LGBTQ+ Travel Guide to India
Interesting Cities to Visit in India
is the capital of India, and a dichotomy of ancient and modern with historic structures and palaces standing alongside skyscrapers and mega-malls. Stroll through the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk, shop for fashion along Sarojini Nagar or the more exotic Delhi Haat, and visit the ancient Humayun’s Tomb, the posh Hauz Khas Village and the iconic India Gate.
is the mega city of India, offering the best gay life in the country, and is also well known for Maharashtra music, dance and nautankis (street theatre). Be sure to sample the various delights from street vendors, such as vada pav, a deep-fried potato dumpling cooked inside a bread bun.
The capital of West Bengal, is a bustling city of diverse neighbourhoods and contrasting cultures. Durga Puja is the city’s largest festival, taking place annually in October, and is a great opportunity to experience local culture and sample Bengali cuisine, such as Sandesh and rasgulla sweets.
Varanasi is a great religious significance for Hindus. Situated on the banks of sacred river Ganga, the city is believed to be more than 5000 years old. Two highlights are wandering along the riverside ghats, and attending the evening Ganga Aarti ceremony.
The Pink City got its name after all city buildings were given a coat of red paint prior to the arrival of King Edward VII's visit in 1876. Today, the city retains its rosy glow, attracting visitors to sites such as the eclectic Hindu-styled Amer Fort, with its red stone and marble.
is the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is well known for its temples and heritage sites, mountains, forests, beaches, arts and culture. Chennai Pride in held annually in June, and also of interest to LGBTQ+ travellers is the annual festival at Koovakkam, where transgender women congregate for a temple festival and rituals during April and May.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in India
There are dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites to visit throughout the country, along with such notable attractions as The Golden Chariot, The Golden Temple, Palace on Wheels, The Deccan Odyssey and Chettinad Mansions. The Khajaraho temples are famous for their erotic sculptures that contain several depictions of ancient homosexual activity. The Sun Temple and Meenakshi Temple are also notable.
Below are a few cities and sites of significance to consider adding to your itinerary.
The only city in the world glittering with three world heritage sites: Fort Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort and, of course, the Taj Mahal, which is even more majestic at sunrise or sunset.
The capital of Jammu and Kashmir and is known for its natural beauty, gardens, and outdoor adventure opportunities. Travel by Shikara to one of the many rental houseboat options on Dal Lake, and be sure to take home a traditional handmade Kashmiri carpet or other local handicrafts. Whitewater rafting can be done in nearby Sonmarg, and thrill seekers can catch a ride on the world’s highest gondola in Gulmarg.
A glittering gem in the northeast Himalayas, with snow-capped mountains, quaint little villages, pristine lakes and vibrant Buddhist monasteries. This is the place to go for year-round outdoor adventures, sampling some Sikkimese delicacies, and grabbing local handicrafts, such as thangka mural paintings.
Goa is well known for its wild 24-hour beach parties taking place in the north, while the more southern parts provide a perfect blend of history, nature and culture. Plan your adventure around the Goa Carnival festival, and be sure to try one of the infamous mud baths for a great detoxification experience.
One of the better-known areas to do wildlife safaris, such as those offered at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Make sure to book a stay in one of the several unique tree house accommodations.
The perfect location to explore alpine glacial lakes, some of the world’s highest mountain passes and high-altitude scenic trekking trails. Visit Hemis National Park for an opportunity to spot a snow leopard, or visit during the Hemis Festival for one of the most vibrant and colourful events in the country.
Experiencing Indian Food
In general, Indians eat four meals a day, starting with a lighter breakfast, more heavier meals for lunch and dinner, and then ending with high tea and sweets in the evening. Indian food varies across the country with each region utilizing local masalas (spices), so the taste, name and style of cooking is very specific to each state. The staple food typically includes wheat, rice and pulses, with chana being the most important one. A variety of condiments and garnishes are typically included, such as chutneys, relishes and pickles. Some of the more commonly known western dishes are butter chicken, paneer, tandoori, samosas and kabobs.
