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10 Tips for women traveling in India

Moi, in salwar kameez, at Kanyakumari - the very southern tip of India

Moi, in salwar kameez, at Kanyakumari – the very southern tip of India

Common sense and modest clothes

I have travelled from one end of India to the other, for a total of more than 14 months so far (as of 2011), mostly by myself — and I’m very happy and grateful to report no major negative incidents to report. I do pray daily to Ganesh while I am in India, so that may have something to do with my luck and my good travel fortunes, but I think using coomon sense and wearing modest clothing has helped a lot, too. Here are 10 of my top tips for women travelling in India.

1. Wear “salwar kameez”

Aside from good walking shoes and sandals, a one-piece bathing suit and cotton bras and underwear – or, if you prefer, the synthetic kind that wicks away sweat – don’t bring any clothes to India. If you land in Delhi, head straight to one of the Fabindia outlets and stock up on inexpensive cotton “suits.” The three-piece suit (in Hindi, salwar kameez) consists of a long or short tunic over fitted or wide-legged pants, topped with a long scarf, called a dupatta. These outfits suit the climate, the need for modesty and will help you fit in, mitigating your status as a moving target for gawkers, touts and beggars.

2.  Carry a long scarf

Even if you don’t opt for wearing the costume preferred by many women in India, the “suit” or salwar kameez, always travel with a long scarf made of light-weight fabric. It will come in handy for situations where modesty will be more convenient and allow you to go into mosques, gurdwaras and more traditionally minded Hindu temples.

Rawla Guest House, Jaipur

Rawla Guest House, Jaipur

3. Rawla guest house in Jaipur

Jas Vilas Hotel in posh Bani Park, Jaipur is a favourite accommodation option, a real gem, but it is on the expensive side and often full. The owner’s niece, Sanyogita – who is a Rajput royal – recently opened a comfortable and gracious guesthouse in her lovely home. The Rawla, also in Bani Park, offers modern amenities, good food, and, best of all, Sanyogita’s company and advice. Sanyogita is a charming hostess who knows Jaipur like the back of her hand.

4. Bring tissue and hand sanitizer

In India, I never go out for the day without a mini pack or two of tissues, a small bottle of hand disinfectant, a cell phone and an iPod shuffle. I use the cell phone to call a friend and report the number of the taxi, as I get in, and so that the driver can hear me. (If no one answers, I pretend!) In markets and bazaars, I sometimes turn up the iPod so that I can’t hear the aggressive vendors, and they eventually leave me alone.

5. TripAdvisor

Check TripAdvisor.com for recommendations and tips from fellow travelers.

Ganges View Hotel terrace, Varanasi

Ganges View Hotel terrace, Varanasi

6. Hotel Ganges View, Varanasi

I was very glad that I stayed at the Hotel Ganges View, Assi Ghat, in Varanasi. Aside from being a comfortable and safe place to stay, it also features a communal dining experience in the gracious dining room. At dinner, I met other women traveling alone, and a couple of us went on to Delhi together, sharing some of the expenses.

7. Yoga capital: Rishikesh

Rishikesh is a wonderful destination for a woman traveling alone in India who is interested in health, wellness, yoga or spirituality. The “yoga capital of the world” is a relatively serene town that meanders along the jewel-green Ganges River as it cascades through a beautiful valley among the Himalayan foothills. There are many safe accommodation options in ashrams (such as my fave, the Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram) and guesthouses and lots of opportunity to take yoga classes, study and meet other women traveling alone.

8. IndiaMike.com

IndiaMike.com a great online resource, packed with destination information, travel articles and forums on many topics relating to traveling or living in India. You can pose very specific questions and chances are good that a friendly and knowledgeable fellow-traveler will respond.

9. Makemytrip.com

Makemytrip.com is an Indian travel site that offers information and can help you plan your itinerary and book plane, train and bus tickets as well as hotel and homestay accommodation.

open-air dining room at Shinshiva Ayruvedic Resort, Kerala

open-air dining room at Shinshiva Ayruvedic Resort, Kerala

10. Shinshiva Ayruvedic Resort, Kerala

One of my favourite Indian experiences was staying for two weeks at Shinshiva Ayruvedic Resort in south Kerala (about 8 kms south of busy Kovalam Beach). The Shinshiva is a small resort that features thatched-roof cottages, an open-air Ayurvedic dining room, a perfect cliff-top setting overlooking the Arabian sea and magical sunsets AND authentic Ayurvedic treatments such as one-hour-long hot oil massages performed by two young women working in rhythmic harmony. Also a good place to meet other women travelers, it is a favourite destination for Europeans.

[NOTE: Originally published on Journeywoman, July 2009.]

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10 Responses to 10 Tips for women traveling in India

  1. navneet September 2, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    I found this web site to know more about Yoga. I hope you will link it.

    http://www.indiavision.com/health_yoga.html

  2. Nora September 4, 2009 at 2:52 am #

    Great tips, Mariellen! Your Site is a beautiful go-to resource for traveling to India. It helps me stay motivated to get there (soon!) myself.
    Cheers!

  3. Emma Astrid January 5, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    Yes, definatley :) I came across your thread on LP’s Thorn Tree earlier this evening. Really great advice Mariellen. I’m planning to go there in February, it’s my first time and I’ve been going hot & cold on the idea of going alone for months now! It’s final though, I’AM GOING TO GO!

  4. Christina February 14, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Mariellen, thanks so much for these great tips! Now that I’m two weeks into my trip I’m starting to experience firsthand some of the difficulties that come along with being a solo female traveler in India… but thanks to you I was as prepared as I possibly could have been, which was a big help :)

  5. silla March 13, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Thank you!! i think im going to india in august, i bookedmarked ur tips :)

  6. Sarah Cook June 4, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    I’m traveling to India next summer. About how much are the salwar kameez at the outlets?

  7. Jessica June 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your experience. your advice is very helpful and sensible.

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