I’m so pleased and honored that Ruchira of Nirjharini fame, agreed to guest post at my blog! Ruchira is someone whom I have the deepest admiration for. She’s a no-nonsense, unassuming person who writes beautifully! I just wish she wrote more; but, her intermittent posting is clearly because the lady loves to travel! Check out her Japan Chronicles posts, her hilarious take on legroom space on flights, and her beautiful explanation of why she prefers traveling alone.
But wait!! Please do read this post first!
Photo credit: graphistolage / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
As someone who loves to travel, and often travels solo, I think India is the best and the worst country to do so. With its temples and monasteries, palaces and forts, beach resorts and mountain treks, it has something for everyone.
Unfortunately, India is also a rather inquisitive society. We will make your business our own and take an active interest in your life, often give unsolicited advice and feel offended if we are not privy to each and every detail of your personal life.
Travel in India is still largely a family affair where Mom, Dad and the kids, along with the extended family head out for vacations armed with enough food and luggage to survive a year even if they are stranded on an island. Traveling is much of a social event. People are as willing to share a part of their lives with their fellow passengers as they are their food. Often on train journeys that last longer than a few hours, the people sitting around you become like your temporary family till the journey is over.
However, there has been a shift over the past few years. A lot of people take breaks without their families, going trekking or surfing with friends or even alone. Another big change has been the increase in the number of women travelers.
And nothing piques the curiosity of the average Indian more than a woman traveling solo. Especially if the lady in question has a worn out rucksack at her feet and not a proper suitcase.
A suitcase would probably imply I am on a work trip or visiting family. A rucksack, on the other hand is shouting ‘I am off on a holiday’ loud and clear!
I prefer to have my nose stuck in a book all through my journey rather than converse with strangers. Now this is not always possible when you are surrounded by people absolutely dying to know who you are, if you are married, where is your husband and why the hell has he let you travel alone.
Over time I have discovered that the best way to handle these situations is with humor. On a visit to Taj Mahal with a close blogger friend, Vinita (who blogs at BlogwatiG), we decided to hire a tourist guide to show us around. I am rather tall and do not have the conventional Indian looks and so am often mistaken for a foreigner. Add to this my casual jeans and T shirt attire. The guide was more interested in knowing about us than telling us the history of the Taj. I was getting rather miffed with his round-about but persistent questions about my ‘origins’ and my ‘family’ till Vinita came up with a story that I am actually a foreigner who got married to an Indian. She went on to say that my Indian husband has left me and I have come to this country to hunt him down and make him pay. All this was told with a very straight face while I stood there trying very hard not to giggle and look very much the deceived wife! There is a Tourist Guide out there in Agra who firmly believes I am simply in his country to punish my errant husband!
But it is this inquisitiveness and over friendliness that sometimes comes to your aid. During a train journey, a matronly lady, after thoroughly investigated into my personal life and berating me for traveling alone, made her two teenaged sons lift my heavy bags out and made sure I was safely in a taxi on my way to the hotel.
India is a land of paradoxes. The modern India increasingly gives its women free reign to live their lives the way they want. A lot us live alone, work and make our own decisions. And we don’t think twice about doing all this.
Yet, for a whole lot of Indians, a woman not marrying is scandalous and her trying to tramp around the globe because she simply wants to see the world – Blasphemous!
To the rest of the world, India is mostly known as the land of Tandoori Chicken and the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, India has also been in the international news lately because of gender issues. Safety of women is a big issue here, I would be behaving like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand if I don’t acknowledge this problem.
We all take precautions when we travel and usually avoid being out alone at night. I may keep a pepper spray handy and look suspiciously at all strange men but still, travel I will. And I have taken the same precautions in certain pockets of London and New York as well. Crime is everywhere and no society is perfect.
The situation In India is far from ideal but while the world raises a hue and cry about the gender issues in my country, issues advisories against traveling to India, shakes it head over the acts of violence and within the country the modern and the orthodox continue to clash, some of us quietly continue live our lives exactly the way we want, rather than be dictated by circumstances or by what the society tells us.
Ruchira lives in an urban jungle but her heart is in the mountains. She has two simple aims in life, to travel and to write. And to support these two activities she also works at a boring corporate job! Ruchira have a Masters in degree in Japanese and although she lives in New Delhi now, she has been associated with the Land of the Rising Sun for the past 10 years in one form or the other. Travelling, exploring different cultures and Learning languages are her passion.