Solo Female Traveler Safety in India – #2 General Tips

So I took the last blog post on women safety to mention how I am paranoid about safety. So you can probably take these tips I have for women (esp solo) travelers with a pinch of salt. Or maybe you are paranoid like me too 😉

Time

Okay to be outside time: 8.30am to 8pm

Depending on the area you can venture out before or after the ‘Okay times’ but these are the timings I usually keep in mind. In urban areas I know well I may push the night limit to 9.30pm but only once in a while. In Rewalsar the place felt (and probably is) safe so after finishing my dinner at 7.30pm I decided to circumambulate the lake once and then return to my room. Half way across the lake I realised that the town has no street lights! All the lights belonged to shops lining the road – these shops closed so I had to cross the next half of the road in pitch dark! So in small cities even 8pm is too late sometimes.

It’s very important to first figure out what is Okay time in the place. For eg: In Bangalore – despite being a metro city the rickshaws become very fussy after 9.30 and they charge 1 n 1/2 times the usual rate. In Delhi I had kept my time limit at 6.30pm in the evening – by the time I reached the hostel it was dark and I felt I should make it 5.30pm for Delhi (told you I was paranoid) :p

If you are like a night time party person then ensure you have good escorts with you. Keep these timings in mind when booking transport as well. I have often taken buses that start at 10.30pm or reach at 5.30am – the chances are that everything would go smoothly, but in case something goes wrong then its a problem worsened many times over due to the timing. So avoid or have backup plans – basically numbers of people you can call to come pick you up in emergency.

Door

I don’t think a lot of guys get this. On one of our traveler meetups – the talk just came up and one guy suggested sleeping on the platform. Both girls, me and (travel friend) Snigdha just went crazy with the idea, because we need a door that is locked and bolted before we consider even relaxing.

An electronic/key lock won’t do because even junior staff have master keys to open these locks for cleaning purposes hence it compromises safety big time. There has to be a padlock, a latch that I can manually close. Ideally two, fat latches. This is something I make a point to note when taking a room.

Exits

I met one uncle once who is a fire expert. As in he consults with buildings to chart out a plan to make the place fire friendly i.e. – detection units, escape routes, alarm systems and so on. So he has a habit that is somewhat similar to mine – he always notes exits, different routes to navigate a building and so on. When I take a room I usually look at alternative routes to exit the place. I also take the elevator, stairs, different routes just to get a lay of the land. No I don’t do it in a paranoid, someone-is-trying-to-kill-me-way, hahah I just like getting the lay of the land. So yea this is something I do.. when walking on roads, avoid v narrow lanes, keep room to run, stay in lighted regions, if in a small subway section then keep an eye on exits someone shouldn’t just block it, if the place is empty where and how far are people in case I have to reach them in hurry and so on…

It may sound silly to notice when the footpath is too narrow or when there are fences on both sides, no quick exit, but I was reading about a urban planner talking about women-safety design in cities and these are the aspects they address. Keeping the walkways spacious, frequent exits, good lighting – these are all basic people safety measures that need to be taken at the design level, but owing to the congestion and overall lack of design sense India very often doesn’t have these things.

Police 

Before you think you want to call the police anytime you are in trouble, keep in mind that there have been too many cases where the police are perpetrators of the crime, or they may make it worse. Good, now you can consider contacting the police as an option when in trouble. I have a very nice and friendly story about a police person who helped me find my missing laundry clothes 🙂

There are specific helpline numbers for women to contact the police when in trouble. You can always find them from a police station and save them on your phone in every new place. Most urban cities you can always call 100. I have tried it in Mumbai couple of times, it works – the police actually came in 5 mins when I called 100 on two separate occasions – a street fight & gas leak  that I had reported.

Contacts

Ideally have the contact number of few locals who you somewhat trust and can call in times of trouble, or to just check up on all the above info – what time is too late? safety in transport options and so on.. You can get these contacts from Couchsurfing, IndiaMike and other travel forums if you simply don’t know anybody. Usually I have always found that at least in all bigger cities I have some far off friends, Twitter contacts, extended family and so on. So usually I have couple of people in back of my mind who I can contact in trouble.

Strangers

Now a large part of travel especially solo travel is to meet new interesting people on the road, make friends and so on. So how does that work when we are also trying to be safe?

