The sing-song voice of Navjot Singh, popularly known as Mr. Nobodydudy, saying “mekus mekus” has taken Filipino netizens by storm with his hilarious vlogs while reacting to Indian food preparation videos.
Like him, an estimated 190,000 Indians call the Philippines home—and I don’t just mean the Punjabis extending microfinance loans. Many are in the fields of IT, business processing, NGOs, and other international agencies and trading.
For many Filipinos, India remains an exotic destination—perhaps even too exotic for some, strange and unfamiliar. There are currently no direct flights between the Philippines and India and past attempts at a Manila-New Delhi route were unsuccessful, despite a fairly significant number of Indians in the country—not counting the tourists. And while it’s said there are Filipinos in almost every country on the globe, it would be very hard to bump into one even in the most cosmopolitan of cities in India as there are less than 3,000 Pinoys in one of the largest countries in the world.
Strange as India is to many Filipinos, there are remnants of Indian influences in our culture and customs, even in our cuisine. But much of the evidence that shows links between the Philippines and India that date back to pre-Spanish colonization is anecdotal—most of it is told through stories.
Something has always drawn me to India long before I set foot in the subcontinent. Some friends who have visited India have vivid memories of their experience there, often reposting travel throwbacks on their feeds.
So one day, I finally decided to make that trip to India.
Solo travel in India???
Yes—it is safe for a foreign female to travel alone in India. Goes without saying that one must take precautions, be vigilant, and use common sense—which any traveler would need to do anywhere in the world. The bigger question is where to go and how to maximize time while in India because, with 36 states and union territories, the Indian subcontinent holds a wealth of wonder to whet every traveler’s wanderlust. Research, ask around, and decide exactly what catches your fancy.
Plan, prepare, proceed
Once you figure out what you want to see and do in India, plan the details of the trip. Most tourists typically visit Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur—the so-called “Golden Triangle” because of how each city is situated. It’s an easy road trip getting to and from each city. There are package tours for the “Golden Triangle” which includes visits to some of the world’s most iconic landmarks like the Taj Mahal in Agra and Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. You can also book day trips via popular travel booking sites. Downloading Google Maps (and having a data plan) will also help. Tourist SIM cards are affordable and easy to install, though you have to register upon activation. I usually bring a spare, unlocked mobile device with me for the local SIM, along with a photocopy of my passport ID page.
I opted to go totally on my own so I could control my time. Taxis, cars booked through ride-hailing apps, and (yes, I took these!) public transportation like the autorickshaw (a tricycle) and the train are easily available in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Tour guides can be hired on-site so you can pick and choose what you need to get the full experience and immerse yourself.
In Delhi, I stayed in the Connaught Place area, where it’s relatively safe, and accessible and has lots of shops and restaurants within walking distance. From here, I took an autorickshaw to Qutb Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world, where blue skies and bright sunshine enhanced the red sandstone brick structures that date back to the early 13th century. An adjacent train station allowed me to take mass rail transit to Humayun’s Tomb, a grand Mughal mausoleum that predates the Taj Mahal.
The autorickshaw is a great way to get around and feel the local vibe. Planning an efficient route makes it easier to sightsee and visit attractions. Plus, autorickshaw drivers are a great source of stories and local intel. One autorickshaw driver in Delhi saved me so much time and weaved me through rush-hour traffic giving me information on key attractions and finding perfect parking spots to take great photos; while another in Jaipur knew all the places to shop in the old market.
Stomach troubles, popularly known as “Delhi belly” among travelers in India is a common ailment many travelers to India experience. I enjoy Indian cuisine but I must admit that the flavors and spice level take some getting used to. I was fortunate that I never got any stomach trouble the entire time I was in India—but I chalk this up to taking precautions like always drinking bottled water (or in my case, refilling my water bottle when I stay at reputable hotels), not drinking anything with ice or any prepared juices, taking probiotics, being careful about where and what I eat, and a keeping a stash of emergency medicines, including medicines for diarrhea and dyspepsia.
An important note for solo travel to India is to keep track of the security situation in the places you visit. When I was in Jaipur, there was tension in the area, prompting authorities to cut mobile data signal, though old-school mobile call and text messaging worked. Having a local contact—whether it’s a friend or perhaps a tour guide or the hotel concierge would be a big help.
Ask, and you shall receive
Most Indians are polite and cordial, so don’t hesitate to ask—whether it’s to bargain for a fair price when shopping, or for the fare with an autorickshaw driver. Haggling is a way of life. And if you’re traveling alone, asking people to take your photos is a must! In my travels, some would even make sure the angle and photo look nice.
Dress the part
Yes, I know women can dress in whatever they want these days, and much as I fear getting canceled for writing this—I strongly advise dressing conservatively when traveling to India. Sexual harassment does happen and while I did not experience this, I once made the mistake of walking around in a dress that was just below my knees in Jaipur and got long, unwelcome stares from men (and women). Most Indians are used to dressing modestly and it’s simply easier to go around wearing loose-fitting clothing that covers the legs and arms. Sleeveless clothing is acceptable—but always bring a shawl to cover bare shoulders when necessary.
Take your time
Sunrise or sunset at the Taj Mahal in Agra, an afternoon walking around Fatehpur Sikri, or tea across the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur are experiences that allow you to imagine the rich history of India. Take in the sights, the sounds, the colors, and even the odors in your olfactory organ. India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and you will surely learn something and discover insights. Even Mark Twain, while traveling across two dozen cities and towns across India for almost three months, was in awe. He wrote, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great-grandmother of tradition.” All photos by Charo Logarta
Image credits: Charo Logarta