India makes me feel like I’m a bad person

Most of everything in India is kind of against of my nature, what we’ve been educated for several decades. It’s quite dirty (some of the dirtiest places I’ve ever been), and I know the standard of living is quite low in some places, but I have to keep myself clean and healthy to remain good. And that’s not so easy in India sometimes. Also, the difference between personal space is giving me a hard time. I’ve been told, to be honest, and treat people equally. Even we don’t practice as much as we wish to, at least we know that’s the right thing to do.

I feel like living on the edge in India because I’m trying to be very cautious with my body. I’ve been told people will make an excuse to be near foreign girls, with or without a bad intention. I always cover myself with long sleeve clothes, cover my front with my arms, and pay attention who’s near me. Although I’ve been uncomfortable quite a few times, it was hard to actually confront with anyone.


On my way up to Shimla by a toy train, I sat in a General Ticket compartment, with a dozen of people. I repeatedly felt an arm softly pressing against my back from the seat behind me. I pull myself away from the seat. The guy moved to my next seat after a while and dozed off. The seat was quite small. Subtlety, I felt his elbow and thigh were ‘accidently’ bumping my side over and over. I asked a man in front of me to trade seat with me (his and my seats were facing one another), to get away from the guy next to me. After I moved there, it was more obvious that he was scanning me. I ended up gave up a dozen of seats and sat on the doorstep to just avoid confrontation. It went on again for rest of the ride.

It was certain that the situation made me very uncomfortable, but it’s a hard thing to accuse that someone is doing something with bad intention. What if I was making things up in my head?

That’s why being in India is so stressful.


Appropriate outfit for India journey

After a week of traveling, I quickly learned not to trust anyone. Dishonesty is one of the biggest pet peeves I have, and it is practiced commonly in India. I have to assume everyone around me was lying to gain something from me. I’m certain that there are plenty of the nicest and kindest people in this country, but unfortunately I have to give up that chance to survive.


Not only physically, but also I have to be alert mentally. We had some troubles more than enough times. We took a day trip around Bodh Gaya on our extra day there. The tour includes six destinations, a car, and petrol. Five out of six stops were quiet laughable (sorry, but true), but we were counting on the last stop: Nalanda Museum that supposed to have high-quality artifacts from the ruins. When we arrived, the sign said ‘closed on Friday’. The tour guide tried to make it up with some sort of memorial hall near by, but we didn’t fall for that.

Maybe we won’t get our money back, but we decided to ask the tour agency about compensating museum portion of the day.

“It’s not my problem, it’s government’s problem.”

Clearly, he knew what was going on. But he decided to blame the government for his program. It was not his fault that government decided to close the museum on Friday. It is an irresponsible behavior of a business owner, especially in the field of service. In my head, he should’ve warned us about the change of schedule, or at least showed some sympathy when we confront the situation. He was trying to win the case by avoiding eye contact and ignore.


Oh, it wasn’t the only bad experience. In Connaught Place (New Delhi), we went to a cafe because of the discount flyer we got from the street (2+1 coupon). When I put my orders, he said I couldn’t use the coupons. “Why?” I asked. “The network is not working,” he answered. Because their network was down, I couldn’t use my coupon. I asked him “can you just gave me this discount now and take care of it when your network comes back on?” but no. He looked at me like I was asking something outrageous. The coupon would save one dollar, but I was angry at his attitude and this screwed up the mentality of service business. I certainly could rip the piece of paper in front of his face and storm out, but I decided to be a bigger person. We had our coffee and a nice break from New Delhi heat.


Because I have to be alert all the time (more so than in other countries) physically, and mentally, being India is quite difficult.

Have you been to India? Did you have any problems like that?



55 thoughts on “I’m Having a Hard Time in India”

  1. Appreciate your honestly! It isn’t always easy and fun traveling, especially in a destination where you have to keep your guard up. I felt the same way in Vietnam, to an extent.

    1. Vietnam was quite different than other Southeast Asian countries I’ve been. I’ve noticed that people were more aggressive, and actually touching my arms to sell stuff. It was quite unusual for the region I thought. It’s tiring to put my guard up 24/7.

  2. I think this kind of difficulty is something that happens in many countries… I understand how uncomfortable it can feel when a man is trying to touch you or looking at you in such an insisting way. After all I’ve been through in Egypt, I am not sure I am ready for India yet! It’s not nice to feel frustrated while traveling.

