The Ultimate Travel Guide to North India | Solo Female Travel
Crowded roads bustling with people. Women in colourful clothes wearing shiny jewellery. Snake charmers. Think these represent India? No, these are just stereotypes!
India is much more than all this. You have to truly experience this majestic land to understand this. What better way to do it than solo tripping your way there? Soak in the culture, and who knows, you may get a new perspective on life itself!
Your journey to this cradle of culture has to begin with North India. Each city in the northern part of India has a distinct charm to it. The people, the food, the ‘feel’ of each of the cities are unique. No two cities are the same…as I have figured out on each of my travels.
If you are worried about your first journey, don’t worry. Read my blog post about how I overcame my insecurities on my first solo trip to Bali first. I recommend you read about my favourite north Indian cities in this blog post.
You will get to read about all my experiences – both good and bad. You can probably learn from them too. Here is the ultimate beginner’s guide to north India for a solo female traveller:
Top three places to visit in north India
1. Amazing Agra
Agra is my top pick. And it is not just home to the world-famous Taj Mahal, but also other Mughal-era buildings like Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Agra is one of the oldest cities in India. This is quite evident from the residential buildings which exude old-fashioned charm. The crowded lanes lined with people sipping cups of chai (sweet milk tea) and chatting away, the hustle-bustle of autos and rickshaws and the presence of shikanji (Indian-spiced lemonade) sellers in every nook and corner are the memories of Agra that I carried back with me. In this ultimate beginner’s guide to north India for a solo female traveller, we have a roadmap to Agra first.
As mentioned before, the monuments and UNESCO Heritage Sites like Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri should be on your list, but also go for lesser-known places like Mankameshwar Mandir – one of the oldest Shiva temples in India. You can marvel at Mughal architecture by visiting the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, the gurudwara at Guru ka Tal, and finally, the Ram Bagh gardens.
What I loved
The tour guides are very friendly at Agra. I chose my tour guide well in advance, even before I reached the place. I booked my guide via Trip Advisor and he was very professional from start to finish.
At one point, when I was heading for the Mankameshwar Mandir after doing the rounds of Mughal sites, I had to get my tour guide changed. After reaching the Mandir, I just asked around for a guide who could explain to me the history in detail, and I got one immediately. He explained to me in detail about how Agra even has a mention in the Indian epic, Mahabharata.
So, you can get a personal tour guide in a jiffy, don’t worry about that. Just make sure that he/she has an online presence so that you can check for reviews.
What I didn’t love
The traffic and population density. I chose a cab to find my way around the city. In retrospect, I find that it was too expensive and was stuck for hours in the traffic. The hotel that I stayed in was also quite noisy, even though it was clean. As a solo female traveller embarking on the ultimate north Indian voyage, I would suggest you get a bike or a scooter for hire and a map to figure out the place on your own. You could also get your tour guide to help you on the first few days, until you get a solid idea about the city.
I bet that the Agra petha (candied ashgourd) and Bedai Kachori (fried Indian quiche) are nothing like you’ve ever tasted before. If you’re a hardcore non-vegetarian like me, then you should check out the chicken Mughlai kebab available everywhere – from the smallest of restaurants and roadside eateries to five-star restaurants.
On all my trips, I try to do something unique and non-touristy, just to have fun and cherish those memories. In Agra, I pretended to be a historian and an expert on the Taj Mahal and gave a 5-minute speech to some tourists who had assembled near the Taj Mahal entrance. And to my surprise, they totally bought it! Later, I explained to them that I was a tourist myself, and we all had a good laugh afterwards. When they got to know that I was solo tripping and was by myself, they invited me to dinner. The whole trip was memorable, and I made some friends for life. If you want to try something fun, but are an introvert, read my blog post to figure out if introverts can be good at solo tripping.
2. Delhi meri jaan (Delhi, my beloved)
The great Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib, once said,
I asked my soul, what is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body and Delhi is its life!
Visiting north India without visiting Delhi is like having toast without butter. Delhi is the living, thriving capital of India. From swanky buildings to historical monuments, this city has it all. It is the perfect mix of archaic and modern, where more one discovers, more is revealed to them. From weekly markets on footpaths, where you get everything under the sun for a good price to the lip-smacking street food, this city is a must-visit in this ultimate beginner’s guide to north India for a solo female traveller.
