A travel topic that is often associated with India is that of whether it’s safe for girls to travel solo.
There’s a general uncertainty regarding cultural and religious customs and also, whether India offers a 'backpacking' experience?
On the question of safety (and based on my experience of living and traveling in India for the past year), I'd say that normal safety rules apply, but extra caution and awareness are essential.
Three things in particular are important:
1. The way that you dress and behave.
2. An understanding of the country and its customs.
3. Awareness of the perception of foreign woman in India.
How to dress
Dress code varies, rural and urban, young and old. Look at what the local ladies are wearing. Loose hanging clothes without exposing too much flesh is often the norm (and always a safe option). This is also what a lot of Indian men are used to. As a foreigner you'll 'stand out' anyway and if you wear revealing clothes, you’ll attract more attention. Men will stare and you'll feel uncomfortable. Carry a shawl to cover your shoulders if you feel the need. Cover up when travelling on public trains and busses in particular. You don’t usually have to cover your face or head (perhaps in some temples), although in Delhi, I’d recommend covering forearms and legs.
*Indian Saris are different – worm by more mature woman, it’s considered to be traditional.
It pays to be informed
Understand that you're not in the West, but in a more conservative culture. Religion, community and family are integral to Indian society. Public display of affection is not considered to be romantic; it’s considered inappropriate and offensive.
Foreign woman in India
Indian men often have a misguided opinion of foreign woman and how they behave. Culturally inappropriate behaviour, revealing clothes (and Western movies!) has helped create this perception. Keep that in mind, your clothes and behaviour matters.
India offers a wonderful backpacking experience. It has a state to suit every mood. Whether you’re looking for scenic beaches, trekking in the Himalayas, camping in the desert or just hanging around doing nothing, it has it all (and more). You're sure to meet interesting people and have great experiences.
A starting point for girls...
Here's a suggested route for first time India travel, one of the more developed and tourist friendly routes.
Start with Mumbai (most cosmopolitan city) -if you're arriving at the airport, go to the pre-paid taxi counter to arrange transportation. Stay in Colaba, the nicest area and where most tourists are.
From there, head down to the beaches of Goa on the train (over night or day train, 12-14hrs) travel 2 or 3 AC class (take a plane if you're really paranoid). Chat to local people on the train and enjoy the Konkan coast. Make sure to book a train that leaves from Mumnbai CST (Victoria station).
This will be a good start. From here, consider the rest of your trip...
I've not spent much time in Delhi by myself (also by choice). I'm not as comfortable with the Delhi culture as I am with Mumbai's relaxed and more cosmopolitan feel. I find Delhi to be a bit more intense. It is my personal opinion though, other woman might disagree.