I travel solo in India, and I feel safe

In the current scenario of India, it is very strange on my part to come up with this article. I feel ashamed, helpless and angered by the increasing number of rape cases in the country. It has given me sleepless nights and at times I have wondered if I should reschedule my travel plans. But holding on to my urge to travel, I didn’t allow my fear to overpower me. I travelled solo this month and I have been doing this since I was eighteen. I travel solo in India and I feel safe. I wish no one goes through the horrendous situation and everyone feels safe, be at home or in a distant land. As a traveller, I would tell you how and why I feel safe for solo travels in India.

1Carry a self-defence equipment

To be on the safer side, I always carry a self defence equipment, even when I am travelling within the cities. I still carry a pepper spray and have even upgraded to a taser gun. I make sure to place them in the most conveniently reachable part of my bag. And if you know any self-defence art, it’s cherry on the cake.

2. Dress according to the culture

I have always been a rebel about wearing clothes and have never stuck to the conventions of Indian society about my dressing. But while you are travelling, it is always wise to dress according to the culture of the place and not hurt the sentiments of the locals. That does no way mean that a dress invites a crime. I am totally against the notion. But I like to dress comfortably and according to the local culture. That doesn’t even mean wearing a kurta or a saree while you are hiking in the jungle. I prefer wearing t-shirts and tracks. I would suggest to wear anything that doesn’t grab attention. While travelling in a rainforest, I would not like to be in my LBD or stilettos, I would rather be in something that is comfortable for a hike and not seeking attention.

3. You will meet people who will worry for your safety

When we have a perception about something or someplace, we tend to think of the place like the way we have read. It’s better to ignore the perception, let go of your jitters and be on the road and experience. You will know how to avoid the nasty ones. And don’t you think we will meet jerks if we are living in the comfort of our city lives? You meet them at nightclubs, schools, colleges. Avoid them. This time, when I was staying at Ginger Hotel in Delhi, because I had to catch the early morning train, I was a bit worried to walk or to take a cab to the station alone before sunrise, though the New Delhi Railway Station is a 3 mins walk from the hotel. So, I asked the person at the reception to help me with a security guard who could give me company to walk to the station in the early hours of the morning. I am grateful to the employees at Ginger for being sensitive about the issue. On my return journey, my train was to reach the Old Delhi railway station at 4 o clock in the morning. The lady of the homestay, where I was staying, informed me that there is a McDonald’s outlet at Platform No 1 and asked me to wait there till there is daylight. This information was helpful and I did accordingly. People are nice to solo travellers, especially female travellers all over the world and in India people really worry about you and want you to be safe.

4. You will find ‘women-only’ everything

From the queues at bus depots, to seats at metro rails, you will find ‘women-only’ everything. You will find cabs driven by women to homestay run by women. When I booked the first class train compartment  and got up in the train from Kathgodam, I was worried to find the entire compartment empty. I panicked for a moment. I sat on my berth hoping that the cabin shouldn’t be filled with men. And thankfully, the cabin was reserved for three other women, solo travellers. Later, we discussed we all had shared the same worries. Happily, we made our night journey discussing everything and even reached safely.

5. People in India are friendly

Of travelling over the years, I have always found people in India to be friendly and caring. They would take you to your home and feed you with the humblest meal, but would not allow you to stay hungry. What we consider as over-peering neighbours at times, turns out to be the most life-saving people in the country. They will constantly remind you to be safe, not to be vulnerable to strangers and will always permit you to contact them for emergencies.

Leave your jitters at home, tie your shoe laces. Sitting at home, worrying over the perceived notion of the world would not lead to any experience. Work towards a better and safe place and walk fearlessly.

 

What travellers don’t tell you about coming back home

“There’s nothing half so pleasant as coming back home again.”

In my childhood, I loved Calcutta, today better known as Kolkata, the city I have grown up in. The city had grown with me too. I grew up nurtured by its old world charm. In my teenage years, I wanted to escape from this place. And so I did. In my 20’s, I didn’t appreciate the pace at which the city was moving, neither its work culture nor its efforts to westernise, the pattern did not match its rhythm of its history. Looking for a city that I can call home, I have been a nomad, travelled far and wide, and lived out of a suitcase. In my 30s, I am re-discovering Kolkata and falling in love with every part and even cracks of it, finding it back like a lost lover, catching up with the years lost by, and falling for the way it’s evolving, still maintaining its old world charm, that I have seen while growing up. I have found my old love in a completely new song.

