I had been willing to travel to India! The mesmerizing country that bounds to enchant travelers across the globe. A country of vast cultures and different environments.
My first trip was with a local welfare group that helps children in need across the world. The group explores the possibilities of reaching out and providing assistance for health needs, sanitation, education etc. The duration was short but it left a deep desire in me to explore more. More of what India had to offer. Maybe it was the sudden cultural shock or maybe it was simply the thrill of the call for an uncharted adventure.
The next trip took me a while to plan. For the first one, I had company. Things were planned in advanced from the group’s end and all I had to do was follow suit. This time it was trickier and I was literally blank as to where I should start.
I was a Solo female traveler who incidentally wanted to travel to one of the most unsafe places on earth for a single woman. I had my thoughts: the insecurity, fear, if’s and don’ts. Emotions running wild breaking my spirit bit by bit.
Fortunately, I had already visited my destination once and learnt a few tricks to handle on my own. I decided to start from there. The first thing that came to my mind is making a list. A list of ironclad rules to abide by if I had to make this journey and come out victorious.
The first rule on my list was to ensure utmost safety for myself. I started to explore the options laid in front of me. It took days just to get a grasp of how vast the variations of cultures lay across the country. Cities were a lot safer but again the safe spot differed depending on where I wanted to set up my tent. The second pointer in my list was to make sure I had easy access to my go to destination or at-least have people nearby who I could travel with for my purpose of been there. The third and the other most important thing was that I had someone to guide me. I wanted to feel safe and stay safe. Hence, I wanted someone native and trustworthy to point to the right direction. Someone with immense knowledge about the local community. Of course, other things were also on my list, like cleanliness of the lodgings and the food available on the menu. Something more like a home away from home.
I started to make a list of the cities I would visit first. Delhi, Agra and Jaipur: the golden triangle were my first preference. There were multiple reasons to choose these but the most important one was the people here are more open to foreign tourists. My first visit also enlightened me to stay away from the frauds that the local guides and drivers pull on foreign visitors, which is why I had to explore for a trustworthy native guide before I made the journey.
Booking a stay in advance and making an itinerary is a hassle beyond miserable but fortunately, we have the internet and blogs with reviews of people who had personal experiences while travelling before. I insisted on reviews given by women in particular and made my decisions accordingly. I did not choose a hotel room or a lodge but instead zeroed on a home sharing space for women because it was highly recommended by solo or women only travelers. Not all are great nor can we completely rely on them but we can get a gist of what is in store for us when we make the trip.
With all my plans and itinerary in place, I made the leap and landed in Delhi. I wanted a tour of “Purani Dilli” a more common name for old Delhi. It was the core hub of the ancient culture of the city. My stay was at Pahargunj just a couple of miles away from my destination. The home space lived up to its reputation and reviews and so did the host. She was an elderly woman who could make some of the best ‘Chole Baturey – A type of puffed up tacos served with a lip smacking beans curry’.
Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk were my first destinations in Delhi. I was awestruck by the sheer size and the marvelous architecture of these ancient constructions. Agreed the traffic is insane, I mean really insane but all the hassles and the time spent were worth it. I thought I have gotten over with the cultural shock after my first visit but I was completely wrong. I had a lot to experience and a lot more to learn. From the jammed packed streets where you find a person per square foot to the massive market that surrounded these majestic structures, everything left a deep impression on my already confused intellect. People here seemed to not have enough time. It was work and work and work and eat of course. P.S Old Delhi or “Purani Dilli” as it is fondly called is also the go to food destination of this large city. After a few first time psyche jolts, I started to enjoy the experience. The shopping market is vast, more like a city in the city itself and are divided into different sections. You could shop for traditional dresses in Chandni Chowk or splurge on ethnic jewelry with a rustic rural visage.
Day one was a huge success. Now I had to explore the other destinations on my list. I went back to my home sharing space and after a satisfying meal retired on my comfortable and clean bed.
The next morning I got up early and a hot cup of tea was served in my room. The feeling of standing in the balcony with a hot cup of tea to sip on as the cold wind brush across one’s face with a view of the majestic Red Fort is indescribable.
Today’s itinerary was towards the opposite direct of the city. My destinations were the Qutub Minar and India Gate. I wanted to visit the Jantar Mantar too but my last trip made me a little wiser. I knew that traffic would be an issue here and did not want to rush things. These sites were in close proximity and I had already planned the time I had to spend there. Note that I have not yet hired a local guide since these were all within the city limits and I did not plan to be out after six in the evening.
New Delhi is completely different from Old Delhi in terms of infrastructure and environment. This part of the city is appropriately planned and has a modern outlook to it. High rising structures and well-laid roads greet you all the way. However, one experience remains constant all through. The experience of going through a hell lot of traffic. Even with wide roads and well-organized infrastructure, I had to spend hours to get to my first destination. I started early to reach India Gate upon the Lady’s advice and it really worked for me or I would have been stuck in the notorious Delhi traffic for God knows how long.
I reached my destination and was honestly not shocked. I came to terms with the fact that there would be many visitors at this WW1 memorial too and was not surprised by the crowd. Families and visitors from across the world walked across the huge sprawling grounds. The experience was more modern than what I had felt in ‘Purani Dilli’ but still memorable to the best. Local vendors were selling all sorts of food and stuff. Overall, the experience was great but I had to hurry to my next destination: The Qutub Minar, maybe upon my next visit I would spend more time here but not today!
How best can I describe the feeling when I first saw the tall heritage structure in the middle of the city? AMAZED!
Almost a millennium old, the sandstone minaret towers in the middle of other historical sites. The chaos across the site did not bother me nor hamper my desire to explore the history engraved all across the site. For some reason I could not stop from taking as many photos as possible. The spectacular architecture, well preserved to last, made a dramatic impression on my mind.
The place was clean and like other tourist places, it had its fair share of street vendors. However, I chose to avoid the street food knowing the limitations of my appetite. I already had a good meal near India Gate and wanted to make sure that I do not get sick in the moment of sudden excitement. The park closes at 5pm and it was the right time for me to head back to my homestay (Did not want to take chances in the night). There are many more places to explore in Delhi, Jantar Mantar, and Humayan Tombs etc. but for now, I am taking a small break.
Before I end this blog, I would like to share a few tips that I learnt from my experience here.
- If you are a solo women traveler or a couple of females or if you are travelling alone with your children, its best to choose a Homestay. Especially the ones that are managed by women. Tends to have more company and safety than the normal hotels and lodgings.
- Do not be carried away in the excitement of the moment and overstay your adventure. It is best to be back by the setting of the sun to your place of rest.
- Large cities are generally safe but to be sure keep the local authority’s numbers handy.
- Limit your diet and make sure to eat from a well-reviewed establishment.
- While travelling to smaller towns or off beaten paths make sure to have company or a trustworthy guide/local. It makes a lot of positive impact in your overall experience and safety.
- Try to wear less revealing clothes if you want to avoid any hassles. India is yet to accept the western culture and the locals generally have a negative view on western clothing. Wearing a three-piece salwar is what I recommend. It gives a sense of respect to the locals and they tend to not mind your presence.
- Keep your belongings safe. Especially your handbags and phones. There are multiple instances of snatchings that occur in crowed places.
- Last but not the least. Be safe, play safe.