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Is India safe for tourists?

Laura Bly, (USA TODAY): The India tourism office’s popular “Incredible India” marketing campaign, which recently featured The Mentalist co-star Patricia Malone as a woman traveling the country solo, has helped boost the number of foreign visitors to about 6.6 million a year.

But a recent series of incidents — December’s gang-rape and subsequent death of an Indian student on a bus in New Delhi, the March 16 gang-rape and robbery of a Swiss tourist biking through central India with her husband, and Tuesday’s report that a British tourist jumped out of a third-floor hotel room in Agra to avoid what she said was a threatened sexual assault from the hotel manager — has raised alarms among would-be visitors, particularly solo women.

Britain’s foreign office updated its advisory for India on Tuesday, warning female tourists to “exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group.” The U.S. State Department’s website asks female travelers to “observe stringent security precautions” and “avoid travelling alone in hired taxis, especially at night,” while a Swiss foreign ministry advisory, issued before last week’s attack, urged men and women visiting India to travel in large groups and with guides, notes AFP.

At the Delhi office of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, executive director Gour Kanjilal told AFP it was unfair to portray India as dangerous.

“Our industry is the first casualty when crime against foreigners is reported in India, but the reporting does not always reflect the truth,” he said. “Tourists should be responsible. They should follow some do’s and don’ts.”

In a travel briefing issued in response to the alleged rape of the Swiss woman, the global risk consultancy firm Control Risks said that “although the incident is serious, violent crime against foreigners remains relatively rare in India,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“India remains generally safe for female travelers and most women will experience, at worst, unwelcome attention from men,” the firm’s report added, while cautioning tourists against traveling alone or in small groups.

Indeed, writes Toronto-based travel blogger and India expert Mariellen Ward of Breathedreamgo.com, “when it comes to India, I always encourage first-timers to join a group or go with a knowledgeable friend. There is a learning curve to being in India, no doubt about it. I have felt mostly safe over the 17 months I have travelled there; and have only minor incidents to report in all that time.”

“But what I REALLY feel is that India is no different than anywhere else,” she continues. “It is certainly getting a lot of publicity, and I’m glad these things are coming out in the open. The truth is the world is not safe for women anywhere. Rape stats in the USA, in South Africa and many other places are alarming and appalling … for example, Sweden is on many lists of safe places to travel (but) has a higher rate of rape, and a lower rate on the happiness index, than India.”

I, too, have traveled alone in India — albeit only for a 26-hour stint that included a late-night drive to Agra’s Taj Mahal — and returned with my husband for a two-week trip the following year. I often felt overwhelmed, but never questioned my personal safety.

Readers, what about you? Have recent events made you less likely to visit India?

Published Date: Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 | 03:29 PM

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