Since then a lot of people have contacted me to clarify doubts because they are in a similar situation. It seems that anyone looking to travel solo, backpack or go long distance cycling trip in Europe gets a negative response from the Indian travel agents.Continue reading
Solo travel is now ‘cool’. This is great because when I first started solo traveling in 2009, I wasn’t sure how society will respond. Will there be too much of shock and stigma, or will they accept it? Really happy to note that while solo travel is still not so easy for a lot of women in the country, it is being widely accepted. In fact it is soon turning into a trend. And I often get a query from women looking to go on their first solo trip – “Suggest a safe place?”
These are my suggestions based on my personal solo travel experience to these places,
Safe first time solo travel destinations for women,
Starting off the list with the obvious – Pondicherry. A lot of people are fascinated by this town. If they haven’t already visited it, then they want to visit soon! Located on the east coast a few hours from Chennai makes it a fairly easy to reach. The ride from Chennai is picturesque as the highway hugs the sea coast. And at the end of the trip, this town fascinates us with a french ambiance, lovely blue seaside and the serenity exuded by the Aurobindo ashram.Continue reading
When I started solo traveling in 2009, it all happened a bit impromptu. I had a basic plan in place, Mumbai – Goa – Bangalore (transit) – Mysore – Coimbatore (yoga ashram). I provided all accommodation details with contact numbers to my parents and that was pretty much it.
As I started doing this more often, the question arose about what to tell people – specifically relatives. Where do I keep disappearing sometimes for a whole month!? This was a time when solo traveling, especially women solo traveling hadn’t become the buzz word it is now. Many people close to me suggested that I tell people I am traveling with another girl friend, no one would really know the truth and it would look so much more normal.Continue reading
Earlier I wrote about How I manage solo traveling with happy parents. Parents typically tend to be worry warts regards their off-springs, especially their single child. Such is the case with my parents too. So a combination of assuring explanations and spending time helps keep them calm and satisfied. I am also in touch with them during my trips which helps them remain relaxed.
With extended family the situation changes. They simply do not get the time nor mind share that my parents (and other near family) get.
Small detour here especially for any non-Indians reading this blog to understand the context of this Great Big Indian Family. When I say extended family I mean all my mother & father’s siblings, their kids. Grand-parents and their sibling’s families. It also includes a lot of other branches of family, for eg, the in-law family of my married cousins. It also includes a much wider range of relatives who become part via grapevine. So quite a huge number of people.
Obviously not a lot of time or thought will be given to all of them when I plan a trip. So typically, they will come to know of the trip once I have embarked or they would be informed earlier on but without any explanations. So this leads to all sorts of reactions.
“Don’t take unnecessary risks & don’t waste time”
I got a phone call from my aunt who lectured me about why my cycling trip was not a good idea. This was after I had briefly told them that I am planning to go to Europe and cycle for most part of my trip. And cycling is much slower which means I will be visiting only two cities. It was a very brisk manner of telling them my travel plans and no wonder I got the customary cautionary phone call from them. I had anticipated it.
With my parents I had taken the conversation much slower. I first introduced them to the idea of ‘Slow Travel’ and how I loved it. Later on I eased them into the European Cycling Culture & Camping bit and then told them what I was thinking about my Europe trip. It was a very planned way to let my parents understand why I was doing this. Also why it is totally safe. Because it is important that they are okay with the whole trip idea. Surprisingly though, they thought so highly of Europe that they were really excited about it and didn’t need much coaxing. 🙂
My extended family of course didn’t get any such planned speeches. With them it was more of “Ohh, yes I am going to Europe and plan to cycle most of the time”
Typically the conversation would go like,
“Yes, I am planning to go to Europe for a month or so”
“So which all cities are you going to?”
“Two – Berlin & Copenhagen and other smaller towns”
“Two??!! What will you do in these two cities for such a long time?”
“Well, I plan to cycle from one to the other, so that is why just two.”
