Tips for Women Travelers in India

Find everything women travelers in India need to know about healthromancewomen’s rights and safety.

All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Add your voice!

  

Health

Feminine Hygienic Products

Shikha saysAlmost everything related to sanitation and medicinal hygiene is available. Dharamsala is a major Tibetan settlement in India and the Dalai Lama’s home too. Dharamsala has 2-3 medical stores that sell everything. Most of the products are legal as well.

Krystal says: India is every woman’s dream when it comes to shopping for beauty products! So many ayurvedic and natural products and at ridiculously cheap prices! You will easily find good products in any pharmacy shop or local market.

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Aditi says: You can easily buy sanitary napkins and tampons at all convenience stores/pharmacies. Sanitary napkins are more easily available and it might be trickier to find tampons as they are not as popular.

Amrita says: Tampons and sanitary napkins are available at all department stores, convenience stores, grocery stores, and pharmacies. Sanitary napkins are more common. The best brand in my opinion is Whisper Ultra but international brands are also available. I’ve never bought Indian tampons but my mother used to buy them. Diva cups are also becoming more popular, but I’m not sure how hard to find they are.

Birth Control 

Shikha saysContraceptive options and birth control pills are easily available at any of the medical stores and are legal. You won’t need a doctor’s prescription to get one. The 2-3 stores in the main street of the Dalai Lama’s house are a good place to get those.

Krystal says: In rural India, birth control is something of an unspoken concept and as a woman it is not appropriate for you to ask for something as simple as a condom from the shopkeeper. Make your husband/boyfriend is the one to visit the pharmacy alone while you wait in the auto rickshaw! In the large cities it is possible to find female doctors specializing in women’s bodies. However, the cultural restrictions and limitations means it is better to leave your yearly appointments for when you’re back home in the western world.

More on Birth Control

Aditi says: All forms of birth control are legal. You can buy condoms, morning after pills, or oral contraceptive pills at any pharmacy without a prescription.

Amrita says: Everything is legal and cheap. If you know your particular medication name, just mention that because it might be sold under a different name as a generic brand for about 90% off. Morning after pills are freely available over the counter. It is not necessary to have a prescription for any birth control.

Recommended Gynecologists and Doctors

Shikha says: There are no expert gynecologists in the city. In case of an emergency, you can visit the city hospital in lower Dharamsala. If the case needs more attention, you can head to Chandigarh or take a flight to Delhi. Do not expect huge, posh hospitals at Dharamsala. The doctors are certified though.

Krystal says: See only a woman gynecologist as the male gynos in third world countries tend to be extremely judgmental, especially of us foreign women. Do research and be willing to visit the nicest doctor and best hospital. Don’t be concerned about money where health and comfort is concerned and just remember that the bill will still be much cheaper than visiting a doctor in the USA!

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Aditi says: Gynecologists in India might be more conservative than some other countries. Mumbai is a metropolis, so it is fairly simple to make an appointment with any gynecologist. They might not be as open discussing matters. Be very matter of fact about your concerns.

Amrita says: The easiest and best option are the Marie Stopes clinics. They’re rather spartan but clean and will do everything from checkups to abortions. The doctors are competent and rates are cheap. If you would like something a little bit more comforting, there are many big hospitals in every Indian city. Ask someone for the most famous one in your area and go there.

Avoid whatever clinic people might recommend because clinics are hit-or-miss. You might find someone amazing but you might also find someone whose father bought him the degree and built him the hospital.

Breastfeeding

Shikha says: It’s acceptable to do so in public. A lot of coffee houses, cafes, restaurants and even the common rooms of hotels won’t have anyone objecting.

Amrita says: Breastfeeding is fine as long as you’re discreet and nothing shows. It is not usually acceptable to breastfeed in public, but India is crowded! Delays happen and babies get hungry. No Indian is going to put a baby’s needs second. If in doubt, ask a woman where you can breastfeed and she will probably point you in the right direction.

More on Breastfeeding

Aditi says: You might come across quite a few local women breastfeeding in public. However, I wouldn’t advise doing so as you will invite too many curious glances. Ask other local women about the best places to breastfeed and do it in private. There are breastfeeding facilities in certain upscale hotels/cinema halls/malls in Mumbai.

 

Romance

Dating Locals

Shikha says: Locals in Dharamsala are mainly Tibetans or Indians. A lot of people think foreigners are open to one night stands.

