How Safe to Travel is India?
A lot of people seem to be afraid of traveling to India. They feel like it’s dangerous and difficult. Since our trip to India, I’ve had a few people ask about how safe India really is. Not directly, but you can hear by the kind of questions that that’s what they want to know.
India is India—there’s no way around it. It’s crowded, chaotic and loud. There are things you’ll like but there are just as many things you’ll dislike about India. That’s why many people think that India isn’t safe to travel. They’re afraid of diseases, getting mugged or being run over by a car. I can’t talk about statistics and numbers and honestly, I don’t want to. I’ll just tell you how safe or unsafe I felt while traveling in India for two months with a big medium format camera hanging from my shoulder.
I can already tell you that India is not a dangerous country to travel in. I felt just as safe—if not safer—than in any other big city around the world. You don’t have to worry about anything if you’re thinking about a trip to India. There are—however—a few things you need to take in account and know before you go...
Safety in cities
It’s crowded—no—beyond crowded, and where there are crowds, there are pickpockets and people who want to steal your stuff. It’s like that anywhere in the world but that doesn’t make those places unsafe. I didn’t take more precautions than in any other city. Just use your common sense and keep an eye on your stuff at all times.
Even after dark, I walked around with my camera and felt safe pretty much everywhere in India. Bombay, New Delhi and Varanasi… Of course, if you plan to go off the beaten path, do a bit of research. Some areas, like any other place in the world, might be shadier and riskier to walk around in.
Our second day in Bombay, Joanna and I were sitting down, relaxing when we had an encounter with a girl and boy begging for money. The girl was particularly annoying. She kept coming closer and even started to touch me. We kept ignoring her (while still keeping an eye out) and when she finally accepted that she wasn’t going to get anything from me, she slapped me in the face and left.
I think the kids noticed that we had just arrived and they tried taking advantage of us. We probably looked like easy victims because we were tired and might have looked like we were a bit lost. It was the only negative encounter during those two months, though.
The one tip I can give you is to always stay calm and firm when people approach you looking for money. It’s your choice if you want to give them some but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Traffic is not safe
The real danger in India is traffic. It’s not that it doesn't feel safe to walk around but it’s so chaotic, fast and loud. You need to really focus every time you want to cross a street. Cars, motorcycles and even cows can come from all directions, so be especially careful when you’re tired and sweaty after a day out—your senses might deceive you at that point…
Smaller towns are awesome and the ones we’ve been to, were all very safe to walk around. It’s again a matter of common sense of knowing where you go and how you interact with people that might want to take advantage of you.
A common problem that a lot of Asian towns have, is stray dogs. Usually, they come out in packs at night and they’re very territorial. Hotel and guest house owners often know about it so it’s always smart to ask if you want to go out at night or if you saw a lot of dogs when arriving, avoid those areas.
We felt safe in all towns we’ve visited during our two month trip in India and I never felt like I had to put away or hide my expensive camera while walking around in towns and villages.
Safety on trains in India
You’re going to ride trains in India—a lot of trains. It’s one of the most interesting and comfortable ways to get around long distances. Sure, you can take buses but we tried a few local buses: Six+ hours of being cramped in a seat while racing around curves and avoiding cows and other traffic. Trust me, trains are the way to go.
The problem in India is that the distances are long so you’re going to spend a lot of time getting from one place to another. Trains are the safest way to do that. We felt safe on trains in India all the time. If you’re on a budget, like us, you’re going to travel in the lower classes but even those were fairly comfortable.
The only thing you have to watch out for, is your luggage. I’ve heard and read stories of people looking the other way for just a second and when they looked back, their stuff was gone. It doesn’t happen all the time and we never felt like we had to constantly hold on to our luggage but I do recommend using a cable lock or travel safe… You’ll just feel more comfortable knowing that your belongings are safely locked.
Camera and taking photos
Right, my camera. Like I said, I never felt like I had to hide or put away my camera when walking around in cities or towns. I was comfortable all the time taking photos. The thing that usually happens, is that people get interested in you and your camera. So you might get some comments and a lot of stares but all friendly and just genuinely interested in what you’re doing. Nothing to be afraid of.
There’s only one thing I can say if you’re thinking about going to India: Book your ticket now! There’s no reason not to do it. It’s perfectly safe and you’ll experience one of the most exciting and interesting countries in the world.