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TOP 9: Safest Indian travel destinations for WOMEN

Last updated on: March 7, 2012 17:25 IST

TOP 9: Safest Indian travel destinations for WOMEN

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Lakshmi Sharath

Three women travellers -- Lakshmi Sharath, Neelima Vallangi and Mridula Dwivedi -- list three Indian destinations each that they consider safest to travel based on their experiences.

It has been over four years since I have embarked on a journey of sorts – leaving the well travelled route of a "settled" corporate job to travel down the Road not Taken. And in these journeys I have made several new friends – mostly women travellers and backpackers who have similar dreams and passions.

Many a time our friends and families ask us the same question: How safe is it out there for a woman traveller? And while, it does sound like a cliche most of the time, India is really safe for any traveller, men or women, as long as we know how to travel responsibly.

I met a couple of my friends who are into travel and photography and we discussed our experiences when it comes to "safe" travel. We may not have a manual to share with you, but we can chart out a list of destinations which we believe are safe and yet full of opportunities to explore. So, here are the three musketeers -- Lakshmi Sharath, Neelima Vallangi and Mridula Dwivedi sharing with you our wishlists.


Image: From left: Mridula Dwivedi, Neelima Vallangi and Lakshmi Sharath


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Lakshmi Sharath, traveller, travel writer and blogger

1. Hampi

My first visit to Hampi was probably in the mid 90s when we went on a study tour. Hampi was just another village and we arrived amidst a colourful local festival. We were a bunch of girls in our early 20s and coming from Mumbai, we were warned not to "attract" attention. The second trip however gave me a different perspective of Hampi.

I was covering the Hampi festival as a journalist and it had already become an international destination with so many tourists, hippies, babas and locals walking around.

I was the only woman and the issue of safety never bothered me. I met so many colourful characters as I ferried across the River Tungabhadra -- from a doped Italian called Ceasar baba to a Belgian hippie who called herself Meera to an English biker, Susie who led a group of bikers from Goa to Hampi.

I would sit for hours on the Matanga Hill watching sunset and would hardly feel "unsafe" amidst the vast ruins of the town. I have always felt that Indian villages are by far very safe compared to several big cities and people are usually hospitable and open their doors to you easily.


Image: Lakshmi Sharath


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2. Khajuraho

Eyebrows were raised when I mentioned I was heading to Khajuraho. I was warned of sleazy old men selling the kamasutra to me or passing lewd comments. However Khajuraho turned out to be a beautiful destination.

Many a time, I would wander off alone and lose myself in the monuments or sit and gaze at the sunsets. The temples off the tourist circuit are rather lonely, but are quite safe.

Always follow the golden rule -- be around locals, behave like them and reach your destination well before it is dark.


Image: Khajuraho
Photographs: Lakshmi Sharath

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3. Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary

During my travels, I have often found wildlife parks and hills very safe for women. Unless you provoke the wildlife, no body could really hurt you. There may be a few stares from a couple of men here and there, but I have learnt to ignore them.

In Kaziranga, I went for one of the safaris with a gun-toting guide and the driver. But the elephants played havoc. A herd blocked our path and refused to let us pass even after they lost themselves in the tall elephant grass. We waited for hours and the sun had virtually set.

Finally, we retraced our steps and took a much longer route to reach our destination. Amidst stories of naxals and man animal conflict, we reached our hotel almost around dinner.

It is imperative in a forest to observe the rules and this does not apply to only women and the golden rule is to be silent.


Image: Kaziranga


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Neelima Vallangi, fellow traveller and photographer

1. Rajasthan

It is a great paradox that in the bigger towns, people were narrow-minded and in the villages, they were open-minded. When a group of us were photographing the lesser known havelis of Churu, a major town, in the evening, an old man came to us and frowned upon me and my other lady friend for being out at that time.

This incident was worrying me as I was going to be part of a desert trek that would take me across 50 km of Thar Desert through pristine dunes and small villages. Only two of us, both women, were going for this trek along with some 40 odd strangers. But when we reached the first village, that hardly sees any tourists round the year, the children were quite curious about the girls with cameras.

Even though it was quite late, the elders invited us for a cup of tea and told us of their traditions and lives. Later when photographing in the Desert National Park, I felt safest because the wilderness would not be judging me based on my gender. But that said I'd suggest take a knowledgeable local guide along with you. He can get you out of situations easily, if any.


Image: The Thar desert in Rajasthan


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2.Sikkim

It was going to be a challenge to even reach Sikkim in monsoons but I didn't want to pass up on a brilliant opportunity of photographing the little known monsoon avatar of Sikkim. I was travelling alone in parts of West Sikkim and needless to say I was sticking out like a sore thumb being the only traveller in the entire village.

It was lovely being there during off-season but there was that nagging fear in back of my mind. For some reason I thought it would be better if someone of authority knew I was here and on pretence of asking for directions I went inside the police station just to let them know.

Women travelling alone will attract a lot of unwanted attention but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have fun. Be cautious, inform someone of your whereabouts and definitely have your guards up but not too much that the fun is all gone.

After all, the many interactions with fellow travellers and locals is one reason why travel is so much fun!


Image: Sikkim

Tags: Sikkim , WOMEN

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3. Varanasi

Now I don't have anything against this place and I seriously loved being in Varanasi, but I think we all know it is not the safest place for a traveller, let alone a woman, especially with several con men around. I went to the ghats with the intent of photographing the famous Ganga Arti from the other side of the river but getting a boat for hire isn't an easy task here, even more so in the night.

There was a lot of haggling around me. If you get into a boat on the first day, for next few days you unknowingly become the property of that boat-wallah. Being women, we were looked upon as easy target and they were fighting within themselves on who should take the two of us for the ride.

The best thing that we could do in that situation was to stay calm and not to play judge in their little game of squabble.


Image: The Ghats of Varanasi


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1. Ladakh

I have been to Ladakh only once. Our idea was to do the Markha Valley trek. It was also our first high altitude trek. Mid way through we had to give up the trek because I was not keeping well. We went to a local doctor at Leh and within a day I was well again.

While walking around Leh I got quite tired after a while. So I told my husband I would sit in the monastery and he could go and explore more. In many other places this would have been met by 'it is not safe' argument. But there was not even a murmur at Leh. We had seen a woman group leader of a tour, women on their own and friendly locals. So I sat alone and read a book for two hours and my husband went around the city. These days I am planning to return to Ladakh alone to do the Stok Kangri trek.


Image: Ladakh
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons

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2. Spiti

Spiti was our second high altitude trek and we did complete it successfully. I consider Himachal Pradesh generally quite safe to venture out on my own. One of my most memorable evenings at Spiti were when I was clicking the sunset near Komik and two women walked home at dusk.

They did not understand Hindi but knew I wanted a picture and did pose for me. On this trek on many occasions I would walk alone for a stretch or roam alone in the villages where we stayed and I was always left to my own devices.


Image: Spiti
Photographs: 4ocima/Creative Commons

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3. Andaman and Nicobar Islands

I went with a friend to Port Blair and Havelock and it was all women affair. We were travelling with one of the tour companies and found a solo woman on the trip as well. When we asked the tour manager, he said yes woman travelling alone is increasingly becoming common.

We did venture out on our own on so many occasions and I have to say Andaman Islands felt safe at all the times. Both of us did scuba diving at Havelock and our instructor was Anne so the only male in the group was 17 year old Rehan the other instructor. Diving at Havelock was an out of this world experience and the highlight of our trip.


Image: Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons

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