Welcome to the most mind binding country I have ever been to. In all of my travels, I’ve never had to question my safety all that much. I would say that I’m a very level-headed person and I’m very aware of my surroundings. I know how to travel alone, as a woman, and enjoy my time while feeling safe about it. I’ve been very generous that hardly anything bad as happened to me in the 2 years I’ve been doing this. However, everything went out the window for me in India. I think it was just my time. Everything for me was pretty much smooth sailing when it came to my personal items and myself. I had been lucky enough to never get robbed, mugged, hurt, or lose anything important in all the places I have been. Even though nothing of this matter actually happened to me in India, I was still the biggest target I have ever been while traveling. My sexuality as a woman was questioned. My safety every time I went outside was questioned. I trusted no one. I had no idea what was going to happen next. How was I going to get from one place to another and not jeopardise my safety? Would I even make it? How many men was going to surround me next? What’s my escape plan to get out of a bad situation? How am I going to control my anxiety and not look scared when I walk out of the train station? These questions were pouring through my head at all times. It was a world and situation I’ve never had to deal with before while traveling. I’ve never thought my sexuality would ever be a reason why I was a target. I’ve been thankful enough that I was born in a country where woman are just as equal and have the same rights just like men. Where women can walk out on the streets and not have to worry about being raped because of simply just being a woman and being out in public alone. Women are a huge target in India, and its scary. I’ve spoken to very few women that have traveled alone through India, and never had issues like I had. But, then I have spoken, seen, and heard horror stories from others.
Going into India, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I had heard from many people, (those being mostly men) that India is a place where you either really love it or really hate it. There is no in-between. And with that being said, I really hated Northern India my first 10 days. It was probably the worst 10 days of my life. However, when I flew to Goa for the holidays, my mind was completely changed. I flew into New Delhi from Nepal early in the morning. I had a plan in my head that I was going to take a taxi straight from the airport to the train station and catch the first train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I landed at 10:30am and wanted to catch the noon train to be in Agra by 4pm. seemed pretty reasonable. well, I wrong….
I stepped outside of the airport and went to stand in line at the taxi stand. Do not do what I did and take the cheaper taxi route. Pay extra for the black car service. Trust me, it will be worth it. Or if you have service, get a Uber. And no matter what, do not listen to your taxi driver about anything. I took the cheap taxi route, told them to take me to the train station. He agreed. As we started driving he told me that since I was a tourist I could not buy my tickets at the train station and there were special offices I had to go to because there are certain cabins tourist take that differ from the locals. I explained to him I already had a ticket, (which I didn’t) and I didn’t need to go anywhere other than the train station. After an argument started, he stopped the car and threatened to kick me out of his taxi in a bad part of town if I didn’t agree to go to his friend’s place. So, seeing though I had no other choice, and I was in the slums of Delhi, I agreed. I was going to get to his friend’s place and get another taxi to the train station. We pulled up to the tourist shop and the taxi driver immediately jumped out and grabbed my backpack and ran inside with it. When I walked in I was bombarded by 4 men, one holding my bag. He said, come with me and have a seat. I sat down at his desk and he states, “I heard you need train tickets?” I explained to him I didn’t need tickets, I had already purchased them. He knew I was lying because you can only purchase train tickets at the train station, and since I was coming from the airport, he knew I didn’t already have them. He then proceed to say that all the trains were cancelled for the day due to fog. (This actually does happen all the time in India.) At this time I didn’t know this and thought he was telling the truth. He pulled up this fake site on his computer that said cancelled all down the page. Then proceed to tell me that since I was a woman traveling alone in India, my safety was at jeopardy. I needed to hire a private car and stay in certain hotels while traveling in the North. They wanted $400usd from me for 8 nights and 9 days, all transportation included in a private car and hotels. I had planned on spending less than that for my entire trip, including everything! I kindly declined his offer and explained to him I had already pre-booked places in advance. Well, that made him really mad. I got called a stupid naive American multiple times. And this is where I started to get nervous. They started going through my bag to find my passport. When the one guy realized I wasn’t giving my passport up, they all left me at the desk. One guy came back and said he could do it for less money if Just hired the private car. I once again declined his offer. I asked for my bag so I could find the nearest hostel. He asked me if I even knew where I was. Obviously I didn’t. I knew I was close to a train station because I saw in on my map. He offered to get me a place to stay around the corner until morning when the trains started back. I declined. So he threw my bag at me and started to shove me out. Once I reached outside, he was yelling at me to be careful and causing a scene. I quickly took off walking very fast. I then realized I was in a place I shouldn’t be. But I had no choice. I wasn’t getting in another taxi or rickshaw. Within seconds, multiple men were around me, following me, yelling at me. Asking me questions, asking me for money, trying to touch me. I started to walk faster and try to keep calm but I felt my anxiety starting to kick in. I knew I had to make it to a hostel near or the train station. After about 10 minutes of walking, I saw the train station. I remember when I was walking down the little side streets people would actually stop what they were doing just to stare at me. Not just a quick stare, like watch me until I was out of sight. hundreds of men at that. It was so uncomfortable.
