Women’s Safety Issues and Precautions in India

Nobuko is back in India and reporting about the general situation in regards to women, safety (or lack of it), and men’s attitudes. This is what she had to say:

Safety in India cannot be generalized. Certain areas are more challenging for women travellers, most notably Delhi which got a notorious reputation as the rape capital, and central and north-western states like Rajasthan, part of Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Bihar, and central Maharashtra.

I can speak for Mumbai (capital of Maharashtra) since I lived in a suburb called Santa Cruz, one hour north of the center, for three months last year. In Mumbai, I could go out till well past midnight and catch a auto rickshaw back to my place alone with no problem. No cat- calling, whistles, or groping. But I have met some European women accompanied by men being groped on streets or in trains, which are so packed!

Perhaps I got no hustle in Mumbai, because I am Asian and can appear as Nepali or someone from the northeastern states of India. Having said that, a young professional woman was raped and killed in her apartment last September in a suburb of Mumbai. The killer/rapist was the security guard of the building where she lived. And, to strengthen the stereotype, the stereotypes are from the Delhi area.

South India is like a different country, where people are civilized and many more people are educated and see women as people, not as meat. Well, even this cannot be generalized as I have heard from so many Caucasian women that in the city of Mysore, boys around age 8-9 spit out slurs like “Hey, you want f*@k?” and grope adult women! Clearly they are learning this type of behavior from older males around them.

I also have been to Sikkim state and have gone through Darjeeling in West Bengal state. There it feels very safe. I noticed a bigger Tibetan and Nepalese population. and I don’t want to come across as being racist against central and northern Indians, but I could not help guessing that perhaps Tibetans and Nepalis have a different upbringing, which gave me the impression that they are more liberal in terms of how they relate to women. Perhaps they have more self control, or getting more sex with consenting partners that they don’t feel the need to go out and rape fellow human beings.

Unfortunately, the Swiss rape victim a few weeks ago was camping (!!). I would NEVER dream of camping where she was – Madhy Pradesh, in central India, no matter if accompanied by a man or alone. If she had stayed in a guest house, I am sure nothing would have happened to her. I feel very bad for her, but here in India, visitors need to realize that they cannot do things that they are used to doing back home – including enjoying the freedom and safety to be able to camp.

Men in those areas I mentioned above are raised, in my opinion, in sick societies where respect towards women is probably unheard of. Even police and officials make public statements that justify such uncontrolled acts of men releasing their sexual compulsion by saying “Well, but she was walking / travelling alone after dark without the company of a male family member” or “She was drinking and smoking alone” or “She was improperly dressed, therefore provoking it”. This problem of violence and disrespect against women is more than skin deep as you can see.

If people in power think like this, why are we so puzzled when men raised with this type of norm go out and do whatever they want using women as their game?  They think of not only raping a helpless woman, but also hurt her by sticking a metal rod inside of her to the point where irreversible and fatal physical damages are caused?

Women in certain areas are not able to enjoy the same freedom as men do,  like going to a football game, drinking in a bar, going to visit friends after dark, or even travel to the next village alone. If she does, it’s her fault when men selfishly use her as an object to satisfy their pitiful sexual needs. Have any of these lower-than-animals thought of masturbating instead of raping? Masturbation is humane, hygienic, and convenient.

More and more I am learning that rape happens so much that people are desensitized. It’s like “Oh, yeah, my neighbor was raped last week.” “Ah, my cousin was raped last month”. But these normally happen to poor girls who are in the lower caste. And rapists are often sons of equally dick heads who hold power in politics or commerce.  So the cases go unreported.

In December, a case in Delhi made headlines, because it involved a middle class Indian woman, whose father was somewhat involved in local politics. That is why it became such a big news world wide.

And the Swiss woman was a foreigner, so there again, this made it to the news. But if the rape victim is of the lowest caste, there is no such luck, because caste society does not give a shit about those people – actually they are not considered human. Just another animal that does the jobs the others don’t want to do.

All this may result in my losing opportunities to interact with the locals, but the more time I spend (again, in certain places) in India, the more I feel it is not worth the risk of being harassed.

I’m iron-hard and cold towards Indian men. I give them dirty looks when they stare at me and am not afraid to make a scene by yelling at them to catch other people’s attention. when those scum bags approach me with distasteful, to say the least, behavior and comments.

