‘Atithi Devo Bhavo’ – a phrase straight from an ancient Hindu scripture implores the faithful to treat a guest with the same reverence as they would treat God. Given the Indian people’s boundless obsession with God and religion, this indeed is a lofty sermon to put into practice. In recent years, sporadic yet well publicized incidents of crime have seen the Western media paint a rather gloomy picture of India’s general law and order situation, and this in turn has helped perpetuate a growing perception that India is particularly unsafe for female travelers. Perception and reality – do the twain really meet, let us find out if it will answer your question: “Is it safe to travel to India?”
Travelling to a country with a peculiar culture and food may intimidate even the most seasoned traveler. The very first drive from the airport to the hotel gives a rough introduction to the chaos which underlies the modern Indian city. Contrary to perception, Indian cities are quite safe for travelers and citizens alike with reports of serious crime perpetrated against tourists being rare. Morever, incidents of sexual violence against tourists too are rare. In fact, the much maligned capital city of India – Delhi fares much better than cities like New York and Istanbul in matters of sexual violence according to a study conducted by the London School of Economics in 2014. The legacy of British rule entails that English is widely spoken by the urban populace, both privately as well as in official dealings. Travelers to Indian cities will thus find that essential tasks like ordering food in a restaurant, purchasing consumables, navigating routes and making enquiries can be accomplished without much hassle. For those who find Indian food too spicy to handle, there is no dearth of restaurants and fast food chains offering all kinds of Western cuisine. On the downside, incidents of sexual harassment such as leching and groping are much more common especially in crowded places. It is thus advisable for foreign tourists to heed local customs and dress modestly while visiting Indian cities to avoid undue attention. Petty crimes such as snatching are not completely uncommon either, and travelers must remain vigilant when approached by beggars at traffic crossings and busy marketplaces.
Due to India’s troubled neighborhood, Western countries often issue advisories to their citizens against visiting certain parts of the country – namely Kashmir and the North–Eastern states. Despite this, India has remained completely immune to the forces spreading havoc in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The once troubled valley of Kashmir, famed for its spectacular natural beauty has seen a return to normalcy in recent years. Tourists are once again pouring in by the thousands to visit its world-famous Mughal gardens and lakes. The North–eastern state too have been seen a return to normalcy, with India’s strong trading relationship with China mitigating the remote possibility of a flare up between the two countries. However, a Maoist insurgency in pockets of Central India – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha means that foreign travelers are vulnerable when traveling to remote parts of the aforementioned states. India largely falls in the tropical climate zone, and experiences a season of heavy rainfall from every June to August. Tourists visiting India during this time are advised to protect themselves from mosquitoes by using ointments which are readily available.
The Indian people are renowned for their warmth, friendliness and hospitality. Ever willing to help, acquaintances made during a long train journey often invite travelers to visit their homes and be their guests. While travelers should exercise their personal judgement in such situations, it is perfectly safe to live with a family and experience Indian culture and food through their hospitality. Moving out of the cities into the real India, the rural folk innocently gaze at foreign travelers with amazement and awe. Being the center of attention, travellers can rejoice in this brief moment of stardom.