It made me think after I had an interview with BBC last night about how I feel as an Indian woman travelling around India by myself. It was around 12:30 AM Sydney time (24th August 2013) when I got a call from Chris, one of the producers of BBC news shows after my twitter update about my travel to India in few hours. Initially I thought it might be just a joke as at this hour I am getting a call to participate in an interview that too live. But soon I realized that it was actually happening and I had two choices – one go to bed as there were only 5-6 hours left to get some sleep before I catch my flight in the morning or stay awake for this interview discussion as not everyday you are given this opportunity. Guess what I chose the second option. Although before actually realizing what we are going to discuss I was all excited but soon enough the smile was replaced by the sadness and the excitement was replaced by the sheer anger and frustation.
The discussion was about the various issues that solo woman travellers face when they travel around India. It was inspired after a overnight hit article written by Michaela Cross, an Americal student who went to India to persue her studies in Abroad culture and civilization. It threw me into the same ocean of emotions that I have lived for almost 4-6 years when I was living back in India. All those memories dashed my mind in few minutes and some known emotions (anger, frustation, hatred, pain) made me feel overwhelmed.
I read the article published in CNN as adviced by Chris and instantly I felt a connection to this woman and her story.
Attend a festival – We have so many festivals in India that every month you can count a few. India is the most colorful land when it comes to festivals. No matter which month you go, there is always something going on. Although few big festivals are Holi, Diwali and Dussehra are the main festivals.
Attend a marriage – Indians have big fat weddings and some of the riches are famous for show off as well but it’s worth attending a marriage when you are there as it is an easy way to immerse yourself in the culture and get the feel of the soul of Indian culture in short time that too with a lot of fun.
Cook an Indian meal – You will learn so much about different spices that Indians use in their food as well as the reason to use them. Ever spice has a property that helps either in digestion or healing or something else in your body that you will discover when you try cooking some of the stuff. Do learn how to cook ‘daal’ and ‘saag’. You would be able to boast when you go back that you can cook some Indian food and guess what lots of people around the world love Indian food.
Watch any classical dance performance – We have many
Go to temple and worship in traditional way. Every evening devotees gather to sing praise in temples and it is music to ear and one of the things that you must experience
Eat at the stalls by the side of streets – Give it some more time when you arrive in India as you might be new to this kind of non-hygienic way of eating but locals eat on such place almost every day. Even the corporate professionals walk down the street from their work place to enjoy some snacks every now and then. Make sure that you eat something that is cooked in front of you and not sitting there for quiet a while. There are some hygienic but little expensive options to try the same things in good restaurants like Haldiram where hygiene is guaranteed. Although many Indians think it doesn’t taste as good as the roadside food but it should be fine as long as you can get the feel of various food here. Like everywhere else you can also get McDonald here but with an Indian touch. Although I would suggest to avoid that if you are not feeling home sick.
Shop from the street market and bargain the price – One of the surprising experience you might have when you buy something less than 20% of the actual cost. You need to know that most of the times shop keepers rise the price when they think you are a foreigner. So make sure not to get ripped just because you are travelling. One of the tricks to get a good bargain is not to show much interest otherwise they are smart enough to know that you like the stuff and you might be happy to pay any price they ask for.
Live with a local family – This is the closest you can see and live the soul of the very culture in any country. And India is no different. So make friends and try to live with some one’s family and eat home made food. I bet you wouldn’t regret it.
Get a pic on a rickshaw and bus – You will see the difference immediately from other places. It’s fun though.
Travel by train – I know its is a little bit tough and scary at first but after listening to many fellow traveler I can say one thing. You can see true India here. Just few hours of journey and you will make lots of friends and hear many stories. But make sure you keep your bags around you all the time in case something is not insured.
India is a land of spirituality and festivals. People go to India for different reasons. Some of them are listed here:
Travel a new country
Attend a marriage
Seventh wonder – Taj Mahal
Study – very less
But there is a crazy side of India as well and five of them you can do are listed here.
Diving with elephants – You must have heard of diving with sharks, whales, dolphins and many other sea life creatures, but elephants. Yes, you can do such things in India in Andaman. Its a good location for diving. Emerald Isles is the place where you can either snorkel or dive with this amazing elephant called Rajan.
Feed rats – Don’t throw the food if a rat has bitten it. It doesn’t sound very appealing right, but there is a temple in India where people feed rats and eat the food bitten by rat with high regards. It is a house for more than 20,000 rats and spotting a white rat is considered auspicious for religious purposes.
Self driven car – It’s very unlikely that you will get a car that can drive itself. But something that can never happen anywhere can happen in India. Yes there is a place in Ladakh called Magnetic Hill where if you stop your car and put it to neutral then it will start moving at the speed of 10-20 KM per hour. No it is not a ghost town but there are some
Live in a tree house – Why not, live the dream you had since your childhood and live in the tree house in Kerala. Vythiri Resort provides a comfortable to live in a tree house where you will have all the luxury you can imagine with an amazing view of this bird territory.