Krystal says: If you are travelling to India expecting romance…don’t! If you are looking to party or date then plan a trip to Spain or Italy! India has very strict and traditional cultural values. These days, men in India are living like bachelors away from their families- often their family’s traditions and arranged marriage ideals no longer matter much! The truth is, many Indian men just see us foreigners as a good time. Avoid the dating scene in India and be cautious around local men.

More on Dating Locals

Aditi says: Casual dates are not common, so be wary when going out on a date with an unknown man. Go to relatively popular or crowded places for the first few times at least. Watch out for men who assume that foreign women are just looking for casual flings. If you are looking for something casual, go out with someone you have common friends with.

Amrita says: Don’t date the locals. Seriously. It won’t end well. Trust me.

Types of Men

Shikha says: A simple hug or a pat on the back might be mistaken for flirting. Make sure you that you do not tread that thin line. Some would be straight forward and ask you if you have a boyfriend. Saying no to might make you a more acceptable person to flirt with! A good cup of tea or a trek to the Himalayas can be shared if you know how to talk straight and use your instincts.

Krystal says: Some men are very modern, wealthy, and educated. A few men travel and work abroad- however, just because they have money doesn’t mean their family is open to love marriage!

Many Indian men are doctors, engineers and architects because their culture values education. You’ll find quite a few brainy Indian men! Just remember that the intelligent ones are sometimes too book-smart and not smart enough when it comes to women, dating and relationships!

The party men just want to have a good time and live a bachelor’s life away from their strict parents and close-minded family rules. These men are sometimes dangerous and tend to be very bold when it comes to taking advantage of women.

More on Types of Men

Aditi says: There are quite a few types of men in Mumbai. Most of them are nice and helpful especially if you are looking for directions or recommendations. Some of them might merely be interested in hitting on you so I would watch out for that. I would suggest exercising some caution when making plans with unknown men, and supplementing their advice with your own research and intuition.

Amrita says: There are a few different types of men here in India:

Educated, liberal type – they speak good English, probably studied abroad, have a lot of money and a girlfriend, and go to clubs. These guys have a favorite English football team.

Educated, conservative type – they speak good English, probably studied abroad, have a lot of money and a wife, and hang out at malls with the family. These guys are avid cricket fans.

Educated / Illiterate type – they will stare at your boobs constantly.

Uncles – older gentlemen- they take a strong interest in you and want to educate you on life.

Idiots – they just want to get in your pants.

LGBTQ Friendly

Shikha says: Since any LGBTQ relationship is illegal in India, public places are not safe. If you’re in an LGBTQ relationship and travelling with your partner, I would advise against a public display of affection. Most of the LGBTQ people keep their orientation and relationship status under wraps.

Krystal says: Elders are rarely accepting. However, the younger generation is a bit more open minded people.

More on LBGTQ Friendly

Aditi says: A blatant display of affection in public places might be frowned upon even among heterosexual couples, and you might be subjected to some harassment since homosexuality is still a criminal offence in India. There are lots of discrete LGBTQ communities in Mumbai, but it is advisable to not be very public about it.

Amrita says: Among the upper and upper middle classes, and especially among younger people, being LGBTQ is not a big deal. However, India as a whole is still rather homophobic and is undergoing massive societal upheavals.

As long as you don’t do PDA, no hotel or restaurant is going to blink at two men or two women who wish to room together. You will also see Indian men holding hands while walking. This is not seen as queer behavior.

 

Women's Rights

Women’s Rights

Shikha says: Legally, women enjoy the same rights as men.

Krystal says: Women in India have many struggles. It’s very much a male dominated country, especially in the streets. Some of the wealthier upper class Indian females are very modern and fierce- but the general population is repressed.

Aditi says: Women enjoy the same rights in society as men for all practical travel purposes. In case you need assistance, you have the right to request a female police woman especially after 5 pm.

More on Women's Rights

Amrita says: Women do not have equal rights. You can tell by the constant sexual harassment.

Local Women

Shikha says: Dharamsala/McLeod-ganj is a largely open society and there won’t be much of a difference between you and the local women. However, most women make sure that jeans are full length and not too revealing. You might find them not quiet around men.

Krystal says: Women in India do not have the ability to discuss topics such as sex, birth control or dating and relationships! Many modern girls these days simply hide their love affairs from their family and parents, fully knowing that getting caught can possibly end in an “honor killing”. I have found that many Indian women are happy to share their hardships and struggles with us foreigners simply because we are more comfortable talking about these forbidden topics.

