Thursday, 26 June 2014

Solo Travel In India – The Realities

Yes, I have read a lot about India being the most ‘unsafe’ country for women solo travelers. I am not saying that the scrutiny is wrong, because it’s based on real mishaps. But, there is another REALITY to it too. There is a ‘good’ India too. I agree that there are some states or some cities in India that are not as suitable for solo travel (especially for women) as others, but on the whole, India is a pretty solo-travel-friendly country.


First things first, I want to clear this myth about solo travel that it’s not safe for women. Safety has got to do a lot with common sense, which we all have and we must use it. I don’t think I have much to say or advice anybody when it comes to safety tips, because I, myself, don’t follow any safety rules. I don’t carry any spray or pepper while travelling alone. I simply do what feels right and don’t do that doesn’t feel right. And that works for me.

Anyway, I’m not going to rave and rant about solo travel. I have done that already quite a few times. You can read the following posts on the subject –


Today, I want to shed light on the realities of solo travel. I asked a couple of questions about solo travel on my Facebook page, which brought out the common concerns of people regarding solo travel – boredom and safety issues. People refrain from travelling solo because they think it’s not enjoyable without a company or they might feel lonely. Some people are hesitant to try it because it might not be safe.

Well, I am also a woman and I live in India – the so-called unsafe country. I have lived in Delhi for a decade, which is known to be the crime capital. I have travelled alone through Rajasthan – even to the desert and a village, Mumbai and the surrounds, and recently to Sikkim and West Bengal.

Since I travelled through Sikkim and West Bengal for quite a long period of time (more than three weeks), it gave me a deeper perspective of solo travel. Considering the way solo travel is perceived by some people, I was SHOCKED to experience it for such a long time.

Yes, I was shocked amazed to know the realities of solo travel.

Being part of so many families

Solo travel introduced me to so many families – I mostly stayed at home stays run by the Sikkimese and Nepalese people (in Sikkim and West Bengal). I discovered their way of life and they discovered mine. All I got from these homes were respect, care and warmth. So, it all depends on what choices you make.

The coziness of home at Tamang House
My caring hosts at Limboo Home Stay

A bowl of homey porridge helped while I was sick

Nothing can be worse than falling sick while travelling solo. It happened to me in Yuksom. But, my host took very good care of me. I was escorted to a nearby hospital, given medication and served appropriate food. I didn’t miss home even one bit. Yes, I did lose courage to carry on for a while, but I was back to my normal self pretty soon.

Where is homesickness?

My fellow hikers
Photo courtesy: My host Mr Jeetu Giri
Lunching with my new friends. (Photo by my host)

Chuckling away with my fellow hikers

On my last day in Kurseong, my host planned a day-long hike to the tea gardens and a lake for which he invited one of his travel committee members also to tag along. So, I went on a hike with the two brothers (who were my hosts), one of their acquaintances and a local guide. It was such a thrilling day! I remember how the four guys clicked each other’s funny pictures at a viewpoint while I looked on. They were strangers to me, but I felt a sense of comfort with them. They took care of me. We cracked jokes, laughed and shared various anecdotes with each other. In short, we shared a great bonding.

Where is boredom?

A crackling evening with my fellow travelers

Crackling conversations around a bonfire

It was my most fun-filled evening in Sikkim. We were around ten or eleven people who had gathered for a bonfire organised by my host at Darap Village Retreat. I had such a fabulous time with my fellow travellers that I wish to relive that evening. The unique thing about the get-together was that there were a variety of people – there was a newly-wed couple from Bihar, a couple from Mumbai with their son, an old professor from Delhi and me, a solo traveler.

There were three local guys who had come to sing and play guitar for us while we sipped Tongba (Sikkimese beer). We laughed and chatted about anything and everything under the sun, got a little intoxicated, but had a pleasant time.  

