I realize that safety will vary greatly depending on where you are, but what about legality? Does India have some notion of a "freedom to roam" similar to that of the Nordic countries?
It definitely looks like almost anyone can set a camp almost anywhere in India.
If I were a non-local camping in India, I would definitely swing by the local police station and inquire if it was safe to stay put where I wanted to camp. This way, I'd know a)if the area is safe or not b) at least some authority is informed of my whereabouts. If there are women in the group, additional police patrolling can also be requested.
From what I know, one is as free to roam in India.
Legally it is ok to camp almost anywhere in India.
I am a local and have traveled a lot (especially South India). I've gone on a 2240 kms motorcycle journey through Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on my HERO HONDA PASSION PLUS(2003 edition-silver.)
While you are in India, try do/not-to-do the following things:
- Don't wait for too late to pick a spot and camp. Best if you camp before sun goes down.
- There are a lot of 'dhabas' or night restaurants open in almost all small and big cities. (I won't lie, they are not free) but you could camp near one; that way, you can ensure a little more security.
- If you are in a remote place, inform the police station if there's one near you (like someone mentioned above.)
- Please DO NOT CARRY anything valuable with you like gold or too much money, etc. Keep your cameras, phone, laptop, etc. (if you have any) safely hidden, just in case.
Also do not carry too much weapons for your safety, people see that as a suspicious thing here in India. Just keep a knife (small and sharp), a pepper spray, a long and strong walking stick (and a torch with stun gun attached if you are too worried.)
- If you need, keep strong whistle with you (but honestly, it won't do you much good here.)
- Toll booths are a good place to camp. There are people around all night long, and there's light and police near too. But tolls are usually only in main roads, and are rare.
- If you feel too much insecure in a place, just go to a primary hospital (there is one in almost all villages) and talk to the hospital head and stay there for the night. I would also suggest petrol bunks (but these days, its not as safe as it used to be).
- To enter some states or places, you need government approval, like protected forests and the like. Its better to have a general awareness of these things before you start your journey, better safe than sorry.
- If police stops you for an inquiry, tell them the truth and don't be arrogant. They mostly would help you if you are genuine but they will give you a lot of trouble if you insult them.
- Above all, 70% of the locals are friendly, supporting and helpful; please don't hurt them. And STAY AWAY from the rest of the 30%. Your journey's success depends on this!!
- India is a beautiful place and solo or group traveling (trekking, biking, cycling or any other kind) is beyond mesmerizing. But it comes with its own risks. Know this, take proper steps and keep safe.