If You Go To India

Kashmir. Photo by Aditi Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

If you like to travel and haven’t spent the last few months under a rock, I am assuming you have seen a rise in articles laying down guidelines about how women should dress, talk, and walk, when visiting India. To me, that sounds restrictive, and I would not want to visit a place that curbs my freedom and suppresses my individuality. As someone who has extensively traveled the length and breadth of the country, sometimes as an unsure toddler, and later as a surly teenager, I urge you to be who you are. Albeit a lavish, thicker-skinned, touristy version of who you are.

If you are thinking of visiting the subcontinent, do embrace your touristy self. Go visit the Red Fort but don’t take that unguided hike into the woods however tempting it looks. Leave it to the locals, or for another time, a time when you are ready to leave your Lonely Planet at home. If you like traveling alone, you have to master the art of ignoring gawkers. They are everywhere. Sometimes being in a group make them seem less intimidating. And one more thing, you know how that dollar stretches when converted to Indian Rupees? It means you can splurge on the hotels instead of trying to save a buck. Higher rates more often than not translate into safer accommodation in any country.

Travel advisories have made it clear that India is unsafe for women (travelers or not) and I can’t say I am surprised. But what surprises me is the astonishing number of people who go to India to find inner peace in the midst of chaos and color. It’s Eat, Pray, Love every time. But if you have read the book or even watched the movie, you know that the author Elizabeth Gilbert, did not leave her ashram when she was in the land of the Himalayas. Instead she spent that time smacking mosquitoes and trying to pray. And oh, she also befriended a fellow American from Texas, and found just enough time to squeeze in an Indian wedding. But that’s pretty much all she did.

When you finally make that trip to India, don’t just go there to pray. Climb a mountain bereft of man-made trails, enjoy the backwaters of Kerala, revel in the glory of the Maharajas in Rajasthan, and don’t hesitate to take the beaten path. You may not find the spiritual awakening you are looking for, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying an uplifting vacation.

And as for that elusive peace and joy, you have to look inward. Hopping on a transatlantic flight is rarely the answer.

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