Thanks, Nobuko, for sharing your insights here with us.

Notes From Malaysia and India

Nobuko, world traveller and occasional guest-blogger, is reporting from Malaysia and India (February 2013).

The second leg of my year-long trip began in Japan. I had some rare reunions which were fun! And I got to meet my 6-month old nephew, a new addition to the family. I got to eat raw and grilled oysters and noodles like there is no tomorrow.

I had my fare share of sake and shochu as I had nighty-night drinks at the end of the day… So, no wonder the time in Japan and the preceding month in the U.S.A. put back all the weight I had lost (8 pounds), and hence my mother’s comment “You said you lost weight, but it does not look like it”.

From Fukuoka, I flew with China Eastern via Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur (KL). I do not recommend China Eastern to anyone. The layover in Shanghai was supposed to be only 3 hours, but it became a horrible 8-hour wait without any announcement of a clear explanation. And they changed departure gate three times, again without a clear announcement.

Anyway, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 5 a.m. I wanted to go to Pulau Pnagkor, but the first bus from the KL airport did not leave until 9:30am. I killed time by taking advantage of using its free wi-fi.

The bus was served by Star Shuttle, with very comfortable seats and a blasting AC. The trip was supposed to take 5-6 hours, but we made it to Sitiwan in 4.5 hours. From Sitiwan, there are buses to Lumit 10 km away which has a ferry dock to Pulau Pangkor. The ferry ride was 40 minutes and the round trip ticket was 10 MR.

Pulau Pangkor does not have buses, so I had to get a taxi which was 15 MR – very expensive considering a mere 4 km journey to Nipha Bay, on the west side of the island. There are tons of guest houses there, but cheap ones are not in abundance. I settled in a Nipha camp dorm for 20 MR.

I like beach towns. I like reading while lying in a hammock. Basically, I don’t do too much of anything. But this time, I met a mother-daughter team from Japan. The mom wanted to go on a scooter ride, but both herself and her daughter were scared of driving it. Hence I came into the picture as a driver. It had been well over 10 years since I drove a scooter (in Thailand), so I was a bit scared myself – especially when I saw that the vehicle they gave us was not a scooter, but a small motorcycle (1000 cc).

I practiced for 30 minutes going up and down the same street. Then I got the mom on the back and made a circle around the island. After about 30 minutes, I got the hang of it and I was able to enjoy the ride and the view.

Just as Chinese New Year rolled in, I went back to KL. KL is a wonderful city! Bukit Bingtan’s Alor street has loads of eateries and come alive after dusk with neon signs and crowds of people. I met a friend of my friend there and we had dinner. I really wish that I had given more time to Malaysia instead of only just one week. The locals are friendly, food is great, and the infrastructure is good.

From KL I flew Air Asia to Chennai, India. I had no particular reason to go to Chennai, but I wanted to see a sea side city in South India. I took the  train from outside the airport to the Egmore area (17 Rupees). The train was crowded, but having been baptized in Mumbai previously (which was far more crowded and cut-throat to get on or off), it was an easy ride.

I settled in the Triplicane neighborhood and shared a 450 Rupee room with a young Japanese boy I had met on the plane. The couchsurfing group in Chennai is very active, so some of them came out to hang out a few times.

One member invited me to his wedding although we had never met in person. I went to the temple on the wedding day, but there were well over 50 weddings happening at the same time! So I could not find his party. But I was adopted by another party who had nothing to do with me, and I observed the wedding and even ate lunch with them. This is Indian hospitality, everyone.

Wedding in India

After Chennai, I took a night train (12 hrs) to Guntakal. From there, I took three buses which took another 5-6 hours, and finally reached Hampi. It is one of the largest open air museums, with ruins everywhere and most of them free to enter. I took a bike tour for 350 Rupees. It was good, but having been to Cappadocia in Turkey, it is pretty hard to feel the same magnitude of excitement.

Hampi, India

Sure, Hampi is Hampi, Cappadocia is Cappadocia, but… Hampi has a big pot scene with many tourists who look like hippies, but mostly the young crowd. The highlight of Hampi for me was meeting (and touching) the temple elephant, Lakshmi!!  If you give a 10 Rupee note, she gently takes it with her trunk and blesses you by touching your head with her trunk!!

