Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tourist Dowry and Fatal Attractions - Solo woman travel safety for India

You thought you would somehow be okay, that you would make sense of the city, the noise, the pollution, the constant demands on your attention, the "hello, hello" as if they knew you. The "Excoose me Madam, where from", the sly insidious grasp of a beggar childs hand, the more confrontational approach by it's mother. Then there is the staring, o god! have they never seen a white woman before? Do I have spinach on my teeth, is my underwear showing? The slightly rebellious stomach, the strangeness of it all and the heat!

No surprise to find yourself unburdening all this on the first charming English speaking person to sense your pain. He is the first person you met who hasn't tried to sell you anything, he is just like people everywhere else in the civilised world. You can have a conversation with him, ask him things about the country, the people, the habits and why they stare so.

"Ahh Fucking Indian men," he will exclaim and apologise on behalf of the country for the stares and inappropriate touches. Totally charmed and relieved, you relax into the AC of the coffee shop/the cool breeze of the fan in his shop or emporium/the seat in an eatery where you met by chance or perhaps he gave you directions when you ran out of circle in Connaught Place. Such lucky encounters is what travel is all about, chance meetings that are the begining of a lifetime friendship.

Suddenly you don't feel so alone, so strange.
How much lighter you feel now that you have unburdened yourself. You offer him a coffee if you met in a coffee shop, he offers you chai if you met on his territory. Later he will offer you a meal at his house as if you were by now long lost relations or even perhaps as he may have already mentioned, some strong Karmic Connection from a previous life.

Except it is by no chance that you met. He was always looking for you, darling girl. He knows how to read the signs and what signs will ring the cash bell over the door to his shop. There you were, flushed with the heat, lost maybe confused definately and fresh of the boat literally. 

Ah but what the hell, he is good looking, charming and mannerful. He is a barrier between you and the great churning mass of people of every description clawing at the hems of you skirt. His life story will be as you have read in most Booker Prize Winning Novels, one of hardship, turmoil, war and terrible bad luck. Your heart will be won over by his loyalty to family, his execution of his duty to provide and probably do a few flip flops in sympathy for his difficult life.
ike any handsome prince in a story he can whisk you away from it all and take you to another land so close to heaven that you will begin to live out the myth of your life in such a story book setting. Or he will graciously accompany you on your travels, greatly smoothing the way for you.
Now your confidence returns. Now you have a good looking man and a grip on the situation. He may give you promises of love, of a fairy tale that continues, nothing is too much trouble for him if it means that you will be comfortable and happy.
To be a lone woman in India is lonely and confronting and confusing and often people are mean to you but to be with a man who speaks the language and who knows the ropes actually deepens your travel experience, so what if this totally blows your budget? Do it, plan it, draw more money out of the bank and now begin your real holiday in India with a local.

"Say we are married" when you travel. Then he can use your Visa card while you sleep to drain you of all the cash in your account or worse.  Better still, 'marry' him and suffer the indignity of accepting a second wife when all your money is gone. Or go home to Australia and sell your suburban house to exchange it for a dream in paradise only to wake up to the reality of years of legal action that will result in nothing. Or go to a hotel room with a man who you only recently met in the seediest streets of the city.

Two months ago in Paharganj, Delhi a young French woman was found dead in a seedy hotel room.

Her story began in one of the ways described above. Her story is not unusual or unique in India, women who make 'friends' with random strangers who prowl the tourist areas are routinely ripped off, blackmailed or cheated by men who make it their business to make some business out of you.

The women, their victims will invariably shell out large amounts of cash either knowingly or unknowingly. There will be a scheme that you are invited to invest in or a kind of tourist dowry anticipated in exchange for goods and services. It usually ends in tears. The victims rarely make a complaint, she will take on the blame of making a bad choice, cuts her losses and goes back to work to pay off her credit card while the man simply goes back on the prowl for another woman just like you.

When New Zealander Diana Clare Roultley was murdered in Varanasi, her father spent years of his life and over half a million dollars in an attempt to find his daughter and then to bring her murderers to justice. She was murdered by a rickshaw driver who had befriended her.