Shit has hit the fan 😉
“What?! how can you do that?” “How far are these cities?” “Where will you stay at night” “It is typical of you to think such a mad idea” “I don’t know anyone who has done such a thing” …… and it went on.
But anyway after a bit of time the excitement got to them as well. Because obviously no one in family had done something like this, let alone a solo girl. So for this trip by public demand I made a Whatsapp group with everyone in it. And I kept them all updated as I got a chance with random updates from the road. It was something they all really enjoyed. Many of them said they felt like they had traveled European countryside with me 🙂
So this Europe trip was a different level of involvement with my extended family. And probably now that I have been understood to be a different genre of traveller I guess they will respond to my travels differently.
The thing that helps me a lot is that my parents are totally okay with what I am doing at the end of day. It is true that at times they will say “Oh we have no say into what she does” but the fact is they are quite okay with it. So most of the times when my extended family raises questions, my parents usually just go like “Oh, kids now a days do what ever they like and why should anybody impose on them? They are smart enough to decide what they want” This really saves my ass, cause usually no relative goes beyond this.
Only one time I remember I had a relative who really gave me a big lecture. He was clearly a very dominant type and despite me taking his “lot of advice” in jest he just kept going on in front of the whole family – how I need to get married and stop traveling. Solo traveling is so risky. It was one time I felt bummed. So I came back to Mumbai and organized a travel meetup. 4 of us met at Bandra and once again I was back in the element. 😀
So a lot of crazy incidents with extended family. At times relatives would think that I had run away from home… it is difficult for them to conceptualize that I just like traveling solo.
So here are some tips with regards managing the Extended Indian Family with regards Solo Travel,
1) MAKe it Cool with your Parents & Near Family:
These folks are important and ones who care most about you. Spend the time, make effort as needed to keep them cool about it. Once they are cool about it they will support you in face of other relatives
2) Update Extended Family:
I have added a lot of my extended family to this blog newsletter – so they get emails about new blogs. In fact they may be reading this.. “Hellos – extended family!” Also now with all of us being connected on Facebook – they see my travel updates there as well. This sort of keeps them on the same page. So I would always suggest that if you plan to solo travel seriously, don’t lie to your extended family, instead be transparent and authentic. Start a blog or even write a column in the paper and keep them on the same page. Writing a newspaper column will also give you pseudo celeb status 😉
3) Meet other Travellers:
Sometimes like I shared above, you might feel bummed out because relatives keep advising you that it is too risky, you will never get married and so on. The best thing is to meet your travel friends and talk. It will help. You won’t feel isolated when you have like minded people around you.
Relatives depending on their age and personality will be a certain way. Learn to anticipate with out being prejudiced. For eg: I know that when I share my travel adventures with many of the older relatives (and some friends) they will naturally keep giving me safety precautions. It is the first reaction. So once I anticipate this, it gets easy.
5) There is a Time to Lie:
So yea, I always advise being transparent over lying, but there is a time to lie. With really old relatives or major worry-warts – I just lie to them blatantly because I know if I told them the truth they will not be able to sleep. They will go pretty much, literally crazy until I don’t even know, maybe I would have to cancel my trip or something. It is sort of funny because my solo travel interviews and such have come in the Gujarati newspaper and they have read it but that they are able to digest. Just the idea of me going off on my own though, they will just not be able to accept.
So recently I heard that the antidote to Fear is Understanding. So help your extended family understand why you are doing what you are doing. Typically you may not have the time to explain to all of them, well just send them a blog article. Hell, just send them some of my blog articles if that works. 😉
One of the common questions I get when I talk about solo traveling is ‘Do you feel lonely?’ or something on similar lines ‘how do you pass the whole day on your own?’. Here is my experience…
I don’t just Enjoy & Love Solitude. I NEED it!
