a restaurant chain such as Haldiram's -- they use filtered water. There's one in Connaught Place in Delhi.

D. If you're staying at a fancy hotel, they'll be able to assist you in traveling safely from one place to another. You should be safe in Delhi as long as you aren't traveling alone at night. Stay in the hotel at night.

E. Depending on your airline, their might be a good collection of subtitled Bollywood (and non Bolly) films -- so you might entertain yourself that way. Earplugs are handy in case of loud people/kids. If you're traveling in a group, you'll have others to chat with. Perhaps take a novel set in one of the cities you're visiting? Be sure to get up and walk around, stretch every once in a while.

Have fun and a safe trip!
posted by mayurasana at 9:49 PM on December 13, 2012


I'm going to preface my answers to your questions by saying that I spent two months backpacking all over India around the same time of year you're going. I am a woman, and I was traveling alone.

OK.

A) Huh? I have never heard of this. I mostly didn't wear socks in India. In fact, I'm not 100% sure I packed any, and when I decided to spend part of my trip in the Himalayas (where it gets quite cold in the winter), I ended up borrowing a few extra pairs from other travelers. I got by in open toed sandals and no socks just fine.

B) Your shoe plan sounds fine. I packed a pair of slip-on Converse sneakers, sort of like Toms before Toms were around, as well as a pair of flip flops. I also ended up picking up a cute pair of painted leather sandals along the way, and I think I left the Converses behind when I came home because they were looking pretty sad and I needed the room in my luggage for all the pretties I'd picked up in my travels.

C) Duh, of course chai. Indian tea is boiled quite a bit more furiously than Western tea, and I absolutely wouldn't give it a thought. In fact, I didn't give it a thought, and I'm still here, typing this, in possession of all my major organs and no worse for wear. In fact, in general -- with a few caveats -- I would eat almost any street food you encounter. Here are the caveats:

1. In India I mostly ate vegetarian. This is very easy to do since many Indians are vegetarian, many local cuisines are vegetarian focused, and many restaurants don't even serve meat. I'm not sure I'd eat non-veg street snacks.

2. Be aware of how the food is being presented and prepared. If it's a busy street stall with a lot of turnover, and they're pulling things straight out of the frying oil to serve them to you, that's great! If it's a deserted area and the food looks old or cold or flyblown, obviously don't go for that.

3. No cut fruit or anything raw. Cut fruit especially is often doused with untreated tap water to keep it looking fresh in the hot sun. No no no. Also no salads in restaurants. Even western style restaurants!

D) I really had no problems traveling as a woman alone in India. There were things I had to be more careful about than a man would (dressing modestly, not going out alone late at night, being careful about drinking and other substances that tend to be available in backpacker circles), and I found myself inventing fake husbands as needed. "Oh, my husband is waiting for me at this particular hotel, so you have to take me there and not your cousin's hotel." "Oh, my husband is waiting for me inside the restaurant..." And a few less savory situations. Frankly, I found that I was better off on my own as a white woman than traveling in a pack of other white female tourists. A gang of white girls attracts a lot of attention from touts and beggars and other annoying folks like that. On my own, people typically assumed I was an expat, or once or twice, actually Indian.

E) A really good page-turner of a book. Something you can't put down. For me, it was The Kite Runner. Did I openly sob in front of a few fellow passengers? Yes. Did it make the flight seem a lot shorter? Yes, it did.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


One thing to add -- I wouldn't worry too much about mosquitos and malaria at the time of year you're going. Take precautions, of course, but no need to do anything silly like tuck your pants into your socks.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 PM on December 13, 2012


Aaaand another another thing, re drinks and purified water. I sort of forgot about this and just drank whatever and was fine. I might have been lucky. It might have been that I mostly drank chai and beer and bottled water and soda for the first week or so and got acclimated, then suddenly it was all lassi all the time and my system had adjusted. Or maybe I just had cold drinks from places that use purified water for their ice and never thought much about it. In general I am more lenient than a lot of other people on food and drink issues.

Certainly do not freak out about, like, a drop of water on the edge of a glass, or whether your straw has been reused, or any of the rest of it. You'll drive yourself crazy. India is not a terrifically sanitized place. If you have big concerns about that, you probably should pick another country to visit.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on December 13, 2012


http://www.wanderingearl.com/

Worth a peak I would think.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:14 PM on December 13, 2012


Hey there, blonde Western lady who lived alone in India when she was 19/returned to travel alone at age 22. Totally can be done! You'll have a great time. Anyway, here's what seemed to work for me.....