I went to study in Chennai, I worked in Bangalore. And when I quit my job, I travelled across India and other far-flung places. I never thought I would come back to Kolkata. Yes, I would have come back, to see my parents, who are settled here, to meet my family, to meet my old friends from school. But in the wildest of my dreams, I  did not imagine to come back to the city, falling in love with it again and travelling within it, lanes after lanes. Everyday, waking up to a new sun under the same sky, it is like resting my head on the old familiar pillow. I found the lap of Kolkata. I realised it’s a funny thing. It seemed Kolkata was waiting for me. Actually no. It wasn’t waiting for me. Everything is same, looks same, feels same, and smells same. What has changed is me. Every time I travel, I come back home to appreciate it more.

I returned to Kolkata, struggling with everything and even my Bengali to communicate.  It wasn’t comfortable. It even did hurt. But, now, every time I travel, I take something of Kolkata with me. And I leave something behind, hopefully good.

There is an informality about the way people interact with each other and there is a casual acceptance and friendliness that you don’t see outside this place. You can walk into a shop and people will laugh and joke with you as if they know you. I feel a real sense of connection with the place. I can go back to my ancestral village near Kolkata and walk the same dusty path that my great-grandfather probably walked on and that gives me a sense of being rooted. The mornings are early and the evenings are late. And in the day, the auntie next door smells what’s cooked in our kitchen, and knows for sure we have a guest today. When clothes have not been hung for drying in my neighbour’s balcony my mom’s intuition never goes wrong that their maid is absent. She sends a box full of a dish that’s been cooked for our lunch. Where do you get such love that’s so unconditional, though a little barging affair at times. In the bus, the passenger next to you will almost take your shoulder granted to be as his pillow. In the train, the old uncle would ask for your newspaper and forget to return to you, as if it was his. Initially, all these bothered me and bothered me a lot. I realised, now I have found innocence and warmth in these behaviour patterns and accept this pattern as much as I accept the iconic heritages of the city.

I wake up at 5o’ clock in the morning to travel to the other end of the city in a bus, something I would not do ten years back. I detested taking a bus ride. I like to see the lung power of men, in the wake of the dawn, travelling from one end to the other, to fetch their daily needs. I sit at the Mullick Bazaar Ghats,(one of the famous flower markets near the river Ganga and Howrah Bridge) most of the times turning my face away when people answer nature’s call. But nowhere on earth sunrise is as beautiful as it is here, blooming out like a hidden gem from the lap of the river and rising softly kissing the bridge and leaving it to glitter. I hate city rains; I hate how the puddles leave marks on my trousers and skirts till my hips when I walk. Yet, it’s a weekend regime for me to go to Maidan (the largest urban park in Kolkata) to sit under the open sky, rest my ears on the green grass and hear them beat. If people complain about the polluted metropolitan cities they need some detoxification, they need some dosage of this place after the rains splash the city and leave it drenched in all shades of green. I take the leisurely tram journeys and get down at the old vintage houses in North Kolkata. I cannot stop mesmerising at the colonial houses from the British times, look at their architecture like an awestruck traveller, the verandas, the pillars, the red-cemented floors, the shuttered windows. I start a friendly conversation with the elderly person in the house and welcome myself to their abode over a cup of tea and lots of stories and legends. Like a kid, I often vanish to Nahoum’s, the legendary Jewish bakery in town. The best part about Kolkata is its food. From chicken cutlets to fish fries, to the traditional luchi, alurdom (deep fried flatbread with potato curry), to the lip-smacking phuckas (round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavoured water), the array of street food stalls never stops luring me. I find a cheat day, every other day to treat myself to these gastronomical wonders.