In Delhi if someone suddenly gives you flowers, you are not in a 30 second deodorant commercial but in the first stages of a sting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Untravelled India

One thing about solo women travelers that I love is that they are more open to new experiences and curious about the cultures of places, most especially they are interested in the lives of the women they meet in their travels. There are a lot of exciting new travel companies in India that offer a point of difference to the usual organised tours, one of them that I love is Untravelled India, a social enterprise that aims to bridge the digital marketing gap between socially responsible tourism offerings in rural parts of India, and urban travellers looking for authentic travel experiences.
Here is a beautiful example of the kind of India they introduce you to, the Spring Festival in Punjab, Baisakhi.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Holi Cow! Holi in India

March 8th is Holi time in India. You will know it for the explosion of colour, something like paintball on a countrywide scale. There are a few stories connected with the celebration of Holi, the most common one is that it's a celebration of spring, an enactment of Krishna's love play. Apparently, Krishna worried that his skin was so much darker than that of his love Radha and complained to his mum about it. Krishna's mum was no doubt the prototype of every Indian mother in law to come for eons afterwards, obviously the girl needed to be taken down a peg or two! How dare she be fairer than her own precious son. "Throw some toxic colour on her face and disfigure her for days" she suggested.
Now I don't know about you but if my lover came a courting with toxic powder that would stain my skin and ruin my clothes then I wouldn't be very impressed. Even less so if I discovered that my lover had been following his mother's instructions! I would probably kick him to the kurb!
The original story concerns a wicked demon King who suffered from the delusion that he was a god. In the modern day he would be one of the illuminati or in therapy or locked up in a loony bin. As is the way with despots, he demanded that all worship him as God and mostly people did except for his son who refused to worship his father as a god, loving only Vishnu the preserver God whose dream is the Universe. Naturally the King decided to kill his son. However, every time he tried to kill his son, Lord Vishnu would rescue him.
Now the King had a sister who was just as wicked if not more so (I mean she was a woman, right?) Holika had been granted a boon that she would be left unscathed by fire. Holika tricked Prahlad into sitting on her lap and she then herself sat on a bed of fire. She assumed that, because of the boon, she would leave the fire, unharmed. Unfortunately for her, she died in that fire. Prahlad, the demon King's son kept chanting Lord Vishnu’s name and survived.
Despite the slightly misogynistic overtones of the Holi story (there is another one, I wrote about it a few years back), like most festivals in India the theme is always the victory of good over evil and that's enough reason to get out an boogie!
For solo women travelers out in the thick of a Holi crowd be aware that your physical safety could be compromised!
Related Post: Holi Moon

Catching a bus in India Local Style

The trip back to India from Sri Lanka involved all the usual horrors of budget booked on the fly can’t wait to get the hell out of there mood. Fleeing from Colombo at 3am, head lolling and rolling, drooling and half sleeping through immigrations double checks and transfers along the way.
With no plan to join the rush hour into the city of Delhi, I decided to go to a local bus stand to hop on a bus to Rajasthan.
It’s easy, said an Aussie mate, Just get a taxi to the bus stand and there are buses every ten minutes.
Except its not a bus stop any more with all the towering overpasses and new highways being built around that area, its a bus SLOW DOWN. Which means that the buses swerve towards people huddled by an insanely busy roadside. The conductor will shout the destination and then the race begins. You throw you bags through the bus window as you run, and then catch hold of something that is going to hold your weight and inch by inch grope your way to the door of the moving bus.
The first bus I managed to run down was only going to Jaipur which was only half the distance I hoped to cover and it was a local bus which meant the journey was long and bum breaking.
In Jaipur I hunted briefly for a taxi to take me to Pushkar but the rates were rapidly spiraling out of control as soon as those cunning Rajasthani saw the desperate tiredness in my face, In any case it’s full wedding season in India now and taxis are fully booked. So another local bus to Ajmer, drooling, head rolling, insanely tired and possibly delerious because I was seeing it with a great sense of fondness.
Then in Ajmer, a rickshaw to cover the remaining 12 kilometers to Pushkar. By now the battery on my phone is flat and unable to phone my friendly driver in Pushkar to collect me, I had to take my chances with the bhaindchord rickshaw wallah lurking in the dark.
Before we have gone one hundred meters we have crashed into two men on a motorcycle. There is a heated conversation, some slapping and I think this is going to take too long to sort out. I hail another rickshaw and climb out of the crashed one. But then the fight is over and they wave me back in.
Another five kilometers and they stop the rickshaw and pull out the seat. It is scorched and burning, something has set it alight from the motor underneath. They put out the fire and put the seat back in. The rickshaw refuses to start.
We let it cool down and try again. It coughs and splutters up the hill and looses its lights on the way down.
But in all that crazy exhaustion and madness I remained amazingly calm, because this is why I came to India in the very first place. She, like me, is still crazy after all these years!

