India travel advice which shocked me

By 13th May 2015TRAVEL

In the developed world, I take things for granted. These include clean running water, flush toilets, sanitation, having insurance and reasoning with people if I’m not a happy customer.

I have to remind myself that I’m going to a developing country. Here are a few pieces of advice which have shocked me as I prepare for Indian living…

You’ll be groped on the bus

That’s right. After looking into this I’m fairly horrified. There are plenty of stories where women have been sexually abused and harassed on buses. Sexual harassment—wherever it happens—is inexcusable, but a huge problem in India is that it is accepted as normal.

Women don’t talk to men outside of their own family in India (as far as I understand). But does this mean they don’t say anything even if they are being groped?

I’m not sure how to tackle this one, but I can’t keep quiet and accept it. A friend of ours got groped on a bus whilst visiting family in India. She was travelling with her husband, and that didn’t even put the ‘groper’ off.

I think India needs some Women’s Liberation.

If you crash your car, RUN

Our host in Chennai drives her own car around the city. By her own admittance, she doesn’t know how she does it sometimes.

There are no rules on the road in India. Cars, buses, and tuk-tuks regularly horn to let other drivers know they are there. When they pull-out or turn, they horn a bit more. Hardly the Green Cross Code.

There is also no insurance. Our host has told us we are welcome to use her car, but that if we get into an accident it could turn nasty. As we are tourists, it will be considered our fault, so we should just get away as quickly as possible to avoid getting into a fist fight.

On days when she can’t face driving, our host gets a call driver to take her shopping. At only a few hundred rupees (a few pounds to us), I think this is a better option!

Watch for faeces under the fingernails

Our host is an Irish/American lady. She’s been living and working in Chennai, South India, for 4 years. Even after all that time she still gets caught out; this is what she had to say about street food…

“Under any circumstances do not eat street food. This is because there will be faecal matter in the person’s fingernails with parasites that live up to 3 months, or unwashed foods, or tap water in the food. It’s disgusting – I am sorry… And do not eat any food in the airports. I made that mistake last month in an airport (ate a plate of biryani) and ended up in the ER room 2 days later.”

It’s no wonder people are ill when there is a need for UNICEF to release a ‘Take the poo to the loo’ campaign. This is recent too – 2014! Goodness (gracious). Is it normal for people to poo on the street?

If you don’t believe this campaign is real, watch this catchy video and let me know if you make it through the entire 4 minutes and 7 seconds:

As topster888 commented, ‘I never thought I’d see an attempt to potty train an entire country’.

But on the bright side…

We’re told that India is beautiful and fascinating.

There may be plenty of experiences which will shock us, but hopefully, a thousand more which will delight and enchant us.

We haven’t been able to focus on the positive stuff very much in the planning. We’ve been too busy getting injections to avoid illness, researching what we need to stay well, and considering the worst case scenarios.

In just a few days we’ll be on our way to Heathrow airport to catch an overnight flight; touching down in Hyderabad for our first 11 nights. Needless to say, I’m feeling nervous and excited in equal measure.

We’ll keep posting when we can in India. If you’d like to receive notifications of our new posts automatically – subscribe to receive email updates over on the right or the bottom (desktop or mobile).

Have you been to India? Is there anything else we need to know?! We’d love to hear about your experiences.


  • Tor J says:

    Ok, I could write an essay here and I will attempt not to. If you’re still here, call me. I’ve got a lot of info, particularly on the vulnerability of Western women to being groped.

    As you know, Janine, I had a horrific experience in South America, a couple of years prior to going to India. This was the issue that I was MOST worried about prior to departing for the East. However, living and working in Rajasthan for 6 months, I spent a lot of time alone on foot, trains, buses and even (the thing I said I’d never do) the back of motorcycles.

    What I found was very reassuring was that I actually felt reasonably safe in India and am planning another trip there for 2016 alone. That’s not to say that nothing bad happened, it did, but it was much more manageable than what I’d seen and experienced in Peru.

    One thing I’ve found about India -probably because of its size and diversity – is that it’s a country of juxtaposition. Whenever I make a statement about what life was like there, if I stop and reflect, I usually find that the polar opposite is also true.

