To travel far and beyond is a wish of many, almost everybody. Similarly, to travel safe and solo in her own country is a wish of almost every Indian woman. So the question is “Is it really safe?” Well, nobody can answer that question with absolute certainty. However, a woman who has travelled that road at least once can definitely share her experience.
10 nights and 11 days of Himachal and Amritsar: a trip of a lifetime, I shall call it. Sometimes all you need to plan a wonderful trip is an enthusiastic companion and courage, apart from time and money: a good companion (self-company included) to create and share the memories with and courage to face the challenges that are bound to come your way. If someone tells you travelling alone (especially for a woman or women in India) is a piece of cake, he/she is obviously lying or has no experience. Also, if someone tells you that such a task is impossible, then again he/she is exaggerating or has never had the courage to try it.
My wonderful companion, a close female friend, and I started our trip from Bangalore to Delhi by flight. Then, we hired a car for the entire trip that took us to Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala, Dalhousie, Amritsar, Chandigarh, and back to Delhi. We had the privilege of the pleasant company of our driver, who was from Himachal and had great knowledge of the places around. It astonishes me how one can learn so much about a place and the culture by just interacting with the locals of that place. As far as safety was concerned, we felt absolutely safe and comfortable with our escort.
Safety tip 1: Choose an escort or rental service from a well established agency and make sure the agency is informed about the traveller(s) being solo woman/women so that they take extra precautions while choosing the right escort.
We started our trip early in the morning from Bangalore and managed to cross five states and reach Shimla by night fall.
Safety tip 2: Another important aspect of safe travel is a well-scheduled itinerary. One must make sure the travel time is mostly during daylight and reach the hotel/homestay before dusk. This also ensures that you get a good night’s rest after a long day and keeps you energised for the adventures of the following day.
One can be careful, but never be too careful. Unpleasant situations may arise anytime without any prior notice. One such event happened to us in Khajjiar, Dalhousie. Khajjiar is a beautiful vast plain bordered by pine trees with the backdrop of scenic hills. It is a place where adventure games such as paragliding, horse riding, and zorbing are offered to tourists. Like many other tourist sites, this place is packed with photographers who insist on clicking your photographs and printing them within few minutes. One such guy pestered us for quite sometime and managed to convince us to go a little inside the woods bordering the plain, where according to him was a scenic location to click photos. I need to give credit to my friend here, for she had a bad feeling about this from the beginning. I on the other hand being the I-am-way-too-optimistic-for-reality kind had to learn things the hard way. The minute we entered the woods and found it isolated, our sense of unease spread like wildfire. To confirm our fears, the guy started behaving too friendly and invading our personal space. We, thank God for our common sense, decided instantly that we wanted to take photos of people and horses on the main field and walked back to the main area without giving the way-too-friendly photographer an explanation for our coordinated change of mind.
Safety tip 3: My experience marks this as the most important part of safe travel. Trust your instincts and use common sense at all times. Do not get carried away by your excitement.
With an exception of this not-so-pleasant experience, we had quite an amazing trip and met some wonderful people who were kind and decent. Having had the experience of travelling to quite a lot of places, I can say that Himachal and Amritsar are pretty safe for women travellers. These places must surely be on one’s bucket list for travel in India.
Speaking of bucket lists, here is what you can do (I insist you do) at the following destinations for guaranteed fun/joy:
Haryana/Chandigarh: Eat authentic punjabi food at a highway dabha.
Shimla: Shop till you drop. All those pashminas and soft wool (sigh)! Also, buy some local apple wines and juices.
Manali: Visit Old Manali and take part in a karaoke night at a local cafe.
Dharamshala: Turn those huge prayer wheels at the local monastery.
Amritsar: Buy those amazing Juttis from the Jutti Bazaar. Witness the gate closing event at the Attari-Wagah border.
One can never predict the kind of experiences one might have and hence that leaves us wanderers with only one option: Take chances and have courage to explore, for you might just have an life-altering trip, an important life lesson, or (like in my case) maybe both.