Originally published on Heart of India, Wanderlust and Lipstick

Friday, March 2, 2012

Manali Magic

One of the best things about being a solo woman traveler in India is the contact you can make with the women. Even without a common language, women will make an effort to communicate. Language deepens the connection, and laughter seals it!
I spent a season or two living in a village house with a family in Manali area. The three women of the house are my dearest friends and the community women ended up accepting me when they saw I was willing to work alongside them in the fields, picking apples and doing farm stuff.
All women in Himachal Pradesh can weave, and every house has a loom. They are the most accomplished women I have ever met. They love to work in the fields, take pride in their work and are paid for it. They also knit and weave and spin their own wool, dance like birds and are incredibly gracious and shy all at once.
So Manali women hold a special place in my heart. The resident goddess of this place is Hidemba, a powerful protector of the women there, they claim.  Here are a few pictures of one of the families in a nearby village I also hung out with for a while.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Being Single, White and Female in India

An A to B guide to being a single white female in India 
Touching Feet is a sign of respect

Blondes in India definitely have more fun.
Please refer to cleavage below. Scarves draw the male eyeball away from the chest area, which should in any case be covered. Scarves also are good for wiping faces, hiding faces and carrying shopping.

Indian motorbikes are built for the entire family so there is easily enough room for three adults on a motorbike. For your first menage a trios on a motorbike, try not to sit in the middle.
Remember that every sudden move on the road in India is a move towards life.
If you are a woman and find yourself in a pillion situation with a male, please remember there is room for three on the bike.
There are many reasons why Indian women sit sidesaddle on a motorbike. One might immediately assume that the reason lies with the sari, which is partially true, but the real reason lies with breasts, babies and cell phones.
Sitting sidesaddle on a motorbike, the average Indian women can hold baby on her lap, a cell phone in the other hand. In between tending to the baby and talking to her mother on the phone, she is also able to step neatly from the bike should it loose its precarious balance. While her husband is skidding along the highway, the woman and baby can step to safety without creating so much as a pause in her conversation.
Do not wrap your arms or your thighs around the driver.
Place your hands around the rear of the seat where you will find a handy little grip. Keep a hold on this in preparation for the Sudden Braking Technique. The SBT is the real reason Indian women ride sidesaddle. The SBT (please also refer to Camels) has an added benefit of sliding the female pillion passenger towards the driver with the point of contact being breasts and back.
Beauty is big in India and the beauty brings its own rewards. Women are rewarded for looking dewdrop beautiful; beauty parlors are where women go instead of the barbers.
Cleavage is a No. Please refer to Staring, Eve Teasing and Breast Bumping.
A term to refer to sexual abuse or attack, detailed below.
This is a ritual beginning to take hold in cities and crowded foot paths all over India whereby men will suddenly veer out of the crowd and turn his body into a heat seeking missile aimed straight at a breast located in the teeming crowd. In a seeming random and accidental movement the Eve Teaser will bring his upper body into contact with the breast he has selected. Please refer to Cleavage and breasts and how to manage them. When walking in a city street, keep one arm across your breasts and the other slightly bent to cover your groin. You are permitted to push the man to help him back on his correct path.
As in Breast Bumping but from a lower type of man and aimed lower on the body.
You may hold hands with other women. You may not hold hands with your husband or boyfriend or any male over the age of eight.
The centre of the family is the male child. The male child is the Kohinoor Diamond of the Indian family. The Indians did not take kindly to the British stealing their jewels and they will not be dancing in the street if you try the same.
Then consider how many centuries the caste system has existed in India. Unaccompanied Foreign women do not rate in the caste system.  Everything that makes you special in your world makes you terribly unsuitable in his.
Finally, marriage is not an individual act of love in India but something your family arranges for you after all they are the ones that have to live with your wife.
Boundaries like rules are not meant to be broken. If you walk in the street wearing a gypsy skirt and your hair flowing free, do not stop a man and ask him if he has a light for your cigarette. He will think you are a prostitute.

