India remains one of the last frontiers for most travelers especially for women backpackers. Though there has been a lot of development in the last two decades, the country remains an enigma with the unexpected right down the bend.
If you are planning a backpacking holiday in India, keep in mind certain things, which are likely to be a pain, and take steps to avoid these. You should travel during the cooler months. However, the rack rates in hotels will be higher during this period, as it is the tourist season. But there are other options which you could explore, such as the guest houses and home-stays
It is also advisable that you choose a shorter route and preferably in the southern states or Goa. These states are relatively safer than the northern states. The Golden Triangle or the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur route could be very stressful for any first timer, not just a woman.
Train travel in India is a chapter by itself. You can travel the length and breadth of India by train, provided you have the time. The Indian Railway has a fairly effective website where tickets can be booked in advance. The sleeper class is the cheapest and can be quite an adventure. But if it is your first visit, you will be overwhelmed by the jostling crowds, the sounds and the smells. So it’s advisable to pay more and upgrade your train travel to the air-conditioned coach.
While traveling by train, carry your drinking water with you. It is also advisable to carry sandwiches and fruits. You should not accept any food or water from any of your traveling companions. There have been cases of travelers being sedated after they ate the biscuits or other eatables, given to them by their co-passenger, while these biscuit brigands (as the newspapers called them) make off with their things.
You can, also, go by road as there are efficient and comfortable bus services between major cities and towns. There are special seats designated for women on the bus. So, if you are travelling alone make sure you ask for the ladies’ seat. If any of your co-passengers try to grope or touch, you have to alert bus conductor. Don’t feel bad about it; Indian women are quite militant about this. Even if this fellow is not thrown off the bus, the conductor will ensure that he is seated elsewhere in the bus.
There are other modes of transport that you could opt for when traveling in India. Many private domestic air carriers, besides the government-owned Air India, offer attractive low-cost fares to various Indian destinations but they need to be purchased well in advance. The closer you get to your departure dates, the higher the fare goes. Again, make sure to re-check the schedule of the flight as, these carriers may tend to cancel the flight, often at short notice.
At all airports and rail and bus termini, you will find pre-paid travel counters for taxis and autos (three- wheeler taxis). Preferably, use the pre-paid travel facility as these are fixed fares and controlled by the authorities. You will have less chances of being short-changed by the driver. Note down the vehicle registration number that is displayed on the vehicle, as a matter of precaution, if you encounter any unfortunate circumstances later.
When you are backpacking in India, pit stops can become a real hassle. The public toilets are pathetic and you should never use them. In the cities and towns try to use the toilets in the restaurants. In the rural areas find a convenient bush. While travelling on an overnight bus, make sure you stick with the other women travelers. On some routes the bathrooms are quite hygienic but in some others, it is very revolting.
Women backpacking in India should also be careful about their dress. Avoid tight-fitting, transparent clothes. Carry a scarf with you at all times, it prove to be very handy.