And feel free to message me with any other questions, happy to help!

1. Tucking your socks into your shoes is silly and people will make fun of you. Don't do that. Apply bug repellant on your ankles instead.

2. Sure, boat shoes are fine. The main thing to remember is that walking in India is sometimes fraught with excitement and you want to be able to maneuver quickly and avoid tripping. But there's really no hard and fast rule. And I'm not a fan of Western tourists looking dressed for safari in stylish cities like Delhi, so don't worry about the adventure-graded hunting boots. You'll stand out more, not less...and it's a little insulting.

Sewers in India run under the sidewalks, and there are often holes in the sidewalks that drop straight into unimaginable horror. Watch out for the holes. This eventually becomes second nature.

3. Drink the local chai! It's been boiled. Eat the local food! (If it's hot and the restaurant is popular!) I actually had very little fell stomach complaints when I was in India.

I do appear to have remarkable gastrointestinal fortitude, but I also ate street food, ate fruit, ate at small local restaurants, and occasionally even drank the water when desperate.

Not suggesting you follow my example, but I survived all this poor-judgement. Use your instincts, try to stick with hot food, and try not to worry about it too much.

I currently live in Cambodia and have traveled in many third-world countries: all my most heinous, kill-me-now food poisoning bouts occurred...back home in California or in New Orleans. You just never know.

4. I've done the taxi in from the airport in Delhi thing many times and have never had a problem. Just don't get ripped off: get a pre-paid taxi into town and pretend the touts don't exist. Generally, the best way I've found to deal with touts is to pretend they're not there. They get the message eventually.

Walking around Old Delhi as a Western female can be incredibly challenging, I will say, but the diplomatic areas of town are much easier to deal with. Lodhi Gardens contains ancient tombs, is in a nice part of town, and is a good place to stroll. The Khan Market complex nearby has upscale restaurants and shops and is a good place to escape the general chaos of Delhi.

I would advise as a woman in India, try to bring out your cold-hearted bitch side. You don't have to be cruel to people—that's not what this means—but you have no obligation to give anyone your time, attention, or affection. Look right through people who are being rude to you or giving you the hard-sell, don't respond to people who demand your attention, and don't be afraid to smack a guy or scream obscenities if he gropes you or attempts to do so.

I think many Western women who have issues in northern India are acculturated to be nice to people under any circumstance, and this doesn't quite apply in India—in India, a strange man talking to you in a flirtatious manner on the street has already sorely disrespected you, in most cultural contexts—and he knows it. (Or this is what my aristocratic Indian auntie told me, anyway).

Don't give him the time of day unless you want to. And if you do want to...just be careful!

5. As for long flights, I swear by Xanax and in-flight cocktails, but your mileage may vary. I find it hard to stay conscious on planes. Seconded with Kindle or Ipad. I like bringing my own neck-pillow and a warm coat or jacket as well—I'm always freezing in airplanes.

6. Oh, and avoid the bhang lassi. Sometimes that ends poorly. (Milkshake with marijuana in it).
posted by cheberet at 10:22 PM on December 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


try to bring out your cold-hearted bitch side.

Yes! This!

Also look out for NRI aunties. They speak English and always want to help you. Sometimes to excess.

I also feel like there are a lot of cultural miscommunications that happen because staring is not taboo in Indian culture in the way that is is in the West. And street life can be overwhelmingly male. Which means that you're going to have men standing around openly staring at you as you go about your business. It's easy to confuse this with a sort of low-grade street harassment, as it would be in the west. I guess it's possible that these dudes are undressing you with their eyes, but chances are they're just staring because they don't see a lot of white people. Women will stare at you, too.

I was once on an overnight train in sleeper class with a compartment full of dudes who stared at me the entire time. At first it was really unnerving, but I got over it eventually. It turned out they were all really nice and respectful guys. They just didn't really speak English and had no idea what to do about the fact that there was a foreign woman in their train compartment.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, the aunties will want to help you...and may appoint themselves as your chaperone! Which is actually very amusing and interesting in the right circumstance.

The staring is at times an issue. Generally, I can tell the difference between a "What the heck?" stare and a "I am undressing you with my eyes" stare.

The main problem I had was random guys taking photos of me with their cellphones. Amusing at first, maddening after a while. I started asking them for 10 rupees a shot which seemed to work most of the time.
posted by cheberet at 11:02 PM on December 13, 2012


When people wanted to take a picture of me I would ask if I could take one of them in return!