    1. It ruins the moment, and that’s why I was so angry about the situation. I wanted to enjoy the nice scenery and tried to make myself comfortable as much as possible, and the unwanted feeling wasn’t helping me in any ways. I can’t imagine how female solo travelers felt (I was with two guys when it happened).

  3. I haven’t ever been to India but a friend of mine also struggled with it when she travelled there on business – the same things you mentioned about never having any personal space. She said people would follow her into her hotel room, like a group when she checked in. Apparently they were there for business reasons and to be hospitable but she said it really freaked her out.

    1. Yeah, that happened to me too. It is the sign of threat in many countries, but apparently not here (and I’ve heard that was one of the case of rape that happened a few month ago). They even approach really closely when I pull out of money from ATM. It was quite uncomfortable.

  4. I have travelled around India a lot and have experienced what you write about, but it’s still captured my heart and I can’t wait to get back there. I found it a great lesson in just going with the flow and not being attached to anything being a certain way. The men can be full on though, as you wrote best to cover up and to avoid eye contact with them! x

    1. It is definitely a worthwhile place to come at least one time. I’ve seen some amazing scenes, especially people bathing in the Ganges in Varanasi. The difficulties are worth taking, but too much, sometimes.

  5. Thanks for your honesty! I feel like too often people write only about the positives in a country and I enjoy reading an honest account even if it is negative. I’ve traveled in a lot of difficult places, but I have no desire to try India at this point.

    1. Thanks Katie. I enjoyed India so far, especially the vivid scene of people and culture, but I was uncomfortable in quite a lot of occasions. I’m not saying India is a place not to come, but it has its own challenges. I’m sure you know that from traveling in formal Soviet Union countries. I’d love to visit that region someday.

  6. I’ve never been, but have been told that India is a huge shock to the senses and culturally very different than to what most of us are accustomed. The running joke is that India stands for I’ll Never Do India Again.

    Regardless, I hope that the country reveals another side of itself for you and you can find the enjoyment you were looking for!

    1. I’d never say never, but for sure I would not come back in anytime soon. Just a lot of things here are quite opposite from what I’ve known for most of my life. The living standard is a big difference of course, but it’s way beyond that. For now, I’m enjoying the quietness of Rishikesh, and feel comfortable here. 🙂

  7. Hey Juno,
    I am an avid follower of your blog and am quite saddened to read your experiences in India! I am a resident of India and I know how easy or difficult certain situations can be, especially as a lady traveller. And I truly hope you take back the “more interesting”, “more truthful” and the “real India” that I have seen and am living in.
    I truly hope the rest of your trip brings you positive experiences. Wish you a safe and happy journey!

    All the best!

    1. Hi Harshita, thanks for understanding. I feel bad to generalize the whole country, when I know some of the kindest people from this country. However, the challenges of female travelers in India isn’t a fresh news; everyone is quite familiar with it. But it’s just different when you are actually in the situation.

      I did enjoy a lot of aspects of India. Food, culture, religion, scenery, it’s worth the trouble. 🙂

  8. Traveling to another country can be an emotional drain as you know. I think it’s great you’ve been so honest about your feelings. You’ll excuse me if I’m taking the liberty in speaking to you as if I know you, but I wonder as well – how much of this experience are you projecting into the environment? –and how much of it is reality? Meaning, you have said many times that you have to have your guard up in India. Which I’m not disputing (I’ve never been to India – but I’ve traveled internationally) – So you’re walking around with your guard up 24-7 and what’s happened to you? Have you been acosted? People of the country also feel that “air” around you and they react b/c they perceive that you are looking down on them. So it’s a double edged sword in the case of constantly being in the frame of mind that you must “keep your guard up”. People can also sense displeasure, judgement, disdain. Now I wonder if this is something that has to do with your judgement of the country itself, the conditions with which you are so unused to as well. (I tell you, one of the main reasons, I have hesistated in going to India is b/c of the descriptions of overwhelming poverty and with all due respect – filth. so I’m not judging you or saying “bad person!”). Is there a way for you to try to enjoy the country without feeling like perhaps everyone is going to rob you the moment you turn your back. There are 1 Billion people in India – so there are 1 billion experiences to be had and I sure good ones at that. However I’m not saying at the same time – go prancing down the streets in shorts and singing hello and walk down dark alley-ways. I’m just saying try to have a good time. You can always leave if you hate it. My friend just dumped the Corps in Cambodia b/c the rural life there was simply not for her – and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean your a bad person but you start to taint your experience when you unconsciously treat the entire population like they are bad people. It’s likely you’re projecting that in your body language and attitude as well which people will pick up on, silently resent you for looking down on them and deprive you of a good interaction with them and the local culture. Just a relatively general statement. Great article, beautiful honestly and an amazing calling and opportunity to have self-inquiry and find out what’s right for you. (Please excuse any errors – in a rush)

