When women travel on their own, we are warned to steer clear of strangers, dark or dimly lit-areas and lonely places. What most people don't realise that danger lurks in more public areas, such as public transport and accommodation. But this doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t travel solo. In fact, sometimes, it’s a pleasure like no other, exploring places and themes that you like best; sometimes it is fun to travel with a women-only group where you can share ideas with like-minded buddies.
While general safety rules are same for everyone, women need to be a little extra careful and plan ahead. Choose hotels that are women-friendly—either they will have special rooms or allot rooms to women travellers in more secure areas of the hotel. While clothes are meant to be comfortable, ensure you follow the basic local customs and norms. Avail local transport as much as possible. If you have to travel long-distance by cars, see if you can travel in a group. Avoid going out at night in places where there is not much of a night-life. Keep the emergency numbers, especially that of the police, handy. You can always carry a simple safety gadget, like a pepper spray, in your bag. Women should not stay away from enjoying a trip but a little caution always helps.
1. Imphal, Manipur
It is ‘women’s day’ 24X7X365 at Ima Market or Khwairanband Bazaar, probably India’s only market where women run the show, selling everything from vegetables to household goods to handicrafts. It is located in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, home to the boxing legend Mary Kom. Take a walk around the scenic town overlooked by a chain of hills. Govindajee Temple, Bir Tikendrajit Park with its commemorative Shaheed Minar, the ruins of Kangla Fort, the Manipur State Museum and the War Cemetery are some of the places you must see. Do not forget to buy some of the colourful wraps worn by Manipuri women. With Imphal as your base, you can explore the surrounding areas, including Moirang, which is the traditional seat of the Lai Haraoba dance festival and home to the INA museum. You should also visit the Loktak Lake, a part of which lies in the Keibul Lamjao National Park, home to the sangai, a brow-antlered deer.
Imphal is connected with direct flights to Kolkata, Delhi, Guwahati and Agartala. Deluxe buses run between Imphal and Dimapur (Nagaland)/Guwahati (Assam).
Where to Stay
Imphal Hotel (from Rs 1700, tourismmanipur.nic.in), in the heart of the town, is run by Manipur Tourism. The Classic Hotel (from Rs 2,000, theclassichotel.in) is a good three-star property.
2. Bhuj, Gujarat
Spend a leisurely day looking around the few attractions in this little town, tucked inside Gujarat’s Kutch region, before falling prey to its charming textile and handicrafts. The mid-18th century palace called Aina Mahal, known for its hall of mirrors was styled on European architectural models by its Dutch-trained architect Ramsinh Malam. The bell tower of Prag Mahal is another draw, as are the Kutch Museum and the Folk Art Museum, Hamirsar Lake and the chhatardis of the Kutch royal family. Try the local cuisine, especially the pao bhaji. But the main draw of Bhuj is the traditional textile industry that has developed around it. Shroff Bazar in the town is one of the best places to look for ethnic textiles. Or, take a trip to Bhujodi, a town 8km away. Watch the craftsmen at work as they bring to life lovely patterns through block printing and tie-and-dye methods. Shrujan, a not for profit organisation for local women, sells a range of products. Hiralaxmi Memorial Craft Park, a kilometre away from Bhujodi, is also a shoppers’ delight. Winter is the best time to visit Bhuj.
You can take a direct flight or train from Mumbai or overnight sleeper buses from Ahmedabad.
Where to Stay
You could stay at the Garha Safari Lodge (from 4,200 doubles; kutchsafaribhuj.com) in a traditional style, or at City the Village (from Rs5,400; citythevillage.com).