Meeting the Rai family

Meeting so many new people

It’s interesting the way I met so many new people on my journey through Sikkim and West Bengal. One such people were the Rai family whom I met in Assam Linzey Village, which is near Gangtok. They were my hosts’ (The Shire Guest House) acquaintances. I liked the fact that they were not so dazed to find me travelling solo. I spent some time with them – we chatted over a cup of tea.

Where is loneliness?

Shared taxis vs Reserved taxis

Shared transport is obviously a safer option and also cheaper. So, I did travel by shared taxis quite a few times in Sikkim and later in Darjeeling. No doubt, it saved me money and it was definitely safe too. But, I travelled on reserved taxis as well when I wanted to have more comfort. That’s when I had to listen to my instinct. Although I am fearless, I am cautious. If I don’t trust somebody, I simply stay away. I use a simple trick to be able judge a person – I talk to him, build a little bit of comfort level and if I don’t find anything suspicious, I go ahead.

Being safe means following my instinct and using common sense.

Apart from these experiences, I have many other instances that prove that solo travel is fantastic in India just like anywhere else. I would like to sum up by saying that solo travel is neither unsafe nor boring or lonesome. 

Do you have anything to add?

44 comments:

  1. I agree, my first time in India I backpacked solo for 3 months. I will say that India keeps me on my toes more than other places, actually just here in Goa, walking my dog, a young boy on a scooter drove by and said "fuck you" then turned around and went by again slowly looking at me... so I experience these small things and I don't feel unsafe, but uneasy. I think they can happen anywhere and certainly happened in the US as well. India is India whether you go with friends or solo it doesn't change!

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    1. True. Such things can happen anywhere! And yes, such things make you feel uneasy not unsafe. Besides, such things will happen because the world is full of morons. That doesn't mean we have to sit at home and not step out. That's why I wrote this post - there is another side to it too.

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  2. I love solo traveling and agree with you that we shouldn't stay home because of the fear of what could happen. Common sense is important when you're free spirited. Glad to meet another solo woman traveler.

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    1. Glad to meet you too, Kalpanaa! :) Yup, common sense is the key to solo travel or any kind of travel.

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  3. Very encouraging to read about your solo travels. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. You are welcome, Chaitali :) I'm glad you found it encouraging.

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  4. This is inspiring!
    Great pics.

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    1. Thanks Indrani :) Nice to hear from you after a long time!

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  5. I would say if it works for you great, if not no big deal, travel in a group, borrow that young nephew or niece. or that aunt It works for me but I understand that some people do not like traveling solo. Just my thoughts.

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    1. Yup, there are many who don't like traveling solo, and that's okay. Everybody has their perspective. All I'm trying to convey through my post is that solo travel isn't unsafe per se - it is as safe or unsafe as any other form of travel - group, couple, family or friends. Life IS a risk. And phuh leeze... solo travel isn't lonesome!

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  6. Thats a welcome break to hear Renuka.. I was honestly fed up of the posts which constantly said that India is not a safe country for solo travel. Apparently one of my guests from Vienna was saying that Austria has issued a public statement saying that solo travel in India, esp for women is not encouraged. Imagine a national govt doing that! Felt nice reading this :)

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    1. But we can't blame other country's govt. They are just being cautious. The bad reputation that India has earned is because of us - we keep talking about the bad, but we ignore the good.

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  7. Those are insightful points. Even though I travel a lot, I never got a chance to go solo. I think as long as you are cautious and aware of your surroundings, India is a safe to go solo. And to be honest most of the tourist destinations are quite crowded, so one is always srrounded by people.
    The people in north east are wonderful hosts :D and the views are stunning.

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    1. You're right, Rajlakshmi. Most of the tourist destinations are so crowded that you barely feel solo and even the less frequented places are safe. I wouldn't say that one should head solo anywhere without any research about the place. But yes, Sikkim is a great destination for solo travelers - male or female. People are so nice. I traveled to both touristic and offbeat places, and both were great!

