White women should wear Kurtis for solo travelling in India?

If you are white then perhaps you are not right in India. This is not me saying it – this will be the ‘first’ impression you will get in India especially if you are a white woman travelling alone.

Unfortunately, in light of the Delhi gang rape of an Indian student and of that of the Swiss tourist, India seems to have been given a label as a dangerous, misogynistic jungle for women. In fact, the reality is far from the truth. India is a country which is incredibly rich in warmth, kindness and humanity. You will also find people who will go that extra mile to help you out, you will find the people are extremely friendly and helpful, men will step aside for you, men will carry your luggage if you are struggling, people will offer you something to eat and much more. These are some of the things you never hear about.

But social problems exist in India. There has been moral devaluation. Indian culture is sexually repressive to the extreme. The population do not have healthy attitude towards sex like the west. Combine this with severe economic and social inequality; you have got a dangerous mix.

As a solo female traveller to India…

  • You will have your boobs stared at
  • You will be considered as a “loose” western woman looking for sex
  • The Indians will want to be photographed with you
  • If you’re blonde then, you’ll have young men following you around
  • You might be groped and touched in crowded places
  • Beggars will insist that you give them alms
  • You’ll certainly be charged more by taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers
  • And so on…

Solo white women in India should wear Kurtis – a way out

I suggest you wear the Indian kurta or Kurti during your stay in India. The kurtas are usually for men while the kurtis are shorter visions of the same thing for women. These are traditional collarless shirt like tops that goes down to the knees. They can be worn with jeans or leggings rather than the traditional pajamas. More travel tips for India and what to wear in India.

White woman wearing Kurti

White foreign man and woman wearing Kurta and Kurti. Source: Eric.Parker’s on flickr

A foreigner recently travelled to India and wore these kurtis and she was able to get away by saying that she was from Nagaland, one of the North Eastern States of India. The people of Nagaland are generally lighter skinned. In addition to all this, she was even able get away by paying less admission prices at certain locations (Taj Mahal for instance) compared to Indian nationals.

The great thing about the kurti is that, you can have the best of both worlds – Western and Indian. Just make sure that these kurtis are light and comfortable preferably made of cotton. There are no shortages of Indian shops where you can buy them, even eBay and Amazon seems to be selling them. Or you can buy them when you are in India.

In addition to wearing the kurti, you can cover your strategic parts of your body with a dupatta. Although the dupatta is the scarf-like cloth for wearing with the salwar and kameez, it can be worn quite beautifully with the kurti.

At the Taj Mahal

Me wearing the salwar kameez and dupatta

It’s down to women travellers to take the responsibility for their safety. Wearing modestly and in tune with India’s culture will go down well not to mention that it will deter idiots and weirdoes that might take you for a ride.

Danger is certainly out there but you just have to be brave and be prepared specially if you are travelling alone in India. You know what they say, “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. Similarly, just dress as Indian women do. Cover up your curves with the kurti and the dupatta.

I have travelled to numerous countries and nowhere have I been harassed than my own country. My own experience is that it’s common for women to be groped, verbally harassed or stared at in a way that makes you want to dress in an Islamic Hijab. I’m afraid; Indians too need to take a good hard look at themselves on how they treat women on the streets.

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I know this sounds biased but you just need to be careful when travelling solo in India, so dress modestly and get treated well. Just trick them into thinking that you are an Indian.

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60 Responses to “White women should wear Kurtis for solo travelling in India?”

  1. Vivek Baghel says:

    Hi Shalu you are absolutely right White women should wear Kurtis. White women looks more beautiful in Kurtis ! Kurtis is Indian clothes & India women & girls wear Kurtis. I am not a women but I understand Kurtis comfortable clothes for women & wearing Kurtis for solo travelling is best.

