Numbers of women travelling in India have dropped by as much as 35% in a year according to tourism companies’ estimates.
Why is that and should you worry about going on a trip to India as a female traveller?
Are women in India in danger?
You have probably heard the reports of rapes against locals and tourists that made global headlines. On December 2012 a 23-year old student was gang raped on a bus and later died from her injuries.
Shortly after reports of girls experiencing traumas were released, as well as accounts of foreign tourists of jumping out of a hotel room window to flee would-be attackers, or being assaulted in a truck by multiple assailants.
Michela in India: always relaxed?
My girlfriend Michela and I just came back from a 2 week trip through Northern India with tour company Shanti Travels. I asked her about how she perceived safety issues while travelling in India in 9 questions:
flocblog: Did you have any concerns about your safety before coming to India?
Michela: Yes, indeed. The event in Delhi made global news, and I was planning a bicycle trip through Bolivia when I heard about the Swiss woman who got assaulted when she and her husband were bicycling. My whole life I’ve wanted to visit India but I’ll admit that after reading the news last year I had decided not to go.
Indian woman in the streets
flocblog: So you wouldn’t have gone at all?
Michela: Not with my style of travelling. I usually do the typical backpacker go-there-and-see-what-happens spontaneous type. But seeing horrible things happen to women who were doing the kind of thing I might do made me think that India was not a safe place for me.
flocblog: So how did you end up travelling to India?
Michela: We went with a tour company specialized in India called Shanti Travel. I don’t normally go in for pre-arranged trips, but Shanti Travel doesn’t offer cattle tourism with a hundred old people on a bus. You have a lot of latitude to design your own trip. I usually don’t feel like I need any help but as I said above, India is a place like no other. Having help from people who had a realistic working knowledge from within the country made me feel a lot better.
woman power in Hindu faith
flocblog: How did it turn out?
Michela: Really well! There wasn’t a single time that I felt unsafe. There was definitely a lot of staring, which you’ll hear foreign women complain about. But the thing is, when I’m travelling probably the thing that interests me more than anything else is local people. It would be quite hypocritical to fault them for staring back at me.
flocblog: So you are also staring at the Indians?
Michela: There was this one really sweet moment where we were sitting on the steps of Varanasi and an Indian woman wanted to take a picture of Doris, an Austrian woman that was travelling with us. Doris also lifted her camera, and the Indian woman laughed as both of their cameras were pointed at each other. They wordlessly acknowledged this two-way mutual fascination we have with people who are very different from us.
Next one please: mutual Fascination in India
flocblog: What would you say to any woman who wants to travel to India?
Michela: I wouldn’t recommend going by yourself; even backpacking with a companion may be questionable. It’s a lot of hassle and risk just to make a point, to prove your independence.
flocblog: Is it only about independence?
Michela: Every backpacker tends to think they’re exceptional, and that safety warnings are exaggerated. There’s a tendency for travelers to say, “As long as you’re smart about it you’ll be fine”. But that’s just a mantra we tell ourselves so we won’t feel afraid. What’s unwise about getting on a bus, or going to your hotel room? Bad things can happen to people who act irresponsibly, and they can also happen to people who have done everything right.
You might wanna wait for the next boat.
flocblog: It sounds like you’re trying to discourage people from travelling.
Michela: Not at all! The risk is there abroad as well as at home. There are safe ways to travel, but everything contains risks. It’s not helpful to exaggerate either way. Also, everyone needs to decide what they’re comfortable with. Personally I don’t like travelling by myself in most countries because of the way men act around an unaccompanied foreign woman. But that’s just me.
flocblog: Do you have anything else to say?
Michela: I’m glad that we took this tour because India is a full spectrum sensory experience. It was nice to have the details taken care of so I could focus on the things I came to see.
We went on the Durga Puja tour through Northern India with Shanti Travel. Shanti Travel covered the costs of the blog trip, all opinions are our own.