Instinct. I have no other answer but to go on with my instinct in these matters. I have made friends with guys and girls. I think its similar when we are in the city and working/studying as well – we make friends with people we don’t know much about – except that they are in the same office/class with us and then hope for the best.

Precautions to take: not be in a compromis-able situation with a new friend – like late out at night with very new friends who you don’t know that well. Be very aware when eating out with them, in case someone slips anything into the food.

Social Updates

This is one important point – I never update my status with real-time location whereabouts. I remember earlier when I used to go for tweetups (meeting twitter folks) and its the norm to tweet “I am ‘here’ with @so n @so” but I simply don’t do such stuff anymore. No one needs know where I am right now, esp if I am going to be there for next sometime. Cause that can allow someone to come to that place and then stalk me. So I usually do updates about a place once I have left or am just about to leave.

Clothing

I usually wear a jeans n tee kind of clothes and its fine except in some places. Like when I was at Kanyakumari somehow people acted quite odd so then I changed into traditional Indian kurta-churidar dress and it was better. So again always better to do a fair bit of research before going. In many religious places they only allow tradition Indian clothes, full length pants and things like that. Though overall I don’t think its such a big deal.

Crowds

This is important cause a lot of foreigners are interested to see festivals and such, but usually I would suggest to avoid going amidst crowds – seeing them from a distance is ok. Whether for a festival or a line at the bus these are often places were sick guys hang around and will grope surreptitiously. So always better to keep away from crowds even if they are only-women.

In fact crowds related to certain events like Holi in Varanasi or Ganesh Utsav in Mumbai are all very circumspect and to be avoided assiduously. Always when you see or you think there would be a crowd at a place be very careful. I usually avoid all festivals but this year I went to see Ganesh Utsav visarjan in Mumbai and Dasara in Mysore – both towns I know well. I had a good experience and overall was impressed by the arrangements so I guess if you be very careful then its a good chance that you would have a much better experience because its not that bad. 🙂

Hope these tips help you prepare for safe travels!

Solo Female Traveler Safety in India – #1 My Thoughts on General Women Safety

The first time I went on a solo trip Mumbai – Goa – Bangalore – Mysore – Coimbatore – Mumbai was 4 years back. I planned everything out – the stay, travel tickets, backup options. Yet there were always unknown factors like the hostel I had booked in Mysore, would it be safe? I had no way to be sure of the safety. But it all turned out fine and was a great experience!

So the biggest question in my mind at that time with regards to solo travel i.e. SAFETY was answered. Yes, it is safe for women to travel on their own.

It is not like the moment a woman steps out of the known area on her own, she is raped. This is actually what a lot of women go about thinking. And I guess it is normal considering the kind of news that keep plastering media channels.

Though just because I had a few good trips does it mean everything is Safe and Dandy? No, it can always all go wrong and end up in some horrendous incident. But then it can all go wrong even in your own city when you are just out with friends. I don’t need to iterate such examples there are ample of them.

It is interesting because I overall don’t think India is a safe place for women but when solo traveling I have never faced a problem. In fact the worst eve-teasing incidents have happened,

1. In posh Mumbai streets, opposite a military gate thus lots of soldiers with guns. I had been walking to & fro from work to home for months on this street. A gang of 10 or so drivers with cars – verbal jeering and taunts. I walked off. Didn’t say anything, but shaken because it would be so easy for them to shove me in the car and do whatever.

2. In a Reliance Fresh in Bangalore, near Koramangala. Right in front of ticket counter – lot of staff and customers. A man pretty much accosted me. Everyone turned around and stared, no one voiced anything. I think they were stunned but basically no one came to support me. The guy walked off. It made me realise that it would be nice if Indian brands like supermarkets/theatres would train their staff to deal with such stuff.

3. At school by a fellow student. This was probably the worst one but people have told me that, that boy was probably being bullied himself and hence he was a bully at such a young age.

These are just 3 incidents of innumerable gropes, lewd comments and more that I as a normal girl in the city have faced. So don’t mind me but I am very, very skeptical about women safety in India. I think this applies to other countries too, but I don’t have much experience so can’t say.