I have always been someone who loves spending time alone. Solitude lets me be with my thoughts and lets me live the way I want to. In India people want to do things ‘together’ All the Time & it can be a very hard experience when you are different. Everyone – friends, family, colleagues – keep loading you with advice. When you choose to ignore the advice and do things your own way, they may even take offense. I don’t want to generalize international culture but specifically in the western world the culture tends to be more individualistic – where people often at young age strike out on their own. This is why you would notice that there is a lot of diversity there in terms of peoples lives – in education fields, social relations and so on.
Given my need for solitude, Solo travel is an absolute treat for me. And I cherish all the moments I have on my own.
At times however, one may want to talk to someone or share some experiences with others. And for that there are many avenues,
Make Friends with People Around You
I have become quite adept at striking conversations with strangers around me. From taxi drivers to people in the lift to co-passengers in train. Anyway they are curious as to what I am doing solo so that is always one topic to talk about. Making friends lets you explore the place and people further.
Solo Travel does not always mean Alone
The accommodation you chose makes a lot of difference. Female dorms can be a great place to meet other travelers and you can join them to explore the city. Staying at Home Stays lets you be part of a local family. Living at a commune or staying at ashrams add to your experiences in their own special way.
Make Group trips a Part of your Solo Travel
On a longer solo travel journey you can take up a few days of cycling or hiking trip with a group. This will break the solo monotony. Also in countries like India, roaming around alone in the countryside is often not feasible so these groups allow you to leave the urban areas and explore the wilderness.
You can also include heritage walks, workshops and such different activities in a place to meet the local people and just well – talk and socialize! Meeting friends of friends or far off relatives or Twitter/Facebook friends etc.. is another way to socialize in a way that really adds to your travels.
Sounds tough to be working at some exciting travel place but if you want to travel for a longer time, you will need to think about how to fund it. Working while traveling lets you do both. This is one of the reasons I hardly even notice solo travel – lot of my time goes into working.
My solo cycling & camping adventure in Europe was a trip where I wasn’t working. I hardly felt it because considering this was the first time I went long distance cycling, camping, visited Europe – the newness of the trip totally made it intense enough to not miss anybody. It was such an unique and rare experience. A large part of the cycling trip I was just overwhelmed by the beauty and solitude.
So if you plan a trip that is intense enough. A trip where you really want to experience/explore specific facets then it hardly matters that you are solo.
At the end of this post, I must tell you this,
I have never been bothered about the feeling of loneliness because solo-travel augments my love for this big, wide world we live on. This beautiful blue-with-specks-of-white planet we are living on. Solo travel lets me cut through all our smaller groups and affiliations in life and just be part of this whole cosmos.
It gives me THE strong realization that we are all living and breathing on this planet together.
So while at times I include activities that let me socialize and talk with people, I never really feel alone. I just enjoy my solitude while being a part of the Whole Wide World.
Planning to be solo at the Kumbh Mela can be a daunting task for many as it conjures up images of huge crowds, religious frenzy and a truly eclectic bunch of people from rural folks to ash smeared sadhus. I was hesitant at first, but I really enjoyed my 3 solo days at the Kumbh Mela 2015, Trimbakeshwar and Nashik.
With a few precautions the Kumbh Mela can be a really enjoyable time to deepen your experience of the religious ethos of India. There are certain places where stories inevitably happen and this is one such place. Here are my quick notes on difficulties you can face especially if you are traveling solo,
Especially for women this is always an important question. Where would you stay? Sadly most religious organizations do not allot rooms to single people – guy or girl. These don’t include the newer organizations, just the older religious ones. So while these ashrams tend to be really satvic (positive) and inexpensive they may not be an option. If you have some contact in the organization then definitely try and get a room through them.
Kumbh Mela Camps – there are many such camps which have private rooms or separate male & female dormitories. I stayed at the Prayag Kumbh camp. They have a female dormitory with 10 beds in one room with 2 attached bathrooms. These are makeshift camps so are very basic, but I was impressed by the dedicated staff and safety.
Private accommodations – depending on the city you can explore AirBnB, home stays and hotel options. Typically hotels would be over priced but home stays maybe a good option.