"don't be afraid to smack a guy or scream obscenities if he gropes you or attempts to do so" This is right. If someone is doing something disrespectful to you, remember that they know it is wrong and their mothers brought them up to know better (and you can say something like this to them, like, "Would you do this to your sister?!"). Make some noise and don't be afraid to grab them back (I mean just grab their hand and dig your nails in or whatever) or carry a safety pin if things are just not working well for you. Learn to walk defensively in a crowd. Use your "I'm a badass" face and "oh yeah?" posture and just be confident. ... but don't go around by yourself at night, as others have mentioned.

Maybe take some time when you first get there to just observe how people act and interact. For example, the staring can seem different until you realize so many people do it. When I got back to the US I caught myself just openly staring at folks and had to relearn not to do it.
posted by ramenopres at 12:42 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rajasthan at night at this time of the year will be cold. Carry mosquito repellent cream or you can purchase ODOMOS brand anything but I don't recall any - I have done work at a rural location in Sawai Madhopur district at least twice in winter.

There is no central heating. So keep that in mind when you look at temperature charts. The daytime sun might be a fine spring day but you will need winter woollies once dusk falls.

Hotel in Delhi alone as a woman. Suggest you have room service for dinner but that's just me. The only caveat is I wouldn't wander around delhi after dark alone as a woman. When I used to work there, we had a company vehicle that dropped women home if we had to work late or it was winter as darkness falls early.
posted by infini at 1:47 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think many Western women who have issues in northern India are acculturated to be nice to people under any circumstance, and this doesn't quite apply in India—in India, a strange man talking to you in a flirtatious manner on the street has already sorely disrespected you, in most cultural contexts—and he knows it. (Or this is what my aristocratic Indian auntie told me, anyway).

I concur ~ Sara C's aristocratic NRI auntie :p
posted by infini at 1:50 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which hotel btw or the street name if you don't want to share that here. Can give you an idea of the neighbourhood.
posted by infini at 1:53 AM on December 14, 2012


Great suggestions already. I'd like to push back on the shoes. Especially with a backpack you'll want a sturdier shoe with more support. Lightweight hiking shoes are best, and coincidentally easier to tuck pants into if you decide that makes sense.

Don't forget the earplugs! No matter how eager you are for this experience your senses will be overwhelmed. You can close your eyes but your ears will need some protection. You'll be glad for them on the plane even if you're not near a crying baby the whole flight, which does happen. The shiny plugs can be worn for just a few hours as they don't allow moisture to escape. The 3M, rectangular-looking type are best, and you can wear each set twice before tossing. Take at least one pair for every day of travel to allow for droppage and keep them close as you never know when you might need them. I wouldn't feel at all shy about taking some of the corded ones to keep handy around my neck for bus rides.
posted by R2WeTwo at 3:32 AM on December 14, 2012


Everyone's advice so far has been point on, so I won't bore you here.

I will add this though, be careful while you are alone. Thankfully it's a short amount of time and you're essentially just going to your hotel until everyone else arrives. There are a lot of scams though out there, especially in New Delhi. I was there, alone, back in August for 3 weeks, and by the time I was finished with my trip I hated India.

The rickshaw drivers are very clever. Make sure you call ahead to your hotel and have them send a rickshaw driver or taxi. Or be very confident with your directions and map out the route beforehand. Drivers sometimes will take you to another hotel that is their friends or relatives and mention "oh the place you are talking about has recently burned down". Just be careful!

I arrived in the New Delhi airport and got a prepaid taxi at night. It was fine although I was a bit scared. My driver picked up a man once we got to the tollbooth, which I heard this is a huge no no! So if someone gets in you car with you tell them to stop and get them out.

Make sure you watch your pockets/purse, etc very carefully. While I was crossing the street at the Red Fort a little kid stuck his hand in my pocket. I would carry a money belt and stick it inside your pants. Don't carry an abnormal amount of cash either.

Be prepared for people (especially men) to stare and make comments. I felt when I was alone I needed to wear sunglasses to avoid eye contact with them. I had to put my bitch face on, but it worked! People were less likely to hassle me and if I thought they were I would make a stink about it and felt I got respected.

Overall though India was an eye opening experience. There's no way to describe it. The amount of poverty is very saddening and was the one thing I just could never get used to. People are literally living/sleeping/eating everywhere. They have mattresses out in the street, curled up on the side of the road, or defecating.

