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I am a mid 30's woman from the UK wanting to travel to India without flying. I have been given warnings from friends about traveling alone through Iran and Pakistan, therefore I am willing to try a more northern route covering Russia > Kazakhstan > Uzbekistan >Tajikistan > Kyrgyzstan > China > India. The safety concerns I have relate to robberies, being kidnapped and suffering physical violence of any kind.

Is this route safe for solo female travelers? If not, which countries are safer to cross? Using which means of transportation?

closed as too broad by JonathanReez Supports Monica, Itai, Mark Mayo Supports Monica Jul 27 '16 at 12:39

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    I don't have enough relevant experience to post an answer but from general knowledge I'd suggest considering Central Asia > Karakoram Highway. It's a classic 'adventure route', and while it's difficult, there's lots of info on it. Here's one solo female blogger who hitchhiked it, and some info about motorcycling / cycling it – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 22 '16 at 12:57
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    Generally speaking, I wouldn't worry overly about Iran (beyond normal travel concerns); Afghanistan and Pakistan should be your concern. You might visit the embassies or consulates of the countries through which you will be traveling and ask their personnel, as they would be more knowledgeable about the conditions than us. – CGCampbell Jul 22 '16 at 13:09
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    Is there a reason you can't, or are unwilling to, fly? It's many thousands of times safer than overland travel (even within "safe" countries), and significantly faster... If not, then the safest option is probably a cruise liner, but that won't be cheap. Several cruise lines operate from the UK, France, The Netherlands to India and the Indian Subcontinent – Jon Story Jul 22 '16 at 13:50
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    I've never been to India, but wouldn't a lot of the safety concerns described in this question also apply for India itself? – Andrew Grimm Jul 23 '16 at 0:32
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    @AndrewGrimm Having been to India: Yes. Definitely. I would never advise a woman to travel solo through that country and that goes double for someone with foreign features. Every travel advisory I've read on India recommends against solo travel, particularly for women. It advises against women even leaving the hotel alone at night and I'd second that advice for most areas of the country. This question has some more info but if we're using the typical definition, it is not safe for a woman to travel solo in India. – Lilienthal Jul 23 '16 at 15:01
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Alternate Answer provided at OP's request:

If travel from Europe to India is the goal and specifically flying is the problem, you can travel by ship.

One option is vacation style cruise lines such as Norwegian, Cunard, Royal Caribbean which sometimes offer repositioning sailings.

However, if you just want to get there, you best bet is booking on a container ship. There are a number of sites and travel agents who can help you with this such as: https://www.freightercruises.com/

  • Is this kind of transportation any more safe? – Matthew Read Jul 22 '16 at 17:37
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    Other then the very, very low probability of piracy, it's perfectly safe. Traveling by container ship is not uncommon at all. – Johns-305 Jul 22 '16 at 17:50
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    I found this very interesting... I wasn't aware people traveled via container ship, but after reading their site it totally makes sense. – Sam Weaver Jul 23 '16 at 2:47
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Disclaimer: this is mostly personal experience, and quite outdated (2015).

It depends a lot on how you define "safe" (for example, would you feel safe talking to a border guard threatening you in attempt to squeeze a bribe, but without involving physical violence?), but generally your safest route would be through Europe, Russia and China. Then you have a few choices, none of which is hassle-free:

  • China - Nepal (via Tibet) - India. This will require, besides a Chinese visa, a special permit for Tibet. According to a few agencies I talked to in Feb 2016, the permit required you to join an organized tour and stay with your group. Path to Lhasa would be reasonably easy (there is a train), but from Lhasa to Kathmandu you would have to hire a car - again, as part of your tour. Once you get to Nepal, from Kathmandu you can catch a direct bus to India, even all the way to New Delhi (although I'd recommend to take a bus to the border, and catch another one at the other side - it is much faster, and also cheaper).

    You may hear stories about people crossing to India directly from China through Nathu La, but as far as I know, it is not opened for non-piligrim visitors.

  • China - [Laos - Thailand] - Myanmar (Burma) - India. Lots of paperwork. According to Myanmar authorities (Oct 2015), Myanmar-India overland border crossings were opened to foreigners. However they require special permits from both countries (i.e. to cross overland from Myanmar to India you need to get special permits - besides your visa - from Myanmar and India). This is very unreliable route. Situation in Myanmar regarding overland crossings changes often, and you're not guaranteed to be able to continue into the country once you cross the border. For example, at Tachilek crossing you can get in (from Thailand), but cannot travel far through overland, although you can fly from Tachilek airport via domestic flight. This way you also end up in the restricted areas of India, quite far away from Delhi.

  • Routes via Iran and Pakistan, or through Bangladesh are also possible but less safe. Unless you have been to, and feel comfortable in strict Islamic countries - and this includes covering up yourself - I would strongly advise against this route for a solo woman. For a mixed couple or a man those would be reasonably safe though.

