Travellers to India’s major cities may fall prey to opportunistic crime, but many problems can be avoided with a bit of common sense and an appropriate amount of caution. Reports of sexual assaults have increased in recent years, so women should take care to avoid potentially risky situations.
Have a look at the India branch of Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree), where travellers often post timely warnings about problems they’ve encountered on the road. Always check your government’s travel advisory warnings.
India has a number of (sometimes armed) dissident groups championing local causes, who have employed the same tried and tested techniques of rebel groups everywhere: assassinations and bomb attacks on government infrastructure, public transport, religious centres, tourist sites and markets.
Certain areas are prone to insurgent violence – specifically Kashmir, states in the Northeast Region such as Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, remote tribal regions in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and, less frequently, parts of West Bengal. Read the latest government travel advisory for up-to-the-minute reports on where is considered unsafe.
Curfews and strikes can close the roads (as well as banks, shops etc) for days on end in sensitive regions like Kashmir or Assam.
International terrorism is as much of a risk in Europe or the US, so this is no reason not to go to India, but it makes sense to check the local security situation carefully before travelling (especially in high-risk areas).
Warning: Bhang Lassi
Although it’s rarely printed in menus, some restaurants in popular tourist centres will clandestinely whip up bhang lassi, a yoghurt and iced-water beverage laced with cannabis (and occasionally other narcotics). Commonly dubbed ‘special lassi’, this often potent concoction can cause varying degrees of ecstasy, drawn-out delirium, hallucination, nausea and paranoia. Some travellers have been ill for several days, robbed or hurt in accidents after drinking this fickle brew. A few towns have legal (controlled) bhang outlets. While these legal bhang sellers are happy to sell to foreigners, the bhang is intended for religious purposes. For travellers, buying from a legal shop is not a protection against being arrested for possession.
Useful Government Resources
The following government websites offer travel advice and information on current hotspots.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/fco)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca)
German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.go.jp)
Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.government.nl)
Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs (www.eda.admin.ch)
US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)