  2. Suhas says:

    Hi Shalu,
    A good article again. It is shameful that we have to accept the existence of the improper general approach toward women travelling alone. I think this also happens with Indian women too. White women may grab more attention. I personally think that not only women but everyone must avoid travelling alone. Your tips are worth following for women.
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  3. Our Jaipur says:

    When I read first few lines I was like What ! ! ! but Very nice Article and very Nice Suggestion. . I totally agrees with this Kurti Concept.
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  4. Shalu Sharma says:

    Thank you, I am glad you liked it. The Kurti is a great choice for women travelling to India.
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  5. Radha says:

    Hey Nice Blog and useful info :) I agree with your points totally
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  6. Bindiya kapoor says:

    Just my thought

    Are you trying to say that if someone stare at you or harass you because you are in short dress then start wearing full clothes to avoid it. So what one has to wear will be decided by this corrupt minded people who think they have born right to tease or stare at females.

    If we really want to change our society then we have to teach lesson to these cheap people .Instead of wearing kurta ask them to keep a stick with them to beat and slap them. why should they lie about their identity through their clothing style. They should wear Indian ethnic clothes out of choice not out of fear.

    Nobody has right to instruct anyone about the way they have to dress up. I completely disagree to your thought. And as it is there is no assurance that these cheap people will not harass you if you have covered yourself completely.

    We have suppressed this kind of issues since many years and result is in front of us. If we had raised our voice instead of going the way of these corrupt minded people then we would have formed a much better society.

    • Shalu Sharma says:

      Bindya Kapoor,

      Thank you for your thoughts here. I respect your right to disagree with me.

      I have to say that I agree with you completely. No one should be advising what they should be wearing. But don’t you think that rape and harassment in India is so prevalent that the society and the government has failed on all fronts. Indian women are raped and still nothing has been done to prevent it. The least I want is foreign tourists being subjected to the same thing.

      So this post is just an advisory and not an instruction. People are free to wear what they want.

      I had my own share of harassment and groping when I was living in Delhi and funny thing is that when I dressed slightly conservatively, the harassment dropped dramatically, hence this post stems out of my experience.

      Secondly, hitting and slapping the perpetrators would not be any good. In fact, the whole situation might turn against you especially if you are alone – even though this would be the best thing to do. You just have to be practical here!

      Thirdly, changing the Indian society is beyond my abilities. It’s a sexually starved nation and is losing its morals. I think it has a long way to go. Till then, the only option left is to protect yourself in whatever way possible even it means wearing modestly.

      Let me know if you agree on this.
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  7. Hi Shalu… While I appreciate your reason to warn visitors to India, I think in equal measure we need to tell our men that visitors are guests in our country and we should treat them with respect. The people with cheap mentality look with evil eye at both white as well as brown or women of any color. The problem of harassing women can not go away with just women dressing with modesty, men need to change their mentality also.
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    • Shalu Sharma says:

      You are right about asking Indian men to respect our visitors to the country. In fact, this is a very good idea.

      I have already mentioned some of the things that can happen in India, like it or dislike it, its a fact of life for many Indian women and this is extended to visitors unfortunately.

      The reasons for mentioning white is that we have been hearing of stories about how some white solo travellers are treated in India. There are no shortages of personal stories online.

      Its all about being careful. Thank you for your input.
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  8. Hi Shalu,

    I totally agree with your view point here :)

    White women, or for that matter any women should be covered well when travelling. Yes, in India while we have the educated lots, there are more of the uneducated ones also whose stares and glares you cannot avoid.

    It only makes sense to wear such clothes that will help you remain safe when you travel. I think wearing the Kurti with long skirts or even jeans is great and looks good too. Even Salwar kameez looks good on white women and I’ve often seen them wearing those and roam around freely.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead :)
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    • Shalu says:

      I am glad you agree with me. It seems that not many will but I would prefer to wear modestly then be started at, or gropped or even worse. Its all about being practical. Nowadays, I am too seeing many foreign women wearing Indian dresses. Thank you for your comment Harleena.
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    • Bindiya kapoor says:

      Shalu it is great to have this conversation with you, I can’t say that I respect your thought but yes I do appreciate the concern You have shown specially for white women.

