India Travel: Issues to Know at Top Tourist Places

What's India Really Like?

Tourist in Delhi.
Amos Chapple/Getty Images.

The exotic way India is presented in pictures and the reality on the ground can be a harsh shock for some people. What's more, the fact that there are so many articles about how to travel safety in India indicates that there are issues that need to be kept in mind, especially for females. This article isn't meant to condemn India, focus on the negatives, or create fear -- but rather to help prepare tourists for what they are likely to encounter at many of the top places to visit in India. Tourists who have the most positive experiences in India are those who are able to best deal with the country's problems.

Unlike what some media reports say, India isn't a particularly unsafe country. It can definitely be uncomfortable at times, and in some areas more-so than others. Yet, on the whole, citizens are friendly, tolerant, and helpful. There are plenty of genuinely nice people.

The reality is also that the more you spend, the more you will be insulated from the issues.

A general word of warning about photography: Indians love to pose with, and take photos of, foreigners. This is not always as harmless as it may seem, especially when guys photograph foreign women (often without asking). It's disrespectful, and one thing to be aware of is that they may use the images to make up stories of sexual conquests to their friends. Feel free to say no to them.

To be prepared, also have a read of these tips to avoid culture shock in India and tips to avoid being scammed or ripped off in India.

  • 01 of 10

    Delhi

    Female tourist in Delhi.
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    Delhi, while being blessed with many historical monuments, has a reputation for scams and not being safe for women. It's true that special precautions do need to be taken there (it's wise not to go out or travel alone at night, particularly if you're unfamiliar with your surroundings). Sexual harassment is prevalent and the men can be aggressive. The tourist ghetto of Paharganj is cheap but also "nasty" and confronting for first-time travelers. (Here's a survival guide). Stay in upmarket south Delhi for a more pleasant experience. This Delhi city and travel guide will help you plan your trip. 

  • 02 of 10

    Agra

    Tourists in Agra.
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    For most tourists, a trip to India isn't complete without seeing the Taj Mahal. However, people usually get in and out of Agra as quickly as possible. Apart from the dirt and pollution, the large volume of visitors means that there are also hordes of touts, scammers, and beggars all trying to make money. Taxi drivers will demand 10 times the fare, beggars won't take no for an answer, and street vendors will pester you endlessly. Read more about these problems in this essential Taj Mahal travel guide. If you're planning on staying in budget accommodations, make sure you do your research about reputable places beforehand  as the standard is quite poor. Choose somewhere such as The Coral Tree Homestay, Zostel backpacker hostel, Moustache Hostel or Friend's Guesthouse. Do note that nearby Fatehpur Sikri is notoriously overrun with scammers and touts as well. 

  • 03 of 10

    Rajasthan

    Tourists in Rajasthan.
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    Rajasthan is an endlessly evocative state -- all those majestic forts and palaces. Tourists flock there, so it's no surprise that the major cities are commercialized. There are plenty of unscrupulous shopkeepers, unlicensed tour guides, touts and scams to watch out for. This includes the infamous Jaipur gem scam (which is now in Goa). Discriminatory pricing is widespread, with foreigners often being charged a lot more. Expect dirty streets and noise pollution in some city areas too. At monuments, Indian tourists are frequently more interested in photographing foreigners than the actual tourist attractions, and groups of lustful young guys roam around harassing women. Udaipur is generally a pleasing exception. Get off the tourist trail -- head to the Shekhawati region near Jaipur or Bundi -- and the vibe is refreshingly different.

  • 04 of 10

    Varanasi

    Tourist in Varanasi.
    Tim McGuire/Getty Images

    It's often said that you'll either love or hate India, but this is especially true for Varanasi. Varanasi is renowned for being one of India's filthiest cities, with trash everywhere. The narrow lanes behind the ghats are particularly dirty. However, there's been noticeable improvement in recent years, since a widespread clean up initiative was launched in the city in 2014 (including a revamp of the railway station). Varanasi in an undeniably intense city that's not for the faint of heart though. People go there die, to burn dead bodies, and purify their souls in the holy water of the Ganges. A tangible part of the city is dedicated to sucking money from tourists, and approaches from touts and vendors are constant. "Guides" even offer tours of the infamous burning ghat. Yet, there's no doubt that Varanasi is a fascinating place, especially for those who like a bit of "madness". Plan your trip with this Varanasi travel guide.