Indians like to see foreign women wearing their clothes. For beginners, there is the salwaar kameez. This is the Indian tracksuit that can go from bedroom to boardroom. All salwaar Kameez follow a standard pattern, variations exist in cloth and cut as well as color. The pants (salwaar) are roomy enough for two. Worn as a three piece with pants, dress top (kameez) and dupatta or scarf.

                                                                                     Glamour Salwaar

                                                                                        Practical Traveler Salwaar

SARIIf you want to meet women in India then ask the guy at your guest house to help you put a sari on or do it yourself and then go out into the market.
Indian women will cross the street to tell you that your pleats are a mess and swiftly retie the sari for you. In the process you can make a little conversation. Remember to thank her nicely and ask if you can come around in the morning so she can dress you properly.

Some people see Western women only on television and so will approach you in the same vein. They do not expect a response and will happily discuss you as if you were appearing on an untranslated episode of Sex in the City. If you are a single female, check that you are wearing a bra. Sunglasses and ladies waiting rooms exist for a reason.

Is not encouraged except in the case of feet. Men and women do not touch in public, men touch men in public and women touch children. Hugging and kissing in public is considered scandalous and slightly titillating. If you hug a man then you have broken a boundary and further incursions will inevitably follow.
Indian women are generally found inside the house.  Men make decisions about who will win the local elections and what to do about terrorism. Women make decisions about what to eat, what to spend, when to do a ritual, what school to send the children to and who to marry them to. Men usually "take advice" from their wives when they arrive home in the evening.
It is considered inauspicious to outlive one's husband.

A little teaser from my ebook India for Idiots now available on the Smashwords website.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Conscious Tourism

I came across the term Conscious Tourism on the internet the other day as I was fishing in the great sea of communication that flows across continents and consciousness.
With the corporate office where I came to share my talents with a company who promotes themselves as one which offers cultural insights as it’s unique selling point in the background, I skim read the blog and wondered at the vagaries of life. 
My recent experience of this kind of Five Star “Stick Your Telescopic Lens in the Face of a Villager”, who has been paid to entertain you with the charming aspect of their desperately simple lifestyles” approach to tourism was perhaps the best example of Unconscious Tourism, a kind of tourism that smacked of voyuerism is something that I despise. I have had moments of sheer disappointment that the bridge between worlds and cultures had been corrupted into tourism of this superficial nature. While I understand that for most tourists, even these brief glimpses of a sanitized reality will give them a lifetime of memories, what happens back on ground zero once the water bottles of have been recycled and their footprints swept over in the usual village traffic? What do they think of that, what memories live in their minds of this contact with another culture? 

As a long time solo traveler, I have been blessed to find myself in the homes and at the hearth and heart of many a home in small villages, temples across the land. As a solo traveler one is somewhat more aware of one’s impact on the environment and on the culture but most of all within the hearts and minds of the people they interact with. I have witnessed the paparazzi pornography of tour groups and been embarrassed by their behavior by which all foreigners will be judged and shied away from group travel as a result.

Maori woman culture teaches that as a traveler one must adhere to the correct practice of the people of the land where you visit, and that to make demands or to consider oneself as superior to the respected host was an insult that could be passed down for generations,. So my mode of travel has always been marked by the idea that my impact could reverberate down generations. My behavior was being recording by the moving hand of time and having writ, the story had better be a good one lest if reflect on the next Maori or member of my family to stumble along the same path in the future.