      I still disagree with you :) may be because my personal experiences are different from yours. I have been born and brought up in Mumbai and since my childhood have seen locals responding and slapping these cheap people and other have always come to
      help the innocent. I have traveled late night for years but never felt unsafe.By this I neither mean that rape & harassment doesn’t happens in Mumbai nor I am comparing it with other city .My only point is people have to respond back in right way to
      these harassment, and my right way (with my experiences) definitely differs from
      your way

      If you are a solo traveler then one should be alert enough not only in their choice of dressing but for the place and people roaming around them . One can even be raped in kurta or saree if they are in a lonely place.

      When it comes to Society and the government I think first they have to try in all front with right attitude then their failure & success would be measured. They have just started raising their voice and it will definitely take years to change these cheap mentality.

      Society is formed of people like you and me and changing it means changing our own thought first. yes our Indian society is losing its morals and I guess loads of things are responsible for it including our education system , media & family upbringing. Least we can do is start showing/teaching respect & equality for women to our children.

      Of course one should dress up modestly but it is subjective. For one it means Kurti or saree and for others it could be jeans or short. And if modest dressing means wearing full clothes then ask guys also to stop wearing shorts, tight t shirts, transparent shirts etc. (it can provoke female also) :) Lets treat each other equally.

      And If dressing is such a major thing to control rape and harassment then we all should respect
      Islam for asking their women to be in burqa and all of us should start wearing it.
      We should appreciate Islam vision about Indian male & society,there could not be any other modest clothing
      other then burqa.

      • Shalu Sharma says:

        You know I agree with you fully. But in a land that does not treat its women right, what options do you have? You talk about Mumbai, Mumbai is not the whole of India. The real India lies in its smaller towns and villages where the scene is completely different.

        In addition, your experiences are different to mine. It will all depend on how and where you are coming from. If you were travelling in a chauffeur driven car and then you are not going to be groped but if you have travelled in public transport like the ones in Delhi, chances are quite high.

        Nothing wrong with wearing shorts or jeans, everyone wears it. All I am saying that in a conversation country like India, perhaps precautions could be a good idea.
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        • Bindiya kapoor says:

          Shalu, I agree Mumbai is not whole India and it should not be because every corner of India has its own charm and that’s the beauty of this country.Not only Mumbai there are other cities also which are comparatively safer place.And of course Mumbai has its bad side also like any other city.

          Mumbai example was just to tell you about my own experiences. And yes I do travel in local buses and rickshaw here but I agree that situation here are not like Delhi buses and that’s my whole point, Mumbai or other safer cities have not suddenly emerged from somewhere, it has been formed by people like you and me only. These cities are also part of same conservative India but it is comparatively safer city because instead of thinking about the short term solution most of the locals and authorities worked toward long term solution.Precautions should be starting point of long term solution not short term escape to problem.

          May be wearing kurta or saree can minimize these harassment but according to me this is just a short term solution, It is good for people who comes here for a short trip but when you have to spend months and years here then it could be frustrating to
          stick to specific clothing style just to avoid harassment.That’s why I said one should wear it out of love & liking not out of fear then you can wear it for lifetime. And from years we have repeated
          this mistake of opting for short term solutions like girl should be at home before dark, their dress code etc. and we can see what it has resulted into. It is time to see long term effects.

          I will tell you real fact from my own experience as I stay near IIT Mumbai and youngsters from all over India come here for education and work .Most of these youngsters specially girls are wearing more revealing clothes compare to locals may be because they have always been deprived of wearing these clothes in their own city.I have been in to TV industry where 70 % crowd are not from Mumbai and I have seen
          them picking up smoking and changing their attire drastically immediately. There are list of things which I can go on writing..

