Is it dangerous to travel India?
I think It is fair to say that anyone who is planning a trip to this epic country will inevitably ask themselves, is it dangerous to travel India? After all, most people will not want to be in any more danger than they need to be on their hard-earned holiday.
Some sources I have read reckon travel to India is 100% safe? Nonsense, nowhere is that safe, and in regards to what? At the other end of the spectrum, there are quite a few sources that think India is very unsafe indeed, with death and danger lurking around every corner. I think it is fair to say that it is blown way out of proportion. Let’s be honest here; there are far more dangerous places to take your holiday in than India.
So what is the truth? Well, some parts to the answer to that question are undisputable. In contrast, others boil down to nothing more than opinion. I will take a look at both statistics and draw from my personal experience for this post’s content. I will go on to share some of my best tricks and tips I have accumulated over the years to make your own that little more smooth, hopefully.
India is on so many peoples bucket list for an excellent reason. It is incredible! There is no simpler or accurate way to sum it up. It may be easy to forget that reading a post called is it dangerous to travel India? The fact of the matter is few countries on earth are so diverse. There is a kaleidoscope of cultures, colours, wildlife, landscapes and historical wonders that are all waiting for the intrepid traveller to explore. To top it all off, you get all of that at bargain prices.
What more could you want from a holiday destination. For more details on why you should go to India, feel free to check out my in-depth post on the topic. Here is the penalty, though. With all that diversity comes a diverse array of problems that can accompany your travels. I have no choice but to make this a beast of a blog as there are so many potential issues we have to cover. If you haven’t already, grab yourself a coffee and let’s get to it, shall we.
Be mindful of the risks in India.
The good news is, while there are a mind-bending number of potential risks you could encounter while backpacking in India, most journeys go without incident. It is best not to overthink things as you will drive yourself insane if you do, and it will inevitably impact your trip. Be mindful of what it is that you let consume your thoughts while backpacking. You are there to have fun, after all.
Some potential disasters you can do absolutely nothing about, such as tectonic movement. The Geographical Survey of India suggests that almost 54% of the whole country is vulnerable to earthquakes. However, it is a very improbable outcome that you would be involved in one given the time scales involved. Past planning an escape route in your head, every time you book a hotel in a seismic zone, there is nothing you can do, so there is no point spending much time worrying about things you can not control.
Honestly speaking, a much more likely outcome would be eating a lousy curry and getting an upset stomach. We all know you could catch all kinds of weird and wonderful diseases while travelling. You could also get bitten by a deadly snake, mauled by a tiger or struck by lightning.
While all that is potentially true, it is also doubtful. The truth is when it comes to your health, you can’t help but notice it is the same few issues that keep popping up over and over again. To find out what they are and to get my very best tips to keep you out of the hospitals, check out my post when you get the chance and thank me later.
While I am certainly no doctor, I have injured myself more than enough times to notice a pattern, which I will share. What are the real issues that are likely to face you every day with your health while backpacking, and what can you do about them?
To be fair, most of the risk factors can be managed by finding out as much as humanly possible about where you are going. Some people think it takes the romance out of travel, and it is better just to turn up and see where the wind takes you? Don’t do that! That is a really bad plan, guys.
Carefully organising your journey will inevitably enrich your experience, help you to avoid danger and save you a substantial amount of cash. Not to mention give you are reason to get out of bed on a grey Monday morning when you have to go to work on that painful grind of daily life. To learn how to plan your dream trip in 5 easy steps, simply follow the link.
Scams in India.
Some risks are not so much a risk as an absolute certainty. Take, for example, the risk of you being a victim of a scam is so incredibly high you could bet your life on it. In fact, it is so likely that if you were to go on a long trip to India and not get scammed once, I would happily change my name to Patricia.
Again, the only thing you can do is inform yourself as much as possible because scams in India come in all shapes and sizes. I would advise you to read my blog on the most popular scams in India and then half a dozen others, so you know what is coming. The idea is to prepare yourself and take the relevant precautions rather than hoping it just won’t happen to you.
