Exploring Diwali in India | Solo Female Travel
If you are planning to take a trip across India as a solo female traveller, there is no better time than Diwali. It will literally ‘light’ up your journey like no festival ever can. Celebrate the ultimate triumph of good over evil by taking a solo trip across India where streets, homes and establishments are decked up with diyas, lamps and lights.
Diwali lights LITERALLY swarm the whole country. This is exactly why Diwali is also called as the ‘festival of lights.’ Check out this picture of India by Italian astronaut Paulo Nespoli on Diwali day. You will get an idea of what I am talking about.
Diwali is also a great time for tourists because there is cheer and joy in the air. You can experience what celebrations in India feel like and take back home fond memories. Exploring a country when its people are in a festive mood would be a good thing to do. It will lift your spirits too and give you a much-needed rejuvenation.
Here are six top ways to explore the famous Indian festival of Diwali for a solo female traveller. You will get a sense of what to do on Diwali day or the days preceding the festival from this account. These are completely based on my experiences, and I hope they will be of use to you. Read on:
Shop till you drop
Diwali season is also the shopping season in India. It is a time where one can avail great prices and great discounts too. The best stocks of clothes, jewellery, shoes and other accessories come around Diwali. If you’re a shopaholic and are in North India during Diwali time, I recommend going to Delhi. Chandni Chowk, Dariba Kalan and Paharganj Market. Here is a guide to navigating North India as a solo female traveller.
I got pretty clothes and silver jewellery at great rates from these places. The Diwali attire in North India is Salwar-Kameez or Lehengas with matching jewellery. Make sure you choose appropriate clothing to wear on Diwali day when you shop.
If you are in South India during Diwali, then I recommend going to Chennai and Kancheepuram. Diwali or Deepavali is a big deal in Tamil Nadu and the shopping sprees that people indulge in are proof. Buy a great Kancheevaram saree, matching jewellery and some malli poo (jasmine flowers). When in Rome, be a Roman!
Now, if you do not have the time to go to a shop and choose your attire, you could always get shopping done online. Diwali is the time when online shopping websites in India give out great deals. The Amazon Great Indian Shopping Festival is a great example. This way, you could get discounts as well as save time on ‘physical shopping’. Thank God for the internet, right?
Celebrate with a local
Being a female solo tripper on her way to India during Diwali, you should celebrate with the locals. There are no better people to tell you the do’s and don’ts of a festival. So get on a journey to ‘learn from the locals’ as the old adage goes. Websites like Viator can help you get connected with local families in top Indian cities. You can get the ultimate Diwali experience in this way. The guest is treated like God in Indian families. As the saying goes in Sankrit – Athithi Devo Bhava. (The Guest is God). You can wine and dine with them, decorate their home, get gifts for their family members and more.
You can share your experiences of travelling with your ‘newfound family’ and get them to share too. If conversing in the local language is a problem, then I suggest you get a translator app on your phone. Learn how to say basic greetings in their language as this may help you in the future too. For example, let us look at the two most-spoken languages in India: Hindi in North India and Tamil in South India. ‘Hello’ in Hindi is Namaste. In Tamil, ‘Hello’ is poised as a question: Eppadi Erukkenge? (How are you?).
Make sure you are comfortable with the family and are not staying with them ‘for the sake of experience’. If you do not get the right vibes from people, trust your gut feeling. Excuse yourself from the situation as smoothly as possible. In case you do choose to leave in the middle of celebrations, make sure you bid them a proper goodbye. In the same way, make sure you make the local family comfortable. Never overstep your boundaries – whatever may be the case.
Have fun with firecrackers
There is a very famous saying in almost all cities of India – what is Diwali without firecrackers? If you ask the locals, they would agree that firecrackers are the very soul of Diwali. Firecrackers, varying in intensity and colour, are burst in every part of the country. As a solo female traveller who is visiting India during Diwali, you should try this guilty pleasure. Especially if you have never done it before.
Like all daring acts, bursting firecrackers also comes with a safety disclaimer. You need to be at a safe distance from where all the bursting fun is happening. Also wear loose, non-synthetic clothing when you happen to light the firecracker. Let somebody ease you into the process – do not throw caution into the wind. Have loads of fun and make sure you click pictures too!
Feast like a queen. Yass queen!
No Diwali is complete without a grand feast. Diwali sweets and savouries are to absolutely die for. If you are in North India, you should check out sweets like laddoo, gujjia, kheer, and gulab jamun. Savoury Diwali dishes include onion bhaji, paneer tikka and mixed vegetable pulao. You should check out restaurants that have special Diwali feasts and offers on them too. You could get an idea about the food of the region and relish new dishes.