          And i don’t understand why we always try to find Real India in villages & small town,the so called developed cities are also part of Real India. We have to change our image about our own country first.

          • Shalu says:

            I understand your point of view that wearing conservative clothing is a short term solution hence the advice given to women from abroad. Nowhere in the post have I mentioned that revealing clothes is a problem. All I said was that wearing certain clothing will attract less attention. The problem lies not in the clothes but the mentality of the men who sees women in such clothing.

            As far as Mumbai is concerned about not representing India, I said that because Mumbai is just a fraction of India. Most of the people from India comes from smaller towns and villages hence it can be said that Mumbai or Delhi is not the real India.
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        • Bindiya kapoor says:

          This conversation can go on and on as I don’t agree to you on many things and vice versa.
          Kurti or sarees are Indian traditional wear but not conservative clothing. Individually Mumbai and all other city, state are just fraction of India, United we form India. I don’t understand which part of India is unreal or real India. Does that mean I am an unreal Indian because I am from Mumbai?
          Anyways it was wonderful chatting with you and know a different perspective of life. If you are anytime in Mumbai,it will be a pleasure to meet you. Thank you.

    • Agastya says:

      Harleena, can you please define me your definition of education and its opposite? I would love to get into a healthy discussion?

  9. I. C. Daniel says:

    Not only in India are boys who annoy solo travelling women Shalu. We have too.

    Almost every country have a similar problem.

    If they read your article than India problems are solved, now remain all other countries.

    Best regards from I. C. Daniel
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  10. It could be quite irritating to move around when people keep staring at you. This kind of attitude will only result in lesser no of tourists visiting India. But I am not able to understand why people harass women less, when they are wearing traditional costumes?

    Destination Infinity
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  11. Salika Jay says:

    Hi Shalu, it’s a sad situation given India has so much to offer. And it’s nice of you to write this post with tips to avoid becoming a victim of such situations. Luckily I didn’t have any problems while traveling in India but I guess it’s mainly because I look like an Indian and I was with a group where there were number of males. Again, good advice!
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  12. JEFF TAYLOR says:

    I appreciate your pragmatism- women traveling alone (or anyone traveling alone for that matter) must be pragmatic about safety. It’s just a shame that such extreme measures (pretend to be someone you’re not) must be taken in order to avoid being harassed or assaulted!
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  13. Arnold Stoyle says:

    Good note, really liked it. Travelling alone sometimes can be unsafe so I guess you’ve got the point.
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  14. CBhushan says:

    A good, balanced take on the problem.

    I hold the view that men should be held responsible for their actions and women should be free to wear what they want. In practice it is probably easier to simply dress conservatively.

  15. Ankit from Android says:

    I must admit, you write very straight forward. I haven’t seen many bloggers using the words which you’ve used in the points (Groped etc.).
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  16. Agastya Kapoor says:

    Education is such a beautiful word and such illusionary too. I met one man last year who was driving me to a certain place.
    He was constantly repeating “Main to saaheb anpadh hun.” But I wanted to show him a third side, so @ the end of the journey I

    shared my thoughts with him.

    I asked him that if he can read a sad face of someone very dear. He said “Yes.” Then I asked him if he can write happiness

    upon that dear person’s face and he said “Yes” again. I proved him that he is neither an illiterate nor an uneducated person.

    According to me, he can read and write both. Education cannot mean reading and writing just alphabets in certain language but

    it has to do with enlightenment. It transcends all of this. I get very amazed when people discriminate between educated and

    uneducated people when we all, mostly all of us, are actually uneducated. Only a few enlightened ones are really educated.

    Just trying to explore this side.

    Haven’t most us, at least once in our life time, associated human traits to certain animal? Donkey for dumb or Lion for

    strong etc. How foolish are we to grade different creations of nature. Nature made us all equal, so who are we to give them

    adjectives? Is this being educated?

