Arriving in India
There is a world inside India.
A chaotic world of friendly smiles, bright colors, spicy flavors, spices and aromas, street markets, cultural and religious diversity, economic extremes and social strata, majestic deserts, lush forests, towering mountains, sandy beaches, unparalleled biodiversity, fairy-tale palaces, temples and thousand-year-old cities, celebration and joy in welcoming those who arrive.
Probably to say that there is a world within India is reductive, the correct would be to say that there are several worlds within India.
I arrived in India in early March 2020. It was beginning what would later prove to be a change in the concept of normality that we had known until then.
From the news we were already hearing that China had closed borders to the world and the world had responded in the same way.
In Europe things were still relatively calm, although Italy was already on alert.
Still, and with the innocence of not knowing the future, I boarded alone, via Dubai to Delhi.
As I was approaching the runway and just before the landing gear touched the runway, it hit me and the only thing I could think of was:
“I am alone, I don’t know anyone, not a soul, I am thousands of miles away from home, in a country that is said to be a horror for women”.
You know that cold feeling in the stomach, which then turns into a punch and finally becomes an anxiety attack? I had all of that in 10 seconds!
But then, in the midst of a few tears of emotion, I stopped being sentimental and thought:
“Damn, I’m so proud of myself! I’m alone on the other side of the world, I have 2 weeks to live a unique and amazing experience, I can do it! This is going to be one Amazing Journey of a Life Time”
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Whoever comes to India via Delhi finds a huge challenge ahead.
A megalopolis with millions of inhabitants, chaotic traffic, non-stop honking, air pollution, urban garbage, poverty, and lack of personal space, at first impact, can intimidate anyone unaware of this reality.
If New York is the city that never sleeps, Delhi also owes a good few hours of sleep to its bed!
Among all the information I saw and read before the trip, there was one common denominator: India belongs to everyone, but not everyone is for India.
And it is very true. India welcomes everyone with open arms and open heart, but not everyone who visits can reciprocate the gesture.
If there is people that knows and loves to welcome guests, it is that one. “The guest is God”, as they say.
There is always room for one more dish on the table, and from a little you can make a lot.
It is always chai time and, believe me, there is no door that does not open wide to welcome those who arrive. There is an amalgam of cultural diversity that allows interaction.
People are naturally curious about who arrives from outside.
They wanted to know where I was coming from, why I was visiting, if it was my first time there, what took me there and, above all, if I was enjoying it.
They wanted to ask questions, they wanted to take selfies, they wanted to interact and get to know the world through someone from another country.
Solo traveling India as a woman
Initially the approaches made me a bit intimidated. Like anyone else, I have my bubble of individuality, but over time I realized that the approaches were just the natural reflection of curiosity about the unknown.
And in this case, I was “the unknown.”
A woman traveling solo always arouses curiosity, whether in India or anywhere else in the world, but there, where the cultural difference is felt a lot, it was more pronounced.
I was asked if I was married, why I was alone, if I had children, and what my religion was. Logically, my answers became adapted to the circumstances in which I found myself, and I often had to tell half-truths.
I quickly realized that if I said I was married, the approach became more discreet.
I also realized that if I said I had no religion, that I am agnostic, they would look at me as if to say, “you are going straight to hell!”
And I heard that a few times. As such, and to avoid shocking the people I came across, I decided to adapt to what would be culturally more acceptable.
Contrary to what I had been hearing about India being an extremely dangerous place for a woman to travel solo, I was always received and treated with great respect.
Under no circumstances was anyone ever rude to me or crossed the line of what was acceptable.
I never felt unsafe! Did they stare at me? Of course they did! I was different and I was there in a specific context, as such, I generated curiosity.
Did it make me uncomfortable in any way? No, not at all! From the moment I realized that it was merely out of curiosity, there was nothing to fear.
Admittedly, I always kept a low-profile, dressed according to what was culturally accepted, was assertive when I had to be, and never put myself in situations that would potentially leave me vulnerable.
But after the experience I have had, I believe that much of the information that reaches the western side of the world is dramatically and excessively inflated.
