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Stay Safe

As a rule India is quite safe for foreigners, apart from instances of petty crime and theft common to any developing country, as long as certain basic precautions are observed(i.e. women travellers avoiding travelling alone at night, etc). However, you can check with your embassy and ask for local advice before heading to Kashmir or northeast India (Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur), as both areas have long-running insurgencies. Also take extra caution when traveling at night in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and downmarket districts of large cities.

Unfortunately theft is quite common in places visited by tourists, but violent thefts hardly ever occur. More likely a thief will pick your pocket (see pickpockets) or break into your room. There is little risk of street robbery in India.

Some people handling your cash will try to shortchange you or rip you off. In Delhi particularly, this is a universal rule adhered to by all who handle westerners' cash. This does not exclude official ticket sellers at tourist sites, police employees at prepaid taxi stands, or merchants in all but the most upscale businesses. Count your cash before handing it over, and be insistent on receiving the correct change.

Agree on all fares and payments for services clearly in advance; some people go as far as to write them on paper! Being told that you can pay "as you like" is a sure warning sign. Don't give more than agreed, no matter what explanation is offered at the time of payment. Just take your belongings, pay what was originally agreed and walk away. The first time this happens, on your first taxi ride in India, this may be awkward, but the fifteenth time it happens, on your fifteenth taxi ride, it will be second nature. When travelling by autorickshaw, never ever get into the vehicle if there is another person accompanying the driver. This always spells trouble for unwary travellers.

Overseas visitors, particularly women, attract the attention of beggars, frauds and touts. Beggars will often go as far as touching you, and following you tugging on your sleeve. It does little good to get angry or to say "No" loudly. The best response is to look unconcerned and ignore the behavior. The more attention you pay to a beggar or a tout -- positive or negative -- the longer they will follow you hoping for a payback. Giving money to beggars in public is not safe as it will result in a stampede of beggars from all directions. As always in India, patience is required. Wearing local clothes will decrease the amount of attention you receive.

Travelers should not trust strangers offering assistance or services; see Common scams. Be particularly wary of frauds at tourist attractions such as the temples of Kanchipuram, where they prey on those unfamiliar with local and religious customs. If a priest or guide offers to treat you to a religious ceremony, find out what it will cost you first, and do not allow yourself to be pressured into making "donations" of thousands of rupees simply walk away if you feel uncomfortable. However, don't get too paranoid: fellow travelers on the train, or Indian families who want to take your picture on their own camera, for example, are often just genuinely curious.

Travelers should be cautious when visiting villages and rural areas in the night. Bandits occasionally abduct and rob tourists, as it is assumed they possess large amounts of wealth. But this is rare and happens most often in remote areas. Ask at your hotel to see if this is an issue in your area. Also, think twice about taking night buses or driving at night in these areas. Bandits are said to stop night buses with fake checkpoints and rob everyone inside. The frequency of this occurring is extremely low and the state governments are working hard to arrest these bandit groups, but take extra care nonetheless.

Historically, homosexuality has been illegal in India, with a maximum penalty of 10 years. Actual prosecutions were rare. There is a vibrant gay nightlife existing in metropolitan areas and some (but very few) openly gay celebrities. On the other hand, the law was used as a tool by policemen to harrass gays cruising on the streets. In July 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled the anti-gay law unconstitutional. This presumptively decriminalizes homosexuality in India, unless other state high courts disagree or the Supreme Court rules otherwise. Whether this will actually lead to an end to harrassment is to be seen.

Whereas Indian men can be really eager to talk to travelers, women in India often refrain from contact with men. It is an unfortunate fact that if you are a man and you approach a woman in India for even an innocuous purpose like asking for directions, you are putting her on the defensive. It is better to ask a man if one is available (there usually will be), or be extra respectful if you are asking a woman.

Female Travellers

India is a conservative country and some Western habits are perceived as dishonorable for a woman.

  • Outside of the larger cities, it is unusual for people of the opposite sex to touch each other in public. Even couples (married or otherwise) refrain from public displays of affection. Therefore, it is advised that you do not shake hands with a person of the opposite sex unless the other person extends his/her hand first. The greeting among Hindus is to bring your palms together in front of your chest, or simply saying 'Namaste', or 'Namaskar'. Both forms are equally polite and correct, if a little formal. Almost all the people (even if they don't know English) do understand a "Hi" or a "Hello".
  • Except in major cities (and only in trendy places or in high society) women do not smoke. Though in some rural areas women do smoke, but discreetly. A woman who smokes/drinks is associated with loose moral character in much of the rest of the country's growing middle class.
  • Places such as Discos/Dance clubs are less-conservative areas. It is good to leave your things at a hotel and head down there for a drink and some light conversation.
  • People are fully-clothed even at the beach. So, be sure to find out what the appropriate attire is for the beach you are visiting. In some rare places like Goa, where the visitors to beach are predominantly foreigners, it is permissible to wear bikinis on the beach but it is still offensive to go about dressed in western swim wear away from the beach. There are a few beaches where women (mostly foreigners) sunbathe topless but make sure there it is safe and accepted before you do so.
  • It's not so safe to walk on the street if you are solo female traveller. Sex crime against tourists are occuring in some tourists spots. If you have to, you should wear dress modestly. Never walk on the street or take a taxi or auto-ricksaw with provocative clothes such as tight shorts, miniskirt, sports bra, tanktop, or other clothes which expose much skin.
  • In local/suburban trains, there are usually cars reserved only for women and designated as such on their front. This reserved car is usually (but not always) the third last compartment.
  • In most buses (private and public) a few seats at the front of the bus are reserved for women, Usually these seats will be occupied by men and, very often, they vacate the place when a female stands near gesturing her intention to sit there. In many parts of the country, women will not share a seat with a man other than her spouse. If you sit near a man, he may stand up from the seat and give the place to you; this is a sign of respect, NOT rudeness.
  • Street parties for holidays are usually filled with crowds of inebriated men. During festivals such as Holi, New Year's Eve, and even Christmas Eve, women can be subjected to groping and sexually aggressive behaviour from these crowds, particularly in the northern and some western parts. It is unsafe for women to attend these festivities alone.
  • Friendly conversation with men you meet on trains, etc. is often confused with flirtation/availability. In some scenarios, this can lead to unexpected sexual advances (this happens to Indian women as well, not just Westerners). Befriending Indian women, however, can be a wonderful experience for female travellers, though you might have to initiate conversation.
  • It's not disrespectful for a woman to tell a man eager to talk to her that she doesn't want to talk - so if a man's behaviour makes you uncomfortable, say so firmly.
  • Dressing in traditional Indian clothes, such as salwaar kameez (comfortable) or saree (more formal and difficult to wear) will generally garner Western women more respect in the eyes of locals. Show some enthusiasm for the traditional Indian way of life and you may find that men will treat you more like a 'lady' than an object.
  • "Eve Teasing" is the most common term used in Indian English to refer to anything from unwanted verbal advances to physical sexual assault.