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  8. I totally agree. Solo travel is awesome, and I feel much, much safer travelling and bring alone in the subcontinent than I do in the west. I think a lot of foreigners' ideas about females travelling in India stems from a combination of media hype, a lack of broader awareness (and a lack of admission) of their own countries' shortcomings when it comes to women, and an attempt to apply their own cultural values and norms to a nation whose values are vastly different. Many of the most vocal opponents of solo females travelling in India have never even set foot in the subcontinent anyway. Great post, love your work!

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    1. Bang on, Tim! Yes, it's a media created hype that India is an unsafe country for women solo travelers. There are many foreign women traveling in India on their own. Ask them what they have to say. And yes, traveling solo doesn't mean that you are free to do anything. Even if I travel to a western land, I would be a little more cautious. For example, when my sister and I were in Australia, we never went out past 7 in the evening. We were just a little more cautious and that's fine.

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    2. When I'm in Australia, I'd never walk around alone after dark, and even with a group of friends, we are careful about where we're going at night. India is not dangerous - life can be dangerous, wherever you are!! :p It only takes some common sense.

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  9. Some of the home stays in are really good and safe. People from the north east are very simple people. (like the Rai family)

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    1. Yup. Home stays are safer, comfier and better in every way. An ideal accommodation for solo travelers.

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  10. Nice thoughts Renuka. Solo travel teaches you so much about yourself, the world, limitations, etc. great stuff

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    1. Thanks Andrew! Yes, solo travel teaches you a lot.

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  11. You are right, the fact that India has a bad reputation because we don't treat women properly. Why is that almost everyday we hear of crimes against women. Women travellers to India has to be careful.

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    1. Women travelers have to be careful anywhere in the world! But, we can breathe and enjoy our lives with a little bit of required caution and wisdom.

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  12. Loved this... Happy travelling... You r an Indian ambassador in the true sense n yes as always ur writing is awesome

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    1. Thanks Divya :) Indian ambassador! Haha..! Thank you :)

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  13. you know earlier i use to find difficult travellling solo, because i was not used to it .. in india had so many friends someone or the other always ready to travel .. but her in uk now I travle solo and it is fun .. you have given so many points .. I enjoy ti toooo

    happy travelling

    Bikram

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    1. That's nice to know, Bikram :) Travel is far more fun when solo, because then you are free to do whatever you want.

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  14. Interesting you've had no worries travelling solo in India. Unfortunately I had some bad experiences the few days I was alone in India. I thought maybe people were being harsh to me because they often mistook me for an Indian girl (with odd habits) I didn't get off with the tourist pass, where you're excused from certain things just because you're a foreigner. But I guess I must have just been unlucky! Who knows, I might give it another go one day.

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    1. Sarah, it really depends on where you are traveling in India to be able to have good experiences. And, it has got nothing to do with being alone. For example, you are traveling with your husband or family, and the people around you are not good, you might hear some lewd remarks anyway. Silly people wont care whether you are alone or with your father or brother. These things happen in some parts of India, but not everywhere. I really hope you come down to India again and explore Sikkim, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Mumbai and South India. :)

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  15. Hii... I loveee ur blog. Its really inspiring me. I m from indonesia btw and going to India in next few months.. Ur blog really helpful for solo traveler like me..love3x from indonesiaa :)

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    1. Thanks Dinia :) Nice to hear from you! It would be wonderful to have you in India. :) Take care.

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  16. Hi... I am planning a trip to shimla manali etc in sept 2014... I have been reading your blog for quite some time now... am totally inspired. ... but I am a bit concerned about taking taxis and hotels at unknown cities. .. this is my first trip beyond southern india and I have no contacts in delhi etc. Would be great if I could get some pointers...

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    1. Shimla and Manali are hardcore touristic places, so traveling there wouldn't be very challenging. As far as taxis and hotels are concerned, there are innumerable options. There is nothing to worry about. People are generally nice. :) Research your hotels online, speak to the manager, see the accommodation pictures and book it in advance.

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  17. Really good and inspiring blog, Renuka. I must got back from a solo trip to Indonesia. But I haven't traveled in India. I will have to look into it now. I have been wanting to go to Sikkim and other east Indian countries for a while now.