The hand pulled rickshaws in Kolkata are British heritage in India’s colonial treasure. Irrespective of the stories of the inhumanity of city’s unbarred use of man-powered rickshaws, tourists regard it as a cultural icon along with the famous Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial. Yes, they are my favourite too. But the more I fall in love with the city, the more I feel like contributing for my love towards the city. With collaborative efforts of few talented and thriving souls, I am stepping into an initiative and drive ‘Aamar Sohor‘ (My City). This initiative includes photo series, capturing the growth and decay of the city, appreciating imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, a journey of transience and imperfection, finding beauty in everything that is Kolkata. I do not want the millennial generation to grow up without knowing and enjoying the parts of Kolkata that I loved while growing up. I feel sad when I see most of their lives revolve around gadgets and malls. I want to show them the Kolkata through the eyes of the one who calls Kolkata home, even after travelling the world. And with all these we will be promoting responsible travelling in Kolkata, spreading awareness about keeping the city in a zero-waste condition, doing our bit in beautification and taking care of city’s icons like the tram, the vintage buildings, its monuments and its local artists. You can find that being updated through my works over time. I will be happy sharing those stories.

Coming back to my city, if you ask me my favourite place in the city, it’s the Ghats in the city, the Outram Ghat, the Prinsep Ghat, that witness the flowing of river Ganga through time and tide. This place creates the same wonders for me what 3D movies do to the kids of this generation. I grew up visiting these places every Sunday, like a ritual in my childhood. I practise the ritual even today. Travellers tell you, they return home either finding it awkward to adjust to the life there or they return home valuing it more. I say, we, travellers evolve. Seeing the beauty and the ugly in our journeys, make us more tolerant and grateful. At least, it has happened to me. Do you like smelling a new book?? For me, falling in love with Kolkata, after every journey, is like smelling a new book, falling in love with a long-distant lover. Do you love your hometown? I am curious if you have rediscovered yourself and your place over time.

It’s 7 o’clock somewhere…….

I have an insane calling to be at places I’m not. When it’s 2300 hours on my watch and I am tucked in my bed, I think it is 7 o’clock in the morning somewhere. How would the sunrise be there!! How would be the clouds floating across from one mountain to the other!!

When I see travel images, read about them, like the other day I was reading about Lorvy’s visit to Cameron Highlands, Roni’s Batanes trip, Michelle’s story of the village of JB sea gypsies, Ana travelling to a non-english speaking country, I was imagining myself there. I slip into the place through the frame of words and images.

Imagine stepping through the frame into a phosphene-tinted haze, where you could sit at the cafe, by the road and watch the locals passing by; who lives there, grazing eye with few of them perhaps locking a smile and nodding your head as a gesture, looking up at the same moon, the same air. I think I often go through such an obscure feeling. It’s like getting nostalgic, but with a much more stronger feeling, because you know you have never lived the life and that life you do not know if is going to come to you ever. Now research suggests that this is the case for music, too, but with a twist. And I am musically challenged. So for me, it’s not music but everything else.

I miss teas I haven’t tasted,
I miss hands I haven’t had the chance to hold,
And tears I never cried.
I miss dreams I don’t remember,
And things that flickered out of sight.
I miss the hours of sleep I’ve lost,
And flowers that I have not smelt.
I miss pictures I never took,
And dreams that I let die.
I miss places I haven’t been to yet,
And the things that I didn’t try.
I miss many things,

That I wish could be mine.
I miss many, many things,
That I have never tried.
I miss everything I don’t know,

When I will ever have.

This is kind of an obscure sorrow, I feel as a traveller. Some suggest this is called “anemoia”. But “anemoia” is a stronger sorrow for things you know you will never ever experience. Do any of you relate to my sorrow??

Well, this kind of sorrows don’t make me melancholic, it makes me long, something that you call far-sickness. As a traveller we often experience what is best described a far-sickness. Our whole being craves the mountains, the sea, the sunshine between the trees in the forests of the Earth, even if we don’t know what to expect from the landscapes and the cultures themselves. We long for moments and experiences and are filled with the need to discover all that all the molecules in our body can soak up.

I suffer from far-sickness of two types, for places I have not been and for places I have already travelled.

