The Proper Selfie Etiquette in India

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The Proper Selfie Etiquette in India

India, a country full of ancient history. A diverse culture. Truly unique foods and a whole lot of adventure if you are prepared to find it. On a recent trip to India, I spent hours researching all the things that I could need. I looked over images of the Taj Mahal, snow leopards in the Himalayas, the beaches of Kerala. All areas that I wasn’t going to see.

I pondered and divided up appropriate clothing choices, shoe options and medical requirements that I might just happen to need. You know the usual hours of travel planning and preparedness.

Yet there is one thing that I did not prepare for. The selfie situation in India. Of all the things that I thought I would come across, that I would need to cope with, it certainly wasn’t this. So let me tell you the way to go about selfie etiquette in India.

Indian woman taking a selfie with a blonde white woman on a bright day
Selfies in India

The Selfie Situation in India

As I stood on the river, waiting patiently to cross and enter the world of the Kumbh Mela, I felt the weight of people staring at me. At the eyes of the surrounding crowd peering deep into my soul. I tried to ignore it. I tried to converse with my companions, a mixture of international visitors like myself and a variety of local Indian journalists and bloggers from across India.  In vain, I tried to pretend that I wasn’t sticking out like a sore thumb on New Years Day.

As we waited for the gates to open I felt that very small bubble of personal space burst. I peered over my shoulder and sure enough there she was. Sneakingly sneaking beside me. Avoiding eye contact but moving ever so closer to me. And then I saw it. Across the path was old mate’s amateur photographer, holding up an old smartphone and sneakily snapping my photo. With a smile, and a laugh I asked if the sneaker would like a photo together. A minute later, what felt like a hundred photos and my cheeks sore from smiling my new found sneaky-selfie friend was off.

Group of Indian men taking a photo with a white woman
Selfies with Strangers

Welcome to travelling in India. As the “other: As someone so very different to the majority of residents.

My first selfie experience of the morning was an introduction into what was coming up for the day and indeed for the remainder of my very short time in India. During the Kumbh Mela as we walked with the pilgrims, amazed at this city that had been crafted on the riverside of the city of Prajayagi, oh so many people stopped me and asked for a photo with me.

Sometimes it was a group of young men with the latest technology, another time it was an Aunty who had come down from the village to experience the Kumbh Mela for the first time. And then there were all the photos with people who spoke not a word of English and I speak not a word of Hindi. 

Two indian men taking a photo with a blonde white woman in the street
Photos with strangers

It is OK to say NO

Even though I was happy to have selfie sessions with just about anyone, there were a few times when time was really tight and we just couldn’t spend 15mins taking a million selfies, with different groups of people.

When we visited Bhul Bulaiya we had only a few hours to explore the maze, play tourist in Lucknow and get back to our hotel to catch a flight home. All the while trying to work through traffic, taxis, and tuk-tuks. So we had to say No to the selfies. With a smile, we walked away and you know what, not a single person kicked up a fuss.

No one was heartbroken, no one threatened me. Nothing. The people who we met along the way respected my decision to politely decline and enjoy my day. 

People Love A Good Selfie

In Varanasi, Prayagi, and Lucknow, the only cities I was fortunate to visit, I saw so many people taking a good ol’ fashion selfie. By themselves, with friends and just generally enjoying life. This simple act of taking a photo seemingly brought a lot of people joy and whenever someone asked me for a selfie I was happy to oblige. Now let’s be honest, the selfie situation is all around the world not just an India specific thing. 

Blonde white woman taking photos with Indian women under a tunnel
Selfies with strangers in India

Telling A Good Tale Through Photography

Everyone loves a good tale. Telling a good tale about my travels is how I make my money and I have no issue conversing with locals and swapping a tale where ever I travel. Or as in this case of travelling around India in giving the people I met along the way, a tale to tell their friends and family at home.

So often as travellers we take inappropriate photos of locals without ever taking the time to ask if we can, or even stop for a moment and think should I take this photo? When we were travelling in Varanasi I saw many people getting up in the grill of local residents who were taking a dip in the Gangas. When people are partaking in a religious moment or even just a private vathi.

Two indian women in shawls and dresses taking a selfie with blonde white woman
Taking selfies with people

A Note On Perceived Safety Issues In India. 

I’m not sure if there was any greater fear that my family and friends had of my travel plans, as to me travelling as a foreigner in India. To add to the stereotype a foreigner travelling in India I’m a size 8, blonde Australian woman, who really likes to talk to people and eat weird things. Surely there was no more unsafe place on this planet, for me, amongst the millions of Hindu pilgrims at the 2019 Kumbh Mela.

As I’m here writing this fine article for you, I’m sure that you have come to the assumption that I did indeed survive the Kumbh Mela, I did survive unscathed the express journey to incredible India and I did survive a very short trip travelling India as a foreign woman. And now with a love to of this beautiful country, I can’t wait to return to explore more of India. 

I want to make mention of any perceived safety concerns you might have. Travelling in any country can be risky. India is, in my opinion, and after my experience, is no less safe or more dangerous than other countries I’ve visited over the past ten years. Each area we visited had its own charm and its own issues.

When I was at the Kumbh Mela I was hyper-vigilant about my personal belongings. I didn’t take out my expensive camera gear and accepted that at any point, one of the 30 million attendees that day may decide to pick my pockets. I’m happy to say that nothing like this eventuated.

No matter where in the world you are, please make sure you are safe. Be aware of your surroundings. Know where your things are. Pack your bag so that people can’t easily steal from you. 

The Proper Selfie Etiquette In India was written and photographed by Jean Cheney – the owner of TravelingHoneybird.com.

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