Women are often deterred from travelling to India but following a few safety tips and local customs will make a trip to this exotic and alluring destination worthwhile.
There are few things not to love about this colourful country, known for its historic monuments, delicious food, beautiful handicrafts and diverse religions. India is truly captivating.
Although it is half the size of Australia, India is densely populated with more than 1.3 billion people. It is crowded, noisy, bustling, often hot and humid, with significantly different customs to those of Western cultures.
Follow these tips to feel at ease when travelling to India.
How to dress
Pack lightweight, loose fitting clothes for modesty but also to protect you from the sun. You can purchase local-style clothing at low cost on arrival – shirts, pants, long skirts, scarves and shawls are all available in a range of designs and fabrics.
It is respectful to cover your legs and shoulders, and most temples and mosques require visitors to adhere to this dress code otherwise you may be refused entry. Some attractions provide cloaks or shawls for free or a small hire fee.
You will often be asked to remove your shoes before entering many sites. For convenience, wear shoes that come on and off easily. Staff at the sites will keep an eye on your shoes.
It is wise to always carry a scarf or shawl with you, for times when you need to cover up. In some mosques it is mandatory to cover your hair and shoulders. As a bonus, it can also double as a blanket or picnic rug.
It is possible to wear singlets and shorts, but modest styles are recommended. Exceptionally short shorts or spaghetti straps are not deemed acceptable. If you dress provocatively, you may attract unwanted attention and disrespect locals.
How to stay safe
In my experience, India felt like a safe country. However, it is always a good idea to ask your hotel or guide about areas that are safe for women to explore.
When visiting busy markets or crowded areas, keep your belongings in front and close to your body. Don’t carry large sums of cash or wear expensive jewellery as they may attract the attention of petty thieves.
Before departing for India, visit your doctor to ask about any required vaccinations or medications to prevent any diseases you may be exposed to. The local water is not safe to consume and may contain pollution and disease. Bottled water is readily available, but consider buying a large bottle and decant into a smaller reusable bottle each day to reduce the number of plastic bottles you purchase.
Security in India is quite high, and you need to pass through security check points when going into attractions, airports and train stations. Female security guards are at these points to inspect women. Most hotels also have security checks on entry, though these are much less thorough.
For financial safety, carry multiple payment options including a credit card, debit card and cash. Advise your bank that you will be travelling and ensure your cards are compatible. If you don’t, your international transactions may appear suspicious and the bank may freeze your account. When exchanging cash, request bank notes in lower denominations which are more widely accepted across India.
How to follow local customs
Indian people are very modestly dressed and traditional clothing is still worn in most regions, particularly by women. To respect local customs, follow the tips above for how to dress appropriately.
Temples and mosques are sacred places and it is important for visitors to be respectful, adhering to noise limits, photography rules and dress code. Some sites will close to visitors during prayer time.
At key tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal, belongings are limited meaning you cannot enter with food, cigarettes or lighters, chewing gum, tripods etc. These rules have been introduced to protect the site. Leave these items in your hotel room to avoid wasting time, having items confiscated or being refused entry.
Bargaining is an expected Indian custom, practiced by locals and visitors alike. While it can appear a bit of a negotiating ‘game’, keep in mind that this is the person’s livelihood so it should be done respectfully. Settle a price in your mind that you are willing to pay and begin the negotiation by asking for the best price. From there, you can determine your counter offer. You should be able to quickly come to a fair agreement. If no agreement is reached, say thank you and leave.
It is common in India that people eat their entire meal with their hands. This tradition is based on ayurvedic teachings and connecting the mind with digestion. If you try this, only eat with your right hand as the left hand is considered to be dirty, as it is associated with going to the toilet.
Disclaimer: The writer travelled at their own expense with tour company Take Me To India.
SHARE YOUR TIPS: Have you travelled to India? What are your tips for staying safe and respecting local customs? Share your advice in the comments section below.