In case you are in South India, you should taste sweets like ukkarai, rava kesari, rava laddoo, and adhirasam. Payasam is also a must-try dessert available all across South India on Diwali day. In case of savoury dishes, a complete South Indian meal is served on a banana leaf. This meal will include dishes like sambar, poriyal, kaara kozhumbu and parippu or pappu (dal). The South Indian Diwali dishes are remarkably different from its North Indian counterparts. I recommend going to a restaurant which serves both, regardless of which part of India you are visiting. This way, you get the best of both worlds, right?
Go to a temple
On Diwali day, temples all across the country will be adorned with pretty lights and diyas (clay lamps). It is such a sight to behold, I must tell you. So as a female traveller on a Diwali trip to India, I suggest you visit some temples too. On my visit to Delhi during Diwali I was spellbound by the charm of lamps against the beautiful architecture of the Akshardham temple. A special Diwali puja (offering) was conducted too, which I could be a part of. It gave me a new perspective into the Hindu community’s culture and their rituals.
Make sure you learn about the visitor policy of each temple before your visit. Some temples do not allow the entry of ‘non-Hindus’, while other temples do not have such binding policies. So, make sure to respect the temple’s terms and conditions before stepping in.
Bazaar-hopping for the win!
Diwali bazaars (markets) and Diwali melas (fairs) are a part and parcel of any Diwali celebration in India. As a solo female traveller going to India during Diwali, you should know this. Bazaars are full of people making merry and buying everything from food to fabric- all in the spirit of the festival.
If you want to be a part of the Diwali bazaar frolic, then ask around for the most happening fairs in your city. It should be at a commutable distance from where you are staying. As these bazaars are mostly conducted in open grounds, make sure you note down landmarks to make navigation easier. Or you could get lost in the swarming crowds. You can also get a local from the city to accompany you on your bazaar hopping adventures. This way, you will know which areas to go and which areas to avoid.
But if you want to do this on your own, then look for security guards or policemen who may be patrolling the area. Ask them politely for their phone numbers, and save them on your phone. This is what I did during my Diwali visit to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. A bollywood movie production was taking place in a large ground, and I got so immersed in it that I lost my way after it was over. Fortunately for me, I had noted down the number of a policeman I had met earlier. I called him up. He not only helped me find my way back to the entrance, but also got me a ride back to the hotel. If you want to use public transport to get to such bazaars, these tips might help you.
Safety tips & advices to follow during Diwali in India
Diwali and other festivals are great to be a part of. But based on personal experience, I must tell you that you should prioritise safety. Also as a solo female traveller exploring Diwali for the first time, there may be things that you are not aware of. I hope the following tips help you in this regard.
1. Always be alert
As a woman solo tripping to India during Diwali, it is important for you to stay safe. This does not mean that you cannot let loose and enjoy, but always be prepared for any situation. For example, large crowds gather in public during Diwali time.
This may include miscreants and anti-social elements too, unfortunately. So always be alert; have the presence of mind to act if things go wrong. Always keep your wallet and other important things guarded. Note down the number of the nearest police station.
In general, do not go to shady areas. Trust your gut instinct. Do not believe everything that strangers tell you. Always verify claims with a legit source. Follow this to a T and you should be just fine. Is India a safe haven for solo female travellers?
2. Book your hotel well in advance
No matter where you are in India during Diwali, last-minute booking will land you in trouble. I guarantee you that this will happen. Either you may not get a hotel with good reviews or you may get a least-favourite room. So do your research online and check out preferred hotels at least 2 months before your trip. Check if other tourists have flagged any concerns about the hotel you are booking, to be safe. You should be confident about every part of the travel – from the booking to the boarding. Here are 10 important things you should carry on your first solo trip to India during Diwali time.
3. Can you burst firecrackers?
You may have heard from your friends (who have been to India) that firecrackers are a sensitive topic here. While some people argue against it for the sake of the environment, some people are for it citing culture. If you have never burst firecrackers before, check if the Indian state you are visiting allows it. Do not be disappointed to find out later that they do not allow it.
4. Have a plan B – always!
You may already know that things do not go as expected in life. No matter how well you have planned an event or trip, things are bound to go haywire in some way or the other. It is Murphy’s law.
So always have a plan B in place. Suppose your intercity travel does not work out on the day of Diwali after celebrations. Do not worry; this happens most of the time. Instead of panicking, you can stay at a hotel and figure out the next steps in peace. Also, you are never alone; you have yourself. So many things went wrong on my first solo trip. Read how I even cried my eyes out. But it will all get better with practice and you will be a seasoned solo traveller, I promise.
I hope, dear readers, that you get to experience Diwali like this – a Diwali that can make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is one positive experience out of many awkward ones that I had while travelling solo. Know top 14 awkward solo travel moments and how to tackle them.
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.