Skip to main content

Travelling solo and safe: An Indian woman's perspective

Even as I started this blog, I knew I’d have to approach this subject sooner than later. The question becomes why now? Because now more than ever at the wake of of what happened to Nirbhaya in Delhi this year, the narrative behind what it means to be a woman in India is a sore discussion point for the country. While everyone is quick to point the dangers surrounding a lone woman these days - few lend any hope or help to assuage the fears. If we were to believe the people and what media says about these times - we are doomed to live in a perpetual victimhood.

Scores of traveller-bloggers have tried to present a fresh perspective for women travelling solo in India; I have yet to meet a fellow Indian woman on the road. Maybe there are too few, too far apart to make each other’s acquaintance. Implying that the subject is still at its nascent stages of discussion. Having said that, I have indeed met countless foreigners (women) travelling alone.

Getting used to the idea

I was then living in Delhi. While I’d been a frequent traveller to the Himachal, that year had been particularly gruelling. After too much work and even more unrealistic deadlines (nothing new in advertising), travelling in between jobs seemed like the most reasonable way to get out for a month. Except, no one I knew had that kind of time.

The moment I informed my parents, all the alarm bells went off at once. While it was easier to stand my ground with my parents, it was far more difficult to ignore that voice of fear in my head, especially after everyone took it upon themselves to inform of the grave dangers that I might be inviting upon myself. I shut mine out with a big can of pepper spray.

Your biggest advantage: Language

Be it bargaining on the road to finding the most cost-effective ways to travel to exchanging stories to simply asking for direction, language is not just a means of communication but rather a connection that we all share.

Travelling puts your faith back in humanity

The concept of living in our own shadows has been drilled into our heads ever since childhood. It is just something we have all grown up with. But when you travel, you see the reality that nobody talks about. Contrary to facts, I met countless men who in no way treated me as an object. The morbid numbers that you’ve read and heard about, they know it too. And often go out of their way to prove it wrong with their hospitality. Help was often given without even asking and their open-heartedness moved me in unexpected ways.

Tip: Putting your faith on locals does not mean you do so blindly. Assess your surroundings and don’t put yourself in a position where you will be completely alone with a stranger.

When I was stranded in the Bishnoi village, close to Jodhpur, this man and his family opened their home to me till I figured out my conveyance back to Jodhpur.    

Travelling alone never gets lonely

Unless you’re paying a mammoth amount of money to book your own private ride, chances are you will be swarmed by people everywhere you go. Be it on a bus or the train; public transport has its own set of pros and cons. And a young twenty something Indian woman travelling alone with a backpack taller-than-herself is bound to draw some curious questions. It is not unusual for old women to accost you in trains to tell you about all sorts of trouble you can get yourself into. This actually is a pro; because even before you reach the destination you have found out all about the places to stay clear of and some of the unique local experiences you can indulge in. The cons on the other hand range from grimy seats to dirty loos to having a smelly goat in the seat next to you on the bus.

Tips: Mind your timings! Avoid reaching your next pit-stop at midnight, especially a place that sleeps at eight. Do not land in a place at 4.30 in the morning when the town gathers momentum at eight. Do your research before you book the next bus or train ticket and avoid instances when you’ll be stranded all by yourself in the dead hours of the town.

And secondly, take advantage of the women’s special everything. From women’s only compartments to women’s only queues to segregated sections in the buses. Travelling in a compartment overflowing with sweaty men isn’t going to make a statement about your feminism. It’s gross and stupid.

Have a chat with the old shopkeeper or the woman sitting in your train compartment whose wisdom is a far greater asset than your smartphone (though some kind of a phone is definitely advised).

Enjoy as much as you can handle

When you are on the road on your own, the world feels invincible. It is easy to get carried away. It all boils down to one thing: use your common sense. It may sound trivial but it has enabled me to have some of the most exhilarating and personal experiences. Although you will get stared at inappropriately and random strangers will try to invade your personal space, there’s a larger number of men who will treat you with utmost respect.

Tip: The big bad wolf does not lurk in small laidback towns or forests or in the mountains. For a simple reason that small towns are well, small; that is, everybody knows everybody. But then again you don’t cross a road before looking, do you?

