Chances are that if you are thinking about going to India someone will tell you that you shouldn't go, that India is not safe. If you are female and want to travel solo, then you are likely to hear this even more. Are they right, or are they just being overcautious?
There have been a series of disturbing rape, robbery, and violent crime cases in India over the last few years and these have attracted intense media attention worldwide. As horrible as these attacks have been, it is our opinion that the hype surrounding the media coverage seems to have created a distorted perception of reality and has made India appear more unsafe than it actually is.
We're not the only ones with this opinion.
"Yes, the gang rapes have been shocking — but India’s reputation as rape capital is undeserved." (source: Time.com)
The REALITY is that India does not rank high in ANY statistics that have to do with rape. In fact, India has a much higher rape conviction rate than many countries including Sweden and the U.K.!
"Statistically, the incidence of sexual violence against women is higher in the United States and the United Kingdom than it is in India." —Indian journalist Barkha Dutt
Some countries are obviously more dangerous to visit than others. You can see that clearly on this Department of Foreign Affairs map published by the Canadian government:
You can read more about this in an article in The Atlantic: The Most Dangerous Countries for Tourists, in Maps.
India falls in the "Avoid some areas" category and for good reason. There are MANY places in India that tourists simply should not go. This map is NOT suggesting that you avoid all travel to India. It is suggesting that you are smart about WHERE you visit within India.
If you also look at the official government travel recommendations for India from the U.K., Canada, and New Zeland (countries I picked at random from a Google search), you are likely to see that there are no GENERAL travel advisories against visiting India. There are SPECIFIC advisories about going to particular locations, which you MUST be mindful of if you want to stay safe.
SO HERE IS THE DEAL: If you are new to India, do your research and stick to major tourist areas. Yes, that's right, in India, you should stay ON the beaten path. Your best bet is to stay on the well-traveled tourist circuit (the "golden triangle" of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, and tourist friendly areas broadly including Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala, Rishikesh and perhaps Ladakh). This is especially true if you are a solo female traveler.
For most people, being ANYWHERE in India is going to be an experience. Almost everywhere in India you will experience the life, colors, heat, crowds, chaos, warm smiles, wonderful hospitality and travel delays that define the country. You don't have to seek out "hidden destinations" like you might in other countries to have a rewarding travel experience in India.
When you dig into the specifics of some of the recent attacks on foreign tourists you will find that some of them have occurred in remote areas. The reality is that many Indian people who have lived their entire lives in India would NEVER travel to these locations! You need to pay attention to advisories for specific locations, and you need to use common sense. If you insist on going off the beaten path you should probably do it with a buddy, a group or even better a reputable tour company.
Having said all of this about staying out of remote and dangerous areas, you need to know the REST of the safety story, which sounds a bit counterintuitive at first:
Travel safety is less about WHERE you travel, and more about HOW you travel!
Anywhere in the world that you go, you need to practice safe travel strategies to avoid problems. Anywhere in the world including your hometown or Thailand, or Bhutan, or the "tourist safe" parts of India. You need to practice safe travel strategies EVERYWHERE you go in India including displaying confidence, wearing modest clothes, preparing for nighttime arrivals, etc. But these strategies are a topic for another article.
This article is trying to answer the broad question "Is India safe for tourists?". We think it IS if you are careful about WHERE you visit (avoid known dangerous or isolated areas) and you practice safe travel strategies like respecting local dress codes and customs. We will write another article soon with SPECIFIC ADVICE on HOW to stay safe in India. In the meantime, you should sign up for our free online workshop where we will cover these issues and more on September 10th and 17th!