No matter how many documentaries you see or how many blogs you read:
Nothing prepares you for the culture shock in India.
This is a woman`s perspective on traveling in India.
Chaos, poverty, color, devotion, hospitality, lack of control, spicies, beauty. India is all of these in the same time. Black and white, there are no shades of gray. Everything is extreme. It is a place that I am fascinated to and frustrated of.
And there lies it`s charm.
Unfortunately India is one of the countries with the highest rate of discrimination against women,
They have their goddesses and love and respect their mothers and daughters like no other person.
But gender discrimination is very remarkable, especially against the women of the lowest class of India`s society.
What does it mean to be a woman in India?
Before embarking on the trip, Marco`s grandparents gave us a report from newspaper that explained the hierarchy in India with the title “The Country where animals are better traded than women”: Men, Animals, Women.
It sounded very extreme so I had many prejudices in my head. I knew I had to be prepared to deal with many things in India as a woman.
However, when I arrived there and after talking with many travel girls, I was able to really understand the difference of reality and that what the media is telling us.
I made my experiences in India and developed some habits which helped me and hopefully you (even the guys out there 😉 ) as well.
Here are my most important tips based on a woman`s perspective on traveling in India:
1. Plan and define your route very well
In all the South Asian countries that we have traveled we have almost never planned our route but in India it is totally the opposite. It is essential to plan very well, to have all the information of the route before arriving in the country.
The first place you arrive in India will be the one that will give you the first impression and it won`t be always a good one.
We arrived in Jaipur one of the biggest cities in India, but I have friends who arrived in the south at places like Kerala or Goa and their first contact was calmer and less chaotic.
Once inside the country choose carefully the places to go and how to get to these places. There are certain regions in India that are in constant conflict, have high crime rates or in monsoon season are completely flooded.
Research online about those places where you want to go. Fortunately tourist areas are safe for foreigners but if you plan to go elsewhere because you want to see a more “authentic” India, then do not forget to do your homework.
Learn everything you can about India, the best preparation you will have for this country is mental and once you have read enough about tit remember one thing, reading about it is not the same as living it.
It is not the same to experience it through reading and with the 5 senses of your body.
As I said at the beginning nothing prepares you for the cultural shock.
2. Have an internet connection
When you arrive at the airport, the first thing you should do is to buy is a sim card with internet data, but if you don`t get it there it is very difficult but not impossible to get one later but just a bit tricky as you need passport copies and a letter from your hotel.
Another option is to buy an international card that is more expensive but you avoid all the problem.
You may ask why you should get a sim card.
The reason is, that Uber works perfectly in India (at least in the cities) and you don`t end up getting ripped off by tuktuk drivers or taxis.
3. Be prepared for scams
During your entire trip in India you will meet more than one extremely friendly stranger.
The truth is that many (but not all) have hidden interests and want to earn some money with you (commissions etc.) and want to take advantage of you.
They always approach you with the same question:
“Where you are from?”
At the beginning I answered but I knew they were sellers or wanted to bring me to a shop. But after the first one or two days I started to tell them “Nahi Dhanyawaad.” (no thanks) right away.
The first bad experience was when we got on a shared tuktuk with our big bagpacks and the driver didn`t want to take us with more people.
So we ended with hiring a private one. A few minutes outside the city this tuktuk stopped and we changed to another one of which the driver received half of that what we paid from the first driver. As this wasn`t enough, the new tuktuk driver proceeded to accept more passengers than us.
Not much happened, but I was very upset and I understood that this is normal in India.
4. Learn to tell the half truth
As you travel, you learn to judge between good and bad intentions, you learn to tell half truths and with whom to share information.
Whenever you travel you must be extremely careful with whom you speak and what information you give, never give out your hotel names, dates or details of your itinerary.
If you travel alone they will always ask you “Are you married?” or “Are you traveling alone?”.
Even seeing Marco by my side they asked me if we were together or married.
My recommendation is always to say: Yes, I am married. My husband is around the corner or my husband works in Mumbai.
Consider to use a cheap fake wedding ring.
Many friends of mine did it and they told me that this trick helped them a lot.
5. Be careful how you say something
In the beginning I always said “Nahi Dhanyawaad” (no thanks) with kindness and a smile but after a few days at the markets I did not respond or turn around to look at the person or to returned greetings (of course I greeted little kids or replied to honest approaches).
It is important to know that in India kindness of women can easily confuse men with the message of seduction.
A kind smile or a gentle touch on the arm or on the back can be critical.
Never give them even a small sign that may can be understand that you are interested.
The colder and drier you are the better it is for communication with men.
Although you must remember that this does not mean that you have to be rude or forget your manners.
I met a friend from Germany who told me that she loved to socialize and make friends with the locals but when she came to India and went to the streets everything changed: From her dress, covering herself from the hair to the bottom, her body language, her attidude: She turned into a more serious person.
Always say firmly NO, no matter how kind you are, firm body language is very important to assert your point.
6. Consider traveling with a tour or a group
Traveling in a group will give you a numerical advantage that immediately translates into greater security and confidence.
It does not mean that you can not travel alone, of course you can, but you will face a greater number of situations and experiences that in a group will be easier to carry.
If you do not find a tour or a group try to make friends with other travelers in the hotel or hostel where you are staying, there is always more than one lone traveler who would gladly accept a little company.
There are also Facebook pages (Backpackers & Travelers India) where tourists organize activities.
I also saw many foreigners with local guides.