Curries are often the strongest ingredient, providing the most powerful flavors in rogan josh, korma, vindaloo, dopiaza and dhansak. The main course is often served with a roti flatbread and biryani rice dish, along with a mix of legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Various meats are often added, with lamb, goat and mutton being most common. Fish and seafood, including shrimp, crabs, squid, clams and mussels are sometimes used. Sweets are also delicious and are the perfect ending to any meal, especially when served with the local chai tea or lassi, a drink of thinned yogurt.
While Indians love to cook and entertain at home, they also enjoy socializing in a variety of settings, from fine dining to roadside diners and street vendors. Restaurants typically serve a combination of Indian and Chinese cuisine, with a strong focus on vegetarian dishes, often based on religious and cultural influences. While tempting to try those roadside delicacies with all their alluring aromas, tourists are advised to stick with the more traditional restaurants to avoid getting “Delhi belly.”
Tips and Safety Considerations for LGBTQ+ Visitors to India
While homosexuality has been decriminalized, it’s still advisable to exercise caution with same-sex public affection. Women in particular should be careful, because unfortunately there is still quite a lot of misogyny and disrespectful assumptions about foreign women. Gay men should be careful of local males who target them as potential sexual encounters, and then demand money to not report them to police, who are also often involved in the scam. Nightclubs and saunas do exist, but they tend to be scarce—not so much because of prejudice, but because of the complexities of laws around alcohol consumption in most states. As well, the conservative attitudes toward sexual expression of any kind, and the high operational costs, make any kind of clubs hard to run. Many cities also have organizations like Gay Bombay, which allows visiting LGBTQ+ people to interact with local communities prior to their arrival. In Chennai, local LGBTQ+ organizations include Sahodaran, as well as Orinam, which organizes monthly support groups. India has a vast array of gay-friendly accommodation options, such as holiday camps, eco-friendly jungle resorts, tree houses, and houseboats that range from budget to luxury. Be sure to do your research and inquire before booking.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for India
Delhi and Mumbai are the two largest cities with the most LGBTQ+ happenings, while the more coastal state of Goa is known for its beach and party vibe along the Arabian Sea.
The capital of Delhi is huge and hectic, yet exciting and exuberant, as old world culture clashes with modern-day style. Shopping and fashion are top notch here, as is the cuisine and a thriving arts scene. In terms of queer nightlife, there are several LGBTQ+ friendly establishments throwing regular parties, and connecting with locals might get you invites to the more underground private events happening around the city. Chez Jerome-Q Cafe is Delhi’s first LGBTQ+ owned café and has programming that includes drag, DJs and movie nights. Mykonos Men’s Spa is located above. Delhi Queer Fest and Pride Parade happens in November, and Delhi International Queer Theater and Film Festival takes place in December.
Mumbai is India’s most progressive city, home to Bollywood and all the campy fashion that goes with it. Known as the City of Dreams, it has a more youthful and accepting aura, relaxed yet vibrant. It’s one of the main centers in the country for art, culture, music, dance and theater. Head to South Mumbai for a more British colonial experience; the Gateway to India for more native traditional; and Bandra is where the Bollywood stars hang out and where many bars and nightclubs are located. Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival is held in June and is the largest in South Asia. Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride is held in February and is one of the largest in the country.
Much different from the rest of the country, the atmosphere of Goa varies, with the south being more a traditional cultural experience, while the north is where the glamorous party scene happens. Throughout the state there’s a sense of openness among the locals, who are more accepting of diversity, with several gay-friendly establishments and parties organized on a recurring basis. The nightlife here rivals that of many larger international cities, but with much lower prices. Be sure to check out the open-air parties at Arambol, Vagator and Palolem, and also Goa Pride in November.
Capital: New Delhi
Currency: Indian Rupee
Languages: Hindi, English
Population: 1.35 Billion
Vaccinations: None unless traveling from an affected country
Visas: A visa is required for most nationalities
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto (Canada), with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment, hospitality and community He has been writing for over 20 years for various trade and consumer publications, both online and print. He also has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities.
Featured image by @wearewanderingtravel via Instagram