by Dianne Sharma-Winter
With good reason, there is a lot of advice out there for women traveling alone to India. It’s tough and it’s challenging and it can wear you down if you actually don’t take all the advice given about women and travel and culture in India.
The fact is that Indian women do not travel solo so wherever you go you are going to be noticed and remarked upon and, in some cases, seen as vulnerable. Months of “adjusting” to a culture and the cultural norms of India can wear down even the most irrepressible individual.
So, here are a few of my tips, earned from sixteen years on the road of life that pours across the northern plains of Mother India on how to stay sane and sharp while on the road.
- Develop a confident walk. Even if you aren’t feeling it, stride purposefully. Even if you are lost, stride purposefully until you find someone who looks either educated or connected or suitably impressed with your assertive body language to give your directions or assistance.
- Don’t travel alone at night. Pay the extra money and take your travel to another level. Take first class trains if you must travel at night; two bus seats if there really is no other option. Use a porter at the train stations. If you must use public transport then a cell phone is a great asset.
- Text the rickshaw or taxi number to someone and let the driver see. You can also make a call to someone, anyone and talk as if you are on your way to them. Say things like “I have arrived now, I am in a rickshaw, taxi, etc. and heading to the destination.”
- Watch how and then travel with middle class Indians and observe their style. Copy it. Use porters, be firm and assertive with staff and have strong boundaries. Sit with women and children rather than alone in waiting rooms or train stations.
- Get in contact with Indian women. If you take your travel to another level then you are going to meet well-educated Indian women who are not shy to talk to you and are interesting conversationalists as well. A group I belong to has led me to some fascinating Indian women who have given me a unique insight into the life and times of an Indian woman.
- Be aware that once you stop traveling, you stop being so vulnerable. So you can relax a bit. Village people stare a bit but they don’t mean any harm. So make an effort to learn some Hindi and take the lead. Ask them where they come from, what their name is.
- Have room days. Some days you just can’t stand to hear another “Come look my shop, Madame. Hello… pen, please?” or be bothered negotiating the teeming city streets, so don’t. Stay in your room and treat yourself. Read, give yourself a pedicure, eat chocolates and comfort food. Put your iPod on and dance and sing alone in your room. (I have to do this at least once a week with apologies to anyone who may have taken a room next to me!)
- Yes, toughen up. Learn a few self defense techniques, a few swearwords in Hindi but think carefully before you use them. I use them to scare people away who have already crossed a boundary such as touching me, invading my personal space more than is polite or necessary in INDIAN society.
- Support the Blank Noise Campaign: An artistic response from Indian women to the issue of Eve Teasing in India and become and Action s/hero!