  9. Thanks for this post. I just returned from Nepal a few weeks ago and had a somewhat similar experience to what you describe. I’ll be headed to India in a couple of weeks to study abroad for 3.5 months and I think it’s especially important I take these things into account. It’s nice to look at the bright side and be excited about the colors and the culture and the people, but it’s equally important to be aware of being uncomfortable at times and knowing what to do with that.

  10. glad you’re honest about what you’re experiencing. i found parts of India enchanting, and plenty of other parts to be infuriating! i think 17 years of living in NYC helped me (i was more comfortable with confrontation when needed). i did ask people to give me space or to stop touching me on multiple occasions.

  11. No dobt it is a difficult place to travel and a different set of issues for you as a woman traveler. In the end, I think India is worth the effort because it’s a chance to see a vastly different society than our own.

  12. As an Indian, I apologize for the inconvenience to you. Sadly the experience you had (particularly the one in train and Bodh gaya) was nothing unusual or unexpected, even local tourists, (people from other parts of India, visiting some places), face such problems frequently.

    Here are some general suggestions to any of you who want visit India,

    Travelling in a general compartment is a strict no-no (atleast in my view) if you want to enjoy the journey in train. Travel in a group if you can. For tour operators, avoid the run by night operators, they seem cheaper, but in the end you do not get value for money either. Its better to spend some extra bucks and get some enchanting experience. Try to form some local contact (Ask your friends who have been to India, or ask your hotel receptionist) to get to know places you should visit.

    Ask people for help, in case you are in doubt. Most people in India are willing (read eager) to help. As a thumb rule look around for people with family, they are the safest bet and most of them will help you.

    Trust people until they prove to be untrustworthy, that would reduce your mental stress.

    India can also be a very enchanting experience, once you start getting comfortable with its differences.

    If you are still in India, I would suggest visiting Golden temple in Amritsar, Punjab, Its the holiest sikh shrine, stay in a good hotel in its vicinity. There are hotels right outside the shrine. The best time to visit the shrine would be between 4 A.M. to 6 A.M. (thats why the need to stay near the shrine). As a pro-tip, do not fall for visit to *wagah border* (The india-pakistan border), I have been there twice and never had a good experience.

    Hoping you would enjoy the remainder of your trip!

  13. Hey Juno,

    I’m really sorry about the experience you had in my country. Though i agree its a difficult country to travel solo and especially when its a female solo traveller. I do travel a lot solo in this country and trust me its a challenge to make your way through. You have to learn certain special skills to deal with such kind of situations need to be street smart. Mostly in my solo travels across the country i take such situations as a challenge and I kinda hae started enjoying it in many ways to get out of such situations .

    I would like to mention one more thing, not necessarily if someone approaches you here means he/she has a bad intention . People here generally are a little inquisitive about foreigners. They get amused spotting one in the crowd and it kinds of draws there attention. They would want to click pictures with you , would ask funny questions. But trust me not all intend bad things. All said you still have to be careful in dealing with people here.

    I wish you have a great stay in my country. And im sure once you back you will surely miss it all and will be back to explore this wonderfully mysterious land !! 🙂

    good luck !!

  14. I appreciate your honesty, Juno. Travel isn’t always easy, and it’s important to talk about the less-than-pleasant aspects as well as the wonderful things. I have avoided traveling to India so far mainly because I’m sure I’d have difficulty with it (for the same reasons you did). Plus there are just so many people there, and the older I get, the less I can handle large crowds of people. It’s very overwhelming for me. Good for you for giving it a try, anyway.

