A few weeks before I was due to fly to India, I read about a German girl who was raped while she tried to sleep on a train in India. About a week later, a Danish tourist was robbed, and gang raped in New Delhi on her final night in the country.
Some panic ensued, and clearly — a lot of googling. The British Foreign Office advised female travellers exert “Extreme caution” when travelling in India (alone or in a group). I don’t even know what that means. Are there levels pertaining to the amount of cautiousness you practice? Extreme caution is not something I learned at school……what does it entail?
Is female travel in India safe?
Looking into the fairly horrifying stats, a woman is raped in India every 21 minutes (source). I suppose, though, the real threat to tourists was when, as opposed to natives, tourists start getting attacked. Heinous to say, that was what I was worried about. In 2013 several fairly high profile cases of tourists being raped in India hit the headlines, some of which you may have skimmed past — in March alone a Swiss woman was raped in front of her husband whilst camping in Andra Pradesh, a British woman jumped out of a hotel window to escape a sexual assault she believed was going to happen by a member of staff and in June an American woman was raped whilst hitchhiking in Chennai.
I was suddenly a bag of nerves. India was the number one country on my country bucket list. And the country that I was looking forward to the most on our trip, so this news shook me a bit, and I have to say — woke me up to my naivety.
I hadn’t thought about what it would be like to travel as a female in India, I had just presumed it would be like anywhere else I’ve travelled — with obvious cultural differences in how I should dress — but similar, you know? I was completely aware that I’d need to cover up more than in I had been in Sri Lanka, and that PDA’s would be a no-go. But ignorantly, I’d thought the rape situation in India was limited to locals. Which, whilst absolutely abhorrent — wouldn’t affect me. How ignorant am I?!
Well, in the end I (and millions of other females) travelled to India, and I was there for 2 months. With relatively few of the bloggers that I follow writing about their experiences as a woman travelling through India (most of the female bloggers I read are Europe or Asia experts), I thought I’d share my experiences.
India is Intense
I’m sure most people you meet who have been to India will have a strong opinion on it. It’s kind of like marmite I guess……it doesn’t do anything by halves. For me, this translated into some fairly obvious stares and very bold questioning — “why aren’t you married, you are quite old!”. At first, I struggled with this but eventually I realised any question I was asked was out of genuine curiosity, stares too.
Teenage boys asking (and often not asking) to take my picture was also weird, but hey it’s nice to feel like a celebrity sometimes.
India is Full of Paradoxes
For example women cover up, and that should include tourists too — but see them dance to a song they love and you would blush! I was constantly shocked at this….but that’s India for you.
The men drink, and the women don’t……that’s that really. Nowhere is it more prevalent than during Holi Festival (Festival of colours) where the youth start drinking at about 8am and women don’t leave the house (for good reason!). It’s an amazing experience, which we we lucky to be in the holy of holy Varanasi for but it’s not for everyone. Men can get a bit gropey and I was happy to be in a bit group of people (including Indians).
If you are a female traveller thinking of heading to India and worried about the dangers, I would encourage you to read lots of blogs — there are millions of women who travel to India annually and have no problems. I would act as you would in any country, including your own, don’t walk around by yourself at night, don’t hitchhike, don’t wear skimpy clothes!
India is Busy
There are a LOT of people in India, and it’s vast. Trains are packed to the dozen…..you must have seen the pictures of people sitting on the roof, right?
Sometimes, it is so busy that you literally want to scream at the top of your lungs — and then you sit down and eat the best curry of your life for £1, and remember why India is worth it.
India is my favourite country in the world, but it’s definitely marmite! Luckily I love marmite too!