This was borne out by the absolute delight of my Indian friends when I bought my grandson along to visit India. For all of us, it was a continuation of the story, a new chapter in the tale of how our lives had intersected an added depth to our relationships. They remembered when the boy was born, so to meet him in the flesh was for them a story come true and for me the first time a member of my family had visited my life in India.
The boy was spoiled and adored, he gained a unique insight into India, but I was surprised and delighted to see that he never saw a point of difference between himself and the locals, except for one day remarking how well the local kids spoke Hindi! Otherwise he saw them at the level of his heart which is as open and intelligent as the sky.

But I digress, and in my digression I have come to understand that there can be no conscious tourism since tourism implies a lack of time and it takes time to earn the love and trust and respect of people. What there is is Conscious Travel, which is the slower route through life. Travel that brings the wanderer to mountain villages, to fires in the desert and the and within the circle of the festival. 

So were do the two meet?
Conscious tourism is where the conscious traveler meets time restricted tourists, takes them by the hand and says “Come and meet my friends," and together you walk that rickety bamboo bridge of connection across oceans.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Boobs without Borders, a solo woman on the road in Rajasthan

I was reminded of the joys of  solo travel recently when I busted a move on some friends I had been exploring rural Rajasthan with.
A water crisis in the early morning after a sleepless night necessitated me to move from the crummy noisy guesthouse to a more salubrious location in the noisy polluted town of Bikaner. There I luxuriated in my first hot shower and soft bed for months and slept like a flower.
The next day I caught a local bus (we had been traveling by car until then) and got myself back in the Groove so to speak.
It was early morning and the bus heading for the six-hour journey to Ajmer was full. I move to make room for a woman who sits beside me and we smile at each other. As the day warms and the journey begins, we warm to each other and begin to talk. She tells me about her life and I am struck by her resemblance to my grand daughters other nanny who, like Madhu, is also a teacher. An hour and a half between women and all information about our lives and hopes and dreams are shared in rickety local bus rattling along the desert plains.
A thousand days of rough travel dissolves instantly with someone like Madhu who sweetens the morning air with her first shy hesitant hello.
We will never see each other again but I will think of her again and every time I do, there will be only good wishes for that woman. I think the same also will happen in reverse and this is the reason why I love solo travel.
After Madhu came these Gujurati women on their way to the Ajmer Dagarh. By this stage I am pretending not to know Hindi to save myself being questioned for the next four hours of the journey. They talk amongst themselves about me and I understand enough to know they are being lovely and generous and curious. I love the face of one of the women, it is so open and clear and her eyes are kind.
Eventually we begin to share smiles and food and a circular conversation of the type I was avoiding begins.
The people in the bus start wanting information about me my country and family, they shout the question to the person in front who then relays the question to me. In broken English and fractured Hindi, I manage to establish a few facts.
Then they want to look at photos of my family, then they want me to take their photos, I promise to send them to their home address, the bus passengers scurry for a pen and paper, we try to write in Hindi then English, the woman crowd around me and start asking me for something. I can’t understand why she is pointing to my breasts.
She leans closer and whispers in my ear
“You want to see my bra?”
“No, I want you to send me a bra From Foreign.”
It’s the first time anyone but my daughter has asked me to buy them a bra and I am a little astounded.
“Well, why not?” I say. I wish someone would send me some bras from foreign too. Indian bras are designed for nuns and there is nothing very sexy about them. Plain serviceable and unimaginative is the nicest thing I can say about Indian Bras.
I hate it when people make me promise to do something when the likelihood of me honoring that promise is slim, but the whole weight of Gujurati sisterhood is bearing down on me.
I imagine for one minute what it would be like to be a village woman receiving a parcel "From Foreign". I imagine the excitement it would cause and the hilarity of sending her a sexy black bra all lace and froth and bedecked with red ribbons. For some reason I think of the red petticoat of Mammy in the movie Gone With The Wind.
"O god, alright I promise!”
This is not enough. Now she tells me I may as well send something From Foreign for the baby in her daughter in laws womb in the same parcel.
Luckily my stop appears and I leap to freedom, the women wave to me from the bus and I stand by the roadside choking on dust and promises and pollution.
But if there is anyone out there who wants to send a sexy lacy red-ribboned size 36C bra to this woman in Gujurat, contact me for her address. Consider it as a random act of sisterhood.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Malabar Coast, Kerala in the Theyyam season