When I reached the train station I felt relief. That was until literally 6 men surrounded me as I was walking up. One of them put his hands on me. I quickly shoved them off. Another man said “You can’t go inside, the ticket office is down one block. Follow me. 20 rupee” Another man grabbed my arm and said “No, don’t believe him, I’m a cop it’s this way.” Another man shoved him and started arguing on where they were going to take me. I immediately lost it. I started yelling at all of them. I couldn’t get by because there was so many, so I started to freak out. I shoved a couple of them out of my way and began to walk quickly away from the station. Then, out of no where, a large man comes up to me and explains he works for the railroad. I didn’t believe him. He said he wanted to help me because I reminded him of sister and he saw those men attacking me. I tried running from him and he followed me. Yelling, saying I could trust him and he would show me where to buy my tickets. I finally was so out of breath and mentally exhausted I stopped. At this point I didn’t care, I just wanted to feel safe and get away from everything. The man pointed up top of the train station and explained the trains weren’t cancelled and that there is a tourist department that does all the train tickets for non locals. He said there was a train leaving Delhi at 4pm and if he is lying he will pay for my taxi all the way to Agra himself. So I listened to him for some reason. And he was right. Up top of the New Delhi train station is where you need to go and buy your tickets. If you want, you can buy multiple train tickets at once. They will give you a form to fill out of what type of train class and seat selection you want. (read my blog about the Indian railways and booking tickets coming soon) This is, once again, where I messed up. I didn’t really know the classes or what they meant. I figured Agra was about a 4 hour train ride so I was thinking it couldn’t be the bad. I booked the lowest class, on multiple tickets. Some of them she booked me for Sleeper class. My plan was to go from Delhi to Agra. Agra to Jaipur. Jaipur to Ajmer. Ajmer to Pushkar. And Pushkar back to Delhi to fly out to Goa. I bought all my tickets for $7usd total and headed downstairs to the trains. This should have been my first sign, buying 4 trains tickets for under $10.
It’s so crazy and hectic inside these stations. It’s very overwhelming at times. The trains in India are never on time and half the time, will not be on the right platform and get moved at the last-minute. So its pretty much a waiting game. My train to Agra was over an hour late. I had no idea what train was what. Or how to even find which section was mine. I was so confused. When the train got there I located my seat/bed. I picked the upper bed in the sleeper unit, which was all the way at the top. I’m a tall girl, so all 5’11 of me climbed up on this tiny bed and laid there. I couldn’t set up because it was all the way to the top. But I kind of liked it because no one could really see or bother me up there. My trip to Agra took about 6 hours. And there isn’t an intercom or a person telling you what stop you’re at, so it makes it more frustrating and I felt lost. I remember I got down to use the toilet and noticed I was the only woman in my entire cabin. It was me and about 30 men. And of course they all stared. I was so scared I just blew my cover by getting down to go to the bathroom that they all were going to attack me or something. The toilet in my cabin was a legitimate hole in the ground that lead straight to the tracks. Nothing to hold onto. There was piss and shit everywhere and the smell of chemicals and feces could kill a small dog. This is when I realized I wasn’t going to drink or eat any water before getting on the trains here.
