The most common question we get asked as a travel couple is ‘what’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to’? Many are surprised when they learn that it’s India. They automatically assume it would be tough to travel as a lesbian couple in India, and they wouldn’t be far wrong. But honestly, it’s no more challenging than being a solo female traveler or two female friends. You see, to be a lesbian in India is still very much a taboo. Probably even more so than being a gay male. The issue with female travel in India isn’t our orientation; it’s our gender.
Nevertheless, we still regard India as one of the most exciting countries we’ve ever visited. Everything from the food and the people, to the culture and the sights, create one of the most unique travel experiences one can ever encounter. At the same time, it’s worth pointing out that it’s probably not a trip for everybody. Female and lesbian travel in India requires patience, tolerance, and one hell of an open mind.
Taking all this into consideration, this blog aims to provide all the information you need to prepare for an unforgettable, but most importantly, a safe, trip in India. We touch on LGBT rights in India, the best lesbian-friendly places to visit, as well as all of our travel tips and advice for female travelers. Continue ready for the ultimate travel guide to lesbian India.
Lesbian India map
LGBT rights in India
Unsurprisingly, the situation surrounding gay rights in India has always been a controversial subject. The past 20 years, in particular, have been a volatile road in the battle for equal rights and decriminalization. Various notable wins followed by frustrating setbacks saw LGBT activists taking one step forward and another back again.
Remarkably, 2018 saw a ruling made by the supreme court to decriminalize being gay. And with it, came an extension to anti-discrimination laws to include the LGBT community. In a socially conservative country such as India, this was not only a landmark decision. But an indication of hope for LGBT+ people all over the world.
Interestingly LGBT activists and allies argue that acts of gayness were never demoralized or persecuted in pre-colonial Indian society. One example of this is in the Hindu religion. Historically, Hinduism portrays gay activity throughout various erotic sculptures and religious texts. Not only that, but the religion openly recognizes a third gender, and has always depicted them positively.
Gay Marriage in India
While these encouraging turn of events is a leap in the right direction, there is still a way to go to achieving full LGBT rights in India. Civil partnerships or gay marriages in India are not legally recognized. All except one lesbian marriage, which resulted in the couple receiving threats from their local community. Furthermore, gay couples are not legally allowed to adopt or to have access to IVF treatment.
Evidently, social opinions need a lot more work than the law. It could be some time before the LGBT+ community is entirely accepted in Indian society. Social pressure to have children and honor family traditions mean that many LGBT people live closeted lives.
Lesbian India – Best Places to Travel in India
India is a vast and diverse country, with extremely long journey times between each place. With this in mind, if you only have limited time, you will want to plan your itinerary wisely. If you have one month in India or less, we suggest choosing between the North, Central, or South regions of the country. That way, you can cover one area of the country really well, and save the rest for another trip.
While Agra isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I think of lesbian-friendly cities, it certainly deserves a spot on your Lesbian India itinerary. Why? Because Agra is home to the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal. A seventh wonder of the world that captivated our hearts from the moment we laid our eyes on it.
It has to be said, we are both nature lovers, and never has bricks & mortar moved us as much as the Taj Mahal did. Historically, the marble mausoleum was commissioned in 1632 by emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Visiting the Taj Mahal is one of the most expensive attractions in India, but it’s worth every penny. And if you have the chance, we recommend visiting for sunrise.
Jaipur is the vibrant capital of Rajasthan. Also known as the ‘Pink City’ thanks to its signature terracotta architecture, it’s one of the most cultural cities in all of India. Things move at a breakneck pace in Jaipur, and it’s what I call the epitome of organized chaos. At the same time, it’s a magical city of wonder, packed to bursting with architectural masterpieces and rich royal history.
Sadly there isn’t much of a gay scene in Jaipur. In fact, there isn’t much of any ‘scene’ in Jaipur. It’s more a city for sightseeing with its various palaces, forts, and temples. The Jaipur highlights include Nahargarh (Tiger) Fort, Amber Palace, and Galta Ji (Monkey Temple).
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Next up, we have the enchanting ‘golden city’ of Rajasthan. Jaisalmer borders the Thar desert, so it makes sense that the distinctive architecture is golden sandstone. In deep contrast to Jaipur, Jaisalmer is incredibly laidback and easy to get around. We loved merely meandering the streets, rooftop bar hopping and immersing in the local culture.
