A guest post from Priyanka of On My Canvas travel blog on her solo travels in Himachal Pradesh, India. Head to the end of the post for solo travel tips, useful guide for those wondering if solo female travel in Himachal Pradesh is safe.
For a whole week, rain poured in Dharamshala’s Bhagsu Nag village.
The hills were so slippery that even short walks had to be braved. All of us travelers were confined to our rooms and the restaurant of the big blue Bhagsu homestay. We must have gone through our mental lists of things to do in Dharamshala at least a hundred times. I was particularly eager to explore more of Dharamshala, as I was soon leaving for Parvati Valley.
Finally, the sun came out. Encouraged by the warmth of the morning, a friend and I decided to head to Mcleodganj, another town in Dharamshala district.
After a short downhill hike, we were eating Himachali dham—a traditional Himachali thali of rice, dal, and curries—in a small dhaba in Mcleodganj. As soon as my friend finished her meal, she got up and left. Though I was getting accustomed to this leave-whenever behavior of many travelers, I still felt alone whenever someone went away abruptly, despite whatever plan we had.
Really, I shouldn’t have cared; by that time I’d hiked and wandered solo in Dharamshala’s villages for about a month. After a flute lesson in Dharamkot, I’d walk up to the pine woods to practice flute on my own. Elbowing my way through rose bushes and ignoring mosquitoes, I would tread off random paths, searching for scenic points to look over the valley. Once, I hiked up a hill and almost ran into a Himalayan deer! She was far more startled than I.
Never had I felt uneasy or unsafe in the mountains. No one had stalked me or tried touching me indecently just because I was alone in the woods.
Trusting my instincts, I decided I would make an adventure out of that day. I paid for my dham, strapped my bag on my back, and strode on.
Hikes and help on the way down to Dharamshala
Walking back from the town, I took a downward road on the way from Bhagsu to Mcleodganj I’d always wanted to explore. I hiked from village to village, sauntering on tiny muddy trails, clambering down my way through treacherously placed rocks on the edges of hills, and stopping regularly to drink water and soak in the view.
At many points, multiple paths lay in front of me. Each time, a local man or woman would appear from nowhere and help guide me on my way. One Himachali woman told me the path I was following could lead me all the way to Dharamshala. When I asked her if I would be able to find my way to the city, she remarked that if I had made it from Bhagsu to her village, I wouldn’t get lost.
Mid-journey, I descended down into a valley full of grazing horses. They ignored me as they drank from a trickling stream.
At first I was scared: it was just me and the horses. If someone followed me or tried to harm me, I would neither be able to run—steep mountains surrounded us on all sides—nor would anyone hear my calls for help from the bottom of the deep valley.
But there was really no reason to worry; all the locals and foreigners had been cordial and respectful in Himachal until then. I calmed down and climbed up a mountain, plodding on. When rain began to pour, I slowed down to let it soak me.
Within five hours of starting my journey, I was in Dharamshala, a city overlooking the snowcapped Dhauladhar mountain range.
After a lunch of kadhi and rice, I began exploring the city, and eventually decided to see a movie on my own. By the time I came out of the theatre at 10 PM, shared taxis and local buses had stopped. Rain was pouring, street lights weren’t working, and most people had gone home already. I was alone in the center of the city.
It sounds scary, but it took no time at all to hire a private taxi driver to drop me at the bottom of Bhagsu Nag village. We chatted for the entire ride, and I treated myself to a Bhagsu cake, a local specialty, once he dropped me. That night, I went to bed feeling like a little girl who just discovered the entire world.
And this is but one day. I have many more stories of long journeys along unknown paths in Himachal Pradesh. All end with me returning to my room, happy and safe.
Is solo female travel in Himachal Pradesh safe?
Himachal Pradesh and its many valleys are known to be very secure for travelers. People who live there— both locals and foreigners — want more travelers to come and explore the mighty Himalayas. If tourists weren’t comfortable, they wouldn’t visit and live freely as they do now.
Is it safe to hike solo in Himachal Pradesh?
In Himachal, solo, couple, and group hikers can be found easily on both long and short hikes with or without guides. If you meet any locals on the way, they might warn you about Himalayan bears… but they wouldn’t say you have to be careful of people.
The coherent ecosystem of Himachal promotes live and let live. Neither I nor my Indian/international friends felt unsafe in Himachal. I don’t know of anyone who had unpleasant incidents during our stay. We even went out at night, walked through empty hills, and still we felt comfortable.
Later on, I explored and hiked in Parvati Valley solo. The only encounters I had were with kind shepherds or fat furry dogs who helped me or accompanied me on my journey. Once, I stumbled into an apple farm on an obscure path near Old Manali. It was raining heavily, so the farmer invited me to his farm and we had tea together in his orchard. When I hitchhiked solo from one Spitian village to another, I rode with many truck and car drivers; our casual conversations made me feel as if I’d known them my whole life.
Did I have any bad experiences in Himachal Pradesh?
Most Himachal places — Spiti Valley, Dharamshala, Parvati Valley, Manali, and surrounding places — are extremely calm.
The only time I was a bit creeped out was in the middle of the New Manali Bazaar. A drunk man stared at me, sat too close, and didn’t move even when I shouted at him. Something similar happened in Manikaran: a drunk man decided to stand inches away from my Chilean friend and I as we waited for our bus. When we told the locals about him, they surrounded the man, and told him to be ashamed of himself for troubling us. The local tea-shop owner and others kept an eye on the guy and made sure he didn’t trouble us.
It’s important to note that these are the crowded and the more accessible places of Himachal. There, travelers come from the North Indian cities of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, mostly to drink rather than explore the mountains or to live peacefully. They might approach solo women or even women in groups; you can mostly avoid bad situations by saying no or involving locals if men persist.
Towards the interiors of the Himalayas, everyone is there for a purpose. The more remote you go, the safer and more peaceful you will be.
Safety tips for solo female travel in Himachal Pradesh
Despite how safe Himachal Pradesh is for solo travelers—women or otherwise—here are some tips you should follow while traveling alone there:
- If someone asks you weird questions or stares, politely tell them you know they’re looking at you and ask them to not stare. Occasionally, people stare out of curiosity, not with the intention of ogling.
- Trust your instincts and past experience in the place. Know it’s natural to feel more conscious if you are alone and going on a hike or walking around in the mountains.
- Carry a flashlight if going out at night to avoid stepping on animals (mostly snakes) and to avoid falling off any cliffs. Not that the region is particularly full of snakes or that it’s easy to fall off cliffs, but we’re still talking about the mountains.
- If you want to go on a long trek, make sure someone at the homestay/hotel knows where you’re going. Carry essentials like medicine, phone, flashlight, rain jacket, etc.
- Always check with locals before starting out. Some hikes shouldn’t be done alone, and locals may connect you with a guide. If there’s been a landslide, talk of a lingering bear, or something else, local people would know. Better to be safe than sorry!
- Stay aware of your surroundings, especially if smoking or chilling in the mountains alone or with a group of people you just met. Though the area is safe and most people are nice, it’s still important to be careful. If something happens in the mountains, there might not be anyone around to call for help.
- Keep the phone number of the homestay or hotel handy in case you have to call them in an emergency.
- Make the most of it! Himachali people are used to seeing solo travelers; they won’t be weirded out by a solo female traveler as, say, locals in smaller cities of Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh where solo women aren’t common.
Most importantly, have a great trip in Himachal Pradesh!
What’s your top tip for solo travelers? Share it in the comments.