Once I arrived in Agra around 11pm, I was once again confronted by numerous men trying to get me in their rickshaw. It’s very intimidating, specially after all the stuff I had been through that day. I just picked one guy and said let’s go. I didn’t have the energy to care at this point. As we are driving, the guy starts going on about how my hostel was closed and he had a place I could stay and he was going to take me there instead of my hostel. Pretty much the same shit I had heard a 1000 times that day. I really wanted to cry. It was like replaying everything all over again and I was mentally drained. I begged him to just take me to my hostel. I didn’t care how unsafe it was or if it was closed. After bickering back and forth, he finally drops me off at my hostel. And of course, it wasn’t closed. I was confronted by a younger man working that looked at me and just knew I had been through hell. All he said was “mam, is everything ok? You look like something bad has happened?” And there went the tears. I just started crying. That’s all I wanted to do all day. I held it in for so long because I knew if those men saw me cry, it was a sign of weakness and people would pray off of that. That poor kid at the hostel didn’t know what to do. He sat me down, told me it would all be fine and that I was safe. I just wanted to cry for 5 seconds. that was it. and then I stopped. I explained to him how my day was and how I had to get physical a couple of times. How I was touched and grabbed and lied to all day not knowing what was really going to happen. His brother took me to the rooftop and cooked me food and made sure I felt safe. I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day. Shortly after my arrival, two females came rushing into the hostel around one I’m the morning crying. They were staying at a hostel down the street and the owners tried to rape them in the middle of the night. They managed to get out without any harm done and needed a place to stay for the night.
All of this in less than 24 hours in India. I asked myself what the F&%K I was doing here. I was so overwhelmed and nervous because of everything that had happened to me. I didn’t know if it was going to get better or worse. Some of you might be like well this isn’t to bad. And your right, it could have been way worse. But in the end, when your alone and feel unsafe in a third world country knowing that there isn’t anything you can do if something bad happens it was makes it bad. When you have no idea where you’re at or whats safe, or who is trustworthy. It drains you.
After spending a couple of days in Agra, I headed to Jaipur, The “Pink City”. My train was of course delayed 3 hours. One of the guys at the hostel showed me how to upgrade my train tickets. so I upgraded two of them. My train to Jaipur couldn’t be upgraded because they were booked. So once again, I was in the Sleeper cart. And yes, it was filled with all men. And once again, I sat there at got stared at for hours until I got off. When the train stopped, I waited for everyone else to get off first. Bad mistake. because once everyone is off, that train fills right back up. I literally couldn’t get off the train. I was standing there getting shoved by so many people trying to rush on the train. And I was literally standing right by the door. No one cared. I was invisible. getting knocked around like a soccer ball. I finally got so irritated and nervous I was going to not be able to get off, I took off as fast and hard as I could and took out about 4 people. I knew I was a pretty strong person and with about 20 kilos on my back, it was a lot of force. And it worked. I got off the train, and everyone that saw, cleared a path for me. I booked my hostel within walking distance from the train station so I didn’t have to mess with any taxis or rickshaws. But this sure didn’t keep them from all surrounding me at once as soon as I walked out of the train station. It’s just like walking out with a massive sign above your head that says “PLEASE ATTACK!!”
At this point, I realized that I was starting to get weak. I hadn’t ate a lot of food since I arrived. And with that being said, I hadn’t touched meat at all. I heard there is a 99% chance you will get sick in India if you stay longer than a coupe of weeks. I somehow managed to be that 5% that didn’t. They call it the “Delhi Belly”. And the last thing I wanted to do was be sick on one of those train rides. It would literally be the death of me! My place in Jaipur was more of a homestead than a hostel. But it had amazing food. So I pretty much sat there for two days and ate so much food. I ran into some issues with money here. And it was the first time that my “safety money” ever came into actually helping me. You see, I was in India when they were going through their money crisis. It was a huge deal. It affected everyone except the wealthy. Even tourist. If you were lucky enough to even find an ATM with money, not only would you be waiting in line for an hour, you could only take out 2,000 rupee at a time, and that’s if the machine didn’t run out of money before you got there. It was a nightmare. I remember I spent almost 2 hours driving around Jaipur looking for money because I ran out. And no one took credit cards. Plus, on top of all this, you could only exchange up to $50 at one time. Needless to say, it was a frustrating!!
