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Notes on traveling alone as a woman in India.

Posted on Aug 26, 2013

“Let us make one point, that we meet each other with a smile.”

― Mother Teresa

I met them the first day I moved into the Delhi neighborhood of Kishangarh, two 20-something brothers who ran a small shop owned by their aunt and uncle.

It was only my second week back in India last year and they instantly made me feel at home with their warm eyes and kind smiles. Although they were not twins, they bore a remarkable resemblance to each other and if one of them hadn’t worn glasses, I would never have been able to tell the two apart.

Their shop was thirty seconds from my apartment, making it easy to run down in the morning to pick up two eggs for breakfast, or a one-rupee packet of Tide detergent – rose-scented – when I wanted to do my laundry, or – on days when Delhi belly forced me to a liquid diet – some Maaza mango juice and a yellow Maggi packet of tomato soup.

I was hardly at that apartment, between jaunting around with The Adventurists and field visits with the NGO, but whenever I was arriving or leaving, I always made a point of stopping by their shop, to either say goodbye or, better yet, “I’m back.”

They would teach me phrases and numbers in Hindi – bīsa for twenty, tīsa for thirty – but most importantly, they taught me what kindness looks like.

India general store

* * *

You may have seen a certain CNN article making the rounds on Facebook last week, one with the title, “India: The story you never wanted to hear.”

It was written by a 20-something woman named Michaela Cross, a student at the University of Chicago, about her experience studying abroad in India for three months – an experience that resulted in her having a public breakdown in the US this spring and then being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In her account, Michaela describes being groped, stalked, and stared at; she talks about being filmed by a group of men while she danced at a festival and hiding out in a Goa hotel room after a staff member tried to rape her roommate. There is no question these things are wrong and horrific to have gone through.

But as I read her story once and then a second time, I confess that something about it didn’t sit right with me. How is it, I kept asking myself, that I spent ten months in the same country and didn’t have nearly the same experience?

Michaela writes:

“When I went to India, nearly a year ago, I thought I was prepared. I had been to India before; I was a South Asian Studies major; I spoke some Hindi. I knew that as a white woman I would be seen as a promiscuous being and a sexual prize. I was prepared to follow the University of Chicago’s advice to women, to dress conservatively, to not smile in the streets. And I was prepared for the curiosity my red hair, fair skin and blue eyes would arouse.

But I wasn’t prepared.

There was no way to prepare for the eyes, the eyes that every day stared with such entitlement at my body, with no change of expression whether I met their gaze or not. Walking to the fruit seller’s or the tailor’s I got stares so sharp that they sliced away bits of me piece by piece. I was prepared for my actions to be taken as sex signals; I was not prepared to understand that there were no sex signals, only women’s bodies to be taken, or hidden away.”

It was only while reading these paragraphs a third time that one line in particular truly struck me: “I was prepared…to not smile in the streets.”

Because if there’s anything I feel really helped me connect with the men I met in India – and possibly even kept me safe in certain situations – it was a smile. It was looking them in the eye. It was taking the time to say hello and ask their name.

There were times when I would board a train, find my seat in the sleeper class, and realize that all seven of my fellow passengers in that compartment were men. There would be a moment as I sat down – normally out of breath, my scarf no doubt tangled in the straps of my backpack – when we’d all sort of stare at each other, silent, the wall between us high and wide. This moment never ceased to intimidate me.

How were seven Indian men and a tall, blond, fair-skinned foreign female going to pass the next 20, 30, 40 hours to wherever we were heading?

But that’s when I would smile. I would try to break the stares and meet one of their gazes, maybe waggle my head to one side, and say, “Namastē. Āpa kaisē hai?” I would do whatever I could to take down the wall between us, one brick at a time.

To hear Michaela say she was prepared to not smile, to in a way keep herself closed off from interacting with those around her, seemed entirely opposite to my own philosophy in India.

* * *

It is of no credit to my memory that I cannot remember the names of my  friends in Kishangarh– and as I’m in DC for the weekend and my notebooks are at home, I can’t look them up either – but I will never forget those two brothers.

I have no photos of them either – as much as I insisted on taking one before I left for the final time last December, both brothers had not shaved that morning and were thus camera-shy.

But I do have photos of other men I am grateful to have met in India.

Men who took the time to tell me about their flower business, or refused to let me pay for a cup of chai, or prepared a bowl of noodles for me on a Tuesday afternoon – men who never once treated me as a sexual object or made me feel uncomfortable.

And in light of Michaela’s story, I feel compelled to share them here, and briefly tell you their story. To generalize an entire population based on the actions of a few is a dangerous thing, as one of Michaela’s classmates, Katherine Stewart, wrote in her own response on CNN, titled “Same India – Different Story”:

“So why should all Indian men be subjected to judgment for the rapes that some men have committed? [Michaela] does not address the fact that there are warm and honest men in India. When we do not make the distinction that only some men of a population commit a crime, we develop a stereotype for an entire population. And when we develop a negative stereotype for a population, what arises? Racism.”

I am of the belief that there is nothing quite so powerful as a name and a face, so much so that this has become one of the main drives behind my love for travel writing – that by illuminating the story of an individual, we might better understand the whole.

Here are a few of the individuals I met in India, men who indelibly shaped my love for the country:

There was Tara Singh, a kind soul in Delhi whom I will forever think of as “the man who boiled my noodles.” I had been down and out with Delhi belly for three days, bought a packet of ramen noodles, and asked the owners of my guesthouse where I might find hot water. They sent me to the hotel’s rooftop kitchen, where Tara Singh proceeded to not only cook my noodles, embellishing them with fresh coriander, onions, and tomatoes, but also taught me how to make chapatis and showed me photos of his family and friends.

Indian cook in Delhi

Noodles in India

There was Chotelal, a flower seller in Kishangarh. It was all too easy to miss his stall on the side of a busy road, but once I discovered it, I returned to him several times before leaving Delhi. The time and care he would give a bouquet of just three flowers, asking if it was for “home or gift,” carefully wrapping it in patterned plastic, and securing the bundle with a curled ribbon from the ring of ribbons hanging by his shop, was incredibly moving.

Flower seller in India

Flower seller in India

Flower seller in India

Flower seller in India

There was a soldier named Pappu Kumar on the train to Guwahati. We chatted for an entire afternoon during that 42-hour journey, and I’d look on as he bartered and bantered with hawkers, like the woman selling water bottles full of honey. When chai wallahs passed by, I soon learned I wouldn’t get very far insisting on paying for my own cup of tea.

Soldier in India

Chai in India

There were Surin and Suresh in Mumbai’s Dadar flower market, who have been in the business for nearly twenty years. They gratefully explained the use and significance of many of the flowers for sale – from bundles of rose petals to bright green tulsi, or holy basil – and I couldn’t help but laugh when they teased a friend of theirs one stall over [photo below].

Flower sellers in India

Flower seller in India

Flowers in India

And there was Ajit in Cochin, who ran a small stall by the Rickshaw Run finish line. He now lives in Dubai, but works at his family’s shop whenever he’s back visiting. We would talk about life in his new home away from home as he’d mix up yet another fresh lime soda to keep me cool in Cochin’s brutal heat.

Drinks stall in India

Drinks stall in India

Fresh lime soda in India

* * *

I am all too aware that bad things happen in India – we need look no further than the gruesome gang rape that took place in Delhi last December. I am aware that just because I was never groped or stalked does not mean that it doesn’t happen there every day, both to local and foreign women alike.

But I am also aware of the intense warmth and beauty of the country, and it breaks my heart to see it stereotyped and generalized in such a way.

I don’t say this to see the world through rose-colored glasses, but for me it ultimately comes down to a choice – do we choose to focus on the bad, or do we remember the Chotelal’s and Tara Singh’s and Pappa Kumar’s who changed us forever, and for good?

Women  be smart, be sensible, be safe, but please do not stop going to India.

Taj Mahal, India

If you’re a woman and have traveled in India (or elsewhere in the world), I’d love to hear from you. What has your experience been? What helps you connect and keep safe on the road?

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  • Beautiful post. I’m torn between moments like yours and the situations where I was groped by a group of high school boys, hissed at and asked how much I was… which happened very often. Luckily the mass groping only happened once.

    I always say I love and hate India in equal measures; that’s in an incredible, beautiful, and magical country but with its difficulties that makes it harder to travel there as a solo female. This kind of things can happen anywhere, but I felt in India it was around me more. But that’s not to say there were a lot of incredibly kind people… and men who DIDN’T act in a bad way.

    It’s taken me many years to get over things that happened – to make me want to love it again and seek out the good. I plan to go back within the next six months, although I will say I will be more guarded, especially in light of the recent stories.

    • Thanks so much for sharing about your own experiences in India, Becki. It’s terrible to hear about what happened to you, and I’m really glad you’ve had these last few years to get over it and heal from that. I definitely understand loving and hating India at the same time – it is as maddening a place as it is magical, and I almost feel like being able to hold these two halves in one hand is the secret to understanding it…or understanding that we’ll never truly understand it 🙂 I look forward to hearing about your trip back there, whenever that happens, and will be following along with interest!

      • Vipul Toprani

        I think this love and hate relationship is not necessarily a foreigner only thing for India. I, being an Indian male, have too the same feelings. There was a really nice article I’d read a few months ago and this spoke of this same relationship with India.
        www theaustralian com au (search for mad-for-mumbai)

        After reading the shocking blog from Michaela, I was left with a feeling of being lost wondering if the Indian male has attained some sort of devilish form since I moved to Europe in the last 3 years. Talking to friends and colleagues, I have been trying to put up a defense claiming that these rapes and groping events represent only a small percent of the population and the majority are really just nice ( of its that is too positive, just normal) people.

        So Candace, I would thank you with all my heart, that someone took up this stand and stood up in defending my battered soul and identity.

        I think women need to be definitely protected in India, not just foreigners. Indian women too have an equal standing in this regard. I feel pain and ashamed when such events occur. And this is something that needs to be done, from the mentality of the people to the government.

        I hope this blog gets more and more recognition in the world media for its genuity and for the mother-ship that is India. Thank you again Candace!!


        Vipul

        “The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” – Albert Einstein

        • Yeshi

          Vipul,

          Thank you for your words.
          You’re right on. Most people in India are good people. When I traveled there with my daughter when she was young(5-8 years), we were treated with kindness and respect. There were only three males who were jerkballs.

          One was a drug addict who insisted on stalking western people in the market of the town we lived in. The second was a TIBETAN monk who tried to molest my daughter, and the third was a Bihari nanny of a Tibetan family who tried to beat my daughter. All he got for his efforts was me hitting him with my shoe.

          Everyone else helped. Aunties took my daughter on her lap. Uncles gave her candies. It took us up to 30 minutes to walk from our house to the bus because people from town wanted to say hello to us. We had a group of brothers and uncles who offered to help have words with the Bihari man.

          In the dhaba we frequented, the cooks didn’t bother to ask my daughter what they wanted. She was seated, given the remote to the t.v. and a hot, grilled cheese sandwich was put in front of her along with an extra sweet lassi.

          The one time we went to Delhi by train, an army officer stationed in Lhadak was our cabin mate. He took my bag, took my daughter’s hand and instructed me to hold on to her tightly. He escorted us to the metro and stayed by me while I bought a token.

          When we rode three days from Delhi to Kathmandu, the bus driver, an Indian man, told us to stay on the bus while all the Tibetans disembarked. He waited for us for two hours while I dealt with the border gents who were very kind.

          I can relate endless tales of the kindness of men from India. This trip I wasn’t groped or hurt, on the contrary, I was helped. I am a single mom and traveling with my young daughter was humbling and heartening.

          🙂

      • smita

        Thank you so much for sharing your innocence about your recent visit to India. You unconsciously do not seem to have noticed that you have accepted yourself to be less important than male travellers and i am sure its fine for you but not for many other female travellers. You are careful in giving you hints on how you had to dress differently, how strategically you had to walk and where you had to walk. all the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’, and the ‘whos’- a kind of guidebook for only women travellers! That is discrimination because men travellers obviously dont face these difficulties…infact, you probably were being chauffered around or if not, you didn’t explore India as a true backpacker going in the deeper corners of the country. See your photos- all men, where are the women? It means that you accept that it is unsafe for women to be seen in the public (of course unconsciously). I know that people like you visit India for exactly this-as an adventure amongst savage men and predators who are out there only to target the vulnerable one and often who tend to be blonde (original) I strongly request you to visit a proper Muslim and poor country like Egypt (very similar to India but only India is culturally a Hindu country) where there is so much of respect for women’s modesty in public spaces so she can be seen alone. I went there as an Indian girl, and I loved each and every second of being there. Infact, I was alone with an Egyptian driver who drove me to the hostel from the airport and neither could I speak his language and neither could he speak mine and we struck a perfect cord! Imagine, in my own country (India), I cannot guarantee this to my non-Indian friends who come to backpack to India because I dont want to endanger their lives. Its a nightmare for me to keep telling them how unsafe it is not to dress in a certain way, not to smile to strangers, not to accept drinks in Goa because its surely mixed with drugs and kidnap you, and how much my friend missed her trip to Goa because I put my foot down on her going alone. You can surely visit India but only when you are constantly chauffered around, or if you are above 60 with grey hair, or if you are not a blonde and a single traveller (even then not safe as in my case- wheatish complexion). It does not matter even if you are dark actually… there are predators out there who will get you the moment you take things for granted in public spaces. The India that is in private spaces is a different India, but , you if have come to backpack which means you are constantly in the public space dealing with rickshawallah, chaiwallah, paperwallah, bhajiwaala, bus wallah, and other street vendors WHO ARE ALL MEN!!!. The message from your piece on India for me is ‘ you are welcome to India but at your own risk and dont blame the government and the law and order when its too late because at the end of the day, you are a woman in India and it means you are not equal to men and we don’t care if you come from a culture where you are treated equally. We are sorry that you got raped but we are a poor country and cannot afford to give basic security to our own people let alone foreigners who are anyway bohemian and come to India because its cheap’.

        • Seema

          Sorry I had exactly the opposite experience as yours in Egypt. My friend and I were stared at constantly (including the women) and groped. I felt far more unsafe than in India because at least in India I am a citizen, can speak the language etc.

        • Riley

          You really think India is full of savage men and predators? I am a red-haired Caucasian and I spent six months in India last year traveling alone and some people – including women – were pushy and rude, but most of them were fine and some were very nice. I traveled on buses where I was the only foreigner and I did not feel unsafe. I imagine that friend you stopped going to Goa is now an ex-friend. I went to Goa alone and the only bad thing that happened was feeling unwell as a result of something I ate.

      • eggie

        🙂

    • Ma’am as an Indian I’ll like to apologize for all those incidents which happened to you

    • Thank you ma’am for this post. I have been reading a lot about violences against women in the past months and have been very worried because of it. My girlfriend has lost hope about the country but I still had the belief all these stories are showing just one face of the coin. I still believed that the country has not lost its morals and the rich hospitable culture which inherited from our ancestors. But that CNN article made me think it might really be the end of it. Thanks to your article my belief is reignited. It’s sad media won’t spread this article as positive news hardly get the feedback as compared to negative ones.

      On a different note will love to hear more about your trips to India and recommend destinations in India for future visits

    • Prady

      Thanks Becki for sharing your experiences in India. I am really very sorry to hear about the troubles you faced back in India and hope you recover from that nightmare as early as possible.

      Being a man and being from India, I am really ashamed of the unfortunate happenings across the country. India has always been known for its valor and rich cultures dating back to ancient times. Yet its one of the most unsafe country for women at present. Actually, India had been a very conservative country for a long time and as such, many ill and unwelcoming practices and thoughts regarding women had developed during all these years.

      But present India is a kind of a mix-bag. People are coming out of the age old ill practices, but the journey is not yet over. People are now adapting to international cultures and abolishing the ill practices of yesteryear, though the pace is not even for different sections of the society. And that’s where the problem lies. Those sections of people who have already accepted it and who now value the dignity of women, their company will be the most welcoming of all. But those sections who are still sick-minded, you will be the odd one out with your 21st century thoughts. Not every men belongs to the latter section and you can’t generalize the same. When you go out to the streets, not every man will disrespect you, will stare at you, will grope you, will scan you from top to bottom. Its only for some of the “black sheep” of the Indian family that you need to be careful about.

      Smita, practically speaking, stricter laws and policies can never change the mentality of the one billion people overnight in a country like India where its been prevalent from centuries. You might argue that India is a democratic country and you have got every right to do anything which is allowed under the laws. But till the time India has come up of this horrific nightmare, lets take some precautions for your own safety. Its always better “to be safe than sorry”. I am not advising you of what to wear, whom to talk, how to walk, etc. You know it very well than me what works for India.

      For the non-Indian lady travelers and your male counterparts – you might feel alienated at some occasions and find some children and people staring at you at the streets. Just look in this perspective – you are as alien to them as they are too you. Looking at the way you carry yourself, they are baffled with many questions because you are different from them. In such a situation, as Candace suggested, break the ice with a welcoming smile and try to relax. If that doesn’t works and you still feel uncomfortable, just move out to a different place. Don’t take any risk if you are not sure.

      India is full of surprises, and hence its termed as “Incredible India”!! 🙂 🙂

  • Thank you so much for giving another perspective on women traveling in India. I’ve never been to India myself, but while hearing all of the gruesome stories on the news I couldn’t help but think that there must be lots of women that are not getting harassed and do have an amazing time.
    So thanks again for this.

    • You’re so welcome, Angela – and thank you for taking the time to read the story and leave a comment! As a woman who has traveled extensively through India and loved so many moments of it, I felt like I needed to try and balance out some of the negative press the country has been getting this past year. I hope you’ll have a chance to visit there yourself one day soon!

      • smita

        Thank you Candace for sharing your innocence about your recent trip to India. You have probably not much to say to what Micheala’s experience has been so far. It has taken a lot of courage for a woman like her to come out publicly against a massive civilisation and make a sweeping comment about travelling as a single female resident and traveller in India which is unfortunately true. I am an Indian girl. It is because of Micheala that today I have found that I am sexually a damaged person because of growing up in India and having been masturbated at, stared at, stalked at, and other everyday sexual harassment of growing up in India which I cannot undo. Maybe you too saw all this but managed to convince yourself that it is okay but its not so for everyone. Today, it has been 12 years since I have become a non-resident Indian (studying in the US and UK and travelling around a lot) and my experience of my country in India is that it should declare itself as a Muslim country so that women’s modesty is protected in public spaces by Muslim laws which is currently in danger because Indians assume that they are a democratic and secular country which in practice, its NOT. Before you portray India as a safe destination for women travellers, please be ready to accept all the responsibility it takes to do so. BTW, why do all your photos seem to be of MEN! ARE YOU SAYING US THAT IT IS UNSAFE FOR WOMEN TO BE IN PUBLIC?? IT SEEMS TO BE SO FOR ME! Have you been to Egypt? It is a similar history and culture but only its Muslim where muslim laws protect women in public spaces. I was there as an Indian and I truly enjoyed exploring the country as a single female traveller and never felt sexually endangered because they are very.

        Lastly, you also seem to be saying that because India is a poor country, you are automatically going to be surrounded by sexual predators and other forms of sexual savagery and so women travellers, be WARNED! and dont blame the Indian government when its too late because India is a poor country and if you choose to visit a country on a shoe string budget, then at least be prepared to be RAPED. You also seem to be accepting that you are okay that male travellers are more privileged than you while in India… well you might be okay with it not me and certainly not Micheala and that is why she shared her experience. You are sounding exactly like the Delhi chief Minister, Sheila Dixit, who blamed the rape victim for going out late at night with her male friend to watch a movie when she was brutally raped and killed in December last. If you accept you as a female traveller are less privileged than male travellers who can go bare in public but you cannot, surely you should visit India.

        • Parag

          She has uploaded pictures of men cause she wanted to tell everyone about the wonderful men she met in India.

        • Chrstn

          Smita, I am an Indian woman who was born and raised in India all through my childhood. I also had the good fortune of having the chance to spend a good chunk of my teenage years in a Middle Eastern Muslim country – and let me break this to you, incidents of molestation and abuse can happen ANYWHERE. They happen in India, they happen in the Middle East, they happen in the Far East.

          I have now been living in India as a single woman for 7 continuous years. I travel by myself in a big city. I go out alone during the day, and often enough post sundown. I travel alone across states, in trains and buses. Nothing scares more than a person who thinks like this “…India is a poor country and if you choose to visit a country on a shoe string budget, then at least be prepared to be RAPED.” This is the real problem that we need to fix.

          Candace, thank you for speaking up against this growing wave of stereotype. While all these incidents of rape and harassment make my blood curdle, I know in my soul that we are all not savages. And thank you for re-enforcing that. Much love to you from India.

        • Mclondon1

          Smitha, They are different opinions and experience. You cannot doubt Candace’s experience and accept Michala’s. Egypt is a lot worse than India, on average, and the fact that you did not have any troubles show that one can travel safely in a country if one takes the required precautions. Going to dangerous places at the wrong time, whether a man or woman, is not a desirable thing for ones own safety. I do not walk in some parts of Washington DC during the daytime, and especially at night, although I have the right and freedom to walk. On your comment “You are sounding exactly like the Delhi chief Minister, Sheila Dixit, who blamed the rape victim for going out late at night “, no, this article does not sound like that at all, and secondly, Sheila Dixit is also a woman well familiar with Delhi. All she said was, knowing the reality out there (in some parts of Delhi or in Washington DC) that there is a higher risk for women and even for men for being there late at night, therefore it is wise to avoid such situations unless it is an emergency. Pickpocketing is also extremely bad, and it is against my “rights” someone stealing money or identity cards from my pocket. Knowing that some regions have a higher danger from pickpockets, I avoid those regions or take proper precautions if I visit those regions. I do not see any issues with it.

  • Thanks so much for writing this Candace, I have been thinking of doing the same thing. I have travelled alone in India for 17 months and the only really negative thing that happened was having my breast quickly grabbed in Old Delhi, back in 2006.

    I walk through India with a big smile too, and common sense, and I find the combination works for me. I have had far too many special, wonderful, warm moments with the women AND men of India to count. They are the most open0hearted people I have ever met.

    Everyone has their own experience, but mine has been overwhelmingly positive.

    Having said that, I was in Delhi in the aftermath of the Delhi Gang Rape and the atmosphere was very very dark. I would love to see ALL Indians and the entire culture respect and honour women, and give them the opportunities they deserve. I pray for this.

    • It’s great to hear from you here, Mariellen, and I really appreciate you sharing some of your wisdom gleaned from so much time in India. I love what you said about the combination of a smile and common sense – more and more I really do feel that is the key to engaging with India, and with the world…having the courage to be open to new places and encounters, but also knowing when to trust our gut and say no. I too am hoping and praying that incidents like the Delhi gang rape continue the discussion about honoring women.

  • Thank you so much for posting this. It is disheartening to read and hear all of these horrible stories and balance it with my desire to see India. And I agree with Katherine Stewart – it’s dangerous to generalize an entire culture.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Claire, it was awesome to hear about your desire to see India. While it isn’t an easy place to be as a woman – as so many stories will tell you – I’m still a huge advocate of visiting the country and really hope you’ll get a chance to do so soon!

  • Speaking as the much-maligned Indian male (from Delhi nonetheless), I agree that there is a lot that needs to be done with regards to safety of women (all women, whether Indian or not) in the country and at the moment I myself cannot be sure exactly how these issues can be fixed but yes, there are many of us out here who treat women with respect and will try to help you if you need anything without expecting anything in return. I just hope and wish that this is the kind of people you and all visitors to India meet.
    Thank you for bringing out the positive side of India and its men.

    • Subir, I can’t thank you enough for stopping by and saying hello – I was sincerely hoping I might hear from people such as yourself here! It breaks my heart to see travelers like Michaela Cross generalize an entire population as she did, and I wanted to let others know how many incredibly positive interactions I left India with. Thanks so much again for sharing your side of the story.

  • Thank you for writing this article and showing a positive side to India! As an American woman engaged to an Indian man, I have started dreading the news from India because I know I will inevitably get stupid comments from people who know nothing about the country. I pray that the women of India get the respect they deserve and that the good men of India help to bring about this change.

    • You’re very welcome, and I thank you as well for sharing a bit of your story here! I had a look at your blog and really appreciated your own post about Michaela’s account. It is indeed hard to believe she didn’t get in touch with her university sooner as each negative experience took place. But I couldn’t agree more with you on praying for change and respect in India – here’s hoping that takes place soon!