When we experience different places and cultures and have them touch us in indescribable ways, that feeling stays with us. We can be sitting in a coffee shop a thousand miles away from Lyon, but its smells can still linger, its energy can still ignite. We could be in a completely different place, city, state, country, but the sights of Munich will still swirl within our blood like a vitality that will never cease to move us. What does dill-dally in every traveller’s heart is the distance, the love for those places that we have allowed to burrow within us like old friends.

There are different words for each of them in different languages, and they are beautiful without being translated into English. We can talk about those terms some other day for sure.

It’s not always during long distance relationships that you experience the craziness of time zone difference. As a traveller, I experience it even sitting at my home, thinking about, as I said “it’s 7 o’clock somewhere.” So, when I talk about love, I always do not refer it to a person, it’s the place, the travel or stories that I meet there, that I talk of. I start soaking up in the smell of the filter coffee brewed in Thailand and I wish, I woke up to a morning there. I start imagining myself sitting beside a wrecked boat on a lonely shore feeling the saltiness of the waves when I curl my toes. I get anxious to know the shade of orange of the sunrise in Iceland, I could smell the wine wafting through the air in French Riviera. When I was reading about Jan’s “A Love Affair with Vietnam’s Pho”, I was there, anxious about trying out an unfamiliar dish but enjoying as my taste buds were embracing each spoonful of the dish. On the day of the conference with Trisha Velarmino, and other fellow bloggers, it was 7 o’clock, in the evening IST. I was excited and fully devoted my concentration to the conference, but in the back of my mind, I was wondering what time would it be in Tel Aviv, Israel ?? Does that sound idiotic?? You can be thinking, we can always check that on google. But, yes, that’s how a traveller’s heart beats. How would 7 o’clock be at Noel’s place??

I am poor in Mathematics, but a traveller always knows to calculate the time of the other places at the back of the mind, and can smell the monsoon and see the autumn leaves changing its colour.

And how do I treat it?? I treat it by taking off to the place where the story started. I treat it by travelling. Soon, I will be away to treat my obscure feelings and will get in touch to tell you stories from there. For now, I would like to know, if any of you have an obscure sorrow??

 

 

 

 

 

Post-Travel Blues

We all like holidays. Don’t we?? And wish life was a continued holiday. But, if you are a traveller, you will know, the angst of being one.

Do you know those jittery butterflies that flutter through your stomach as you pack your bags? I get them every time, I pack mine. But the blues, when you are back after travelling!!

The mind can never break off from the journey. That feeling you get when you’ve been home too long and you ache to be out into the world again. Sometimes you don’t know where you want to be, but you know that it’s away. Sometimes you know where, and you want to get there as quickly as possible. This is that feeling. Right now, I am suffering from a serious case of post travel blues, and feeling this to the extreme! When you’re not travelling this can be an overwhelming feeling, or when you think about the travel you’ve done and you wish you could relive it all over again. This feeling is why you need to make the most of every moment! It’s why the more you travel, the harder it gets. A wistful longing and yearning in the heart for travels that have been and travels to come is a traveller’s constant state of being.

Solo, a kind of traveller many of us are. Solo travel has exploded so much and is no longer out of the ordinary. As most solo travellers know, you’re not alone for long as you make your friends on the road. But sometimes, it’s the wandering journey you take alone that is the most rewarding. After your journey ends and you just want to be back where you were, or with the people you met on the way. It’s the feeling that’s left after it all ends. It’s what makes you want to return to your favourite place, even if you know it might not be the same. When you wander purposefully, but towards a vague destination, you stumble upon the most overwhelming experiences. When you have an idea of where you’re going, but it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there. The road doesn’t have to be a straight one. In fact, sometimes it’s better when it’s not.

A street, cafe, an experience stumbled upon by luck. I love when this happens in my travels. A moment drinking coffee under a lemon tree, a garden or a lake or a swimming hole discovered with no one else around. There is that bursting feeling in your chest when you travel. When it all feels right. The constant change in travel often puts our senses in overdrive and the highs are higher than ever.

When, mountains changes to plains, when winding roads end up to long straight highways, when pines and deodars are replaced by banyan and neem trees; when the sight of sea shore is lost and all your eyes can see is skyscrapers instead of waterfalls, and when your eyes and soul long for people full of life and humbleness, you know what far sickness of a traveller is.