This country has been chaotic, peaceful, difficult, incredible, breath taking, annoying, and surreal. The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had have been both a breath of fresh air and a spark of frustration. It’s the yin and the yang of the universe, a place where you’ll both find yourself and lose yourself in the midst of chaos. You’ll receive more questions than answers, more unspoken truths about yourself and the people around you, whispers and answers and questions and plans, you’ll formulate new ideas and have them crushed, you’ll feel hopeful and uncertain, boundless and constrained… you’ll feel India.
I’ve felt it all and know there’s so much more to come. Below are my honest reflections from my first month solo backpacking India.
1) Southern India is safe for solo females
The south of India is (supposedly) less chaotic and safer than the north, which is why I began my journey in a state called Kerala. This state boasts beautiful beaches, trekking, trips to the backwaters, colonial architecture, nature reserves, and ashrams.
It’s a wonderful state to begin your trip in India, and I found it extremely safe, especially as a solo female. No one really bothered me and I didn’t feel uncomfortable (even with all of the stares). I rode public transportation alone and took rickshaws by myself, and never once felt unsafe.
I’ve felt the same through the states of Karnataka and Goa as well.
2) It’s so easy to make friends on public transportation
I met many couples, children, and families by riding public transportation. Get ready to feel like both a celebrity and a zoo animal. If you offer something as simple as a smile, you’ll most likely get a massive toothed grin in return. While the conversation will most likely be in broken English, you’ll find yourself amazed and in awe with how friendly the locals are.
3) I’ve never taken so many random selfies in my life
I’m getting asked for at least 3 selfies per day on average. Anyone and everyone will walk up to you and ask for selfies. I usually say yes to women and families, but when it’s a group of men or men on their own, I decline.
4) My anxiety skyrockets in big cities
If I can avoid spending time in big cities in India for the rest of my trip, then I will. I visited Mysore and Bangalore and found myself counting down the hours until I was leaving. The rickshaws, traffic, congestion, noise, and heat made me feel like I was walking through molasses and drowning.
5) I’m not afraid to put someone in his place
As a solo female traveler, you have to be tough and not afraid to tell someone to leave you alone.
For example, while I was in Varkala, a man decided to make kissing and sexual gestures while licking his lips at me. Instead of cowering, I shouted “you are GROSS! Go AWAY! You’re DISGUSTING! LEAVE!” at him. He then looked confused as to why I wouldn’t accept those repulsive gestures and stopped.
It doesn’t end there.
I was also groped in Goa.
I immediately turned around and started screaming, as loud as I could, “DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH ME,” over and over again, pointing my finger at him, while he tried to walk away. I chased after him yelling, and then another amazing woman came over, asked me what he did, and started slapping him in the face.
Women: You HAVE to put these men in their place.
Please take note, not all men in India are like this. I’ve made quite a few friends with Indian men and they have been incredible helpful, friendly, and kind. As they also inform me, this behavior tends to occur in those less educated.
6) Indian food is my favorite cuisine
Seriously, it’s my favorite cuisine ever. There is now no competition between Thailand and Vietnam.
The curries, thali, uttapam, dosas, chai masala, spices, chapatti, rotis… the list goes on and on. I could eat Indian food all day, every day, and never get bored of it.
7) Varkala sparked a spiritual journey
I spent quite some time in Varkala. One of my friends said something very interesting while we were chatting in a group:
“Varkala kills your ego. You were this amazing person, and then you got to Varkala, and realized you’re not. Everyone has something special to share, and while you’re very special, you’re not better than any one else here. Everyone is unique in their own way, but very much the same.”
And it’s so true.
We are all part of this universe, all on this journey together.
I’ve started meditating, doing more yoga, and changing the way I think and my outlook on certain things in my life. It’s a journey in and of itself that I’ve began, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
8) I am not ready for an ashram
I spent a few days in an ashram in the south of India, and while I was open to the experience, did not really enjoy my time there.
I found it to be… cult like. It wasn’t what I was looking for at this time in my life, and found the rules and strict schedule suffocating. We could only leave the ashram at specific times, they would lock the male and female dorms at 11 PM, and there were classes and lectures we had to attend.
The experience was interesting, but not what I was looking for.
9) India has helped me end one of my oldest gross habits
I’ve been a nail biter for as long as I can remember. One month into India and my nail biting habit has stopped. My nails are the longest they’ve been in years.
10) India will throw anything and everything at you
I’ve been in India for one month, and have received fake money from a guesthouse as change, been over charged for the wrong phone plan, and scammed in rickshaws. I’ve gotten a stomach bug (hello, toilet) and was almost knocked off of a motorbike by a shovel of stones.
My bus in Goa stopped on the highway due to an accident that caused a major traffic back up. Everyone got off of the bus, and I was told there was another bus stop 20 minutes away, just passed the accident.
Let’s just say, there was no bus stop.
I ended up walking 6 km with my 15 kg backpacks on the side of the highway for an hour.
It becomes part of your routine, for this is India. Things like this are going to happen on a constant basis, and just like any good thing, you have to embrace it and laugh at it.
11) Mother India is majestic, chaotic, and overwhelmingly beautiful
Every day, every experience, and every person I meet renders me speechless. I find myself floating through space in euphoria. I find myself cursing at people trying to scam me. I find myself awe struck with phenomenal views. I find myself near to tears of laughter from listening to stories told from other backpackers. I find myself feeling like a child as I hang out the train door as it speeds down the tracks, passed lakes and villages and rivers. I find myself getting so extremely frustrated with men trying to take photos of me or making inappropriate gestures at me. I find myself waking up early, going to the beach, and running into the ocean as the warm, familiar water embraces me.
I’ve taken the first month to ground myself, get myself on my feet, travel slowly, get acquainted with different parts of India, and really figure out how I want to spend my time here.
India is, by far, my favorite country. Ever.