The center point of Jaisalmer is the tremendous medieval fort that watches over the city. Jaisalmer Fort is one of the only lived in fortifications in the world, bearing a wealth of restaurants, hotels, bars, shops, and even homes within its walls. Other highlights of Jaisalmer include an overnight camel safari in the Thar desert and taking a boat ride on Gadisar Lake.
Pushkar is another fascinating city in Rajasthan, and arguably the most peaceful throughout the state. That is unless you coincide your visit with the famous Pushkar Camel Festival when it is anything but peaceful. However, to experience this wild festival is a once in a lifetime experience and one we highly recommend.
Anyway, the pinnacle of Pushkar is undoubtedly the sacred Pushkar Lake. It’s here where all the action happens from captivating religious ceremonies to the evening aarti performance, and not forgetting the unforgettable sunsets. Otherwise, it’s a town of creative expression, where you’ll find art classes, boutique stalls, and quirky cafe culture. Again, there’s no real gay scene in Pushkar; however, the charming bohemian town feels welcoming to all.
Our final stop in Rajasthan, but certainly one of our favorites, is the white city of Udaipur. Again, Udaipur has a unique vibe compared to other cities in the state. Surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the Aravali mountain range, it’s easy to forget that you’re in a city at all. If you enjoy being around nature, with all the comforts of a city, Udaipur is an essential addition to your lesbian India itinerary.
One of the first things we noticed when exploring Udaipur is just how royal it feels. Boasting a wealth of idyllic lakes, ornate palaces, and lavish hotels, many consider it the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the state. On the flip side, there’s a somewhat less pretentious side to the city. And hipster backpackers flock here for the quirky rooftop bars, yoga classes, and laid back vibes.
When it comes to gay and lesbian-friendly cities in India, it’s hard to find anywhere more tolerant than Mumbai. This laidback cosmopolitan city feels almost as westernized as London or New York, and gay Mumbai has a lot to offer. While there are no specific gay bars as of yet, there are regular LGBT events such as Gay Bo mbay and Salvation Star.
At the same time, there’s a lot to see and do in the sprawling Island City of Mumbai. Stroll down the art-deco Marine Drive. Marvel the Gateway of India and the iconic Taj Palace Hotel. Meander the various art galleries and museums. Or even track down wildlife in the National Park. The list is endless.
Another place that we insist you include on your lesbian India itinerary is Hampi. Hampi is possibly our favorite place in all of India, and ideal for female travelers who need a break from the ‘real’ India. Here you can relax amid prehistoric landscapes of bouldered mountains and ancient rock-cut temples.
Visiting Hampi is like stepping into a time machine. The only place that comes remotely close as a comparison is Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but minus the crowds and ramp up the awesomeness. It’s sort of become a backpackers worst kept secret, thanks to its tolerance to an otherwise illicit world of drugs, alcohol, and parties. There’s also a ton of cool stuff to do including bouldering, exploring temple ruins, and camping out under the stars.
Goa is one of the smallest states in India famed for its stunning beaches, Portuguese heritage, and chilled out vibe. It’s also the one place in India where gay and lesbian travelers have a chance of being out and proud in public. Because, in Goa, anything goes.
Eccentric hippies helped to put Goa on the map since the 1960s. And the tourism boom resulted in a far more tolerant culture relative to other parts of India. Again, you can’t find any specific gay bars or hotels in gay Goa. However, you are unlikely to run into any bother in the psychedelic parties of Anjuna or Morejim. And people won’t bat an eye on tourist beaches such as Palolem, Arambol, and Vagator.
Again, visiting Goa does not feel like traveling the rest of India. So if you’re in India for an extended period, it’s the perfect spot to come and let your hair down when you need a break. In addition to a 100km coastline of beautiful palm-fringed beaches, Goa offers historical points of interest, wild nightlife, and plenty of nature.
Other Places Worth Visiting in Lesbian India
While the locations we mentioned above were our favorite places in India, that doesn’t mean that your lesbian India itinerary needs to end there. Sadly, there are many places we were unable to get to on our last trip, and we will return in the near future to cover them. But truthfully, there is no place in India that needs to be out of bounds for gay and lesbian travelers. Other regions worth visiting include Manali, Rishikesh, Varanasi, Delhi, and Kerala.
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Female Safety in India – Is India safe to visit?
There is a lot of stigma when it comes to female safety when traveling in India. And while we can only advise based on our personal experience, we hope to help you to decide one way or another if India is a country for you.