Click on the image to open slideshow

That night as Olivier headed off to the airport I took a rickshaw in the opposite direction to a village square where there was to be a performance of a Theyyam.
Seems that the origin of the Theyyam has been lost in the mists of time, so ancient is the practice. In more recent times, Theyyam have evolved into the form it is now because of the lower caste people being barred from entry to Hindu temples. Nothing daunted, they created their own individual forms of worship and celebration the most spectacular of which is the Theyyam.
Every village will tell their story in a different way but the event is staged around a story of the Hindu gods or a local god, as the story is enacted the dancers take on the paint and the part of the god in an elaborate ritual which happens back stage while the crowds mill about and picnic and pass babies around, all waiting patiently for the moment to come.
When the dancer who has been ritually prepared observes his face in the mirror he is said to become at that moment a vessel of the god, then he is lead out in a costume of flames and towering headdresses.
Impervious to the fact that half of his costume is on fire, he runs and leaps and his eyes roll wildly, he has two bodyguards on either side to protect his physical body.
Eventually things calm down and the god is bought to again, People line up to make offerings and ask for blessings or advice.
By five in the morning, the excitement is over and people start dwindling back to their homes, I find the rickshaw wallah and go home with my head full of sparks. Imagine that kind of ceremony in the days before electricity, before television, before we all got so sophisticated! It would have scared the living daylights out of most kids!

Theyyam season is happening now in the Kannur region of North Kerala! 
This post is part of a longer story on North Kerala, published on womentravelblog

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Solo Travel Survival Secrets in India

It has to be said that India has some of the most beautiful women on planet earth. Think of Aishwarya Rai the most bewitching beauty to never make it on the silver screen. While her films may have bombed, her beauty is legendary and exquisitely rewarded. Indian women take beauty quite seriously, beauty parlors are dotted all over the landscape like so many temples to the fabulousness of women and readily accessible to even the budget traveler. They are for me a small sanctuary away from the intensity of life outside the doors or a small slice of life that visitors to India rarely see. Suburban and most especially village salons are casual affairs where the beauticians lounge and gossip and watch the soap operas on TV. There is usually very little space in these places so you can be having a pedicure and balancing a bowl of hot water in your lap while a young woman sits to one side having her eyebrows threaded and her mother gathers courage to ask about her own eyebrows. In the background a tribal woman will be bargaining down the price of a bridal facial while the television hums along merrily in the corner. I once had a one handed facial massage while the beautician dealt with some family drama by SMS simultaneously. Her right hand encouraged my sagging facial muscles into shape while her left hand smoothed the family drama into something that could be dealt with while my face pack dried.The secret to an Indian Facial is the massage, which is included in every step of the facial. The massage will focus on the various marma points in the face, which will stimulate the organs of the body as well as gently encourage the elimination of toxins. So what you get is a long-term glow, something that is more than skin deep as well as all the gorgeous smelling products slapped on your skin!As a long-term random beauty parlor creeper in India, I offer the following advice to women travelers in India.When life on the road in India gets too much and you think you might blow a fuse or have a total meltdown, remember this motto:  "Don't get mad, get a Facial!" Don't be put off by the language barrier, beauty is an international language and a beauty parlor is the only place you might get to interact with local women.   Threading is an instant facelift and an amazing hair removal art. Get your eyebrows shaped for less than a dollar.Most salons give you a choice of facial and most products are Ayurvedic, totally natural. Go on, you deserve it!