    Haven’t most of us, at least once in ur life time, busted crackers in festivals? We all understand very well that these

    chemicals destroy our environment badly and there are many alternatives to celebrate. But we still keep doing it without even

    thinking of the small children and women who die every year due to making crackers. They have no choice because we and
    Government haven’t given them any other career option. We destroy environment directly and kill other people indirectly. Is

    this being educated?

    Doesn’t so many of us smoke cigarette and throw the bud on the street? We don’t even love our live how are we going to love

    mother nature or even our partner? Is this being educated?

    Wasting tonnes of water by taking bath through shower? Not going for election? Killing animals and plants in abundance?

    Speaking about equality and keeping special seats for women or saying “Ladies First”? Finding temporary solutions for

    problems? Not speaking up most of the time? Judging a human by his skin color, food, language, lifestyle? Being envious to

    other people’s success when we’re all successful and when we are unique any which ways? Breaking traffic rules and then stand

    up for anti-corruption parades? Being dishonest about our hypocrisy? Associating Islam to terrorism? Praying to demi-gods

    when our own Bhagvad Gita doesn’t recommend it? Talking bullshit about faith without even reading Vedas or any other books or

    doing service? Talking about religion without even knowing what religion is? Comparing unique creations ….. and my

    favorite, saying uparwala with pointing upwards, when God is everywhere and in our heart too? Following western culture

    blindly without even understanding the beauty or flipside of it? Copying songs and films and giving and accepting awards?

    and this list – that has things we do daily – can go on. Is this all is being educated?

    Kahin hum apne aap ko hi to dhokhaa nahi de rahe? Living in a disillusioned world with blinders on our eyes, like that horse?
    We have changed each and every definition of everything available in this universe, that we think is made our disposal. And

    finally, above all, educated person writing this post and educated people reading this post….THIS BLOG HAS ITSELF STARTED

    WITH THE WORD “WHITE WOMEN.” We have still not come out of the black and white concept, how are we going to respect women or even men?

    Are we really educated? I am definitely NOT yet.

    • Shalu Sharma says:

      The word black and white was not invented by me, its used widely in the west so I no need to be apologetic about it.
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      • Agastya Kapoor says:

        Definitely, You don’t need to feel apologetic to anyone as this is your own space but one thing that you can do is NOT promote the wrong practices followed in the West. Nothing personal about it but why do we keep following and following; why not be an original thinker instead :)

        • Shalu says:

          To be honest, I have no idea what you are talking about. What wrong practices have I promoted followed in the west? Please clarify?
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          • Agastya Kapoor says:

            Of course, I am talking about the “White” word you were talking about. I understand that you didn’t invent this word but you are quietly using it and then saying “What wrong.”

            I have no idea about why are you talking about inventing words, I am talking about using it, when you also know that a color of skin is not that actual person.

  17. Rahul from Deals For India says:

    You have nailed it again Shalu. But you have generalized s for the heads up.
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  18. Hello Shalu! I appreciate that you wrote this post, and that you are concerned about women — as I am too (as you know).

    However, I think perhaps you could consider changing your tone. I also write about travel safety tips for women on my India travel blog, Breathedreamgo.com, as you know, and I am careful not to use the word “should.” Or at least not in the headline where it comes off as an imperative, as if you are saying they are wrong if they don’t.

    Also, I never ever ever ever write about “brown women” and I personally don’t like to be called white. I am not my skin colour. Perhaps you could use the term foreigner, so it includes all women who were not born in India, and not just caucasians.

    Mariellen
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    • Shalu says:

      Mariellen

      I am aware about your concerns about women safety and you are doing a wonderful job. Your blog is a great blog and wonderful resource. In fact, I invite you to write a guest-post here.

      I had no intention to point to those women who might not wish to wear the kurta/kurti that they are wrong.

      The word “white” was not invented by me. In fact, it is used widely in the west to denote race. For instance, in an application form in the west – you will often be asked to indicate your race Such White, Black, Chinese, Indian, Other etc.

