As an avid traveler, nobody was surprised when I said I would be leaving on another whirlwind tour. What surprised me, however, was the negative reactions I received when I announced my plan to travel to India as a solo female. “It’s dangerous,” “You will get attacked,” “Don’t you listen to the News?” I admit, the overwhelming concern about this venture made me slightly uncomfortable but I knew that there had to be more to this big beautiful country than just leering men and evil taxicab drivers...
Upon my arrival at the Delhi airport, I was immediately greeted by a sweaty wall of glistening male faces eagerly beckoning me into their moto-taxis. My head began to swim with the concerns and warnings of friends and family back home, my confidence faltering. What am I doing? Why did I think this was a good idea!? That is when I looked over to see another female backpacker beside me, her head held high; with determined eyes and a confident smile she marched her way into the sea of waving arms and shouting voices, never looking back, never wavering. It was at this moment that I knew I needed to make a decision; let the fear overtake me, or embrace my jitters, raise my chin towards the hazy sunrise, and go boldly where few solo females have gone before.
Or so I thought...
As it turns out, India is actually quite the mecca for adventurous souls and it took next to no time for me to connect with many women travelers who were excited to share their experiences and wisdom. There was the obvious: Don't transit alone at night, do as the local women do, make a scene when you feel threatened, fake a boyfriend if you must. Armed with knowledge and a positive attitude I hit the bustling streets of Chandni Chowk in a hunt for some modestly comfortable “baba pants”; an essential for any tourist. Here, hawkers lurk in every corner, skipping out to lead you by the arm into their small shops, all the while making promises of providing you with the best deal. But with a smile and some friendly haggling, even the most hectic scenarios can become enjoyable. As the weeks progressed I found myself stepping further outside my comfort zones, relying less on my safety tricks and more on the genuine kindness that the majority of Indians possess. And yet, each time I was about to pat myself on the shoulder for all of my ‘badassery’, I was humbled by the elegant local women.
These ladies are navigating a culture of inequality with grace and ease, all while decked out in delicate saris and shimmering bangles, with their arms balancing groceries and bouncing babies. A testament to the true strength and courage of women in India was made abundantly clear to me during my visit to the city of Agra. Sheroes Hangout is a café owned and operated by the incredible survivors of acid attacks. These woman and girls had their lives permanently altered by these heinous crimes, many so ashamed and shaken by the horrifying experience that they were forced to hide in their houses for fear of going out in public. But these fierce females have taken a stand against their injustices and through advocating for themselves and others they share their stories and are creating safe spaces. These female heroes have shown the world what true resilience and beauty looks like.
India is known as the land of contrasts, and it would be naïve to pretend that the highs I experienced were not sometimes accompanied with the lows. Such was the case of Holi, the ultimate test of my will as a foreign female traveler. Holi, the festival of colour, is a mesmerizing celebration filled with delicious sweets, water balloon fights, bonfire dances and the famous throwing of powdered paints and glitter. Unfortunately, this momentous occasion is often depreciated by the ever-growing number of inebriated young men who hit the streets to take advantage of the “no rules” atmosphere and sadly my story is no different. What began as an innocent smearing of paint on a strangers’ forehead, quickly escalated to an ambush of males tearing and grabbing at my clothes while joyously demanding hugs and kisses. Even the male travelers I had asked to accompany me were unable to disperse the masses and I soon found myself blindly pushing back unwelcomed advances while police officers with sticks beat at mobs of aggressors. I could have easily thrown up my hands, called it quits, and scurried back to Canada with my tail between my legs, uttering tales of woe and misfortune. I could have, perhaps some will even say I should have, but India had already captured my heart. Taking a sidelong glance at an infant delicately smudging gold dust onto jovial faces as a blessing, I knew I needed to readjust my perspective and recognize all the good surrounding me.
Once safely back in my hostel I was immediately pampered by the staff. They wanted nothing more than to repair my tainted impressions of India. The people here are fiercely proud of their country and, aware of their less than stellar reputation these proud locals will make every effort to prove that there is so much more to their homeland than grabby teenage boys. Before I knew it, my stressful endeavor was nothing more than another lesson learned. To this day I would still say that the juice (or in this case the lassi) was well worth the squeezes.
Although it is essential to keep a good head on your shoulders, my advice to any female traveler is to be open to experience. Many locals in India are simply curious and are always excited for the opportunity to engage with tourists and pose for a "selfie". It is easy to shy away or shut down completely, especially after the fifteenth photo request on a hot sweaty day or after dodging a persistent suitor on a crowded bus, but remember why you travel in the first place. The best experiences in life are shared, and there is no better cultural immersion than chatting with an elder selling coffee from shiny carafes off a cart or challenging a group of young boys to a round of cricket. In my daily meanderings I was rarely put into a situation where I did not feel safe. In the few cases where I did start to feel that telltale twinge in my gut, I remembered that confident traveler from the airport and simply puffed out my chest, asserted my dominance, and then got myself the hell out of there (because let’s face it, I’m not nearly as tough as I think I am).
Chelsea Hartman, from Follow Your Hart…Man is a pediatric nurse that is passionate about life. When she is not working, she is exploring this beautiful world. When she can’t jump on a plane to the other side of the world, she stays close to home, taking a look back at all the great adventures she feels she has been fortunate enough to have. Be sure to check out this upcoming travel blogger!
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