I recently visited India for a week, following the very popular Golden Triangle Route. I started in Delhi and ended in Delhi, seeing Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur among other places along the way. It was all very beautiful, but it had an effect on me different from any of the other places in the world I’ve visited for one reason; I was traveling as a black, female, solo traveler. While most of the time this fact is very much an after thought for me, (after all I didn’t just wake up a black female one day- I’ve been one all of my life) it very much impacted my trip. It may seem strange, but I had never been so conscious of the fact that I’m a black woman as I was in India. Here are some tips for travelling India as a solo, black, female traveler as well as some things to think about.
Hire a Reputable Guide and Driver
The amount of people trying to sell you things or be your guide is unbelievable. I didn’t enjoy some of the activities simply because I had souvenirs being thrust into my face non-stop. But with a guide these opportunists tend to leave you alone. For the most part this badgering is just annoying, but it has the potential to get dangerous. On my second day in India I went to a mosque alone. This one particular mosque was left off of my guided tour the day before because the mosque was closed for Eid, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. A man attached himself to me as a guide, even after I declined. When the tour was over he demanded an insane amount of money and when I said no he got very angry, screaming and yelling at me. I ended up giving him some money just to get away from him. Here I was at a mosque during one of the holiest days for Muslims and this guy is not only trying to rip me off but also looking like he was going to kill me. Needless to say I was thrilled to have a reputable guide the remainder of my trip.
Say No To Pictures.
Usually when people ask to take a picture with you, it’s pretty harmless. But in India I found it to be overwhelming. I’d say yes to one person and soon people were lining up to take a picture with me, making seeing some sites a lengthy process. While there were some families that asked for pictures, the majority were groups of young men. I said yes to some, but after a guide told me that many men Photoshop the pictures to look inappropriate, I started declining. I don’t know how much truth there is to this claim, but I do know that it didn’t feel right. Pretty soon after my guide mentioned this, I started seeing men snap my picture without permission and he’d have to shoo them away. Besides it being a bit of a hassle, it also brought lots of unwanted attention my way. As a solo, female traveler that is the last thing you want to do. And while I’m sure this happens to women of other backgrounds, I felt like I got way more attention as a black woman.
Say No As a Mantra
India was also overwhelming because of the crowding, level of cleanliness and the fact that so many people in some of these touristy areas have a hand out. It’s inevitable when traveling to some 3rd world countries. People are trying to get you to buy anything and everything or spare some change. Your heart will break, and you will want to buy or give to help those in need, but again once you say yes you open yourself up to unwanted attention. I did give at times as well as buy, but it had to be the right situation. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. In one situation I was alone in a painting showroom with a man. When he closed the doors and began getting too friendly I quickly sped up the process and left. Something similar happened to me as well when a man became angry because I wouldn’t buy anything from his store. His store was the last shop in an alley of stores and not easily seen from the main road. I didn’t want to enter the store to begin with and when his attitude shifted and alarmed me, I got the hell out of there. Once again, it’s not about thinking poorly of people’s intentions but instead safeguarding and protecting yourself.
Put Some Clothes On
It’s a good idea to dress modestly when traveling solo, but especially in a country like India. It’s alarming how many groups of men are in certain locations and you definitely do not want to bring extra attention to yourself. I wore a pretty modest romper one day and not two hours into my day I decided to throw pants on over it. Despite the heat, local women are covered up with either saris or Punjabis. Their legs do not show and their shoulders are covered. On the days that I wore long skirts and covered my arms I received less attention and it felt good just to fit in more.
Try The Off the Beaten Path Locations
India is a beautiful, vibrant country. But unfortunately, when things get too popular, sometimes a bit of the magic is lost. While I’m glad I can say I saw the Taj Mahal and the Amber Fort, in retrospect I would have much rather been hiking through a national park or wandering aimlessly through a small town. I actually enjoyed the spice market in Old Delhi more than some of the bigger attractions because it was business as usual for the most part. I also enjoyed the places with no big names at all or just seeing the kids play on the side of the road in rural parts of Jaipur. Even though I’m sure people still noticed that I was a black female traveling alone, they didn’t seem to care much and I was able to just watch everyday life instead of having people watching me.
In addition to these tips, I would also encourage solo female travelers not to travel alone at night in cities like Delhi. Hopefully these tips help if you’re planning on traveling solo to India and hopefully they are helpful to everyone regardless of race.