India Travel: Issues You Must Know at Top Tourist Places

What's India Really Like?

Tourist in Delhi.
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The exotic way India is presented in pictures and the reality on the ground can be a harsh shock for some people.  In addition, 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.

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.

Read these Tips to Avoid Being Scammed or Ripped Off in India.

  • 01 of 10


    Female tourist in Delhi.
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    Delhi, while being blessed with many historical monuments, has a reputation as 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. Scams are also rife. 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.

  • 02 of 10


    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. The standard of budget hotels in Agra is also poor. In addition, nearby Fatehpur Sikri is horrendously overrun with scammers in touts as well.

  • 03 of 10


    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, members of the police force (particularly traffic police and anti-narcotics police) are known to extract money from tourists, even when violations haven't been committed. Lesser-developed south Goa and the Goa hinterland are much more peaceful. However, 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.

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    Chris Caldicott/Getty Images

    Unfortunately, Kerala is another destination for sex tourism in India, although it's not as readily apparent as in Goa. Foreign women coming and having sex with Indian guys in popular places such as Kochi, Kovalam, and even Varkala has caused problems. There is no need to feel unsafe, but if you're a woman traveling alone, be aware that you may face sleazy approaches from men trying their luck (a friend of mine, who is a grandmother, even experienced this!).

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  • 05 of 10


    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, including the infamous Jaipur gem scam (which is now in Goa). At monuments, irritating domestic tourists are frequently more interested in photographing foreigners than the actual tourist attractions, and groups of lustful young guys roam around harassing women on the streets.   Udaipur is a pleasing exception. Get off the tourist trail -- head to the Shekhawati region or Bundi -- and the vibe is refreshingly different.

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    Tourist in Varanasi.
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    It's often said that you'll either love or hate India, but this is especially true for Varanasi. Varanasi is one of India's filthiest cities. People go there to die, to burn dead bodies, and purify their souls in the putrid water of the Ganges. It's an extremely intense city that's not for the faint of heart. There's trash everywhere, and the narrow lanes behind the ghats are particularly dirty.  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. There's no doubt that Varanasi is a fascinating place though, especially for those who like a bit of "madness".

  • 07 of 10

    Madhya Pradesh

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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, disappointingly, the mentality of many men there does pose problems for female travelers, especially in regional areas.  In recent years, a foreign tourist was gang-raped in Madhya Pradesh. It may be an isolated incident. However, as a woman, I felt extremely uncomfortable with how men behaved towards me in Madhya Pradesh on numerous occasions.  

  • 08 of 10


    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 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.

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  • 09 of 10

    North East India

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    India's north east region is growing in popularity as a tourist destination and has much unspoilt natural beauty. However, travel there can be draining due to poor road connectivity, and lack of infrastructure and facilities for tourists. Find out more: North East India: What to Know Before You Go.

  • 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 domestic male tourists on vacation from other 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.