This January after many solo trips I started venturing into smaller towns and cities. Coonoor, Ooty, Madikeri, Udupi, Malpe and so on… Surprisingly I found them a lot more wholesome. At least for me the solo traveler. In some places like Kanyakumari there was an issue where women are not served to, but safety was still very much there. A lot of the staff in hotels etc.. they really seemed to be doing their best for me. I don’t know why – I don’t tip them nor am I a foreigner.

Maybe it is as the truck driver I was talking to about women safety in Rewalsar said, “People come here to pray. All these things happen only in bigger cities like Delhi & Mumbai” Maybe the sheer size and dismal living conditions, urban dysfunctions are a direct cause to a rise in depravity. In fact the Mumbai police is doing a very good job considering the fact that it is under paid and under staffed.

The other thing about safety is that while getting all riled up because of that one case which hits the headlines in the newspapers is easy, what is really needed is some kind of statistics about where/who/why about the rapes. Do they happen more in the house behind closed doors by some family member? Do they happen later at night? Do they happen in any particular areas of the city? Are any group of women targeted? It is only when such stats come up that one can make an educated guess at how society can tackle them and also what precautions a woman can take. Even now, I would say that there is no real statistics about women abuse in the lower strata of society – the slums and the poorer sections.

The other thing is the idea that these cases of rape n such are increasing now. I don’t think so and I don’t think there is any authority which can say otherwise because before the cases were simply not reported. So much so that the woman involved would deny when asked, because it is her ‘shame’. It was 15 years back when I was sitting with a friend discussing these things when she told she had been raped minutely as a little kid by some distant relative. Nothing much happened then, no police and definitely no media. So all of a sudden now there is an increased awareness of these things and people are saying ‘what has the world come to’ …the world is just getting better at least in this case the parents went and reported the crime to the police and the media talked about it.

Thankfully I am seeing a change in the thinking. Taking into consideration three things,

i) Crimes against women, ii) the freedom women have at work & home iii) overall people’s thinking. While there are always those ministers who will call any woman who is raped a prostitute, overall things are improving. What I have found most awesome is that now rape survivors are coming forward, ripping away their shrouds of anonymity and standing spirited with words of strength. This is like a plague in our society – we need to acknowledge it, give succor to the victims and start treatment of the perpetrators of the crime.

So I want to blog about simple precautions that women can take while solo-traveling but I couldn’t do that until I clearly write down my thoughts on the whole safety issue. In India I don’t think you can solo travel thinking “it’s safe”, I never do. I am very skeptical of the safety and in fact in cities I am more conventional in terms of my night deadlines and stuff compared to a lot of other girls I know. Girls who go to usual offices and work late, party later and are out on streets a lot later. At times I might be close to paranoid about safety. Yet I am the solo backpacker in India. Go figure.

Kapu Lighthouse
Paranoid about safety, always. Kapu Lighthouse near Udupi, Karnataka

 

Short Guide to Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh

Rewalsar Lake and Padmasambhava Idol

Hi there reader,

I generally don’t write such ‘short guide’ posts because they are so easily available online, except for a few destinations for whatever reasons. Rewalsar is one of them… so here goes for the benefit of my fellow travellers esp solo women because we tend to plan out where we will be staying and general safety!

Rewalsar is a small town around a lake. Lot of Tibetan monasteries, Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwara. In the words of a truck driver I met “people come here to pray”. Even though the lake is quite small, its picturesque especially in the evenings with llamas, tibetan folks walking about with their prayer wheel or beads. Many a times some of them start singing their ethereal mountain songs or prayer songs all of it is just enchanting. And its fairly clean at least by Indian standards!

Stay

Rewalsar
Drikung Monastery Rewalsar

There are ample stay options. I would suggest the budget rooms in the monasteries.

Drikung Petsek – to the right just when you enter through the gate. Rooms cost from 150/- to 250/- its very basic but offers a good view of the lake and the Padmasambhava idol!

Nyingmapa Monastery – This monastery has a nice little temple in the courtyard. It offers views of the lake too. They offer varied range of rooms from 250/- to 600/- so people can take their pick!