Ajmer was my next stop, but I realized I didn’t want to spend anymore time in a city than what I had to. So I decided to go straight to Pushkar. Pushkar is a place that everyone must experience while traveling through India. They host the annual camel festival every year. This is where I thought everything was turning around for me. You can only get to this holy little town by taking a local bus from Ajmer. Its located about 30 minutes down the road and buses leave frequently from the local bus stand. Since Pushkar is where a lot of tourist go, and the only way to get there is through Ajmer, the train station here is 20 times worse than the rest of them with people coming up to you trying to haggle you. They don’t have local buses leaving the train station anymore. You have to take a rickshaw to get there. It’s only about a mile or so down the road. Once again, my luck, I got out of the train station and got attacked. More than one man grabbed me. I stood there and waited for all of them to surround me and kindly told all of them “No thank you” Yeah, that doesn’t work. These men will follow you for a mile if they thought there was a small chance you would say yes. I walked right up to a police officer and told him I needed to get to the local bus stop. He held a rickshaw for me and said not to pay more than 7 rupee. He talked to the driver and away I went. Rickshaws will charge you around 40 rupee a person at the train station so I would advise you to walk outside into the streets to catch a different one. Once you get to the bus stand, look for stand number 22. That is the bus you will take to Pushkar. You pay the conductor on the bus once you start moving.
After my amazing time in Pushkar I headed back to Ajmer to catch my train all the way back to Delhi. This was a 14 hour train ride, and I actually changed my ticket to 2nd class for the long ride. I arrive at the train station to find out my train was cancelled completely and that somewhere I had misplaced my ticket. The next train to Delhi was the next morning. I knew I had to get to Delhi before the previous day. My flight to Goa was supposed to leave the next day on Christmas Eve. My flight was the last one leaving Delhi. I sure as shit wasn’t spending Christmas in Delhi. I walked up to a police officer and asked him what my best bet would be. He said my only option was to take a local bus all the way there. When he said this I just sank. I heard some really messed up stories about women on the local buses traveling that far. But I knew at this point, because of the time of day it was, it was my only option. I was lucky enough to have met a couple of French guys that were on the same train as me, who were also going to Delhi. They said they would take me under their wing because they knew how hard it was for me to be traveling alone as a woman and the only way I could get on that bus would be with them. Even at that, It still wasn’t safe for me. But I went a head and did it. I sat in the back of the worse bus I have ever seen, and rode 14 hours all the way to Delhi. Even with the French guys, I was still terrified. The seats weren’t big enough to hold a normal size person, and there was nowhere to put my backpack so I had to set with it on my lap for majority of the time. Throughout the trip, the bus would fill up and then get empty. People coming on and off, and of course, us three being the main attraction, or more so myself, because there were many of times I was the only female for hours. There was about 4-5 of us that was riding the bus all the way to Delhi, two of them being two young boys, maybe in their early 20’s. About half way, we stopped along the road for food. I got back on the bus to find the one of the boys took my bag and placed it under his seat in the very back. He then told me I could set next to him and stretch out and he would look out for my bag. I thought either he is being very nice or trying to pull a fast one. Turned out, he was just being nice.
I remember the conductor guy told me I was probably the only white female to ever ride a local bus for that long by myself. Even though I had the French guys with me. I didn’t know if the was a compliment or him saying I was stupid. Once got closet Delhi, I kindly asked him not to take me to the bus stop. That was 100% the last place I wanted to be dropped off at 2am. I told him to pick a random corner and I would jump off and call a Uber. Which all worked out.
When I got to my hostel, I couldn’t even sleep. I was so wired from the bus ride and having my mind constantly going a hundred miles per hour about what bad could happen next. Or how if something would have happen how all those men could over power me and the French guys. It almost made me sick to think about. It was one of those things I will never forget and made me stronger in a way, but I will never do it again. In the end, I was here, safely. And that’s the only thing that mattered.
