As a person dealing with crippling anxiety and paranoia, I never thought I would be writing this article. I have lived most of my life scared of public spaces, social interactions, events and anything that deviates from my routine. A lot of it has to do with my PTSD but a lot of it is influenced by the simple fact that I am a woman. I think there is so much that we subconsciously adapt to our behavioral pattern solely because of living with an extra X chromosome in the world.

For example, that my sister is always apprehensive about dressing up nice everyday because she does not want to attract unwanted attention. Or that many women are scared to travel alone or at all because of unpleasant experiences or the fear of having one.

I have always identified as a rebel; society’s blatant sexism and discrimination towards me only fueled my need for equality, voicing my opinions, empowering the women around me and in turn having them empower me. One of the most important things I learnt from existing as a woman is that, you need to stubbornly want to exist ― in the streets, markets, colleges and cities where you are not necessarily made to feel welcome. You NEED to want it!

My first solo trip was an impulsive decision. I was so tired of being scared, anxious, paranoid, defensive and scared again of just everything, that I got my tickets booked without a blink and set off. And it was the best decision I ever made. So, to the women who want to travel ― I want to share with you little happenings from my trips that has added to the person that I am today, that may inspire you to set out on your own journey. Here I go:

Būta Kōla ritual on a midnight-drive to a nearby town

One of the nights when I was out in Mangalore for dinner with a friend and three of his buddies, one of them asked me, “Hey, do you want to go to Chikmagalur? There is this place that serves the best Neer dosa!” “Sure, what time tomorrow?“, I asked and he responded, “No, now!” I took a moment to contemplate if they were serious because it was almost midnight and Chikmagalur was a four-hour ride — that’s not an usual woman-thing to do. “Ah, why not?” I replied and we hopped in a car, with the windows rolled down and the radio turned up.

Now I had no idea this was going to be more than just South Indian cuisine and a long drive; the night unexpectedly got quite interesting. At a distance I spotted a tent with bright lights and music blaring out of large speakers. Given it was the middle of the night, I asked the guys if they knew what the function was about. “It is Būta Kōla! Do you want to check it out?“, they asked and I was not about to let such an opportunity go. See, Būta Kōla is an annual ritual performance in the area, where spirits or deities are impersonated by passionate specialists in vibrant and elaborate costumes. We parked the car and entered the tent, and the people were surprisingly welcoming! They took us to vacant seats and served us tea with rice cakes. I was dazed and overwhelmed by the magnificent goddess dancing in the middle, oblivious to the audience. Can you imagine how surreal it is when you are in for just a long drive at night and you come across a dancing deity instead?

Buta Kola | Image Credit: Mangaluru Through My Lens

The pilot whose son studied filmmaking

My flight to Kolkata was on a monotonous evening. I got through the security-check; got myself a coffee and sat down absentmindedly looking at airplanes takeoff, while I waited for my boarding call. “May I sit next to the pretty lady?“, he asked. I jumped from the unexpected interaction, almost spilling my drink and looked up to see the middle-aged, charming man in a uniform standing in front of me. “Sure!“, I said, trying hard not to look as bothered as I was, being the awkward and antisocial person that I believe I am. He introduced himself, his co-pilot and sat down next to me. This conversation with him became such a significant one; it is the one I will always remember.

A random pilot ― a stranger, turned out to be this cheerful Ukrainian person who was passionate about travelling, had a son who was in South Africa also studying filmmaking as I was at the time and was so happy and fulfilled in life. I cannot think of a better way to spend time in an airport, than getting to know another person also on a journey to explore.

Image Credit: Kavita Sarmah

A shared cab with a friend I made at the airport

I talked to her when our flight to Chandigarh was delayed again and we were stuck at the Mumbai airport for a couple of hours. “I am going to Shimla for a conference,” she said while we were making small talk. “I am going to Shimla as well!” I exclaimed in response; one thing led to the other and we decided we would share a cab from Chandigarh to Shimla. This lady was so, so wonderful that every time I am anxious about a trip now, I remind myself that I would have never met this woman if we weren’t individually travelling.

How much can you talk about in a three-hour road-trip? A lifetime. From mental health, gender discrimination, her parenting techniques and morals to food, culture and families ― we shared a lifetime. You will be surprised how many fascinating, inspiring and heartwarming people there are, that you would meet in an unexpected turn of events; who would end up changing you in beautiful ways.