She is massive, but makes no sound when she walks. And the way she walked had a funny swing to it, she was just so cute!

Blessing from Laskhmi, the elephant

From Hampi (well, really from the town of Hospet), I took another night train to Hyderabad, again a 12-hour ride. After reaching the train station at 6:45am, I took the city bus # 127 to Jubilee Check post, where the couchsurfer Arun came to pick me up. As he had to work that day, I took buses into the Old City part. This involved three buses and 90 minutes. In cities, the points of interests are spread out, and couchsurfers tend to live outside the center, so this was expected.

The Old City was very authentic. Charminar (4 pillars) offers a great view from the top. There are big pearl and silver/gold jewelry areas, but the merchants hardly ever approached me. So I was able to browse and look around in peace.

This night, around 7pm, there were three bomb blasts about 10 km from the Old City, which took the lives of 30 some people and wounded 50 more. By this time, I was back at the couchsurfer’s house, and only came to know about it by a phone call from a friend. My host came home with carry-out food since going out into the street involved many police check points.

The next day, public transportation was back to normal, so I went to Golconda Fort (again, three buses and 90 minutes ride). I like forts. I was completely in heaven when I had visited Rajasthan for this reason.

But the Golconda Fort was equally great. It offers a 360-degree panorama view of the city of Hyderabad. In one area, you can see modern high-rises and domes of the old mosques behind the fort wall – I think this view represents today’s Hyderabad very well. But the heat and dehydration took a tall on me – on my 3rd day here, I had a massive headache and felt exhausted. So I slept the whole day away – and wrote this.

Notes From Udaipur, India

This is Nobuko’s travel report. From India, with love.

July 2012 Udaipur: Second Round

So now a full circle has been made – I returned to Udaipur on 18 July. I took a night bus from Jodhpur which was by far the worst ride. Throughout my trip, the quality of taking the night bus with a sleeper kept declining. I don’t know why. It left Jodhpur at 10pm and I fell asleep despite the bumpy ride. But a fellow passenger woke me up around 1:30am and said that I had to get off the bus.
I looked around and everyone was gone. Seemed that the bus we were on had broken down and we had to wait for another one. We all sat around – about 2:30am another bus came with passengers on it already, but amazingly we were all able to get in. People made sure that I got a sleeper slot. Only after that, they sat on the floor in the corridor, where there was no seat. This was how all of us managed to stay on.
The temperature in Udaipur had dropped since I visited almost three weeks back. But this time I had to swat at mosquitoes! I stayed at the same hostel, Hanuman Ghat, run by friendly Babaji. Udaipur is well set up for us foreign tourists with bookstores that sell books in English, coffee shops that make great sandwiches (if you are missing western bread and good coffee), and zillions of money exchange outlets that offers a very good rate at 54 R, far better than Mumbai’s 51 R. I found the book Shantaram, a book recommended by many people.
I ran into the two Swiss girls I had met in Jodhpur, where we had been staying at the same hostel, then again here in Udaipur. They left for Goa the next day. After seeing them off, I went to a corner store to get toilet paper (no, I have not learned how to go without paper). The store keeper was a very friendly woman called Vidhya. She told me about a festival that went on by one of the lakes, and invited me to go with her on the day that was reserved specially for women only: No Gents!  Vidhya told me that it was done this way to prevent “gents going crazy”. Yeah, I understand and appreciate it 🙂
On the day of the festival, I arrived at her store and found her dressed in a very nice sari. Her mom, aunt, nieces and nephews came along too. The kids were so cute, and kept me in good company. The little ones swung from my arms and climbed on my back and made me into a playground jungle gym. I am glad that my body held up for such a roughing.
The festival was like a street fair lined with vendors, where people browsed and bought snacks, wind-up toys that made awful noises, and inflated dinosaurs, etc…. A garden, which normally charges an entrance fee was free on that day, and we picnicked there. Vidhya and her family brought home cooked food (aloo, bhindi, chapatti and sweets called sheel). Vidhya wanted to take a boat ride in the lake. We all stood in the ticket line, and maybe because I was with a big family, I was able to buy it at  Indian price (although I was ready to pay the foreign price). I like this kind of inconsistency.
Udaipur is my last stop in Rajasthan. All in all, it is definitely not a boring place to visit. And the forts and palaces are just so romantic. I thought many times that I would never come to Rajasthan again,but I now think that I will come again if I have a chance, hopefully with company to make it more pleasant.