Have fun though. Jaipur was one of my favorite places. And do try to hit the Taj Mahal. :)
posted by melizabeth at 6:38 AM on December 14, 2012


Everyone else has answered most of the pressing questions, but I have some tips for that day in Delhi:

If you're uneasy about being alone, don't travel by auto-rickshaw! Seriously, autos can be stressful to a first-time traveler in India - in Delhi, you'll need to bargain (no one goes by the meter, or at least they didn't when I last lived there -- I moved back to the US two years ago. In fact, if that ever changes in Delhi, I will fall over, I will be so shocked). Instead, just skip the autos and get the hotel to call you a radio cab. Much easier. Metered, AC (not that you'll need it - Delhi can get cooooool in the winter), clean, enclosed (i.e., safer), with an English-speaking driver. (They aren't cheap, but they're cheaper than cabs in U.S. cities. For one day, it's a good idea. I remember hiring them for half days for Rs 700 or about $16, back then.)

Where are you staying in Delhi? If possible, stay in a guesthouse in south Delhi - Defense Colony, Kailash Colony, or Sundar Nagar if you want to stay relatively central (to Connaught Place and the metro). Staying in Old Delhi, as so many tourists do, is (IMO) one reason why so many of them get sick and overwhelmed right from the get-go. South Delhi is a little calmer, the neighborhoods I listed are full of expats (so you won't stand out), and it's actually the OLDEST part of the city (older, yes, than Old Delhi) -- thus it's littered with cool abandoned mosques and ruins from seven or eight hundred years ago.

If you want to start out your holiday with a gentle solo day of adventure, I'd further suggest that you save the Red Fort and other old city attractions for when your friends show up, and instead check out some places off the tourists' beaten track (but decidedly ON the track of folks who live in Delhi). Go to Hauz Khas village! Check out the (wonderful, mostly intact) ruins of a centuries-old madrasa (you can get several glimpses of it here in this perfectly delightful snippet from a Hindi film song. The complex has become a really interesting shopping, socializing, and art destination in the last few years for the more bohemian and creative sorts in (upper-middle-class) Delhi. You'll feel quite comfortable exploring the madrassah, eating alone at one of the awesome restaurants (if Gunpowder is still around, that was a major favorite back in 2010), and browsing the cool, quirky shops (the antique store with all the old Hindi film posters is my personal fave).
posted by artemisia at 8:15 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I'm not a fan of Western tourists looking dressed for safari in stylish cities like Delhi, so don't worry about the adventure-graded hunting boots. You'll stand out more, not less...and it's a little insulting.

Everyone else has given great advice, but I want to highlight this point especially. I am American-born but with family in Delhi and Calcutta and have spent time in both cities. I think the Toms or the Sperrys are a great idea for walking and quick maneuvering. They are sturdy and lightweight, which is ideal for the kind of traveling you are doing. Please please please don't wear hiking boots. You will be uncomfortable, you won't be able to move quickly, and you will absolutely stand out as a Tourist in a city like Delhi wearing them, which will make you an easy mark for pickpockets who are looking for easy marks. And it is insulting. You're going to be in a metropolitan city and then traveling through Rajasthan...not trekking through the jungle or wading through piles of muck.

Seconding Connaught Place if you want somewhere to hang out in Delhi for the day that's a pretty innocuous spot for a solo female.

Also please go check out the Qutb Minar while in Delhi. Absolutely gorgeous.
posted by thereemix at 8:23 AM on December 14, 2012


Seconding Connaught Place if you want somewhere to hang out in Delhi for the day that's a pretty innocuous spot for a solo female.

Last time I got groped in CP because I'd been in Finland too long and forgotten how to walk with a shielded body language...fwiw.
posted by infini at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2012


I'm Indian, and lived in Delhi for two years. To answer your questions:

A. I live in the south, mosquito heaven, and I have never, ever heard of this. You will look ridiculous. Take your anti-malarials, glop on mosquito repellant (I like Odomos, the gel rather than the cream, it smells waaay better) and you're good to go.

B. In all honesty, I would recommend sneakers or other thick-soled shoes. Indian roads are not like roads in the west, even the paved ones have all kinds of bumps and dips and sidewalks are non-existent. Plus you'll be on your feet way too much to compromise on shoes. No hiking boots, though. Since winter in Delhi can be quite cold (3 C was the lowest when I was there, which is pretty near freezing) I would definitely recommend a pair of sturdy, stylish boots. Oh, and since I'm on the subject of clothes.