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  • 05 of 10

    Goa

    Tourists on a beach in Goa.
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    Goa is a favorite tourist spot because of its liberal attitude, laid back lifestyle, and gorgeous beaches. It does have an ugly underbelly though. Sex tourism is rampant. Large groups of guys roam the beaches to ogle and photograph women, especially around busy Baga and Calangute in north Goa. Furthermore, the police (particularly the traffic police and anti-narcotics police) are known to extract money from tourists, even when violations haven't been committed. Issues in Goa have unfortunately resulted in a substantial drop in foreign tourism to the state in recent years. Lesser-developed South Goa and the Goa hinterland are much more peaceful but incidents of rape and harassment have happened there too. If you're a single female, it's advisable not to hang around with any Indian guys who you don't know well. In recent years, there have been a few unfortunate incidences of foreign women being murdered in Goa. If you're traveling on a budget, here are some decent inexpensive places to stay in Goa.

  • 06 of 10

    Kerala

    Kerala backwaters.
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    Most visitors have a positive experience in Kerala, India's most socially developed state. However, growing tourism there means that popular destinations such as the Kerala backwaters aren't as pristine as they once were. A glut of houseboats and waste disposal issues are common during the tourist season. What may not be apparent on the surface is that Kerala is also a destination for sex tourism. This has mainly been problem on houseboats and in unscrupulous Ayurvedic massage parlors. Foreign women coming and having sex with local Indian guys in popular places such as Kochi, Kovalam, and Varkala has caused problems as well. A Latvian tourist was lured by two men before being drugged, raped and murdered in Kovalam in early 2018. Woman traveling alone should be aware that they may face sleazy approaches from men trying their luck (a friend of mine, who is a grandmother, even experienced this!). There is no need to feel unsafe if you're cautious though.

  • 07 of 10

    Madhya Pradesh

    Khajuraho
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    Madhya Pradesh, in central India, is most frequently visited for its national parks and the Khajuraho erotic temples. The state has many other interesting historical and spiritual destinations. However, outside of major cities, much of it is isolated. English may not be widely spoken and the mentality of men may pose problems for female tourists. Care needs to be take when going to rural areas, with independent solo travel to secluded offbeat places not recommended. A Swiss woman was gang raped in rural Madhya Pradesh in 2013, while on a cycling and camping trip with her husband. There have been other incidents of rape or alleged rape in the state, including in Khajuraho (where a foreign women had tea with some local men and claimed to have been drugged). I also felt extremely uncomfortable with how men behaved towards me on number of occasions in Maheshwar.

  • 08 of 10

    Mumbai

    India, Mumbai, Churchgate Station, trains and platforms packed with commuters
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    Mumbai isn't called "Maximum City" for nothing. The most cosmopolitan city in India, it's where east really meets west. It's a city of extreme contrasts, including rich and poor living side by side in towering apartment buildings and slums. Mumbai is frustratingly overpopulated and congested, and it can take a long time to travel even short distances. People hang out of the overcrowded local trains (and  sometimes ride on their roofs). Yet, keeping with the contrasts, Mumbai is undoubtedly one of the safest and most hassle-free cities in India. Women can travel alone in auto rickshaws late at night. Taxis and auto rickshaws also go by the meter (rare in India).  And, the men in Mumbai are relatively well-behaved. It's an expensive city though, so be prepared to get much less bang for your buck, particularly in regards to accommodations! Here's a handy Mumbai city and travel  guide to help you plan your trip. You can also take a look at daily life in Mumbai.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Northeast India

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    India's Northeast region is growing in popularity as a tourist destination and has much unspoiled natural beauty and tribal culture to offer. However, travel there can be draining due to poor road connectivity, and lack of infrastructure and facilities for tourists. Here's what to know before you go to Northeast India.

  • 10 of 10

    Tamil Nadu

    Woman in Tamil Nadu.
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    Tamil Nadu is mentioned here not because of the issues tourists face, but rather the lack of them. Despite being one of the most tourist-friendly states in India, it doesn't feature on as many itineraries as it should. I spent 10 days traveling alone in Tamil Nadu, taking local buses, and it wasn't long before I unconsciously started letting my guard down. I felt that at ease. It was such a welcome change not to be pestered all the time or made to feel like a sex object. I wasn't photographed, except by male Indian tourists on vacation from northern states. In fact, locals asked me to take pictures of them!  There are a couple of things to keep in mind though. Tamil Nadu has a conservative culture, albeit one that's more respectful to women, so do dress and behave appropriately. In addition, auto rickshaw drivers in Chennai are notorious for being rude and not using meters. Here are the top tourist places to visit in Tamil Nadu.