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    1. That's really nice to know, Rupal! How is Indonesia as a country? Sikkim is a great destination for solo travelers. Do plan a solo trip across India soon! :-)

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  18. Hi Renuka! A very well written article! I am thinking of travelling solo to Sikkim too. However, I was concerned about the feasibility of travelling around Sikkim alone. Like how convenient are the shared cabs? Do you get enough time to see around?

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    1. Shared cabs are the only affordable mode of transport in Sikkim. Hiring a private taxi can be very expensive. To explore a place deeply, it's advisable to stick around at a village or a town for a number of days. For example, if you can work out a good deal with hotel/guest house, stay there for 3-4 days and explore all the places around on foot on your own or with a local guide.

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  19. Thank You! Finally someone who says that solo travelling in India is safe!

    I've been a solo traveler since I left for Uni at 18....and I keep telling people that as long as women have their wits about them, solo travel is a breeze.

    But I'm so jealous of you....the last time I traveled solo was last year...did New York City. But ever since I've started a venture.....it's so difficult to manage it remotely. Keep up the fantastic job that you're doing!!

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    1. Thanks so much, Amrita! :-) I'm glad you travel solo, too. It is indeed a breeze. Hope you visit India soon!

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    2. Hi Renuka,

      Can you please share the details of homeStays you stayed at Sikkim and also tips on finding good homeStays.. As a solo traveller, it is good to get experience and tips from the locals.
      Thank you

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    3. The shire guest house in Gangtok - http://www.renuka-voyagerforlife.com/2014/07/guest-houses-in-Gangtok.html
      Daragaon village retreat in Darap village(west sikkim)- http://www.renuka-voyagerforlife.com/2014/10/home-stays-why-travellers-love-them.html

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  20. nice article and as a permanent nomad I totally agree about solo travel. I LOVE it - and much prefer the independence and freedom! - also love couchsurfing, because it gives a totally different perspective of a country and region and I've made many friends for life that way! - as for safety in India, I don't agree with statements like "these things can happen anywhere" - that's really not true in my experience. I've travelled all over the world, incl. Africa, many parts of SE Asia, Europe (and all 50 US states) and while I'm a tall and confident New Yorker, India is the one country that I would not feel entirely safe as a women. Yes, there is media hype - but those brutal rape cases also really happened and you never hear these stories in other countries. There seems to be a misconception by some Indian men that Western women are "easy" and if they are just pushy enough they get what they want. I personally had very unpleasant experiences in Dehli. On the other hand, it seems to be better in the countryside and my stay in Puri was absolutely lovely. It seems in India it really depends where you are. Places with a lot of ashrams/spiritual tourists seem to have less sexual aggression than places like Dehli, e.g. - it's not so much rudeness in men that is unpleasant, it's more the fear of violence that makes it rather uneasy. And I've never felt that as strongly anywhere else as I have in India. Thailand and Bali are totally safe and respectful to women as is Vietnam and mostly Cambodia or Myanmar. Same in South Africa, Zimbabwe where I road tripped all over - of course, you need to apply common sense and be smart, but in India I wouldn't trust just that - it's really different. I have many wonderful Indian friends in the US and also India - so, of course, this doesn't apply to everyone, absolutely not. But there are plenty of people that it does apply to in India and that's enough to make it somewhat uneasy. The other part that bothers me about India (and there is a lot I love about it, too....;-) is the scams and constant attempts to rip you off, the professional beggars who are nowhere as rude and pushy as they are in India - and I just don't want to deal with that when I travel. Then, of course, there is that magnificent spiritual heritage and I had absolutely wonderful times in that regard - India is a strange mix of extremes that make it fascinating to some and unpleasant to others. And I will definitely go again....;-) - it will just never be my favorite country for the above reasons (plus, I don't like having to dress a certain way - though that would certainly apply in most muslim countries as well). Anyway, thanks for your thoughts!

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