So many fears, so many scams, so many stares, so many “no more India”. That’s what I saw on the all powerful web these past years. And despite all of that (or maybe because all of that, have I mentioned my indestructible stubbornness before?), I am right now sitting in a dusty restaurant, on the corner of a very noisy street, with a cow pacing on the other side of the window, my skin slowly cooling down thanks to the fan over my table, waiting for my potato naan and sweet lassi.
I’m in Bikaner, India, and I’m alone. I’ve just ended my first week as a solo female traveler in India and, as these lines can attest, I’m still alive. I’ve not been stolen from, touched, raped, scammed, or even slightly scared. Instead, I’ve been shown around, my rickshaw fee has been paid for, chai (tea) was offered, I’ve been invited into homes, and I’ve been, generally, taken care of, mostly by men. Even me and my stubbornness weren’t expecting so much from India.
But, wait. Then why do we always get such negative reviews from India? Is there really NO danger?
I don’t think there is more danger in India than in any other country for a woman of good sense and good instinct. For example, this afternoon I made up a fiancé waiting at my guesthouse, and so instead of an uncomfortable talk with a young indian, I made a friend who showed me around the city, made me meet his family, offered me a cup of chai and invited me to come back (with the fiancé). And, no, I didn’t pay him.
On the other hand, what I see in India is that it can be very uncomfortable for a woman. The men do stare a lot, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s not intended as a threat on their part, or even considered rude. Men, in general, are everywhere, and it does make you feel seriously outnumbered. In the train station, while I was waiting for my very first Indian sleeper train, I started to feel very uncomfortable because of the sheer number of men on the platform, most of them staring at me as I walked by. I was starting to wonder if I wasn’t making a mistake this time. Result: I slept as well as could be in this kind of train, interrupted only once by the man in the next bunk to offer me his extra blanket if I felt cold.
I am in India alone and I am fine, but this IS India, not Switzerland. There are more men than women here, all waiting for a potential marriage, and serious cases of poverty, addictions and lack of education. I’m fine because I’m being cautious and aware of my surroundings.
Don’t come here wearing shorty shorts, don’t come here and wander alone at night, don’t come here and smile to strangers in the street, don’t come here if you can’t tell when you’re being lied to.
Come here with eyes open, brains afire, and, always, respect and an open mind, and you will be fine, you will love India, and you will spend your days in a bliss of smiles, spices and sweat.