Before I traveled to India I was aware of the violent aggressions towards women that had occurred but violence is everywhere, and I thought that if I was careful I would be safe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I do believe that my husband Lukas being with me is what kept me safe. Those two weeks in India were my worst backpacking experience.
We landed in Delhi at 5AM and our plan was to go to Jaipur directly. We didn’t book hotels nor transportation in advance. We rarely do and always prefer to have a flexible schedule. I had been told the trains are quickly fully booked in India but I had heard the same thing about China and never had an issue buying last minute tickets. So here we were, at the Delhi train station, surprised to see so many people sleeping on the floor, ready to buy our tickets to Jaipur. We met a ticket officer who told us the office for foreigner was still closed and sent us to another office. There, the guy told us all the trains were fully booked for the next three days and our only option was to take a taxi. He saw that we didn’t trust him so he turned his screen to show us his booking system. After discussion we agreed with his proposal and bought the tickets to all the cities we had decided to visit.
We arrived in Jaipur in the afternoon and went straight to the fort. There were monkeys everywhere and at some point we stopped to watch one play with a dog. Suddenly, I heard an animal running behind me and before I realized it was a monkey, it jumped and pushed me in the back so hard that I almost stumbled. The following day we visited the other part of the city. What I really liked was the smile on people’s faces. We passed a car full of men who were throwing color powder, waving and welcoming us. In the afternoon our taxi driver proposed to show us around. He basically dropped us from one shop to another in order to receive presents from the owners.
The first thing we saw after arriving at the train station was crows feasting on a pig that had been cut in half by a train. Not too far from the lake, a guy welcomed us and gave us petals to throw in the water for good luck. At the lake, two other guys accosted us and proposed to show us their tradition and how they prayed. Because men and women cannot pray together they separated us. We didn’t have any reasons to be concerned and we weren’t far away from each other so we followed them. The prayer went on for two minutes before the guy asked me for a donation of 500 INR / member of my family. I told him that if I were to make a donation I should at least be the one who sets the price and he replied was 500 INR wasn’t much, that we Westerners are rich anyway. I told him I would put the money in one of the donation boxes I saw around the lake and he reacted like I anticipated, saying that I should just give him the money. At that point, my husband came back to me and we left without paying.
We stopped a little bit further to enjoy the view of the city and the women in their colorful dresses bathing around the lake. A boy came to talk with Lukas and asked him if I was his wife. Lukas said yes and the boy replied that he liked me. I didn’t react and pretended that I wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. After that he asked if we had children. Lukas said no and the answer to that was ‘oh, so no fucking vagina’. My jaw dropped, Lukas and I looked at each other, sure we had misunderstood what the boy had just said, but then he told us he was joking and ran away.
We arrived at 10PM, it was raining and we had no hotel. We knew that in those conditions the hotel managers would increase the prices of their rooms. What we didn’t expect is that most of them would tell us they had no vacancy. A rickshaw driver proposed to take us to a cheap hotel. The owner had two rooms left, bathroom and toilets reduced to a bucket in a corner and he wanted to charge us more than what was advertised at the reception. We refused and moved on to another hotel. The result wasn’t better so we paid the driver and decided to try to find something on our own. The guy wouldn’t stop following us and he was soon joined by other drivers. Every time we went to a hotel, they all followed us in. The receptionists, who had rooms available while we were alone, suddenly changed their minds after talking to the drivers. We realized we couldn’t keep wandering in the streets and we decided to go back to the train station. We hid in a street to get rid of the drivers but one was cleverer than the others and found us. We begged him to leave us alone when a man who was passing by asked us if we were in trouble. He told us he was a policeman and advised us to walk hand in hand because it would minimize our chances of being attacked. We followed his advice and arrived at the train station where we slept on a bench.
Surprisingly, the night wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We weren’t fresh but we were looking forward to visiting the Taj Mahal. Overall, we expected a lot more from Agra. The pollution made it hard to breath and we felt a change in the way people looked at us. Even though I was covered from neck to toes, the men stared at me in a very unpleasant way and often asked Lukas if I was his wife. The smiles we had in Jaipur and Pushkar had been replaced by less welcoming faces.