DO NOT BE THOSE TOURISTS IN SHORTS AND TANK TOPS. No, really. I see it all the time, and it makes me roll my eyes. Pants and not-very-fitted shirts, please, or long skirts or dresses that hit below the knee. You will get stared at (and as mentioned above, it's not always with bad intentions) but this will at least prevent some of the more lecherous ones.

C. You'll be fine with chai as long as you don't go about buying it from a random street vender. Almost all restaurants that aren't complete cockroach havens use filtered water- check before you order. Aquaguard or bubbletop is the term you need to check for. On preview, the advice about street food is spot on.

D. Oh, for... I promise you, you will not be grabbed by the hair the moment you step off the plane and dragged off to parts unknown to be raped, chopped up and dumped in a ditch. That said, use common sense. Always stay in well-lit, populated areas, practise bitch-face, and do not hesitate to yell and scream and cause a fuss if you are harassed. As mentioned above, finding a nice Aunty for a chaperone is an excellent idea. As mentioned above, Connaught Place will be fun but cold, or for someplace quieter, check if the National Museum or one of the National Art Galleries is open.

Also, yes, cab to the hotel from the airport is a good idea, as is using cabs arranged by the hotel to get around versus any kind of public transport. Also, definitely recommend staying in your room at night. Ordering room service rather and watching a Bollywood movie might be a nice way to wind down.

E. Definitely sleep as much as possible, it'll help deal with the massive jetlag. (Melatonin helps.) Also, have you considered perhaps loading up some books about India? I love In Spite of the Gods by Peter Luce, which is a fantastic book about India in all its contrary crazy awesomeness. Mark Tully, erstwhile BBC correspondent to India, has some great stuff as well. If you're looking at fiction, I love The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (which, bonus, is set in Delhi!) Other tips... be sure to stay well hydrated, plane trips dry you out like whoa, and get up every so often and stretch. Your back/legs will thank you. Also, take an inflatable pillow and shawl/blanket, that way you don't have to wonder if they're properly laundered the one they give you. Earplugs and a sleep mask help as well.

I think that's about it, basically. Don't worry too much- we're a pretty friendly bunch, and the saying 'Athihi Devo Bhava' (A guest is like God) exists for a reason. Bon voyage, and have an absolutely fabulous time!
posted by Tamanna at 9:18 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


E OMG I forgot about E... If you're arriving from the US, you will spend that day sleeping off massive jetlag. And a good thing too, before the rest of your group arrives.
posted by infini at 9:24 AM on December 14, 2012


FWIW I did Delhi after dark with no problem. Though I think it depends where you're staying. There are some perks to being in the backpacker ghetto of Paharganj, and one is that it's mobbed with people until late into the night. Also, again, this is one of those situations where you want to be aware of mind-altering substances (whether alcohol or otherwise) you or others might be consuming. Getting home in an auto-rickshaw at 11pm sober = fine. Trying to navigate a city like Delhi wasted in the wee hours = not OK.

(Another FWIW -- I never had to slap or scream or "would you do this to your sister" or anything. Never got groped or touched or harassed in any way. I know that this probably makes me an exception, but I actually do think it's much more rare than the Women Traveling Alone literature makes it sound. In general, be relaxed and open and don't worry too much about being sexually harassed. I'm not saying you shouldn't be aware of it as a thing that can happen, but don't let it cloud your feelings about Indians in general.)

Keep in mind, too, that with a few exceptions, bars are typically a male-only space. Which is one reason that it's better to turn in early. Most of the things to do late into the night in the West either don't exist or aren't woman-friendly at all.
posted by Sara C. at 9:35 AM on December 14, 2012


Sara C pretty much nailed it, but I wanted to emphasize raising your voice if you don't like how a man is treating you. I was an exchange student in India (ok, 25 years ago), traveled all over the country by train and bus alone. Twice I was sexually harassed by a man on the train. Both times, the second I raised my voice, other men on the train surrounded the man who was bothering me and herded him off, not to be seen again.

I ate street food, drank chai, no problem. Avoid popsicles, obviously (it is easy to forget they are made from unboiled water). When I was in Dehli, I picked up both a light cotton quilt and a wool shawl, both of which made my winter traveling much more pleasant without adding much weight.

Learning numbers in Hindi drops cab prices quite a bit while bargaining.

The vast majority of the people I dealt with were helpful and polite. I did have to get used to things like people standing closer to me than I was used to when talking. But you'll have a great time, don't sweat it.