This is not to discredit the testimony of anyone who has experienced critical situations in the country, I just want to say that my experience did not reflect the stigma that exists on this side of the world about the country in question.
Despite the culture shock you may feel, India is an absolutely fascinating country.
It is impossible to visit without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information that enters your eyes every minute.
There were days when I would arrive at the hotel, call home, and couldn’t put into words everything I had seen or what was in my soul.
Everything is “to much” there, everything is intense. From the flavors of the food to the feelings, in India there is no more or less.
It is not a country for those who only like to see the rosy side of life. Life there is raw and hard for most of those who live there.
To visit India is to learn a lesson about empathy and acceptance of difference. It is to learn to disengage from preconceived ideas.
I had the privilege of visiting India under peculiar circumstances, at the beginning of the global pandemic.
I saw some of the most iconic places, like the Taj Mahal, with almost no foreigners. I spent Holi in Orchaa where I did not encounter a single tourist.
In fact, there were few that I encountered during the entire trip, compared to what was expected.
I left India 2 days before the borders closed, there and all over the world. One day I will go back to India.
That country is ingrained in the hearts of those who return the hug with which they are received.
The stories of my adventures came with me and I will share them with you in more detailed articles about each place, because India deserves it.
Chegar à India
Há um mundo dentro da India.
Um mundo caótico, de sorrisos simpáticos, de cores garridas, de sabores picantes, de especiarias e aromas, de mercados de rua, de diversidade cultural e religiosa, de extremos económicos e estratos sociais, de desertos majestosos, de floresta luxuriante, de montanhas imponentes, de praias de areia fina, de biodiversidade incomparável, de palácios de contos de fada, de templos e cidades milenares, de festa e alegria em receber quem chega.
Provavelmente dizer que há um mundo dentro da India é redutor, o correto seria dizer que há vários mundos dentro da India.
Cheguei à India no início de março de 2020. Estava a começar aquilo que mais tarde se revelaria uma mudança no conceito de normalidade que conhecíamos até então.
Pelas notícias já se ouvia que a China tinha fechado fronteiras ao mundo e o que mundo tinha respondido da mesma forma. Na Europa as coisas ainda estavam relativamente calmas, embora a Itália já estivesse em alerta.
Ainda assim, e com a inocência do desconhecimento do futuro, embarquei sozinha, via Dubai para Delhi.
Quando estava a fazer a aproximação à pista e mesmo antes de os trens de aterragem tocarem na pista, caiu-me a ficha e a única coisa que me ocorreu foi:
“Estou sozinha, não conheço ninguém, nem uma alminha, estou a milhares de kms de casa, num país que consta ser o horror para mulheres”.
Sabem aquele frio na barriga, que depois se transforma em sensação de murro no estomago e por fim se torna fanico de ataque de ansiedade? Tive isso tudo em 10 segundos!
Mas depois, no meio de umas lágrimas de emoção, deixei-me de pieguice e pensei:
“Caraças, que orgulho em mim! Estou sozinha do outro lado do mundo, tenho 2 semanas para viver uma experiência única e incrível, eu consigo!”
Quem chega à India por Delhi encontra um desafio enorme pela frente.
A megalópole com milhões de habitantes, transito caótico, buzinadelas ininterruptas, poluição atmosférica, lixo urbano, pobreza, inexistência de espaço individual, num primeiro impacto, consegue intimidar qualquer pessoa alheia a esta realidade.
Se Nova York é a cidade que nunca dorme, Delhi também deve umas boas horas de sono à cama!
Entre toda a informação que vi e li antes da viagem, havia um denominador comum: a India é de todos, mas nem todos são para a India. E é bem verdade.
A India recebe todos de braços e coração aberto, mas nem todos os que a visitam conseguem retribuir o gesto.
Se há povo que sabe e gosta de receber os convidados é aquele.
“O convidado é Deus”, como eles dizem. Há sempre lugar para mais um prato na mesa e do pouco se faz muito.
É sempre hora do chai e, acreditem, não há porta que não se abra de par em par para receber quem chega. Há toda uma amalgama de diversidade cultural que permite a interação.