Book Early: This can ensure lower rates and vacancy. Last minute booking on important bathing dates can be very tricky especially if you are single. Having said that however, I have heard from many people that at the Kumbh Mela arrangements happen – you may find a nice family who takes you in or you may end up with some of the babas or maas in their akhada. This is a place where things just happen. So if you feel crazy, just Go.
Stay Area: Try to get your accommodation as centrally located as possible because activities start from crack of dawn to late night. If you are far off from the mela then getting out at 4 in the morning and making your way here may not be feasible. On important days a lot of roads maybe blocked and you may just have to walk a lot so a centrally located accommodation is really worth it.
Choose your Days Right: Are you comfortable with the crowds? On main bathing days lakhs of people arrive at the Kumbh for the holy dip. The roads may be blocked to vehicles and everything would be a lot more dirtier. Accommodations would be brimming full and things are just way more chaotic. If this is your first trip, I suggest go on non-important days. The people are lesser and you can take your time to explore.
If you have more days in hand, then keep a few advance days before the important days so that you get an idea of the place.
Attire: Generally Indian clothes for women are encouraged. This is to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention from rural men and also as some temples may have rules about covering your head and so on. I found the environment in Trimbakeshwar very chilled and I was wearing a cotton full pant and a short kurti – which is completely ok. I carried a dupatta (scarf) for my head but never had to use it. Now most small towns in India have women wearing jeans and t-shirts, so wearing full pants and short kurti tops should be fine as long as you can carry it well. So don’t be too worried about the clothing, just keep the pants full and top with at least half sleeves and a good neck line.
You may want to take a dip in the holy water so remember to carry clothes accordingly.
Be Wary & Yet Open: It is a tricky balance but be wary – being alone may make you a more vulnerable target from scamsters but most of the times people are just unusually helpful. I still find it surprising when people go all out to help me. So be wary but be open to people as they help you out. In a place like Kumbh Mela things are so unusual at times, that it maybe tough to gauge how to behave. Just go with the flow and remember to enjoy the craziness. Generally follow your instinct and maintain basic safety precautions – don’t consume stuff from strangers & enter closed / non-public places only with trusted people.
Be part of it rather than a photographer: Tourists often have the incessant habit of clicking pictures all the time. This makes it difficult to absorb and experience the event. The people taking dips are indulging in a very personal experience as these places are very powerful energy centres. So be considerate and careful about how you click your pictures. Ask people for permission, they may pose for a photo or they may refuse. It will avoid unpleasant situations where people get offended.
These are really all the precautions you need to take. Ideally book a good accommodation months in advance and then just get ready to enjoy your experience there. Chat with people, share your stories, ask questions and immerse yourself!
When you are solo you don’t have to worry about getting lost in the crowd. You could lose yourself but that can be a wonderful thing.
A lot of things to write, about this Europe trip which is already underway. I am lazing around at a campsite this Sunday afternoon. My tent is well shaded by surrounding trees so I can spend time in it without getting baked. 🙂
One of the common questions a lot of people have asked is Why Solo Cycling & Camping.
Here I would like to first touch upon – planning your first Europe trip. For most avid travelers including me, Europe is a dream destination. And it is not a easy one given the money, visa and work-leave requirements.
Everywhere, I am repeatedly highlighting, how important it is for a person to know themselves before doing something. Do what is right for You! This is what I did and it is what I would suggest to people when they are planning their first Europe trip.
What do you want from it? What do you enjoy when traveling? What will make it very memorable for you?
Because whatever your travel need and interests are, Schengen with 27 countries will offer it. And as per those interests you can plan your trip. Also remember, you can never do all of it! So don’t run around trying to do so many points… Just figure what you truly want from your trip and plan accordingly.
So I had only a few things in mind at first,
– no crowds
– cool temperature
– pushing my solo experience further, as this is an overall safer place for solo woman
While the first two are quite generic the third point was really challenging.
How should I push further my solo experience?