  • Above I see someone mentioning Tajikistan, but I don't think there is a route there which does not involve Khyber pass in Afganistan (and crossing Pakistan too), and this is not considered safe for foreigners.

Now regarding the countries in your route:

  • Russia is relatively safe if you're taking trains using a cheaper "platskart" class (the "coupe" class has a compartment for 4 with locked doors, and if you end up with three males who enjoy drinking, it might not be so safe).

  • China is safe, and this includes Tibet.

  • Nepal is safe. Natural dangers such as earthquake are higher risk there.

I'd say among those three you'll have higher risk of harassment in India itself.

  • Even for a mixed couple you shouldn't go through Iran if you don't feel comfortable following the code... – Mehrdad Jul 23 '16 at 19:07
  • This is correct. However the author listed very specific risks up there. And for a mixed couple, which is visibly foreign, risks of physical violence are much less likely, assuming reasonable precautions. – George Y. Jul 25 '16 at 1:39
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The UK Government has travel advisories against all travel into the area of Iran within 100KM of Pakistan. Most of the rest of that path has ony "normal" advisories.

Within Pakistan itself, the Southern route has only "normal" advisories, while the Karakoram Highway itself has advisories against all travel.

The Northern route you mention (ending through China) has no advisories against travel for UK nationals, only general precautions.

So, from the perspective of whether or not you trust your Government, the Northern route through the 'stans would be "safer" for you.

Good luck, and safe travels.

  • In theory you could take the Karakoram Highway as far as Gilgit then cross into India in Kashmir, avoiding the part covered by the warning - but it seems that's not a good idea and would require sneaking past a checkpoint...so maybe not... – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 22 '16 at 18:00
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The answer to your question is rather opinion based and very much depends on your personal behaviour. Meanwhile, few people who have actually traveled to Iran will call it 'unsafe', though of course Afghanistan and Pakistan can be quite volatile.

Plenty of people make this journey. Tony Wheeler and his wife, founders of Lonely Planet, are a well known example, who, if my memory serves me well, wrote their first guidebook on exactly this journey.

As anyone who has made this journey will tell you, it is very doable, with the most 'risky' section probably being south western Pakistan. More so if you need to rely on public transport. More so if, indeed, you are a woman traveling alone.

Then, there are other questions on SE that you should read; 1, 2.

Finally, if you want to avoid Pakistan altogether, you're going to have a hard time, with your only real option being going around Tibet, and thus through China, meaning either going through central Asia or through Russia, the former adding a bureaucratic challenge, the latter adding many thousands of kilometres to your journey (even if it would be a rather awesome journey).

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    Sorry but this answer really doesn't address the question of specific safety issues to solo female travellers in 2016. Back when Lonely Planet was first written, Afghanistan was a hippie traveller's paradise, for example. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 22 '16 at 12:51
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    The real problem is that it is next to impossible to answer the question with any degree of certainty, due to the extreme volatility of the entire region through which the OP wants to travel. As a single Western woman, it would be inadvisable to make the journey and she has already received warning from those whom she (should) trust and is discounting them and relying instead on random strangers on the Internet. Even if there was an instance of a single Western female making the trip unscathed in any way, this does not mean she will, with the converse just as true. – CGCampbell Jul 22 '16 at 13:00
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    I would also add that this DOES answer the question. "The answer to your question is rather opinion based and very much depends on your personal behaviour." Is the OP willing to wear clothing per the local customs in each and every case? Or is the OP going to dress Western style? Does the OP speak any of the regional languages or dialects? or will she be a stereo-typical tourist? – CGCampbell Jul 22 '16 at 13:02
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    It's only next to impossible if you don't know the answer! Just describe what different specific risks are for particular regions and how they compare. Not hard for someone with relevant knowledge and experience, guidebook writers do it all the time. E.g. Karakoram Highway has different specific risks to regular Pakistan, which has different risks to Kashmir, and different issues to less risky but logistically complicated Tibet. If those issues you mention are unusually relevant to a particular region (are they?), include them. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 22 '16 at 13:09
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    On whether my response does or does not answer the question, the point of my starting my response with stating that there is no one answer was to make it clear that a short and relevant answer does not exist, unless the OP specifies strict parameters. Sure, 'guidebook writers' do this all the time. But they write guidebooks. An answer to a question on SE should not be a guidebook. For that, buy one. – MastaBaba Jul 22 '16 at 18:59
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I can answer only about Russian part of your trip.

You can avoid "Kazakhstan > Uzbekistan >Tajikistan > Kyrgyzstan", Russia has a common border with China. It will extend you trip, but not too much.

Your best option for most of the path is train (at least for solo trip). There is a train route from Moscow to Khabarovsk which is located near the Chinese border. It is pretty safe, but you need to learn at least basic Russian because there is a chance that no one speak English.

To get to Moscow you can choose train too. Moscow is safe enough for tourists if you do not go somewhere outside tourist places at night.

If you want to have a car trip you will have rough time. Some western parts of the country can be dangerous.

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