by Radhika Sharma
As I sit here in the Delhi International Airport and see foreign women running frantically to catch their respective flights, I wonder to myself, ‘Did they have a good time here?’
‘What do they think of us Indians now?’ Did they enjoy their solo trip to India?
India is a beautiful country and rich in culture. It is so diverse that it feels like a bunch of different countries are amalgamated together as one.
But, sometimes in my subconscious mind, I cannot help but feel that movies like Slumdog Millionaire have had a huge impact in shaping opinions of my country and creating many stereotypes.
I am not saying that India is not a poor country. It certainly is. And I am also not denying the fact that we still need to catch up on hygiene, cleanliness, education and growth. But to see India takes time, with an India travel itinerary much longer than a month. It has been said that the entire diversity of the country can’t even be covered in a lifetime.
I know that foreign tourists, whenever they visit, tend to go to the most famous vacation spots in India like Agra, Delhi, Varanasi and Rajasthan. As a result, they return home with only one aspect of India’s diversity. But we are much more than Varanasi and pollution in the Ganga River.
Travelling alone in India as a woman
India solo travel is something many foreign women enjoy but also indeed a preoccupation, especially if it is their first trip to India: is India safe to travel?
You can easily travel safe and solo here without any worries. Of course, you need to be attentive and aware of your surroundings and of whether someone is trying to cheat you.
Do some research and take basic precautions, because solo travel to India often depends on the region you are visiting.
For instance, Delhi is not considered safe at night, but on the other hand, in Mumbai women roam around freely at any hour.
Solo travel destinations: India and diversity
There are many places to go to in India so if you really want to learn about my country, you should go to all four corners of it. This will help you understand how very different each region is from the others and yet, how many similarities they share.
For instance, a common thread throughout the country’s culture is the notion of unity. We love our families and prefer living with our relatives rather than alone – most of us stay with our parents even after we get married and have children.
Here are those four corners:
North India is the place I go when I need to experience peace and serenity. It is a place where you can slip into simple living among the mountain people, who work extremely hard but always find time to help someone in need. The North is considered one of the cleanest parts of India, with minimal pollution, and the mountainous region will take your breath away.
One of the must-go places in northern India is Spiti, which is quite untouched and difficult to reach because roads are often closed by snow or landslides. Not only is it beautiful but the people here will make you feel at home. Even though they lack many resources, they will try to put your needs first.
The East is considered the wettest region of the world. Meghalaya’s Cheerapunji receives rainfall throughout the year and is so gorgeous that you won’t see any other colour but green. It is also among the cleanest regions of our country with lovely, welcoming people.
One of the more unusual tourist destinations in India – and which I recommend – is the Double Decker root bridge in Meghalaya (click here to see a video). On this hike, you’ll climb down 3000 steps to discover an entire village with a bridge made by the villagers using the roots of the trees.
The South is India’s famous coastline, where you can experience sensational beaches as well as extraordinary nature. One should of course go to Goa, but also visit the Nilgiri Hills and Kerala. Goa will show you yet another facet of Indian culture, with clubs and party destinations where millennial Indians seek to learn from the West but also continue to follow Indian culture – a mix of the traditional and modern.
The West is more of a cultural center, where women wear traditional Indian clothes and tend to do their household chores. This is also where you’ll find our busiest streets, with plenty of littering and pollution – in other words, the Slumdog Millionaire movie set. However, despite their problems, people here are kind and welcoming to foreigners.
Perception towards solo women traveling in India
India remains a highly patriarchal society, one that believes a woman should handle the household chores. So when someone sees a woman carrying a huge backpack, the reaction is one of surprise and amusement, as Indians rarely backpack.
In India, foreigners are generally considered to be rich, which increases the probability of fraud and theft. Take serious precautions to safeguard your belongings, like wearing cross-chest handbags and keeping our things in front of us rather than behind. Keep your luggage near you and be mindful. If you’re concerned about safety in your city, ask your hotel management if India is safe for women in this city and what precautions you need to take.
One piece of advice I will give you is to check your information with several people. For instance, if you want to hire a taxi and you are quoted INR 1,000, your best bet will be to ask someone local and compare so that you aren’t cheated.
I have talked to many visitors to India, and they have said that in the end, it is about following your instinct and being careful. Your instinct will always guide you if something is not right.
Some things to remember – do’s and don’ts
While begging is prominent in the city, it is rare in the rural parts of India. Many Indians are extremely poor, but begging can also become a way of life in the city, bringing in more money than a job.
If you really feel compelled to give something to roadside beggars, buy some food or give them water.
Best things to eat in India
You can be ready for delicious food when you visit India – here are a few of my suggestions:
- Don’t miss out on gol gappas, round thin ball-like structures made from wheat and served with sour water – much more delicious than they sound.
- Another favorite is rajama chawal, kidney beans and rice, all very vegetarian.
- And of course – paneer (cheese) and biryani (spicy rice) and any and every masala (spice mixtures)
You’ll find great food among roadside vendors. Try them at least once! Just beware if your stomach is sensitive because Indian food has plenty of spices. Just pick a vendor that has a crowded food stall.
Another thing to remember is the sensitivity around beef, since cows are considered holy. Beef has been banned and there have been many protests and debates around this issue. Still, among younger Indians, this is changing but be aware. And of course, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, India will be wonderful for you!
What to wear in India
India is a conservative country and women believe in covering themselves up, especially on crowded streets. Of course, there are exceptions, like Goa and Mumbai. Why not try wearing local clothes? Indians love seeing foreign women in Indian attire, a sign of respect. If you’re in the capital city, Delhi, shop for Indian clothes from Janpath Market, where you’ll find the best and most colorful clothes at the cheapest prices.
You could also try wearing the traditional saree, which is beautiful once draped around you but complicated to put on. Complement it with some jewelry and you’ll be all set.
For casual wear try the salwar kurta, which is light and comfortable and comes in many patterns and colors.
Getting around India
Remember that the cost of travel in India is low and that traveling from one state to another is simple. There are numerous buses and trains running to and from each state. You can easily take an overnight train or bus or spend the day watching the countryside go by. In metropolitan cities like Delhi, the metro (subway) will be your best friend.
As you can see, there are many different sides to our India. With more than a billion people and so many states, sticking to just a few won’t provide you with India’s true essence. Instead, visit travel destinations in India that aren’t the ones where tourists generally go.
You’ll be amazed at the number of different worlds you’ll find in just one country when you plan your trip to India.
— 18 July 2018