Tag Archives: traveling alone

Traveling in India: Kisses at the Taj Mahal

It is only be apt that when I was in India I ran into a man intent on kissing me at the Taj Mahal.  Actually, it was while I was walking there, in the city of Agra. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century as a memorial of love after the death of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth with their fourteenth child. (That would be enough to kill most people.)

The Taj Mahal houses the bodies and sarcophagi of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal and is considered one of the best examples of Mughal architecture as well as being a monument to love. Lovers and scads of tourists visit it every year. I did the same, getting up early one morning in Agra and walking to the Taj. I had dysentery at this point and while ill, this particular day left me with a little more strength and a calmer stomach than on other days.

India is so polluted that often the day begins hazy or cloudy and an orangey-gray cast fires up the sky. It turns out to look quite pretty in pictures and the day started like this. As I walked along a Sikh guy on his scooter puttered up beside me and asked the three ubiquitous questions given to every woman traveller: what’s your name, where are you from, are you married? So it went and then he asked if I’d like a ride. I said no thanks; I had got up early so that I could actually walk to the monument.

A little while later, as he kept pace with my walking, he said, “I love you.” Startled I said, “Uh, thanks.” Then he asked, “Don’t you love me?” Put on the spot, somehow not wanting to be rude, I finally came up with, “I love you like I love all my fellow human beings.” This pacified him a bit or gave him something to chew on.

The problem is in India (or was at that time) they only had American movies to go on as to what North American women were like. India is a culture (or the parts I was in anyways) where men and women do not touch in public. It’s common to see men holding hands but you’ll never see this between the genders. A titillating Indian movie often has the wet sari scene that shows off the woman’s curves while still keeping her modestly dress, and kissing just doesn’t happen in their movies. So then you see a North American movie and all women are wearing form fitting clothes, kissing and touching men and often disrobing after some James Bond caper or the moment, in the movie, when the guy says I love you.

It was a naiveté in which I never felt threatened but was kinda cute and sometimes irritating. As I continued to the Taj Mahal, the Sikh man then said, “Won’t you kiss?” I answered, “No, I will not.”

“But why? I love you.” To which I responded, “I don’t just kiss anyone who says they love me.” Eventually he puttered off and I continued to the Taj Mahal, unkissed and happy.

It was unusual to hear of many rapes in India but then I don’t know the frequency of those that were reported.  I have heard these days that there are more happening. I never felt threatened ever in India and there were a few other times that the men tried to come on to me or kiss me. But that naiveté has probably warn off and with the advent of computers in to one of the world’s most populated countries, it is definitely opening the eyes of many.

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Losing it in India

In1989 I travelled through India for two months. The first month I spent in a tribal state with a friend and the second I travelled through northern India and Nepal. There are many tales from that trip but this one takes place in the last two weeks.

I was in Delhi and sick as a dog with dysentery. I was puking, had diarrhea and generally could not eat. But I tried to see a couple of things and finally dragged myself out one day. I can’t remember but I think I went to the Red Fort. I bargained with a rickshaw driver for a price. This was one of the motorized rickshaws and when we finally agreed on a price, I said to the driver, that’s for both directions, there and back? And he agreed.

So off we went. When we arrived, he asked how long I would be, and I said an hour or two. I had no idea because it was a large site and I was still pretty sick and lethargic. So I wandered around and took pictures and then came out about an hour and a half later. The driver started berating me, standing with about eight other drivers, saying I’d taken too long and that it would cost more, etc. After some arguing, with the other drivers giving their opinions in his support, I couldn’t take it and felt ganged up on so I took out half the money for half the trip and gave it to him and then went and got a bicycle rickshaw.

By this point I was completely distraught and depressed and didn’t even pay attention to anything. I just let the driver take me back to the hostel. Except the hostel was off of Connaught Circle (can you see British influence in that name?), a gigantic traffic circle with radial roads. Far too much traffic zooms through there so bicycle rickshaws must stop at stands at the edge of the circle so as not to interrupt traffic flow.

We arrived at the stop, I paid the rickshaw driver and started to walk when I heard “memseeb, memseeb.” I turned and there was the motorized rickshaw driver with two cops. At that point I completely freaked out. I started crying and shouting at them, holding my wrists together to them saying things like, “Just lock me up. Your country is trying to destroy me. Go ahead and take me away.”

The cops were so flabbergasted I don’t think they said two words to me and in truth I never even tried to argue reasonably. I’d already seen how the baksheesh (bribe) system worked. I continued crying and took all the money from my wallet and threw it at them. Then I went and sat on a wall and bawled my eyes out. I don’t know how long I was there crying but the police made the rickshaw driver give me back any money above what he’d asked (I presume–I never counted it.) He gingerly placed it at my feet when I yelled at him and asked why he didn’t just take everything. Then they went away.

I stayed and cried and cried. I had been ill for three weeks at this point and was in fact my sickest in Delhi and Varanasi. Eventually I noticed about six men standing around me in concern as I cried, asking, “Memsahib, what is wrong?” To which I wailed, “Nothing. Your country is just trying to keep me here.” I wasn’t exactly in my right mind.

I eventually got up and walked disconsolately back to my hostel. At one point a beggar came up to me and touched me. I already knew that in India people don’t touch each other unless they think you don’t know the culture. It’s a sign of disrespect. The beggar touching me was just another injurious straw. At that point I was so distressed with the day that I said, “Oh just go die. It’s easier.” To a beggar. A child. Because I wanted to. It was not one of my more stellar moments.

India was the hardest place I ever travelled to, where nothing ran on time, bribes were expected, and no one would say they didn’t know something so you could end up with six directions to get somewhere and none of them would be right. The culture was different enough and the concept of time was hard to grasp. With trying to fathom these things, on top of trying to find signs, which were few, and if they were there they were in Urdu or Hindu, as well as being severely sick and carrying an overburdened pack, it was too much.

I learned something about myself in India. I found my melting point and my darker side. But I came back from my trip and was forever changed. This of course wasn’t my only adventure in India but it was my hardest.

We wear a lot of masks in our society. There are ones for work, for friends, for dates, for family. Sometimes there are layers and layers of masks. I had them when I went to India but I had way fewer when I came back. India stripped me down to an essential aspect of myself. I truly was just surviving the experience by the end of the trip and was sick for another month after I returned. To this day, I have fewer masks. India made me integrate myself and my different aspects.

Everyone gets much more a blend of me these days. I remember one friend telling me I was more accessible after going to India.The barriers had been stripped away and I built new ones, but not as high nor as thick.

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