    Unfortunately the influx and availability of Hollywood films and American culture has convinced many Indian men that all Western women want to do is have sex all the time with anyone who’s willing. The way sex is portrayed in the Western media is at such a stark contrast to what is acceptable for the majority of Indians, many people have come to the conclusion that we’re all amoral and loose. It’s quite easy to see how that’s happened.

    I had a young lad, probably aged about 18-19, sit next to me on the bus and strike up a conversation with lots of very personal questions. One thing that is adorable and challenging is that people will literally ask you anything. They are interested and curious and if they want to know something they’ll just ask. This guy started with the normal stuff, where I was from, what I was doing, how old was I, was I married… I asked him about himself too and eventually he said the thing he most wanted was to have sex with a Western woman. He then asked me if it was true that all Westerners wanted to do was have sex all the time!!! In the middle of a crowded public bus, I had to explain to him that this wasn’t true and was the fault of TV and the media. Although embarrassing at first, it ended up being an interesting conversation and at no point did I feel threatened.

    One thing about India is that respect for other people, and animals too, is far more alive than it is here. Elders are particularly respected. And people are willing to interject and step in with help. Not like English streets where something terrible could be happening and everyone will walk past and turn a blind eye. For instance, on train journey a big group of teenage footballers got on board. 6 or 7 of them sat down with Tom & I, asking reams of curious questions about us and our lives. A few others wandered along down the train. We didn’t see what happened but there was an almighty uproar and before we knew it all of the teenagers had been shooed off the train. An elderly man came to sit down, he must have been in his seventies or eighties. He was frail with a broken arm. In a very kind and gentle way, he apologised for the teenagers and asked if we’d been offended by them in any way. We hadn’t. We asked him what had happened. He said that he’s seen one of them touch the breast of a sleeping foreigner and so he’d kicked them all off the train. He was just a passenger, like us, but he’d taken it on himself to address the situation and apologise to us and the lady that had been groped. He told us how disappointed he was in India’s youth.

    On the subject of youth, remember that although India IS a developing country. Its development is rapid and there are now lots of middle class kids getting awesome educations, high flying jobs and enjoying plenty of disposable income. I found this generation of teens, 20 and 30 somethings modern, savvy and westernised. While traditional India is very conservative, some of the youth are exploring their freedom, sexuality and appetite for partying. The rich and poor divide is mind blowing, as is the complexities of the East meets West relationship.

    Going back to the original subject of groping. A guy once grabbed my bum in a busy street in Jaipur. That was the only time I was groped. Even then it felt like it was an opportunist guy seeing what he could get away with. While what he did was wrong, I didn’t feel like it compromised my safety in any kind of significant way. My reaction was to turn around and lamp him one. Not hard but enough to show him I was angry and it was unacceptable. Despite believing in non-violence, I wasn’t too disappointed with my immediate reaction. I felt like I stood up for myself and let him know that it was wrong. One approach to this kind of behaviour is doing anything to draw attention to what happened and make a fuss. This publicly shames the person, which is a big deal. However, it does run the risk of someone else stepping in on the victim’s behalf and giving the groper a serious beating. In a way, I think a slap from me was preferable to others taking it into their hands and potentially causing long-term damage.

    I said I’d try not to essay and I haven’t been very successful. Hope you’ve found it useful. One thing I would say is that I’ve watched with dismay as the media has jumped on sexual harassment and rape in India. While there are bad cases and inevitable risks, and maybe there’s much more variance from place to place, I didn’t feel unsafe there. And, after Peru, I had every reason to be particularly scared. Don’t take unnecessary risks but try not to be unduly afraid either. India is bonkers and so many opporunities for amazing experiences open up to travelers who are warm, friendly, respectful and open. People want to give and share. They want to take you around and welcome you into their lives. I met so many wonderful people there and learnt a lot. Don’t be too closed or skeptical. A healthy dose of risk awareness, yes, but not too much fear and apprehension.

    • Janine says:

      Hi Tor,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, you have encountered a lot and it’s helpful to have your insights. Now we’re here in India we’re experiencing the crazy things we read about; the traffic and driving being a big one.

      We are pleased to be staying with hosts, who, like you mention are Westernised, and have helped us to work things out in our first few days in Hyderabad. We draw a fair amount of staring but nothing untoward and I feel safe here. I wouldn’t be as brave to travel alone, but we’re figuring it out together 🙂

Leave a Reply