Safety in India – What you need to know
In this post, I will be talking about important information you need to know about staying safe while travelling in India. While most trips to this incredible country go without any issue, there are still certain considerations to make. Being in the know can minimalise your chances of it all ending in tears. In this post on safety in India, I will be covering everything I missed in previous articles on the subject.
I hope you found my first post is it safe to travel in India to be useful and if you missed it check out the link. I have also covered my tricks and tips on staying healthy while you travel. I must make it clear that in no way, I am a medical professional. I do have over four and a half years of experience travelling in the area. So I have developed a tried and tested method to help aid in keeping myself healthy on the road I would like to share with my readers.
I also have a whole post dedicated to the safety of female backpackers on the road, so feel free to check them all out if you wish. I have built a complete repertoire of resources for my readers to utilise. It is a big step for someone to take their dreams of backpacking in India and turn them into a reality. My posts are aimed at alleviating some of the concerns and anxieties you may have on the challenges that may face you and what to do should they arise.
As a rule, the local police tend to leave tourists be and its best to keep it that way. Police corruption is rife due to poor wages, so you don’t want any problems. In the event, you do face a legal issue consult your embassy immediately. My advice would be to seek the best possible legal counsel you can afford. Being held on remand is common while a court date is set, and this can take months. In the event, the police stop you do what they ask and remain calm.
Drugs are widely available in India but do bear in mind even a small amount of drugs can get you ten years inside. Weed in many parts of the country is simply just a weed and is wildly peddled to tourists. But it is only legal in Rajasthan and only from licenced places. There have been numerous reports of stings on tourist hotspots like Goa and Manali. You can often see Sadus ( Hindu holy men ) who openly smoke Charas (cannabis pipes) do not even think about joining in!
If stopped by the police, it is always good to have photocopies of your passport and visa and store them electronically. You will need copies to apply for permits anyway. If you are a victim of crime petty or otherwise report it immediately and get a police report. It is typical for tourists two to carry two bags. One with the bulk of your luggage in and the other small day pack, you keep your valuables such as your camera. I suggest you do the same and don’t ever let that bag out of your sight.
Due to India’s vast size, it plays host to many different landscapes and these present a whole host of different challenges to any visitor. Tropical storms, Sand storms, blizzards, flash floods and drought. For the people of this country, it is all just a way of life. The key here is to know what the weather is likely to be doing when you visit and avoid the worst times unless necessary.
Sometimes you have to go in the worst possible time of year depending on the purpose of your visit. For example, if you want to see Snow Leopards in the wild, the best time to go is in February when its coldest and the best place is in the high Himalayas. Nights will regularly drop below minus twenty-five degrees Celcius.
Do not underestimate what that entails. You must dress appropriately and not push hard. To put it in perspective, most industrial freezers operate at minus eighteen degrees Celcius. So It is a massive undertaking to go there at this time, and it is imperative to be prepared.
Most of the time, a backpacker won’t need to visit somewhere in bad times, and it is essential to stay abreast when that is. What you need to know is easy to find online, and I found the information found in rough guides to be particularly insightful. I also have my own in-depth post for you to utilise on when best to visit India? I will now also briefly cover some particularly bad times to visit certain areas.
Most obvious is the monsoon. This can lead to flash flooding without warning and on its arrival some potentially deadly lightning storms. The bulk of the rain falls between June and August so the obvious thing to do would avoid travel at this time. But the truth is it is one of my favourite times to travel as the landscape is lush and green. Whats more devoid of travellers and its possible to get prime tourist attractions to yourself. Not to mention it makes for some pretty dramatic photography.
While the coastal areas are best avoided as many guesthouses close at this time, the high mountain kingdoms of Leh, Zanskar and Spiti are now in there prime although heaving with tourists. The months running up to the monsoon creates a risk of dust storms, and over the winter months, the far north of India will become frozen.
On the other end of the scale, we have months of harsh drought between March and May. Temperatures in the north such as Uttar Pradesh Rajasthan and Gujarat can soar to fifty degrees Celcius. The dry heat makes your laundry dry in less than an hour so you can imagine what it is doing to your skin! Cover up with light clothes, avoid the midday sun and drink plenty of fluids. Use ORS rehydration salts when needed. You don’t ever really get sweaty in the high summer as your sweat dries on contact with the air. You only see the salt building up on your clothes.
Also to note India is prone to power cuts, particularly in rural areas that are unlikely to have backup generators. It can become torturous when you are moving around in fifty-degree heat. I have found that the hardest time to be in India is the pre-monsoon when you are waiting for the rains. The moisture is in the air now, but there is no rain, so that dry heat becomes moist and sweaty. As soon as you get out the shower, you start sweating again. This is also the time fungal infections flourish, and it is most important to keep hydrated.
While on the subject of water, do not ever drink water from the tap no matter how thirsty you are and as obvious as that sounds, many travellers seem to want to give it a try. I always carry iodine tablets for when I am in remote areas, and if you can fit it in your backpack, a carbon filter is always handy.
The water served on tables at restaurants tends to be just fine as not many locals want to drink tap water neither. The water on tables comes in large twenty-litre bottles that are treated with reverse osmosis and are generally safe. I have heard from other travellers they have had problems, but I have not experienced any problems.
