In the past few months, the country has witnessed unprecedented levels of public anger and anguish over the incident involving the rape of a young medical student in a moving bus in Delhi. But as far as women travelling alone are concerned, barring a few unfortunate events like this, India is still largely safe. India still respects her daughters. Solo female travellers are increasingly exploring their own country with a fresh perspective. Of course, they should be ready for some special scrutiny and a degree of wonder among locals, but the experience is sure to be exhilarating.
There is merit in considering practical barriers when planning a trip. The idea is to make your journey less daunting and more conducive to absorbing the place. Your choice of stay should be top on the list. Do not be deprived of the local vibe of the place; avoid the glitzy resort and check into a cosy homestay instead. That also means you’ll be in a safe environment of hopefully doting hosts who can guide you towards more authentic experiences. Having the lady of the house around is also reassuring for first-timers. Mahindra Homestays, Getoff Urass and Life is Outside have an impressive catalogue of homestays in India.
On the road
The journey is often as crucial to a real traveller as the destination. Not only does local transportation entail anecdotes and insights from seat sharers, but it also helps to establish a connection to the place. You will find that locals are fiercely protective about newcomers on a bus; especially the women. If you are on local wheels in a village, you are sure to be offered a seat or have your luggage tucked safely on someone’s lap. If you are slightly uncomfortable, squeeze your way through towards the ‘women only’ section and you are sure to be in safe hands. Most buses have a relieving divide between male and female seating – this can be helpful in many situations.
Dissimilarities define a place! And in India, the cultural divergence is palpable throughout the length and breadth of the country. Be perceptive to the subtle social nuances of a place when it comes to modesty in clothing, eating habits and language. There might be an unsettling situation when larger social norms are questioned and brought up in conversations – marriage and income are top of this list. Be respectful and tolerant of others’ views in this case. Women travellers often speak passionately about their lives, freedoms, and place in society, unknowingly gathering the disapproval of locals. Being congenial should be the only mantra if you are travelling to absorb knowledge of other places and cultures.
Evading the Effusive
Unnecessary bravado is the usual stance that travellers take when entering a new place. Assuming that people are out to get you is not a good starting point if you want to see the right things and meet the right people. Money might be on the cards for guides, but shed that tough ‘know-it-all’ exterior and embrace the insights that a local guide can provide. If time is scarce and curiosity high, resorting to a guide does not necessarily tarnish your status as a solo traveller. In fact, it may help you to see and explore more.
Also, as a society, Indians tend to be inquisitive and effusive – embrace this too to add some extra flavour to your trip. The ceaseless questioning, unasked for help and advice from complete strangers should be taken in your stride.
Though ‘itinerary-free’ trips guarantee adventure, it’s worth your while to do a quick check on places to stay, a festival round the corner or the best local delicacy. After all, you would not want to miss something significant. Ensure that you keep a number of accommodation options handy in case you reach a destination very late and haven’t booked ahead.
‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ kind of travels are Supriya’s favourite! Arrive at a bus stop, point towards a destination and just head out. It’s rather ironic that from her ‘Google-less travel’ days, she is now on to writing her second Lonely Planet travel guide. Supriya also runs a travel photography outfit called ‘Photography Onthemove’ and is based out of Bangalore. You can read more about her on www.supriyasehgal.com.