Rating for LGBT Travellers.
Words canNOT fathom India, if I were to tell you about every bizarre experience, this article would turn into a novel. It's a place impossible to describe, which in turn makes it really hard to write about.
India is one of those places you know exists, but you don't know how real it is until you see it with your own eyes. Being female, white and western in India, you stick out like a sore thumb. Constantly you are stared at by men with alluring and demeaning glares, along with being persistently asked for photos. As many people know women's rights are few and far in India and you can't help but notice it everywhere you go. For example Isabelle, my girlfriend, got irritated with men telling her she couldn’t smoke simply because she was female. In Old Delhi if you were to smoke and you are female, men will go as far as to push the cigarette out of your hand whilst you are smoking.
However the 'Women’s Only Carriages' in both Delhi and Mumbai put a serious note on the situation. India has been ranked the fourth most dangerous place to live as a woman, with an estimated 93 woman a day being raped, and yet that is only what's reported and not a true reflection on the actuality (1, TimesofIndia). The 'women only' carriages along with 'women only' queue’s and waiting rooms are there for the safety of women in an attempt to control the amount of assaults that happen in the major cities, and when you are there yourself, you are so thankful for them. Unfortunately Mumbai's Metro system for the 'Women Only' carriage has the slogan, 'We know your special, so an exclusive zone for you', which I thought was extremely patronising, ignorant and oblivious to the situation. Moreso having the segregation of genders is not a solution to tackling the safety of women and improving gender equality. It highlights the severity of the problems for women within India, and the stupidity of the government thinking that segregation of the sexes is an 'intelligent solution' to a more deep routed problem.
Despite the endless amount of upsetting and depressing facts in regards to human rights within India, along with the long list of problems we faced travelling as females' there were a handful of people, specifically men, of whom completely restored our faith in India - with their liberal, forward thinking opinions and viewpoints. I will never forget one guy, named Mubaarak, a complete stranger that we met whilst having dinner on a roof top in Udaipur. Mubaarak was a 'Tuc-Tuc' driver from Jaipur, who was taking some time off from working. Somehow we ended up talking until after midnight about everything from arranged marriage, promiscuity of women, homosexuality and the class system. He didn’t have one opinion that we didn’t agree with, such a genuine character who made sure we got back to our hostel safely without wanting anything in return, a genuine rare occurrence.
The main highlight of visiting India is simply experiencing it's bizarre and chaotic culture; every single person comes away with different view points. For me, visiting India was a constant 'yo-yo': One minute I would want to get on the next available flight out of India, and the next minute I would be completely astonished and love it again.
From my perspective India is not a LGBT travel destination and at no point during our trip I felt I could be myself with Isabelle, except for when we partied with Ryan ,my friend living in delhi, at a house party with western ex-pats and modern Indians. For this reason I have given India a ONE STAR rating. ONE STAR because not everyone you meet along the way is homophobic and misogynistic. As previously stated, these people restored our faith in India. India has so much to offer, both visually and culturally but it's the backward mentality that lets it down. It's sad to say, but I think I would have enjoyed India a lot more if I was male.
Due to India being such a huge place, I have decided to show below the route in which we took, and highlight the worst and best things in regards to each place we stopped: Along with some recommendations that will go a long way if you are planning a trip to India.
Delhi - A culture shock and a half. It's here you really feel like you have entered another world. Delhi was one of my favourite places because things that you think are not possible, are very much possible. Within the space of two minutes you can see a family of five on one scooter, a cow pottering along through full speed traffic, and a child washing naked in the street. Everything's huge mixture of noise, smells and colour. We were lucky enough to have a friend living in South Delhi, which is most definitely the place to stay if you go, due to it being the safest area. Our friend was an amazing host and really taught us some tricks to tackle India. You have to go to Delhi just to see it's wonderful chaos, it's fabulous for markets, and has an array of amazing food. However if your in Delhi there are several things you must do.
*Get an Indian sim card when you're there. It costs nothing and is useful for finding the place's you want to go to, because everyone will try to take you where you don’t want to go, and that's what you want to avoid.
*Always ask for the meter on the 'Tuc Tuc' or 'Auto' - what might seem cheap to you is actually quadruple the price and then doubled ten times. It is in fact illegal for the driver to not use the meter.
* Be careful when approached by people begging whilst your in a 'Auto'. It's here they will take the chance to swarm the car whilst you can't physically move because you're stuck in traffic. A friend was in this situation, and was approached by a eight year old girl begging for money: When he said that he didn't have anything, she took out a needle and stabbed herself with it, and then tried to stab him! It's also not wise to give children money, as you could be fuelling something more sinister.
As for the Gay scene in Delhi, I think its pretty much still underground. I wouldn’t recommend trying to find the apparent 'gay bars' in Delhi, as I wouldn’t recommend being outside as females when it's dark. This due to Delhi being the scariest place I have been so far. You don’t feel completely safe as a woman in the day, let alone at night.