  15. We had big plans when we started traveling and those plans included visiting India. But after two months of China we decided to postpone India indefinitely. China was hard enough. There are so many people and everyone is constantly watching you. I have never felt that self conscious, I felt like every time I moved someone was looking at me and I just didn’t know if I was doing something wrong. There are so many rules and I felt like the crazy white outsider all of the time.

  16. Hello Juno, Thanks for writing such an honest post that is also mature and takes responsibility.

    I wish we could be together and talk about all of this! It’s hard to explain how I feel in a comment.

    I know that India is not an easy destination; it is not for everyone; and timing is important too. You have to be ready for India. Ultimately, I think it is ourselves that we confront in India, and this is not easy to bear.

    The people of India definitely relate differently than we are used to in the west, but I have found most of them to be warm and helpful. However, it takes time to get to know who you can trust, and who you can’t. This is why I always suggest people take a tour or go with someone who knows India well.

    I saw from your postings that you jumped into the deep end of the pool with an overnight train ride in general compartment directly to Varanasi, and I held my breath. Too much too soon. India needs to be approached more cautiously, I think. You have to take care of yourself.

    Slow down, take better care of yourself, go to places like Rishikesh and stay put until you get more comfortable. And, if you decide India is not right for you right now, that’s okay. It will be there when you want to go back and try again.

    Hope this helps!


  17. As someone who grew up in Chennai during my high school years, I can totally relate to this post. I have a love/hate relationship with India. Some of the most beautiful villages and most beautiful people are in India. But I truly believe that you need to see India with people who LIVE there. Going as a stranger without friends there can be extremely intimidating and you need to relax in some tourist friendly neighborhoods. Sad to see so much “taking advantage of foreigners” going on but that’s what happens in a poor country. You can always ask me for tips anytime, Juno. My family lives there and they’d be delighted to help.

  18. Hey there Juno. I understand where you’re coming from. I just returned from my own (first) trip to India and had many of the same feelings. I too felt like a bad person. I also felt like a target, especially when men were approaching who really shouldn’t have been or taking liberties they shouldn’t (I felt) have taken. I didn’t know quite how deeply being a woman there affected me until I came home and was surprised and happy to see so many women in public. So – this too shall pass.

    That being said, I’ve also experienced kindness, with food, assistance, advice, and transportation given freely from concerned bystanders. One travel lesson I’ve learned over the years has been to take people up on their offers of assistance, company, etc – I’m sure Charu and your other readers would be delighted to offer a helping hand. Whether it’s meeting up for dinner, getting a hotel recommendation, or a ride to the airport, encounters of kindness will lighten your heart. They’ll also help you take care of yourself, as Mariellen said, which is of more importance than just about anything. Good luck!

  19. Thanks for this post, Juno. I feel like India is one of those places I must see in my lifetime, but I can’t make up my mind to go because of the very issues you point out. As a woman, I feel like I limit my travel options much more than I would if I were a man, and that can be frustrating. If I visit India some day (and I hope to), I don’t intend to go it alone.

  20. Yeah that happens a lot. I am an Indian and it I have the same issues you have especially the personal space issue. When I started using public transport and cheaper public transport i was shocked. but I realized that its just what people see when they grow up. holding hands, sitting too close to your own gender is not frowned upon even for men so…
    That being said I am sure you will have a great time in India once you get used to the daily humdrum of our country. and then you’ll find a rhythm about it which you will definitely miss once you leave India.
    I have just one suggestion rely on your gut if it doesn’t feel safe then it isn’t even if you miss an adventure it is not what you want to risk. People are opening up as we develop. though we are a cultural mix but most of our population is still Indian it will take some time before you see more racial understanding and parity.
    Have a great time visiting us.

  21. I was very lucky because I lived in a village for 3 months with a host family and volunteered at an orphanage before I set out as a backpacker. Both experiences were miles apart and both provided an insight into gender roles, societal expectations and business dealings. The struggles of women are evident, trying to find a foothold in a changing society, but things like tradition, caste and duty still wrestle with modern ideas = weird interactions. I often found people didn’t know how to deal with my foreignness, so they dealt with it in ways I couldn’t compute. I just had to accept, go with the flow or readjust. I think in business, many tourist operators care about profit first, rather than building a loyal customer base, which is our mentality.