As pessoas são naturalmente curiosas relativamente a quem chega de fora.
Queriam sabem de onde eu vinha, porque estava de visita, se era a primeira vez que lá ia, o que me levou lá e, acima de tudo, se estava a gostar de lá estar.
Queriam fazer perguntas, queriam tirar selfies, queriam interagir e conhecer o mundo através de quem vinha de outro país.
Viajar na India sozinha
Inicialmente as abordagens deixaram-me um bocado intimidada.
Como qualquer outra pessoa, tenho a minha bolha de individualidade, mas com o tempo percebi que as aproximações eram apenas o reflexo natural da curiosidade em relação ao desconhecido.
E neste caso, eu era “o desconhecido”. Uma mulher a viajar sozinha desperta sempre curiosidade, seja na India ou noutra parte qualquer do mundo, mas ali, onde a diferença cultural se faz sentir bastante, era mais vincada.
Perguntavam-me se era casada, porque é que estava sozinha, se tinha filhos e qual era a minha religião.
Logicamente que as minhas respostas se tornaram adaptadas às circunstâncias em que me encontrava e muitas vezes tive que dizer meias verdades.
Percebi rapidamente que se dissesse que era casada, a abordagem se tornava mais discreta.
Também percebi que se dissesse que não tinha religião, que sou agnóstica, olhavam para mim como quem diz: “vais direitinha para o inferno!”. E ouvi isso algumas vezes.
Como tal, e para evitar chocar as pessoas com quem me cruzava, decidi adaptar-me àquilo que culturalmente seria mais aceitável.
Contrariamente ao que fui ouvindo sobre a India ser um lugar extremamente perigoso para uma mulher viajar sozinha, fui sempre recebida e tratada com muito respeito.
Em circunstância alguma houve quem fosse incorreto comigo ou pisasse a linha do aceitável.
Nunca me senti insegura! Se me olhavam fixamente? Claro que sim! Eu era diferente e estava ali em contexto específico, como tal, gerava curiosidade. Se isso me deixou desconfortável de alguma forma? Não, de todo!
A partir do momento em que percebi que era por mera curiosidade, não havia nada a temer.
É certo que mantive sempre low-profile, vesti de acordo com o que era culturalmente aceite, fui assertiva quando tive que ser e nunca me coloquei em situações que, potencialmente, fossem deixar-me vulnerável.
Mas depois da experiência que tive, acredito que muita da informação que chega ao lado ocidental do mundo, é empolada de forma dramática e excessiva.
Não quero com isto descredibilizar o testemunho de quem tenha passado por situações críticas no país, quero apenas afirmar que a minha experiência não refletiu o estigma que existe deste lado do mundo em relação ao país em causa.
Não obstante o choque cultural que possa sentir-se, a India é um país absolutamente fascinante. É impossível visitá-la sem se sentir assoberbado pela quantidade de informação que nos entra pelos olhos dentro a cada minuto que passa.
Houve dias em que chegava ao hotel, telefonava para casa e não conseguia colocar em palavras tudo aquilo que tinha visto ou o que me ia na alma.
Ali é “tudo muito”, é tudo intenso. Dos sabores da comida aos sentimentos, na India não há mais ou menos. Não é um país para quem só gosta de ver o lado cor-de-rosa da vida.
Ali a vida é crua e dura para a maioria dos que lá vivem. Visitar a India é aprender uma lição sobre empatia e aceitação da diferença. É aprender a desvincularmo-nos de ideias pré-concebidas.
Tive o privilégio de visitar a India em circunstâncias peculiares, no início da pandemia mundial. Vi alguns dos lugares mais icónicos, como o Taj Mahal, quase sem estrangeiros.
Passei o Holi em Orchaa onde não encontrei um único turista. Em abono da verdade, foram poucos os que encontrei durante toda a viagem, comparativamente com o que era expectável.
Saí da India 2 dias antes de as fronteiras fecharem, lá e em todo o mundo. Um dia vou voltar.
