A solo female traveler in India – Episode 3

I’m doing a radio series for SBS Australia, sharing my experiences of travelling India as a solo female backpacker.

In this third episode I discuss quite possibly the most talked about subject for solo female travelers in India, is it safe for women to travel India alone? Drawing on my own experiences of traveling and living in India for the past 2 years, I share my thoughts on  the topic with SBS Hindi channel host Harita Mehta.

You can read the transcript below!

This episode was aired on SBS Hindi on December 1st 2017 and can be viewed in full here.

Transcript:

Today I wanted to discuss women’s safety in regards to travelling India because it is a question that I constantly get asked, ‘is it safe for a girl to travel India by herself?’

I would like to talk a little about my own personal experiences which I acknowledge does not represent every single female’s experience of travelling India.

As of now I’ve been in India for almost two years,  during which I’ve traveled as a solo female backpacker across 14 states and have lived alone whilst working in one of India’s major metropolitan cities for the best part of one year. .

First things first, India is a big country. It’s not just big, it’s super diverse.

From language to food, to customs to traditions, to dress to appearance and everything in between, India is in no way a homogenous country. Because of this it would be unfair to discuss it as such.

In a recent conversation with a fellow from New Delhi about the diversity of India’s states he said ‘India could be 29 separate countries.’ I had to agree.

So when people ask me, is India safe? (and they often do), it’s difficult to answer. For example, my experience of travelling through Bihar differs vastly from my experience of travelling Darjeeling, and again from that of Bombay, Goa or Himachal Pradesh.

There are some parts of the country, like big cities for example, where I do feel like I need to be  more on guard and more alert to my surroundings and there are some places where tourists are not so common so i tend to adjust my behaviour slightly depending on where I find yourself.

To add to this, my experience of traveling India as a foreign women will differ greatly from that of an Indian women, for many reasons – i think that India is largely safer for foreign women than Indian women.

In my opinion though, Indian women are a lot more alerted to the potential dangers of travelling India alone and as a result take greater precautions to ensure they are safe.

I’ll give you an example of where this point was made glaringly obvious to me.

I was sharing an auto rickshaw with two Indian girls from Dehradun to Rishikesh, one from Karnataka and one from Uttarakhand. When we arrived in Rishikesh one of the girls realised that she had left a bag full of private documents at the taxi stand in Dehradun. She had to go back to retrieve it, but she had to go alone as her friend was in a hurry to get home. I observed as the two girls negotiated with the driver and once a taxi fare had been agreed the friend took a photo of the driver’s number plates and demanded his phone number.

This small action struck me because it’s something that personally wouldn’t have crossed my mind to do.

I’d be lying if I said nothing untoward has happened to me during my nearly two years in India. I’ve been grabbed walking to a metro station in New Delhi (before a couple on a scooty drove past scaring the culprit off) and then had some rogue flashed at me once I arrived at the metro straight after. So of course that was very unpleasant.

When travelling anywhere there are certain things that I try to avoid doing when travelling alone in India and certain things that I actively do, more than anything to make me feel safe. Many of these I have started doing since being in India, but I would say that that is because it is the place that I have spent the most time.

Here’s some examples:

I try to stay in places that have been recommended to me. I have quite a large network of female traveler friends who have been to India so I always try to ask around before I arrive in a new place to hear people’s tried and tested accommodation recommendations. Failing that I check online reviews to read what other backpackers are saying where possible.

Something that I only recently started doing was always checking that the room I will be staying in has a lock on the INSIDE so that I can lock it when i’m inside and sleeping.

I make use of the women’s only carriages whenever i’m in Delhi and Bangalore. I have found that in mixed sex carriages, when they are packed with people, some individuals abuse the opportunity to grab what they like as it’s easy to get away with.

I try to avoid, where possible, booking early morning flights/trains/buses so that I don’t have to travel to catch them during the night. Trying to get a auto or a taxi at 3am in the morning is never a good idea.

I try to charge my phone at every opportunity so that I can always stay connected. I have a local sim also so always make sure I have data. India is astonishingly connected, even in the more rural parts, and a lot is done online so it’s good to have access to internet.

One more thing I always try to do is book an upper berth on trains and a single bed on a bus. I remember booking a bus ticket through an agency once and when I got on the bus I found he had booked me one bed on a double bed and a male was occupying the other. I wasn’t comfortable with that at all so from then on always make sure I have a single bed.

Of course, it’s not always possible to follow these practices and sometimes you do find yourself in situations that expose you to people taking advantage. But you don’t want to constantly be worrying about things or miss out on great opportunities because you are worried about your safety – so taking small precautions is never a bad thing.

It’s like with any new place you go to so India is no different.

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