What to wear in India.. lets start with the shoes

There is a lot of advice out there about dressing properly in India. Mostly you are told to wear a salwar kameez, try a sari or generally to cover yourself up. While villagers appreciate the effort of you covering yourself in suitable attire, things have changed over the years and even Indian women are pushing the envelope of what is suitable dress or not.
Over time I have come to learn that while dressing respectfully is important where ever you go, in India you are judged by the cut of your cloth and that sometimes a pair of shoes can change your life. Quite apart from the fact that I love my boots, this little adventure in Jodhpur reminded me that in India people judge you very quickly based on how you are dressed.
Beginning with the shoes, the Indian eye will travel up to your face registering all kinds of things on the way. I like to trick them with good quality fake gold bracelets while a friend of mine makes friends and gains respect with a fake Rolex watch!
This was originally posted on my blog Meditations on a Paper Bag.

Last year in Amsterdam I bought a pair of boots in the way that I usually buy shoes. See something I like and ask for my size already resigning myself to the blisters that I would have called wearing the shoes in.
My friend suggested I try the next size up.
The result was instant! They fit like a glove, hugged me in all the right places and I knew I could walk a mile in these babies.
They also make a nice assertive clicking sound as you walk which I like, It's not a prissy high heeled kind of click but a authoritative one, one that says don't mess with these boots.
Of course I paid a fortune for them but every Euro has turned out to be a subversive investment in my other life as a solo woman in India.
Waiting for a friend one day in the Rajasthan city of Jodhpur, I took the time to have my boots polished.
The guy who polished the boots was well impressed by their quality and asked me where I bought them, how much they cost, a crowd gathered around to estimate the worth of my boots.
I am terrible at numbers and plucked an amount out of the sky that mean 'An Awful Lot', they nodded their heads approvingly. If you have the money the good shoes is an investment the Indians understand. 
Within nano seconds of meeting someone, the average Indian will have summed up your nett worth by looking from your shoes to your face. If you wear good shoes then you start well ahead of the average flip flop wearer, or (GOD FORBID) those Crocs. Good shoes earn respect and a little bit of fear in India and as a solo woman on the road thats always good to know.
As he gave my boots back, the guy said to me
"You were here three weeks ago but you weren't wearing these boots."
He was right, I had been there but I was off duty and had been wearing sneakers.
That's when I realised that even the most humble person in India is watching and assessing you. I remembered being flattered by a dobhi walla (Laundry guy) one day when he returned my laundry to me with the comment that my clothes were "very good quality" in a way that showed he respected that.

It's a shame that the climate in India doesn't allow me to let my boots do the talking for me, but I have learned from this experience that it's not so much what you wear in India (assuming you have already realised that cleavages, bare arms and bare legs are NOT appreciated) but how you wear it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Solo Travel Safety

From the distance and experience of 18 years On the Road, most of it spent in a lot of "Off the Beaten Track" kind of places, I ask myself what kind of tips and tricks I can share with others who set off to explore the world in a rapidly changing world environment.
So for the purposes of this little sermon from the foothills, I will stick to what I know best which is India and Nepal, places I have intimate knowledge of. Let's just call it Grandma's little rule of SOS.
SOLO is not a word that is likely to bring up images of wild exhilarating freedom in this part of the world as it is in ours. In fact to be alone in India and Nepal is to be vulnerable, a fact often borne out by the kind of sympathy people give you when they discover you are travelling alone. While most people will befriend you in order to save you from what is seen as the loneliest experience of all - the individual- others will just as likely try to exploit it.

OBSERVATION is a two way street. Take a read of Paul Thoreaux's book The Elephanta Suite to see what I mean. His point in a lot of the stories rang very true for me, the fact that no matter how well we think we are blending in with the local surrounds we actually stick out like veritable dogs balls. Looking, as they say in India, is free, and looking at foreigners is a favourite sport here. I know because after some time here I also gape and gawk at foreigners! Crime in India is less often confrontational and more often subversive. People are watched outside of banks and followed home where they are robbed, poison can be offered in food shared with fellow 'passengers' on a bus or train and sneak thefts are more common than muggings.
It's up to you to keep a very sharp eye out for potential trouble makers, without being neurotic about it. After all you must do it every day at home when you walk a city street or are out after dark. You have these skills already because you use them at home, so just remember to put them at the very top of your list.