Aquele país entranha-se no coração de quem lhe retribui o abraço com que é recebido. As estórias das aventuras vieram comigo e hei de partilhá-las convosco em artigos mais detalhados sobre cada local, porque a India assim o merece.
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13 thoughts on “India – The Amazing Journey of a Life Time”
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Despite what we hear and read in North America India would be a great destination to experience a completely different culture. I’m glad you learned quickly that sometimes half truths need to be told when travelling alone. I’ve been travelling solo 13 years and depending where I am, I have a fake husband who’s always in the hotel room sick lol.
These are things that don’t hurt anyone, they are half truths that can save you headaches. When I travel alone I have no problem saying a thing or two that aren’t exactly like that 🙂
India was my 2020 trip that got away (April, so a little after you)- but I’m replanning it for 2025 (other trips got planned in the meantime haha). I love a fresh perspective on the country as many people as me why I want to visit. I find the culture beautiful and like you said, it’s fascinating. I think a big part is being respectful of the culture which you were. I often find that the most unhappy voices are the loudest, but that shouldn’t dictate our experiences.
There will always be negative voices that make themselves heard, but that should never dissuade us from visiting a country or getting to know a culture. What is good for some may not be good for others and vice versa. I loved India and the whole travel experience I had in the country, I really want to go back and explore more, as I have the feeling that I have only scratched the surface of a huge country.
I have so many thoughts after reading your post, I guess some of India’s chaos has enter my mind. Ok, I love that you went by yourself and without a tour. That was very brave, especially after all the diluted information you hear about India. Intrigued by India but I would absolutely be uncomfy with people asking me so many personal questions (married, religion, kids). I would find it hard to tell half-truths and diminish myself when it’s not an issue in my culture. You say they are interested in visitors but does the interest also mean a mutual understanding of each others cultural backgrounds? How open would you say are the people in India in that respect? Ha you see, you’ve got me thinking! I’m sure they know that westerners don’t come from a caste system and have modern notion on how to create a life – married or not. That’s probably the biggest culture clash for me. I wouldn’t want to be rude and definitely be open to reciprocating the hospitality but I would be unsure where the line to my safety would be. As always, love your pictures and can’t wait to hear more about your travels in India. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.
Carolin | Solo Travel Story
I’m so used to have people asking me personal questions in my own homeland that I’m not even surprised when people ask me questions around the world. lol
I didn’t consider it intrusive that they wanted to know more about me, since I was different. When I realized it was pure curiosity, I took it naturally. All the questions they asked me were to try to understand what my culture was like and never to criticize me.
Regardless of my answer, they were always polite and respected my opinion.
I never felt belittled by telling the “half truths”, I just felt that I would be causing less of a shock if I didn’t tell the full truth. After all, I was the one visiting the country and it was I, first of all, who had to respect the difference.
I’ve always wanted to visit India, it’s high on my list even though, like you say, it isn’t always projected as the best place for women to travel. Solo travelers even more. It’s somewhere that I would definitely be overwhelmed with, but that isn’t all bad. You were there at such a unique time that I don’t think even you would be able to replicate it. But I’m happy to hear about your experiences, the friendliness, the curiosity and the beautiful country
What a unique experience visiting at the start of the pandemic, without as many tourists as usual. I don’t have a strong pull to visit India myself (the intensity, as you say, overwhelms me), but I enjoy learning about the country. Love that you had a great time as a solo female traveller–and a blonde one no less!
India is an absolutely fascinating country with an extraordinary culture. Or should I say, several cultures, because there is a whole world inside India. It is well worth getting to know it!
I have a fascination of India, its history, architecture, traditions but from far I have to admit. It’s one of the countries I am genuinely scared to visit. I know it has a lot of poverty and while I tend to observe more than judge when I travel, as a mother I’m not sure I can handle seeing the railway children begging for example. Having said that, we travel to learn about ourselves as well so unless I face my fears and go, I’ll never truly know how I’ll react. Great post.
I believe that especially for a mother it makes a lot of difference to see children at risk and in deep poverty, but travel is not only about seeing beautiful things, it’s about facing the world as it is and accepting other realities. I am sure you would love India because it is a fascinating country.