    You’re right, it’s existing in an upside-world, but India is unlike any place I’ve been. I’m currently in China and still don’t feel the level of intenseness that one of the commenters mentioned here about China. I think it’s untrue that every place is supposed to be easy to understand, isn’t that why we travel in the first place? To seek exotic new worlds? Go outside of what we know and learn from that? Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I guess I do.

    However, I definitely do not condone harassment of anyone, which is India’s media reputation at the moment, nor do I think you should love every country. But like everything in life = there are always two sides.

    Hang in girl, India will teach you a lot about yourself.

  22. I really enjoyed this post. I know in my heart of hearts that I am not ready for India. Someday I hope to be — but I don’t think that will be for a few years. I am also nervous about a reaction like this. I am very rattled by invasions of my personal space!

  23. I totally get your conflict. While India has a lot to offer, it can get a bit tiring having to weed through people who are out there to harm you and take advantage of you. I grew up in India and as a guy who can speak the language, you would think I would have it much easier when I go back to visit. While I’m not subjected to being looked upon as a sexual object, having to deal with people with no morals, ethics and a general sense of courtesy and decency is frustrating. I’m usually friendly and like to help people, but I’m forced to change my behavior and attitude when I’m visiting India.

    I know it’s hard not to be suspicious and skeptical of people trying to help, but don’t totally shut yourself off and keep an open mind. In fact, the first few times I tried to help tourists, I was met with the same skepticism. At first I was offended by their rude behavior, but now I understand how they saw me as “another guy” trying to take advantage of them.
    If there’s one word you need to learn in India, that’s “bhaiya”, which means brother/respected-elderly gentleman. It “usually” diffuses any situation and humanizes the contact. Families are usually a good and safer bet when seeking help. And while it is normal and courteous to smile and acknowledge locals, it’s usually not a good idea to do that to random people (men) in India. Smiling or being nice in India is usually taken as a form of weakness and an “easy” prey.

    Also, that outfit pic that you’ve posted might still get you unwarranted attention. The more rural areas you go to, the better it is to cover yourself as much as you can. A duppata/chunni/shawl works most of the time.

  24. I have heard some complaints about the dirt in India but it’s the first time that I read several about the people! Have yet to visit the country but people from India I’ve met elsewhere have always been wonderful…

  25. Sounds like a really stressful time… but hoping there were still a lot of highlights you can focus on during your time there!

  26. Hi,
    I have been in India 6 months now (much longer than I intended) and have had a really different experience.
    I have still be ripped off – in fact just the other day I made the mistake of not getting a metered taxi from the train station and even though I bargained the price down it was still 3 times the price…he has hassled me – I was exhausted – the usual.

    Outside of these day tourist trails and tribulations, I choose to try some different experiences here which are not traveling from place to place as a tourist and its made all the difference in the people I’ve met.

    For example someone recommended an Ashram in South India for meditation and yoga. I went for 3 weeks, met some really lovely people and ending up staying with a family for quite awhile getting to know their friends and family.

    Last week with a friendship we hired a driver (a bit more expensive) and drove through the Himalayas stopping at tent camping spots on the way. We met so many locals doing the same thing in cars and motorbikes. It was a great experience.

    Just wanted to out out there that you might want to leave your comfort zone and try something different for you that is something unique India has to offer. It sounds like others are pushing the boundaries with you and instead you can choose different experiences.

    Good luck,

    1. Thanks for your message Jen. I was very down low when I wrote this article, but I embraced a lot ever since. Being in Rishikesh helped me as well, here where I stay in High Bank is quiet and peaceful. Met some interesting locals and people who practice yoga here. I’m not sure what my next move will be, but I still have no doubt that coming to India was a good decision. It’s just harder than my usual routine. 🙂

  27. If this is your first time to India, yeah, you’re getting the normal workout. It’s the only country that I know of yet, that demands all of your attention everywhere and all of the time. The dirt, pollution, the scams, dealing with the men … they’ll all get to you eventually until you really get used to it and I’m not sure if one ever does… I’ve traveled there and also took my yoga teacher’s cert there. The way I see it, when I go to India, I know it’ll wear me down… but it’s also going to be one place where I feel myself living the most. Although, I’ll only really feel that when I look back on the journey. 😉

    ps I like Delhi, but it’s scam central. Even Indians may tell you that of the city. I got stuck on a scam tour there with friends my first time there, until I divorced my friends and the tour and went on my own. Crash course in solo travel. Period. Had to deal with the tour company on my own and that was mildly terrifying, cause my friends deserted me, but it all worked out. That was when I became a solo traveler.