Oh, and I was given malaria pills in the US, but my first host father had me throw them out. He was a doctor, and was offended at the idea that they'd let me go anywhere there was malaria. He said it was fairly rare. Granted, this was over 25 years ago.
posted by QIbHom at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2012


I will add this though, be careful while you are alone. Thankfully it's a short amount of time and you're essentially just going to your hotel until everyone else arrives. There are a lot of scams though out there, especially in New Delhi. I was there, alone, back in August for 3 weeks, and by the time I was finished with my trip I hated India.

Couldn't disagree with this more.

Seriously, OP, you are going to be just fine on your own for a day in Delhi. I mean, provided you wear clothes and aren't tripping on acid or anything.

People are going to walk up to you and ask you for things (beggars), try to get you things you don't want (touts), and just in general you're going to attract more attention on the street. This is annoying. But it is not dangerous, and as long as you remember that these people don't expect anything from you and are not entitled to anything from you, you will be fine.

Do scams exist? Sure, scams exist. Like anywhere. Watch out for people offering you things that are too good to be true. Watch out for strangers who offer to cut you in on business deals. You know, the stuff that would seem like an obvious scam back home.

I'm frankly a little upset and disturbed by all the folks acting as if walking around unaccompanied as a woman in Delhi is a dangerous thing to do. Because it's not. Seriously.

Also, FWIW, the beggars and touts and attracting attention and getting stared at are going to be a thousand times worse when you meet up with your friends and you're traveling around as a group of white people. A day on your own in a major city is actually pretty good preparation for the Beatlemania that's going to ensue when you roll into some remote part of Rajasthan as a posse of backpacking ladies.
posted by Sara C. at 9:47 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm frankly a little upset and disturbed by all the folks acting as if walking around unaccompanied as a woman in Delhi is a dangerous thing to do. Because it's not. Seriously.

Sara C., I was in townships in South AFrica in and around Johannesburg and Cape Town where murders occur in broad daylight for 3 weeks and I had a lovely time, great memories and never an iota of fear or nervousness.

That does not change the fact that that country has some of the world's highest rates of rape and crime, in those very areas.

Eveteasing ftw.

In Delhi, one of India's most dangerous cities for women,[30] the Department of Women and Child Development established a steering committee in 2009 to prepare the city for the Commonwealth Games to be held in 2010.[31]
posted by infini at 10:09 AM on December 14, 2012


Hi. I am Whitey McWhiterson, though not female. I had my first trip to India earlier this year. I was in the south (Tamil Nadu/Pondicherry), not the north, but presumably some of the below generalizes:

1. Mosquitos were the bane of my existence the entire trip. I wore dockers, short-sleeve cotton/linen button-down, and sandals. My feet were a giant mosquito bite the whole time. Heavy slatherings of ODOMOS helped, but if I go again, I'm definitely covering every square inch of skin except face and hands. Note this was the other side of the country at a different time of year, so YMMV.

2. Good soles, as everyone above has said.

3. I have heard that everyone gets sick. Period. (Note that I didn't get sick during a 10-day stay, so this is clearly not 100% true.) I ate plenty of food from a particular street vendor, had no problems. As others have said, look for somebody who's giving you the food straight out of the oil. Also had plenty of street-vendor coffee, no issues. (The whole production of tossing the milk back and forth to cool it? is pretty fun to watch.) I was assured it is okay to ask a restaurant if the water is distilled. I drank coke the whole time, because my first-world self wanted something chilled. My impression was no one expected white people to follow 'the rules.' EG: I got told a couple of times by dining companions that if I weren't a white person, my order would have been refused. (Rice without 'gravy', or vice versa, I forget.)

4. No first-hand experience, but of the several women I've heard talk about their travels in India, I've never heard of anything beside the sort of low grade (but sometimes constant) pestering described above. Note: Rickshaw drivers will rip you off. Shamelessly. Accept this. Or don't.

5. Benadryl. Melatonin. If you have a layover, be on your feet and walking around the whole time. Your sinuses will be screwed. You will be exhausted when you get there.
posted by PMdixon at 10:14 AM on December 14, 2012


Quick clarification, PMdixon, were the women you spoke to other visitors in Pondi or you're speaking from broader experience?

The south is way more respectful of women. I've lived and worked in both Chennai and Delhi.
posted by infini at 10:24 AM on December 14, 2012


My point isn't that this doesn't happen and isn't worth being prepared for.