Quite frankly, if I lived in a society where there was little financial support from the government, and it was a dog eat dog world, I would be making money anywhere I could as well. Surely you would be, too, right? It is better to embrace some risks and accept them as part of the experience. However, I do have to admit that after this happening twenty times a day for months on end, it can become taxing on your very soul.
Police corruption is rife due to poor wages. I think corruption is an inevitable consequence of giving someone power yet not enough money to feed their family. It is just bound to happen, isn’t it?
It does not take a genius to work out what’s in your best interests. As a rule, the local police tend to leave tourists well alone, and you would be wise to keep it that way. 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 being set, which can take months. In the event the police stop, you do what they ask and remain calm.
Drugs are widely available in India, and they can seem tempting but bear in mind even a small amount of pot can get you ten years inside. Before you buy that bag of ganja from some random stranger in the shade, ask yourself, how much would you like to go to an Indian jail? Weed in many parts of the country is simply just a weed and is wildly peddled to tourists. But it is still only legal in Rajasthan and only from licenced places. There have been numerous reports of stings on tourist hotspots like Goa and Manali. Use your common sense, guys.
It is always good to have your passport and visa photocopied and stored electronically. You will need copies to apply for permits and sometimes hotels. If you are a victim of crime, petty or otherwise, report it immediately and get a police report.
It is typical for tourists to carry two bags. Put the bulk of your luggage in one large rucksack. The other will be a small day pack that will be just for the valuables. Never leave this bag in your hotel room or anywhere else for that matter. Replacing the contents of it will be a long and painful process. Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, as once it is gone, you will be in real trouble.
As I believe I mentioned before, due to India’s vast size, there is a multitude of different landscapes. These present a whole host of potential challenges to any visitor. Typhoons, Sand storms, blizzards, flash floods and drought, could all potentially happen during your trip. The key here is the same as before. Try and find out as much as humanly possible on what to expect. Avoid the worst possible times, and get ready for what you cant.
Sometimes there really is no other choice but to make your trip at what seems like the worst times imaginable. For example, if you want to see Snow Leopards in the wild, you will have to make your way to some of the most remote parts of the country, such as Ladakh or the Spiti Valley. You will also have to go in the dead of winter when the Himalayas are at their most inhospitable.
Why would you do that I hear you cry? Well, even the snow leopards think it is too cold at this time and come down from their lofty kingdoms. Nights will regularly drop below minus twenty-five degrees celsius at this time so remember to wrap up. To put that into perspective, most industrial freezers operate at about minus eighteen degrees Celsius, so it will probably be a very unpleasant experience.
Some times of the year are more difficult than others to travel in. The most obvious is the monsoon. This can lead to flash flooding, disease 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 so lush and green. It is also devoid of travellers, and it is possible to get the prime tourist attractions all to yourself. Not to mention it makes for some pretty dramatic photography.
While the coastal areas are best avoided as many guesthouses close., the high mountain kingdoms of Leh, Zanskar and Spiti are now in their prime. They will also be 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 Celsius. 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.
I am just spitballing on a few of the issues you could face while you are on the road. You get the point, right? Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can and enjoy the benefits of being in the know. Have a look through my post on when is the best time to visit India to get a feel of what is happening month by month.
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 in the pre-monsoon when you are waiting for the rains. There is moisture in the air now, but there is no rain, so dry heat becomes moist and sweaty. As soon as you get out of the shower, you start sweating again, so now is the Time to Invest in the AC.
Ensure you bring an adaptor with a surge protector as there is no earth pin in the plugs. There are also so pretty interesting setups of wiring, so make sure you have this to protect both your equipment and yourself.
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 whirl. Dont even think about it because you can get seriously sick from bad water. I always carry iodine tablets in remote areas, although they make everything taste like a swimming pool. If you can fit one into your backpack, a carbon filter is always better.
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 also.
