It was early 2011. The mountains in Dharamsala were painted with snow. When I got off the bus that cold January morning, I honestly didn’t know I was at the beginning of a long journey along the backpacker circuit of Northern India. I went on to spend the following 5 months on the road in my homeland – in trains, ashrams, countless guesthouses, tents and monasteries. I had a small Nokia phone, a large backpack and a perpetual disbelief at my decision to travel on my own in India
Now, this was before the 2012 Delhi incident that exposed the violent patriarchy in our society; yet an Indian girl travelling on her own was as much a topic of finger-pointing back then, as it is now. Sometimes it got worse than finger-pointing. This one time, in Puri, a mob of angry men in the neighbourhood got so agitated about my travelling situation, they called the police to investigate me! There were other minor instances of stalking and immature gestures; silly comments about my character, my family at times. But this is as bad as it got.
In some situations, I didn’t do very well. I was often defensive, rude and in my defence, a naive 23-year old. I often felt frustrated and wanted to be left alone. “Why are you on the train by yourself?” Well, why the hell are YOU on this creepy train by yourself? Where are your parents and your wife, you nosy hypocrite?
Completely unnecessary. Three years later, with the supreme powers of hindsight, I have developed these three magic mantras for not losing my shit in India.
Mantra one: “I own my desire to travel”
Women have this extra-ordinary capacity for self-doubt and the ability to blame themselves for everything. Yes, all women! When confronted, women tend to question their own choices. There's no need to question your wanderlust. Own it yourself and the rest of the world will come to terms with it in due time
Mantra two: “I am going to take it easy”
Refrain from covering too much ground, too quickly. India is by far the most exhausting country to travel within. Give yourself time to recuperate, limit the place-time ratio. Shanti! Shanti! The extra time you'll get will translate into increased interaction with the locals.
Mantra three: “I am always in charge.”
The importance of self-confidence cannot be overstated. Know that you are always in control of your own situation. Male travellers feel entitled to this kind of self-confidence, whereas women often struggle with it. If you are unhappy or uncomfortable in a situation, speak up and/or leave. You never have to do anything, you don't want to. Ever.
When we are on the road, we are the ambassadors for independent travelling and represent our large and growing community. It is important then to communicate our love for travel in a positive way to those who are curious. Give people a chance to understand that you may be an exception, but you are not an anomaly. So let’s be positive, own our desire to travel, take it easy and know that we are always in charge.
And packing light always helps :)