Traveling Alone in India? Safety & Security Concerns

I’ve gotten so many nice responses from my readers.  A lot of them are telling me they can’t wait to go to India.  That’s wonderful!  I hope my writing turns a lot of people on to the beauty and magic of India.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to caution you as well.  There are bad people wherever you go.  That is also true for India.

There are a lot of rapes in India.  It has the dubious honor of ranking third in the world in rape cases, and most go unreported!  These attacks are not just on females walking alone.  In several of the cases the female was accompanied by a male companion that was helpless to stop the assault.

On my first trip I was so excited about being there.  After I had my dinner in the hotel I put on my jacket to take a walk.  I headed for the door to step out into the dark Delhi streets.  Thank goodness a kind Punjabi doorman stopped me and said with a smile “Where do you think you’re going?”  I told him I was going for a walk and he said “You’ll have to reserve that for the morning.  It is not safe for you to go out alone at night.”  I’m glad he did that because it made me extra cautious the rest of the trip.

It’s so easy to find yourself in a compromising position.  I was having some new salwar kameez suits made in Amritsar and they called to say they were sending the tailor with the suits to my friend’s house.  He arrived and wanted me to try them on, to make sure they fit properly.

I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror looking at the suit when he slid his hand down the front of my dress!  I pushed him away and started yelling “What gives you the right to do that to me?” I started flogging him.  Hitting him over and over.  He ran for the stairs and as he descended them I am sure he fell and skinned his leg, but he got up anyhow and ran away.  My friends were in another room and heard the commotion and when I told them we all had a good laugh.  But the point is, that incident could’ve turned into something else and then it would not have been a laughing matter.

On another journey in the fog I was driven by a man who was obviously an alcoholic.  When it passed his normal whiskey time (7PM) he began trembling like a leaf, going into withdrawal I think.  He wanted a drink badly and I finally agreed to let him stop for the night after a car full of young men passed us in that dense fog and were shouting when they saw me in the back seat.  I was afraid we might run into these guys again and my driver would’ve been no help to me at all.

When you arrive the money changers will try to lure you away from the terminal to exchange rupees for your currency.  They take you to dark out of the way areas.  It’s always better to change your money at the hotels, even if it costs you a small fraction more.

I went to the ATM at Citibank in Delhi one year to get the equivalent of $300 in rupees.  I entered 15,000 rupees and out came several stacks of stapled together bills.  I had forgotten to bring a big purse or bag with me to the bank.  I wound up carrying that money for several blocks. That could’ve been a bad mistake.

Even on my last trip, when I thought I had heard every scam there was, they managed to get me again.  I was headed to the train station for a 7am train.  Two men approached the auto rickshaw I was in and asked if I had a ticket.  I said yes.  Then they said “Is it stamped?”  I said what do you mean?  “Only stamped tickets are honored on the train. You must go to a train office to get it stamped.”  I had never heard of such a thing!  I was in a rush because the train was boarding so I said “Take me there. But do it quickly.”  They took me a long way from the train terminal to a local travel agency.  Many foreign tourists were there.  Some of them couldn’t speak English.  I woke up my friend Vinay (from Visit Beyond) and put him on the phone with them.  He demanded they take me back to the train station.  Just another example of Vinay saving the day for me!

Overnight travel on trains is also something you have to be prepared for.  If you plan to sleep (I have never been able to) you should bring a chain to chain your suitcase to your berth.  If you’re traveling with money I suggest you hide it or sleep with it.  Robbers have been known to board trains, rob the passengers and jump off at the next stop, even though the Police patrol the train cars all through the evening with rifles slung over their shoulders.

On another visit it was the Police that frightened me.  I had solicited one of my friends to drive me through Rajasthan.  We were having a fun trip, stopping at almost every tea house we passed for a tea in their garden.  I wanted to go to the Pushkar Camel Festival, so we headed out that way.  The Police had set up roadblocks to search cars going into the festival.  I was happy to see that they were doing a security check on every car that was headed that way.  We got though the first check and were surprised to find another roadblock just a few kilometers from the first one.  Again we got out of the car, opened the trunk and all of the luggage.  They were quizzing me about being with an Indian national.  How did I know him, etc.  Finally they seemed satisfied, we got into the car to pull away and they had flattened one of our tires!  My friend changed the tire with rifles pointed at him.  I was very uncomfortable with the gaze of the other policemen there.  We finally were able to proceed.  I was so relieved.  That’s the first time, I believe, that I have ever seen discrimination first hand.  My friend just happened to have a muslim surname and I am sure that is why the car was inspected twice and we had our tire flattened.

When it comes to your personal security it is mostly up to yourself so please, always be vigilant. Many policies have been put in place to protect tourists.  In the larger cities most hotels will not allow Indian nationals to go to a tourist’s room.  They also have a policy of asking where you just came from and where you are going next when they check you into a hotel.  That’s one way they have of tracking tourists in India.

A few times during my visits I have gotten calls from the US State Department in my hotel room.  They would caution me against going one place or another, so it seems the check in procedures are linked to the country of origin.  The first time I got one of these calls I was surprised that my government was taking such good care of me.  It is a comfort knowing that they track such things.

For those of you that travel in groups or tours security is safety in numbers.  But for those of us that travel alone, don’t use hotels much  and make our own plans, sometimes changing them at a whim, security is something we always have to be aware of.  You might want to have a whistle on a string around your neck, or maybe a pepper spray with you.  The Indian emergency number is 100.  That will connect you to the Police.

Please don’t let any of this scare you away from experiencing India.  It is a wonderful place and for those of you that are spiritually inclined there’s hardly a better place to take a journey.

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3 thoughts on “Traveling Alone in India? Safety & Security Concerns

  1. I’m so glad my daughter had already gone to visit India when that first news story broke. The same thing is a problem in the Peace Corps, not to mention our own armed forces. Ugh. Pigs!

    • Thanks so much for following my blog. I’ve been collecting these stories about my adventures for several years and I’m thrilled they are getting such a good reception. Thanks for the nomination.

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