The last thing to consider with water is plastic waste from months on the road. It is so much it’s shameful. If possible, keep it to a minimum. . I am quite sure if I could show a backpacker how many plastic bottles they accumulate on a year-long trip, they would be seriously shocked. You could make a start by using reusable water bottles with built-in filters where appropriate.
The water served on tables at restaurants tends to be just fine as not many locals want to drink tap water neither. After all, it will make them just as sick as it makes you. The water on tables comes in large twenty-litre bottles treated with reverse osmosis and are generally safe.
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, and it scares tourists. 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 in India. 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.
One of India’s most recent problems was back in March 2020. Hindus and Muslims clashed in Delhi, leaving 38 dead. It seemed a politically motivated attack on Muslims, and that cost the Indian tourist industry dearly. About 20o,000 foreign tourists either cut their 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, which 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 recommends that foreign travellers’ avoid Jammu and Kashmir? I want to weigh in here as that seems a little unfair based on my experience. Indeed, there are certainly tensions close to the Pakistan and Indian border, and you should exert caution. In all honesty, I didn’t feel like I was ever in any danger, though.
However, I found the Kashmiri hustle to be very tiring indeed. It is even worse than in New Delhi. I found I had to negotiate for the cost of a can of coke before I drank it, which was a threat to my mental sanity. That was just my experience, though.
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 FCO’s warnings, any support from your government will be limited at best. So that is certainly something to consider before visiting here, especially if you are putting merit into your insurance.
India’s northeast is a country unto itself, and the government has abolished all permits for foreigners except to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This is a place for the most adventurous of us to include in our itineraries. Here is a link to my post on some of the amazing things to do while travelling in Northeast India. Read it and see if it is for you.
Some places up there have been known to experience terrorist activity. There are sporadic acts of terrorism in Assam from the Aboriginal rebels ( a branch of the national democratic front of Bodoland function.) They have been quiet for a while now, but standard precautions still 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 advises 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, 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 widely 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 of in Bihar and Jharkhand’s rural areas, and tourists should be vigilant about straying from the main 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 you in a car and it has a seat belt, use it. I’m sure you would do that 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 equipment. Check you have access to a life vest before you set off.
- 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 it is safe to swim and where it isn’t, and rescue services are limited.
- For tips to stay safe while riding the Indian railways, check out my post on getting around the country.
- 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.
In Summary of the question, is it dangerous to travel India?
So here we are at the end of another epic-sized blog. As you can gather, there are many extra concerns when considering is it dangerous to travel India. Unfortunately, that comes with visiting such a diverse and colourful country. I don’t think you can have one without the other and it is not like anywhere is entirely safe, is it?
The truth is, I can say with some confidence that you are more likely to get robbed in London than in most other countries I have seen. Do I run around in a blind panic every time I leave my house to go to work? No, I take simple precautions. I would advise you to do the same things when you are in another country. Not walking down a dark alone in the middle of the night is just as applicable in India as it is anywhere else.
You will have to take a few extra precautions, but it is important not to overthink things. For example, when it comes to mosquito-borne diseases, do I worry every time I get bitten? No, because mathematically, the odds are in your favour. I simply try to get bitten as little as humanly possible because, let’s face it, not getting bitten in the first place has to be the best prevention.
Worrying every time you get bitten that you might die from a fatal disease will be exhausting because it will happen daily. Take the standard precautions you would anywhere else and find out as much as possible about where you are going. You cant do more than that. As they say, what will be will be. The truth of the matter is most trips to India go without incidence. So relax and enjoy yourself. You have worked hard to make your dream trip a reality.
Of course, learn as much as you can, and that is why I am here. I want to help you have the time of your lives, and I am happy to answer any question you may have if I know the answer, of course. It is always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes if it is possible, and I have made so many. Now I want to share with you how not to make them yourself. Ok, that’s about enough out of me, guys. If you have any more questions or suggestions, you know what to do. With that said, that’s all for now, folks. See you next time and happy trails.
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