While most people were booking themselves into ‘tour packages’ to visit the dunes from Jaisalmer, I opted for an independent jeep. I couldn’t imagine soaking in the solitude of the dunes amidst twenty other people. While I’d already met the driver and I was accompanied by my hotel owner, going on my own meant I couldn’t spend the night out there, no matter how much I trusted them. I regret missing the experience but the alternatives were far too dicey.

Good or bad... What's your experience of traveling through India by yourself? 

Popular posts from this blog

Project Other Names: A Collection of Fictional Characters

An exercise to explore the different vibes of names used in a story and their relationship with the plot. Captured in a fleeting undefined moment. Here's a cute picture of my cat in case you reached here by accident.  The task of assigning names to characters in stories has always been a bit confusing for me. Either they are too eccentric or misplaced, misdirected or just feel like a mouthful.  Other Names is an exploration of what makes a character a character. Is it possible to bring them alive purely through their internal worlds. Or inversely through just one defining physical trait. What would that world even look like, is it real or fantastical, or can it be both?  I guess, we'll see :) Amuse yourself. #1 Ajay “Mutuality isn’t the least bit important in marriage, Ajay. It counts only in romance.” Ajay gave his pretty paramour a long look. Did she believe this stuff? Or was she playing some deep female game? He knew he would not marry her. He was proud

Beachbumming in Deobag

Every year the Indian Konkan Coast swells with tourists and travellers looking for fun in the sun and sand. In laidback Tarkarli and Deobag, however, it’s as much about what to do as it’s about who’s next door. Chances are that you’ll be by yourself, despite the peak seasons (fingers crossed).

Other Names #8 and #9: Sahil and Mira

  It had been three years since Sahil had last seen Mira. A lot had changed (physically) for Sahil in that time. His jaw had hardened to an angular shape, he had lost that baby beard that everyone made fun of and the unruly curls had been tamed to a neat close crop. He had returned to civilisation - unrecognisable beyond repair, as his friends often remarked. So, it came as a surprise when Sahil found himself looking at Mira, untouched by the passage of time. She still had the look of an alert school girl. Head held high, a neat round chin, wide thin-lipped mouth, snub nose, bright eyes and a forehead that was often flushed with effort or appreciation. She was finishing her thesis in Sanskrit from Xavier’s when they were together. Sahil always marvelled at how much the professors delighted in her – as though they were grateful for anybody who still took up ancient languages, especially for someone so gifted – but they were always worried as well. The problem Mira used to say, was becau

A road-tripper’s recipe to beach-hopping: Sri Lanka south coast

Nay-sayers said it couldn’t be done. Well-wishers said it probably shouldn’t be done. The fact that the mercury would rise to its zenith high in the peak summer didn’t stop us from travelling to the southern coast of Sri Lanka last month. After a rickety eight hour bus-ride that saw us descending into the plains from the hill country, we reached the bustling sea-board town of Weligama. If you are travelling along the same route, keeping a day in hand for the Yala National Park would seem like the most obvious choice. However, short of money and time – my fiancé and I headed straight for the holy trinity of sun, sea and sand. It would be safe to say that any road trip involves the road (duh!), a pair of trusty-ish wheels and at least one companion (who you will most likely fall out with at least once a day. But regardless the offense these silly skirmishes that start with ‘let’s stop for a cola’ have a knack to smooth itself out soon enough). Like life, which’s about the journey and n

Windows between waves

Back in 2009, during my last year in college, my friends and I used to take a three-hour train ride to Gokarna over weekends. It was a small seaboard town with a penchant for attracting people who listened to Bob Marley and chain-smoked cheap cigarettes. But what I remember most distinctive of Gokarna was the sea. It was a beautiful sunny morning like any other and we had all woken up late. After a heavy breakfast of Nutella pancakes all of us headed out to the sea. It was calm and we all wore our sun shades into the waters, lying supine on our backs and floating with the sun in our eyes. Unlike other days, we had given up on playing pranks – no one went underwater to imitate a sea creature tickling a feet or neck, there were no sudden shrieks of friends splashing the salty sea water into each other’s eyes and mouth – we were pinpricks in the vast ocean drifting further and further away from the shore, blissfully unaware of how close to danger we lurked. At first, we thought we were be