  • Beautiful photos and a wonderful message! I spent a month and a half in india and Nepal this past winter and I loved it and I could have smiled more, yes! Next time I go, I will definitely be sure to know more Hindi and smile more and create more relationships. I experienced a couple of strange incidents but was never groped or anything worse than being stared at intensely for a couple of hours on a bus. I freaked out after that incident and was quite rude to the man as he was trying to help us but now I think I could have been friendlier-after all, many of them have never seen a white blonde woman in their lives! Thanks for this wonderful post. There is no point in creating more fear in our lives- only awareness, empathy and compassion matter and usually the fear goes away.

    • Jenna, as I mentioned on Facebook earlier tonight, I so loved what you wrote here about fear and compassion – thank you for sharing that! I absolutely understand and have so been there on those uncomfortable bus rides and even more uncomfortable encounters – they really are quite impossible to avoid in India, but I found that you just can’t let them define your entire experience in the country. I’m glad to hear you still loved your time there, though, and I hope you’ll have the chance to return again one day!

  • Thank you for this post. Every time I hear one of the horror stories coming out of India from solo female travellers recently it makes me quite upset, because I’m a huge advocate for travel in India. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in India as a solo female traveller, and my experiences, while often frustrating and occasionally confronting (and that’s India!), have largely mirrored your own.

    I find the vast majority of people – men and women – in India are simply curious, and most look out for a woman on her own. It’s so important to keep smiling – I got pulled up on it by a tour guide in Cochin when I found myself putting up a scowling barrier between myself and people because I was so scared of getting approached inappropriately, although I’d had no bad experiences – becoming more open (while still being sensible and cautious about it) really turned my experience around.

    • Thanks so much for your fantastic comment, Megan! It’s so great to hear from a fellow Indophile, and I really appreciate you sharing some of your experiences here – hopefully they’ll prove helpful to other female travelers thinking of heading to India! I especially love what you said about curiosity, for that was exactly what I found there as well. And what I loved most was that that curiosity is incredibly mutual, isn’t it? We’re both so unknown to each other, so it’s really a chance for people from two vastly different cultures to chat and learn about the other. Thanks again for your insightful comment!

  • despite all the bad news, I am still decided to go to India, for stories like this.

    Thank you for this post. 🙂

    • I’m thrilled to hear that, Apol! India is a fascinating country to explore, and I’d hate for bad press to discourage anyone from traveling there. Please let me know if there’s anything I can help with when you do decide to visit it 🙂

  • Hi Candace, thank you so much for writing such a beautiful piece about my country. As you mentioned, it pains to see the entire country being stereotyped. The crimes committed by a few insane people is ending up generalising an entire population as rapists, molesters and just criminals. It was such a reassuring feeling to read your account early this morning. You truly made my day. I am sure there’ll be an entire population that would be thankful to you for sharing this piece on India. Goodness prevails and finds itself.

    http://rekspoursout.wordpress.com

    REKHA

    • Hello, Rekha! It’s wonderful to hear from you here, thanks so much for taking the time to say hello. I’m thrilled that I might have, in some small way, reassured you that there are people who love India and try to see beyond the crazy headlines. Goodness does indeed prevail and I’m endlessly grateful for all of the kind-hearted people I encountered during my time in your beautiful country.

  • Beautiful post Candace, thank you.

    I met so many wonderful men travelling around India, and on a sleeper train overnight with, at one point, about 15 men playing cards next to me, it would have been weird not to smile.

    Although I wouldn’t usually compare India and the UK when talking about this, it was interesting Mariellen mentioned having her breast grabbed, as some guy grabbed one of mine last week here in Bristol.

    That said, it is important the men and women of India continue to fight against the bad things that happen there, and people from other countries saying, ‘it happens here too’ is sometimes a lazy response, and one that should not suggest ‘it’ is exactly the same or as prolific everywhere.

    I’m also of the opinion that there is no country where women enjoy exactly the same freedom as men. Yet. But there will be.

    It is important to fight good fights against bad things, yet focusing for the most part on the positives helps us fight those good fights better. So, I like your style.

    And I like to think women can travel wherever they like, armed with common sense.

    • Sophie, my love, I can’t thank you enough for your beautiful comment – thanks so much for taking the time to share some of your thoughts and experiences from traveling through India last year. I especially appreciated what you said about fighting the good fight – I definitely do not feel that only sharing our negative experiences in a place is the best approach. Every discussion needs to include the good and the bad, doesn’t it?

      Oh, and I would have loved to be there during that card game on the train 🙂 xx

  • Thank you for sharing this story. It is nice to read something that refreshes my memory of the good times in India.

    In my experience of living in Delhi for three months, I never actually came into harms way. Although I spent an awful lot of time feeling that I was. When I reflect on how many times I was actually grabbed, or actually faced danger particularly of a sexual nature, the answer is NONE!

    Sometimes when I would walk to work I felt intimidated, I felt like I was being followed (I probably was), but like any situation back home in Australia, I just crossed the road and made a phone call as to feel safe. I felt stared at, like I was vulnerable. And I probably was.

    India is an intimidating place, it is a challenge for a solo female. And while change does need to happen, I don’t think we should let this stop us from embracing everything wonderful about the people and culture. Indeed, why do women still travel solo to Melbourne when women are raped and murdered here….but it stops them travelling to India. It is no different.

    I write this in hindsight, and having had many months now to reflect on my time there. I remember returning home angry, and upset, I had had enough. But I left about ten days after the infamous Delhi gang rape, and I lived in Saket, so it was a bit close to home for me. It was very raw. Had that incident not happened when it did, I perhaps would have been less anxious and negative at the time.

    Regardless, my reflection on my WHOLE time in India has resulted in me booking another ticket back for February next year. And I can’t wait to share my experience with the small group of women I am travelling with.

    • Erin, I’m really glad the internet brought you this way today, for I not only appreciated your comment here, but I also just spent a bit of time perusing your own blog! It’s fascinating to hear about your time in India, and very sobering that you were in Saket when the gang rape occurred. I can only imagine how that must have affected you and your experience. That’s exciting you’ll be heading back in February, though! Will this be another trip for work? I’d love to hear a bit more about it 🙂

  • Great post! It is all to easy to make a false judgement about certain nationalities once the media bought attention to a certain story. It is terrible what happened to the girl who was gang-raped, but these kind of things happen in the US, Europe and elsewhere as well. The media doesn’t make such a hype about it though. People shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It is sad to read that the girl from the US was told not to smile on the streets. I have never been to India but I know loads of Indian men, all of whom are lovely and gentle people.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Tammy! I couldn’t agree more with what you said about there being an imbalance in media coverage…rape definitely is something that takes place all around the world, but unfortunately seems to get more attention in places like India. As I tried to write here, my time in India was, on the whole, extremely positive, and I very much hope you’ll get the chance to experience it yourself one day.

  • Kim

    YES. Exactly. I’ve been feeling the need to tell a similar story on my own blog. I want people to know that there are a BILLION people in India and every single one of them that I met, men and women, were kind. Thank you for telling this story Candace.

    • So glad we’re on the same wavelength here, my friend, as I had a feeling we would be! As you say, I really do feel like it’s important to step back and recognize just how big of a country India is. Terrible things are going to happen there – as they happen here in the US and elsewhere around the world – but I truly believe we can’t let that hold us back, so long as we’re smart and sensible about it.

      I’m so glad we were able to experience some of India’s beauty together – let’s get back to Dharamsala again one day, okay? 🙂

  • Prem

    Splendid post and lovely to read such a positive thoughts about India. I have lived in UK and USA where I have heard similar stories happening/happened to some of my British/American friends even in their own country (UK/USA). So, I feel that how media in developed countries trying to single-out India is harsh, bias and completely ignorant. Having said that, I wish some Indian men remember that in India we treat our guests as our own family. I serious hope some of these Indian men learn to treat women with respect. I am sure this is true for some men in all the countries in the world.

    • Prem, thanks so much for reading the post and saying hello! I loved what you said about treating guests as your own family – time and again, so many people I met in India told me the phrase, “The guest is god.” I especially heard this on train journeys, when I would often be invited to share a meal with someone or offered a cup of chai. This warm sense of hospitality greeted me all over the country, so it’s disheartening to read stories like Michaela’s that paint such a different picture of India.

  • Great post Candace. Although I got the occasional groping in a crowd, not once did I ever feel threatened either. I certainly don’t condone many of the horrific stories in the news recently and we all know that treatment of women there needs to be improved. However, how many woman are groped or sexually harassed or raped here in the US every day. I read the CNN article thinking “you’d been to India before but you were feeling “assaulted” because they watched you dance? I am sorry for her trauma but feel there is more going on within her that isn’t related to the men of India.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Rhonda – it’s great to hear about your own time in India, and how even when more negative things did happen, they didn’t ultimately threaten you. I felt much the same when I was there. Thanks again for taking the time to join in on the conversation! Hope all is well in Portland 🙂

  • Carter Quinley

    The photos and stories of these men made me cry!! Thanks for your beautiful grace and love for the people of India!

    • And now you’re making me cry, my love!! Thank you as always for reading and for your kind words – I know you understand all too well about loving a place, even when there are certain things you don’t necessarily love about it. Miss you heaps, and know that I will be writing back to the 437 emails I owe you SO SOON. xo

  • Divya

    Let me start off by quoting “no country or place is safe enough, if it is in your head you would never dare to explore!” So stop thinking, take that trip to wherever you have planned or penned down in your bucket list. We humans have the same mentality be it in any country. It only gets worse or better by many other factors surrounded by that individual. I am an Indian women now settled in US and I can say this because now that I have experienced both worlds. If India has gang rapes and women think it isn’t safe then US too has depressed psyched people carrying arms and killing innocent people. By these we can’t stereo type both countries. The point is you would find such people in any country. Now it is upto you as an individual be a man or women to protect yourself and be sure to make enough friends in and around where you visit to shout for help. I would also say this not only happens to a foreigner visiting that country but also to the women residing in the country. Carry a pepper spray, small pin and learn some karate for defense is all I can say and smile while you do this.

    • Divya, I really thank you for your insightful and balanced comment, as an Indian woman now living in the States. You actually expressed something that I was close to writing in this post – that generalizing the entire Indian male population could be somewhat equivalent to thinking that many American men behave like James DiMaggio (the man involved in the recent California kidnapping case). It’s important to remember that the stories that make the news are so often very extreme cases, and you’re also right in that we have to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves. Thanks again for sharing all of that, Divya!

  • I always love your writing, Candace, and this is no exception. Your stories are always so vivid, even without the photographs. Then the photos come and I’m blown away again.

    I love hearing your perspective, and I’m torn a bit. Having traveled a bit by myself, though certainly not as extensively as you do, I recognize that one woman’s experience does not adequately describe an entire culture. Hundreds and thousands of women’s experiences do not adequately describe an entire culture. This I know. I’m saddened to hear of women not wanting to travel anywhere due to fear.

    Some of your readers have commented that Michaela’s problems stem from things other than what happened to her in India and that all a woman has to do is smile to change the mood in the room/train car/ etc from being threatening to civil, even jovial.

    I’m torn because that dances on a very fine line between recognizing we’re all responsible for our own actions, and thinking we’re also responsible for the actions of others, which can then lead to questions about how much she had to drink and what she was wearing. That is an extremely dangerous side of the line, though our American culture (and perhaps others; I’m most familiar with my own, after all) seems to dance gleefully on it.

    Keep writing, keep engaging these conversations. Thank you for sharing.

    • I can’t thank you enough for your comment, Margi, and especially for your honesty. I’ll admit that this post took quite a long time to write, and I was equally hesitant to finally hit ‘publish’ (even after having a friend read over it). What I definitely did not want to do was trivialize what happened to Michaela – and trivialize what happens to countless other women every day all over India – by saying that a smile can fix everything.

      But I truthfully did find that – in my experience, at least – things like a smile, or speaking a few words of Hindi, or eating with my hands, really did have an effect on the people I met. We don’t know everything that unfolded surrounding Michaela’s negative experiences, but I suppose that what I ultimately wanted to achieve here was simply to say, there is still tremendous good to be found in India, and this is how I found it.

      I am indeed grateful for the conversation this post has inspired, and I’m glad to be working through this difficult issue with you and other readers!

      • things like a smile, or speaking a few words of Hindi, or eating with my hands, really did have an effect on the people I met.

        Of course! When in Rome … er, Delhi … 🙂

        Thanks for responding to my candor. I thought a lot about my comment and wanted to be sure I expressed myself without coming across as being confrontational.

  • Thank you for this post !
    As an Indian woman who loves to travel I have done a lot of travelling across my country and I have had my share of groping and being started at too:p. I am not going to say travelling as a woman in India is entirely safe, because let’s face it, it’s not! But then, I have traveled alone across a lot of countries and there have been instances where I have feared for my safety there too !
    Like you, I have met many good men through my travels across India. Thank you for pointing out the kindness and compassion my countrymen display. Perhaps your post would help straighten the skewed image my country has 😛

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Ruchira – I really appreciate hearing from you here. I’m so glad you’ve encountered good men across your country as well, and I hope that by continuing to share their stories, we might encourage women to keep traveling there. Thanks again, and I hope your future journeys are safe and successful!

  • Dear Candace,

    This perspective is fine, but does not alleviate in any way the horror of Rose, and what Rose encountered is the bare truth – we all, as Indian women do know it and have faced it too. So, perspectives may come for the sake of argument, but wrong is wrong. It can not become right in the company of right. Every woman who comes up with an opposite argument should instead consider herself lucky.

    I completely respect your experiences and am glad that you saw a picture of my country that was better than even what I have seen. But I only wish this was your personal experience alone and you hadn’t mentioned Rose’s story. Bringing that story in perspective makes your story say, “It is not so.” But it is so. It is so. I know it. Every Indian woman who travels by public transport knows it.

    I have had perfect strangers coming out of the blue to help me. But that does not mask my fear of stepping out on the roads alone. Every time I step out of the safety of my home, I am aware, I am alert and I am nervous. I can’t trust the auto wallahs not because I am paranoid, but because I have had several bad experiences with them. Every day, when I reach back home safe, I thank God for keeping me away from any such problems for that day. The next morning, the struggle starts all over again.

    The people who feature in your post – they are angels. I have my own list of them. Still, I am scared. I have had to face demons too.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, and for rounding out the perspectives I’ve been grateful to hear from in response to this post. I firstly just want to say that I can’t begin to imagine what life is like as an Indian woman – the fear that you describe, and the constant need to be aware and alert each time you step outside your home. I hope that it is understood that I am coming from my own perspective as a foreigner in India, and that I am in no way trying to undermine what you go through every day.

      I also want to say that I really appreciated the insights you shared – especially things like, “Wrong can not become right in the company of right.” That is so true and so necessary to keep in mind. I felt compelled to share the stories of people I met in India, not to in anyway compare my experience to Michaela’s or to trivialize hers, but to point to the good that can still be found there. I wanted to, in a way, round out the conversation that was taking place on CNN, just as Michaela’s classmate Katherine shared her own story: “Same India – Different Story.”

      I think it’s important for such conversations to be balanced, and I wanted to share this post in context with Michaela’s and Katherine’s stories. I thank you again for taking the time to read it, and hope to see you here again!

  • As an Indian, I am glad that you had a beautiful experience and met some real warm, caring people who showed you the good side of India, an India in a positive light. I am glad that you took back some lovely memories and am happy that you were lucky enough to not have any bad experiences.

    But honestly, am a little upset that you chose to discount experiences that others might have had. I would have loved to read this article independent on RoseChasm’s article. Because, let’s face it – she’s not the only one who’s undergone such experiences. They happen. That is the truth. I do not have the same experience as millions of oppressed women who fight it out in joint families, women who are victims of domestic abuse and worse. But can I say it doesn’t sit right and how I, who has spent 25+ years in this country, did not have the experience? Because I do know people personally who have a very tough time.

    Yes, there are good men and women everyone and am thankful for them. God’s witness that we need many more of them around. And honestly, as far as generalization goes, I quote you: “Here are a few of the individuals I met in India, men who indelibly shaped my love for the country.” What if these had been bad experiences instead? Wouldn’t those have shaped your resentment for the country in the same way?

    I love that you had a great experience. But I would have enjoyed this more if it had been a stand-alone article. I have had great experiences in India, met some amazing people. Have amazing family and friends. But I fear the demons too. On a daily basis. And that’s something you should not have to live with.

    • Hello, Deepa – thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts here, I’m grateful to read them! It’s interesting that you raised a similar point to another comment left by “A Walk in the Woods,” about how you would have preferred me to not share these stories in conjunction with Michaela’s account. As I explained above, I wanted to enter the conversation in context with her story, and with one that her classmate, Katherine Stewart, also shared on CNN (called “Same India – Different Story.”) I’ve written a lot on my blog about my love for India and the small moments that I’ll always remember from it, but today I wanted to – hopefully in a respectful and honoring way – share some of my story as someone who has had a largely positive experience in India; to say that it isn’t all bad there.

      I was also very struck by your questions of, “What if these had been bad experiences instead? Wouldn’t those have shaped your resentment for the country in the same way?” For me, it’s interesting that some of my most negative travel experiences have taken place in other parts of the world than India. I was stalked by someone I knew in the UK, punched in the throat in Egypt, and led down a side street by a man in Morocco, who then tightly gripped my hand and asked me for money, and when I refused, told me to never return to his country – and yet I don’t resent any of those places. Each of those experiences left me incredibly shaken and unnerved, but as you might see in other parts of this blog, I truly do strive to see the positive in travel as in life.

      Lastly, to connect this back to Michaela’s story, what I hope came across here in my post was that I was not in anyway trying to discount her experiences – rather, what didn’t sit well with me was what she said about being “prepared to not smile.” What I ultimately wanted to respond to was not her experiences in and of themselves, but that particular statement and the philosophy behind her travels.

      Thank you again for your very moving insights, Deepa, and I hope to see you here again!

  • Dear Candace,

    Thanks for bringing out something different than what I have been reading for the past some days about my own country. I feel ashamed and genuinely sorry(being an Indian Male) that Michaela had to go through such horrific things when she visited India. It is a problem we must address. And the sooner the better. But, after reading your post, I feel relieved that people are writing good things about us. Because we all are not the same. As one Sanskrit saying goes “Atithi devo bhava” meaning “The Guest is God”., I hope people coming to India feel the same around our country. Also, I must say your way of writing is so nice and your photography is so crisp.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Soham! I have to say – one of my chief motivations behind writing this post was to speak to people such as yourself 🙂 I saw so many Indian men apologizing in the comments on Michaela’s story – and apologizing for what? For simply being themselves. I personally feel that it isn’t fair or right that you should feel in any way ashamed of who you are. I wanted to share the stories of these five men as a small way of balancing out the more negative press and saying, there is still so much good to be found in India – and so many wonderful people to meet.

      And yes, I heard the phrase “The Guest is God” many, many times during my travels in India – I love it!

      • Dear Candace,

        I am not sorry for being Indian. I am rather too proud of my culture and heritage. Just that I am sorry for some of the atrocities that had to be endured by Michaela which some of our nuthead Indian men forced on her. I was going through your blog. You have traveled to so many places. Really inspiring. I have traveled to some of the places in India like Western Ghats, Wayanad, Sikkim, Uttarakhand. Recent being Ladakh. It is a must visit place for foreigners along with Sikkim. If you have not been there, you should plan to go there on your next trip to India.

      • berrygoblin

        Exactly!! I did not understand the apologizing at all! great to hear of your experiences. The point is that Rose’s experience, as horrifying as it is, is not typical of India. As Indian, I can say that perhaps the concern with India is the response (cops and public) to such incidents. Reactions are full of judgement, moral policing and that is a lot of more worrying. But when traveling, (anywhere!), common sense cannot be lost. For instance, even living in India, I can tell you we do not go and dance in streets for the Ganapati parades. It is common sense that may not be a safe idea! I cannot for the life of me understand why Rose chose to do that for instance. Let me be absolutely clear however that the fact that she did choose to do that does not in any way excuse what she went through. The point is, if common sense tells you you could avoid it, for gods sake avoid it! Especially when you may stand out in a crowd because you do already look like you’re from elsewhere, which for some reason does cause people to just look – maybe not with the worst of intentions, but look nonetheless simply because they have sighted someone that looks so different from who they interact with everyday. Again my objection to Rose’s article was in the very title … to my mind, this was NOT a story about India. It was a story about traveling absolutely anywhere as a woman alone and the troubles faced. Even within India, I have always disagreed about one city being more safe or unsafe than the other. You can be subjected to atrocities in any city if the setting, time and place is unsafe. Lets be rational that one can never prevent rape altogether, men are not going to reform overnight. So lets not wait in the hope for that and just do what we can instead – take care and when still faced with a problem, push the authorities to address it!

        On a separate note, Candace, on your next visit, I would highly recommend exploring South India more 🙂

  • What a great and needed post – I have only had the pleasure of going to India the one time and on a holiday as opposed to living there however I can honestly say that the hospitality that was extended to me was something that I have found hard to find in many countries around the world… thank you for sharing ‘the other side’ of the story.

    Safe passage, Ducky xo

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Ducky, it’s lovely to hear from you! I’m so glad to hear that you experienced such wonderful hospitality when in India – I can definitely say that the only other place I experienced it to such a degree was in Japan. There truly is something remarkable about the people you meet in India, which is why it’s so discouraging to read stories like Michaela’s.

      PS – I just popped over to your own blog and am loving it so far…although I’m sad that it seems we could have met up in Cambodia earlier this year! I love your site, though, and will definitely be following along from now on 🙂 Enjoy Asia for me!

  • Yixiu

    That was a beautifully written article!

    I travel solo quite often and have been toying with the idea of travelling to India for a couple of years, especially since when a friend of mine went during an exchange program and came back singing praises for the country and its people. Another fellow solo traveller (male) went and advised me against travelling to India alone, with friends would be fine.

    More often than not, I read articles about how female travellers and their harrowing experiences in India and that honestly made me hesitate even till now.

    I’ve only been travelling to neighboring countries solo, from Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China (Tibet, Beijing, Cheng Du, Inner Mongolia) and my favourite, The Philippines.

    How do I get by and stay safe while having fun? Don’t overdress, know when to say no and like what you mentioned, smile. My most memorable solo travel was to the island of Siquijor in Philippines when I rented a scooter and got lost in the small muddy roads in the villages. I just smiled and asked for directions and many were more than happy to give me directions. Never for a moment did I felt unsafe or threatened in any way.

    Sometimes it just takes a little courage to smile and stay safe. =)

    • Hello, Yixiu! I can’t thank you enough for stopping by and sharing some of your experiences as a female traveler. I absolutely loved hearing about your time on Siquijor – it really reminds me of when I visited an island called Nusa Penida off the coast of Bali. I too rented a motorbike and spent an entire day getting lost in a dozen little villages – there’s really nothing quite like it, is there? 🙂

      But I do thank you for what you shared here about staying safe as a woman alone on the road – it really is so important to find that balance between being safe, but also having the courage to have a little fun. I truly hope you’ll make it to India one day soon – and if there’s anything I can do to help with your travel plans there, please let me know!

  • What a relief. The post you referred to horrified me beyond belief. Not because I walk around with rose tinted glasses, but because I was disgusted that a visitor to my country had a string of horrendous experiences, seemingly without one mitigating factor. I often see young Indian and western girls in Delhi where I live, wearing rather tight shorts and revealing tees and can’t help wondering how safe they must feel if the average Indian male is such a horny bastard! So glad you shared your experience. If there’s another trip in the offing dear Candace, do email me for a quick cup of coffee!

  • I’m from India. It’s good that you balanced the discussion by taking it on the positive side but as an Indian and as a male I feel very sorry and ashamed for whatever happened to Michaela Cross. About the travelling part, just to add a point, Indian is too diversify in terms of its culture, tradition and people that you need years and years to study India and its people.

  • Thanks for sharing, C. I have, personally, little desire to go to India, but traveling there has changed the lives of many of my closest friends. I was shocked and saddened when I read the article, and listening to your tales of the goodness of people warms my heart.

  • John

    Hi Candace,

    I think something dissolved in my chest when I read this! I live in Singapore but I grew up in Chennai and have been to various parts of India. I love travelling in India and its such a mix of cultures. I love telling my friends who are foreigners that they must absolutely travel to India. But lately I haven’t been able to do that as much. Always it seems like there is only negative news all the time. It saddens me because I believe that in a billion there are bound to be a numbers of “bad ones”, but the billion take a hit.

