In the past few months, three incidents of rape and attempted rape in India have made international headlines and have unfortunately branded India as an unsafe destination for tourists. As appalling as the recent incidents have been, they are a gross misrepresentation of what most visitors experience - a very safe and friendly environment. India is a complex country with almost 1.3 billion people and even the most seasoned traveler can find the country to be a difficult place to navigate and integrate. This is why Sodha Travel partners with a destination management company with over 50 years of experience providing travelers with safe and enriching travel experiences.
India is bridged between my personal and professional lives. As the owner of Sodha Travel and a Certified India Destination Specialist, I write about India, teach about India, and coordinate packages for travelers to India. I am also an American woman, avid traveler, and married to a man from Delhi. As a female who has traveled to India many times in various capacities – professionally, leisurely, alone, with friends and with family – I have personally found my experiences very rewarding. And I am not alone. Last year, over 30% of our clients were solo women travelers and had delightful and enchanting trips. The unrivaled hospitality and approachable locals makes India one of the most welcoming places to visit.
There was a recent AP article titled High Profile Rapes Threaten India Tourist Business. In the article, Amy Manson believed “India's tourist business will be damaged if it doesn't take action to protect women.” India, like the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Canada, and countless other countries, has laws protecting women. Laws are made, and people break laws, regardless of the country. Since December, India has even enacted new laws aimed to improve women's safety and personal rights. In reference to the women in the article who were groped and fondled in India, unfortunately the same thing happened to me – though not in India. I had a few men try to touch me inappropriately in Europe and a man try to forcefully enter my train compartment to “sleep” in Prague. Many of us are aware of Sarai Sierra, an American woman who was murdered in Istanbul. Two weeks ago, a woman was gang-raped on a bus in Rio de Janeiro. These examples are not to diminish the crimes in India, but just to demonstrate that assaults and violent crimes are not country-specific. India is a conservative country and women (and men) should be vigilant and aware – but not fearful.
Professionally, I advise all my clients – not just women – to be prepared and educated about their destinations. If not using a reputable agent or tour operator, research the country before traveling. What may seem safe and “normal” in some cultures may be unsafe or disrespectful in others. When traveling independently, get connected with locals and really learn about the regions you are visiting – the behaviors, the customs, and even the law. As India Destination Specialists, this is our job - to know the country, understand the needs of our clients, and provide safe, comfortable, and enchanting experiences.
I understand that some may believe I am writing this post subjectively. If travelers do not feel safe visiting India, it is chain reaction, and our business will be affected. However, this is not about profits. This is about safety and understanding how and where to travel in a foreign country. When I started Sodha Travel, it was my philosophy that I will not, under any circumstance, reserve a package or service that I would not personally take myself. This commitment remains today, stronger than ever.
Ultimately, crime is present even in the safest destinations. As foreigners – solo or with companions – we will be targeted more. For me, the value of learning and engaging with another culture means I journey on with a sense of adventure and vigilance, and our Sodha Travel team will do the same. As one of our clients recently wrote, "Visiting India was like a dream - the landscape itself was a spectacular backdrop to a world so colorful, so authentic, and so much more than can be imagined. I never wanted to wake up."
Tell us, will you still travel to India in light of the recent headlines?