  28. Nice photos of you at ruins of the Nalanda University. I am from Bihar and its nice to see people visiting Bihar. But one thing you mention and I would like to say that dishonesty is not practised commonly in India.

  29. Well, you did face a hard time and I would like to apologize on my country’s behalf. Indian men on the streets have something for the fair skin, which is accentuated by the media of our times. Good too see that you realized the appropriate attire and were on your guard. Its the same for Indian women in India, trust me. As far as the dishonesty is concerned, haven’t we all faced it whenever we are in a different country? I think it happens everywhere. See a tourist, lets rob her!

  30. I have heard India isn’t very easy for female travelers. I had a hard time being a female traveler in Morocco and Turkey, so I get what you went through. Hope it gets better for you!

  31. This sounds exhausting. I feel exhausted just reading this. Sorry your experiences weren’t all good. I have never been to India, only to New Delhi airport, but I felt exactly the same there. Border officials were plain rude, fast food restaurants told us they were shut even though they were serving locals and people tried to rip us off when we tried to pay in US Dollars rather than Rupees. I would still like to visit India one day, as I also heard so many good things about it.

  32. I had a hate/love relationship with India. First I leaned to hate it, then I started to love it. I think this is why people who go there for 2-3 weeks always leave feeling like it’s a turgid, disgusting place. Great blog post, Juno, really emotive.

  33. Oh, Juno! I just found your blog, and I have to say that I felt almost exactly the same way about traveling in India. Despite being a globe trotter and having lived in “developing” (I dislike that loaded term, but I lack other words for it) countries for extended periods, India essentially kicked my ass. It was awful.

    I was constantly on edge about the dishonesty and the discomfort about being female. I had at least two situations where I got groped. I sweltered in my outfits to remain covered and appropriate. I got the sickest I’ve ever been in my life (even while being extremely careful about food/water/hygiene! Vegetarian food in Haridwar and I became a human garden hose).

    I really struggled to come to terms with my journey there, especially as someone who makes a lifestyle out of travelling. I wrote the words at the top of this post in huge letters on my second day in Mumbai in my journal, “India makes me feel like I’m a bad person.” It was after I had to ignore a tiny girl dressed in bright blue begging outside the CST terminal and literally wade into traffic to avoid her. I cried.

    I am still recovering from India and I’ve been out for almost four months. Just know that you aren’t the only one. If India just isn’t for you, it doesn’t make you a bad traveller (or a bad person). I’ll post two of my pieces from my time there below, feel free to read and commiserate. How long are you in India for?

  34. Hey Juno. I feel ashamed when someone mentions such public behaviour – but, yes India as a country is a bit like a half rotten fish. You need to know which parts are rotten and not eat them. As some of your other online friends have suggested – visit India with an Indian. Choose a good friend whether male or female and if possible take a couple of male companions. Don’t visit typical touristy places – they are disappointing. I think the only place that I found crazier than India was Italy! You will find robbers, honest thieves, simpletons, wierdos and amazing people in India. That’s what makes this country an experience. I’ve roamed the world and can’t find a place funnier, wierder, happier and more livable. If I had I would live somewhere else. Hope you find better places and better people on your next visit to India! Cheers!

  35. Hey, it’s not all that bad. I understand your concerns around personal safety and you have to be alert. I’m sure you will find a bunch of nice people too

  36. General compartments are THE WORST! If you travel general as a solo foreigner woman – you are pretty much asking for trouble. It has the worst crowd, I think it was not your imagination – yes the people you encounter were probably staring. Even indian men (middle class) always avoid general. (But sometimes for short journeys there is no other option available). Always take the AC trains – AC 3-tier or AC 2-tier . That will have a much better crowd – and it will actually be very good, pleasant experience.

  37. Truly It was incredible the way you have explained all these things, it is beneficial for each every one of us. Actually I came across your article and found it very useful. Thank you for letting us know.

    I am going to follow your article on my next trip.

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