While researching I came across how big and popular the cycling culture was in Europe. It seemed really exciting and it also gave me a way to just be on the road on my own in a way that I might never do in India.
And there were many reasons why this solo cycling and camping trip idea worked for me.
– solitude : it would give me the solitude I was looking for. Away from crowds, close to nature and just on my own.
– slow travel : I am anyway a slow traveler. Spending many days in one location. This mode of transport also excited me as a slow travel opportunity through many quaint villages and towns.
– cycling : I grew up on a cycle. N after the days of childhood I never really cycled seriously but I think that something about cycling really appealed to me and felt right. I remember often as a kid I wanted to ride away on my yellow BMX. However, the traffic jammed roads and highways with trucks pounding down, quickly scared me out of this idea. I think deep down though, I always wanted to do this.
– route less : I always wanted to travel without a planned route in mind. Cycle traveling is ideal for it.
– other far off places : this way of traveling opens up possibilities of traveling the RIGHT way in many other places. Iceland comes to mind. How else would one travel in those places which are so remote and unhabitated?
– budget : and over time this might be a more budget way of traveling. I don’t know yet, only after I do my trip math will I know.
So all of these various culminated in me really wanting to do this.
I was still of course not sure because everything was new! I had absolutely no idea of long distance cycling nor camping.
But then I spoke to the only person who I knew at that time who had done such a trip. Kunal Mithrill. I had heard a barcamp talk by him earlier. So I connected with… “I want to do this kind of trip but I have many Qs. Starting from, where do I get a bike?”
From there on it was kind of easy because Kunal made it sound all damn easy. Hehe. Believe it isn’t really “easy”. But it all turned out to be quite manageable. And from there on, I just kept finishing off one thing and next, to get this trip to happen. 🙂
Another blog on stuff to do for such a trip later 🙂
PS: you can follow my updates on Fb n Twitter at #maproute
Solo traveling has now become a
trend. While there are some serious solo women sharing their travel experiences, there is also a lot of frivolity.
I started solo traveling over 5 years back and now hardly see it as such a big challenge. It is like in the 1980s “working women” were a trend, now it’s commonplace and passé. Yes there are still challenges as women globally get lower pay than their men counterparts, but that is a different thing. At least it is not something new, where a girl would go like, “ooh you know what? I am a woman and I work”. At least not in the reasonably urban areas. I know of conventional households that still don’t allow it but they are a rarity and not with the times.
I understand that solo travel is not so easy for people… But I have traveled a lot and I think it is time for the women to stop being silly. Be serious, do some solo travel and get out of the phase of ” Ooh I am a woman and I travel alone”.
Yes, there are challenges for women solo travelling, let’s understand them, discuss them and explore ways to address them.
I am currently seeing girls, who are either in a teenager rebel zone or they are wannabes or just being frivolous and keep on going on about how solo travel is awesome – BUT they have NO solo travel experience at all.
A lot of people also don’t seem to understand the meaning of “solo travel”. Solo travel = traveling on your own. While you may hook up with other folks on the road, you are fundamentally on your own. There are also women (and men) who consider traveling in a group of ” new” people like a trekking group or so on as solo travel – but it isn’t. Good to see someone else who also has written on a similar matter – what is solo travel
I understand that some of these women may be serious about solo travel – but aren’t getting band width. Also sometimes just doing a very small portion of the trip on their own can be a pre-cursor to a proper solo travel. But then just do a weekend trip. And if it simply isn’t happening then it is probably not important for them.
So, yes I hope that the scenario improves and solo travel for women in India becomes passé. Like every other woman is solo traveling. So then we can talk about some of the real experiences and difficulties of solo travel.
I am currently in Berlin, Germany and now pushing my solo travel adventures to a different level.
One of the first things I thought of as a Europe trip seemed on cards – let’s push the limits on solo experience. This was the first world and at least here *hopefully* I wouldn’t have to all the time plan on the basis of basic safety.