    Your story told me that though we continue to have problems, we must not forget that we also are a warm culture, one that values hospitality as paramount. Indeed in my family we were taught from a young age that unless the guests had their fill we couldn’t eat. Lot of people continue to visit the country and get a fill of the amazing experiences India has to offer.

    Thanks Candace. I hope more people read your post and understand that India is a beautiful place to visit, though it has its faults.

  • Karen

    I have never been to India but would love to travel there in the future. You are right, it happens in other countries too, so we should not stereotype them. I have been living in the middle east for almost a year and met a lot of Indian men which become our friends. They are hospitable, very helpful and kind. Like in India, most of the men here stare at women. Not just Indian guy but also Pakistanis, Bengali and Arabs. I just got used to it. I even travel alone in a van and I’m the only girl in the group. I didn’t feel scared at all.

    I would love for you to see the Philippines, as I am a Filipino. There are lots of great place for you too see there and I can assure you that everyone is friendly and helpful in our country.

  • Jessica

    Candice,
    Thank you for writing this refreshing article. I have travelled to India each year for the last 4 years and am heading back next year for 6 weeks. I have never encountered any bad situation in my travels and have made many many wonderful friends whom I am still in contact with now, most of which are men.
    It is so nice to see positive responses about Indian men, I feel sorry for any one who has been placed in a bad situation, but I also feel sad for the thousands of lovely Indian men who could potentially be seen as a threat.
    Yes women need to be careful when traveling abroad, but it doesn’t matter what country your in. Listen to your intuition, don’t actively put yourself in a risky situation. But keep your heart open to the goodness that is out there, because it is there.
    I don’t think my love for India and its people could ever die, and I thank you for writing an article that focuses on positive for a change.

  • Rhea

    I have been to India just last May of this year at the height of all these unpleasant news about rape and women oppression. We had several hesitations and thought of actually canceling our trip days before the actual travel when our Indian friend reminded me that there is no reason to be afraid of in India, but just to be a little careful. We have experienced a very warm, welcoming atmosphere in the three cities that we’ve been to: Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. Since we have noted that most of these unpleasant stories happen during and when the victims take public transport and at night, we have resorted to hiring a car and a driver recommended by our Indian friend to take us around except for the long travels that we took the train from Delhi to Jaipur and Jaipur to Delhi and made sure that we are back at our hotel by 10:00PM. We also made a conscious effort to let our hotel know our whereabouts at a certain point in time or at what time they should expect us during the day.

    The beauty of India is not only seen through its majestic architecture but more importantly in the way you connect and communicate with its people. There is no substitute for a smile or a simple “Namaste” as a form to reach out to such a rich culture, and be given such ample information and thorough understanding of their country; perhaps the only way to understanding a country is through its people. Our drivers (that charges us INR2000-3,000 for the whole day trip) made us feel really safe all the time by reminding us that those cases are isolated ones and they happen everywhere, and they are just a call away to fight for whoever would take advantage of us. Their strong sense of protection of tourists by their words is very uplifting. By the way, it helps to have an Indian number to always get in touch with your hotel and the driver. Overall, the best way is to travel smart, even if that means spending extra money for safety. Be kind and reach out to people, but don’t be too trusting on the side. India is such a beautiful country, too beautiful to miss! I will definitely be back to visit more places in India next year and repeat the same formula for security.

  • Arun

    Thank you Candace. I am an Indian and travel a lot within the country. I’ve made it a point to speak to many people during my travel, Indian and Visitors alike. During my interactions I have seen that despite smiling or trying to be friendly, most visiting women and men alike are afraid of speaking to me. After a while, some times making long friendships, I could see that they are just apprehensive of approaching new people as easily as Indians tend to do. It is probably because they are in a new place among new people but could also be because they have heard so much about India negatively.

    When I was traveling in the USA, considering that there are a lot of Indians and Asians in the university that I work, people observe everything that I/we do but always avoid our gaze. That baffled us to think that they are not friendly but we have learned that they don’t want to look curious – they were giving us privacy, in a sense but that is not how people behave in India – people gaze and would be dying to make eye contact with foreigners and hear their stories. Along with general curiosity is to a good extent white-worship.

    It is disheartening to hear the tragedies faced by so many young women in India – be it foreigners or Indians. I strongly believe that a lot of such incidents are from opportunist gropers – and yeah, my sister carries a pepper spray with her but she understands to not be afraid of India or another country – she treks alone. We are continuously working to make the place better, at least many of us are. When anyone approaches us, we offer a lot of unsolicited advise too at times to make them feel better and safer – some of you might have noticed it.I stronlgy hope that there would be a day when you need not smile to feel safe.

    Mother Teresa worked in India for decades and I hope some can take inspiration from her. For now, I like what you said – just make friends with the people around you and they will own you with a lot of heart. Also, please understand that the way Indians interact and behave is a bit different to the western world in particular. We naturally move closer when we talk, we talk loud, everyone is always waiting for an opportunity to speak to a foreigner or take pictures of them but most mean no harm. Beware of drunkards. Do venture out alone some time when you are here to shed off some fear. If you try to interact with people around you, you will understand that most are just waiting to help you or hear and see the culture of your country and your versions of India. Please do visit India – bring your stories and make wonderful experiences here.

    • Arun,
      Loved your reply! I have travelled to very few places in India, mostly to Chennai, Kerala, Banglore and Bombay, grew up travelling to countries like Nigeria, Egypt, France, Britain, Portugal and when I finally got to India, it was a culture shock but I was young and little and it took me very little effort to make new friends and love them to this day!!!! I have learnt that once you warm up to us, we Indians would do anything to make sure you feel at home! I love the place and the people. I have my friends and family there and I have also had mostly pleasant and loving memories with very few unpleasant and I think a smile can work wonders!

      Regards,
      Priya.

  • Nice to hear from you. When i go for wildlife photography in very remote area or village people see me with curiosity , that doesn’t mean they want to harm me or take my Camera or valuable and when talk to local they come with offering help , I found most of them are innocent and with lots of curiosity.
    When ever visit tourist place , i talk to foreigner, local other visitor want o know there experience or share info , so they more comfortable stay here. I remember , In Nasik taking tea from road side shop, two German Lady asked direction for Railway station and we went on discussion , was telling her about Nasik and near by area and Nasik Vineyard etc. Reluctantly I offered tea to them and they agreed , yes people was looking at us , what we are talking. She was complaining about Mosquitoes in Nasik and i was having mosquitoes repellent cream ( because , i was coming from Vipassana meditation camp, where it is very much needed ) , i gave them mosquitoes repellent cream. Then we went our own way. I frequently go Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and most of the time talk to visitor from India or foreigner and purpose mostly share info. There are many story like this , i can write whole blog , I strongly believe most of time people are innocent and they see people mostly because of curiosity , Yes one need to apply common sense.

  • Rhea

    I have traveled to India last May of this year at the height of all these news about rape and women oppression. We have a few hesitations about this trip and have actually entertained the thought of canceling our travel just days before the actual date when an Indian friend reminded me that there is nothing to be afraid of in India, but, just to be a little careful. We have received a warm, welcoming atmosphere in the three cities that we’ve been to: Agra, New Delhi, and Jaipur. Since we have noted that most of the unpleasant cases happen and when during the victim take public transportations and at night, we have decided to hire a car and a driver through a friend’s referral to take us around except for the long travel from Agra to Jaipur and Jaipur to Delhi legs that we took the train.

    In it an understatement to say India is beautiful by just judging through its majestic architecture, it is even more splendid and divine when you get to meet its people. Perhaps it is always true that the appreciation of a country is always through its people and being able to reach out to them and converse with them through a simple smile and an utter of “Namaste” completes the whole trip. This way they also learn from you about your country, and you learn from them in return. Learning is all mutual and inspiring in and of itself. Indians are courteous, friendly, smart, people. Our drivers all the while made us feel secure and safe; there is something about their protective presence that is very re-assuring. They have a strong sense of protection about women travelers and kept on reminding us that those are only isolated cases and it happens everywhere, and that they are only a call away, in case someone would take advantage of us. These have helped managed our fears and hesitations. We also made a conscious effort to call our hotel and let them know our whereabouts as well as at what time they should expect us within the day e.g. “if we don’t arrive hotel by 10:00PM, please start to look for us, we are at this place, etc.”. We as well made sure that we are already at our hotel by 9:30M and just postpone whatever it is we cannot finish by the next day. Overall, it pays a lot to travel smart, be kind to people without being too trusting and always be on guard even if that means spending more for your safety. By the way, an Indian number proves to be very helpful during our entire trip, it helped us to communicate faster in a cheaper alternative. India is such a beautiful, magnificent, place, too beautiful to miss and not to see! I will be back for sure to discover other places like Kerala, Bhuj, and Varanasi, using the same formula again for safety. Thank you, India, for such a wonderful experience! It is perhaps the India trip that I am most proud of!

  • Inaya

    I’ve heard stories similar to Michaela’s from my friends. In one case, the story ended even worse for the girl. I wouldn’t say your post is encouraging – I still wouldn’t dare to travel across India on my own, I still believe it would be tempting fate. But I guess it may be encouraging for someone really intent on visiting the country: ) And even apart from this, it’s good that you shared your own experience and your methods for dealing with awkward situations (e.g. in the train with seven men in the compartment), because this advice could prove useful for all travellers around the world. To let people see you instead of their own preconceptions about you – always a good approach : )

  • Anand

    Great read, Candace! I’m glad you left India with wonderful memories.

    You’ve encapsulated a very under-credited trait found in the average Indian- Kindness. Acts of being compassionate, caring and going out of our way to lend a hand irrespective of familiarity is something we are exposed to growing up. I’ve found that the same tendencies may be interpreted as being intrusive or plainly, weird, especially from a European point of view.

    Similarly, you could draw a parallel about the common Indian perception on sex, sexuality, gender, etc that are instilled growing up. The gist being that we’re brought up twisted when it comes to this. Did you know that most conservative Indian families (and therefore the majority of the Indian population) perceive the concept of dating or merely associating with another person in the capacity of a girlfriend/boyfriend as being sinful or out of character?!! Here’s an article written by a friend that might be insightful for those interested- http://ushasi-thecrib.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/after-many-months-of-restraint-crib.html .

    Another obvious under-current from your writing is that you’re a socially adept, intelligent person with a positive outlook. That goes a long way any place, anytime. You may agree that this is not a naturally common trait or an easy attitude for everybody to embrace. To be positive and smile back when in an unfamiliar or nervous situation isn’t easy for everyone and can’t be learnt in the spur of the moment! For those who aren’t naturally positive (such as Michaela Cross), this advice could be result in a massive pitfall and a complete breakdown.

    Gotta hand it to you for the sheer guts, braving the multiple trysts with ‘Delhi Belly’! Well done and wish you happy travels!

    Cheers!

  • Sudheer Reddy

    I am really happy to see the +ve side of India in this blog… When somebody posted “India: The story you never wanted to hear.” Indian national media spent around 15 minutes story and discussions, but they are not ready to spend even 1 min to show this +ve side of India… I don’t know whether we Indian people or Indian media don’t encourage +ve news… we like -ve news… Feeling Sad…

  • I traveled in India alone for two months (several years previously I had traveled there with two other women for a month). I love love love India. It isn’t without challenges, but it is also full of gifts, surprising moments, and beauty. I rarely felt threatened. Sure, I got scammed. Sure, I got stared at. But I also got taken care of – food shared with me, stories told, questions asked.
    Here are two of my favorite stories about traveling alone in India – both on the train.
    http://planetaurora.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/kolkata/
    http://planetaurora.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/train-travel/

    Go! Don’t let the stories stop you. I now live in NYC and regularly hear about shootings and rapes here, yet people still come here and people still feel safe! India is so worthy of your trip.

  • krishna

    this is a great article Candace n I’m glad you had a great travel experience in India. however i would honestly disagree with some of your points…most of the Indian men whom who have smiled n interacted are street vendors or shop vendors…its great that they r friendly, helpful n r nice to you….i cannot imagine vendors committing any crime on women as they can be easily caught n their business n life would be doomed..its great that the pple you met on the train journey are friendly n nice to you….so the point is Indian women never smile back at Indian men who r strangers. its like an open invitation….Indians r starers, no one can help it…there is good n bad everywhere..there is an element of risk involved when women interact with strangers(men) n try to be friendly. if you r lucky, you will have a positive n friendly experience, if not things can go ugly….based on my experience below r some tips that might be helpful for travelers (esp women) to India
    * Avoid venturing out or travelling after 9pm. after 9pm you will be coming across lot of drunkards who have gone completley out of thier mind.
    * Ignore strangers (men) staring n smiling at you
    * dress as per Indian customs
    * for short distance travel, avoid taxi instead take Autos n note the plate number. for long distance travel, use registered travel agents that usually have buses n mini buses , so other tourists will be travelling too
    * don’t be shy n try to interact with other tourists….you might meet pple from your own home town
    * interact with Indian women or families where ever n when ever possible.. they can be very helpful n guide you appropriately
    * never ask for directions from a strangers(men) just loitering on the streets, instead ask from the shop vendors

    n the list goes on..but above r some basic thumb rules to follow while travelling in India….prevention is always better than cure!!

    please feel free to comment
    thanks
    Krishna

  • Paranoid Android

    Dear Candace,

    I have lived for a decade in the US and UK, and now am back to India. I am really thankful to you for taking out the time to pen down such a warm note. However, it is less because I think someone needs to defend India, and more because such negative publicity means that so many women outside India may never plan on experiencing what our country has to offer.

    I am actually fairly grateful to the UC lady to pen down her traumatic incident, and while it does make many sweeping generalizations, I am happy that it is getting the kind of attention that it deserves. There are just too many crimes against women (absolute, as well as in percentage terms) that I for one am very happy with the public discourse reaching the same levels as gun control in the US. I want us to be seen and observed by everyone in a fishbowl, as I believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant. I want us to be held to the same bar as a US or UK.

    I know that we are getting very partisan, very biased and very negative news right now, but that is precisely the kind of negative attention that can help fix things.

    Next time you see a cop or a politician in India, spit in their direction for me please, and ask them if they think you are dressed too provocatively. I want those in power to feel embarrassed every day, again and again till it becomes difficult for them to ignore.

    So, thanks again for the balancing perspective.

  • Brandon

    Nice post! Its not just the girls – even the guys get stared at! As someone mentioned above, it could be that they have never seen a white guy/girl before and are just trying to be helpful. I met this wonderful family on my way from Bangalore to Madras who happily let me stay in their house for a night and even cooked my food and dropped me to the airport. Not sure how many Americans would let a complete stranger stay with them!

    The one thing I find weird is guys grabbing breast or intentionally brushing against a woman. Thats just sick! Whats the big fun in grabbing a breast for a second… its just desperation. Maybe about time girls should start returning the favor and grab their manboobs! And no I am not trying to be funny. All I want to say is that some assholes need to be taught a lesson in public view.

  • Hi Candace, thank you for your lovely post, it was really great to read about your experience. I haven’t been to India, but I have travelled a lot in other countries as well as both couchsurfed and hosted couchsurfers. I guess I have been very lucky, but I have never had any bad experiences, not anywhere and not with anyone. I really believe that you can make a big difference to any experience with your own attitude. For me both traveling and hosting travelers is first and foremost about meeting people and getting to know other cultures. An important thing to remember though is that you can’t go into another country and expect them to adapt to your ways and your culture. All countries are different in their own ways and treating that difference with respect and a sense of curiosity makes all the difference. I could not imagine going somewhere and not trying to take up contact with people around me. I believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated – that is the key to all good experiences. I always walk around with a big smile on my face and with a friendly attitude towards people, and I have always been treated well and with respect.

  • Varun

    Very balanced and insightful article. You have hit the nail on the head here. Rapes are more about control than just sexual stimulation, and using a simple smile breeds compassion and familiarity, while replacing a diseased mind’s desire to control a sexual object.

    As an Indian male, I can vouch for the fact that this is especially true in India where many guys don’t have much exposure to females of the opposite sex in a friendly setting. Apart from family, interaction with females is mostly limited to formal or official settings. This coupled with the objectification of women in pop-culture and bollywood movies results in many males literally treating women as passive objects to be looked at, or used if possible.

    To have a woman actually smile and interact with them in a friendly manner makes her much more real and familiar. And it completely breaks down the whole dominate-and-objectify the woman paradigm.

    A word of caution though: Since the guys are quite naive, you might have them falling in love with you after a simple smile 😉

  • Thank you Candace for taking the time to write out this lovely piece and putting a little something out there in India’s favor.
    I am an Indian and even I have had my share of unfortunate experiences but you made me sit down and take stalk of the number of amazing,kind hearted and wonderful men that I have come across.Some known and some strangers.And those good experiences definitely outnumber the unfortunate ones.
    Thank you again for writing this.

  • B

    Hi Candance!

    Your post touched my heart! 🙂

    You have portrayed the true essence of what India really is!
    Yes there are all these bad things but those aren’t the only things happening in India… There are so many beautiful things as well – that you have shown through these wonderful pictures & written about.

    To all Indians I would say – We have to take action against the wrong that is happening in our country but at the same time we should be proud to be a part of a country that is so beautiful & vibrant! A country that has metros & villages growing side by side. We are very lucky to be a part of a country such as ours.

  • AB

    Hi Candace!
    I am an Indian and am here in the US to pursue a PhD in finance. I have an intense love affair with my country and I can only hope that some day, sooner rather than later i will return. I read the CNN article and although i admit that i cant help but feel terrible that the author had to face the circumstances she did and was made to feel the way she did, i was slightly upset about how the entire nation had been stereotyped. Like you say, there are times i have felt stared down on the streets of Mumbai but there are more times that i have been greeted with a smile and offered help with directions etc. I believe that although terrible things happen in India, they do the world over; and its only unfair to to generalize one’s experiences to the whole nation. Your write up here is beautiful and i appreciate you for showing both sides of the coin. Thanks!

  • Phani

    Thank you for showing the positive side of India. As a citizen, I would apologize to everyone who went through this. When I read the stories like “India: The story you never wanted to hear.”, I would think, who ever would have done that to any woman at any time (day/night) should have been punished right away. Work force in Security sector especially is very less (like around 1 cop for every 100) which is making the minds of people to do this and hoping to get away. Major portion of these can be controlled, once the legislation is changed to punish severely, at the same time increasing workforce, because changing the mindset of people would not happen over a day. Other biggest problem is to make sure any politician intervention needs to be avoided.

  • Archika

    Hi Candace, I’m really touched by your article and I feel great to read the positive side of my country. I know there are many cases like Michaela’s but at the same time there are also many stories like yours which gets unnoticed. The negative is hyped and the positive is never written. I really want to thank you for taking out time and writing this article about my country and letting people know that India is a great country.

    I’m myself an Indian born and brought up in Delhi and now working in Mumbai. I’ve been living in Mumbai alone for about 3 years. I often go out alone and explore new places as I love to travel. I even go and watch movies in theatre alone. I completely agree with you that one has to be vigilant & careful as not all people in a country are good and to be trusted. When in India, all I would advice is follow your instinct and just explore.

    Some tips that I thinks can help other women planning to travel solo in India:

    •Use cell phone to call a friend and report the number of the taxi, as you get in, so that the driver can hear you. (If no one answers, just pretend!).
    •When travelling by overnight train, choose an upper berth to avoid prospective gropers and have more privacy.
    •Avoid public transportation at night, and never ride in empty buses or trains at night.

    Thanks again for writing this article.

  • Thanks for sharing this Candace. I have traveled to India, have family in India, and have had lots of people I know travel to India before. It is good never to characterize an entire race, culture, country based on the experiences of one person. I’m glad to hear you had such a wonderful time there. When I try to explain India to people, it is such a different place, it can be overwhelming in some cases with the people, sights, smells, poverty, etc. But it is also so beautiful as well. I won’t say that bad things do not happen in India, certainly they do, and India has a ways to go in improving itself and its treatment of travelers and women. There are certain cases and with the rape case issues and not reporting, they do need to do some inward looking and improve themselves. However bad things do happen everywhere, and to mark this as simply an endemic characteristic of Indian men really does nothing more than vilify a entire culture and is wrong as well. I know with family and friends who travel that it really is terrible that women do have a more difficult time traveling solo, and that such things can and do happen in the world. What bothered me a bit about her writeup though was her antagonistic approach to India before going. Her expectation of being treated as a sexual object prior to even visiting the country. I’m not saying inappropriate actions did not occur to her, but I feel that she wrote as if every look, every photograph, every interaction was taken as predatory in nature. I know though that for myself sometimes I tend to be a bit more ignorant of dangers abroad then I am at home. I go to areas that in my home country I would not find myself in but when I’m traveling I never think the same way about the level of danger. There are areas of DC I do not go to, but would I react the same to the Delhi equivalent of those areas? I’m not sure if I would even register the same level of fear internally. I am certainly angry when I see women being subjected to these types of treatments abroad and I pray that these issues can be solved. But thanks again for your beautiful writeup of your trip, it is important to read about the positive aspects of travel to India as well.

  • M

    Thank you Candace for the lovely post… I would like to share a piece of information with you which might be useful to women traveling to Delhi and which even i did not know about until recently. If you are traveling in Delhi and you face any problem like eve teasing or you feel sick or you are traveling late at night and fail to find a taxi etc., you can immediately call up 011100 and within 15-20 minutes a PCR van will reach there and help you out… Hope this helps…

  • TARA

    Hey hello 🙂 I did really love to read your entry here about the different side of Indian Men… I too had lots positive experiences , when i travelled through India. I think ,same as you do, that a smile can break down many barriers and tensions, and it can also be a nice weapon to make the others understand, Im peaceful so please you too be peaceful. I was one of the people reposting the blog of Michaela, since I think it stands for many other women seeing and feeling it this way. Cautious watching the surrounding and of course getting stared as well. In some parts of India, especially if you land up in an rural area as I did 2010, it is a small senseation if “white people” arrive, that too in middle of the night…so we earned double suspecious and curious looks…. 😉 additional the mentality of the people I experiencesd is friendly and smiling, curious and at times distance less, which you easily can break down in showing them how much distance you want, friendly and with respect. This is even one important step… “Western people” at times have this ,,, from above attitude towards others…. especially so called “third world country men” — treat the other equal to you, and they treat you equal as well… I am very rich , having lots of friends in India…. no no not in money 😉 — in fact you dont need money to impress Indians…(as per my experiences) Be authentic, be nice, be good—so only good things will happen to you…and if by any chance some bad happens, you will find lots of people to be there for helping you! best regards TARA

  • Beautifully written. I love it.

  • Nakul Nitin Gote

    Dear Candace,

    Can you believe that I actually advised a Texan friend of mine (whom I met in Germany) against travelling to India! Thankfully, she’s much more saner than me and wouldn’t hear a word of it. I felt ashamed for not having faith in my own countrymen, but this article has given me new hope and a new perspective and finally, I can give her some advice which she can actually use.

    Really, travelling does make one wiser and you are a living testament to that.

  • Thank you Candace for emphasising the positives of a beautiful country. I’ve been born and brought up in Delhi and travelled all over, quite often, alone. Incidents of verbal harassment, stares etc have been faced by women all over the world, inspite of their color.
    If someone gropes you, slap them back or at least start screaming to collect a crowd, and see how the man runs away from the spot- inspire of the country you are in.

    Yes, I have seen Delhi change. Yes, I have seen Delhi become unsafe. That just makes me more careful but not traumatised. If I am travelling alone to Goa, I would go with a trusted agent or at least stay at a good hotel and not some shady place where I would be curled up all night thinking the staff member might come and rape me.

    I have been stared at in New York, Seattle and California- all in equal measures. Carry your fond memories. Don’t demoralise the others from travelling and experiencing this beautiful world. Thanks!!

  • Candance, I sincerely thank you for attempting to lift the dark shroud that has, in recent times, been lurking over India and the Indian male population at large.
    After reading almost all the comments here (and your replies to them), I don’t really have anything much or different to share here.
    Each person has their own experiences – anywhere, anytime – and has their own way at handling/reacting to them! As an Indian woman from Mumbai (albeit now settled in NYC), I too have had my fair share of being ogled at and the likes. And at those very moments, nothing seems more appropriate than simply running away from the scene! But a different approach to a similar situation has always yielded a different result. While I completely believe and genuinely feel for all the misery that Michaela had to go through during her stay in India, I can’t help but wonder if it’s fair to blame/shun the rest of the billion something people for the actions of a handful (more than that, really) of idiots! We talk about change, we talk about respect for women, we talk about the gun control laws here.. but little do we realize that it’s our own close-mindedness that results in most of this. If only we change our attitudes a bit more, and stereotype/generalize a bit less, who knows! Things could take a turn for the better..
    So, once again, THANK YOU for being that candle glowing in the dark… and for making me shed a happy tear for my country..

