Sunday, 19 January 2014

Surviving and enjoying Delhi: A guide for foreign women travellers to India

15 safety tips for foreign women travellers to India - From a woman who grew up and lives in Delhi, one of the most hostile cities for women 

Recent cases of rape and harassment of female tourists are scaring women from visiting India. Tourist numbers have fallen, more so of women travelling alone. Do not let these instances put you off from visiting and discovering India. 

India is a country like no other – unique, culturally rich, with strong religious roots, philosophically overpowering, with hoary traditions, a medley of colours, smells, many culinary traditions, a rich cultural heritage, exquisite dances, many musical forms, stunning sculptures, gorgeous textiles, rich embroideries, skilled crafts…. 

Delhi, its capital is equally exciting. It is a city like no other. It has great old monuments, dating back thousands of years. It is a city that lives history. Every day. History is part of Delhi life: Old Fort, Qutub Minar, Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Lodhi Gardens, Mughal Gardens (if you come at the right season to see them in their glory), India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan…. It has some great bazaars and markets where you can spend hours shopping or just looking at the wares….Chandni Chowk, Dariba Kalaan, Sarojini Nagar, Janpath, Lajpat Nagar ….. And if you can stomach it, sample Delhi’s culinary traditions at Paranthewale Galli, Old Delhi, Pandara Road market …
Discovering Delhi                 Photo by Naveen Sarma  Protected by copyright
Discovering Delhi          Photo by Naveen Sarma Protected by copyright

All this can be yours to discover and enjoy provided you follow some safety precautions: 

1. While walking on the pavements, do not make eye contact with a stranger. Ditto at a restaurant. Men here could mistake it for an invitation. And then you could have a louse making your life miserable. 

2. While walking, chose the side where you can see the traffic come in your direction. Do not walk in the direction of the flow of the traffic. There have been instances of women being pulled into vehicles. As long as you can see what is coming in front of you, you can be on your guard. 

3. People here do stare. On the roads and public places you will encounter men who have little or no education and are not exposed much to foreigners. So someone who dresses differently attracts attention. Preferably wear trousers, long skirts or an Indian dress like a salwar kameez. Do not display your legs or wear deep necklines. Men here can’t handle them! Though this dress code is no guarantee that you will not be pawed or groped, you will certainly attract less attention to yourself. And with it less of the leering men. 

4. Do not ask strangers, especially single men or a group of men, for directions. It is best to seek out a family group or a cop in that order of preference. 

5. Avoid walking on deserted, badly lit stretches. Or taking an auto or taxi through one. Always keep to the main road, avoid bylanes. Keep a map handy. And the name, address and telephone numbers of the place you are staying in and of local contacts you may have. 

6. In case you find someone stalking you, seek out a group of women, or a family group and tell them about it. Women will understand your problem. Indian families do go out of their way to help. But do seek out young and smart women. Older women steeped in tradition, could be just too shy to respond or may not speak English. 

7. In case someone touches you inappropriately, yell and attract attention. Carry and use a pepper spray. Do not be scared of using your voice. It is your best defence. Most of the time you will find the creep sauntering away. 

8. You may even have strange men coming up to you and saying hello. Do not feel compelled to reply. Do what Indian women would do – Ignore them. Pretend you never heard and carry on with what you were doing. And if a strange man waves at you, please do not wave back. You may be inviting unwanted attention. 

9. When you check into a hotel room, do ensure that all door and window bolts are in working order. You should be able to lock yourself in. See that the windows are barred, to rule out any intruder entry. Your door should have a safely chain or a peephole. 

10. In a hotel room, keep the door open when a waiter or house staff enters. Station yourself near the door till the attendant has finished the job he has come for. 

11. Do not accept food from strangers. It could be laced with drugs. 

12. Always note down the number of the autorickshaw or taxi you use. And pass it on to a local contact loudly so that the driver hears it. 

13. Do not share the front seat of the taxi or auto with the driver. It is not done in India. Use the back passenger seat. By sharing the driver’s seat you send out a wrong signal. 

14. Be selective and discerning about taking up invitations to people’s homes while trying to make friends. Meet and get to know your new friends in a public place. 

15. Do not give the impression of being too friendly or approachable. It is better to be aloof and safe. If you find a hotel staff member or the owner getting too friendly move out to another hotel. 

Some of my friends and I have decided to offer local guide services to women travelling alone or in small groups to discover Delhi. In case you are interested you could get in touch with me at - . 

Alexis Lai,a journalist at’s Hong Kong bureau has this to say about her travels in India - Should solo female travelers avoid India?

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