A White Western Woman.
I've been asked by a few people now to post about what it's like to be a western woman in India, and I've also included a short Q&A at the end of this blog post.
There are so many different ways to see India, from five star luxury trains to budget homestays, but when I visited for the first time I went as a solo traveller with a company called G Adventures -who'd I'd used for a previous trip and had an absolutely unforgettable time. I'd made my own way there, but once you arrive, you follow a flexible Itinerary through various regions and cities. All accommodation and transport are included in the cost, plus you have an English speaking local guide that knows everything about everything, from where to eat to the best Bollywood film to see. I think this is a perfect way to introduce yourself to somewhere like India if you worry about the drastic culture change, or just don't know where to start. Although, I did manage to plan 5 days in Goa on my own at the end of my trip, but the rest I'd left up to G Adventures. It just takes SO much stress and uncertainty away, especially if travelling solo.
(My trip was called ' Uncover India- Delhi to Goa' and I'd chosen the YOLO travel style. It's £679 at the moment which is unbelievably cheap for what's included!)
I would say the main things to expect as a western woman in India are the stares and selfies. In larger cities, not so much, however in smaller towns where western people are rarely seen, you'll find you can get quite a bit of special attention. Some only ever see western people on the TV or on billboards so their excitement is understandable! The other way you would perhaps attract attention would be if you're not covered. In places like Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Kerala where they are accustomed to western culture, you'd be fine. However, personally, I just felt more comfortable and respected when I had my knees and shoulders covered. All this might sound strange and off-putting, but it really isn't. All the attention I experienced was pretty much always positive and there's an abundance of beautiful floaty trousers being sold for as little as two quid. I do want to quickly add that this doesn't mean abandoning your bikini! There were a few looks, but I did wear mine in Goa and Kerala and felt completely comfortable.
After my two week trip with G Adventures, I'd booked to stay in Goa for 5 days on my own. I stayed in The Wanderers Hostel in Northern Goa and it was lovely. I was pretty much the only one there as it was off season and as I'd just spent two weeks with ten others, the lack of company didn't bother me. Before hand, I did think this part of the trip would be a challenge for me as I do suffer from anxiety and can find it hard to trust strangers in foreign countries. However, it was perfectly fine and the worry had all been in my mind. The owners of the hostel were kind and hospitable and I felt at ease when walking to the beach or the local market. I would go and have dinner at a family run restaurant just across the road most evenings and chat to the locals. The time alone was wonderful. Overall, I think it is important to be responsible when you're on your own in a country like India, but what I've also learnt is to push yourself, be brave, and DO be more trusting of people. You'll be surprised.
A quick Q&A.
Does India stink and is it dirty?
Not everywhere. But, yes. However, it's also one of THE most beautifully stunning countries I have ever been to. If you're not willing to accept India for what it is then you'll miss out and potentially become so pre-occupied with the insignificant negatives that it would tarnish your experience. I can't stress enough that going to a poverty-stricken country like India is so good for the soul and has only effected my life in a positive way. All I believe is that any person should go, whether you come back loving it or hating it, it doesn't matter. Experiencing is the magic!
Will I get sick?
There's a chance. Just like there's a chance in South East Asia, Africa or Central and South America. Again, please don't let this worry stop you from going! I didn't get sick, all I would say is that my digestive system changed slightly because of the dairy-rich foods. However, there is a lot you can do to prepare your body for the cuisine change and help protect yourself against any potentially harmful bacteria. For example, I took pro-biotics a month prior to my trip, they fill your gut with billions and billions of goodies and encourage normal digestion. Also, take simple multivitamins that boost your immune system before and during your trip. However, if all fails and you do get an upset stomach, take activated charcoal tablets. They absorb harmful toxins in your stomach and gut, and can significantly reduce prolonged sickness. Plus, they are 100% natural. Be careful though, as they also dehydrate you, so you would have to make sure to drink more water than usual, especially if you're in the Indian heat. One last thing I would add would be just let it all out and avoid using medication like Imodium unless extremely necessary, I believe holding it in would keep you sicker for longer.
Is it safe for a solo woman?
I think this is quite a difficult question to answer because this could apply to anywhere in the world. We should be able to feel 100% comfortable travelling solo, and some might, but a lot of us would find it difficult and we may let it effect our decision making. Like I mentioned above, I think it is important to be responsible but to also do whatever the hell you want to do, especially in a country like India. I would say if it is your first time in India and you do have worries, go with a company like G Adventures, and once you have identified with and built up an understanding of the country, then go completely solo towards the end of the trip or on your second visit. Now I've been a couple of times I would definitely feel comfortable to go alone to certain larger cities like Jaipur, Pushkar, Udaipur, Mumbai etc..