  • So well said Candace! I lived in India for quite some time and I couldn’t agree with you more. This is the same response I gave to friends and family who asked my response to the recent tale of the unfortunate take on a country that stole my heart.

    I work for the India based (Hyderabad) VOICE 4 Girls where we enable marginalized adolescent girls in India to become protagonists by imparting critical information, spoken English, and life skills through activity based camps.

    The most powerful conversations, connections, and friendships that will have a lasting impact on my life were with Indian men taking a stand for the rights of women and girls in India. As I had many uncomfortable instances with sexual harassment throughout my time living in Hyderabad and traveling across the country, I knew that it was my responsibility as a female solo traveler and a girl effect activist to be a role model. I used cultural sensitivity and a open mind and heart to understand the people of India so I could in turn be a catalyst for sustainable change for gender equality. I also credit the success of VOICE 4 Girls with this philosophy. Some of our strongest supporters are men who want to create a safer environment for their wives or daughters or sisters. And even if I felt frustration or anger when I was met with a male who was conforming to sexual harassment I handled the situation with grace and refused to let me turn those feelings into hate. In order to get to the root of the problem the VOICE team and I had to understand “why?” and how we could create sustainable change for gender equality. And to know “why?” we had to ASK. These conversations not only changed my life and the males I spoke with but they help our organization change hundreds of girls lives. Even if the conversation or interaction didn’t go as planned or was uncomfortable for myself I used it to fuel my fire to continue to serve and march on.

    We can agree that India is beautiful in countless ways, one being the adventure and the challenges you face each and every second. It’s rich in the lessons it teaches you about yourself, people and our world. If it didn’t scare you every day when you woke up you were doing something wrong. I owe India for changing my life in the most complex positive way I never could have dreamed of. For the rest of my life I will never approach someone without the idea of namaste at the fore front of my thoughts. India taught me this and I will be forever grateful.

    As a strong supporter of female solo travel anywhere in the world I know the power that we have within us to use our sense of adventure and spirit to be role models and catalysts for change.

    So cheers to your story, the many stories of the beauty of India, the fight for gender equality and the people of India who have made positive impacts on the lives of travelers everywhere.

    Namaste!

  • manish

    Hello ,
    No wonder there is a positive and negative side of travelling in India . With the 120 Billion of Population its not easy for one to Generalize the things , but its beautifully written . India is also known as land of entrepreneurs with small to large scale business . I don’t understand why India have so many poor people though you have an opportunity of making money by starting a Ciggrate selling shop like to Turkish people do in Germany . I guess the men here in Europe are more crazy and Physiologically wild then most of men in India . But the old tradition and culture which days one should not have premarital relationship and some people may be who follow can’t handle it and go crazy and wild for rape shameless act . I think it might not be the reason but no body knows the actual reason . But i am sure the European men Germans or Russians are more crazy and countless rape happens in these countries as well as which no media reflects on screen . But India is Incredible with simple and descent people still there and there is a theory TDS and TWS (tall dark syndrome and tall white syndrome) that is what happens when a white women travels in India and being stared by men like she is a monument and though it doesn’t happen vice versa but TDS theory is still applicable there .
    I wish all White people here save and wonderful trip to incredible India .

  • Dibya

    Hey, thanks for the very nice heart-warming post. While rapes and sexual harassments have been a blot on Indian society (yes, I am an Indian man and I believe, the society has to take responsibility and fix it), and I have no special secret for female travellers to help them get around them, I’d like to elaborate on a couple of your own observations that might make other unsuspecting Western (female and male) travellers’ life a bit easier in India: simply put, be aware that Indians stare and smile differently than “Westerners” (sorry for the generalization here – I know Spaniards and Scandinavians smile differently too, but the idea is understandable, I hope).

    It seems to be kind of culturally programmed deep into many Westerners’ psyche that if someone is staring at you (or taking your photo), then they have sexual intentions. In India too, it can mean that, but most often it’s just plain curiosity, and tall blonde whites are going to get a lot of it! This seems to put many of travellers into a shell. They avoid even the friendly starers, who, most of the time, are staring at you from far off because they are too shy to come up and talk, though they are curious and want to. The “sexual predators”, of course, can’t really be avoided so easily, as they might seek out their “prey”. In this way, while shutting off the friendly people, who the travellers could have wonderful memories with, like you did, and who could actually help them out in case of troubles, they are stuck with people who were trying to take advantage of them in the first place. So, travellers need to interact, like you did, with locals, across the stare-boundary. Interaction will also help to identify who is friendly and who is not. That someone stares or takes your photos says nothing about that.

    Another thing a lot of people seem to get wrong is what smile means in India. Indians don’t smile on the street to random strangers. Indians smile to strangers to draw attention and initiate conversation – this is sort of the traditional Indian version of the casual “hello” or “excuse me”, that we don’t really have words for in many (or most?) of our languages. So, smiling alone and not talking in the follow-up may be risky. Because Indians usually don’t do that, some people may take it as an unsaid hint – probably sexual – and some of them might try to act on that. So, either don’t smile at all and don’t interact with people (you could as well stay home and not come all the way to India :p), or smile AND interact with people – what you yourself chose. A good choice, I must say.

    Nobody can guarantee 100% physical safety in India, that’s a pity. But the overall experience of the average traveller does not have to be all that negative, if they are armed with the necessary “intercultural” knowledge.

  • Hi Candace,

    Other day I tweeted about foreigners only showing the bad side of India and no positive aspects of men who helped them, who made their life easy in India and here I am, reading such a wonderful post.

    In India (and mostly any part of the world) there are more men who are very well behaved and mannered than men who are not (mostly due to illiteracy). We help women not only from foreign land but also from India when any such situation arises.

    Was overwhelmed to see such a beautiful gesture from your end and you are more than welcome to be our guest whenever you visit again.

    Until then Sayonara!

    Cheers!

  • Elizabeth

    I spent about a month in India, two summers ago. Although I wasn’t technically traveling alone (I stayed with a friend who was from Delhi, but I had met while he was a international student at my university), it was by far one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I never felt uncomfortable or feared for my safety. Obviously there was the initial culture and poverty shock, when coming to India from Salt Lake City, Utah; but other than that, everything about my experience was magical. Not a day goes by that I don’t dream of someday returning to India. My fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes attracted attention, but not in a negative way. I stood out in a crowd, but it was understandable. I went out to some night clubs in Delhi, and my friends did say that men were staring, but to me it felt no different from going out to a bar or night club in the U.S. Whenever I talk to my mom about my plans to return to india, she is concerned and often references news stories about attacks and rapes. Your blog post really hit the nail on the head. While it is unfortunate that these things happen, it is important to remember that they happen all of the world. Not just in India. Thank you again for your post. It brought me some nostalgia from my past travels.

  • Amar

    Thanks for saving India’s reputation. This blog would not have this much impact if it was written by Indian. Also thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. We teach our kids to respect host (athidhi devo bhava) more than your parents.

  • Laura

    Thank you very much for your post! I had exactly the same feelings when I read the CNN article!
    I lived in India for seven months and eventhough I had to acceppt men staring at me (first of all because thei are curious, I am very sure), it was a wonderful experience where I met many wonderfully open-minded people who let me take part of their lifes…. just like you did!

  • A huge “Thank You!” is all I wanna say for so much enthusiasm to bring out the better part of India. Sincerely hope you continue to have more such wonderful memories and come to India more often.
    #Indebted

  • Ajit

    Wherever you travel, irrespective of whichever country – if you are careful, confident and do not act stupid you will be absolutely safe. This is what I have learnt in my travel to about 15 countries in the world till date.
    Like for example, why should I venture into a dark alley in Chicago well past midnight just to explore the place? I can do it during broad daylight too.

    I would suggest to travel with a companion – not only for the safety factor, but for a good company too so that you explore the place together and about 80% stares will be wiped out automatically.

    Trust in God but lock your car

  • amal

    Dear Candace,

    Thank you so much for this post. It gives us a spark of hope through all the negativity shown in the media.

  • webid

    I can not express how revealed I was after reading this post. As an Indian man, it hurts how Indian media and Indian women have stereotyped “all” Indian men. Not only I get those hateful look, almost all the times, from girls and women on streets/trains/buses but I also get to listen to statements like these from female classmates, colleagues and friends: “All men are animals.. they only think about sex.. girls are just another object to all men” etc. etc. & If I try to argue that not all men are like this then I am declared as a “supporter of the rapists”. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully it will put some wisdome in girls’ brains.

  • Tara

    I loved what you wrote, and especially how you take time out to reply to every comment you receive. It is so nice to know that you have travelled so widely in India and loved it as much! 🙂

  • Candace,

    Thank you for notes and indeed it is well written. I have read the article you referred and yes while there is truth to it, the frequency is alarming. I have been born and raised in India and have traveled the length and breadth of the country and on most occasions alone. While I have had all sorts of experiences mostly all of them have been good. I am amazed at how much people want to help you in most cases rather than cause any harm.

    Having said that, there have been a few stray incidents when i have not listened to my instincts and been careless. But with precaution I have had wonderful journeys. And these are precautions I take in any country not just in India. And nothing so far has deterred me from traveling continuously.

  • Prasna

    Candace,

    Your article is so well written and the fact that you replied to each and every comment with an unbiased thought implies what a beautiful human being you are!
    And reading about some bitter stories foreigners face in our country, I wish there was a way we could make you all feel warm and safe here. And I would really like to apologise on our people’s behalf for any nightmarish experiences you would have faced here.

    Love,
    Prasna

  • Venky

    Hi Candace, It is heartening to read positive thoughts about India, especially since there has quite a lot of negativity (and rightfully so, after the multiple gruesome incidents which have happened in the last couple of years). I hope everyone understands that there are good and not-so-good people everywhere in the world as they are in India. What we encounter during a brief period should not become the basis for mass stereotyping. I am happy you had a great time in India with a very nice set of people around you. We can wish and pray that a similar experience awaits every person visiting India and they are able to see the country in its true multi cultural and colorful qualities.

  • Aditya

    You do realize that your post comes perilously close to blaming the victim – “she should’ve smiled more”, “she should’ve gone to India with a different attitude”, “she should’ve initiated conversation more”. It doesn’t sound too different from saying she should have dressed in a particular way, or gone out only at certain times.

    I understand your broader point that there are perfectly decent Indian people out there – and I agree with that, since I’m an Indian man myself. Your account of your experiences is great. But the first few paragraphs sound like you’re saying “if she did things differently, she would’ve been ok” – and I can’t bring myself to see why anyone would imply that. Its tone-deaf insensitivity at best.

  • Hi Candace,

    Reading this post was a relief to me after coming across so many negative ones.
    I’m an Indian, and as much as i agree to the problems we face and see people coming to India face, India is a beautiful place and worth exploring with the right information and attitude.

    Being safe in India is something you can do a lot of research on. Even Indian women, also men for that matter are still not sure how one is supposed to be safe on Indian streets or homes. India is known for its diversity in culture, at the same time one must realize, we have a diversity in behavioral patterns as well. There can be no definition which will define every Indian. You will find the best/good/bad/worst situations here. And it’s somewhere your luck that decides which part of India you get to see when you come visit.

    Wishing the best experience for every guest in India, i welcome you to India, again! 🙂

  • Karthik

    Hi Candace,thank you for writing this beautiful article about all of us Indian men. I do think generalisation is a dangerous thing. We in India love to have guests like you in our country.

    Thanks

  • Dhiraj

    Wow! Thanks for writing this article and sharing your thoughts about India. This is so relaxing after being loaded with all those depressing articles related to sexual harassment cases in India. I welcome you to India again.

  • Arindam

    I think part of truly enjoying a new culture and a new country is to go there with an open mind and to be curious about the place. I am not denying that being a solo female traveler or a solo male traveler in India can be incredibly intimidating, (Its a mixture of the language barrier even for Indians, the sheer number of people and the large distances that often need to be covered) but it can be incredibly rewarding as well. I have traveled pretty much the length and breadth of India and on my journeys I have met a lot of people from different nationalities. My favourite encounter was with a Brazilian couple on a 20 hr train journey where they told us that they just loved the works of Tagore and were going to Calcutta to visit his childhood home.

  • Sreemukhi Mekala

    Hi Candace,

    I am from Hyderabad,India and study in Santiniketan, you may have heard of it. I just want to say thanks. Ive been reading so many articles, ever since that CNN article came out, and its breaking my heart. I also had read and re-read the Michaela Cross article – I do have to deal with men too sometimes, but it is quite rare, I was surprised that she had listed so many incidents in just 3 months. After reading it a couple of times the first thing that I understood was that she had come with a fixed mindset that something bad would happen to her here and even things like stares, she makes them sound very bad – yes people will stare – out of curiosity mostly and I think she would have been stared by men, women and children . Anyways, after that article there has been so much on the internet about India, I finally posted something for younger girls, because they need know there is both good and bad, that there is no need to blame the country for what some men do , that yes there are problems, but there are solutions also and that we do not have to be afraid. Since I am from South India, Santiniketan (is in West Bengal) is quite foreign to me as well, people look the same, but the language, the customs, the food, everything is very different. I did feel like an alien when I had first come here, but now this has become home surprisingly – thanks to all the people in the market. The men are very kind and helpful, extra concerned even – since I am young,live alone , do not know the place nor the language. I have been stalked, but as soon as I am in the market on my way home, I feel very safe, because of men – because of my vegetable wala, the grocery man, the man who recharges the cerdit on my mobile phone, the brothers I eat momos (dumplings)from. It is because of these men that my life here is easier and I feel safe. I live with the confidence that if anything should go wrong, then there is always help just at the end of the lane. All these articles about how Indian men are this, Indian men are that – everyday something new comes up, but it is just so unfair to all these other great men out there. There are a lot of men who do care about women’s safety, who are kind and very helpful. I love what you said in the end, “Women – be smart, be sensible, be safe, but please do not stop going to India.” I had written something very similar on my fb page. I loved your article and I will do all I can to promote it, because I think everyone needs to know that there are always two sides to a coin. Lot of bad has come out, its about time the good does too. I loved your article. Thank you once again.
    # For everybody who has not visited India, it is a lovely country, filled with life, noise, colors – so many colors that it will make your head spin and a bulk load of arts and history, but most of all, it is filled with warm and kind people, that includes the men.There may be some bad people here and there, but where are they not ??? I do believe that if one were to go to India, one would find a lot of hospitality and respect. So please do not judge our country by generalizations that are being made. There is a lot more to India then sexual abuse.

  • Akshat

    Hey Candace ,

    First of all Kudos to you for having enjoyed the place and meeting new people and enjoying the warmth of the country . It was really great to see you have a wonderful experience and leave with happy memories . To start with i have to applaud you for the approach you took about meeting new people . Walking with a smile and blending with people is definitely a better way to start any-day . This is the only way you can get to know the Pappu kumar’s , Suresh’s and Ajits of the Country . And even bigger praise for the people who made u feel comfortable and happy . For every brutal , Abhorring rapist out there there are 100’s of Pappu Kumars . Branding the entire population as Rapists is Not Correct. Bad people make you lose faith but if you don’t interact how would you get to know what all is good about the system. And believe me the people of this country are even more embarrassed at such incidents . I also believe the anger is justified and absolutely valid . I personally feel absolutely bad that people have to go through all this trauma . But if someone never gives a chance how are the people supposed to help . I have personally faced situations mainly on my journeys in trains where i have helped people know the place better . Some of them are also my good friends and we regularly keep in touch . But there are also situations where i was basically trying to help , but one look in the eye says he person has already branded as a rapist !!! That is the situation where you feel absolutely shameful !!! Just because of some f****** retards in the country the entire race of men in the country is branded as rapists !!! No not everyone is one !!! And i applaud you for penning down because the positive side too !!! Why is only the negative side publicized why not the positive !!!! We are even more ashamed of the incidents happening in the country but somebody has to take a leap of faith !!!! Thank you for taking for taking one !!

  • Aishwarya

    Hi Candace,

    As a woman who has been born and brought up in India, I can’t begin to express how relieved I am to read your account of your visit to our country. It is refreshing to see India not being portrayed just as a country populated entirely by barbaric men.
    I am aware, that India is no safe haven for women either. I have had my share of scarring experiences too, and their traces emerge in the form of slight paranoia every time I’m alone on a deserted street or traveling alone in auto post 10 pm. But, it isn’t fair that we presume that every man around us is there with an intention to harm us. I take pride in mentioning that some of the (Indian) men I know and interact with at various levels, are all amazing human beings
    I couldn’t help but smile at some of the beautiful details you mentioned about your stay and about the people you met, and of course at the pictures! :). So, I want so thank you for sharing your experience because I’m sure it will reassure a lot of women from other countries having their doubts about visiting India.

  • Anish Sana

    Amazing article! Glad to read something positive amongst so much negativity.

  • Sadhana

    Thank you for writing this, it helps us stop squirming at Cross’s crassness. When people say beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, it’s not just external looks they are referring to, they are referring to the beauty we permit ourselves to see.. There is plenty to be cross about in this world, there is plenty more to make us smile, should we choose to. Aren’t we lucky it is up to us?

  • Megha

    I too had an eye-opener of an experience while travelling to Delhi and onward to Corbett national park on my own this year.

    I was prepared to be stared at, followed, harassed.. anything my active imagination could come up with. I was stared at in the metro, I was getting unwanted follow-up phone calls from the Conductor on the train I was on.

    What I was not prepared for was the warmth and helping nature of others in this underrated city. The taxi driver who dropped me to the airport calling me “daughter” and making sure I got off at the right terminal. The resort owner who took me around Corbett and its surrounding areas in his own car, free of charge and spent the entire day acting as a guide to me. The lovely woman from Delhi I met on the safari ride, who was doing her best to fulfil her bucket list before dying of the bone cancer she’d been diagnosed with. The nice guy (from delhi) I met for lunch after chatting on Twitter, who ran with my bag in 45 degrees (celcius) heat for over a kilometer to help me catch my train. The sweet people on the train who offered me water as soon as I got on, after seeing how much I was panting after the run.

    Yes, India is dangerous for women. What has happened in Delhi, Mumbai, and probably every other city or town is not justifiable, not right. But with the right attitude, precautions and like you said, a smile :), it is not so difficult to find the good people in the crowd either.

  • Monish Shah

    Hi Candace,
    Thanks for the article. Its a great read.
    I am from Mumbai and let me bring to light some of the aspects of my great country.
    Firstly we are a 1 billion strong population and approximately 70% is between the age of 16-50 years. This is the more than twice the population of U.S.A. This is also nearly twice the population of Europe. The article by Michaela Cross is very gruesome and unfortunately that is the truth. But as you rightly pointed out that generalising the entire population incorrect. We sincerely wish all the readers to kindly not judge every Indian the same way but be extra careful nonetheless.

  • Sky

    Candace,
    Thank you for this post. As an Indian man who has been studying and working in the United States for 6 years I appreciate the time you have taken out to shed light on the positive aspects of visiting India.
    I tell all my american friends, to excersize caution and sensibility while traveling in India just as one would in avoiding the south side of chicago or south central LA or any area where the trouble index is high.
    Engaging with the people of the country and giving them a bit of your time and interest goes a long way as you have spoken about. I wish you all the best in your life.
    Warm regards

  • Ram

    Thank you for sharing Cadence! As an Indian feminist man, it is simply happy to read your thoughts. Having lived and observed India, does India sicken me? Yes, it does. Having lived and observed US, does US inspire me? Yes, it does, and so does India.Negative news / stories often have higher coverage. 10 men doing bad things are more likely to be shared, than 10,000 men doing a good job. And stories like yours help us remember and see the other side of story too.

    Thanks a lot for sharing. Its been a pleasure to read you, and also to see how much effort you’ve put in to reply to the comments. Cheers

  • vedArun

    Amazing article!!

    A little bit of thinking and it is clear that all the crimes such as rape and disrespect towards women (and many others) boils down to lack of proper education. An educated mind will not rape! An educated mind will not give those uncomfortable stares. Anyone reading this, Indian or otherwise, i urge you to pledge today, pledge now to bring a change to the live of at least one child who is deprived of basic education. You never know, you might very well prevent a ghastly crime in the future by your simple act of kindness.

    Let borders slur and the world learn to be one happy family. Much love to all.

  • Hi Candace,

    It was wonderful to read your article. I am an Indian student (from Guwahati; I see you traveled to my place as well) and I have been doing extensive solo travel in Europe for the past one month. I too feel that a smile goes a long way in helping you get used to a new place. I have found myself in places without GPS connection, with no phone connectivity and just a paper map in hand (this is my first time out of the country) and yet I walk up to people, ask them directions and they are more than eager to help.

    As a 21 year old Indian male who has traveled quite a lot in India as well, I can say that I myself have been witness to several instances where people were extremely kind and helpful to foreigners. I myself enjoy meeting people from different parts of the world and welcoming them to my country as I feel that a small gesture on my part can go a long way in creating a good memory of my country in their minds.

    Thank you for highlighting the other side of travel India- generalizations are never good.

    Happy travels,
    Abhinav

  • Rucha

    Hi, thanks a ton for writing this. Your article is like sunshine in otherwise gloomy atmosphere, here in India. One of the reasons for such a rampant increase in women molestation incidents in India is that : Indian men are not made aware of the basic concept gender equality …. even at home, a mother discriminates between her own son and daughter. But slowly it is changing. I think making ourselves physically stronger is the only option to fight these perverts.
    Thanks again!

  • Lionel

    Thank you Candace for these rich and enlightening stories. Your positive approach to people, culture and life as a whole is commendable and I only wish its contagious and goes viral.
    Smile and the world will Smile with you.
    Cheers and good wishes.
    Lionel

  • Sudhakar

    Nice well written article.

    We are a land of 1.2billion and more. We have all sort of people.
    Just because one guy shot down 20+ toddlers can we see everyone in America as violent people?

    Unfortunately the bad stories get more media attention than the good one. Lets hope the media attention at least ensures the bad does not repeat also hoping media attention does not get people to falsify too.

  • Suma

    Thanks I was pretty offended by the article Michaela wrote. To generalise the whole men population of india based on this one story is not right. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Cheers
    Suma

  • Pooja

    Wow your writing and the lovely photographs has left me so moved. I’m so glad you wrote this and that you clearly had a wonderful time here. It always saddens me when I hear people around the world stereotyping India – I mean of course there are some definite negatives but I think for every man who disrespects women, you will find 20 more who will go out of their way to make you feel safe and protected. I traveled to Rajasthan alone this April and I had the most amazing time. I met the kindest strangers who made it their business to make sure I was completely taken care of. On my last day there I was invited to this auto driver’s home for dinner with his family – it was so touching. They were a huge family of about 13 people living in a tiny little house – and they were all sitting around me trying to understand my broken Hindi (I’m from the South of India) and I was trying to understand their Rajasthani and the evening was filled with laughter and LOTS of food (they refused to let me go without having 4 helpings!) and sweet elaichi chai.

    My entire trip was filled with moments like that 🙂 Hope you visit again soon and I’m sure your post will change the minds of other women who were apprehensive about visiting!

  • Arpit

    This article evokes many emotions as it strikes several cords at once. I had the feeling that there was a lot of negativity in the air about India specially in the past few years, on issues which were not so prominent in the 24 years of my life I have spent growing up in my beautiful country. As a person who has traveled and broken bread with a plethora of nationalities for academic, work and social reasons I can say that intrinsically, most people are the same. Under the cloak of region and religion, we share the same virtues and the vices.
    While I agree that stares are omnipresent in India but most arise out of curiosity. The white folk stand out from the crowd and major fraction of the one-billion people have never seen one.
    To all the people who are skeptical of visiting India, all I can say is that yes, it will be a shock, initially. Perhaps for some of you, it may be the shock of your lives. We do things a little differently around here. But it is my sincere opinion that after that shock, India, the beautiful, will give you the warmest embrace of your life.

  • Navin Kumar

    I am glad you had a good time in India. I am aware bad things happen to women here and many men are indeed morons. But also many arnt. I treat all women in my lives as equal and i know many who do. The rape case in delhi was indeed horrible but the rapists do not reflect what indians are, they reflect the bad visible underbelly of India. Just like anywhere there are good people and bad people here. I feel hurt when i am clumped with all those evil people just because i am an indian male. The negativity sometimes gets to ya, all i want is a beautiful world for everyone and I am glad you mentioned people like me exist there too.

