This week we have a special guest post by Krishna Ganatra from Happy Travelling Girl, an organization dedicated to making traveling a safe reality for women. They share with us their top trips for travelling solo in India.
I was reclining at one of the pillars at Vitthal Temple in Hampi. We had been cycling since morning and, being peak season, Hampi was packed with travellers, tourist and school children. My travel buddy, Megha, and I had been in town three days and had been feeling the odd sensation of being strangers in our own country.
Everyone, especially school children, was fascinated by us. Two hippie Indian girls alone and clad in bandanas and cargo pants was indeed a rare scene. From the uncomfortable stares, to guys asking for pictures with us, to kids asking us which country were we from, to a local drunk guy asking a fellow traveller to get us to his restaurant at night to party, Hampi was an experience I could never forget. But it forced me to consider how and why I was considered as a foreigner in my own country and why female travelers are such a rarity.
Being an Indian, I am well aware of the issues a woman faces when she decides to travel solo. Most of us are faced with a curious question from strangers as well as our near and dear ones: “Why would you want to travel solo”. Nonetheless solo travel is picking up in India and so is female travel. Women in India are now traveling to explore new places as well as themselves, though solo travel as a concept if fairly new for other people to understand in India.
Initially I faced many issues and objections from my family to pursue it, the core reason being my safety. Given the reported rape cases, indeed my parents were concerned, but gradually they understood it. I believe safety is more about your mindset. Every country has many good people and handful of bad and India is no different.
So while I roam around exploring the country freely, I have also taken up the responsibility of ensuring that I travel cautiously and safely. Here are a few quick tips that I would like to share with all the women travellers who wish to explore India solo!
1) Do your research about the place you wish to explore
Before you travel, get thorough research done, plan your road map. India is a diverse country in terms of people, culture and even travel. You would find everything here including mountains, deserts, beaches, wildlife, backwaters, adventure opportunities and the most important one being spirituality. Thus, before planning your travel, think which experience you would like to soak yourself in.
2) Connect with Indian female travellers online
Once you are sure about the destinations you wish to visit, you can approach many female travellers on social media platforms like Facebook & Twitter and figure out transportation, stay and even budget that suits your travel type. You never know, you might end up making good friends too.
3) Look for hostels, homestays based on your budget
India has always been welcoming towards tourists and travellers alike with their thought of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ which in Sanskrit means ‘The guest is equivalent to God’. The numbers of hostels, homestays and budget hotels have been on the upswing off lately to accommodate visitors of all kind to give them the best possible experience based on their preferences and budget. In this scenario, it is not surprising to know that India is opening up majorly in terms of homestays and backpacker hostels. Saffron Stays is a company that focuses on having a viable and safe alternative stay places to sterile, impersonal hotels; to allow wealthy second-home owners to monetise their idle properties and to bring families together. Essentially they verify homestays and thus one can be assured of the genuine nature of the homestay recommended by them.
4) Be a couch surfer!
Well most of the Indian girls that I personally know are not too much into Couch Surfing but yes there are many travellers who safely host travellers in India. My suggestion is to opt for a verified host who has many references by guests.
5) Dress conservatively
While I personally feel comfortable in shorts and a tank tops while travelling this is indeed not a good idea everywhere. Prefer wearing comfortable t-shirts and pants / denims while you take local transport. Since India has diversity in terms of culture and traditions, dress as per the place and people around.
Many local markets sell ethnic India wear like short or long kurtis, long skirts, harem pants, etc. if you would like to try ethnic wear. These indeed are the comfortable and colourful 🙂
6) Yes people will stare
While some stare because you are a girl who is travelling alone, others stare because you are a girl. The best thing to do is ignore them.
The best travel accessory you can carry is a smile and an explorer’s attitude.
Most of the people in India are very hospitable and helpful. Yes, I understand it is awkward to get all the stares and the attention, but rather enjoy it and be open to take support from local people and travellers around.
7) People at times do pass comments
Eve teasing is something which prevails in India like any other country, though not at all places. People pass comments and laugh and trust me this doesn’t happen everywhere but it does happen. I have faced this issue on a local station at Mumbai, while walking on streets in Nagpur, and even at Hampi Market. Unless harmful, I have personally ignored such people and raised my voice in case I feel unsafe.
8) Did they ask you for a picture?
If a guy is asking you for a picture, unless you are bothered that this picture might be shown to his friends with an added story, you can go ahead or simply refuse. Taking pictures with kids or families is always safe, plus you can get your travel queries sorted in return.
Here are a few of my general tips when you are travelling in India:
Take public transport like trains and buses
If you really wish to explore India, do it the Indian way. Take local transport like buses and trains which is overflowing with people but helps you get acquainted with the locals and their lifestyle.
A majority of the Indians would be willing to help you in-case you have any query and you might end up meeting a fellow passenger travelling to the same destination who could support you with your travel plan.
Certain things to keep in mind here is, you can book your train and bus tickets online via websites like www.cleartrip.com or www.makemytrip.com but it is always advisable to book it a month in advance during off seasons and 2/3 months in advance during major Indian festivals like Diwali, Christmas, etc. We do have an option for Tatkal reservation, wherein you can train book tickets a day prior to your journey. This option is only available if you book your ticket by a railway ticket booking agent, and since it’s an end moment booking, the seats fill up fast. So do not resort to this method until it is really crucial.
Alternatively, Indian railways also have a website www.irctc.co.in where the train tickets can be booked online by an individual. It also allows you book Tatkal tickets but you can book only 10 tickets in a month from one account. You can refer this blog for registering on IRCTC.
Make friends with locals
In addition to the 8th point, go a step further to make locals your friends. Taking support from the hotel/ home stay/ hostel manager or owner is indeed helpful. This is a technique I usually prefer, travelling without a plan, asking and interacting with locals and exploring the place. But having basic knowledge about the place is always beneficial.
Here again you need to trust your women instincts as to whom to approach for help. Seek help from shop owners or local females who can direct you to someone reliable.
Connect with any solo traveller around
This usually works while exploring a city, a party place or the wee hours of the morning. Solo travel for me is meeting and exploring a place with a like-minded stranger you probably while on your journey or while exploring the destination.
Know the local culture
It is always advisable to do an online research on any place that you are visiting, especially in terms of culture and people and their belief and tradition, for the first time. This is crucial though if you plan to travel to the remotest of places to explore the lifestyle of a native tribe. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do!