Auto-rickshaw race – Now this is not so out-of-the-box after all. But still sounds a bit wired. This challenge is called MUMBAI XPRESS. This 14 days challenge will cover 1900 KM (approx. 1180 miles) and can be done in a team of two. It starts every year in August from Mumbai and ends in July in Chennai. You can see the variety of the geography (from hills to valley and beaches) doing this if you ever fancy going completely crazy. http://www.rickshawchallenge.com/trips/mumbai-xpress/
Last day in Sydney was not as I was expected. It was a mixed feeling of leaving the place that I felt home for two years with a hope to come back one day. It was the bitterness of leaving the loved ones and sweetness of seeing the family back in homeland. I was not sure what exactly I was feeling as it was not one clear feeling but mix of a lot of emotions. I was supposed to be happy like other times when I fly as it starts a new adventure. But this time it was more like leaving some unfinished business and not knowing what future has got in store.
Saying good bye to each friend personally with lunch or dinner was like bidding your last good bye. But I am sure I will be healthy and wise to come back and many more dinners and lunches will follow. I was more emotional to leave my new place which was home for less than 2 months as it became like the peaceful place where I could retire after a tiring day or feel safe when feeling frustrated from everything else. I had a lovely evening walk with my friend/flat-mate the day before I was leaving. It was first time in 2 years while living in Sydney that I had a family in form of friends. So in total it was like when you are a kid and you have to leave your friends and known surroundings when your parents move to a new town or new country. Although the child was my inner self and adult in this case was my higher self.
Anyways flight boarded with the same attitude of a traveler – old habits die hard. All rough and tough look on my face as if saying – ‘Who Cares’. It was an evening flight so right time for dinner. First flight was from Sydney to Singapore where I quenched my thirst of movies with two new movies. It was only towards the end of the flight when I was falling asleep. A jolt woke me up and before I could behave as if the plane hit a disaster, I soon realized that we had landed in Singapore. I walked out like a Zombie but still trying to look super cool, being the single girl travelling. A staff person helped me with the next flight details to New Delhi and I killed an hour doing some window shopping which made me feel sick as I am usually never in mood of shopping when I travel (because I travel light and with only one carry on back pack, excluding this trip, and this usually doesn’t allow me to buy anything extra).
Following other fellow passengers I boarded another flight for another meal and few entertainment shows to keep me awake. It was 2:40 AM in the morning, people were trying to continue their sleep and I felt the pressure to follow everyone else. I had one extra vacant seat next to mine where I got the luxury to keep my body in horizontal position in last 20 hours.
It was funny how a little bit of space can make you so happy at times where you can spread your clumsy body parts and feel yourself for some time. But it was not supposed to continue for long and I woke up by the menu offered by the air hostess to the passengers in the seat ahead. Anyways I felt compelled to eat for what I had paid hence I got up and tried to open my eyes to see till where the crew had made progress in asking for menu preference. I thought of using the entertainment unit to help keep me awake. I soon got indulged into a movie and then it became easier to keep an eye on the staff serving food. I ordered vegetarian food although I was not sure whether I was hungry 3:0 AM in the morning or not. I gave myself the benefit of doubt thinking that it might be morning back in Sydney. So I threw another plate of unwanted food into my stomach. I felt like an eating machine as since yesterday I was up and eating and walking and sitting and many other routine tasks but sleeping. I think this is exactly what happens – you lose track of time and also the capability of making the right decision, when you are so tired and sleepless. Reminds me of Sleepless in Seattle 😉
Two and a half movies on the way to India and time to land in New Delhi now. Again my traveler spirit jumps at the right time when almost everyone in the plane had left; I bid my farewell to the nice staff of Singapore Airlines knowing that they had been serving me especially when I was the only passenger awake all through the flight. One time the air hostess actually handed me over the full can of juice when she realized I was demanding water or juice every twenty minutes.
Now time to get on high alert as I was entering New Delhi airport. It is an old habit of being aware of my surroundings (don’t confuse it with spirituality) as this has more to do with making sure I do not become a victim of any pick pocketing or theft. It was only when a lady tapped on my shoulder and asked if I had an iphone. It made me feel a bit anxious as to why she is asking such question but she soon answered my silent question by telling me that she wants to inform her family that she has arrived here. I quickly emailed her family regarding the same. Custom clearance was easy and spotting my checked in luggage didn’t take me long either. I was now on my way outside the airport when I realized that taxi and other services don’t accept any card. I had to request the security in the airport to let me in to change currency. I know right I should have done it before but I learn this new rule when you can’t take your luggage in the premises of airport once you check out. After changing some money I was on my way to get a transport home when I simply asked a guy outside airport if the metro services have started from airport. Good news was that it was up and running for a month now. I paid 30 Rupees (way cheaper than hiring a car or taxi that is 350 to 450 Rupees) and went to Sector 21 (near my destination). It is advisable to check where you are going to stay as you can always take the metro from the airport. It is cheaper and very convenient air conditioning option.
Journey home was not very simple but it was nice to be in India with friends and family. As no matter how much different India is from other countries but it is the warmth of people that makes you smile and feel good. And now that I am in India be ready for many interesting posts to come from this colorful and spiritual culture. Also soon here we will be celebrating one of the biggest festival – Holi (festival of colors) in March. Hence I will update you with the same.