  • Thanks a lot Candace for giving another and more positive prospective of women traveling in India. We all know that it isn’t an easy country to travel to especially if you are solo female traveler, but that shouldn’t stop us to go. Bad things happen everywhere in the world, so we just have to be smart and try to avoid them trying to focus more on the good things a country and the people from it can give and teach us.

  • ES

    Hi Candace,

    Thanks a lot for writing this wonderful perspective. I am glad that you had good memories to share from your trip. I mostly grew up in Delhi but have traveled, lived and studied in many Indian cities, in Germany as well as the US. When I lived in Delhi, I didn’t know any other world and thought women have to be more cautious everywhere. It was a change to move to South India and realize that it was “normal” to not be stared at. It was a bigger change to move to Germany and realize that it is “normal” for people to stare because I look different or for people to not notice at all even if you were struggling with huge luggage bags or fell down a staircase. It was an even bigger change to visit the US and realize that people would “naturally” smile, open conversations or look at you as if you were a “thief”. There are all sorts of people even within a country and we lose so much by getting just one perspective. I had often felt “unsafe” in my country. Of course I know wonderful Indian men who treat women with equal or usually a lot more respect than men. It was the strangers I was afraid of. The men who glare in the buses, on the streets, outside a cinema hall and well all I did to counter that was to be cautious. At times I feel unsafe in Germany too, mainly because I am a foreigner. However the difference is that now I smile at these times and realize that we can often soften that stare and have a great conversation or even a cup of “chai” together. And yes, a smile makes me feel safer at home as well. Bottomline, no country is uniformly unsafe or safe, but a lot of the initial apprehension and conflict can be overcome by trying to connect with the positive that it has to offer.

  • Rahul

    Just like we cannot stereotype Muslims as terrorists, we cannot generalize the fact that all Indian men are rapists. Only a few bastards are there who commit this unforgivable sin and present a very bad and bleak image of Indian men. I am proud of the fact that I’m an Indian and my culture is loved and venerated through the world. People come here with all with all the problems and just a look at the spiritual side of the life, a bath at the holy river Ganges transforms them. Many people who come here as tourists start thinking of not going back to their humdrum lives. You’ll find plenty of Indian Men who are willing to give their lives to protect you from all sorts of bad things. Come and visit again. Incredible India. 🙂

  • Nina

    Such a refreshing article. I do dislike generalization. Not that i don’t agree that my country as a whole needs to really re-look at the way it views and treats women, but a bit of common sense really does make a difference and can go a long way.

    Also just asking around and interacting with local folks to really understand what it is that they themselves would or would not do can really help as well.

    So glad you made friends who helped you in India!

  • Javeed Ahmed M

    A Well balanced Post of Your Visit to India and the experiences you had.

    What makes the Post interesting, are the Snaps that go along the text.

    Thank You for Sharing Some Positive incidents of Your Visit to India.

    Hope You will come back soon and explore the rest of the country.

  • Benjamin

    Hi Candace,

    It’s quite nice to hear a foreign woman write nice things about Indian men for a change. I’m glad you had a wonderful time in India and your experiences were positive (save for the Delhi Belly).

    India is undergoing a change of sorts. People are becoming more aware. The media is doing all it can, the internet is fast becoming prevalent in most tier 2 & 3 cities; giving people access to a whole lot of information.

    As a country that was raised in a very patriarchal environment, this change is not going to be easy. Thanks for making me believe a little more in my country.

    Once again, I’m glad you had a wonderful experience in India and I hope you want to visit us again! 🙂

    Cheers!

  • Megha

    Hi Candace,

    It is good to know that there are women abroad who will want to come to India anyway, despite all that’s going on. Your optimism is commendable.

    However, I am an Indian woman, who has lived in this country all her life and never wanted to be anywhere else, and I have of late started wondering if I should just move abroad. It is good that you have not had to face the kind of situations Michaela did – but I would want to tell you that you’re an exception. Most of us go through what she did, every day. We can do little about it. Going to cops is not an option, because unless you are a somebody, they will drive you away. Fighting the jerks yourself is also not always an option, because they might retaliate – in an assortment of ways. They could rape you, molest you, thrash you (as a young starlet found out just some hours back) or the worst, fling acid on you.

    Basically, Indian men have trouble understanding how a woman can dare have an opinion of her own, and if she does, they feel morally obliged to ‘put her in her place’. This may not apply to every one of them, but sadly, it does apply to most of them. Just putting in this thought because I saw a lot of women feel very encouraged by your piece – just want to tell them they should be on their guard, armed with pepper spray and preferably also have some martials arts training, if they come to India – otherwise, it is a real risk.

  • Shankar Iyer

    Hi Candace,

    Really appreciate your views in helping us break the stereotype created against Indian Men by none other than Indian media. Your smiling technique is something I had learnt in school from my teacher, but always felt it was a little filmy. I am sure it works wonderfully well. Something I will try hereon.

    Thanks for this wonderful article. Also, there is a lot of positive energy I can sense around you. Keep it and up and I hope you get millions of smiles and love in return.

    All the best.

  • Dr. Espee

    Thanks a lot Candace for this article of yours. I am from India and belong to the group shown to be so negative in most of the reports by travellers, especially the solo women – yes I am a male from India. Reading through your blog and the comments of your readers, I realised that you could recognise this positivity of the people you came across because you yourself met them with a positive attitude – with a smile. The smile you came up with is a gestrure, or let me say instrument to express the mutual trust and respect without any language. As a physician I often realise that humbleness, friendliness and mutual respect brings back the same in most cases – be it in India or anywhere else. Since I don’t have anything much to add to all the sensible and valuable comments above, I prefer to finish here by a simple “Thank you” for taking time to show the other side of the indian men!

  • Good to read some positive things about my beloved country even though some men have tarnished our image in the recent times. Most of us are simple soul, lead a simple life and try to find happiness in simple things which will be evident once you start mingling with the general crowd. One thing about us is, a smile and a humble please is enough for us to help you in every possible way! Happy Travelling 🙂

  • Aashish Bothra

    That was a beautiful article you have written.
    India has its share of problems but i find that you cant blame the entire population for about 5% of the miscreants.
    By the way how did you find Guwahati.(my hometown)

  • A tourist guide in Amsterdam once told me “you can get unlucky anywhere” in response to my question how safe is Amsterdam by night. The sights that beckon you on the streets of Trenton and Newark in New Jersey is nothing compared to what most people will encounter in India. I lost my way in Trenton, NJ and I was tailed by 3 men in a beaten up car and I saw streets littered with used condoms and syringes. I have never felt so afraid in my life. I was lucky as a police car came along that day and I tailed it.

    Someone said India is intimidating. In my view, it is complex than intimidating. Enough cultures, cuisines and nature and not enough time to absorb all of it. My advise is enjoy what you can, don’t ever think of seeing and understanding India in a couple of visits.

    Aap ka Swagat hai!

  • Thank you for sharing your experiences. Lovely narrative of the other side. Thankful that this will add to demolishing stereotypes. My country is beautiful in so many ways, warts and all.

    Keep writing!

  • Thank you. Thank you for not stereotyping the Indian male. I’m aware that more than a few have done enough to earn universal disrespect and hatred for our country.

    Nobody would have blamed you had you gone the way Michaela had. I admire the way you have chosen to stick to facts and have not allowed your reason to be drowned in prejudice.

    Thank you on behalf of all innocent males of India. Trust me, there are still many a million of them.

  • Amazed

    It is so reassuring that your comments are full of positivity and life. I completely agree with the view that there are good and bad people everywhere , and it would be unfair to generalize. I appreciate your guts as a solo female traveller as even local girls here find it a daunting task. Though it is true , that there are many good memories, but a single bad traumatic one can mar the other memories.

  • VKatiyar

    Thank you so much, Candace for sharing the beautiful, cherishable moments you spent in India and your encounters with various people who are the shouting examples proving the fallacy behind stereotyping any group on the basis of the actions of a few…. I as an Indian man would be forever indebted to you for decreasing this burden of being stereotyped.

    I can’t agree more with your succinct advice to other potential visitors about seeing the positive side of the country and being safe and smart at the same time; or with Katherine who elegantly brought out the slippery slope of stereotyping to racism.

    Though I would completely hate being seen in the way Michaela’s article presents Indian men but at the same time, I guess, one can’t ignore the phase of life that she is going through. I am sure as more time would pass she would be able to recover from the pessimism she is presently in, like some of the commentors above. Its next to impossible to remain logical and see things with a clear perspective when one is in a mental state Michaela is in at present.

    Having said that, I still feel that, at least inside India, the negatives should get more publicity so that the vigour and the desperate determination of those who want to change the country for better does not get diluted by the feel good factor resulting from equally or even more prevalent positive events. After all I think it is more important to minimize the negatives as much as possible and till we focus on them we can’t eliminate them… But of course that is what should happen inside India and not elsewhere which may lead us to being stereotyped wrongly…

    Once again I acknowledge your effort to bring out the bright side of my country and fellow Indians.

  • Hi Candace. I loved this blog post for the simple reason that you brought out a perspective that could help many travelers look at India objectively (especially in light of the CNN story).
    It’s true that female tourists have to go through a lot while in India, but following common sense, moving around in groups etc could definitely help in remaining safe.
    Also when required it’s important to know that one can always ask for help – after all people in India will treat you as their guest only if you give them the chance to do so.

  • Sameera

    While I enjoyed reading this post, I kind of agree with what Aditya says, it does come rather close to saying “she ought to have done something differently” – not to completely disagree with the idea that not all Indian men are vile. Personally, as an Indian woman, I have never been groped / assaulted by anyone all my life, but I know for a fact that it’s just that I’ve got lucky: most women I know have faced this nonsense at some point of time in their lives. In spite of never having faced this personally, I do not feel safe on roads and I certainly do not smile at or make eye contact with people on the street – mostly because the leering looks that do follow me (almost) everywhere I go are just far too unnerving to be ignored – something that I have never faced in developed countries.

  • Sneha

    Hi Candace,
    Firstly, I’d like to say thank you for writing such a wonderfully thought out and beautifully expressed piece about your experiences. When I read Michaela’s article, as you said, it didn’t “sit right” with me either.
    As a woman, I empathise and understand the feeling of being violated and having no control of that which you thought you did. Sexual abuse is every woman’s nightmare. It’s the thing she thinks will never happen to her…until it does.
    As an Indian woman who’s lived her whole life in Bangalore, I can attest to the fact that most (if not all) woman in India have experienced sexual abuse of some form in the course of their lives. It is horrific when you take the time to think about it, but as a people and a culture we have become apathetic to it in some ways I think. Being groped in a busy street/public transportation, being flashed at, having lewd comments thrown at you, being leered at…these are all things that have happened so frequently through your life that you get used to it and you live with it. It might sound awful and horrific to those who are from outside of the country. Does that mean that my life, or that of any Indian woman, is horrible and the end of the world? No. I’m a city girl and I love my city life. I will wear my short skirts and cleavage showing tops when I want to. I go out drinking with my friends, I drive late at night by myself, I travel on trains/buses/planes within my country by myself. I take precautions to be safe because I understand that nothing in life is guaranteed; though I think ensuring safety is an instinctual human trait. I’d probably take the same precautionary measures if I were to walk through “the projects” of an American city, or walk late at night in Central Park (where CSI tells me I could die a violent death!). The fact is anyone could find trouble anywhere in the world. One needs to understand this does not reflect on the town/city/state/country as a whole. Stereotypes and generalisations will be the death of everything if that was how we were to live our lives.
    So Candace, once again thank you for taking the time to write this and share a different version of India and your travel experiences.

    S

  • As an Indian woman who has travelled to almost 50 countries, I’d like to thank you for bringing some balanced perspective to this discussion. On my travels, I’ve been groped, stalked, violently attacked, been propositioned like I was a hooker, hissed at, had a rock thrown on me and more…

    As a solo female traveler, which I was, know that in some cultures you’re going to be seen as a moving target. I took every precaution, knew when I could push my luck, and when it was time to tuck my tail between my legs and get the hell out of a situation.

    There is a varying degree of misogyny in every culture I’ve witnessed. Be aware and mindful of who you are, where you are. You’re an outsider. You will be seen as one. Sometimes that will draw big smiles and warm welcomes and, other times some jackass will have a field day at your expense. Deal with it. It’s not pleasant, but it’s the truth. We travel to experience the world, in all it’s shades of grey. Don’t expect the world to functions by the norms of the society you live in. It doesn’t. And if it did, why would you ever leave home?

    My heart goes out to the girl, I hope she recovers quickly, and someday has a change of heart about India. Yes, just by virtue of our huge population, the incidence of bumping into assholes is higher than in most other parts of the world. But we’re a good people. We are kind, curious, generous and helpful.

    Recently, I had an irate solo female traveler on my twitter feed, ranting about how dirty the toilets were in rural India. I Sent her a link to Toilet.org so she could make a donation towards a sanitation project in India and be part of the solution, instead of- yet another foreigner who’s “so disgusted and sick of this filthy hell hole”

    If you’re so violated by what happened to you, find a way to become part of the solution. Leave this country better than you found it. And frankly, it’s a pretty awesome find.

    Lastly: Dear Michaela, as a woman, I feel your pain. But there are millions of honourable men in my country. But thank you for starting this debate. We have a long way to go before every woman in this country is safe.

    My final word of advice to all women travellers, solo or not: Do Not Take It Personally. Don’t internalise it as a personal attack on who you are. There are angels and assholes every where in this world. The assholes are assholes to everyone! It’s not you, its them.

    Peace and Love from Bombay…

  • I feel like there are good and bad people in EVERY single country in the world. Having said that, the only time I ever felt unsafe happened to be in India. My personality is such that I smile at everyone…a lot of Indian men mistook that smile to mean that I wanted “to be” with them. One instance in particular was close to being a sexual assault. 🙁

    This would never stop me from returning to India though!!! I would just be extra careful there. I love that you introduced us to a lot of amazing Indian men. 🙂

    • esonique

      :)))

  • Antariksh Roy

    Dear Candace,

    Thanks a ton for mentioning two really important points. 1. Do not judge the whole country because of a few pervs and 2. India truly is one of the greatest countries in the world and all my friends who have come here from abroad never went dissapointed. While my I stayed in Texas for 6 years, I had faced a lot of racism but never thought of Texas or States as a bad place to be in. But the message of not being partial to some dreadful experiences is what we have to spread in today’s world. Hopefully, Michaela and her friend give India another chance and we might be change her mind for good.

  • Naveen

    Hi Candace,

    I just want say THANK YOU for sharing your experience in India with the world through this post.

    Being a Indian Men it pains to see the entire Indian Men community being stereotyped Thanks for letting the world know that India is not as bad as whats been portrayed.

    I am not sure if you have been to southern part of India in your previous visit. If you haven’t next time please do visit the southern part (Karnataka (Mysore), Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh) where it is much more safer for female foreign travelers.

    Once again thanks for writing this beautiful post.

  • You make your point beautifully. Indian men have regularly gone out of their way to make sure I was safe.

  • Julia

    Thank you for this piece. I have only spent 2 weeks in India when I went for my wedding. I found it to be a warm, welcoming country to visit. I was traveling mostly in a group, but was on my own from time to time. I always felt safe. Being married to an Indian man, naturally I am biased. I think that is why I also had a hard time reconciling that article. I do not want to diminish the horrors of sexual assault. But I also don’t think it is helpful to paint an entire country with one broad, negative brush. I have traveled extensively in other parts of the world, so I felt prepared for my trip to India. Nothing prepares you for the colors, smells, sights and most importantly – warm people in India. But that isn’t bad – it is wonderful! Thank you for sharing this side of travel in India because I think it would be a shame for anyone to stay home because they were afraid for their safety. That said, any time you travel, you should be smart about how you do it. But by all means, experience life!

  • I am an Indian and I totally empathize with Michaela. I am happy you had a good experience with indian men, but way to blame the victim by saying she didnt smile or interact with the men so she had a bad experience!

  • Arijit Majumder

    Dear Candace,
    There are many people who travel around the world. Not just people from 1st world country go to developing nation but the reverse happens also. What is most required is a cultural fitment. You need to blend in and be like the rest of them. If you consider that you are from US and have come to India and hence you should be treated royally, you are wrong. The streets are never to show your grandeur. Think if a poor man in a shabby dress goes to Times Square and walks around stooping. wobbly, feeble etc etc…. He will definitely be targeted as he is a misfit. Similarly it works the other way round also.

    No one is asking you not to smile. When you greet/meet someone, definitely smile. Bu then in your behavior, attitude, dress-sense or manners you stand apart from the crowd, you know what you become? You become a a king who doesn’t have a king’s guard or an army to protect him. Now you can imagine what will happen to that king?

  • Vipul

    Hi Candace,

    This is Vipul here, from Delhi… First of all, thank you for writing your experience in India without any prejudice and bias due to the recent happenings. But I really want to give my sincere perspective on the issue. I think the fact that your experience was so much better than Michaela is definitely due to the fact that you had an open mind and heart to smile and make friends, however, I, seriously belive that it played a part role. the other part being that you were lucky.
    The fact is that while we have enough laws in our country, the enforcement is pathetic. People believe that they can get away after committing crimes, either by bribing or simply due to police laxity and insensitivity.
    On the other hand, I also believe that due to the sheer size of our population, the number of cases in absolute terms are surely likely to be higher than most other countries, therefore, generalizing 1.3bn people due to actions of a few, is not justified at all. Bad fish are there in every pond, you just need to understand how to differentiate. There are many good hearted people here who would go out of their way to help a foreigner.
    Request to all the ladies out there, its a country worth visiting, not only because of the nature, but because of the experiences you have. But alas, being practical, it is always advisable to have the company of a trustworthy local person, who can help you wade through this sea of humanity and take the best out of it. Indians do have an old saying, “guest is god”, which some of us really still do believe in.

  • Swapna

    Hey Candace, Thank you for doing this. And I really feel an immense amount of gratitude because people are bound to judge India based on a “single Story”. The media picks up what it thinks will create a sensation and then once the story goes viral there’s nothing stopping it. I am an Indian woman and have travelled all over the world and the tendency for most of us is to believe the most stereotyped versions of a country. Nigeria = guns, italy = flirtatious men, France = snobs …but we all know the reality is different. And it’s only when you experience it yourself can you draw conclusions. I feel bad for Michaela – she had a terrible experience. But that dosen’t define a population of 1 billion people. Am I asking her to stay mum about her experience – NO. I was stared at and my ass pinched in a bus – not in India but in New York! Am i going to malign the whole city based on this one experience – NO. All I’m saying is thank you for bringing out a different perspective of my world. I love my land of treasures and I would hate for the world to to lose out on experiencing the magic!

  • Debaleena

    Thanks for sharing your positive experiences in India.I feel proud to belong to a culture which embraces everyone who comes in.

    Now,the catch here is that : I am an Indian (Bengali; more precisely) female traveler. It is an almost entirely non-existent concept in this country.(I’m sure they exist in pockets).Therefore Indians find it extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a single Indian female traveler in her very own country!
    But then isn’t this also a part of the challenge I am looking forward to every time I travel? Men act weird and they don’t know how to react and it is more a feeling of amusement than insecurity

    However so far that I have traveled at no point have Ifelt ‘unsafe’. I have n number of incidents to cite that. There have been co-operative railway station masters, mountaineering porters, drivers, hotel managers,restaurant boys who have all been nothing but ‘kind’ to me. Hence although it sounds bizarre at first; I can vouch for the fact it is not that bad a concept at all 🙂

  • Aditya A

    Candace,

    You’ve probably gotten this a lot but I had to say thank you for bringing some balance to the ‘Safety for women in India’ issue, as an Indian male it is much appreciated. That’s not to diminish anything bad that has happened to anyone there, India does have its fair share of some pretty awful problems but I think its important to keep a level head about these things too.

    With that being said, I’ve been reading your stuff for about two hours now and I have been living vicariously through you, great stories and pictures, the only problem is that I’ve been doing this at work and I might be in some trouble with my boss, haha…oops!

  • Abhishek Ravi

    Nice blog. It is quite irritating and humiliating when every Indian male is categorized as a sexist,rapist, demonist…( you get the general idea). It is a very small portion of the population which brings such huge shame to the rest of us ( Indian men 😉 ) who sometimes have to go out of our ways to prove that our intentions are clear and clean. I am residing in Zurich right now, and honestly most women here are quite surprised that I am normal and an Indian guy at the same time.

    Thanks for giving a more complete, honest and pragmatic view of my country. 🙂

  • I am an Indian and I empathize with Rose’s experiences. Also agree that there are good men in India. Nice post but I have to say, good job on blaming the victim for not smiling enough!

  • Thanks for giving a good opinion about my country, I’m happy to hear the good from you, bad things happen everywhere and harassment law is slowly getting refined here and hope it will get a lot strict in the near future. My best wishes on your upcoming travel plans to all places. Also in the best interest it is always better to take necessary precautions when travelling alone be it anywhere in this world

    Keep smiling 🙂 happy face

  • Thanks Candace for this wonderful article. I am very much impressed.. God Bless and enjoy the beauty of India..

  • Pallavi

    Hi Candace!

    I must start off by saying that I in no way condone the experiences that Michaela had to endure when she was in India. As an Indian woman, I have undergone similar experiences- I have been groped, stalked and stared at too. However, the rampant generalization in her article is shocking to say the least. To condemn an entire culture for the acts of a few deviants is unacceptable. I have friends who have undergone the very same experiences in countries like USA and UK which are widely considered to be safe for women. And yet I don’t see a plethora of articles condemning these countries. This is because, they realise that, unfortunate as it is, these incidents happen everywhere across the globe. I do feel that it is extremely important that these incidents are condemned at the earliest. However, due care should also be taken that an entire culture is not dehumanized. India is neither a mysterious spiritual land, nor is it a land of complete depravity and this very fact needs to be understood by everyone who has an opinion about India.

  • krishna

    I can’t tell you how much relieved I am, reading what you had to say. Every time I hear a foreigner being harassed in India, I feel like these people who did such sort of deeds are killing India. Every time this happens and every time I feel so helpless about it and I wished I was there to do something about it, anything to stop it. Sometimes, I feel that whatever ill will we Indians attract is our own doing. But then again, I feel, are we all like that? Do we all grope foreign women wherever they are? Because, I am myself a traveler, I have had many acquaintances who were foreign women and they were comfortable the way they were. I don’t say that things were exaggerated, they are all true, I have seen people stare at foreign women in India, but not all people do that. This thing has had such a deep impact on my life that whenever I see a foreign woman on streets, I subconsciously avoid eye contact, I look the other way. I don’t look at them, probably just so that they might feel that yes, not all Indians stare. So, when I read what you had to say, it filled me with tears. Thanks.

  • The Jamaican

    I’ve been to the country twice and love it. Although I am a male, 6’4 ft tall, dark-skinned Jamaican and looks huge, it still doesn’t make it feel as if I would be unsafe if I was a woman and of a smaller frame.

    I have met and travelled with many female friends – white, black, brown; 5’5 ft or less – and I don’t get the feeling nor did they made me feel as if they are in hell. They at times ventured out alone.

    What people need to know is that, almost all countries the world over will have a time, place or group of people who will make life hell for someone, even in America. What is important is how you deal with it, and the precautions you take.