If you love street shopping like I do, then the sprawling markets in Chandni Chowk and Janpath would be your number one spots to land in. Chandni Chowk is part of Old Delhi and carries that charm – yes, the narrow roads mean that you will have to brush shoulders against people every time you want to get from one point to another, but the shopping haul is worth it!
I got pretty kurtis (Indian clothing) from these places and the colours have not worn out at all! If you are a history buff like me, then you should surely visit Humayan’s Tomb, Red Fort and Lodhi Gardens in South Delhi. If you are looking for a peaceful place to meditate, then the Lotus Temple would be a good bet.
A lesser-known place for Indian handicrafts and handmade textiles is the Delhi Haat, which also has great eateries.
What I loved
The great thing about Delhi is that it is easy to get about here. The well-connected metro system is wonderful for female travellers who are embarking on the ultimate solo trip to north India. You just need a map of the place and you are good to go. The hotels are pretty affordable too. A three-star hotel will cost you as less as Rs. 2399 in the heart of Delhi, Connaught Place. This gives you more money in your budget to spend on souvenirs and keepsakes. The food is quite cheap too, if you do dare to eat from small roadside eateries or dhabas as they are called commonly.
What I didn’t love
If you expect the people of Delhi to be polite, please do not. Hey, they are welcoming in their own way, but a bit of brashness is to be expected. I am not generalising but making observations based on my experiences alone. Also, I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t find tourist guides I could trust in Delhi. I had to find my way myself, which is good because I was solo tripping. It is best to ask for recommendations and references before you think that you need a personal tour guide. I later found out about a website called Showaround where you can pay local people to show you around the city. Great, right?
Delhi is known for its gobsmacking chaat, which is a concoction of fried items, fruits and vegetables along with spicy and tangy sauces. You can spot a chaatwala (food cart selling chaats) in every nook and corner of the city. It is the same with tandoor dishes – meat or vegetables grilled over a Tandoor oven. Make sure you also go to the Paranthe Wali Gali, a lane in the great Chandni Chowk which is famous for parathas or stuffed flatbread.
At the centre of the Delhi edition of my non-touristy antics is the Sri Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, a Sikh temple in South Delhi. Yes, it is a typical touristy place, but I did something most tourists don’t get the chance to do here. I took part in cooking meals for thousands at the langar or community kitchen at the gurudwara. Cutting up the vegetables, mixing in the spices and preparing the Atta prashad (Wheat pudding) as an offering was the highlight of my visit there.
3. Jovial Jaipur
Moustached men in vibrant turbans, women in colourful bandhani (a type of textile) saris, camels and royal architecture all perfectly contrasting against the vast expanse of desert land…what is not to love about Jaipur? I had read in books that Jaipur was called the pink city, but I didn’t really know why until I visited the city. The buildings are literally light pink – it is a sight like no other. One half of Jaipur – with its many palaces and forts – still looks like it is being ruled by the great Maharajas. Read on to see why this beautiful city is a part of this ultimate beginner’s guide to north India.
The many abodes of the Maharajas and Maharanis like the Amber Fort and Palace, the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the breeze) and Jal Maha (Water Palace). I am also including the Umaid Bhawan Palace in this list because that’s where our very own Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas got married. The main shopping hub here is the Johari Bazaar, where you get everything Rajasthani – food, handicrafts, textiles and décor. Rajasthani dances and celebrations are great to witness and for this you need to visit the Chokhi Dani village.
What I loved
Jaipur is included in this ultimate beginner’s guide to north India for a solo female traveller because it is one of the most tourist-friendly places I have visited. It is clean, the roads are prim and proper, while the people are warm and friendly. Everybody that ‘served’ me – from the waiters in restaurants and my hotel manager to the women on the road selling bangles and handicrafts – all had a wide smile on their faces. The roads are not busy and there are no traffic jams like other north Indian cities. As a result of this, I was able to go cycling after borrowing a cycle from the hotel I stayed in. It was an enjoyable experience as I was able to figure out certain parts of the city on my own.