Notes From Jodhpur, India

My guest-blogging friend Nobuko shares her travel experience with us. With love, from India. 
Jodhpur- The Blue City
It is called the Blue City, because many houses are painted blue. Reportedly, the blue color repels mosquitoes as well. I arrived by bus from Jaisalmer, a journey that supposedly takes four hours, but as always it took longer, more like 5.5 hours.
Along the route, a woman boarded. She had herself covered in a sari, but I could see her features occasionally when the sunlight shone on her. She was strikingly beautiful! I wanted to take her picture, but I could not find a way to be discreet about it, because she was also staring at me, too!  Maybe she did not know that I was looking at her since I had sunglasses on…

Once, dropped off outside the city proper of Jodhpur, I was in a dreadful anticipation of the inevitable rickshaw madness which awaited me. I think it is a kind of initiation or Right of Passage before I am allowed to enter a new city each time I arrive. I am getting better at haggling, or so I thought. I played a hard game by ignoring quotes of 80 to 100 rupees and sticking to my gun; 40 rupees.

And eventually, I found a guy willing to take me for 40 rupees.  In my mind I did this “Yes!” motion of making a fist and pulling the elbow back by bending my arm like seen during sports events when our team scores – you know what I am talking about?  But this prick dropped me off 3 km from my destination!  Since my hostel was located off the main road, I did not know that I was so far from the destination. Meandering around the street, I was helped by kind passerbys who not only got me another rickshaw, but also negotiated the rate on my behalf.
Cosy Guest House, tucked away by narrow winding lanes and leading up to a hill, became my temporary home in Jodhpur. It has a magnificent view of the Fort and its West Gate. At the hostel, I ran into Thomas and Adrian whom I had met in Jaisalmer. They were off to a three-day camel ride in Jaisalmer - which I thought was insane – but they returned one day early due to its intolerable heat. The tour companies should not sell safaris that lasts more than two days during the summer, unless they send along an emergency aid team.
The three of us went to the Fort via the West Gate. This Fort had never been taken over by any enemies and it is the pride of Jodhpur. The path to the entrance was dotted by musicians dressed in traditional attires and playing traditional folk music. I tell you, it is so captivating to hear the music at an old historic site – it can trance you back in time and make you want to twirl around and sway your head as well.
I particularly liked a guy playing a string instrument called Ravanhatta. He let me play it. It is like a violin, but you have to keep the bow taut by pressing the thumb on it while playing, which made it dificult to produce a pleasing sound. Check out if you want – doesn’t it just make you want to spin round and round?:
The museum inside was actually very nice with extensive information explaining each item on exhibit. It was 300 R for a foreigner, but the cost includes the audio guide as well, which usually can run 80 R. The most impressionable and a bit creepy sight was the handprints left on the wall by court women, who had to die in Sati (funeral practice in which widowed women immolated themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre) as they left the fort gate for the last time to make the procession before they were brought to the funeral site.
The theme of one of the exhibits was Origins of the Cosmic Oceans. It says:
Hindu philosophy understands the universe to be periodically destroyed and recreated. When the present world is not in existence, the Absolute (Sat Brahman) alone is present. The emergence of Consciousness (Purusha) and Matter (Prakriti) from the Absolute, creates the cosmic ocean and thus the Universe. According to Nath teachings, the mahasiddhas (great perfected beings) remain sentient during the intervals between creation, when the cosmos is covered with vast waters.
Thomas and Adrian knew all the good spots in town, one of which was a Lassi shop. They serve the thickest and tastiest Lassi!  It is so thick that they give you a spoon to scoop the last bit of what you paid for. If nobody had been watching me, I would have stuck my index finger in to swipe the cup clean, as  I believe the index finger was made for such function. But all smiley eyes were on us, so I controlled myself.
What I noticed about Jodhpur is that the locals leave tourists alone. I realized that I had been so much on guard when I arrived in Jodhpur. But people gave me friendly smiles, including women. I experienced no harrasement even when I walked alone, apart from Thomas and Adrian. Shop keepers just call out once or twice. The only persistent ones are those who work at the spice shops, I don’t know why…
I enjoyed my stay there, so I highly recommend Jodhpur.