I woke up the next morning and headed to the airport to catch my flight to Goa. I didn’t know if I was excited to leave Delhi or nervous to fly into somewhere else in India that I had no clue about. When I landed in Goa I prepared myself for the worst leaving the airport. I had arranged a ride in advance through my hostel since I was landing at 10pm that night. I didn’t want to go through what I did back in Delhi. I remember walking out of the airport and I was immediately shocked in a way. There wasn’t hundreds of people around and nor was there anyone trying to come up to me and ask for a ride. It was very calm and awkwardly quiet. There was a small line by the taxi stand with about 4 people in it, about 5 taxis lined up along the sidewalk and about 10 men holding signs with names on them. No one even approached me or really cared I existed. No one tried talking to me. No one tried getting me in their taxi. No one even cared I was standing there. It felt amazing. I found the guy that was going to drive me to my hostel. He pulled the van around and I got in. He explained to me that it would be about an hour and a half to get to Goa and I could lay down and sleep if I wanted. I was still pretty skeptical about everything and didn’t trust him at all. So the last thing I wanted to do was fall asleep and end up god knows where. After about 20 minutes he started talking to me about my trip, asking how it has went. After I explained to him everything I had been through he was shocked, but not really surprised. He told me that’s how things are up in the northern part of India and that I had nothing to worry about here in Goa. They where a completely different type of people here. I didn’t know if I should believe him right off the bat, but, the airport kind of made me think he was right. My guard was still up. He explained to me that Goan’s were completely different and how they really didn’t care if we were tourists or not. And they weren’t aggressive like the men in Northern India. He also told me that lots of people fall for the train trick when they first arrive and end up spending tons of money to hire private cars. I was one of the few that knew what they were doing. The taxi people make commission off bringing people there. He also informed me that if I would have called the hotline number for women that is posted everywhere, my taxi driver would have had a lot bigger issues on his hands.
I arrived at my hostel and it tuned out my driver was the owner. He made me feel very welcomed and comfortable. The next morning I was nervous to go out and explore alone, but I did it anyways. Once I hit the streets to head to the beach, I knew he was right. It was nothing like the India I had previously experienced. A big sign of relief came over me. Almost as if I was free in a way. My next couple of weeks in Goa made me fall in love with this country. The people, culture, and food here is what I pictured India to be like. I’ve never met more caring people like I did here. The vibe is all around unbelievable. What I thought was strange is that I didn’t meet a ton of other backpackers from different countries. I met a lot of Indian people who had traveled here for the holiday. All men. At first I thought it was strange that every hostel I stayed, it was me and 4-8 Indian men in a room. But I felt comfortable. I never once had an issue. And I actually met some really cool guys that I still stay in contact with. They all changed my mind about India. Which in the end, I’m glad it happened.
I had a 18 hour train ride booked to head from Goa to Mumbai. a couple of days after New Years. I quickly changed that and ended up staying the rest of my time in Goa. I will say I never had an issue walking outside at night alone here. There was a couple of times I walked home alone at 2-3 am and passed many people. Nothing was really said. On New Years I heard of some incidents involving a group of girls and one involving a girl who I was with. On the beach multiple guys surround a couple of girls and started touching them and sticking their hands up their skirts. It was quickly dealt with. The same things happened to the girl who was with us. 5 men surrounded her and tried grouping her. Some guys were with had to get physical. So I will say, you have to still be careful of your surroundings here. The things about Indian men is that the don’t drink. And some places don’t even allow alcohol to be sold anywhere in the towns. So when these men go on holiday to a place where alcohol can be consumed, they go crazy. It’s like they don’t know how to handle themselves and become very aggressive and touchy.
For those of you traveling alone, I would suggest wearing a ring on your wedding finger. This shows the men that you are taken. If you chose not to do this, I would always say you have a boyfriend or husband. Because you will get asked multiple times. Even say you have a kid. It helps. They won’t bother you as much. You can trust the police officers here. India strives off tourism and you have more rights than the locals. Anytime you have an issue. find a police officer. The staring is what got me. I figured that maybe if I stared back at them and we had a staring competition they would stop. That didn’t work. Apparently, if you stare at them, they think that is a way of you showing them affection/interest. So don’t think that staring back will fix the issue. Also, be prepared, India was one of the dirtiest countries I’ve ever seen. So don’t expect much.
All in all my India trip will be one of those countries that I will never forget. And not for good reasons. but also, not for bad ones. When people ask me about how I liked India, I’m always hesitant with my response. This country is absolutely crazy! But in the end of the day, if you asked me if I would go back, I would respond with a 100% yes. I’ve learned that you can’t base your judgment off of just bad things. I don’t like going somewhere and saying I’ll ever be back. I like to have an open mind about it and brush off all the negativity that happened to me and replace it with all the good things that I enjoyed. All in all, if you’re a woman, and you want to travel to India alone, do your research and be careful. All those horror stories that you hear of can definitely happen to you.