Well, all that advice flew out the window within days of arriving in Delhi. First off, having a male companion did not dissuade horny Indian men. Even with Chris right beside me, I still received lewd comments, cringe-worthy mouth sounds, and even the occassional butt grab or “accidental” bump in the crowd, which usually included a well-placed hand on my crotch or chest. Maybe if I had tried the wedding ring thing…I just felt too ridiculously silly going to such an extreme.
As for the advice on how to talk to Indian men, I rarely offered my hand for a handshake or looked a man in the eyes, and when the conversation turned to “Are you married?” (as it ALWAYS did!), I would always reply that I had a boyfriend (which I don’t, but I had fun making up stories about where he lives, what he does, and what he looks like!), hoping this would end the conversation. Somehow, this always made it worse…even to the point of getting asked if I slept with my boyfriend. And let’s not forget the man who sat down next to me on a bench, and even after I told him to go away, he felt it necessary to whip out his little friend and entertain himself for awhile. Geez…some people!
Okay, so maybe there are some Indian men out there that have been driven insane by India’s rigid rules and traditions about sex before marriage, and maybe they do take it out on us Western women, because surely we are all porn stars at home. However, these few dirty men would never give me a bad enough impression of the country to the point of saying I hated India! Quite the contrary!
As for traveling as a solo female in India, well, I did it! I had Chris on my side for about two weeks before he decided he needed a beach vacation in Thailand. This was probably one of the best things to happen to me…even though I am very independent and enjoy traveling alone, all the reports on India had me adamant about having a guy with me. However, I sooned learned it was not very bad at all, perhaps even less of a challenge than when I went to China alone!
The country itself was fairly easy to get around. The train system, while a bit of a dinosaur, is still very convenient and the rails are extensive. The buses were usually more comfortable than I expected, and not once did I ever sit next to a chicken or a goat, and I rode on loads of public government buses! The roads in India were surprisingly well-kept, as well.
What were my favorite places in India? Well, I would have to say I loved it all. Indeed, India is its own world in so many ways, but especially in geography. “Smelly Delhi,” as it has so delicately been nicknamed, was awash with unforgettable city sights, sounds, and smells…shouting street vendors, women in saris pouring water across the streets to wash away sizzling cow patties, whistling rickshaw drivers, cows nuzzling through heaps and heaps of trash piles in the streets, rats (or were they cats?!) scampering about.
The Himalayas in the north were amazing. The drive up the world’s second highest road through the moonscape of the massive grey, snow-capped mountains was a truly unforgettable experience. And the people up north, many of them Tibetan refugees, were the friendliest, most quiet-tempered people in the whole country, and their Buddhist warmth always made me feel welcome and comfortable.
Rajasthan…I LOVED Rajasthan! The ubiquitous alleyway chai vendors, women in saris shopping in the ubiquitous bangle shops, men feeding McDonald’s Veggie Burgers to cows on the side of the road, packs of dogs lounging in the sun. I started off my trip to the Taj Mahal, which really is a remarkable building, a representation of a man’s true love. While I do not have too many great things to say about Jaipur, I was mesmerized by the Brahman culture along the bathing ghats in Pushkar. I was enchanted by the looming, bat-infested castle in Bundi. And I was soothed by the lapping of the sparkling lake and the surrounding city of Udaipur, sight of James Bond’s Octopussy.
As for the south…well, another world completely. Mumbai (Bombay), to me, could never be compared with Delhi. While it is a major city, it seemed much cleaner, much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than Delhi. Even the cows seemed few and far between in the city of “Bollywood.” Yes, and let us not forget, Mumbai is the home of my feature film debut, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna…even if it is only the back of my head!
While I must admit that I initially hated it, going through the yoga course was one of the best decisions of my life. For every single day for an entire month, with the dreadful Indian monsoon raging through the ashram, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, did four hours of yoga, sat through three hours of lectures, and drank herbal teas and ate organic food, in the meantime becoming a certified yoga instructor! That month, along with the follow-up week on the beach in Goa, was the perfect, soothing ending to not only my three months in India, but also my 7 1/2 months of traveling throughout Southeast Asia.
As for the food, it was amazing. Of course, I spent the entire three months purely vegetarian, so I often imbibed in dal (lentils) and vegetable curries, such as Aloo Gobi, Paneer Palak, and Mixed Veg…some so spicy you spend more time wiping your nose than eating! And oh, the breads! How many different ways can you make bread in India? Rotis, chapatis, naan, pooris, and especially the stuffed parathas! Yum Yum! All finished up with a cold mango lassi! And the chais…a 5 rupee glass of chai from an alleyway vendor, with its curdling milk film on top and various spices, would put any $4 Starbuck’s Chai to shame!
Last, but certainly not least, the people! As mentioned before, the Buddhist people up north in the Kashmir region were indeed very friendly and generous. However, this seemed to extend across the entire country of India as well, whether they were Buddhist, Sikhs, Hindus, or Christians. So many friendly people helped me when I was lost, offered me food on trains, bought me chai. I will never forget the kind family in Bundi, especially Sashi, Menu, and Chiku, who took me in and made me feel at home at the Parihar guesthouse, where “Seb Kuch Milega”, or, “Everything is Possible!” And of course, my fellow travelers! Chris, who left me all alone in India, and I am happy for it, and returned just in time to go through the yoga “concentration camp” experience with me! The terrific Brits John, Stu, and Hannah, along with the wild Israelis up north. The American girls in Pushkar, who “forced” me into a much-needed day by the pool, all the guys and girls at the guesthouse in Udaipur, and of course, all my newfound friends from the yoga course, including Hayli, Cecy, Robin, Sarah, and those bad influence Irish gals!
Once again, India was truly a very different world of its own. I think it should become its very own continent! India is definitely not nearly as dangerous or difficult as many people believe! With a little, okay, with LOTS of understanding and patience, traveling through India could be one of the most rewarding experiences for a person. However, I did meet lots of people who absolutely hated it, so it is certainly not for everyone! Would I ever go back? Absolutely! I only just barely penetrated the outter crust of this amazing place in the three months I was there. I will definitely go back again, but next time, I know better than to go during the summer!