What I didn’t love
After my three-day visit to the city, I felt that I needed more time to explore the traveller’s haven that is Jaipur. I couldn’t fault the city or its people at all. It was my lack of planning that I blame. I recommend that you plan a full 7-day trip to Jaipur. This is because you need that much time to do everything that a solo female traveller does. This includes taking photos, conversing with locals and being at peace with your solitude in a great city.
Dal Bati Churma (a meal of lentils, dough balls and a sweet dish), Mohan Thaal (Sweet candy), Gatte ki Sabzi (Gram flour curry) and Laal Maas (Spicy red mutton curry) are some the most delicious dishes I tried in Jaipur. On some nights, I preferred the Rajasthani Khichdi (a dish made with lentils, rice/bajra and vegetables) as it was light on the stomach.
In Jaipur, I did something unthinkable and out of the ordinary. In a bid to test the hospitality of the common Rajasthani man, I went to a small, thatched hut near the Jaipur suburbs and pretended to lose my way. I spoke to the old man and woman who were there in broken Hindi, and told them that I lost my mobile phone too. They genuinely appeared to care for me and offered me food and drink. They told me to rest for a bit before offering to take me back to my hotel in their autorickshaw. I refused and thanked them and went about on my way, with a smile on my lips. Rajasthani hospitality is unparalleled!
This ultimate beginner’s guide to north India for a solo female traveller is solely based on my authentic experiences as a solo female traveller. North India is vast and covers thousands of kilometres. I have not been able to cover it all, but these anecdotes will help you in your solo journey.
General tips and advices
For your convenience, dear readers, I have compiled a list of general tips to make your solo trip to North India hugely successful below. Hope this helps! Read on:
Make Google Translate your best friend. Learn some words in Hindi
90% of north Indians speak Hindi. Therefore, before you plan a trip to this area, it would be great if you could pick up a few words in this language. The basics would do – learn to say hello, goodbye and some basic directions. If this is too hard for you, install Google Translate app on your phone. This way you can easily communicate with a local and make things easier on your travel.
You are solo tripping as a female traveller to north India, which means that you should make safety your priority. Wherever you are, always locate the nearest police station and note down its number. Know that 100 is the police helpline in India, much like 911 in the US. 1091 is the exclusive women’s helpline in India. If you want to know more about safety for solo female travellers in India, click here.
Public transport FTW!
As a solo female who is travelling to north India, you may prefer public transport for your conveyance. And why not – it is cheap, effective and will get you to your destination faster! If that is the case, you may want to know about using public transport in India as a solo female traveller here.
Look for reviews
While booking a hotel room or a cab, make sure you look for user reviews online. Google reviews will be present for every legit business these days, and these will help you choose better. If you find that the review does not match the experience you’ve had, make sure you give an appropriate review so that other people can benefit from it.
Learn to haggle
In north India, you need to have certain survival skills and one of them is haggling skills. Famous markets in north India, whether in Agra, Delhi or Jaipur, are known to charge tourists more than the MRP (Maximum Retail Price – fixed retail price in India). If you do not want to get duped, you better get haggling. Once you start to haggle in English or broken Hindi, the shopkeeper will understand that you know what they are up to and reduce the price. It took some practice, but I am a haggling queen now. Haggling is a top skill to achieve in this ultimate beginner’s guide to north India for a solo female traveller.
Pack appropriately for the weather
The weather in north India is extreme – it has torturous summers and unforgiving winters. Always learn about the weather beforehand. Pack light, flowing dresses for summers, and woollens and boots for winters. If you are visiting during summers, make sure you carry deodorants, prickly-heat powder and sunscreen. If it is during winters, then pack some skin lotion and lip balm to avoid cracked skin and chapped lips. For other essentials, check out my blog on 10 things to carry on your first solo trip.
As a solo female traveller on your first trip to north India, you may have some doubts about solo travel. Your expectations may be something, while your experiences may be something else altogether. Make sure to read my blog post about what not to expect from your first solo travel. Tell me in the comments whether you have more points to add to this ultimate beginner’s guide to north India as a solo female traveller or if you have better, funnier experiences than me. I’ll be waiting…till then ciao!
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.