Having travelled solo for more than ten years in India, with not more than two uncomfortable encounters as a woman traveller, I think it would be reasonably safe to say that I might have reasonably hacked the safety angle. And if you noticed how the title of this piece has a “(And Men)” plugged in, well that’s deliberate – for extra emphasis on every traveller’s safety, not just women. Yes, the news of rapes, harassment, scams and theft are alarming as they are embarrassing for us Indian travellers, I would most certainly not flick India off of the plan. It is, by all means, one of the most vibrant, intriguing, culturally rich and ridiculously beautiful countries! And if you have done this, well, you have the right to call yourself a seasoned traveller.
Basic Rule: India is just as menacing as any other new destination. Use the same filters as you would in any place, even your own country.
Trust – Don’t start in panic mode. With all your essentials, pack in an extra dose of trust. If it one is too guarded about the smallest things, you will never have the time to catch the small nuances. With that, goes the perfect amount of instinct and you are all set.
Cabs – While hiring a cab, keep in mind that sitting at the back naturally forms a distinction with the driver, whereas sitting in the front seat has heaps of benefits. One forms a bond with the driver immediately, conversations flow easily, you can see the road ahead better and you can swing your seat back further and relax. More than anything, it establishes an equal status with the driver, who will possibly appreciate this and take it upon himself to keep you safe.
For contact numbers of cab drivers in different cities read this link.
Hotels – While being reckless and spontaneous is great, if you arriving in the dead of the night, or way too early in a city, then book ahead. Thanks to brilliant reviews on multiple sites, you can narrow down on a reasonable choice. (Keep expectations low – photographs can be tricky). Many hotels in India’s smaller towns are nervous about getting solo travellers to check in at odd hours unless you have spoken to them before. Do the quick checklist before snoring away. Lockable door, no one hiding in the cupboard – that’s all. What’s with people checking for cameras? That’s more than just bizarre!
Being Curious – Indians are a curious bunch! They want to know the why, who, what, where and whether or not of your entire life. Sound suggestion – share it! You are never going to meet these people again and you would have created this tenacious bond over life matters. Also, be curious. Ask them about marriage, children, financial status and anything that is otherwise intrusive. Heck, go for a meal to their place. People love to share. Once you have had a meal at someone’s place, its unlikely that they will harm you in any way.
Dressing – Throwing caution to the winds and arriving in Varanasi in shorts did no good to anyone! More than proving a point fight the clammy heat in India and respect the sentiments. Cities are widely different than smaller towns. I once had a woman laugh at my trekking pants because the waterproof zippers looked strange to her. And mere laughing is great, but the same people can take offence to showing extra skin. Crop pants, pajamas, a scarf, comfy tees with sleeves should be in your bag when you head out to smaller towns and villages. By dressing controversially in the eyes of the locals, you may be sending out a wrong signal. While, in no way is that okay for someone to harass you, its better to be cautious.
Walking at night – Don’t go or do anything that you wouldn’t do in your own country. This means, catching a short cut, a dark alley or a stranger to walk you home. Even men! It’s just putting yourself in a vulnerable spot. Hiring an auto/cab for the whole day works well. If you have spent ample time with the driver, then it’s likely he will take ownership of your safety!
Ditch the pepper spray and follow these basic guidelines to have a safe and exciting trip in India. And keep us posted of your experiences.