Notes from Jaisalmer – Going on a Village Safari

My friend, Nobuko, is reporting from her trip to India. At the moment, she is still in Jaisalmer, Raijasthan, India. Jaisalmer is one of the major tourist attractions and a cultural hub in South Asia. Located in the western Rajasthan region amid Thar Desert, it is also close to the Indo-Pak boarder.

A few more days in Jaisalmer (The Golden City), July 2012

I got used to moving like a sloth and not doing much while temps are in the upper 40°Cs. I usually dip the sheet in water and then sleep on it to cool down. Laundry dries up in a mere 2-3 hours which makes it easy to wash clothes daily. After all, the hot desert climate is not too bad.

I joined two nice South Korean men for a Village Safari, a two-day trip. A tour called Village Safari does not sound good – like we are going to see village people like others see animals  at the zoo. But the tours are there to let tourists see and take part in the village life for a cultural experience/exchange. An old Indian guy told me that there was a time the villagers invited tourists since they genuinely wanted to get to know them.

But not now. The villagers, after 35 years of a continuous inflow of tourists, seemed jaded, and now are interested only in financial gains, not in any sort of person to person exchange.

But again, I think this is a natural development. A whole family may live on less than $1 per day and we come into their community loaded, wanting to take pictures of exotic people wearing exotic clothes and ornaments / hennas, singing and playing bewitching folk songs and music. Having said that, we felt less than welcome there.

While we did not understand what the villagers were saying, it was clear that they made fun of us – I realized that this type of laughter can be so offensive and hurtful. We left prematurely before our time was up. I wish they denied entry rather than receiving us, only to exploit us.

This tour had a camel ride included which we all enjoyed. Jaisalmer offers dunes – though small – and for this reason it is a better place to do the camel ride than any other places in Rajasthan. Also the price was nearly half (800 R) of what I paid in Bikaner (1500 R). I love sleeping outside. The sky was cloudy and stars could not be seen, but it was so nice to sleep without a roof above.

Jaisalmer Fort is such a great place to wander around. It is so small that one will not get lost despite the countless winding small lanes resembling a mini-maze. Jaisalmer has several bookstores selling books in English. I have been hunting for a book called Shantaram as it was recommended by three people on this trip. I found it, but it was a whopping 600 R – it’s not that much, I know, but when my hostel room costs 200 R per night, I have to think about such a purchase. I decided to wait until I go back to Udaipur. Instead, I bought a Hindi dictionary. But I am getting only 50% of its worth since I only can look up words in the English-Hindi part, not in the Hindi-English part…yet.

I have learned some words and used them when I bought an entry ticket – “Ek ticket (one ticket)” is all I said, but the attendant broke into a big smile. This made me want to learn more and use what I know, no matter how broken I sound. I also learned “Challa (let’s go)” and “Tola Tola ( or Tora Tora? means a little) which I love saying, because it sounds cute to me.

I have met a Japanese couple at the hotel. They have been on the road for an indefinite amount of time, drifting around North Africa – Middle East – India – South East Asia. I enjoyed their company. Many times I find the Japanese I meet during my travels to be stand-offish, and not wanting to hang out with other Japanese. But this couple was very open and friendly. They have mastered all the To Dos, e.g. eating finger food without spilling or messing up oneself like a baby who needs a bib (a.k.a. as me), drinking local water without getting sick, using the toilet without needing toilet paper, etc etc… I apprenticed under their tutelage for two days, but it was not so easy…

We visited a Haveli *(mansion) which had a room covered with mirrors and colored tiles on all of its walls, ceiling and floor. It was like entering a dazzlingly blinding disco even during the day.

In cities of the Gujarat and Rajasthan regions, one can hear prayers from mosques five times a day. It is such a soothing sound and it is one of the things I enjoy here.

* Havelis are huge ancestral mansions with open courtyards,  and were built in Rajasthan for Wazirs, i.e. ministers and landlords. Some of them have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and museums. Believed to be of Persian origin.