The last year and half have been a high speed, roller coaster ride in my work area. A lot of learning, growing and results. I even wrote a post about “Not on the Road but always a Traveller” – because I simply haven’t been able to travel much the last year.
Finally situations changed and I find myself planning for some hard core solo travelling in Europe! A place which I have always thought of as the mecca for solo travellers – 1 visa, 27 countries, 1st world safety and so on.
I scoured online sites and blogs, because I wanted to plan something different. Europe, especially for a first trip is a mind boggling destination. So after looking at lot of things, figuring out vague budget estimates, I had a trip sketch in mind. Now, considering that this is my first solo international trip, I thought of getting a travel agent to smooth out the entire planning.
Imagine my utter dismay, when 3 well recommended travel agents told me that I would never get the schengen visa. Two of them gave me a 100% guarantee that I will never get one. Here is why,
“Solo travellers can just go to another country and marry there”
The first Big reason they gave was because this was solo travel. Imagine after all my years of solo travelling and having this travel blog and all. Someone tells me ‘Oh, you are a solo traveller, you will never get schengen visa’
“If you are going there for a month, you might just work there illegally”
The second Big reason they gave was because the trip I was planning was longer than the “usual” 15 – 20 days. Even though the official websites state that the term for a short term tourist visa is 90 days, these travel agents insisted that I will never get a visa for more than 20 days.
“They will not believe this. The consulate staff don’t understand these kind of things”
Camping is a common culture in many European countries and I plan to camp for few days in Europe. This I also agree was a bit tricky, as we need to give a well planned & booked itinerary while applying for visa while camping is random. However the travel agents did not see this as such a big reason Because the above two are enough for a 100% rejection of your visa application anyway.
It all turned out to be Big Bull Shit.
I spent a lot of time worried and disgruntled. Because if the above reasons were true, I didn’t want to go to Europe. I have been travelling happily across India, with numerous month long trips and now when I am getting to go to Europe – I have to do a 15 day, non-solo trip!!?? No chance!
So I spoke to my friend & fellow travel blogger who has travelled some gazillion countries across the world – Snigdha Jain. She was the force behind what I did next.
She told me to “Just Apply”.
And within my family we also discussed the same. The fact was that I didn’t want to go to Europe for 15 days & that too non-solo. I would rather then just travel somewhere else. More over we just could not believe that a solo traveller would not get a visa to Europe! It is bizarre.
So I compiled everything needed from flight tickets to cover letter to stay bookings to travel insurance and so on. It was not that difficult, just very, very time consuming. And I was worried about doing something wrong. Also weighed down by all the dire warnings that the ‘well-recommended’ travel agents gave me.
Finally applied on 29/06/2015.
I had my visa on 3/07/2015.
No questions asked. No hassles. All the days I wanted.
Thanks Deutschland <3
My faith in Euroland intact.
And as to my travel plans and travelogues… well they will follow. I may not be able to blog so much while on the road, but I will be updating my personal Twitter & Facebook page with quick updates. I also have a Whatsapp group for close associates, in case you are really keen then share your number. 🙂
Oh, and if you have any suggestions on what all to do in Europe do share in comments.
You may recall I had earlier written about how the hospitality and caring culture of Himachal Pradesh SHOCKED me. It was my first experience of random strangers going completely out of their way to help and make me – solo on the road – feel at home! I am remembering that experience as I write this article. So unusual and intriguing it is to find friendliness, awesomeness and helping hands when I am randomly traveling on my own. You would think that by now I would start getting used to it, but not really.
I went on a short 1 week trip in September, 2014 to Vrindavan – Agra – Varanasi. As I was planning for it, I decided to be extra cautious as this is Uttar Pradesh. Many of these north Indian states like Utter Pradesh and Bihar are quite infamous as an uncouth culture. e-Commerce sites like Flipkart don’t deliver high value products here because there have been cases where the courier delivery boy is kidnapped or his delivery is robbed at gun point! Yeah, this is true story.