If you want to feel more comfortable the hotels explain you everything what you need to know about certain places and which scams can occur and how to avoid them so you will be more confident.
But this shouldn`t held you up from traveling solo.
We met a female solo traveler who traveled India for three month without any issue.
Traveling in a group or with a tour is an option when you don`t feel comfortable alone.
7. Choose the appropriate option of trains and buses
As a woman you should also be careful which train and bus you choose.
There are several categories of trains, each with it`s pros and cons.
My recommendation as a foreigner in India is that you go for 2AC or 3AC and choose a upper bed.
These wagons are comfortable and provide security, the first class or 1AC are private compartments where you can lock the cabin from the inside, which is not always very convenient if you are traveling alone. It is true that nobody will bother you, but it is also the perfect place for someone with bad intentions.
The upper beds, especially in 2AC, are ideal because you can close the small curtain that you have and nobody will know who is sleeping there.
If you are in a lower bed you will not only have to attend to the noise and constant movement of passengers in the corridors but also to the curious looks you will receive from the moment you get on the train.
What many people do is also chain their large suitcases to something so if you fall asleep you do not have the worry of knowing if your luggage is safe.
In the case of buses try not to take local buses, they are very full, they stop everywhere to get more passengers and they are not a good experience when it is very hot.
If you ask at your hotel they will help you plan or contact the private buses (called Volvo buses) and if you are not a backpacker with a low budget, you can even get private driver.
Do not forget that for short distances you have Uber, which is cheaper and more reliable than tuktuks.
And something very important, try not to arrive at a place in the night.
I have a friend, her train was delayed and arrived very late at the train station and she felt really uncomfortable there.
8. Get ready for the photo and selfie requests
All tourists are the center of attention, everyone wants to take a picture with you like you are a celebrity.
In the beginning we always said yes, after a while it becomes annoying. Especially when people start taking pictures without your permission.
You can see clearly how many Indians with professional cameras will point directly at you, it feels like the zoom of the camera lens almost touches your face.
At the moment you accept a selfie request you will have 10 or 20 more people around you wanting to take one with you as well.
My recommendation here is that you do what you feel comfortable with.
I saw that all the girls who were traveling alone said “no” because they do not like getting selfies taken with a stranger.
You must remember that many Indians have never left the country, and seeing you is like watching the actresses who they only see on television, so you have to take it easy.
I mostly (but not always) accepted women`s and children`s requests but with men only when I felt comfortable.
9. Adequate dress
Did you know that in the most traditional parts of India a couple never sees each other naked? No matter how many years of marriage, the don`t, even when they have sexy time.
The naked body is a taboo so you must learn how to dress.
The dress of the traditional woman in India is a Saree. It consists of a top that covers the shoulders and chest but leaves the stomach uncovered. A long fabric covers the shoulders, part of the stomach and is entangled in the legs in shape of dress.
I recommend you wear something that covers as much as possible. Even something for the hair no matter how hot it is.
I suggest you to make this sacrifice to not attract attention and in favor of your peace during the trip . I exposed my shoulders just for the photos.
10. The uncomfortable looks
The constant intense glances by the men who pass by your side can become uncomfortable.
I had never met people as curious as Indians and if you mix that curiosity with a lack of recognizing the personal space of other people what you have is a non pleasant mix, especially as a woman.
You must have a lot of temper and tolerance to be able to carry the curious looks.
After a while you will get used to it and you will not give it importance, but at the beginning it can become disconcerting and very uncomfortable.
In conclusion, get ready and just ignore them.
So should you go to India?
If you are a careless person and you are not alert, it is very likely that no matter where you are in the world, you will always be at risk.
India is not a dangerous place, but it can be a very uncomfortable place to travel, especially if you are not prepared.
It is not like South East Asiati where you can walk alone at night. You have to be careful as in any place not to be outside until late, not to drink drinks offered by strangers etc.
Your best tool in a trip to India will be common sense and your instinct,
Sometimes you will have to act only by instinct and if it tells you to get out of that situation, don`t think twice.
But if it tells you it’s okay then there’s nothing wrong with trying, as long as it’s within a reason.
I remind you once again that India is a country of extremes and extremely chaotic.
But that does not deceive you because it`s people, who are not trying to take money from you, are extremely kind, affectionate and love receiving foreigners.
Eventually you will notice and you can not do anything but fall in love with India, its people and realize that it is safe.
So, is it safe for a woman to travel to India? Definitely yes.
Here are the opinions of two of my female friends who traveled solo in India:
Indians have a huge population so personal space is not valued the way we value it. Pushing people and cutting line is quite normal. After a few days I started pushing people too or I would never get anywhere.
I made sure I was never by myself on the streets at night time as precaution. And covered up to avoid unwanted attention. Also I was careful not to trust all the locals and not to believe everything that they say.
Traveling with a guy does make things more relaxed. I always told people I was married and meeting my husband.
Traveling alone is also fine but you just have to be smart about it.
That`s how I felt anyway but everybody has different experience I have spoken to.
I think listening to India everybody feels a bit intrigue, emotion and certain fear at the same time.
You hear and read so many thing that you don`t know what to expect.
The only truth is that India is worth everything.
In the duality that exists between harmony and chaos you learn a lot.
It is the most colorful country I have trodden.
If you can see it at the Divali festival, it`s the best. So many days of light and ceremonies, it becomes unforgettable.
India should be on everyone`s list, it`s definitely from another world.
Would you like to have more tips for India?
If yes, have a look at our India category.