  • Aruna

    Dear Candice,
    I appreciate that you want to share some of your very beautiful memories from India, you seem to have had a nice time, managed to empathize with those around you, and have been both lucky to come across nice people and warm and open enough to connect with them. That is certainly very nice. What I don’t understand, however, is why (especially as a woman) contrast your experience with another woman who says she’s suffered groping, molesting, etc, and modified her behaviour in a certain way. I know you don’t mean to say so, but in quoting her lines where she says she tried not to smile, and you counter that with “I smiled so I was treated well”– it seems to imply that she should have smiled to have been treated better! People in India keep doing this to women time and again, telling them how to or how not to modify their behaviour in order to not get groped, molested, or raped. The crux of the issue is, no matter how women behave, they should not be groped, molested, or raped. Ours is not a queer country so that women should need to learn “how to connect to not get raped” before they get here. They have a right to safety, and if it is violated, let’s just as women, respect that. Let’s try not to analyze every statement they’ve written and juxtapose it with our happy experiences. You may mean very well, but it comes through in bad taste. As a woman, it’s just easier on our kind and the world in turn, if we acknowledge that the world is not a great place for women right now, and some women face the worst of it. That we’ve been luckier shouldn’t give us more perspective or more humanity than them. Rape is a reality in India, and it hurts to say that, for I am Indian and have lived here for very long. I have been lucky, and don’t know too many victims of rape /molestation personally, but that’s no reason for me to think it had anything to do with me. Much like rape has nothing to do with the victim, not getting raped has nothing to do with the non-victim either.
    I don’t mean to be harsh, I’m only exhorting you to be a bit more thoughtful in shunning what you consider are generalizations. That blog by the American girl was not a generalization, it was her personal experience, as it is of many others who live or visit here, whether they are Indian or not. There is nothing wrong with saying a place is unsafe if it is; it has human beings so it ought to be nice despite, but that doesn’t make it safer, it just makes it more human, for good and bad. Calling out our unsafe cities and wayward men for what they are, are important for the country and the government to take note. Yes, we have warm people too, for we are only all too human. But rather than feel fuzzy and glad about our warmth, we really should be talking about the ugly parts and fixing them. And not confusing that with undermining the warmth, and then overplaying the warmth to compensate in turn.
    Again, it was good reading about your experiences, and I am glad India has been a nice place to you!

  • Rama Nair

    Thank you Candace for a wonderful account of your stay and bringing out the positives. Having been born there (but now living in Canada) and lived for the firs 22 years of my life, I can fully see both sides of the story that you and Michaela shared. As I have travelled most of the world, I can attest that both these types of experiences happen in all the countries. While I cannot attest to the first hand experiences (being a male) I have witnessed both the positive and negative experiences that you both describe. India, being such a large (population wise) country, I would have been surprised if bad things did not happen at all! In general,men there have the utmost respect for women, but there are those who think women, specially foreigners, are sex objects. Sad, but true. I do think your observation that a warm smile and attempt to know the other person makes a lot of difference (not just in India but throughout wherever I have traveled). Often that smile and the attempt to communicate a pleasant personality have helped me in many difficult situations. Many thanks for sharing your story and making us remember the positive sides along with the negative

  • Thank you soo much for writing this. I was soo fade up of hearing bad news from Indian Media. It was actually refreshing. I like the line be smart, be sensible, be safe. There cannot be all bad news about the country. Pros and cons are everywhere. Thank you very much. It was much required.

  • Hi Candace… I hope you don’t get tired of the comments coming in but even if you do, too bad :). Cos you do deserve to be thanked from the umpteenth person for writing this piece.

    While what may have happened cannot be condoned under any circumstances whatsoever, neither do I think too is it fair to stereotype. Thank you once again on behalf of all Indians for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    Separately but on a similar note feel like sharing a parable which you might relate too –

    Once upon a time [yes it’s always once upon a time :)], there was a wise king in India who sent two of his court officers away to explore faraway lands. One of the courtiers, the king had observed was arrogant and self-absorbed, while the other was generous and open-minded.

    After many months when they returned home, the king questioned the men about the places they visited. The generous courtier said that he found the people of the foreign lands hospitable, kind hearted and not much different from the people at home. On hearing this the arrogant officer scoffed with envy cos the places he visited were full of scheming liars, cheats and wicked barbarians. Listening to these reports the king laughed to himself cos he had sent both men to the same places.

    After all The Buddha supposedly said “We see as we are”

    Here’s to your great love affair… cheers.

    Sandeep

  • Rohan

    Hello Candance

    Indeed after a long time i am reading a well written article with positive view for a women traveling alone in India.

    I understand the feeling of all the women’s here and i am ashamed of this cruel act. Once while traveling across i met a lady from italy and she was very harsh with me while traveling via bus, but during the journey i started talking to her and learned that she was groped and robbed. She was devastated and with little money she wasnt able to plan her trip. After the travel I invited her at my place for stay and food and dropped her at a convenient place to travel back to her friends.

    Sexual assault is not on rise in india, infact its there since many years, but the only difference is media’s role. This time media is publishing maximum sexual crimes in news or internet so that people are aware.

    It just that people should learn Do’s & Dont while traveling alone. Even Men are not safe in any country. But we need to do our home work before traveling a new place. Being a avid traveler i have met many people across different nationality where they have shared many good and bad incidents.

    So lets help each other in making good memories. Thanks for sharing this article with all of us.

    Regards
    Rohan

  • Aswin Ramakrishnan

    Candace – You are probably sleeping in India right now. I just want to be the first one to let you know that – “Good morning! Your blog post has gone viral!”

    It’s great to read some good stories about India from a non-Indian woman traveler and all the good feedback for your post saying they want to give India another chance. As my complicated last name suggests, I am an Indian. I’ve been living in the US for a while now and all the stories I’ve been reading in the media has really made me sad and feel sick about my country – the country where I’ve had all my best memories, the country I’ve lived and loved all along. Although, the stories they say are true, as an Indian male – I am terribly ashamed and saddened.

    India actually is unsafe for women. I wouldn’t let my sister, my wife or even my mother out in the streets after 8’o clock in the evening. It is unsafe and there ARE actually sexual predators everywhere. As Michaela writes, being a white woman, she definitely would have been a sexual prize in India. And yes, as Katherine writes, Racism arises (and has risen) from judging the Indians by the news the media reports.

    But — Yes, there is a “but”.. India has also been the country with the most kind people in the planet. Kindness, hospitality and culture that has evolved through ages, without any changes to it’s entirety. When I say kindness, it is not like the “western kindness”, where you help someone with their furniture or give a hand in lifting heavy objects. I mean kindness, as in “live in my house as long as you want and don’t give me anything in return” kindness. I mean “You’re a stranger, still come inside my house, have some water or a cold beverage, have the best food I can offer and take a nap before you leave so you can beat the heat” kindness. I mean kindness, that any part of the world would find overwhelming, abundant or even weird.

    India is the only non-immigrant country with the most diverse background – diverse languages, food, art, culture, heritage, religion.. you name it. India is the only country that has seen evolution in it’s true kind, and the only country that has always been preserving that rich culture and heritage which the rest of world even knew existed.

    What everybody forgets is, as part of preserving the culture and heritage, and sticking to the past, India is also struggling to adapt to the western influence.

    Yes, India belongs to the culture that wrote Kama Sutra, but they never spoke about sex to their children. They never educated their children what sexual molestation / assault is. They never knew what gay or lesbian means. Sex was, is and always has been the odd topic that nobody wants to discuss in an Indian family.

    I’m not saying that discussing sex openly would solve all the rape issues in India. But discussing it openly will atleast break the ice between the indian culture and sex. Hell, there are Ariel Castros and Jimmy Savilles in countries that discuss sex more freely, India is no victim to sex crimes.

    But anyways, I truly hope that this scenario changes. I hope all Indian men realize what they have done to their country and people start seeing India for what it truly is. I pray that, you don’t undergo any sexual assaults during the rest of your stay in India, and have fun filled memories that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. I thank the women who want to give India another chance and apologize to women who’ve been sexually assaulted during their stay.

    Thanks once again for giving me an opportunity share my thoughts Candace! You truly have “A Great Affair” with travel. Keep up the good work!

  • Jenna

    Thanks for your blog post. I identify with both stories having spent a total of 11 months in India over two trips. One when I was in high school and one studying abroad in college. I am still healing from my experiences as well- learning to trust men after has been a challenge for me and its true, some really uncomfortable, terrifying, scary, annoying, or just gross situations happened while I was there, but so many amazing, beautiful, interesting, and fun things happened too. Going back- I will go back-, I will definitely take your advice on breaking down the barriers with smiling and being friendly, while at the same time being smart (but also note- that breaking down barriers like that is definitely easier for some than others).

    I know many Indian men who are awesome human beings and my good friends- so thanks for the distinction that they exist too.

  • Prady

    Thanks Candace for sharing your experiences in India. I feel happy of how you brought the other side of the story into the limelight.

    Being a man and being from India, I am really ashamed of the unfortunate happenings across the country. India has always been known for its valor and rich cultures dating back to ancient times. Yet its one of the most unsafe country for women at present. Actually, India had been a very conservative country for a long time and as such, many ill and unwelcoming practices and thoughts regarding women had developed during all these years.

    But present India is a kind of a mix-bag. People are coming out of the age old ill practices, but the journey is not yet over. People are now adapting to international cultures and abolishing the ill practices of yesteryear, though the pace is not even for different sections of the society. And that’s where the problem lies. Those sections of people who have already accepted it and who now value the dignity of women, their company will be the most welcoming of all. But those sections who are still sick-minded, you will be the odd one out with your 21st century thoughts. Not every men belongs to the latter section and you can’t generalize the same. When you go out to the streets, not every man will disrespect you, will stare at you, will grope you, will scan you from top to bottom. Its only for some of the “black sheep” of the Indian family that you need to be careful about.

    Practically speaking, stricter laws and policies can never change the mentality of the one billion people overnight in a country like India where its been prevalent from centuries. You might argue that India is a democratic country and you have got every right to do anything which is allowed under the laws. But till the time India has come up of this horrific nightmare, lets take some precautions for your own safety. Its always better “to be safe than sorry”. I am not advising you of what to wear, whom to talk, how to walk, etc. You know it very well than me what works for India.

    For the non-Indian lady travelers and your male counterparts – you might feel alienated at some occasions and find some children and people staring at you at the streets. Just look in this perspective – you are as alien to them as they are too you. Looking at the way you carry yourself, they are baffled with many questions because you are different from them. In such a situation, as Candace suggested, break the ice with a welcoming smile and try to relax. If that doesn’t works and you still feel uncomfortable, just move out to a different place. Don’t take any risk if you are not sure.

    India is full of surprises, and hence its termed as “Incredible India”!! 🙂 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing a different side to the story!

  • Lovely! I honestly have to say that I felt less comfortable about the idea of going to India after reading a few posts/articles and hearing people talk about how this is a deep-seated problem in Indian culture. I feel more reassured after seeing this.

  • Gopika

    I am really glad you wrote this article Candace because ppl also need to know the positive side to it.

    Cheers! Have shared this on FB

  • Ralph

    Awesome article. M a cultural analyst from Denmark . This story complements the other story representing 2 sides of a coin. However, the indian woman saying degrading things about their own kind is depressing. Also the fact that the government is playing ball with the people is a true fact. It’s picture has not been taken in to consideration. I have travelled across Asia, my father was a foreign diplomat stationed in Singapore. The cultural story of India is that foreigners mainly travel to main cities where usually the urban elite and rural mix takes the equation to a new level. It’s is the reason why the behaviour of some men are unpredictable. The problem is that law and order being not strict with cops per people, making controlling people comes at a premium making the exceptional cases exceptional. If you look at the statistics, the number of similar crimes in southern India is far lower when compared to the north. Southern india is the perfect example of a developing economy with class citizens. Their conservatism mixed with the educated behaviour makes them at cutting edge. The development of India is being dragged by some states where government tries to play politics n the northern India and lets the upholding citizens down. It is a delicate phase, hopefully the citizens get themselves a good govt to help them with the mess, it has put itself in. All the best Indians, seeing the rupee fall down is going to make me travel to India again next month, c u good folks.

  • Jay

    Wonderful Tavelogue and a sympathetic look into India and its culture. I wont waste people’s time here but would say there are a few bad men out there and one needs to be careful. However, what you did was superbly smart and sublime…this is why:
    White women are a subject of curiosity with their complexion, hair, features and most importantly the body language of being “confident” for their being (which my Indian sisters do not have die to cultural bias against females). All this is a potent concoction of intense curiosty, that often results in unwanted sexual overtures. But what you did was classic….you reduced that curiosity and / or alien-ness by smiling and engaging in simple conversations. This was a master stroke and everyone should do this. However, there would be a few men with whome even this will not work…. and so certain precautions will keep one very safe. Once again enjoyed the article and I hope women travel to india and we all fight the prejudices in India TOGETHER!

  • Shikha

    Great article, thank you for sharing a more realistic perspective on India. I have lived in the US–NYC for the past 15+ years, however, I was born in India and lived there for a part of my life, and visit every once in a while. The best way to avoid any bad experiences is to find out which area (wealthy/poor) you would be visiting and dress and behave accordingly. Which I believe is true for any country, for example, if you were someone who resides is a wealthy area in Manhattan, you could wear expensive branded clothes, diamonds, etc. and not have the fear of being robbed or stared at. However, if you were to wear similar attire in Bronx, you would be stared at and possibly shot, or raped, and robbed.

    Furthermore, the impression about any country is unfortunately controlled by social media. Every country has its good and bad pockets, positives and negatives, etc. If one truly loved new experiences and travelling, then they would not be complaining about it in a negative manner. I mean, with the amount of school shootings in the USA, one may assume that attending school in the US will guarantee that you will be shot while visiting schools in the US. I believe Michaela’s assumption is as biased as the one I mentioned above.

  • Umpteen thanks to you Candace for writing this……I am proud to be Indian woman and am so greatful that you have reflected the positive side…
    cheers to you…..
    regards,
    Charu

  • Whitney

    Thanks for sharing this! I have traveled to India, mainly to Mumbai, 8 times over the past 5 years, including a 5 month stay a couple of years ago, and I fortunately never had any experience of being groped or made to feel unsafe. Some of this could be due to being in a big, cosmopolitan city; but even when I was in other parts of the country (Jaipur, various towns in Kerala, Tamil Nadu), I have found welcoming, friendly people, including men – and many of them are much more socially progressive than India is often painted in the news and other media. As you say, this isn’t to invalidate the stories of anyone else who has had a scary or unpleasant experiences, but I do agree with you – India is well worth visiting, and I think it would be a shame to pass on the opportunity to visit! Such a beautiful, fascinating, and dynamic place…I miss it.

  • MJ

    Hi,

    I would never comment anonymously, in general, but I am revealing very personal stuff, and I also blog as myself IRL, so I hope you are OK with this. I have left you my email address, so you know that this is not spam.

    I was born and I grew up in India. I was raped over a period of three years by a houseboy. I was five, when it first happened. I remember every single moment, the feeling of illness, the fear, the shame, the defiance, the threats, the need to remain silent. I vividly remember one moment that the boy was raping me. I must have been six. My dad was just outside the window, watering the garden. I stayed silent.

    My uncle molested me when I was nine. I kept silent because he was close to the family and he would never have been cut off. He was a morally upstanding man… just not when it came to keeping his hands off a nine year old’s breasts and vagina.

    I told one of my closest male friends about my abuse as a child when I was fourteen. He was supportive at first. He then made advances to me, which I rejected as I didn’t want to lose his friendship. So he told everyone about the fact that I had been abused as a child. He told everyone in such a way, that it made me out to be a liar. I was looked at with derision. I was treated with contempt. I was told I needed to offer blow jobs to keep a boyfriend happy. This is conservative India. You can imagine the horror of being the ‘bad’ girl in the family.

    I made friends with a girl at college, who was considered fast. She took the limelight off me. She was murdered when she was twenty. Thrown off a balcony naked. The crime was never solved, but oh, the tongues wagged. She had it coming to her, you see.

    I left my small town when I was seventeen, to head out to university. I had happy experiences there. I also experienced horrendous amounts of misogyny, harassment and molestation. Not just physical abuse, but also mental. Being told you are a slut because you refuse to kowtow and wear a salwar kameez, because you go clubbing, because you are an incredibly smart woman, and out-debate anyone, male or female, because you dare challenge male hegemony.

    I left India when I was twenty one. I left, ostensibly, for grad school in London. I knew I was never going back to India, to visit perhaps, but never to live. I did go through grad school. I was occasionally racially abused on the Tube. But I could breathe again. I could go out without needing to worry about how I was getting home. I got horribly drunk once, and puked over myself on the Tube. A kind tube worker took me to a station loo, opened it up for me, and cleaned me up, not once touching me in any inappropriate way. I shudder to think of my situation had this happened in India.

    I married a white man. The first time I took him to India, I was called everything from a tour guide to a prostitute, despite all the accoutrements of marriage. He, thankfully, was unable to understand some of the cruder comments.

    I took my gorgeous mixed race eighteen month old girl to India for the first time. I never let her out of my sight. I always slept with her. I never ever let anyone other than my mum, dad and sister spend more than a few minutes with her without supervision. I took her back again when she was two. Same thing. I will take her back again this year to attend a family wedding. She is five. Same age I was when I was first raped. My paranoia knows no bounds.

    And it was India that made me who I am. Damaged beyond belief, angry, depressed, suicidal at times. I have been in therapy now for a few months (yes, it took me over fourteen years to come to terms with the fact that someone here might believe me and not dismiss me as a liar) and the complexity of the misogyny and sheer abuse I suffered is now coming to light. Would this have happened in another country. No doubt it would. Does this systemically happen to the majority of women in a different country? Hell, no!

    Why am I writing this? Because I want you to understand that your experiences are probably the exception. That beyond the warmth and joy, lies a horrendous seedy underbelly that is only just coming to light. You cannot compare your experiences in any way to that woman who wrote the other article. She was elucidating her experience, you are talking about yours.

    But its the same country, and sadly, the generalisations are more true than not. I know for a fact that there are many men who are ‘good’ and ‘upstanding’ and ‘moral’. I also know never to trust any of them.

  • Bhaswati

    Dear Candace, you seem to be very generous in showering praise for India and its men in particular!! However I wish you have not contradicted Michaels’s story or trivialized it, so I dont welcome your ‘positive’ comments. You reflected with the same denial Indian society has – ‘oh we have not heard about it, oh it is not as bad, it is very less of a crime’ etc etc. This denial is so rampant that Indian mother or close relatives dont believe their children, society looks the other way when a woman is harassed, no police work for women’s safety even in Indian parliament women’s safety is a matter of laugh!! Foreigner women are indeed attacked more since they are seen as vulnerable rootless beings, same goes with women coming from northeast India! These angers us to no limit. Michaela’s story came up as an appropriate time for us (Indian women), who think foreigners harassment could move the establishment, also local people hosting tourists will protect foreigner women like their daughters, as you know – money talks. As an Indian women, just like Smita (I agree with each line she wrote) I would vouch for Michaelas story to be true. May be its more than that. It pains me when a woman like you contradict and in the process defeat the whole purpose for justice for women in general in India. I feel ashamed for my countrymen, but more concerned about my country’s reputation based on truth. It pains us when our foreigner sisters experience what I have been experiencing since childhood, and during the process developed a ‘mechanism’ or a reflex to put my guard on! My entire youth has almost gone developing it!! These ars the reason I never suggest our non-Indian woman friend to visit my country if I am not personally around. Let us clean the system, till then let the truth about our truly magical and incredible country be known to the world.

  • wow, superb post..!!! ..thank you for sharing! Cheers

  • Vijay

    Dear Candace,

    I am a Indian male of 40 years, having lived all my life in India. I feel your article has done a disservice to womanhood by your suggestion that women smile to be treated kindly. And trying to sideline the article by Michaela Cross, and stating that if she had smiled, things would have been better for her, is nothing but a complete ignorance and insensitivity to her sufferings. She has done a whole lot of good by bringing out the true picture of India and which is 100% true. You have blissfully chosen to ignore all the bad experiences you have had in India, or have not considered it serious enough, because it will bring down your pursuits in life, which is of being an adventurer. Though you have not mentioned in your article, I am sure you have been groped, mishandled, looked at leerily, and have had bad comments at you. Nowhere have you denied that these experiences have not happened to you. You might have not heard it or ignored it or taken it as part of your travel explorations but the reality is that many Indian males are childish, immaturish, do not know how to deal with their blossoming sexuality right from the school days, think it macho to stare and make vulgar comments at girls, and do not know how to make good frienships with people of the other sex, which also will involve sexuality. Indian men have to learn to come out of their closets of suppressed sexuality and be able to deal with it in graceful ways. The problem is Indian males are not shown the right way either by example or through guidance on how to respect women and have good relationships with women. I am generalizing here, because by Indian men, I mean those who are part of the Indian system of education, social setup, and cultural mores. The people who you have mentioned in your article are good,kind etc, etc, but it does not make those who dealt with their sexuality in undignifying ways as mentioned in Cross article any better. Its important to again and again stress the message that Indian men have to learn to be responsible for their actions and not put the blame on women for the torture they suffer from men. Your article has again put the blame on Michaela and not focussed on the men who created the suffering for her. You might be lauded for your love for India but please do not make the mistake of sidelining the sufferings of women in India.

    As a male, I have to ask myself what in India prevents me from relating to women rightly. And I know the answers. The answers are “The complete ignorance on dealing with feelings and emotions within because nobody talks about feelings especially for men. Inability to relate to an independent women, because culture teaches only to talk down on women, lack of opportunities to form sexual relationships with the opposite sex because it is looked down as ugly, immoral, except after marriage. 24x 7 Stimulation and tiltillation from through media and internet, and last but not the least, the influence of a western culture of female liberation into an Indian culture of female subordination creating all sorts of unintended notions about the liberated woman as being promiscuous”

    Its a long journey for Indian men to be able to come to terms with the spontaneous eruption of feelings and being able to have dignified opportunities or expression as well as restraint within a culture of respect and responsibility.

    And for female travellers to India, I have only one advice: Be very very careful in India.

    • kulari94

      Dude, you’ve got issues.

  • Candace, I love this. No, really. I. LOVE. THIS.

    I used to be afraid to, and prepared not to, smile at men when I travelled. There’s still a part of me that is. It’s a method of self-defence, born of the full knowledge of the stereotypes surrounding foreign women – in my case, blonde Americans – that we encounter when we travel. I know what it’s like to be stared at, followed, flashed, masturbated at, and groped by strange men in public, and to have encounters that I thought were friendly quickly turn lascivious. Not smiling is a defence, a barrier, a scowl that says, ‘No, I am not friendly, and I am not going to fuck you, and right now I want to kill any possibility of that thought ever entering your head.’

    But if there’s one thing that travel has taught me, ESPECIALLY in the past year, it’s that just looking someone right in the eyes will help you understand them. That you can gauge someone by giving them that opportunity. That if you stop and talk to someone, smile, and try to engage in whatever way possible, you will find the humanity within. We are all people, and we all deserve respect, and if you give that, you will get it in return. We can’t assume that everyone is a bad character, because then we stereotype people who could be genuinely kind souls, like the men you write about here.

    If we give respect, humanity, and the time of day, our encounters while travelling become so much more rewarding than if we only project suspicion. If we give respect, people almost always give respect in kind. We have to try and understand each other. Only then can we connect, and walk away from our travels with a better relationship to the people we meet.

  • Nikhil Kumar

    Firstly Candace, thanks a lot for doing this damage control. As an Indian my heart bleeds when I see articles written like these. I cannot deny the facts either. I strongly felt that the cnn article was cynical and looked racist.
    As you said it’s wrong to judge a country by actions of few people. I am an Indian currently living in California, this place is awesome there is no second thought about it, having said that I cannot rule out the fact that few people here are racist. It’s sad that not all Indian’s blurt it out reason being we are grateful about the positive things.

    Please do visit India and do suggest the same among your friends.

    Once again thank you, I really appreciate the fact that you took time to share your experience in my country.

  • Gayatri

    I really appreciate what you’ve written here, Candace.
    I have grown up in Delhi and traveled around the world – sometimes solo, sometimes in a group. While I do agree that traveling in India requires a little bit of more precaution, I also believe that it’s rewarding and unique.
    Some bad experiences shouldn’t discourage others from experiencing India.
    Most women in India have experienced some sort of harassment in their lives but I do not think that’s only in India. As an Indian girl in small towns of China, I’ve been stared at incessantly. Yes, I have been uncomfortable. I’ve been followed by a group of men in China. But will I go again? definitely yes!

  • Archana Nagaraj

    Hi Candance
    After reading the CNN article i was trying to figure out “really! is this what happens” ? I have travelled all over india with a friend(another girl) into remote places and have not found anything amiss . Yes in the bigger and more populated places there is the staring and just fixated eyes and this i have found in my travels all over the world not just in India.
    Your article is the actual story of traveling in India , and I am glad you did write this.

    On an another note I will say that as an Indian women, I am very careful of how i dress and never go out alone in dark stretches or late at night , I am always aware of my surroundings and a whole lot of such precautions which come naturally to me having grown up and lived in this society . I drive in the night very late but don’t stop till i reach home .
    I dont tolerate men who pass a comment on the road , i will always stop and let them know how i didn’t like it – (this is of course is done only during the day ) . But wouldn’t dream of even rolling my car window down if its dark. India is a contradiction into itself.