My point is that it's not dangerous to walk around Delhi in broad daylight as a (foreign) woman. It's just not. Does crime exist? Yes. Is sexual harassment toward women more common in Delhi than in other major cities? Yes. But it's still perfectly safe for OP to spend a day in Delhi alone, in broad daylight, in the nice part of town her hotel is most likely located in or perhaps at a major tourist attraction, or upscale shopping district, or any of the places she is actually likely to go.

Maybe it's my perspective having read all the stuff about Being A White Lady In India before I went. A lot of it -- not statistics on crime against women or rational cautions to be careful, but a lot of it -- strikes me as very alarmist. To a degree that verges on racism.

To bring this back around to meaningful advice for Flamingo -- if you get overwhelmed by the... well, overwhelmingness... of Delhi on your own (and this is good advice when you are in a group, too), museums can be a great way to get away from the crowds and definitely the touts and beggars and general noisiness of Indian street life. Not so much tourist sites/old buildings/temples*, but museums specifically. In fact, finding a nice art or history museum might be a good plan for your first day in India, especially if that first day is going to be on your own.

*In fact I'd specifically recommend against visiting the Red Fort and/or Jama Masjid your first day. Crowded as all hell, and you'll get a lot of middle class domestic tourist guys who want to chat you up, people who inexplicably want to take pictures of you, etc. Which can be a bit much on your first day.
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I chimed in on the thread that has you running scared so you should already know that there are plenty of us ladies who have traveled alone in India, wearing sandals with no socks (only downside to sandals is your feet get really dirty), drinking chai all day long and not getting sick. I used bottled water to drink, but that's it and it's easily available everywhere. I would keep in mind you will probably be doing a lot of walking so bring comfortable shoe with support. There's usually seat back tvs on long haul flights so you can watch movies. I've survived a 30 hour flight with only those TVs. You can spend your time talking, thinking, people watching, reading a guidebook, reading a book set in India... you'll be fine. Have fun!

Mosquito-wise the North is quite cool in the middle of winter and I think you'll be fine in Delhi. I traveled all around Rajasthan and don't remember any mosquito problems.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:40 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agree that Delhi is not necessarily dangerous. Just be watchful. It's not a war-zone. I never really had a problem in Delhi, other than some unwanted attempted touching (which was easy to stop FAST when I got aggressive back, so I didn't see this as a huge deal).

I spent a lot of time roaming around Delhi late at night, albeit with a Indian friend. Maybe not the world's smartest idea, but also never had a problem. We were going to upscale nightclubs in the Defence Colony area which likely made a difference. Would have been less sanguine about late-night exploration in Old Delhi.

And agree that first-timers should NOT stay in Old Delhi. In general, I am vehemently opposed to backpacker ghettos. They tend to bring out all the nastiness and tawdriness in any given destination.

Agree that the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid are a LOT to handle on your first day. I suggest the Qutb Minar, Connaught Place, or Lodhi Gardens for a less intense time.

And yes, I just wear sandals with no socks in India. When in Rome....

*I have written some on the creepy racism behind the warnings about Delicate White Flowers of Ladyhood. Want to write more. It's driven me crazy since I began traveling alone at 18 as a Special Delicate Blonde Flower of Girlhood. Thankfully, my parents (one raised in Asia) never bought into the BS.
posted by cheberet at 7:29 PM on December 14, 2012


I've been thinking about this and also Tamanna's comment - was surprised that she also thought having room service was a better idea, thought it was just me.

Could it be that our own "rules" of what women should and shouldn't do, by themselves, in Delhi, has been heavily influenced by our own upbringing and milieu? As someone said above, their auntie pointed out that men would know just how respectful or not they were being to a woman and our own conditioning is due to this?

There are things which foreigners (or perceived foreigners, as no matter which passport I carry, I'm as Indian as I'll ever be) can say, do or be, especially as women that locals never can or could.

Just fwiw.
posted by infini at 12:18 AM on December 15, 2012


In my experience Indian locals tend to be a lot more protective of visiting foreigners than said foreigners would be of themselves. I don't have any intelligent reasons for why that would be, though I wonder how it compares to what locals would tell tourists in any part of the world.
posted by Sara C. at 9:32 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I came back to see what other people were saying and I've got to say, I'm honestly surprised at the amount of paranoia/fear-mongering going on here.

Is Delhi the safest place in the world for women? No. But is it possible for a single White female traveler to spend a day there without fearing for her life? Absolutely, and it only takes many of the same common sense precautions you would in any strange country where you don't know the language or culture. I wouldn't stay out late and/or get drunk in Delhi... but I wouldn't do it in Amsterdam, either, being as I'm obviously foreign and don't know Dutch. YMM, of course, V.

