One of the most frequently asked questions after my trip to Asia was whether it is safe to travel to India alone as a woman. I tried to understand why I have received so often this question from women that they may be afraid of all the cultural differences between western and Indian civilization. However, I believe that my safe travel in India was due to the fact that I didn’t focus too much on the cultural differences but on the curiosity to discover a new world and to accept it as it is. Generally, I felt safe in India and I enjoyed all its beautiful chaos and unpredictability but mostly because it suited me. I love the rush, the energy, and the spirituality of mother India. I couldn’t assure all the women that will have my experience in India, however, I could give you some advice for having a better journey.
Start by doing a little bit of research before the trip. I’m not saying to learn all the history, the myths, and religion of India, even though it will help you a lot, but you should read at least the news, other travelers’ stories, and some information about their traditions and customs. The news – because your traveling plan could be affected by the political and social situation in the country at the moment. In my case, due to some manifestations in Delhi, many trains were delayed or canceled and some places were closed. On the same topic, be aware that India it’s a huge federal state so it’s possible to appear some political tensions between different states and the government. Usually, the touristic attractions are not affected by these situations, but if you plan to move a lot around India, you should be updated.
If you are inspired by other people’s stories, you should talk with people that already visited India before doing your traveling plan. It’s possible to hear about unknown places to visit and unconventional ways to travel. I loved to travel by train, which isn’t the most comfortable way to travel but it was the best way to feel India’s pulse. It’s also inspiring to read about spiritual experiences in India or about Indian hospitality so I encourage you to search as many stories as you can.
Concerning their customs, I advise you to cover yourself, woman or man both you’ll attract unwanted attention. You’ll find there a lot of Indian clothes very suitable for traveling and for the weather that will allow you to „fit in”. You can avoid uncomfortable situations if you cover yourself but you won’t avoid their starring. They will try to take pictures with you, you can always refuse if it’s too much for you, don’t try to be too polite, think all the time at what it’s truly ok for you. I was politely refusing all the men asking for photos saying that I prefer to take pictures only with women and kids and they were ok with it. However, at some point the crowd and the starring became hard to support so when my energy was low, I tried to avoid walking on the street alone or to go to crowded places.
If you move around through India, you’ll notice that the status of the woman in society is different between several parts of India. In the north is mostly patriarchy but going to south or south-east, you can observe that the women are more respected. I was hosted in a Bengali family in Kolkatta and I felt that the core of the family was the mother. I also noticed that they offer higher attention to women’s education. In Visakhapatnam, I’ve visited a school called „Mother – The first and best Teacher”. When I asked the principal about the school’s name, he told me: „In our country, we praise women as goddesses, they are very important in our religion. We celebrate them as being a source of energy and education. It’s natural to perceive mothers as the first and the best educators.” I’ve also heard that in the state of Meghalaya in far east India, women have a more important role because they have a matrilinear system for passing the properties from mother to daughter, in Manipur or in some communities of Kerala state as well. I didn’t reach these states but my next visit to India will be about investigating how the matriarchy works in these communities.
I truly believe it’s important to know the goal of your travel, what do you want to explore or to experience, anywhere do you want to go but especially to India. Even if I was alone, I noticed that I was taken seriously by my hosts or other people that I’ve met in India because I was interested in visiting schools or volunteering. I was more confident having the purpose of my travel and I think I was passing my confidence to my interlocutors. Sometimes there were a lot of unpredictabilities that made me change my traveling plan but I’ve never changed the reason to travel. That’s why I invite you, my dear female readers, not to be afraid to travel alone to India, as long you are confident in yourself and you have a purpose to be there. It’s possible to fall in love with the magic of India or to hate everything about it, but try to be prepared for both situations in an assumed way.