So anyway I felt confident enough because I have been solo traveling for a while… and now I can travel even UP. I was in for a real surprise……. pleasantly,
The people turned out to be Sweet. Yea, that is the word I would use. From a conversation with a cycle rickshaw chachu (uncle) about how he should buy a motorcycle and stop cycling in Agra to the most helpful airport attendant at Varanasi airport – I met some amazingly helpful, friendly and sweet people in this land of red stained teeth and paan.
I spent half a day in Vrindavan, with a private car and driver. Generally I don’t take a private car – as I usually travel budget and because I think public transport is safer. But this transpired because,
I was traveling in train from Mumbai to Mathura. As usual the people around me started with ‘You are alone…where you are going and yadi yadi yada…..’. Most of the times unless I feel suspicious, I tell the truth. So I plunged into “Yes, I travel alone… I want to see the world and experience the culture and all so I just took off on my own… blah blah… I am really keen to see the ghats of Varanasi….. ” So once they got over the unusual-ness of the situation- they all pitched in with what all I should do in Mathura, once I get off this train. One of the uncles actually was getting down with me at Mathura so he insisted that I should take a private taxi… and he even picked out a ‘proper’ person for me and bargained a good rate.
Earlier I may have been very wary and not gone with this uncle. But I have experienced a lot of such cultures where the people will take charge and ensure I have a good time like I am their daughter. So I kept my eyes and ears open … saw the taxi guy was legit, took his card and all. Asked the driver for the car number which I sent out as SMS in front of him. So all the various formalities taken care off…. had a good time driving around Mathura and Vrindavan with this local chap.
The driver was decent. I went to couple of usual temples around this holy twin-towns – Mathura & Vrindavan. Nice experience. The Banke Bihari temple especially had a real charm – with a quaint little post office inside. Rows of sadhu-beggars kept begging with ‘Ram-Ram’ and priests from nearby temples asked for offerings. Calls of “Shanivaar, shani ka dhaar” – offer to Shani dev! Sweets shops were many, and I kept wondering whether to try out some delicacies. It was actually more like what I expected Varanasi to be.
I visited Prem Puri ashram because apparently it is a wonder to see. I found it so-so. Most disturbing is that they have included the idol of their leader as part of the Krishna- Radha-Hanuman team. I have major issues with this and especially considering their leader and disciples are accused (and some found guilty) of Rape I am not even inclined to research their path.
The Iskcon temple on the other hand I thought was decent. Some old lady tried to sell me some books but that is common here. Always trying to convert people – most of these paths. But overall I trust this path… when I go to the temples I feel some good energy and like to do their chanting dance. Hare Rama- Hare Rama – Rama – Hare Hare…
This is the temple where their founder Prabhupada’s samadhi is. I sat there for a bit. Some bhajans were going on there too as in the main temple shrine. A monk tried talking to me here… which I would have enjoyed but I have a karmic response to monks trying to chat with me. I tend to ignore or simple not respond to them. Anyway… that is a whole different story.
Most of these temples have a very interesting canteen. Lot of sweetmeats and foods. So if you go there, do try out some of the foods, sweet-stuff and drinks.
I then went off the beaten path on a little search for a Shaktipeeth. Apparently there is a Mahadev Bhuteshwar Mandir which is a shaktipeeth but I was not able to find it. I searched around, finally made my way to an old looking, slightly dilapidated temple which was part of a chawl type housing complex. They however told me that this is the Bhudev mandir, but this was not the shaktipeeth. They also told me “Hold on to your spectacles otherwise the monkeys will flick them away” :p
Apparently another temple I had already passed was the Shaktipeeth. So much for that. But this search led me to some not so touristy areas and small lanes as well. I enjoyed getting a little inside view of this town.
Then we headed off to Agra. The people here were the biggest surprise for me and probably this is the craziest-somewhat-romantic encounter I have had here,
The car dropped me off outside Taj Mahal. Here a lot of rickshaw folks and other ‘guides’ were approaching me which I clearly shrugged off. But there was one good, authoritative chap who befriended me. This guy was the Thekedaar of one of the rickshaw stands. Not entirely clearly what that means but basically he has some kind of authority and clout in the area. His language showed some education and academic sense.
