My train tickets were booked in A.C.
I was always made to carry pepper spray.
Dad asked me not to talk to strangers on the train.
Maa said be don’t reply to any comments.
Co-passengers ogled at me and my backpack.
”Do you have any man with you?”, they asked.
This is all unimportant. You know why? Because I have somehow managed to unlearn the norms and typical assumptions people hold of women travelers in India. I mean, how many of them have you heard of? It is not that women don’t wish to travel, to see and experience things for themselves and just let it go, once in a while. Of course they do, but it gets suppressed. People manage to do that. In fact, I have come to realize their trick (or a trap?) as to how they gradually kill the traveler, the explorer, the little Dora in you. As far as my story is concerned, my parents had taught me that nobody is to be trusted except for your family. Imagine that! NOBODY. Because apparently, everybody is out there to harm me. To some of you reading this, you might be thinking that there will always be people whom you really cannot trust. And that is obviously very true, unfortunately. But, to know the difference, one must see both sides of the coin, isn’t it?
If I had to tell you about my travel stories, you might be inclined to believe that it has always been easy to set out on journeys alone. Spoiler alert! It has not. It never is and I doubt if it will be. I am blessed with an understanding mother but, if only the entire world was like that.
I was 17 when I traveled solo for the first time. That thrill, that sense of being one with my senses and just the fact that for once I won’t have a voice curtailing and denying me from doing anything and everything. Because as a child, or rather, as a girl child, that voice has become a familiar one. But the surprising thing which I was made to realize after the trip was that it is quite an achievement, apparently. “Your parents allowed?”, “Did you come back ABSOLUTELY safe?” , “What were you thinking?”-these are few of the amusing questions that I am still asked after coming back from my solo trip, which, by the way, was the best decision of my life.
Believe it or not, I was and I still am quite unaffected by the notion and the whole taboo that is synonymous with women traveling alone in India. To me, what mattered the most was to cater to my undying urge to travel, be it alone or be it with someone else. Honestly, wanderlust does not differentiate between man and woman, independent and co-dependent, chained and free. Your courage to answer the calling is not affected by your gender, contrary to what your elders might tell you.
When you’re traveling for long in diverse conditions, having seen snow and sand, flood and drought, land and sea, you grow more aware of yourself. The troubles I faced, the rough patches tin the midst of all pleasant adventures are something that is common to every traveler. It is not like they happened to me because I was a girl and I was traveling alone! That is as lame as the concept of hindering girls from the same. In cold deserts, snow leopards are a threat to both men and women. Frostbite might affect a male traveler as badly as it could affect me. I could be as much, or more, moved by a beautiful sunset. Nature does not discriminate.
Yet, on the other hand, perhaps contrary to what I’ve said earlier one does need to be aware. Aware of over-friendly co-passengers, hotel-owners trying to trick you into paying more in the name of “security” aware of robbers, taxi-drivers in Delhi and so on and so forth. Actually, that would be a heads up for male travelers as well.
So you get the hint right? Irrespective of being a woman or a man, you do need to be aware while traveling because it is all about facing the world as it is without guards to protect you or air-conditioned cars to shield you. Ironically, that is also exactly where the fun lies. I mean, now I at least have the potential to differentiate between helpful and over helpful.
Traveling teaches you how to deal with various situations, how to not give up on your wants because you are being threatened by someone, how to figure out ways to make the most out of every situation and still afford a smile. It teaches you to trust, distinguish, know, feel and just be alive at THAT moment. When I travel, I am mostly oblivious to where I am coming from, what my parents and relatives warned me against, about the hard-and-fast-rules of ‘taking care of myself’. When you are all by yourself, you just know, isn’t it?
I have a long way to go. I have roads laid out in front of me and mountains waiting to be climbed. I am too full of the appetite to learn and see things that move me from within. I don’t fear living in the most ancient of human conditions. I don’t hesitate and refrain myself from trusting people. I don’t stay quiet among strangers. I party, I laugh my heart out, I fall in love easily, I travel with strangers. I am not bogged down by the society’s definition of what a girl should be and what she should do, because I am an individual first, dreamer and a traveler.
Why I Travel – Nilanjana Das
Into unknown, distant lands?
Just with your sister?
No male partners?
What about the ‘safety’?
But your sister is not even an adult!
This is absurd!
The above sentences have ambushed me on my first backpacking trip and they linger on still. I have been called whimsical, tagged to be irresponsible and even considered deranged to be travelling into a high-altitude cold desert in one instance and a thick evergreen forest tucked away in the mountains in the other with my under-eighteen sister without any set list of itineraries or prior planning.
It has always been pretty incomprehensible and awe-inspiring for people as to why would someone spend all her savings to travel to places which hardly have the usual and basic urban amenities, live the primeval life, dissect oneself completely from the known and dive into the very struggles of existence. More so, why would a woman push herself so much and be insane enough to include another one leaving behind all the comfort of home and family, risking the safety of two souls?
Passion. A towering passion for the quest of knowledge of the truth and the ultimate beauty along with the bliss of curiosity that tickles my adrenaline and revs up my system to wander into the unknown and the wild. It is only then that I feel a part of the infinite, experience intense pleasure, connect with all the missing dots of my existence and come face-to-face with my own raw self. It is then that I find peace and spirituality amidst all the furore as I see myself through everything by trusting my instincts and abilities solely. It is only then that the time-frame dilates to produce an empty canvas for me to sketch my own stories and when I am vulnerable and strong at the same time: vulnerable, due to the immensity of the power of nature and strong, due to the realisation of playing a microscopic part in this whole cosmos.
It is only when I am travelling that I feel to be perennially high.
There is an uncanny exhilaration to be lost in the journey of being found again as in the process of discovering the mystery and the aestheticism of a place, you come face-to-face with the reality and meet your true self. You realise that you have dug out the latent self that lay in the hiding for all these years.
My idea of travelling was not solely borne out of adventure or in the sense of something to be proved or conquered. I have always been drawn to the sanctity of nature, more so, of the mountains, its panoramic views and wide open vistas.
All my journeys are primarily inspired and enforced to satiate the wonder junkie in me where I am moved by awe in every instance. I am still aware of the taboos and the tribulations associated with this sort of nomadic travelling, more so because of my background and my sex.
But I would often imagine myself out there in the open, among the mountain gods, listening to the distant chants and looking somewhere at the horizon-all these pushed me to act upon my dreams and go wandering in the search of these experiences and moments.
This is when I won my battle with all the hoarding questions and overwhelming concerns to take that leap towards my own ambition as I was driven by the enchantment of actually experiencing my long-cherished fantasies. I forgot who I was, where I belonged to or whether I am ‘man’ enough to make a headway towards undertaking the long, perilous journeys because I was too captivated with my own calling and was swept away totally into a new, never-been-there zone : a state of meditation.
Dreams do not seem gender-biased in these palpable moments as out there, in the wild, one hears only music. The chaos and the anarchy of the city melodises into the ambient yet sharp sounds of nature, the chirping of the birds, the huffing and puffing of the day-long walks and the voices which had so long been trapped deep within, in the drudges of the routined life : the voices that incite one to take greater risks to embark upon yet another revelatory journey into the deeper and the darker recesses of the inner self, and to feel one with the Absolute.
CRY continously works towards breaking myths and stereotypes around gender.