Image Credit: Kavita Sarmah

Little doorknob in an antique shop

I am big on souvenirs. Every time I go to a new city, I am so in awe that I feel the need to carry the place away with me, but I obviously cannot do that so I take a little part of what it’s made of instead. Sometimes it is a ceramic bowl, a mirror for the apartment or just a pebble that I took a liking to. I believe there are hidden treasures scattered around the world and if you are in the right place at the right time, it will make itself known to you. So when I was strolling through an antique store in Delhi, with all kinds of shining, beautiful things and I stumbled upon this little doorknob, I knew I had found it ― a hidden treasure of the world. A flower shaped, glass doorknob with light blue-red patterns on it. It might seem like a small nothing, but it is going to be a part of my home someday and I would have completely missed it if I was not in a new city, on a seemingly insignificant day.

Image Credit: Kavita Sarmah

Hotel room conversation and a blue-hill view

When I sat in my little hotel room with an old school-friend in Shimla and she said, “I wish I could travel but my parents would never allow me to; they are concerned about my safety.” I looked out to the blue hills outside my window, buried my hands in my jacket and wondered about the person I would be today if I had submitted to such restrictions. Maybe it was the cold or the imagination but I shuddered and did not know what next to say. My anxieties take away half of my stimulation and opportunities in life; if not for my stubbornness to get on the road and explore cultures, people and communities while resisting any restriction, condition or unnecessary infantilization ― I’d be a square. Hardly an ever-growing, living person.

Image Credit: Kavita Sarmah

A handwritten letter from a girl I just met

Fortunately, I have been able to focus on the constructive side of social media most of the time. I have come across and made friends with quite a few women across the world who have influenced my perspective in wonderful ways. I first started talking to this amazing woman when we discovered and admired each other’s writing, thoughts and beliefs. A beautifully opinionated, feminist with such good things to say ― I absolutely had to meet her while I was visiting her city! A few texts later, there we were in a sublime restaurant meeting each other for the very first time. We were friends before we even met! Isn’t the internet just wonderful? She handed me a letter that she wrote for me just before I was about to leave, and I cannot express how happy it made my heart when I was at home in Bombay, tucking her letter in my travel-journal.

Image Credit: Kavita Sarmah

To the women who want to travel in India ― life is greater than a house; greater that your overprotective parents, the mean people, sexism and the bounds they have constructed around you. You deserve a big world. Just GO!

5 COMMENTS

  1. Cheers kavita! I decided one day impulsively to travel halfway across the country solo too.. and that changed my life and there was no way I couldn’t do it again. You realise there are more kind people out there than you imagine, more helpful cops than you thought, and the beauty far outweighs the creepiness. Trainhopping is amazing too.. There was this time I couldn’t afford reservations so I took train after train in the general compartments to get to my destination. The ladies coaches at least in South India were safe and filled with laughter.. and although I am socially awkward, there were times when other women shared stories, shared their inches worth of berth space just because you remind them of their daughter, and helped me get over my uncomfort with randomness. The way people stared in small stations and waiting rooms at you lugging your backpack and a guitar, the ticket clerks looking surprised when you ask for “a general ticket to either guntur or warangal”, the occasional leers, the families looking at you puzzled.. and sometimes it’s just curiosity. But since you can’t do anything about it, it’s just safer to interact when necessary. I had a sharp knife and a pepperspray in my pocket and was prepared to use it if necessary… a man followed me round the station once, and disappeared when I walked into the police station. Looking people in the eye is important I’ve figured, it’s like with dogs.. you show them you’re scared and they’ll start menacing you. In the end, I wish more women did this, it’ll make them stronger and also change the way women who do it are perceived. Its not fun to be the exception, but then that’s better than staying put somewhere and hoping that the entire society changes for good until you can travel alone. 🙂

    • Hi there! I just admire and love your comment here. I am so glad you did decide to travel, and Oh, so beautiful are your thoughts. I am just glad that you exist. I hope you always find the inspiration to keep exploring and making a difference. More love and positivity your way! 🙂

      Kavita Sarmah.

  2. Hi Karvita, it sounds like you had a wonderful journey, thank you for sharing it and what you learned along the way! I’ve just returned from 2 months travelling solo in northern india and had a wonderful time. I met wonderful people along the way – especially families on train rides :). I only wish there are more Indian ladies like yourself travelling alone! It would be so wonderful to connect and learn even more about the many cultures of India. Keep exploring and sharing you inspiring stories, Ellie

    • Hi Ellie! I am so glad you went on that solo trip to northern India! I think women are the most apprehensive about going to that part of the country. Thank you for commenting here; it is inspiring to me to know you exist and are living your best life. Cheers! 🙂

      Kavita Sarmah.

  3. @Kavita I’m glad you wrote about your travels.. so thank you! A pleasure to know you.. Sending you love and power, keep rocking the travels and the writing.. do share more!

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