    None of my male friends, my husband, brother would ever behave badly with another women or even talk to a stranger on the road unless spoken to. So who are these men who then behave badly with women, its a deep rooted problem and if i start on that it will take reams and reams of blog pages to write on 🙂

    Best
    Archana

  • Tomojit Basu

    Hey C,

    It’s very heartening to see a positive write-up on the Indian male after the many months of trashing since the ghastly Delhi rape last December. Sure, there are terrible elements around like there is everywhere else but that shall always be a misinformed minority with a predilection bordering on the perverse and the criminal. I’m glad you had such a great experience here albeit a maddening one as only India can possibly provide. I’d hope that as a country we can genuinely respect women – our own citizens to begin with alongside guests such as yourself – enough to someday allow the simple freedoms of movement and choice to not be turned into a justification for rape or just making women feel uncomfortable in the public space.

    Call me an idealist but with time I do believe the law and order machinery will improve and with rising education levels (not just the banishment of illiteracy but genuine holistic education with a value-system instilled at every level from the home to school). As a nation and not just specific classes we’re still getting used to the idea of modernity in the cultural sphere, one can only be optimistic in hoping that the positive fallout outweighs the negatives.

    Generalizing never helps and I was a little disappointed with the message the unfortunate UoC student put out while painting all Indian men with one stroke of the brush. I sympathize though as she did have legitimate reasons for taking that particular stand. But as someone else pointed out, there are plenty of us here who would rush to help a lady – traveller or otherwise – in trouble without expecting anything in return. Every culture has a degree of misogyny but when one’s a traveler – a single woman in this case – a calculation of the risks involved and adequate precaution is necessary. Ultimately, you hope that the vividly positive memories shine brighter than the bad ones.

    Thanks for the read. And some pretty stunning photography too, I might add!

  • Singh

    Dear Candace,
    Thanks for sharing your views through this Article.
    I am an Indian guy and living in Europe.
    I can clearly understand your views and being Indian, I myself accept that there are a lot of bad men out there who are sex maniac however majority of people anywhere in the world are not bad. And we must not stereotype whole polpulaton.
    Wish you article is published in CNN too to give a new picture of Indian men to the world
    Thanks again for sharing

  • HI Candace,

    Thank you for this post. I’m so glad it has gone viral!
    Considering the huge population here, anything viral spreads fast!! 🙂

    I ve travelled alone on weekend trips to the hill station Ooty and the UNESCO heritage centre Hampi. Most places in Hampi (ancient ruins) do not catch the mobile signal so it should be unsafe, right? But never was I threatened. Its all about body language. Dress moderately, hold your head high, be friendly and go about your activities like you know what you’re doing.
    Definitely use common sense!!

    Please drop me a mail if you re planning to visit Bangalore!!

    Cheers

  • Hi Candace,

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful experiences in India. It inspired me to share a story of my own
    http://theyellowcycle.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/the-lone-traveller/

    It is most certainly, that people we meet, most often strangers who can touch our lives in the simplest ways.

  • Lakshya

    Wow. That’s a lot of comments. Its really great to see that you’re replying to all of them. Seems like you’ve taken more than the smiling advice from Mother Teresa. 😀

  • Ana

    Thank you for the beautiful photos and re-affirmations.

    I was shocked and disgusted after reading Michaela’s article, wondering if it really is that way for solo women travelers here. No matter how much I like to think of myself as a world citizen, India will always be home, and like many people, I have seen less of my home country than of the world.

    So to read something like this, in such a beautiful voice, is balm to the soul. Of course I’ve had my share of bad experiences, crowds are still difficult to handle, but there are good people everywhere.

    And I find it imperative to comment on your smile philosophy. Bless you for that.

    Rape or molestation is usually not about sex, it’s about power. It’s about men who have too little power over their lives, trying to take their frustrations out by conquering something, anything weaker.
    Your smile and engagement with them makes you a real person, not just an anonymous object to be groped or treated with carelessness.

    So even if your smile serves as an invitation to that one pervert (who would probably accost you anyway, regardless of your facial expression), it will serve to make you a friend to a lot of others. They will help you. Without expecting anything in return, except perhaps another smile.

  • Venkatesh

    Such a fantastic article . . . and more importantly loved the way you’ve written it Candace ,
    Me being an Indian can understand what you feel . . but in the end . . . what matters is perception . . an dthe way you look at it . . . Thats what my country has thought me all these years . . . M glad you had a good experiences . . .

  • Nikhil

    Thanks Candace ,

    For showing that the glass is half full too.. 🙂

  • Loved reading your post. It is so fresh, it almost smells like flowers to me. I am glad to see people willing to see beyond stereotypes and not to make others feel small, so that they can feel big.

    I came recently to study in USA. I have been asked to explain the Delhi rape incident 6 times in USA. Once by an old lady in a coffee shop in New York, and rest five times by PhD students in my department, my competitors in academics and all of a particular nationality who have never been to India and are not even interested to visit. It has become a convenient beating stick for some people. A guy telling me that he wanted to visit India, but now (after the rape incident) he wont because he fears for his safety. Ever heard of an ugly Chinese male tourist getting raped in India, or, for that matter anywhere in world? And then he added that he would love to take a dip in the Ganges, the holy river, only the water is so filthy. The bad part is that no matter what reply I think of giving, when someone reminds me of the incident, I feel so bad that I can hardly speak anything apart from mumbling “Yes! life is not that easy for women in India”. So many times I feel nervous while talking to women from other nationalities, worrying what they would be thinking of me since I am a male from India.

    Thanks for writing this article. It does justice to countless good friends and nice people that I have known all my life in India. Next time if someone mischievously mentions the Delhi incident to me they would get a befitting reply.

  • Please accept my sincere thanks for reflecting upon India in positive way .. and your blog has awesome flow about people and places. I must say during current conditions in India it is difficult to travel as woman alone and not safe on many occasions. However, by putting up people’s name and pictures you have shown others how one should behave and protect integrity of India . These are the people of honour who made you feel special as guest in my country. Also, they can be role models for those stupid and blind men who does not respect neither own or others wife or sisters. Once again. Thanks very much for those pics .. and Dadar is my home town 😀 so I know how busy and crowded Phool (flower ) Market is since 4 o clock in Morning … God bless you !

  • Thanks Candace. After reading Ms.Cross’s blog, i had a feeling that while she may have been a bit unfortunate to meet all kinds of sicko’s across India, she was also overstating some of her experiences. It takes all kinds to make the world, and we do have a lot of anti social elements here who cause trouble, but that does not mean all of us are like that! Think she was not really correct in painting the entire male population with the same brush.
    In India, single foreigner women also get a lot of attention because its not a norm for us to see women travelling alone (without male company). Someone of that attention maybe caring, welcome (like the guy who made your noodles) and some not (like Ms.Cross experienced).
    having said that, “be careful” is an advice i give to all the male / female travelers i have met so far. My sister, who is in UK currently gets the same advice from locals there. An foreigner in any country will be viewed with curiosity,as i was in Istanbul. As you said, be open, be warm, break that wall, but be careful, not too trusting. I think that helps one absorb and enjoy local culture in a fairly safe manner! Cheers!

  • I completely agree with you.. I also agree that there are problems with all the societies in this world. India is like a coin and you need to be positive about what you wanna look at.

    Thanks for bringing the counter.

  • A beautiful, beautiful post. You’re so right. Yes, bad things happen, everywhere in the world, but we shouldn’t focus on this negative and use it to generalize a country or a group on people. I’ve never been to India but I’ve wanted to for as long as I can remember. Next year, I’ll be visiting on my RTW trip. When I read the articles that have sprouted out of the recently reported horrific attacks on women in India, I feel fear even through I know these few experiences don’t reflect the country as a whole; I’m picking up on the fear of the authors and their closed-minded viewpoint. This fear-mongering does no one any good. Yes, it’s important for people (all people, not just women) to be aware that they need to be safe and sensible (wherever they travel, and at home), but focusing on the relatively few bad experiences instead of the countless positive experiences you could have when in India achieves nothing and simply discourages people from visiting and experiencing its wonderful culture. More articles such as yours should be published by the likes of CNN.

  • Sourabh

    Hi Candace,
    Thank you, so much for finding few good things about my country. I have been living in the USA for 5 years now and I feel we Indians as a whole are responsible for what a few people do to the foreigners (be any Black/White/East Asian foreigner). Whenever I read some body finds India bad I feel aghast that how can somebody treat any visitor in such a way!
    I could not dare reading the whole article fearing that I would be hurt for considerable long time and then will start cursing “bad men” of India for shabby behavior with a visitor.
    I want to say thanks for visiting India, please come again!

  • Lloyd Lasrado

    Don’t blog next that you got married to some dude in India… 🙂

  • Thank you so much. I really love this post.

    Nevertheless, being confronted, in a much easier and lighter manner to the same problem in Morocco, where I have been living for several years, I would like to point that

    “smiling in the street” and “smiling to people” are two very different things.

    The second one is wonderful, and the key to good relations and problem soliving, as you mention.
    The first one is a beacon and signal for problems.

    Here, and I would imagine in many other countries, being openly smiley to “anyone” is seen as a proposal, when you are a woman, especially a white foreigner, simple because a lot of men are looking for this opening and would take anything like a simple cough as a signal.

    “Smiling in the street” brings me problems. “Smiling when I exchange with people” brings me wonderful moments.

    But the difference had been difficult to learn, because I was used to smiling in the street, and when I realized I had to stop, I also started to stop smiling to people. Bad move (actually I can’t really stop smiling…)

    There is also something that shocked in the account of this poor student : she did not liked being filmed in Goa dance festival.

    So, “we” as a bunch of white people in exotic countries, whe shot, photograph and film people, often without taking into consideration their refusal, and we broadcast their pictures anywhere on the internet, but we do not accept being filmed ?

  • Candace, I teared reading this. The men are too sweet! Can’t wait to visit India this November!

  • Sanu

    I am an Indian and I would tend to agree with Smita. I am currently living in the Middle East there is a world of difference in the way a women’s security and safety is viewed. You can use public transport without any worries!!

    I would never recommend any young girl Indian or foreigner to travel on her own primarily because I don’t feel safe myself. Speak to any Indian girl who comes from states or cities like UP , Bihar, Haryana , Delhi ,Rajasthan , M.P. to know what it means to be a girl . Not to say that other cities are any safer.

    If I cannot feel secure for my daughters safety I would never recommend anybody else’s daughter to travel on her own.

  • Swetha

    Dear Candace,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. India is indeed a harsh environment, but it is so to any one living there. It unfortunately does not really discriminate between most races either – women are women to the perverted. I’m Indian myself, however I was raised in the United States and because of that, I try to be even more careful when maneuvering around by myself as I cannot speak the local language very well. I’ve found that most Indian men are just amused by foreigners and eager to share their own experiences. India is not completely terrible – it can be enjoyed but in order to do so, sometimes you have to prioritize safety over wanting to experience of being in India. That is what I’d like to advise any foreigner interested in coming to India.

  • Tanya Singh

    It’s not possible to walk in Delhi and feel completely safe, but if you are a foreigner, I think what does help is understanding that a lot of people who are staring at you, are more curious than lecherous. (in case you haven’t notice i’m sure some women stare at you rather uncomfortably too! ;P)

    How you made them feel comfortable – by talking to them, by smiling – you made them realise that you are a person after all, a ‘firang’ woman, yes, but you are not really that different from any Indian lady that they might find attractive.
    They might hit on you in their own strange way, but they’ll also start to respect you more once they STOP thinking of you as an exotic being, which they do if you yourself (and them consequently) think you are.

    The exceptions will always be there – the insensitive crude Indian men, for which we unfortunately and currently have no cure!

  • p0p0

    India is one sixth of living human. We’ve in blood respect , affection , love , adaption, acceleration , trust . Just shift/calibrate your measurement scale and you will see serious noble stuff. Good or Bad experience are function of one’s mindset .

  • As a woman who has traveled widely in India, both alone and with my husband (who is from Tamil Nadu) for more than twenty years, I can relate to much of what you and others have written. Like you, I smile easily at everyone, I speak enough Hindi to communicate and if I don’t like someone, I move off. My husband and I moved to India full time in the Fall of 2009. Having grown up and spent most of my life in New York City, I love my anonymity. In India, foreign men and women ARE stared at and there is a great deal of curiosity about them. I have been bothered by it at times, complained about it to my friends and family, but now have settled into seeing humor in everything, including having a “rock star” status in the small town where we live in in the Himalaya mountains, northeast of Delhi. To understand Indian society, one must always look at the deeper issues that have emerged after a long history of foreign occupation by the British and others, the deep economic inequities in India and the human desire for connection. I love India, it sometimes drives me mad, but overall, my experience living in India has changed me forever and I believe, for the better. I know how fortunate I am to have been born in the US and how fortunate I am to have had the incredible opportunity of knowing India. Jai Hind!

  • I read the CNN article when a friend shared it on Facebook and wrote, “This is why I would NEVER go to India.” (And that was from a travel writer. Sigh.) It was traumatizing to read the piece – no one should have to go through such things in life. But at the same time, I couldn’t help wondering the same thing: how was it that my experience in India was so different?

    Granted, I was only there for a month and I was with Alberto, so clearly we can’t compare the two experiences. But I loved my time there and I fell in love with the people, the energy, and country’s fervor. In the past decade of travel, nowhere else has quite captivated me like India did.

    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece, to show others a beautiful side of India. I can’t agree more with your last line, “do we choose to focus on the bad, or do we remember the Chotelal’s and Tara Singh’s and Pappa Kumar’s who changed us forever, and for good?”

  • Finally I found one foreigner who loves to write on India. Wht the media only shows bad about India, though some people like you really have some good experiences here. I should not comment on the crime here as I know yes crime rate is high but mostly tourist keep themselves safe by keeping a distance where needed. This post was really awesome.

    I hope you really come again & explore many new places and also help other ppl understand its not as bad as you think.

    Its not only about visiting India but, Foreign ppl do hate asians naturally as well. I am not sure why? May be because they dont have any idea what is the difference between Indians & Pakis or something else, I dont know….

  • Thanks for this wonderful write-up. I was born in India and lived there for 42 years. I traveled alone as a journalist and spent nights in forests and villages with complete strangers (mostly men). I traveled through the emptiest streets at the dead of night, and walked into the dingiest of factories to get a story. Nothing ever happened to me.
    I guess that’s because I struck a rapport with them the moment our eyes met. ‘Dada’ ‘Bhaiyaa’ (means ‘brother’) is the best way of approach, which instantly melts the suspicious look in their eyes. One smile will melt any man’s heart, however heartless. I walked off doing ‘sting’ operations with a smile.
    Best was a time when I approached a group of sinister looking men at a deserted location and told them helplessly, “Dada, look that man is following me.” (There was a man, actually). The group of men promptly became my protectors and started chasing the man. They even helped me get a rickshaw later and paid my fare.
    I love my country and its people. I hate it when it’s image to the world is tainted this way due to a few mishaps.

  • Divya

    Hi Candace!
    Its so good to read your account of India. I’m so glad you liked it! You’re welcome to stay in Pune (near Mumbai) with us (my husband & I) next time you choose to visit.
    Having grown up in India, I can say that what most of the women travellers write about is true, both the good & bad.
    Growing up, there were plenty of rules that my father laid down; being home by 8pm, not going into crowded areas alone, not being too friendly towards strangers.
    It was easier to just do as he requested rather than argue. (we’re both hot headed, stubborn mules! besides i am his princess!) But as I grew up, he’d let me take my own decisions, I’d just know which areas of the city were to be avoided, which men could potentially harm me.
    I have done my Engineering from the city of Pune & worked in the marketing field, attended classes that ended at 10pm, travelled across the city to get home by 11. I have always carried pepper spray, never had to use it though.

    What I feel about India, is that it is a beautifully enriching country; but you have to watch out for the creepy snakes that tarnish the beauty of this Eden.
    Everyone, men women, children, whether Indian or any other nationality must be vigilant about themselves, their belongings & just enjoy the ride.

    I, myself have had the “foreigner” experience, when I’ve travelled to the Himalayas & explored southern India with my family.
    I was stared at. There were men that made me uncomfortable. Each region had its own language & culture. Most of the times though, a simple smile broke the barrier!

  • Sandesh

    Thanks for posting the positive side of your travel to India. Being an Indian man who traveled extensively across the world I am always asked about Indian culture. I was pained to read the blog by Michaela (the lady from Univ. Of Chicago) and felt bad that she had so many bad experiences.

    But your post was very refreshing and made me feel good! Thank you for sharing your story. I hope that you will visit India again in the future and will have even more pleasant experiences! 🙂

    Also I really like it that you respond to each comment on your blog which in my opinion is great and speaks volumes of the fact that you value the opinions of others. Thanks once again for your post.

    Regards

  • Sujatha

    I absolutely love the way you have woven and associated your experiences in my home country with the people you met along the way. Its very easy to latch on to stereotypes and generalize a whole culture and population. One thing that is always helpful is to understand the culture, their societal behavior and attitude. Indians love to smile and a smile back goes a long way. Your approach and your attitude is very noteworthy. No place in the world is absolutely safe. I am gald you had a good time and would urge you visit this magnificent country of mine many more times.

  • Nandini

    It always feels good to read someone write so well and such nice things about my country.. about the streets i traveled on for years … about the train routes I took home three times a yr.. truly speaking India is a beautiful nation and we are great people. But knowing the good parts, I myself can’t ignore and deny the dark side…
    We are at a stage that praising the good side is just throwing a cover on the evil… it is better today that people read..understand and accept what happens everyday ..to every girl who has decided to walk out on her own… the streets are full of those who take every single opportunity they can to abuse the female population! the men of the nation should know that the only reason that their mother,sisters,daughters never told them about this is because it is not the best dinner table conversation!
    But even after this I would hope every person in the world gets an opportunity to visit my country…see the beauty amidst it… meet the absolutely lovely people and come back feeling they have gained something to cherish forever 🙂

  • Rak

    We made a little video on this hot topic. Uncredible India – the land of spiritual fulfilment or sexual harrassment. Watch this for the real story! And comments are most appreciated. We love a good debate!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqxHe_gjKYk

  • Jill HOuk

    Thank you for writing this. I read other posts on India, and they just didn’t add up to my own personal experiences. My husband lives in India for work, and I have visited that country so many times–with him, alone, with our 14-year-old son, and with female friends. I have not encountered any violence or unwanted advances. And, I agree, a smile–plus an awareness of your surroundings–goes a long way.

  • Really liked this post. I have never been to India, but would like to go. I don’t think the first article was very fair towards Indian-men and I’m an extreme feminist.

    The harassment sounded awful and I feel really bad for her. But I agree with the person who said to become part of the solution. All I got from that article was “if you’re a woman stay out of India.”

    It’s nice to read positive things about Indian men.

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  • Ravi Kumar

    Hi Candace,

    Thank you so much for this lovely article. I was getting tired of the western media highlighting only the negative things about India.

    It is almost like, you go to US and instead of talking about the amazing cities, universities and the advanced society, you talk only about shooting in schools, drugs, wars etc.

    I live in Denmark since last few years and have only positive things to say about this small but beautiful country. It would so unfair if I only talk about Cristiania (in Copenhagen) which is famous of lawlessness and drugs and nothing about the perfect society the Danes have created.

    I thank you very much for bringing the positive side of my motherland. Do visit us again.

    Best regards,
    Ravi

  • Wow, Candace. What a wonderfull post with beautiful pictures. And to create such a lively discusssion with so many comments! That’s an achievement as well.

    Let me first say that I admire your personality and your guts. I am a far less gutsy person and traveller; easily scared, shy, etc. You dare to and are able to make real contact with real people.
    Secondly: it’s always good to write about one’s personal experiences. Interesting for others to read that.

    I have spent 6 months in India over the last year and a half. My feelings are very mixed. Overwhelming it was for sure. I have had two unpleasant experiences with men, that I wrote about on my blog. As part of some posts I wrote about the position of women in India.

    I did not read about or from that american girl, but I think I understand her and believe her too.
    And smiling or not should not make any difference in one’s chances on sexual harrassment, ofcourse.

    It is a complex matter….

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences!

  • Hello Candace, I’m am Indian girl, who has lived in India. I have done my fair share of travelling within India and outside. I agree with your post, that Indian men shouldn’t be stereotyped… And it is true it also leads to racism. I remember on a trip to New York my polish – Canadian friend was stared at a lot and white American men passed comments only because she is tall, blonde and beautiful. This brings to light that men can be a@#holes every where. I apologise for the use of profanity, it’s due to a lack of a better word to describe such men. Living in India I have been groped, but as you mentioned I have also come across the good men on my travels. I live in Dubai now, but go back to India every few months, and I am vigilant no matter where I am, the good men are good and the bad always bad, and many a times (as proven on by the recent gang rapes) the bad out number the good, giving a smile to the wrong guy can also invite trouble. So yes it is best to always be careful, because we don’t know when will the day come, when women in India can just live free instead of living “careful.”

    Here is a link to my CNN iReport in lieu of Ms Ross’s story, if you’re in knowing more about my views on sexual harassment. http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1031497 if you have any comments on the post, they are always welcome.

    P.s. Tulsi is out holy plant, basil is just basil.

  • amy

    I left a comment on the Traveling Matt website, Candace.
    I agree with everything you wrote, and I lived in India for many years. I was very disturbed to see the CNN article passed around and shared, because I think-while I feel for her-I think her response was unusual. I also felt like she wasn’t prepared for India at all.

    As for smiling, you know, smiling is a good thing universally. But there are definitely times when not smiling and wearing sunglasses helps even more. This is particularly true when you traveling entirely alone, as I do. A smile can help, but it depends on the circumstances, always.

    The main things about India to remember is that the relationships between men and women are significantly different than in the United States, and therefore social cues and signals are interpreted differently. Wearing culturally appropriate clothing, paying attention to surroundings, and befriending Indian women can give women a better picture of what life is like for the average woman in India. It is an easy thing to befriend Indian men, because they are in the market and running the businesses we frequent on our visits…but to befriend women means cups of tea on the roof with the grandmothers and children, invitations to festivals and weddings, and a welcome to a group of special sisters who can guide you thru your experiences, helping you to discern what is culturally appropriate! For me, my women friends from India are the most important connections I have made, separating me from being a general tourist to a friend of the family.

    I love everything you wrote. It balances out the CNN article nicely. Great work. It was a necessary article that needed to be written, and I’m proud to know the woman who wrote it. amy gigi alexander

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  • Being an Indian woman, I guess I have a first-hand experience of both the advantages and the disadvantages of being female in India. I have been groped in trains, markets, and even while riding my bike! It is tough being a woman in this country. Even in a ‘cosmopolitan’ city like Mumbai, which is supposed to be the safest city for women in India, woman cannot really feel safe.
    However, I do have an experience to share that re-affirms my belief that men in India are portrayed in a bad light globally and nationally. I have traveled alone in this country. I have gone from Mumbai, to Dehradun (Uttarakhand) and even Dharamsala all alone. Never have I been molested or raped or even groped. In fact, one of my best journeys was via bus, alone, from Dehradun, to Delhi, to Jaipur, to Ahmedabad and finally to Mumbai. Most of the fellow travelers were male. Although I was a curious sight – a lone, young woman with a big backpack and who smoked bidis (Indian cigarettes) – no one even bothered me! That was really surprising. I’ll never forget it. I guess the key is to be alert and aware of who you speak to and how you present yourself in a new dynamic. But that long bus journey really made me braver and I will continue to travel alone in this country.

  • Rohan

    Dear Candace, I have been reading articles about India everyday and it was nice to see this piece stand out from the rest. Being an Indian, I do understand the difficulty and frustration a person goes through (more so if it is a woman), while travelling through the country. Also, the recent events have only shamed the country. I believe your article will be an assurance to many that there is still hope and all is not lost. Perhaps in a country of a billion, it is only right that atrocities such as this come to light. However, it is a beautiful country- people are warm and hospitable. Yes and there are always a few bad nuts…
    Also, Indians don’t like being generalized- there are many shades of grey here. I know many who would appreciate the timing of your article and would certainly thank you for putting us in a different light here. However, we will continue to bear the embarrassment till we see the situation improve. Hopefully, some of us see light at the end of the tunnel…
    Your article gives me hope!

  • Candace,

    I’m traveling to India in January with 2 friends to take part in the Rickshaw Run and the most common question people ask us about this is if we’re scared given all the recent media coverage in India. All 3 of us have previously traveled to India and we had quite different experiences than Michaela had. I think its wise to be prepared and aware, but I’m really excited to go back to India. As you’ve described I can think of several really positive interactions I had with Indian men on my previous trip. This was a great blog post!!

