By Xue Wei Mak.
Here are 5 simple tips and practices for fellow travellers that made my India adventure safer and more enjoyable. I hope it helps you make up your mind about going solo in India too!
1. Purchase data for your mobile to use Google Maps
Ever had your bus pull into a new town, deep in the night, 4 hours after the estimated time of arrival, only to be greeted by a swamp of rickshaw touts as you alight? Many times in India. The first time it happened, I bargained intensively and left with a rickshaw driver who unwillingly accepted my stated price. That exponentially increased the chances of getting driven down a dark alley and robbed! So, I performed the necessary ritual – set up the route to my destination on my Google Maps and made sure that the rickshaw stayed on it. I held on to my belongings and was ever ready to make an escape should the surroundings start to look suspicious. Doing this is equally helpful when you get on a meter-taxi, so your driver doesn’t take you on a ride around town.
2. Dress like an Indian
When you are surrounded by people who look so different from you, the last thing you want is for your dressing to attract more attention. I usually dressed in an oversized t-shirt and harem pants, and added a scarf and sunglasses for more privacy when I visited crowded places in India, like most marketplaces. When visiting places of attractions, to minimise being bombarded by touts, I’d replace my t-shirt with a kurti (traditional top) to give the impression that I reside in India, or am familiar with Indian culture and customs. From what I understood, women in traditional Indian costumes are regarded to be more respectable than those in western clothing.
3. Stay in ensuite rooms, even in a hostel
3. Stay in ensuite rooms, even in a hostel
|A bustling marketplace in Darjeeling.|
Accommodation in India comes in different shapes and sizes, but never too expensive. In my 2 months, I experienced common dorms, double rooms and also shared a family room ensuite (with a bathroom attached) with other travellers. To me, ensuites work because I do not have to look after my valuables every time I visit the bathroom. I also do not like to be seen walking around in my comfy sleeping clothes post-shower. I noticed that dorms are usually located right next to the workers’ quarters in a secluded end of most properties, which isn’t the safest option either. My suggestion: Spend more on rooms and stay where the other travellers are staying, in a good neighbourhood.
4. Sit close to women and families with children
|Colorfully dressed women in Rajasthan. Photo by Nevil Zaveri.|
If you are going to move around a lot, chances are you won’t be able to avoid waiting out the frequent 6-hour train delays. It was 11.23 pm, when I sat waiting at the Jodhpur Railway Station for the Jodhpur-Jaisalmer Express. I found myself approached by locals who somehow lost interest in looking out for the train, and instead, started selling me the ‘best hotel stays’ and ‘best camel safari tours’. After fanning off some touts, I left my spot and planted myself next to a group of 6 elderly women, squatting by the chai stall. Though I very much became the subject of their after-dinner talks and our conversations got lost in translation, I felt safer knowing that our conservations were not going to end up with an eventual sales pitch.
5. Eat where the locals do
|Eatery with an "alfresco" kitchen in Varanasi.|
Lonely Planet isn’t your best guide when it comes to eating in India; you have to trust your gut feeling when searching for dining experience with fresh food. I usually ate where it was crowded, because first, it meant that the food is nice by local standards, and second, new batches of dishes / breads are constantly being prepared (food will be warm and fresh). It also dawned on me that eateries where the kitchen is situated at the shop front are the best because I get to see where and how they prepare my food.
Some travellers believe their tryst with India will end with one trip, while others fall in love with the complexity of the Indian society. As for me, I guess India has chosen me to be one of those to see her at her best. And because I know my time with India is not over, I hold on dearly to these 5 practices that got me through my first adventure. I know that the next time I return, these will help me be a more experienced India traveller!
What tips would you add for solo travellers in India?
AUTHOR BIO: As a schoolteacher, Xuewei is blessed with weeks-long breaks during the school holidays, when she ventures out to reconcile her classroom knowledge with reality, through travelling. She especially enjoys destinations which are historically, culturally and religiously rich, and is currently planning her third trip back to India.