experiences

What I Wish I Had Known Before I Went to India

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In my travels I’ve grown used to being stared at, being begrudged or denied service, even being followed around 24 hour Walmarts at 3AM, but none of that prepared me for me for the undisguised lust and even violence I encountered in India.

I talked to at least 5 female friends about their time in India before going, none of them mentioned this perception of women. But when I got back and was candidly telling them about my experience, everytime they were like “yeah, that’s pretty much what happened to me.”

Why didn’t you tell me!?

So that’s why I’m writing this post. I’ve debated for several months. I’m sure this will anger and upset some of my readers, and that’s not the goal. India has many charms, but because I wasn’t prepared for the reception I received, I didn’t enjoy much of my time. So my hope is that this help any females traveling to India be prepared, and perhaps your experience will be completely different (I hope so), and you can say that Heels First girl didn’t know what she was talking about.

So. My first India destination was Chennai. I was picked up at the airport, taken to the hotel, and received nothing but the friendliest, most respectful service during my entire stay, even though looking back, my sundresses might not have been in the best judgment. I left the hotel once during my 2 day stay to go on a food tour with the assistant manager. On the tour I got plenty of hard stares, but nothing disrespectful or uncomfortable, and I thought the Chennai residents were perfectly nice. Particularly when I was leaving and had a ticket hiccup.

Fast forward several weeks later to my arrival in Delhi. I was staying with friends (Indians) and they took me around to all the sites. I was not only stared at wherever we went, I was leered at. Bikes and scooters would follow our car in traffic so they could look in the backseat at me. When we went took a horse and carriage from the parking lot to the Taj Mahal, a group of men were following us so they could stare at me and my friend. And it wasn’t like previous experiences, this time I didn’t feel safe, despite the fact I was with friends from that country and who spoke the language.

You read about the horrible violence towards women in India in the news, and it’s tragic. But until I went there and saw the lust and hate in random men’s faces, I had no idea.

It didn’t seem to matter if I was wearing a sundress that showed my arms, knees, and calves, or a long flowing maxi dress with a sweater in the 90 degree heat. I was female, and I was pale.

Even my Indian friends were concerned about the situation in Dehli, since both had teenage daughters. For me the capping point was their reluctance to have the Etihad First Class chauffeur pick me to take me to my departing flight, because they couldn’t 100% guarantee I would make it to the airport.

I was skeptical! But it’s Etihad First Class! Surely if something happened to me because of one of their drivers it would be an international incident? Their preference was to spend an hour in traffic to take me to the airport at 2AM.

I loved spending time with my friends and their friends. I loved seeing all the sites. But after 4 days I was ready to go. I was tired of seeing that look in strangers’ faces and feeling unsafe. Forewarned is forearmed, so my hope is that others will be prepared for what it might be like.

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21 Comments

  1. Ralph

    May 23, 2015 at 2:26 am

    You are going to get swamped by the Indian apologists and deniers but, the fact is, your experience is the norm. My Thai wife and I can attest to this from our experiences in South Asia.

  2. Aditya

    May 23, 2015 at 3:04 am

    So Sorry to hear the experience so felt compelled to comment. I believe oevrall your experience are something I have observed as well and make sure my family takes precautions but 1st class Eithad is overkill. You will difference between various parts of India as you already saw. Short dresses will be frown upon in India. I see many foreigners visiting India taking to wearing salwar kameez ( you have to dress local). Also I have many female friends who have visited and stayed in upscale hotels without issues.

  3. danny

    May 23, 2015 at 3:21 am

    can I ask what you wore in Delhi and if you thought about dressing like what the women wear over there?

    Your post pretty much sums up why I won’t take my wife to Asia.

    • Keri Anderson

      May 23, 2015 at 10:46 am

      A good question. When I was just going over to friends’ houses I wore my usual clothes but brought a long sleeve sweater to wear on the sidewalk and in the car. When I was siteseeing I wore a loose dress to my ankles and the same long sweater. I was with Indian friends so I ran all my wardrobe choices by them first 🙂

  4. LAM

    May 23, 2015 at 3:24 am

    I am sorry this was your experience in India. I was in Delhi for almost 2 months for work in 2010 and my experience was very different. Maybe because I am a little older and weight is an issue for me. Also I hung out with both males and females from my job who were also there temporarily. Maybe I was also too naive in a few things I did like take taxis by myself frequently. My biggest issue was the whole you are a foreigner so we will hound you until you come in our store and buy something. That was more the reason I chilled out part of the weekend I was in Mumbai in my hotel instead of out doing things. I got a great pedicure instead. I was also staying in 4-5 star hotels.

    I will say I would not probably travel by myself in India if I went back. The two trips I took outside of Delhi I was most of the time with a male coworker or with a tour group.

  5. Christian

    May 23, 2015 at 4:01 am

    An awful experience, but thanks for sharing. I normally encourage my wife to travel, with me or alone, at every opportunity, but this is a good cautionary tale.

  6. Brenda

    May 23, 2015 at 4:02 am

    Ladies, you have to do your research before traveling abroad. Dress appropriately! I live overseas and hear these stories all the time. 9 times out of 10 it’s because they come in something like sundresses. It’s a different world outside of the US and most places you will not be protected because you made the decision to defile their dress code and religious beliefs in THEIR country. Cover your hair, darken your skin with makeup, dress like the locals (even if it’s 105 degrees outside.) It’s for your own protection and out of respect. Always heed to the warnings and advice of the locals. Always ride in the backseat of taxis (never the front seat where they can touch you.) Never travel alone, unless you are with a rep of some company sent to pick you up or arranged by a high end hotel. If at any time you feel unsafe, abort! Tell the driver to turn around and to take you back, get loud and get demanding.