I’ll start by saying, that overall, we found India to be a safe country to travel. By that, I mean we experienced nothing overly negative in the way of crime, discrimination, or physical harm. Although, that isn’t to say that we never felt discomfort or fear, whether it was warranted or not.
Being a (foreign) woman in India
The trouble is, traveling as a foreign woman in India arouses a lot of attention. And what we recognize as socially acceptable behavior is not necessarily the same in Indian culture. For example, staring, taking photos without asking, or invasion of personal space is a constant thing. There’s no use getting annoyed, as you’ll end up being annoyed the entire time.
This kind of behavior can come across as intimidating, even when it’s not. So we do feel you have to carry yourself confidently and be ready to say something should anybody cross the line. Unfortunately, we spoke with many girls who’d been groped by Indian men, which from what we’ve heard isn’t uncommon. In this circumstance, if you’re in a crowded place, it’s best to call him out, as other locals will likely give him a good hiding.
It’s important to remember that you always get some bad eggs amid a wealth of good ones. Most locals are incredibly friendly and generally just curious to meet you. Either that or they want to sell you something. And on that note, you’ll want to educate yourself on the common scams in India, so consequently, you can avoid them.
Finally, to stay safe as a lesbian in India means avoiding public displays of affection. Although it’s legal to be gay in India, trust us when I say you won’t want the extra attention. Anyhow, PDA is discouraged among all couples, whether you’re gay or not.
Indian events you can’t miss
The most vibrant of Indian festivals, Holi is an ancient tradition celebrating the end of Winter and the arrival of Spring. It also signifies the blossoming of love and thanksgiving for a good harvest. The event is celebrated all over the country, but most prominently in the bigger cities, where people shower one another in bright and colorful powder.
Diwali is the Hindu festival of light, signifying ‘light over darkness, and good over evil’. The celebrations last for five days in November, with the pinnacle being spectacular light shows of fireworks and beautiful candlelit homes.
Often confused with Diwali, Dev Deepawali is unique to Varanasi – considered the holiest place in all of India. The celebrations are similar to that of Diwali; however, Varanasi, in general, is a very intense place and not for the faint-hearted. If you want a real insight into raw Indian culture, Varanasi is the place to go.
Of course, how could we forget Indian Pride? It thrills me to say that various pride events take place throughout India; however, the most notable pride celebrations are in Mumbai and New Delhi.
Practical Lesbian India Information
- Language: India has 22 official languages! But the most common are Hindi and Bengali. You will find that many Indians speak some English, particularly in tourist areas.
- Currency: Indian Rupee
- Visa: all tourists visiting India, except for citizens of Nepal and Bhutan, require a visa to enter the country. There’s a lot to consider when applying for an Indian visa; therefore, we recommend giving this article a read before applying.
- Best Time to Visit: the best time to visit India is generally between October to March when the monsoon is over, and the country is mostly warm and dry.
- Food: Indian food is one of our favorite cuisines; however, it’s no secret that hygiene standards are questionable here. Please read up on how to avoid the dreaded Delhi Belly, but unfortunately, it seems to part and parcel of the India experience.
- Budget: India is by far, the cheapest place we have ever traveled. You can comfortably live on less than $20 a day, and we averaged considerably less than that. It just depends on how comfortable you want to be and what luxuries you allow yourself.
- Transportation: surprisingly, transport in India is both reliable and comfortable. Many choose to travel across the country via trains, but popular routes require booking quite far in advance. For that reason, we often took sleeper buses, which means you get your own double private pod. Once you’ve downloaded some movies and picked up some snacks, it’s the perfect set up.
- Simcard: getting a sim card in India is as complex as the country itself. Nonetheless, having one will make your life a lot easier in the long run. If you are flying into a major Indian airport such as New Delhi or Mumbai, we suggest picking a sim card up there. You’ll see various providers as you leave arrivals, but we can personally recommend Vodaphone. They will need a copy of your visa and passport to activate the sim card, which could take up to 48 hours. Not ideal if you were hoping to book an Uber on the spot!
- Vaccinations for India: the vaccinations required for India will vary depending on what part of the country you are traveling to. We advise meeting with your travel healthcare practitioner at least 6-8 weeks before your trip. You can also refer to the Fit For Travel website for further guidance.
- Dress Code: see this article regarding social etiquette in India, that will guide you on how to dress and act appropriately to local customs.
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