3. Leh, Jammu & Kashmir
The once laid-back town in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, is slowly extending its limits and the town centre is far more crowded than what it was even a decade ago. However, you cannot deny that Leh, retains its charm. The Leh Palace, erstwhile seat of the rulers of Ladakh, said to be a replica of Tibet's Potala Palace is the main draw, along with the Jama Masjid and the Shanti Stupa. With a car at your disposal, you can cover the major sights in a day. These include the Hemis, Spituk and Thiksey monasteries and Shey palace. Try your skills at bargaining at the local market and you can end up with quite a handful of handicrafts. Leh is also the base for setting on a lake tour to Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. There are some great treks, like the short one in Hemis National Park, and to the base camp of Stok Kangri. Drive to the Nubra Valley, across the Khardung La, or drive down the Indus to see the amazing old murals at Alchi monastery, and further to the Lamayuru monastery to see the ancient, giant rock cut relief of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara.
You can either take the land route from Srinagar across the Zoji La or the longer one from Manali. Alternately fly directly to Leh from Delhi and Srinagar.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is plentiful in season. Try the Goba Guest House (from Rs600; +91 9596937530) or the Oriental Guest House (from Rs1,200 doubles; orientalhotel-ladakh.com)
4. Bundi, Rajasthan
Though a mere 35km by road from Kota, one of Rajasthan's buzzing commercial and educational centre, Bundi takes you back in time to a more laid-back environment. Explore the hill-top fort and palace (you could ask for an official guide at the ticket counter). The palace, Ummed Mahal, is an excellent place to study the evolution of the Bundi school of miniature painting, and don’t miss the gorgeous turquoise and gold murals of Chitrashala. The strenuous climb to the top of the fort offers a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside. Remember to carry a stick, available on hire at the ticket counter, as handy protection against the notorious local monkeys. Other highlights of Bundi include the Sukh Mahal, the Jait Sagar Lake, the stepwell Raniji ki Baori, and the 84-pillar cenotaph. Take a walk around the old town centre and its markets; you can buy fine Kota Doria textiles directly from the weavers here. Visit the local makers of lac bangles, and get them to customize the colours. While Bundi is a safe place for solo women travellers, avoid the unregistered guides who will insist on taking you to some of the waterfalls and old caves around Bundi. These are worth visiting, but try to go in a group with a registered guide.
The nearest airport is Jaipur. But it is more convenient to travel to Kota by train and then take the road to Bundi. Kota lies on the Delhi-Mumbai rail route and the Rajdhani stops here. There is also a Jan Shatabdi running between the Hazrat Nizammudin station in New Delhi and Kota. There are also direct buses to Bundi from Ajmer, Udaipur and Jaipur.
Where to Stay
Rajasthan Tourism's Tourist Lodge (from Rs 1,300 doubles, rtdc.tourism.rajasthan.gov.in) adjacent to the Jait Sagar Lake is a no-frills but clean and comfortable place to stay.
5. Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
If you are looking for a place to relax and disconnect, head to Coonoor. This tiny hill station, tucked away in the middle of the Nilgiri Hills, has managed to stay away from the touristy beat despite its proximity to Ooty. If you find the town-centre somewhat noisy and crowded, escape to the outer limits, where it is blissfully tranquil. A ride in the toy train (a Unesco World Heritage Railway) is one of the best ways to get to Coonoor. Set your own pace to explore the verdant expanse of the Nilgiris—the Botanical Garden at Sim's park, Lamb's Rock, Dolphin's Nose, Catherine Falls and the many lovely walks. Also look out for local coffee and the intensely aromatic Nilgiri tea.
The nearest airport, and broad gauge railway station is at Coimbatore, about 100km away. The onward journey can be made by road or on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Ooty is 20km away by road.
Where to Stay
To enjoy a tranquil stay, plan and book your accommodation of choice in advance. Tea Nest (from Rs 3,000 for weekend packages) is about 3km outside city limits, surrounded by tea gardens. Nearly 14km away from Coonoor town is Kurumba Village Resort (from Rs10,000 for weekend packages). Both can be booked at natureresorts.in. Neemrana Hotels runs a heritage property called Wallwood Garden (from Rs 2,750 doubles in low season; wallwood-garden.neemranahotels.com) carved out of a 19th century Scottish-style home.