Not sure, maybe he just took a liking to me as I was a solo traveler but he started showing me around. I was little wary of this guy… but then his help was very useful. Usually all tourists & travelers are dropped off at the West Gate of Taj Mahal. Because of this, there is a VERY long line there….. I would have had to stand there for 45 mins or so… but thankfully due to this Thekedaar fellow I got to know about the East gate which is just 5 mins walk from the West Gate!
I bought my Taj Mahal audio guide (I love audio guides) from the West Gate ticket area – which he didn’t like. He wanted to give me a personal tour of the place. Then we went off to the East gate through a market like area. I asked this guy many questions to fathom the local culture and also to gauge whether he was a drug peddler or a kidnapper or some such nefarious sort. At East gate, as he had suggested there was absolutely no line. I was able to buy my entry ticket and enter in a few minutes. Apparently this Thekedaar fellow wouldn’t enter from here but he would catch up with me inside.
I never did meet him inside because I saw no reason to and I really wanted to explore Taj on my own. But this fellow – gave me almost a VIP entry into Taj Mahal. I had told him first thing itself that I am not interested in paying him or any such thing so not entirely sure what the guy wanted. Some traveler friends suggested that they are usually looking out for romantic adventures with the female travelers. First experience of such a kind… and it was not really unpleasant. As long as a decent, well spoken person genuinely helps and befriends me.. then it is a nice encounter… and maybe someone else may even have a nice, memorable romantic encounter with him. I anyway wasn’t enticed… but as you might imagine this was a whole different experience for me.
Anyway I didn’t meet him after that. After exiting the Taj, the Rickshaw people kept asking me where I wanted to go. Finally asked one chap ‘How much will it be…’ and he said 15 Rupees. This was crazy, because 15 is so dirt cheap, I would not even bargain! Guess there is lot of poverty here, because all the rickshaw drivers I found in Agra would be more than happy to charge 15/- and would wait for 30 mins just for 5/-
Crazy. Sweet. Inexpensive
Later in the day I had to take a train from Agra to Varanasi. Stay warned this route is very unreliable for newbies. Many of the trains are very, very late by over 4 hours! So it is very important to research out the better trains like the Ajmer – Sealdah express. My train happened to be one which got delayed by 4 hours, so I was at Agra station at 8 pm without a train connection. I basically hung around the station masters office and kept requesting him… highlighting the fact that I just need one ticket – I am an abla naari (helpless lady) ;D
Finally at 9pm (yea hung around there for an hour or so…) he called me to the other platform and gave me a 2 AC ticket. I was so happy.. .and it was a nice train. Would reach Varanasi next day early in the morning. 🙂
I managed to do my yoga in the train and then even got a veg thali for dinner. 🙂
This was the first time I have managed to get a ticket last minute like this through the station master and pay ‘extra’ and all that. So quite happy with myself. You should know that the Agra – Varanasi railway line is notorious. Trains can be crazy late. Also they often have 100 waitlist which gets confirmed. So just take the best train – like Ajmer- Sealdah express – and book Waitlist. Usually it will get confirmed.
Agra & Vrindavan both turned out to be really quaint towns, I would like to spend more time here. Vrindavan especially, as there would be many ancient temples to explore and possibly has a lot of stories.
More than that, my entire time in these towns (and Varanasi) really broke down stereotypes about Uttar Pradesh. Solo in Uttar Pradesh and it was completely fine – as good as any other place in India. Women can solo travel here – and pretty well at that. These towns Mathura-Agra-Varanasi are all touristy places so I would also like to go a bit internal to not so touristy places and experience the culture there… but I am hopeful that it would also be pleasant. 🙂
I will write more stories from here including people encounters in Varanasi soon, so stay tuned. 🙂