After years of traveling in India, I still feel I haven’t seen half of the country, but here are some of my most memorable India travel experiences, from standing on top of the world in the Himalayas to swimming with a dolphin in Kerala. One of my favorite experiences in the first on my list. Khardung La or Khardung Pass is an elevation of over 18,000 feet and in India, they claim it is “world’s highest motorable pass”. Check out this Travel Experience video (the featured woman Is NOT me!):
Standing on Top of Khardung La in Ladakh
Khardung La in Ladakh, in the northernmost part of India, is (almost) the world’s highest motorable mountain pass. I say almost since the official height is 18 380 ft but individuals with their own GPS claim to have measured much less.
It might be that Khardung La, also known as K-Top, is only the second or the third highest motorable mountain pass in the world – but as you stand on top of the mountain in the middle of the Himalayas, looking at some of the highest mountaintops in the world, do you really care? Located approximately 26 miles outside Leh, the capital of Ladakh, Khardung La is the highest I’ve ever been.
Looking into the Eyes of a Wild Elephant in Nagarahole
We are driving through the Nagarahole National Park in South India’s Karnataka on a Royal Enfield motorbike (and when I say driving, I mean my boyfriend was driving one of his Enfields and I was sitting in the back, admiring the lush scenery) when we see a giant wild Asian elephant in the middle of the road. He’s standing barely 30 feet from us and we know that if he decides to charge, he’s going to be a lot faster than us. Check out also this post about Odisha Tribal Heritage and Ancient Art.
The road we’re driving on has never seen tarmac and instead consists mainly of potholes and sand. The maximum speed we have managed on this road so far has been around 12 miles an hour and wild Asian elephants can, apparently, run a lot faster. Ahead of us, on the other side of the elephant, four Indian bikers have stopped and are frantically waving their arms above their heads and shouting at us to not to move. We are lucky in the end: the elephant looks at us but decides to move on to the jungle. There is also a lot of Ancient Elephant Art in India. Just click on the link to learn more.
Swimming in the Ocean with a Dolphin in Kerala
We are swimming in the warm ocean off a white sandy beach in North Kerala, India’s tropical holiday heaven, when we notice silvery flash in the waves just a few feet from us. It is a dolphin on its own early morning swim. This is part of my love of India. It jumps around in the waves around us, and the magic of the moment is only spoilt when my boyfriend starts to wonder if the fin we see disappearing in the waves really belongs to a dolphin, or is if it is a shark.
Watching Bodies Burn by the River Ganges in Varanasi
Sitting by the stone steps that lead to the holy river Ganges, watching bodies burn at the cremation ghat as crowds of people bathe in the river to wash away their sins, is a cliche yet it is an experience that has stayed with me from the very first time I traveled to India in 1999 on one of those typical India backpacker trips that consisted mainly of getting repeatedly sick from dodgy street food and spending a lot of time in the toilet. But the good thing is that you’ll always be surrounded by Ancient Art, no matter where you are in India.
I was sick in Varanasi, too, but I managed to drag myself to the holy river to watch thousands of pilgrims dip into the filthy water that is believed to have the ability to purify one’s sins. The smell of the burning bodies, sweat, dirt and cow dung has somehow, in my memories, been replaced by a romantic image of the sunset over the Ganges and the scent of sandalwood incense.
India Travel Tips for Women Travelers
It is a sunny Saturday morning in South India and I’m walking down a busy shopping street in Mysore. It is a typical South Indian street: wealthy housewives in colorful saris have gathered around vegetable sellers’ carts to examine bunches of fresh coriander and mountains of ginger root, groups of men stand at a tea stall drinking sweet Indian chai, a cow wanders among scooters, three-wheeled autorickshaws, decrepit buses, white Ambassador cars and thin men on rusty old bicycles.
As I look at a pile of brightly colored plastic buckets next to an even more colorful pile of what looks like Christmas decorations three months after Christmas, a squeaky nasal voice right behind me says “Hello sexy!” As I turn around, I see an Indian teenage boy dressed in jeans and a shirt that is very tight around the armpits. I ignore him as I also did at the recent Happy Diwali festivities in November.
As I am walking home later, someone right behind me demands: “Show your ass!” It is the same teenager, this time on a bicycle. The boy cycles by and as he moves forward, he keeps turning around to stare at me. I tell him to disappear.
The boy cycles up the hill ahead of us, and when he gets to the top of the hill, he turns around and starts to pedal frantically back down towards me. I am convinced he is going to try to grab my handbag, so I hold on to it tightly, but as he approaches me at rapidly increasing speed, it is not my bag he goes for: it is my right boob. Extending his arm out at the exact moment the bike passes me, he tries to grab my right breast, but his aim is not the best and instead of my boob he sticks his hand into my armpit.
“You piece of s***!” I scream. Traffic stops, a bus driver slows down and asks if I am ok (while his 50-odd passengers stare at me) and people who were standing idly in their front gardens chatting to their neighbors all turn to look at me.
Harassment of Women or Eve-Teasing in India
This is called eve-teasing and it is unfortunately very common in India. Eve-teasing means touching, groping, following and staring at women: in short, different levels of sexual harassment. It affects both Indian and foreign women and it is bound to happen to any woman who travels in India long enough. India has introduced laws against eve-teasing, but a very small percentage of actual incidents even end up in court.
This guy was too fast anyway: as I try to run after him he has already disappeared. I later find out that I was not the only “victim” as other foreign women in Mysore tell me similar stories. But overall, I traveled safely and lived happily while I visited all these famous monuments on my travels through India.
How to Prevent Eve-Teasing in India
The best way for women to avoid unnecessary problems when traveling in India is to dress appropriately, and in India, this means as conservatively as possible. Cover your shoulders and at least your knees (ankle-length skirts and trousers are best) and avoid anything see-through or too tight. While women in India’s modern cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi wear Western clothes, and while a bikini is fine on the tourist beaches in Goa and Gokarna, most Indian women in small towns (where you can actually find the best and most delicious food) and in the countryside still wear a traditional sari or a salwar kameez (loose tunic, loose long pants, and a long scarf).
How to Deal With Harassment in India
When dealing with eve-teasing, remember that nobody has to accept blatant sexual harassment as “part of the local culture” and every woman has the right to defend herself against an attack.
If you end up in an uncomfortable situation, seek help. There are over one billion people in India and there is always going to be someone around. If you are being followed, get help from passers-by or the police, or confront the follower or groper in front of a large crowd: public humiliation works wonders. In buses and trains, take advantage of “ladies seats” and “ladies carriages”. Traveling in South India can be easier for Western female travelers than in some parts of North India.