I am right now travelling solo female in India – a thing I once didn’t think possible. But as I lie here in my hammock, feet up, computer on lap, contemplating my past week in India I can’t really recall why I, too, kept a distance to travel in India. A concern for being a solo female traveller? Or was it rather other people’s expectation and concerns when they heard I was bound for India – alone?
Of course, I know the background, the limelight that has hit India recently with stories of rapes and ferociously staring men. A culture solidly based on a masculine society with strong men as caretakers and beautifully sari dressed women at home. Travelling as a female “white” Scandinavian somehow doesn’t fit into this storyline.
Or so they say.
As the rest of the world, India is changing and so the classical stereotypes, the cultural background, are also shaken and stirred a bit. Yes, you will still have men trying to chat you up on the street and you will find men staring at you in restaurants. But you will also have friendly villagers offering a lift to the nearby supermarket and trishaw drivers who take extra good care of you, refusing even to accept your tips.
At a local canteen I went for a quick bite before my ferry was leaving. The interior basic, the Thali even more and the men casting surprising stares of what I was doing there. The school kids behind the counter mostly focused on trying to understand my English – and asking me correctly if I liked my food, laughing shyly once the sentence was delivered. After the initial stares, the 10 or so men in the restaurant lost interest in me and I finished my meal and paid the INR 20 to smiling young boy. The scariest part of that experience was whether or not the lukewarm vegetable curry would praise me with “Delhi Belly” – For the curious reader, no it didn’t.
And that has been my general experiences. Curious stares, wondrous stares, impressed stares? Probably all at the same time as the Indians are trying to understand you and your story. Just as you try to understand theirs.
Luckily, due mostly to the British colonisation, India is by and large a nation full of English speakers. So in the middle of this overwhelming and colourful country, you will actually have the ability to communicate with the locals, getting one step closer to understand this versatile and colourful society and its customs.
And just as we have travelled by and far over time, so too are the Indians strapping a backpack to their shoulders setting out to explore the country in which they are citizens in – and the Asia they are a part of. Travelling solo you are often more inclined to meet new people. To meet the Indian travellers, the locals and to hear their story.
After all, isn’t it India and its inhabitants we have come so far to experience anyway?
I feel blessed that I now have a footloose travelling gypsy friend in Pune, whom have promised to show me his city and to homestay it across Kashmir. I have a dive buddy in Mumbai who have given me all his insider tips to South India’s cuisine and places to eat these. And should I pass Mumbai there’s an Indian Malt Whisky (the third best in the world!) that is waiting to be consumed. And there are the 2 couples in Chennai who promised to help me navigate their city, if only my flight had not been cancelled. Over the past week I’ve learned about life in the Indian Army as a MIG pilot, the life of a young Bollywood actress and about salt plains in the western part of India that I didn’t know existed.
And so, back in my hammock I cherish and bless these people whom have treated me as a friend in their country. Who are proud of their nation and eager to share their culture with those in interest. That they have helped prove that India is so much more than what is streamed through in the news.
That India is a nation of honoured people that take pride in helping a female solo traveller. To not only navigate and understand their country, but to become part of them so the solo part almost vaporises to only being Female Travellers.
My head is already spinning to figure out when I can come back and even more difficult, which parts to explore next of this grand, proud and magnificent country – as a female traveller.