“You went alone?!”
This short, three-word question combined with a mixed look of shock, admiration, fear and amusement is what greets me whenever my colleagues back home ask whether I’ve ever been to India.
I work at an upmarket Indian restaurant specialising in South Indian cuisine, where 90% of the staff originate from India. The majority are from Kerala, the southernmost state which seems to be full of luscious greenery, houseboats and a whole lot of seafood. The rest come from all over – Rajasthan, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh to name a few. Yet despite their differing hometowns, they always have the exact same reaction when I tell them that back in 2011 I, as a blonde nineteen-year old teenager, travelled overland from Nepal to India and spent just over two weeks in their home country completely alone.
They ask whether I was harassed. Yes, I was.
They ask if I got a lot of funny looks. Yes, I did.
They ask if anybody tried anything inappropriate. Yes, they did.
They ask was I scared. Yes, I was at times.
They ask would I do it again.
India – like all countries on this wonderful planet – is like a bag of Revels. It has as many breath-taking sights otherwise known as the caramel Revels, as heartbreaking ones aka the coffee Revels. It has great people, just as it has some horrible people. It has its shady areas, but equally it has its incredibly warm and welcoming areas.
If one of my female friends asked me today whether I would recommend travelling alone to India, I’d probably tell them that they may feel safer and more comfortable with a male companion, but I wouldn’t warn them against it. I’d suggest they be extra cautious, cover up a little more than they normally would despite the crazy heat and humidity, and take care to respect local culture, but I would 100% tell them to go ahead and have a whale of a time!
The media tends to give India a bit of a hard-time and to be completely honest, at times it’s well-deserved. But at the end of the day, I had some bad experiences in India, and I also had some bad experiences at home in Wales.
It’s all about perspective.
India is a hard nut to crack, but when the shell is well and truly broken, there’s something in the centre that just draws you in. It’s also like a nut in that some people are allergic to it. But I guess that’s probably the dust. Or the cardamom.