    • Kristine, I’m thrilled to hear you’ll be doing the January Rickshaw Run! I’m not sure if you made it to Jaisalmer when you were in India last, but it’s absolutely one of my favorite spots in the country – as is Kerala 🙂 Definitely give yourself enough time after you finish to go relax in the backwaters! I’m also really glad to hear you had such positive interactions last time, and I’m hoping you’ll find the run just as great an experience!

  • My friend and I are trying to decide whether or not to visit India this year… we are two young American women in our mid-twenties. We haven’t booked any flights yet, but had planned to fly into Delhi and travel to Rishikesh for two weeks or so in early December to visit ashrams and practice yoga/meditation.

    However since announcing those plans we have been continuously warned (particularly by some individuals who we greatly respect) against visiting India due to safety concerns to the point where we are leaning towards abandoning that leg of the trip.

    I have such a strong desire to visit India and experience the culture, particularly to study yoga and meditation. However, it’s becoming impossible to ignore the warnings and do it anyway, and I’m finding myself extremely disappointed. It’s nice to hear another perspective – I’m just still very unsure.

    • Bhai Saab

      Hello Hillary,

      In your research, you can safely ignore that CNN iReport – it’s largely false claims and stupid exaggeration.

      6 of my Canadian friends ( 4 women and 2 men) came to India with me 2 weeks ago, and they all are enjoying their stay without any problem. How?

      – Proper planning
      – Sufficient knowledge of Indian culture and day-to-day life
      – Right body language and communication skills

      That’s all. Nothing else is required to make your stay safe and enjoyable in India. It would be really disappointing if you strike India off your list just due to the skepticism created by the media. But if you’re willing to not let that come in your way, I might be able to help/train you like I did to my friends.

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  • I loved your article. I am an Indian woman living in New Delhi and have been subjected to gawking and harassment myself. But you are so right about not looking at the bad, but the good too. Most of my friends are men, and they all respect me like their equal. There have been countless strangers who have helped me when I needed it the most – a punctured car, a heavy bag…

    Sure, women need to be cautious and street smart now. We don’t have the luxury of being completely nonchalant. But let’s not generalise. Otherwise we won’t be able to trust more than half of a 1.2 billion population…

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  • I just came here finding out Traveller in India. Just got so attached to the photos you took. Just so beautiful. Your photography skills are best in these. Just splendid. I do often travel. Even I accompanied with few of my western friends and few from Russia few months ago. I have faced situation where I felt guilty of men around who behaved indecently and did had a word with them as well. I don’t get, what to say for that. Shame or feeling to smash those faces for their ways they treat woman, or the culture which makes them in a situation where finding woman so freely independent on their own life thinking that in such situation. I found it hard sometimes to protect them without few support from local police as well. I feel like prior to all this, what I felt is that, anyone who is coming to India should have an interaction with someone closely related here as distant family prior to visit, who can guide you, take you to really good places. Since India is not just beautiful places, but a different culture which only can be seen when you visit a family. I am truly ok with hate India situation, since I know even If I or any friend of mine face similar situation I would however join them. But we can’t change it until our people learn to behave. So as I said it’s the family which will show you true culture, food, festival and many different places across with family and friendly safety with you. Though I would really sorry if anyone faced bad situation earlier. If anyone would like to vist India I would make sure they do have great experience of culture, demography in future. We heartly welcome you all. And for few help to finding good places, staying and meeting families too 🙂

  • I love this article! When you mentioned from the other author, “And when we develop a negative stereotype for a population, what arises? Racism.” it hit me hard. I didnt realised I was being racist!

    I am glad that you have brought another light about India, and showed the pictures of the men who are good people and the sweet things they have done. Cause when someone mentioned India, I only have an image of lecherous men. Well, I travel alot as my husband had to travel for work, and I made the extreme choice of going back hotel by 8pm latest, to ensure I dont hang out late. Missed out alot, but i guess, I do that for safety, be it any country other than home.

  • Someshwar Dasgupta

    Thanks for writing positive aspects of my country INDIA.
    I as an Indian welcome all men/women to visit my country without fear & experience the beauty of it.

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  • Thanks a lot Candace for taking time to write this up. I now live in Hong Kong but I had been following all these posts coming from many female travellers recently. I have one very good friend from Checz republic and both of us are scientists. She wanted to do some work in India and I was trying to help her while conducting my own research. I study Orchids and she studies Gingers. We conducted lot of field work in India even in the interiors of rural areas and for 3 years no one said any odd comment or any odd behaviour with her. We even slept on railway platforms and road side dhabas….and today we carry all good experiences from India. I understand people get more repulsive when they read negative stories about India and so when they actually visit India they act very abruptly.
    Ofcourse whatever happened to visitors is not appreciable but sometimes it can be due to their own mistakes too. India is a wonderful country and you need a lot of time to explorer it. You just cant be repulsive about people and think that you can enjoy alone. Being friendly always helps.
    Thanks again for your good words.

  • Daniela

    Dear Candace,

    I have read the article written by the American student. It was her personal experience. Some handle it better than others. She said she felt attacked all the time, which is not the same as saying that all of India or all Indians are the same. I wish people would leave her alone, and I specially wish people would stop narrating what all they have done, where all they have gone and that nothing ever happened to them.
    This is a very superfluous discussion.
    The question is not wether or not India is safe for women.
    Whether or not there are places which are equally bad or worse – it does not matter.
    The situation in India needs to improve. Full stop. And that is toward which goal all energy ought to be spent.
    To qualify my words I might add that I have lived in India for close to a decade. But does it matter? I think not. I have had good days and I have had bad days. But my husband and I decided that our daughter deserves better than to grow up in India, and I think THAT is a much better statement about the situation of woman in India than saying that I was never raped, which I wasn’t.

  • ayush

    candice with deep respect i feel heartening to read this blog, you have present so much pure thoughts of your own.

    I’m indian i was born in new delhi but never liked this place because due it’s large population hot weather chaotic public transport. Wjhat makes me shock as an Indian is always poor projection of India by the west.
    And now the horrific gangrape makes India a gangrape country on world map seems scaring me more and frustrated me more like any other Indian.

    Believe me i’m scared to talk to a women (as already i’m a shy person), with deep courage i’m writing this comment to you.

    But when i go through your article it brings positive vibes inside me i think you’re the only foreigner journalist who capture full view of the geography and then put conclusion on this.

    Now i’ tell you the reason behind why India is so bad for women. We are nation of 1 billion people where more than 200 million youth is unemployed (including me i’ve completed my mba this year still can’t get a relevant job) the govt. is playing blame games eating ,public funds.

    See i’m not here try to prove who is responsible but the sad situation of this country makes India pathetic.

    Please if you can reply me back i want to know your views. Once again for showing a brighter side of a country.

  • I am a woman, an Indian and a traveler! I have solo quite a few times and fortunately I have had great experiences. I wouldn’t say that I always made wise choices, but somehow things were smooth for me on my trips. I love your interpretation on India – and how women can travel here. I think this ‘safety’ thing is blown out of the proportion. Some unfortunate incidents can’t put a stamp that a country is unsafe. There are many nice people out there, too. So, the bottom-line is to travel, but with caution and care.

  • I am from the midwestern United States, and I’ve been living in Northern India for a little more than 3 months. I have been working at a school, which has admittedly been a bit isolating, but I’ve done a little traveling, done the sleeper car thing (and loved it!) and I’m heading out on a month-long journey next week, beginning in Delhi and ending in Bangalore. I have had incredibly positive experiences in this amazing country, and, like you said in your post, it makes me cringe to see the way that India and its people are stereotyped and demonized. This is not to say that my experiences have been devoid of negativity or frustration, but I agree with you that a smile and a “how are you?” go such a long way in creating relationship, rather than relying on stereotypes.

    Chimimanda Adichie has a beautiful TED talk about the importance of story in creating a cultural voice. If we only listen to one person’s story, we get a stereotype. If we have the patience and the grace to listen to a multitude, we can no longer make snap judgements about the people we meet. http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

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  • You deserve a pat on your back for showing that respect begets respect. If you tend to look down on people, you also cut yourself off and that in a way makes you vulnerable.

    Reminds me of an incident when I took a white friend of mine to interiors of the country and she was happy clicking people the whole day, but the moments others started clicking her, she started throwing tantrums. I had to explain her that they were as curious about her as she was about them and we all pick up our cameras for people unlike us. Thankfully, she understood.

  • Thanks for this article Candace, I have lived and travelled and unravelling in India for 20 years. I am aware that as travelers and guests in this country we have privileges that our Indian sisters do not and while their issues are very real and need to be addressed, the idea that western women are less safe here than in any other country is kind of racist and separatist.
    We are all (as they say in India) fingers on the same hand, some good and some not so good.
    I honour and respect the many men I have met and befriended in India who have become as brothers to me, who have treated my family as their own and who will be friends for many lifetimes to come. The issue of womens safety in India is something that we all need to work on together and to do that we need to reach across the barriers and start talking.
    Stay blessed

  • Simply just desired to tell you Now i am glad that i happened in your web page!

  • I spend most winters in Nagpur, India, working with a community development organization, and my experiences among the Indians has been mostLy heartwarming and mainly positive. They invite me to their parties, welcome me into their homes, are helpful when I shop and travel. I, too, have been in a train sleeper compartment with all men and no problems whatsoever. My issue with India is the low status of women, the value they place on the male child vs the girl child, bride burnings, infanticide and other horrors. As a foreign women, my heartache is how Indian women are treated, not how I am treated.

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  • UBER_WITTY_LEVITATING_YOGI

    Dear Candace,

    Read your article with tremendous interest. While Michaela Cross, I am sure had genuine reasons for her personal trauma in India, I know of many western women like you who have had wonderful , rich experiences in India. Some have even met their Indian Prince charming and brought them back home !
    So, being an Indian man I wish I could reach out to Michaela Cross , give her a loving cyber-hug and prove to her that not all Indian men are pigs. Her experiences I am sure were traumatic.

    But having said that, India can be a dangerous country for women but so are other places. After all, the US ranks number one in sheer number of rapes committed every year and most rapes in the US are “not black on white ” rapes as obsessively ( or racially?) reported by the american media but “white on white rapes” . a hard cold fact that is conveniently ignored by the american media.

    While Indian people in general are very hospitable towards foreigners especially “white” and East Asian foreigners they can also be obssessive towards them. There is a lot of prejudice towards African and middle-easterners especially Muslims and Arabs in India. So, most black and middle-eastern women never get any attention in India!

    There is indeed an Indian stereotype that “white” foreign women are loose. This is based on what the media presents, Hollywood, Bollywood and of course western pornography. So, many Indian men who have never met a white person let alone a white woman have no personal experience to go by except the stereotype. This by no way should be used as an excuse for sexual harassment an/or rape. Indian society does have indeed serious issues of mysogyny and sexism. There needs to be a massive change in terms of women’s rights as in the feminist movement of the 60s in america and the west.

    There are Indian “old farts” from previous generations still hanging onto dubious “values and traditions” going back to the 9th century ! These old, ossified “patriarchs” refuse to allow any sort of change using the pretext of preserving “culture and traditions”.

    There are also regional and religious differences. The south of India is safer than the north. Some say this is so because the North had more islamic influence because of muslim colonization of north India Hence the north has adopted more islamic style “cultural values” which tend to be more hostile to women. In fact, the “Hindi” word for woman is “Aurat” which is not an Indian word but from Arabic and in Arabic it is very derogatory towards women. You can loom it up and if you used it in india , you’d be embarrased too ! The Sanskrit, pre-islamic word for women is Nari, which in its “deepest” essence means Lotus Goddess. So, most Indians when they call a woman “Aurat” they are using an Arabic derogatory term for women and are clue-less about the subtle Arabic/muslim colonialism that influenced them to abandon a beautiful sanskrit word for women !

    India is culturally uber complex. A Tamil or Goan from the south has about as much culturally in common with say a Punjabi or a Bihari in the north as a Greek with a Finn or an Englishman with a Corsican. In fact, geographically India is larger than western Europe and has more religions, languages , castes, creeds , ethnicities than Western Europe and therefore more cultures and sub-culture. Ther is no such thing as “Indian culture!”.

    So, it is almost impossible to generalize about India hence the name , “Indian sub-continent”

    There are several reasons why India is experiencing this “rape coverage”. Indian media is now more aware more so than ever of gender problems in India. More and more , educated Indian women are now in positions of power and willing to thumb their noses at the male sexist, mysogynist patriarchy, willing to take on the establishment and expose the “rape crisis” in India.

    It is also a class issue. Men in the lower classes in general have never traveled abroad or interacted with the Indian middle-class or upper-classes except as menial workers, drivers, gardners, cooks, etc. Most rape cases in recent years in India have been of lower-class, uneducated Indian men assaulting Indian women from the upper, educated classes as in the Delhi gang rape case. Likewise, foreign women have been assaulted by these men from lower classes because foreign women are perceived to be “loose”, a novelty and someone they would perceive akin to the “unobtainable” Indian upper-class. It is like the rapes that occur in the ghettos and barrios of america. Black on white rape in america is a gender issue indeed but it also a class issue, a racial issue.

    I have traveled to India with two of my western partners ( I am Indian) , my ex-wife and my current partner both “white” of Northern European ancestry. In both cases, men backed off once they realized that the women had a “partner” , ie, moi and behaved well especially if they were from slightly westernized educated, middle to upper-classes. But, in dealing with the lower classes in India one had to be careful because they don’t have the same boundaries and as explained above for them this is not just a gender issue but a class issue. Kinda like the analogy, I made in economically and racially disenfranchised ghettos and barrios of america.

    But, in america there is a strong racial element to it too. The US ranks number one in terms of sheer number of rapes committed per year, India is not far behind . Most of it is not black on white but white on white by a margin of 3:1 as compared to black on white. But, the reporting of white on white rape is much lower than black on white rape. Besides, the conviction rate of black on white as compared to white on white rape is much higher by about five fold.

    In conclusion, India is going through tremendous change. There are all kinds of conflicts tearing the country apart from the seams which often hurts the most vulnerable in society, namely women. There are religious, sectarian, caste, class, economic issues re-branding, re-framing and reforming Indian society.

    Hopefully, all this exposure will make Indians think and think hard as to what kind of society do they want themselves to be , the equitable, “socialist” society that Gandhi dreamed of kinda similar to Asia’s version of Utopian Scandinavia or the harsh, self-absorbed, narcissistic Ayn Rand like , hyper-capitalistic , “winner take all , you are on your own” society of america with all its good and bad points !

    Anyway, you are a lovely writer, charmed by your positive experiences in India and impressed by your intellect.

  • Siddhartha

    I think it will take a 100 years maybe more for India to be like the west , ie for women to have dignity, respect and equal rights. While India is technologically now competitive with the west and is projected to economically surpass many European countries sucha as Britain, France, Italy by 2025, She has yet to yet to shed her 5500 year old baggage that keeps women down. It took Europe and america almost 150 years after the industrial revolution to provide equal rights, respect and dignity to women.

    As a man, it is disheartening to read about all this gender related violence. It is time for Indian men to take full responsibility, hang their heads in shame and evolve into the 21st century. Indian men grow up right from childhood worshiping, praying to and respecting millions of imaginary Goddesses in the Heavens in the Hindu pantheon but can’t seem to know as to how to provide the same level of adulation and respect for the living Goddesses here on planet earth!

  • Vedha

    Thank you, Candace.

  • Great article. So positive. I have read so many things recently about how bad India is for women, so it is great to hear a positive story where a single female got on well and met some good people.

  • Useful info. Lucky me I discovered your website unintentionally, and I am shocked why this coincidence did not came about in
    advance! I bookmarked it.

  • Danielle

    I love your account of the warmth you found while traveling throughout India & even more so, your photos. I agree with you 110% that connecting with others; through smiles or even a simple phrase in Hindi goes a long way. I traveled to Mumbai two x’s back in 2004 & 2005 for work. Each time, I flew alone & spent nearly the entire trip alone except to dine with clients in the evenings. I found the country to be remarkable and amazing! This was not my first experience outside the US so I don’t think “culture shock” is a fitting way to describe my journey there. I do remember being asked on one of the return connecting flights in Germany, “How are you traveling alone and does your husband let you go alone?” by a husband and wife who were going to the US for the first time. I laughed & said, “Oh yes, he certainly knows & encouraged me to take this trip for work!” You would be hard pressed to find an Indian couple that has already spent time in the US to find my travel surprising. There are cultural differences, of course….that is to be expected. My most defining moment was meeting children on the streets who had nobody to turn to, nothing to wear, eat, etc. It’s hard to imagine surviving under such circumstances or seeing children as young as 3 asking for money while out at the ATM late at night. Yet, within the heartbreak is staggering beauty of human spirit and a history and culture that is rich…so very rich. What most Americans may have a hard time grasping, in general, is that many people in this world are spiritually rich but do not have all the outward appearance of wealth aka trappings and material abundance. That is too bad that some people never learn this. My travel around this world has been such a precious gift and I would never trade it…for example–for a Porshe! I know this is not well understood by many, though…and that is okay w/ me 🙂

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  • Tushar

    I really liked your post. And i want to thank you a lot for sharing your positive experience.

  • Perfect article. This will definitely help people travelling to India for medical treatments as well. Now a days people want to travel to India for medical treatments for low cost but due to security reasons they somehow want to double check on internet about being travelling to India safely.

  • Lorena

    This post makes me so happy!

    I spent 5 months in India in 2011/2012 and immediately fell in love with this incredible country. It is crazy, it is intense and you either love it or hate it, but you should never ever miss out on it.

    Of course it is true that India is not the safest place on earth, especially for women. But why shouldn’t you experience this magical place, just because something MIGHT happen – something which could easily happen in a Western country? Be open-minded and use common sense! I’m not saying that all the women who had bad experiences did not prepare or were naive or did not use their common sense, hell no! But all the stereotyping (which sadly often comes from people who haven’t been to India in the first place or only for a short time) and drawing conclusions and generalisations because of what they’ve seen in the news, makes me really sad. And it makes me angry. India does have a lot of problems and there are certainly bad people living there – it can be dangerous! That does not mean that it is always like that. That does not mean that it is everywhere. And it does not mean that you cannot have the time of your life there. I would always, ALWAYS recommend travelling to India to anyone – to the people who I think will probably indulge in and enjoy the experience, but also to the people who are very likely to hate it. Because it is incredible. Because it will change you. Because not every Indian is a rapist! And because you should never be scared of an amazing experience. I miss India every day and go back as often as possible.

    Thank you so much for this article, it really got to me! It makes me miss my India even more (shame on you!) and it makes me happy to read that there are also people who encourage other women to travel to India. THANK YOU!

  • Very well written piece and truly enjoyed it. I totally agree that a smile can work wonders! It has helped me make friends be it in India or UK or more recently Portugal. If we want people to warm up to us we need to just give them a smile! Being hostile only could make things worse, that’s what I think makes such men think such women are a challenge for them!!!

  • I´m really happy to stumble across your post. I´m going to India in March for 3 months on my own. Normally I´m an open & smiley person and have found this has always worked for me in life, but India is different. On reading other posts and articles I was concerned I was going to have to walk about stony faced never making eye contact to avoid being hassled. I plan t dress the part, but it´s a relief to hear I haven´t got to keep check on my mouth the whole time, that seams to smile not always knowingly, just out of habit!

  • Candace I loved the way you tried to break stereotypes in such a hassle-free manner. Congratulations for that. I’m going through your blog for the first time and am certainly coming back for more.

  • Jessica

    My first trip to India was in 2006…I’ll never forget getting off that plane and the ride to our hotel room in Mumbai. My boyfriend and I spent 4 months traveling the country visiting Goa, Chennai, the Andaman Islands, Delhi, Jaipur, and as much of the Himalayan Mountains as we could! I left India feeling this same love/hate relationship so many of you talk about. Since my first trip, I have returned to India every year….falling more in love and feeling more at home with every trip.
    We have always strayed away from major tourist sites (7 trips to India and we still haven’t visited the Taj Mahal) and tend to spend most of our time in shanti villages. My boyfriend is 6’2″ and stands a foot taller than most Indian men. Even with him by my side, I’ve had my run-ins with a few “kuttas” (Hindi word for male dog). There was the man in Paharganj in Delhi who slapped my ass in the middle of the street. There was a collection of young boys in Jaipur who blew me kisses and made licking jectures at me from the street while I waited for my bus to depart. There was the boy at the Delhi train station who grabbed my chest to distract me while he slipped his hand into my bag and stole my wallet. Then, there was this man is Mumbai who trying to force his way into the bathroom stale I was in at a restaurant. In every situation, I alerted another Indian man of my discomfort. Two shop keepers chased the man who slapped my ass down the street and yelled and shamed him in front hundreds. I spoke to the one of the men sitting in front of me on the bus and asked him how to say “you are being rude and making me feel uncomfortable” in hindi and nodded to the boys in the street. He opened his window and started yelling at the boys in Hindi. The boys were so embarrassed as the walked away from the bus. The man in the restaurant was asked to leave the restaurant by the owner’s son and was told they would call the police if he ever returned. And as for the boy at the train station…well he got away. His boob grabbing distraction technique worked and he successfully stole my wallet…which had Rs150 in it. Well done sir.
    Anyways, all of these stories ( a bit laughable in retrospect) could not outweigh all the magical times I’ve shared, all the wonderful people I’ve met, and the life-changing experiences I’ve had in India.
    Beautiful article Candace….I too have an album full of Indian men who are close to my heart. I feel like maybe I’ve met Tara Singh before…sub kuch milega!
    Om namah shivaya!
    Jessica

    • Abhiiiiiiiiii

      Sab kuch milega. On namah shivay ! Lol 😀

  • chloe

    I come from a small town in new zealand where recently two hitchhikers were attacked and ended up in hospital . They had to jump out of a moving vehicle to escape. These girls had been all over the world yet they got unlucky in a very low crime rate country.
    I understand what you are trying to say ,

    However , I find the way you talk about the victim disgusting. Its all most as if you are implying that the way she acted , not smiling , caused the things that happened to her.And by doing that you are taking blame from the men and placing it on her.

    Of course it is wrong to paint all Indian men with the same brush BUT it is important to realize that this is a country with major womens rights issues. An Indian actress was raped recently and the courts decided it was her fault for not being married (she was in a relationship with the offender) . This is a place where honor killings still take place.

    Are you more at risk as a white women ? I have no idea. My friend from India says she never walks around unless she is with a large group of women but usually has a male to escort her whether or not she is with other people. I think it is more an issue of being alone. That said the problem is not that women shouldn’t walk alone it is a cultural issue that many other countries suffer too.

    • Devan

      India is the only place where you can be charged for rape if you fail to marry the girlfriend you had consensual sex with. The actress you are talking about had consensual sex with her boyfriend who promised to marry her, but then broke up later. So, as per Indian law, all the consensual sex they had during the course of their relationship were now separate incidents of rape. In such cases, the courts only have to decide whether or not the man actually tried to marry her or whether the woman resisted marriage at any point. This law is thoroughly abused by women here.

      The major women’s rights issue that you so confidently claim is nothing but a series of Google-searches that you have performed. Ask the women’s rights group here if they have anything left to fight for from the government. They are instead debating how to make the laws less anti-male and stop their rampant misuse.

      Are white women safe in India? Check out the “British Behavior Abroad Report” to get an idea.

      The personal anecdote of your friend: right, I have really not seen any woman walking alone in India ever, and as a husband and a father of two daughters, I spend 18 hours a day just escorting my wife, daughters and mom back and forth from temple visits, office, college, visit to friends, shopping, and myriad other places they visit. I’m actually an unpaid escort.

      My advice: the paranoid should stay away from India, we really don’t want you here. The Indian tourism industry has been growing at a steady rate of 8% y-o-y (one of the fastest growth rate) despite all the scaremongering and campaigns of misinformation. Stop analyzing India, It will take you more than one lifetime to understand India and realize that although it’s not better than developed countries, it’s also not as much of a quagmire the negative press claims it to be.

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  • Sahil Suri

    I’m happy you had such a beautiful and memorable trip.

    Also, Sikkim and Darjeeling are worth a visit.
    https://photos.google.com/story/AF1QipN-2p4-Sl3O8PqJR6FUn_afnZqZMg8bkIVcpP1yIuAHWtkE3sDkH81Zyx4QYKDkJw

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