Project Other Names #7: Dr. Prarthamesh Potty

  Professor Potty scratched these words on the blackboard, punching the period at the end for dramatic effect. He turned to face his class of forty. Forty miserable, clueless schmucks, most of whom didn’t know the difference between a period and an ellipsis. And yet they thought a minor in Creative Writing would be a piece of cake. An easy grade to brighten up their mark sheet. He had overheard on his way to class, some of the students casually joke, “Next class…” proceeding to clutch their tummy and ejecting a fart-like sound from their mouth. The joke lacked half-a-decent punchline but regardless, the junior year would pick it up from their seniors, giving new life to a lame old gag. Professor Potty did not have a sense of humour. At least, none when it came to his name. You would think after years of being tormented by friends, foes, colleagues, relatives, lovers and eventually his own children as well, the professor would at least pretend to smile and take the power out of the old

Three salad dressings with a side of honesty

Salads. The healthy-and-mighty of all meals. The snooty accompaniment to a glass of rosé. The veritable rainbow on your plate. In Fran Lebowitz’s words, a salad is not a meal – it is a style. Well, as long as ‘style’ includes a fair amount of mud under one’s fingernails – I couldn’t agree more with Fran. Sure, it’s fashionable to eat a salad – but there’s a certain panache to going down on all fours in wet mud, rummaging through fresh lettuce pods every morning and wondering what you’re going to dress them in. While it’s far from the fashion statement that salad has come to symbolise, growing your own food definitely is a style of its own. There are many categories of salad snobs – the ingredient minimalist, the chop-it-right evangelists and the brigade of dressing-goes-first, but the only consensus between the salad factions is that you don’t actually need packaged dressing. A homemade vinaigrette made from basic ingredients lives just as happily on your refrigerator door, not to ment

When Joan Didion said, ‘we tell ourselves stories in order to live’, I think she meant - the stories we delude ourselves with.

I used to think that if I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer through the noon and end it with a Thud! Whack! Clanggg! before I hit the sack. But once I had a hammer, I realised I wasn’t hammering as much I said I would.

Other Names #6: Kaai

Unrelated picture from Berlin. #6 Kaai and I had been driving for ten hours straight from Udupi, threading our way through the NH66 which ran all along the western coast. It was a last minute plan put together in all of twenty minutes by Kaai during the tea break. We would drive 700km to the Osho Ashram in Pune to get our hands on the hip new Osho sandals before anyone else in class. It was a bit much but this was 2006 and Osho was all the rage. ‘A little adventure won’t hurt’, he said. Little did we imagine that for one of us, this trip would last a lifetime. I learned that Kaai was a very spiritual person. He hid that side of himself under rock band t-shirts, ripped jeans and the old bubblegum beret that he refused to part with even while he slept. It took me by surprise when he brought up ‘god’ literally in the middle of nowhere. We passed a little kid who was throwing stones at the cars on the road. “Think of it”, Kaai said. “One day he’s going to throw a stone that wi

Other Names #4 and #5: Ahana and Asha

Other Names #4 Ahana belonged to an aristocratic family. But as a rule, Bengalis think more of influential friends, than birth. Ahana was lucky to be esteemed and even loved by people of consequence in society, whose example was followed by others of lesser means. It seem hardly necessary to remark that her family worries and anxiety had little or no foundation, or that her imagination increased them to an absurd degree. But if you had a wart on your nose or forehead, you imagine the whole world is looking at it, sniggering behind your back. Because you can’t see past the puss-filled elephant sitting on your face. Doubtless, Ahana was considered ‘eccentric’ in society, but she was nonetheless esteemed; the pity was that she was ceasing to believe in that esteem. Other Names #5 “I’m going through a phase. And I’m awfully glad it’ll all be over in a couple of days”, Asha whispered to herself. For a fleeting moment the weight slid off her shoulders and she felt a breath of fresh