Contact: 01905-240226

Midway Hotel – There are many hotels in the town but especially for people who want to stay a bit away from the hustle & bustle can stay here. This is about 30 mins by staircase and 10 mins by vehicle from the lake. Its very close to the Tibetan cave mentioned below. They have a cafe with decent food. The family who owns it is also decent. The fare is from 300/- to 500/-

All the above are good for solo women as well, if any of them are wondering! 🙂

There are also good hotels which you will find with a quick Google search. Unless there is some Tibetan festival you really don’t need to reserve accommodation, just go there and you will find something good! 🙂

Food

So there is one restaurant that I found – Kora which is very centrally located close to the gates. Its egg-etarian i.e. serves vegetarian food and egg stuff. The person who owns it Bijay is friendly. The rates are very reasonable. The above mentioned Midway also has a good cafe… I didn’t try any other place…

Transport

You can travel to Rewalsar via Mandi in one hour in a local bus (25/-) or private taxi. Mandi is very well connected by buses and taxis to the rest of Himachal Pradesh. Mandi is about 4 hrs from Chandigarh and volvos to Manali/Dharamshala from Delhi/Chandigarh usually halt at Mandi so you can take any of those to travel here.

Attractions

Lake – awesome and sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Its also just picturesque!

Huge Padmasambhava idol, worship places, llamas and devotees chanting create a tranquil atmosphere!

Cave Temple – Padmasambhava is said to have meditated here. Going via a bus is just 10 mins but you can also take the stairs which take about 1 hr but its an interesting climb through local houses and small fields!

7 lakes – Rewalsar is one of 7 lakes. Would be fun to trek about to the other lakes! Himachal is so populated that there would be houses and roads to all these place thus making it very interesting!

Issues

Dogs – Crazy & loud howling at nights. This is why some people may prefer the far off stay places like Midway that I mentioned above! These dogs also pester when you are sitting by the lake. They just come and start scratching themselves right next to you!

Donations – Tibetan people come ask for donations because they are monks or they have lost their money for pilgrimage. They carry papers that are signed and authorized by someone. I don’t know the authenticity of these claims – i have seen many such hoaxes in Mumbai. Overall its a bit troublesome also cause in my 1 and half days of stay I found two such people coming to me and asking me – which creates an uncomfortable situation.

Overall this is one rare place where its a small town but still has decent stay and food options for us! Its a must visit when you are in Himachal Pradesh esp if you are looking out for places which are not entirely touristy!

I will be putting up more pictures of the place later on! 🙂

Infrequent International Travel – Logistic Planning

This Dubai- Bahrain trip I found myself woefully unprepared. Firstly there wasn’t much time before the trip what with work and usual life activities… Secondly, I didn’t appreciate the many factors that would crop up in international trips, because I am well prepared for domestic ones. So decided to make this list for readers and also for myself to keep in mind for next such trips!

Currency
Understand currency conversion well! Keep a bit of paper with conversion values like,
10AED = xx INR
30AED = xx INR
50AED = xx INR
so its easy to understand pricing with a quick look. Shopping tags will usually have very odd numbers like 186AED which is just very confusing to do mentally and on spur of moment as is needed!
It would be good to carry a calculator or use mobile calculator if possible! This leads to the next problem…

Socket Converters
Completely unprepared for the different socket type in Dubai. As a result my mobile ended up being off most of the times. This turned out to be a major pain point also because even my camera was discharged often! So do the research and carry couple of socket converters!!

Local Sim / Phone Connectivity
For about 800 INR we used to get a local Dubai Sim but I thought it was not necessary. A mistake. Its not just about actually making calls but just about feeling connected which makes a lot of difference! Don’t under estimate how addicted we are to connectivity! Also research how to use local payphones and have the necessary card or change with you at all times!
By the end of trip I started using my India SIM with international roaming!! It probably cost me 800 INR or more….

Time Difference
This didn’t affect me that much, just left me mildly confused. There is a difference of only couple of hours in Dubai – Bahrain – Mumbai. Bahrain 7pm was like 11pm here… So its not about just the actual time but also how the time looks. In India there is twilight at a particular time but conditions are very different in other zones in the world at that time! I believe the time zones would play greater havoc when the conditions are more dissimilar!