  7. Amanda Green

    May 23, 2015 at 6:23 am

    Wait a second. You went to India and didn’t have a clue people would stare at you? Did you do NO research whatsoever about this? It seemas as if every other blog from a white western woman that visited India blogs about how they were stared at. It’s common knowledge, at worst!

    Also, I really dislike how you talk about “lust and hate” in the men’s eyes. Did any of them do anything to you? Catcall? Yell at you? Assault you? Or were you just pissed off that they were adoring your light skin, which is a sign of wealth and prosperity in India?

    If anything, I’d say your post is highly disrespectful towards Indian men, and your’re a highly judgmental person. Why in the world are you traveling, if I may ask?

  8. MilesPointsTravel

    May 23, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I am Indian (grew up there and came to the States at age 24) and I totally understand how you are feeling. I visit India every year and my wife accompanies me on most of these trips. My parents have forbidden me to go on any trips in India with my wife. I believe their words were (I am paraphrasing here)….”There are plenty of places in Asia for you guys to visit. Go to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China. But when you are in India, you come straight from the airport to home and then go back to the airport when its time to leave.” My wife is American and she gets stared at, received lewd comments. Its very uncomfortable.

    But its not just white women from other countries. Indian women face harassment, cat-calling, groping in public transport all the time. I have sisters and sister-in-laws who would attest to this.

    It is what it is. So I would reiterate again….Of all the wonderful places to visit in Asia, the lure of Taj Mahal has got to be that extreme for someone to dare to come to India.

    • Keri Anderson

      May 23, 2015 at 10:44 am

      I completely agree! I loved the people I met and hope to go back some time to visit them, but doing more siteseeing just doesn’t seem worth it, no matter what I wear.

  9. Joey

    May 23, 2015 at 9:04 am

    My first exposure to India was from watching AMAZING RACE. I recall at least one female racer always got groped in the train. Be careful!

  10. NAmit

    May 23, 2015 at 10:07 am

    i am sorry for what you faced. It will take some time for the deep rooted behaviour to change

  11. Alice

    May 23, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Thank you for this post! I’ll be heading to Mumbai in a bit and will be staying for about 3 months, and was a little miffed when I was told by my hosts that I should not go anywhere by myself, and if I wanted to visit the Taj Mahal or do any sightseeing I’d have to take someone with me (and pay their way). I’m used to traveling by myself and I thought this was over the top. But I’ll certainly heed their advice now, in light of this post. It’s surprising that no one actually disagreed with what you said even of they weren’t in agreement with the way you said it. I wonder though if an African American like myself would experience the same kind of treatment.

    • Keri Anderson

      May 23, 2015 at 11:16 am

      I hope your trip goes well and I would love to hear how your experience is! I hope this post won’t discourage women from going to India, just prepare them to have a better time. Like you, I also thought many of the warnings sounded excessive before I went. 🙂

  12. Hope

    May 23, 2015 at 11:20 am

    In doing research for my trip I specifically did research into cities that were safer for women. Which lead me to completely avoid Delhi which I don’t regret. My husband and I ventured to Amritsar, Bangalore, Mysore, Goa and Mumbai. I was disappointed that the tshirts and maxi skirt I bought were commented on as inappropriate. I ended up having buying a bunch of Indian clothes when I was there. I still got stared at, but I found it was more admiration and curiosity than hatred. Everyone wanted their picture with me, apparently just because I’m blonde, which took getting used to. Personally I would go back, it was a hard trip but it was fascinating. I just wish I had avoided food poisoning.

  13. SJ

    May 23, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Seeing a blonde in Delhi for most men is like a kid in disneyworld or an adult in a stripclub. Shorts, dresses and skirts only make it worse. You may not understand why but it’s really what it is. Ps: I am Indian.

  14. P T

    May 23, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Same experience for me five years ago and I’m over 60. I think it is because we are different, exotic, to them, and our. Loathing is radically different. Having said that, I felt much more threatened by the men I encountered in southern Egypt in 2006. Merchants groped me! Not fun.

  15. Kendra

    May 23, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Keri, this sounds terrible. I’m so sorry this happened to you. 🙁 Interestingly, I’ve had the opposite experience. While I am here in the US, people stare at me, follow me, touch my hair, and make lewd comments (perhaps you remember my post on Vegas while we were at the BAcon conference)…but when I was in India, no one gave me a second look. I did pull my hair back and cover it with a scarf, and I also wore clothing that blended in with what other women were wearing, so maybe that made a difference. The bottom line is that this feels scary no matter where you are. Again, I’m so sorry you had this experience. I’m glad you are safe.

  16. local

    May 23, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    I’m an Indian and I got the same stares when i went to a small town in Iowa. I felt the same. Its very simple, its the curiosity of the people as you are exotic to that place. You travel a lot.. you should know.

    • RJ

      May 24, 2015 at 1:20 am

      Ditto. Great comment!

  17. Hitesh

    May 30, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Sorry to hear about your experience in India! Your experience is very typical of Delhi actually. I’m from India (grew up in Mumbai); I remember being to Delhi on a college trip and we would escort all the girls in our group back to their rooms because we thought it was extremely unsafe! My wife’s Indian, and even now if she needs to travel to Delhi, I get really worried.

    Things have gotten worse in the last few years, and I wouldn’t recommend exploring India without a local.

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