When people come up with all sorts of concerns about me being a woman traveling alone in India, I almost always shrug them off.
There is definitely a threat to the safety of a woman traveling alone, but if I start planning my itineraries based on threats, I will never leave the house.
This is a story from one of the times I felt genuinely threatened.
This is the story of how I fought back.
A couple of years ago, I went to McLeod Ganj. It was my second trip to the small hill town. The first time I was with a bunch of fellow students and a teacher. This time I was an ambitious solo traveler.
McLeod Ganj is an ideal place for a first time solo traveler. Everybody minds their own business and there's lots to eat.
Naturally, I had lied at home about being here alone, I even had to create a fictional friend. 'She' worked in my office and is free to travel whenever I need her to be. But to be honest, I was pretty f***ing scared myself.
After discussing with friends for days and spending endless time on the internet, I found my way to a small guesthouse (it didn't really have a name). It was just next to where the Pizza Hut is now. Very conveniently placed and affordably priced.
My first day (I was there for two) consisted of basking in the mountain sun, staring out of my balcony, doing some irrelevant shopping only because the aunties were exceptionally cute and stuffing my face with every dish at Jimmy's.
As the sun started to set, I decided to take a last hike so I was tired enough to fall asleep. I picked a trail and kept walking. This trail went away from the market and straight up from my hotel. I peeked into some local homes and kept walking. After realising I might be getting lost, I headed back.
I was near my hotel, and it was easily past 10:30 pm. That is pretty late in mountains, but I was tempted to have a little something from the bakery near Mcllo restaurant.
I had already spotted a shady man who looked completely out of place. I felt his eyes on me, but I am from Delhi, even aunties stare the shit out of us.
I ordered a lemon cake and started walking towards the market, which I expected to be lit up. But nope, like I said, 10:30 pm is too late. Every shop was closed and for the first time I felt scared.
The man had started following me. He pretended to talk on the phone so I wouldn't notice. By now, I just wanted to rush home. Screw hotel, I wanted home.
The distance between us almost vanished when I suddenly felt his hand grabbing my behind. The reaction that followed would have made Sunny Deol proud.
I totally and absolutely lost my shit. My hands were trembling but I instinctively slapped with all force, and kept slapping until I grabbed his hair and slammed it on a shop's shutter. I waited for him to fall flat on the ground, and when he did, I walked away.
(Though the last glimpse I caught was him reaching inside his pants...pervert.)
Every bone in my body was shaking. Blood had shot up to my head and I was an insane combination of scared, happy, excited and regretful.
I didn't sleep that night. I kept wondering why I didn't reach for my pepper spray – maybe because slapping the sweet Jesus out of someone is more instinctive than going through the purse and pepper-spraying.
I will not reveal where the person's nationality nor will I defame the beautiful hill town. No place is inherently unsafe or dirty, humans who flock there make it so.
The next day I spent in McLeod Ganj had me befriending a fellow solo traveler. I told her my story, she told me hers.
The lesson is to not let such incidents get to you. Just because you have a minor accident, doesn't mean you stop doing what you love, right?
Some tips to help every solo female traveler out there:
a) Definitely carry a pepper spray. If you can also carry a Swiss Army Knife, it is an extremely helpful tool.
b) Whenever you feel threatened, don't freak out. Keep your calm and take a few moments to prepare yourself.
c) Consider it a mandatory part of your itinerary to get some self defence training.
d) The most essential tip I can give is to walk confidently. Don't feel or look scared and vulnerable.
e) Pick the people you want to socialise with. Fun tip: Keep your headphones on (but on mute) and hear what people talk about when they think you are not listening. Based on that, take your pick.