      The word “brown” is not the correct term, Indians are a race on its own. While the word “White” is referred as caucasians. These two words mean the same thing, created by the West.

      But I understand your point of view. I did not use the word foreigner because I was writing for “white/Caucasian” women . But believe me, it was not intended to raise any eyebrows but you are right that I should have used the word “could” that sounds more as an advice rather than an imperative.

      Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you.
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  19. Nile says:

    I do travel a lot. I normally wear a nice blouse and slacks unless it is a beach destination. It is normally because of how I was raised as my father and his father before him were in the military… we were expected to dress well in public.

    I don’t have a problem travelling by myself, but I also do not allow myself to become a victim. I am trained in Kempo and Kyusho as well as have been wrestling since I was very young.

    I think any female traveler needs to have some type of knowledge in self defense. I have been mugged twice and the guy ended up beat up instead. I only had a couple minor knife marks.

    The other things is to be aware of your environment and research your destinations in depth before going. I did a lot of research before going to Colombia and during that time.

    I know when I get a chance to go to India, I am glad for sites like yours, Shalu. :)
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    • Shalu Sharma says:

      Nile

      You seem to be an expert in martial arts which is lovely. My sons are learning Tae Kwon do and I just cannot stress the importance of these arts in both safety and personal discipline.

      You are absolutely right on learning on some type of self defence or at least some techniques especially for those women who are travelling alone.

      You mentioned that you were mugged and you ended by with knife marks, that sounds scary to me.

      Thanks for your lovely comment about the site.
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  20. David Tucker says:

    I totally agree with you that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Apparently, taking some precautionary measures won’t do any harm. And in my humble opinion, not travelling alone could be a good precautionary measure, too.
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  21. Agness says:

    I agree with that. Women, especially foreigners, should cover their bodies as much as possible in India and Sri Lanka. Otherwise, all men will keep starring at you, pinch your bum and try to touch your legs. That happened to me in Sri Lanka and I felt so awkward and embarrassed.
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  22. Naina says:

    Nice article !!!!!! Kurtis and long tees are good option for women’s traveling alone in India as they are comfortable easy washable clothes but they cant stop men’s harassing them and I think not any type of dressing sense or style can stop men by starring badly……. Because respect never comes from eyes but it comes from heart and from your mentality…………

  23. Kurtis are the good option not only for white women’s but also for Indian girls too. Even though they are in trends professionally and formally.

  24. Anushha says:

    I like wearing kurtis just because I like it and the level of comfort is more when you get into a kurti in comparison to a tee. India has indeed become stained due to a number of rape incidents that have taken place in the country. What is needed is a paradigm shift in the thinking rather than a shift in the dress code. Each and every girl, be it an Indian or a foreigner should have the liberty to wear what she want. Thanks.

  25. martylou says:

    That is indeed a great piece of advice Shalu. Asian countries like India and Pakistan still have the population of people who have not accepted individuality of women (be them native or tourists) and they do all that you have mentioned here. So it is really a safe and smart idea for solo women to wear kurti on their travel around India. Great share.

  26. This is one very practical tip. When travelling alone in other places, it is a must to wear decently and if possible, go as how the crowd goes to avoid any misconceptions or harassment.
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  27. Harman says:

    I totally agree with you shalu,
    Foreigners are dominated in India and we must take a better initiative to clear this dump.
    I appreciate your way of doing this :)
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  28. You are saying right Shalu. I completely agree with your Post.
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  29. very beautiful post well you are right even the people came from other countries wear more indian clothes these days !

  30. Ritu says:

    Hi Shalu

    White women looks more beautiful in Kurtis ! Kurtis is Indian clothes & India women & girls wear Kurtis.In practice it is probably easier to simply dress conservatively.

  31. forlia says:

    Thanks for your post, shalu. Next desember I will on duty in India. And I believe this information very meant to me.

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