SPEAKING Be aware of who you are speaking to. If you need advice or directions look for a well dressed person rather than addressing people randomly on the street. Do not get into inane conversations with men you meet randomly in any situation, especially do not tell them your travel plans or mode of transport. Always invent friends who are waiting for you at your destination, imply that they are well connected local people. Carry a cell phone at all times and never let it run too low on credit, pretend to be in contact with people at the other end of you're the trip.
Then relax and trust your instincts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Solo travel in India, tips and tricks for staying sane

Its not for no reason that there is a lot of advice out there for women traveling alone to India. It's tough and its challenging and it can wear you down in the end if you don't take all the advice given all over the internet about women and travel and culture in India. The fact is that Indian women do not travel solo so wherever you go you are going to be noticed and remarked upon and in some cases seen as vulnerable. Months of 'adjusting' to a culture and the cultural norms of India can make wear even the most irrepressible individual down. So here are a few of my tips, earned from 18 years on the road of life that pours across the northern plains of Mother India on how to stay sane, sharp and sexy on the Road.
  • Develop a confident walk. Even if you aren't feeling it, stride purposefully. Even if you are lost, stride purposefully until you find someone who looks either educated or connected or suitably impressed with your assertive body language to give your directions or assistance.
  • Don't travel alone at night. Pay the extra money and take your travel to another level. Take first class trains if you must travel at night; two bus seats if there really is no other option. Use a porter at the train stations. If you must use public transport then a cell phone is a great asset.
  • DSCN0295.JPGText the tuk tuk or taxi number to someone and let the driver see. You can also make a call to someone, anyone and talk as if you are on your way to them. Say things like "I have arrived now, I am in a tuktuk, taxi etc and heading to the destination."
  • Watch how and travel with Middle Class Indians and observe their style. Copy it. Use porters, be firm and assertive with staff and have strong boundaries. Sit with women and children rather than alone in waiting rooms or train stations.
  • Get in contact with Indian women. If you take your travel to another level then you are going to meet well educated Indian women who are not shy to talk to you and are interesting conversationalists as well. A group I belong to has led me to some fascinating Indian women who have given me a unique insight into the Life and Times of an Indian Woman.
  • Be aware that once you stop traveling you stop being so vulnerable. So you can relax a bit. Village people stare a bit but they don't mean any harm. So make an effort to learn some Hindi and take the lead. Ask them where they come from, what their name is.
  • Have Room Days. Somedays you just can't stand to hear another "Come Look My Shop, Hello Pen" or be bothered negotiating the teeming city streets, so don't. Stay in y our room and treat yourself. Read, give yourself a pedicure, eat chocolates and comfort food. Put your ipod on and dance and sing alone in your room.(I have to do this at least once a week with apologies to anyone who may have taken a room next to me!)
  • Don't get mad, get a facial! Indian beauty parlours are little woman's only spaces, quite apart from the fact that I think Indian beauty treatments are the best in the world! At local beauty parlours, you gain a unique insight into women's lives and at the more upscale (mixed sex) beauty salons popping up all over the cities, the men are there to serve you and make you look even more beautiful than you think you are!
  • Yes and toughen up. Learn a few self defense techniques, a few swearwords but think carefully before you use them. I use them to scare people away who have already crossed a boundary such as touching me, invading my personal space more than is polite or necessary in INDIAN society. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hello World

This blog will feature posts from a few of my other blogs, articles and published works of fiction and non fiction on the life of a solo woman traveler in India.
If you have landed here and wonder why the shop looks shut, its because I am busy tarting up the place and getting it ready for you!!
In the meantime, please keep yourself occupied by visiting my other blogs at
If you are thinking of travel to India then you may like to receive a free copy of my book,

India for Idiots  is a guide to the cultural norms of India. Please leave a comment here with your contact details and I will send you a code to unlock the secrets of mystical India!
Thanks for dropping by, come back soon ya hear!!!