Varanasi- Home to one of the holiest places in the World. A town surrounded by the sacred River Ganges, also the dirtiest place I have ever been. It's here you can really see how important the role of religion is in peoples lives. The River Ganges itself is used as a burial ground for Hindus. People flock from all over the World to bury and cremate family members, as well as bathing themselves in the river and drinking the water. Along the river you can see the burning 'ghats, where bodies are openly cremated by the side of the river to then the ashes thrown into the water. However not all bodies can be cremated, several bodies are tied to rocks and submerged into the water, these are people with Leprosy, Elephants foot, Snake Bite, Hepatitis and Homosexuals. When the bodies of the Homosexual people finally rise to the top of the water, their bodies are taken out of Varanasi and beaten. The family then pray that their life 'never returns'. At this point I questioned why I was putting money into Varanasi's tourism industry, and in fact, why I was in India at all. It was this factor that really made me dislike the place. Below is a link to a clip of the Homophobic Guide who said that this process of beating homosexuals was 'amazing'.
Agra - The main attraction, and almost the only attraction in Agra is the Taj Mahal. Obviously it's a must see, due to it being one of the Seven Wonders of the World. However I would recommend not paying to get in to the actual building but just visiting one of the several roof top restaurants where you can view it for free, whilst being able to enjoy a bottle of 'Kingfisher' or two. Entering the Taj Mahal is actually very stressful and not to be done when hungover from a personal experience. Once you're in the building everyone is fighting over photo spots, and you realise it actually looks best from afar.
Jaipur - For me, Jaipur wasn't amazing, maybe that’s because we spent 5 hours washing the entire content of our backpack due to being massacred by bed bugs on the fourteen hour sleeper train from Varanasi to Agra. We never took the 'sleeper class' train again after that ordeal. We spent one day in Jaipur visiting Agra Fort and Water Palace. We took up a offer made by one of the 'Tuc Tuc' drivers to show us around for the whole day in his 'Auto' and at the end of the day we could pay him what we thought his day trip was worth. In his own words 'If you don’t like then you don’t have to pay'. - Do not trust anyone who says this. Between three of us, we gave him 400 rupee's, the equivalent of £4, which is more than he could have made in around 3 hours, however he wasn’t impressed. Looking back it seems incredibly little but one of the main things you shouldn’t do in India is compare your money to pounds or your home currency, As you’ll end up spending way more. Always compare the amount to things you have previously purchased in India. My general rule was, whatever price they quoted, halve it. Isabelle pushed it as far as purchasing things for one third of the price they quoted.
Pushkar and Udaipur - Two beautiful small towns surrounding lakes that are around a five hour bus journey away from each other. We visited Pushkar first and I would recommend visiting here out of the two towns. Both are very cosy and romantic, but Pushkar is by far the friendliest, and you receive very little hassle of people forcing you to purchase things. It was here we took a camel safari into the mini desert they have there, which was a highlight of the trip, the landscape was incredible. I would recommend stopping in Hotel Everest, which is £7 a night for a luxurious double poster bedroom and it also has the most fabulous roof terrace over looking the town. The owner also has couple of pet turtles running around the terrace. Udaipur on the other hand is double the size of Pushkar. It's the town where James bond's 'Octopussy' was filmed. One of my favourite things here was watching the sunset from a cable car which took you up to the top of a mountain overlooking the whole of Udaipur. You shouldn’t miss visiting the outdoor theatre which shows Rajasthani Folk Dance, watching a old lady balance 10 pots on top of her head whilst standing on glass and dancing is most definitely entertaining.
Mumbai and the south, Goa and kerala - The south is completely different to the north, i'ts more expensive and a lot more touristy. Its' the more advanced and cleaner part of India. We only spent two days in Mumbai, but it feels a lot more safer and statistically it is, along with being a lot less poverty stricken. I would recommend visiting the Dhobi Ghat which you will recognise as the laundry district featured in 'Slumdog millionaire', where everyone washes there clothes outside. Visiting the south of India is completely refreshing because all of the other places are so chaotic in comparison. It really feels like two different countries. Goa is great for partying if you like trance music, and Palolem Beach is a mini paradise, you can rent a beach hut there for £3 a night and it's just 100 metres from the sea.
Kerala feels like a mini jungle, taking the sleeper train from Goa to Alleppey (the house boat backwater area) is incredibly stunning in the morning. You really realise the vast amount of different landscapes India has to offer, not forgetting the Indian Himalayan region which we didn’t have time to visit. Alleppey holds the gateway to the backwaters where you can rent a house boat for the night. We rented a one from the jetty on the morning we wanted to depart. It's here you can view and compare a variety of house boats and snap up a bargain. We shared a house boat with 5 other girls and had a en suite double bedroom, breakfast lunch and dinner (which to note was the best food I had tasted during the entire trip) for £15 each. However other than the novelty of having your private boat and sailing around the backwaters. It's actually quite overrated; a glorified lake with some palm trees and people living along side the water way, nothing visually thrilling.
Our last stop was Varkala, a four hour, 80p bus drive away from Alleppey. A lovely beach town with plenty of western food on offer and a variety of surfing spots. Both Varkala and Palolem are the perfect relaxation spots if you want a more chilled break in India.