In 2015 I visited Northern India for 3 weeks and it was one of the most eventful, exciting and life-changing experiences to date. India has frequently been named as one of the most dangerous travel destinations for women, so I thought I’d share my experience, tips and advice with you.
From the very first moment I stepped foot in India, I honestly felt nothing but joy; the mass crowds, the torrential rain, the staring faces and all.
Now, I’m certainly not going to tell you that travelling as a woman in India is entirely smooth sailing, because that would be a lie. But what I will do, however, is give you a brief rundown of some of the things that I faced.
(For those that are interested in experiencing the incredible Holi Festival, here are some female Holi tips for a safe and fun festival!)
But I digress, I visited India on a tour (yes, a tour). And although I’m generally not the biggest fan of these kinds of organised travel, this decision was made because India seemed like a quite complicated country to manoeuvre without knowing a local or experienced guide — especially as we wanted to travel around the northern region to some extent.
So for 2 and a half weeks, I travelled with a group of around a dozen people, with myself – at the young age of 20 – being the youngest female by quite a long way. The entire tour went smoothly; it was the most incredible, life-changing, memorable trip I’ve had thus far, and I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.
Although, there were some times where I felt uncomfortable, but not to the extent that you may often hear…
☞ The first scenario was in Delhi, at the Red Fort, when a small group of us (all women) were walking through the grounds whilst being followed by a group of young locals. The entire visit was spent with a few young men following us, taking images of us and staying within close distances for the entire duration. It was no big deal at all, they were just curious and at no point made anyone feel threatened. Although, I will definitely say that it was not the most relaxing experience.
Being a very fair-skinned, white woman in India causes a lot of attention… There’s no doubt about it. But it’s important to remember that a lot of the attention is due to pure curiosity.
☞ Another instance was in Jaipur, at the popular tourist destination ‘Hawa Mahal’, where many travellers stop to take images of the beautiful ‘Palace of the Breeze’ (pictured below). I was walking amongst the streets on my way back to the bus when a man selling nicknacks and keyrings began to make me feel quite uneasy.
He was saying things like ‘You’re so beautiful’ – ‘Such sexy legs’ – ‘You’re so fine’ etc. etc. And other very sexual remarks which I will not repeat, whilst trying to touch my neck and getting far too intrusive in my personal space.
I made my way quickly to the bus which he then followed me on to before he was escorted off by the local tour guide. This was definitely a situation that made me feel very uncomfortable. When I got on the bus, I had to take a minute to realise what had happened.
☞ A very confronting moment was at the train station near Orchha.
It was around 8 pm during a torrential downpour (when I say torrential, I mean the water was almost at my knees) and the train station was jam-packed with homeless locals attempting to shelter from the rain.
There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people on the floor. To the point where walking through the station was a very delicate process; attempting not to stand on any man, woman or child whilst tiptoeing our way to our designated platform.
Due to this situation being very out of the ordinary for locals, and being the only group of white people in the entire town for that matter, we were certainly the centre of attention.
Myself, being a very fair, auburn-haired girl meant that I was receiving a lot of unwanted attention merely for looking so different. The women’s waiting room was completely full, meaning that I spent the hour train delay outside on the platform.
I stood with my head down whilst a circle of interested men completely surrounded me and stared me down… I eventually had to stand with an older man in my tour group, as the circle of men began to creep closer and closer to my location.
Now, I’m not going to say that I necessarily felt threatened, because at no point was anyone attempting anything other than a look. But I cannot deny that it made me feel uneasy.
☞ Whilst at the obviously famous Taj Mahal – an incredibly busy attraction for locals too might I add – I had numerous men ask me for a photo with them. We were there for over an hour, and I would have to say, my image was probably taken more times than I can count on my hands and toes 5 times over. I had men hold my hand, put their arms around my neck, shake my hand and more.
But, I must say, they were all incredibly lovely. They were very polite and kind, but it certainly got a little tiring after the first 20 photos.
☞ At my favourite city in India, Varanasi, during an incredible Hindu ceremony on the bank of the River Gange, our group was observing the festivities, the atmosphere and the river surroundings…
Whilst completely minding my own business with my camera nowhere in sight, a group of men (all of whom weren’t associated with one another) were standing in front of me taking my photo. Literally to the point where they would hold their phone in front of their face, block my view and take my picture whilst they were less than a metre from my body.
To be honest, I found it quite amusing. I actually didn’t mind too much as I thought this is how they must feel when tourists take their image. I would personally never take a portrait like that without making sure it was okay, but regardless, it was intense. Thankfully this occurred at the end of the ceremony because they were certainly there to stay.
☞ The final situation that comes to mind was on the way to the airport to catch our flight home…
It was 2 am, and we had a car pick us up from our hotel. The streets were basically deserted and it was really quite eery. We were halfway through our trip when we came to a road blocked by 2 police officers. We sat in the back with the doors locked, while the driver persuaded one of the officers for at least 2-3 minutes (which felt like an eternity).
In that time, the other officer stared at us through the window with a look that really made me fear. He had a slight smirk, was winking, and made my heart race as it had never raced before. After the constant persuasion passed, we were on our way. I know this is entirely due to a corrupt system and officers who were searching for a bribe, but this situation was the only one that really made me fear.
So, in the 3 weeks spent in this region of India, these were the only 6 negative situations I encountered. They certainly did not affect my experience as a woman in India, as my entire visit to this multi-cultural country was spent commenting on how lovely, kind and welcoming the locals were.
Would I want to travel around as a woman in India like this on my lonesome? Probably not. But that shouldn’t stop you, and it certainly hasn’t stopped me either… I’m already planning my trip back!
One man that asked for my photo at the Taj Mahal said to me “There’s just such difference, between black and white skin“, which is the sole reason for the smiley, friendly photo we took together. Standing out is not always a negative thing, nor will it always attract attention.
Horrific things have occurred to travellers in the country; discrimination against women is a huge problem here, there’s absolutely no doubt about it. But as I’m sure you already know… I am not one to judge a book by its cover. And it’s so important to remember that this occurs all over the world, no matter where you are.
If you are prepared, stay aware, go on a tour or potentially make friends with a local? I have no doubt that you’ll have a positive experience like I did too.
“But when all you do is focus on the negative, the positive will slip away like sand through your fingers”
These potentially bad experiences were minor in comparison to the amazing things India showed me. It was the most influential place I’ve visited for more reasons than one, so I hope that the negativity that it often betrays won’t stop you from experiencing its magic too.
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Being a woman in India was concerning at times, but as a whole, it was a truly magical experience. Have any of you been to India and had positive experiences due to your gender?
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