Public Transport
Research this! Ideally if we can know the ticketing system and routes beforehand, much better! For eg: in Dubai we need to buy a card before boarding the bus, unlike the system in India. so people in my group actually boarded planning to pay onboard with cash and then had to get down. Thankfully they weren’t fined…
Dubai has great public transport but Bahrain doesn’t! I had no idea about Bahrain… So the fact that I couldn’t just stand on a street and catch some transport left me feeling even more confused and helpless like!

Internet Connectivity – A big puzzle!
All the above I could have researched on the spur if only I had good internet connectivity. International internet connectivity is however, a puzzle to crack! Few solutions I have in mind,
1. Buy local Sim with internet connectivity. Hopefully it costs reasonable!
2. Free wi-fi zones. I had counted on these but was disappointed in Dubai! Paid were too expensive so I didn’t buy, probably another mistake!

What could be other solutions to these problems? And have you faced other problems… When you go on that rare international trip?

Flickr credit: Crosset Library Bennington College

20121110-021719.jpg

How to avoid Group Travel Disasters

I am not very experienced in this matter, because I have been to limited group travels but recently had reason to write this post. While I cannot go into personal specifics, I have figured some few very important points to keep in mind before going for a group travel.

1. WHY are we traveling

There are many levels to this question.

a. Why are we traveling as a group? – do we maybe have some common work to do or similar interests. Is it a family trip or a work trip? Or friends going to have fun?

b. Why are we traveling to this place? Why not some other place?

Is it because it is exotic – in which way? Shopping destination – luxury goods or cheaper deals? Sightseeing – local scenery or architecture or monuments? Does everyone see eye to eye about this??

c. What is the purpose of the trip? The above two questions will provide an answer to this. The trip specifics can be planned after the above are determined.

2. Group Dynamics

This is crucial in any group whether while traveling or working or anything else. If the trip is with strangers then one can’t pre-determine this. One can only hope that everything is friendly and positive. These dynamics however play a major role if it is a family trip or work trip where there are existing relationships and social rules. It is not just about your own relations with others but also about tensions between other individuals and such because one can easily be caught in such a vortex to create a bad experience.

These must be thought through before one commits to such a trip.

3. Important activities for you

Note down what you would like to do in the trip as priority. Often in groups one can get pulled into activities that other people are interested in. Keep a note of important activities so in case required just start individual foraging. This is anyway very simple for me as I am into solo-traveling.

However, there are often many logistical and practical challenges.

If the above points are thought through and maybe even discussed openly within the group then a good trip may happen!

The thing is that usually trips are fun and really good way for people to bond but there are times when they can really be a bad experience. And it is sad because one spends so much money and time and energy traveling and one doesn’t even enjoy it!

Random Flickr Picture - Flickr Credit: D-minor

My Travel Packing Fundas

A quick post before flying off to Dubai tomorrow. A few weeks back I participated in #Untravel a twitter travel chat. We were discussing packing tips and luggage secrets! So I thought of writing a quick photo-post while I pack away!

Roll the clothes

3 or 4 clothes bundled and rolled up together like this help avoid crinkles. They can be packed very tightly hence saving space.

 

 

 

 

 

Ziplocks

They are commonly used for foods but I use them mostly for organizing my electronics, medicines and toiletries in separate packets. In fact a separate electronics packet has been so useful in reminding me to collect my chargers/cables etc.. that I have started using a similar system at home as well to keep easy track of my electronic stuff!

The system is to have a dedicated pouch for all electronic accessories. Once everything is packed, count the number of stuff in it and note it down. So then its easy to remember Electronics : 10 + 3 where you have 10 accessory items kept within the bag and 3 main gadgets outside like mobile, tablet and camera.

So every time when you are leaving a place its very simple to just count whether you have all your stuff! It also helps to find stuff within your luggage. If you need a wire you know its in this ziplock so don’t have to dig amidst all your clothes etc.. to find it!

Papers Folder

For international trips making a folder for all your documents makes most sense.

My mom dug up this cool transpy folder from somewhere for tomorrow! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earrings

Girls will understand this problem. Earrings are small, fragile and sharp. They tear ziplocks and break if crushed.

Currently I am using a small cardboard box where in I dump all my earrings. The bangles go on their own separately. I haven’t thought of a better idea for earrings….

 

 

 

 

 

 

So all that leads to my backpack…. tada!

Its really light without my laptop! 🙂

Share your packing tips with me!