FWIW, going out after dark to the posher areas of Delhi (Defense Colony, Khan Market) is perfectly doable. I only suggested a night in and room service based on my own experience. After a transcontinental flight (Mumbai -> London -> NYC) and a day of sightseeing, the only thing I wanted to do was veg out with some nice NYC pizza. And Manhattan isn't half as big a culture shock for a Westernized Indian as Delhi would be for a foreigner who's never been. Don't underestimate how important to build periods of rest and relaxation into your visit, or else you'll end your trip more in need of a break than when you started.
posted by Tamanna at 7:47 AM on December 17, 2012


Thanks for all the helpful advice. I've marked a lot of "best answers".

You all have confirmed a lot of my suspicions regarding chai, shoes, and travel tips. We are, of course, taking the necessary precautions for mosquitoes/malaria. We will be traveling as a group of men and women, so there's a lot less worry with eve teasing/groping/what have you. I'm sure I will survive the single day I am there alone; I've lived in cities before and this isn't my first rodeo travel-wise.
posted by Flamingo at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I definitely agree with Tamanna that, if this "on your own" day is going to be your first day in India, you're definitely going to want to make it an early night. Room service and quirky Indian TV sounds about the right speed. Not because of safety, but because the travel can be exhausting and Indian cities themselves can be pretty overwhelming even without 24 hours of international flights.

In fact, I'll confess to spending my first jetlagged night in Mumbai openly weeping at a heartstring-tugging cell phone commercial.

Also, good to hear, Flamingo! It sounds like you have your ducks in a row.
posted by Sara C. at 11:22 AM on December 17, 2012


Should have added-- my "on my own" day is the last day of the trip. I'm sure it will be fine. :)
posted by Flamingo at 12:54 PM on December 18, 2012


Oh, you are going to rock this. No worries. You'll be an old India pro by the last day of the trip.
posted by Sara C. at 2:13 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I answered this previously, which may be relevant :)


E)Long, long flights. Any tips on surviving the 20+ hours of travel would be appreciated. We are not taking laptops/kindles/etc., but we will have iPhones/iPods/books and I am planning on sleeping as much as possible. Is that reasonable? Is there something else I should think of?

Change the timezone on your watch to Indian Standard Time when you board your plan and sleep as per India's time (sleep when it's night in India) so you get out of jet lag quickly.
posted by bbyboi at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2012


Woooo! I made it back safe and sound. All of your tips were very helpful, even if not marked best.

Here's my quick summary:
A) Socks: Tucking pants into socks was completely stupid and no one did it. Also, it was a very, very cold winter so there were basically no mosquitoes. Also also, because it was a very cold winter, I was glad to have a few pairs of socks.

B) Shoes: I wore Toms and low top Converse. These seemed to work just fine. Toms were good for easy removal for mosques/Jain temples. Converse were good for when my Toms got gross/I needed to wear socks.

C) Chai: Was delicious, highly recommended. Did not get sick.

D)LADY ALONE: This one's a little more iffy. It turned out to be fine- I didn't get groped, catcalled (at least in a language I understood), or otherwise harassed. The women (and really, the white people men and women) in our group did get requests for pictures at the larger attractions, but I didn't feel that uncomfortable because we were with our group the entire time.

When I was alone in Delhi, it occurred to me that I was 10.5 hours ahead of EST and my flight time was about 22 hours, so if I had gone missing it wouldn'tve been noticed for about 2 days, which was a little scary. I also don't recommend traveling to a city that is currently having massive protests against rape, because your mom will read the scary news stories and kind of freak out.

Anyway, I stayed in Karol Bagh and traveled to Connaught Place via the women's car (first car) on the metro. (PS- Maybe the nicest metro I've ever seen.) The metro was fine, CP was no problem; the only time I felt 'threatened' or on watch was the walk from my hotel to/from the metro. I didn't go out after dark. All in all, it was fine.

E)Long, long flights: We flew Turkish Air which had a nice in-flight entertainment system and a USB plug for charging. I do wish we had had an iPad or something that would let us dictate our own entertainment. Tried to sleep but it wasn't really fitful. We've been back home for about a week and are just now getting over jet lag.
posted by Flamingo at 12:31 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, one more quick thing. We brought a water purifier wand and never used it. Bottled water was pretty much sold everywhere; of course, you have to check the seal.
posted by Flamingo at 7:19 AM on January 21, 2013


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