More on Local Women

Aditi says: Most urban young women are very liberal, and it is common to get a drink at bars with friends or go out by yourself. You might come across some differences in dress, interactions with men, dating, and other social issues. There is lot of diversity in Mumbai, and quite a few women who are in Mumbai are from other parts of the country. You might come across lots of different cultures even in the same city.

Amrita says: Local woman are more conservatively dressed and will physically fend off harassment.

Women-Specific Environments

Shikha says: Women are allowed everywhere. A few Muslim mosques in lower Dharamsala might have some restrictions in place.

Krystal says: Women are not allowed in certain temples or mosques. It is also very common to see many barbers, dhaba street markets, or restaurants with only male customers. Avoid these places and instead look out for places where you see women! Women should not be outside alone at night- period!

More on Women-Specific Environments

Aditi says: Some of the mosques might not allow women but otherwise, there is no such restriction.

Amrita says: There are women-only cars on local trains and in the subway. After dark, the city is not safe for women on their own.

Perception of Foreign Women

Shikha says: Most of the foreigners are in Dharamasala to volunteer. Thus, the local people are quite familiar with women from all over the world. Stay away from the over-friendly ones and you will be in one of the most hippie places in India.

Krystal says: Women love to meet foreigners and many are happy to share their cooking skills, stories, and wedding videos. They will treat you like a family member!

Men see foreign women as “loose” and often times they will try to take advantage or snap a photo! Do not let them and don’t be shy about saying NO! You will not offend them. Also, do not take the staring personally- they do not consider staring to be rude.

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Aditi says: Most local people will be willing to help you and be curious about you and your life experiences. Some of them will offer really helpful advice and help you out with recommendations about restaurants, cafes, things to do, or places to shop. Some people might harbor stereotypes about foreign women and try to charge higher prices than usual for common goods. They might also have stereotypes based on popular culture, Hollywood movies, or TV shows.

Amrita says: Local men think foreign women are sex workers.

 

Safety

Transportation

Shikha says: McLeod ganj in Dharamsala is quite tiny. Still, you can take a taxi or an auto rickshaw. Local buses connect the town to more beautiful tourist places. Auto rickshaws and buses are quite safe even when you travel solo. Even the taxis are safe, though you would find the most reliable ones by talking to your hotel’s manager.

Krystal says: Make sure that any taxi or car you take has a license plate. Take a photo of the plate and search for a number to call in case you run into trouble. Many drivers try to take long routes in order to earn more money. Check the route on your phone if possible. Do not travel alone at night- period! Make sure you catch your car or taxi before it’s dark outside.

More on Transportation

Aditi says: It is very safe to use public transport in Mumbai except late at night. Travel with at least one other person after midnight especially if you are taking auto rickshaws or taxis. Trains and buses are very safe. Download an app to calculate the taxi/auto fare on your phone beforehand so nobody will try to fleece you. Avoid going to desolate places by yourself. Any place that is crowded is fairly safe in Mumbai.

Amrita says: The Metro is the safest option. You can also ask your hotel or hostel to arrange a car for you. You get peace of mind for about 15 dollars for 8 hours.

Shady Areas for Women

Shikha says: Avoid walking alone at night time, or visiting a pub if you’re alone. If you wish, you can go out if you’re in an all-women group.

Krystal says: Avoid rural villages, especially if you are alone. Do not go any place that you feel is a possible safety concern- such as large crowded streets- because men will often try to harass you or hustle you.

More on Shady Areas for Women

Aditi says: Avoid desolate areas especially at night. It is advisable to avoid areas where you don’t see too many women, although Mumbai is fairly crowded in most places. Be wary while walking in an empty lane, parking lot, or public park.

Amrita says: Any place at night is shady for women.

Clothing

Shikha says: Do not wear anything revealing. Tees and jeans are normal in Dharamsala/McLeod ganj. This place teems with people from all over the world, so the locals are quite open.

Krystal says: Shopping in India is amazing! So many cheap, cute and comfortable clothes to buy and wear. Leave your shorts and tank-tops in America and instead spend ten dollars on a dozen different outfits that you can find in any market or shop.

More on Clothing

Aditi says: Dress modestly, and be fully covered to avoid being stared at. Skimpy shorts, tank tops, and short dresses might attract attention in public places. High end restaurants and bars are more liberal. Observe the locals and dress like them and if in doubt, dress conservatively.

Amrita says: No shorts or tank tops please! Wear loose-fitting clothes and cover with a scarf. I nearly died of heatstroke one day but it was better than having men talk to my breasts all the time.

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