I have always wanted to visit India, but for as much as I dreamt of it, I never thought I was ready. The idea of finding myself alone in a place so different from what I was used to, and from all other countries I had visited before, scared me. I kept postponing a visit to an unknown future time, when I would eventually work up some guts and go.
Then, I had the chance to go to a conference in Madhya Pradesh, all expenses paid, and I was told that if I wanted, I could extend my stay. It was my chance to finally visit India. I didn’t have to give it much thought and I decided that I’d go and stay for a while after the conference.
The problem was that for the three extra weeks I would spend in India, I would be on my own. I normally wouldn’t mind that at all. I actually prefer to travel alone, and to do my own thing. You know the kind of things one enjoys when alone and not having to compromise at all: sleep in if I am in the mood; spend an extra day in the city just because, “why not?”; and change my travel plans at the last minute because someone told me about a really interesting place and I feel the urge to visit.
For as spontaneous and improvised as my solo trips are, each time I travel independently I do some background research. Whenever I leave for a solo trip, I take my time to study the country (or the countries) I am going to visit, to come up with a rough itinerary, and to have at least an idea of the places I want to visit and the things I want to do while on the road. And all my solo trips are based on the assumption that I have plenty of time at my disposal.
This time, however, I hardly had any time to do a bit of background research about India, as I was already on the road when I got the invitation. And with just three weeks to spend there, I would not want to waste any time getting lost, pushing my way to get a seat on the train, haggling fiercely with taxi drivers and what not.
Then, my family, friends and even fellow travel bloggers started warning me:
“India can be dangerous for a solo female traveller,” most of them said.
“You will have to cover up and dress very modestly, and even in this case men will stare at you,” literally everyone said.
That was enough to make me wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night, every night, a good month before my trip was meant to start. And that same sweat that woke me up at night made me realise that there really was no point in being so stubborn in keeping to my “solo traveller” motto.
So I started scouting for guided tours of India, and landed on the page of On The Go Tours. And I signed myself up for the Passage to India tour which took me from Delhi to Agra and then to Rajasthan. It was an incredible tour, and joining proved to be the most sensible decision. So here’s five reasons to join a guided tour of India.
Reason #1 – It is less time consuming
With such a limited time to visit India, I was glad to have everything organized: the itinerary had been studied by industry professionals in order to optimize the time available; the transportation was all arranged for; the beautiful hotel rooms were booked and ready whenever we arrived in a new city. All I had to do was sit back and enjoy the many beautiful places we visited.
Reason #2 – The tour leader/guide is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful
Sat, our local guide, was a real star. He provided plenty of insights on the culture, history and architecture of the places we visited, which would have otherwise been devoid of meaning to me. He managed time incredibly well, which was a relief for me, especially because in India the distances are often great and public transportation not reliable.
Having a guide was super helpful at meal times: not only would he arrange meals at the best local restaurants, but he assisted us whenever we ordered food – something I particularly welcomed, as I would have otherwise had a hard time trying to explain all my dietary requirements.
Furthermore, Sat has such a witty sense of humour that with his anecdotes and jokes he made even the longest bus journeys incredibly entertaining.
Reason #3 – It is safer
To be fair, I didn’t really perceive much danger in India on the occasions I was out alone. Yes, there were a few not-so-subtle stares and I generally felt the need to cover my shoulders. Having a group to lean on was comforting in such cases. And what was even better was having a local guide watch over me and give plenty of advice and indications on safety issues and on scams.
Reason #4 – It is good for the local economy
One thing I truly enjoyed about my Passage to India tour is that we generally slept in family-run boutique hotels, and used only local guides. Not only were the hotels lovely, they were way more personable and charming than big chain ones. But as a traveller keen to promote responsible tourism, I was happy to see that whatever money we spent, it was going directly to benefit the local economy.
Reason #5 – The company is great
The group during my Passage to India tour was lovely. I was really worried that the solo traveller in me would find it hard to befriend people accustomed to guided group tours. It was actually incredibly fun. They were all in for a laugh, we shared the over abundant meals (try and get a small portion in India); we’d meet for a sunset beer (having a sunset drink is one of my favourite things to do when I travel) and we’d always look out for each other.
Choosing to join a guided tour of India meant that I made the most of my limited time in the country. I have no doubt that I will join other tours in the future.
Claudia Tavani is a former human rights lawyer and academic. She left her career to follow her real passion, which involves rafting down mighty rivers, zip lining across canyons and trekking to the craters of active volcanoes. Through her blog – My Adventures Across the World – she shares anecdotes and stories, she hopes to inspire others to travel, she gives plenty of travel tips and occasionally goes on a rant. She’s on a mission to hike up all volcanoes in the world! To see more pictures of Claudia’s India trip with On The Go, check our her Instagram gallery.
Featured blog image courtesy of Michael Kalonikos. See more of his images from our Passage to India tour on his Instagram m_kalonikos.