Another obvious problem is drinking too much, and I often shock myself how much I can drink when I am moving around in fifty-degree heat. Try not to go to the wild as to much water can be very dangerous.
The last thing to consider with water is the plastic waste from moths on the road. It is a whole lot, so if it is possible to keep it to a minimum. You can do this by using reusable water bottles where appropriate. It is not always possible granted, but I am quite sure if I could show a backpacker how many plastic bottles they accumulate in a year-long trip they would be both shocked and ashamed.
The risk of political and rebel violence
The UK government currently states its likely terrorists will carry out attacks in India. That may seem a little over the top to scare tourists like that. We are rarely targeted, and I have never experienced such things in all these years. However, that is not to say such things don’t happen here. While most of this violence is politicly or religiously motivated attacks, have been made on places where tourists frequent, such as religious places and public transport. But I can say with all confidence that sometimes I feel more at risk from strolling around at night in London than I have felt in India.
The most recent problems in India was in Dehli back in March 2020, where Hindus and Muslims clashed leaving 38 dead. It seemed a politicly motivated attack on Muslims, and that cost the Indian tourist industry dearly. About 20o,000 foreign tourists either cut there trips short or cancelled their plans altogether leaving guest house owner painfully out of pocket.
Muslims and Hindu tensions flair up from time to time and this can cripple your plans at the drop of a hat. The vital thing to do is to stay in front of current affairs. Watch the news, read the papers and listen to what locals are saying.
As I said, most travel to this beautiful country comes without incident. While we as individuals cannot control these events, we can undoubtedly safeguard ourselves as much as possible from harm. Avoid public demonstrations because like anywhere else they can get out of hand quickly and avoid travelling solo at night.
The FCO advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir, and there are certainly lots of tensions close to the Pakistan and Indian border. I have been myself, so can say there is an air of tension here with a strong military presence. In all honesty, I didn’t feel like I was ever in danger, but I found the Kashmiri hustle to be very tiring indeed. It is even worse than New Dehli. I found I had to negotiate the cost of a can of coke before I drank it, or I could expect a seriously inflated price.
Protests and random attacks such as bombing are relatively common, so it is essential to keep watch of the media. Should you decide to visit. Due to the warnings made by the FCO, any support from your government will be limited at best. So that is certainly something to take into consideration before visiting here.
The northeast of India is a country unto itself, and the government has abolished all permits except to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This is a place for the most adventurous of us. The seven sisters, as the states are known, are some of my most favourite places to visit.
However, some places up there have been known to experience terrorist activity. There are sporadic acts of terrorism in Assam where the Aboriginal rebels ( a branch of the national democratic front of Bodoland function.) They have been quiet for a while, but that does not mean they will stay silent, so standard precautions apply. There are also reports of sporadic clashes between Indians and Bangladeshis along the border they share.
The primary hotspot for concern is Manipur, where the FCO advice against all travel outside of the capital Imphal and the Meiti valley. That includes Loktak lake and Keibul national park, and that’s handy really as these are the only areas the Indian government allows you to travel anyhow. Manipur shares a border with Myanmar (Burma), and despite being outside of the area, the FCO deems safe some tourist are making this journey. Crime is undoubtedly rife here, and there is a heavy Indian military presence.
The last area where terrorism is associated is East India. Maoist (or Naxalite) uprisings are relatively common, and while the target is the Indian government, the attacks are indiscriminate. The areas where this is most likely to occur are Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. It pays to ask locally while travelling in these states. Violent crime is not unheard off in the rural areas of Bihar and Jharkhand, and tourist should be vigilant from straying from the tourist hotspots in these two state as charming as they are.
A few more safety tips
Road accidents are the most common incident for tourists, and once you see the roads, you will instantly understand. If you hire a motorbike, wear a helmet and check to see if it is roadworthy. Avoid driving at night, and if your in a car and it has a seat belt use it, I’m sure you would do in your own country, right?
Boat travel is always a bit iffy as they rarely have enough safety equipment on board. There was an incident a while ago in the Andamans where a boat was heading to ross island where the boat sank and despite it not being very far a lot of lives were lost due to a lack of safety equipmentCheck you have access to a life vest before you set off. For tips to stay safe while riding the Indian railways check out my post on getting around the country.
Take caution where swimming as there is a danger of strong undertows along India’s extensive coastline. There are scarcely any flags set out for where is safe to swim and where isn’t and rescue services are limited.
Last but not least is the piece of advice not to trek alone! India is a trekking wonderland with a variety of treks to choose from for all levels of fitness. Remember that there are no commercial rescue services above 3000m. Above this altitude, the military does carry out air rescues but are in no way obliged to. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back, even if it is the guesthouse owner you left your luggage in. Accidents in the mountains are widespread. So if it is possible to take a guide you should. Although I have seen some pretty poor guides lead tourists into foul conditions.
Summary of my post on what you need to know about safety in India.
I have tried to write a concise guide for my readers, and I know it can all seem daunting. I have spent extensive time in India, and I can assure you armed with the knowledge and a healthy dose of common sense most travellers leave with nothing but good memories that will last a lifetime. There is honestly no need to be overly cautious. It will spoil your trip and is wholly unnecessary.
With that being said I think I have most bases covered spread over my many posts on the topic. If I missed anything or if you have any questions or comments leave them in the box provided, and I will get back to you. So until the next time my fellow intrepid travellers, happy trails.
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