Our first impression was very positive. There were not many people in the streets, they seemed a lot nicer than in Agra and the fort was stunning. Later during the day, more people came to visit it and the atmosphere slowly changed. I noticed a group of three guys in their mid-twenties looking at me and laughing. They followed us around the fort and called me Lolita. Two minutes later, they passed me by and called me Lolita again. The third time I was so pissed off that I turned back and headed straight toward the guy who had just said it, pushed him and told him – not very nicely – to stop calling me that. One of the guards saw our altercation so he grabbed him by the shirt and told me to behave. I thought it was an isolated incident and tried to shake it off my mind but as we headed down to the center, another group of guys started to stare at me like it was the first time they saw another human being.
The street below the fort was packed with people. We couldn’t walk next to each other and sometimes there were several people between us. As we walked around we felt more and more uneasy. People stared at us in a very unpleasant way. For the first time in a foreign country, I was scared because I had the feeling that if someone decided to attack us, nobody would help us. We were the only tourists among thousands of people.
We found a hotel and stayed in our room the whole afternoon, leaving only to have dinner in a restaurant nearby. I love Indian food but my meals was so spicy I couldn’t eat it. I got sick two days after we landed and in Gwailor it got worse. I spent the whole night between the bed and the bathroom.
The following day we went to the train station and again, people stared at us. Several men even came to Lukas to know if I was his wife or if they could take pictures of me. I desperately waited for the train to arrive, hidden behind my backpack. That city is the worst place I’ve ever been to.
We arrived in Khajuraho late in the evening and after what had happened in Agra and especially Gwalior, I was a bit nervous. A tuk-tuk driver tookus to a hotel that was owned by a friend of his. He then accompanied us to a restaurant and talked about the temples while we ate. We’ve been there for less than two hours and I felt a million times better than in Gwailor.
After a good night sleep we went to visit the erotic temples. The carvings were beautiful and the park very well-maintained. After the visit we walk around the city. How pleasant that day was ! It was the highlight of our trip ; lovely people, good food and beautiful temples.
After the good time we had in Khajuraho we were relaxed. That was until an old man spat on me, only ten minutes after our train arrived in Varanasi. We asked several drivers to take us to the riverfront but none of them seemed to understand – or wanted to understand – leaving us no other choice than to walk. The traffic was so chaotic and noisy I thought I wouldn’t make it without an eardrum rupture. It took us a while to getto the Gange since we had no real map with us but we managed and found a hotel restaurant with a nice view. The owner and waiters were polite to my husband and pretended I didn’t exist, which I didn’t mind at that point. After checking-in we went out for a walk along the river and it didn’t take long before I was insulted by a young man. I seriously started to hate India and wished I could go back home immediately.
We went to have a look at the ghat where the dead are cremated. Because it is a religious site and out of respect for the grieving families, it is forbidden to take pictures but Lukas was fascinated by the place and he wanted to capture it. He hid behind the hospice where people come to die before being cremated, thinking that no one would see him but he was wrong. He was caught by an angry man who told him we could either give all the money we had to the hospice or follow him to the police station. We don’t know if he was bluffing or no and didn’t want to found out, so we paid. Luckily we didn’t have a lot of money left at that time. The whole experience scared the hell out of us and Lukas definitely learnt the lesson. Now that we didn’t have any money left, we needed to find an ATM. The guard in front of the first one didn’t allow us to withdraw cash and neither did the second. They didn’t explain why, they just shook their heads when they saw us approaching.
Our time in Varanasi seemed to be endless. At that point we didn’t want to walk around much anymore and we tried to avoid contact for fear of being scammed. We went on a boat tour and even though we had paid in advance for an hour, the guy asked us if we were done every ten minutes. And he even had the nerve to ask for a tip. One evening a young man approached us to talk about India and other countries we’ve visited. We had a good time talking with him and he was not the only person with which we had an interesting conversation but it all comes down to one thing in the end… can we give them money for this or that reason.
Our last day in India, finally. We arrived at the train station early in the morning and had the whole day before taking our flight back home. I instantly felt uncomfortable. Men came too close and stared for too long. I was used to people looking at me after traveling to China but in a different way. In China I felt more like a curiosity while in India I felt like I didn’t belong and wasn’t welcome.
After a couple of hours I insisted on waiting at the airport. The entrances are guarded and you can only get in if you have less than three hours to wait before your flight. Otherwise you’ll be parked in a small waiting room. And in that room, where people wait more than three hours, nobody thought necessary to have toilets. Nope. Toilets are outside, and don’t forget to take your passport and flight reservation with you otherwise they won’t let you get back in…