Women & Solo Travellers
Reports of sexual assaults against women and girls are on the increase in India, despite tougher punishments being established following the notorious gang rape and murder of a local woman in 2012. There have been several instances of sexual attacks on tourists over the last few years, though it's worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of visits are trouble free.
Unwanted attention from men is a common problem.
- Be prepared to be stared at, it's something you'll simply have to live with, so don't allow it to get the better of you.
- Increased use of smartphones means more and more people taking surreptitious photos of you - again, try not to let it get to you.
- Refrain from returning male stares; this will be considered encouragement.
- Dark glasses, phones, books or electronic tablets are useful props for averting unwanted conversations.
- Wearing a wedding ring and saying you're married, and due to meet your husband shortly, is another way to ward off unwanted interest.
Although in upper/middle-class Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, you'll see local women dressing as they might in New York or London, elsewhere women are dressed traditionally. For travellers, culturally appropriate clothing will help reduce undesirable attention.
- Steer clear of sleeveless tops, shorts, short skirts (ankle-length skirts are recommended) and anything else that, skimpy, see-through, tight-fitting, or reveals too much skin.
- Wearing Indian-style clothes is viewed favourably.
- Draping a dupatta (long scarf) over T-shirts is another good way to avoid stares - it, also handy if you visit a shrine that requires your head to be covered.
- Wearing a salwar kameez (traditional dresslike tunic and trousers) will help you blend in; a smart alternative is a kurta (long shirt) wom over jeans or trousers.
- Avoid going out in public wearing a choli (sari blouse) or a sari petticoat (which some foreign women mistake for a skirt); it, like being half-dressed.
- Aside from at pools, many Indian women wear long shorts and a T-shirt when swimming in public view; it's wise to wear a sarong from the beach to your hotel.
Many female travellers have reported sexual harassment while in India, most commonly lewd comments and groping.
- Women travellers have experienced provocative gestures, jeering, getting 'accidentally' bumped into on the street and being followed.
- Incidents are particularly common at exuberant (and exuded) public events such as the Holi festival. If a crowd is gathering, make yourself scarce or find a safer place overlooking the event so that you're away from wandering hands.
- Women travelling with a male partner will receive less hassle; however, be aware travelling as a couple/with a friend is not a guarantee of safety. Still be careful to avoid crowds or lonely places, even during daylight hours.
The following tips will help you avoid uncomfortable or dangerous situations during your journey:
- Always be aware of your surroundings. If it feels wrong, trust your instincts. Tread with care. Don't be scared, but don't be reckless either.
- Don't accept any drinks, even bottled water from strangers. Don't drink or eat with local men that you don't know: there have been several cases where tourist guides or hotel employees have allegedly drugged foreign women by offering them a drink or food.
- Try always to have a plan of where you're going and what's next. If you haven't a clue, look as if you do.
- After a time of being in the country, you may start to feel safer and relax your guard. Don't stress, but maintain your vigilance.
- Keep conversations with unknown men short - getting involved in an inane conversation with someone you barely know can be misinterpreted.
- If you feel that a guy is encroaching on your space, he probably is. A firm request to keep away may well do the trick, especially if your tone is loud and curt enough to draw the attention of passers-by.
- The silent treatment can also be effective.
- Follow local women's cues and instead of shaking hands say namaste - the traditional, respectful Hindu greeting.
- Avoid wearing expensive-looking jewellery and carrying flashy accessories. y Only go for massage or other treatments with female therapists.
- Female filmgoers will lessen the chances of harassment by going to the cinema with a companion.
- At hotels, keep your door locked, as staff (particularly at budget and midrange p)aces) could knock and walk in without waiting for your permission.
- Don't let anyone you don't know or have just met into your hotel room, even if they work for the tourist company with whom you're travelling and claim it's to discuss an aspect of your trip.
- Avoid wandering alone in ielated areas, even during daylight. Steer clear of gallis (narrow lanes), deserted roads, beaches, ruins and forests.
- In larger towns, smartphone users can download a map so you can track where you are - this way it's easier to avoid getting lost and you can tell if a taxi/rickshaw is taking the wrong road.
- Act confidently in public to avoid looking lost (and thus more vulnerable) consult maps at your hotel (or at a restaurant) rather than on the street.
Taxis & Public Transport
Being female has some advantages; women can usually queue-jump for buses and trains without consequence and on trains there are special ladies-only carriages. There are also women-only waiting rooms at some stations.
- Pre-arrange an airport pick-up from your hotel. This is essential if your flight is scheduled to arrive after dark.
- If travelling after dark, use a recommended, registered taxi service.
- Never hail a taxi in the street or accept a lift from a stranger.
- Avoid taking taxis alone late at night and never agree to have more than one man (the driver) in the car - ignore claims that this islust my brother' etc.
- Delhi and some other cities have licensed prepaid radio cab services such as Easycabs - they're more expensive than the regular prepaid taxis, but promote themselves as being safe, with drivers who have been vetted as part of their recruitment.
- Uber and Ola Taxis are also useful, as the rates are fixed and you get the driver, license plate in advance so you can check it's definitely the right taxi and pass details on to someone else if you want to be on the safe side.
- When taking rickshaws alone, call/text someone, or pretend to, to indicate someone knows where you are.
- Don't organise your travel in such a way that means you're hanging out at bus/train stations or arriving late at night, or even after dark.
- Solo women have reported less hassle by opting for the more expensive classes on trains.
- If you're travelling overnight by train, the best option is the upper outer berth in 2AC; you're out of the way of wandering hands, but surrounded by plenty of other people and not locked in a four-person lAC room (which might only have one other person in it).
- 0n public transport, don't hesitate to return any errant limbs, put an item of luggage between you and others, be vocal (attracting public attention), or simply find a new spot.
Health & Hygiene
Sanitary pads are widely available but tampons are usually restricted to pharmacies in some big cities and tourist towns. Carry additional stock for travel off the beaten track.
Travelling solo in India may be great, because local people are often so friendly, helpful and interested. You're more likely to be 'adopted' by families, especially if you're commuting together on a long rail journey. It's a great opportunity to make friends and get a deeper understanding of local culture. If you're keen to hook up with fellow travellers, tourist hubs such as Delhi, Goa, Rajasthan, Kerala, Manali, McLeod Ganj, Leh, Agra and Varanasi are some popular places to do so.
The most significant issue facing solo travellers is cost.
- Single-room accommodation rates are sometimes not much lower than double rates.
- Some midrange and top-end places don't even offer a single tariff.
- Its always worth trying to negotiate a lower rate for single occupancy.
Most solo travellers experience no major problems in India but, like anywhere else, it, wise to stay on your toes in unfamiliar surroundings.
- Some less honourable souls (locals and travellers alike) view lone tourists as an easy target for theft and sexual assault.
- Single men wandering around isolated areas have been mugged, even during the day.
- You'll save money if you find others to share taxis and autorickshaws, as well as when hiring a car for longer trips.
- Solo bus travellers may be able to get the 'co-pilot' (near the driver) seat on buses, which not only has a good view out front, but is also handy if you've got a big bag.