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What Sapna Bhavnani Said about Solo Travel Applies to Most Indian Women

Earlier this month, celebrity stylist and all-round mega talented, tattooed badass, Sapna Moti Bhavnani spoke candidly about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence to popular social media page - Humans of Bombay . In addition to describing, graphically, how she was gang raped in Chicago, Sapna ended her quote on a note that drew mixed reactions from some sections of the internet audience, when she said, that "a woman keeping it all within her because she has no other choice isn't a sign of weakness – it’s a mark of strength and something we need to start respecting.”

You may choose to disagree, or not, but there's no denying Sapna Bhavnani's valour (for fighting the rigid notions of society is no less than a battle) in coming out with her story as boldly, and inspiring legions of impressionable women to garner strength from the words of a popular personality.

While being outspoken and unabashed comes naturally to Bhavnani, she has recently caught our attention for saying the right things in the right kinda way. This morning, I spotted something interesting on her instagram handle and couldn't help but agree with her thoughts on why and how Indian women do not, often, travel solo in their own country. Some of you might be alarmed by that statement--what with the Solo Female Indian Traveller becoming a fairly ubiquitous species--but as a now-converted solo traveller myself, I can tell you that isn't the case within India. Sure, we all have that friend who went backpacking across every festival in Europe, or is still our hero for her war stories picked up around SE Asia, but how safe do solo Indian women travellers feel in India? The answer, my friends, is 'not very.'

.. Lately after the Nirbhaya incident, India suddenly went from the "spiritual" to the "rape"capital of the world. There are warnings issued all over the Internet. The U.S. state department cautions particularly women from traveling solo in India. The Elephant Journal says "India is no walk in the park especially for women." But then a blog called Wanderlust and Lipstick said something that drove it all home for me. "The fact is that Indian women do not travel alone...." I stopped reading the sentence there. "Indian women do not travel alone." Yes! That was it. We Don't! And if we don't do it why would anyone else? It's a deep routed fear that exists in most of us including me. I've been trying to conquer it in my own way. I went for a solo trip to Goa (hardly India lol) and then for 2 road trips with only women, One in the south and one to Rajasthan. However internationally, I have gone solo backpacking in Europe for 2 months and at least 20+ solo road-trips in America without even questioning my safety once. I think it's time I experience India as a solo woman traveller. I've booked a one way ticket to Leh and plan on taking each day as it comes. My aim is to lose my map and my mind. My aim is to meet amazing humans along the way. My aim is to remind myself, the minute you fear, they have already won! .. Take a photo of yourself doing this pose (however humble it may be) and post it with the hashtag #OccupyLife if you believe in rising above your fears. So Much Love.

A photo posted by Sapna Moti Bhavnani (@sapnamotibhavnani) on

Interestingly, I took my first solo trip to Leh last year (on a one way ticket, no less), and it was the most enriching, soul soothing experience I've had so far. However, I would be lying if I didn't concede that my choice was based largely, if not entirely, on where I might be 'safer.' What could be safer than Ladakh? But even within the cosy, sleepy precinct of the most commercial part of Leh - I would find myself quickening my steps if I was walking back to the guest room in the dark. I avoided telling strangers where I was living, and I pretty much avoided smiling at anyone that looked remotely menacing. I'd scramble out of dinner well before 9pm and be tucked in my room by 9:30. It wasn't so much about being scared, nor is Leh unsafe in that manner, but it was about being completely and solely reliant on myself for my safety and, therefore, feeling a greater burden of responsibility. Would I have felt the same way if I were in, say, Barcelona? Perhaps, not. Growing up as a woman in India forces you to keep your guards up at all times; like a threatened porcupine, you walk with your chest drawn in and your senses on high gear, ready to lash out at anyone or anything that so much as brushes past you.

That stated, I stand by Bhavnani's initiative and hope it encourages more women to fight the fear and set out to explore this beautiful country. Seek not only the fresh perspective, but also the chance to instill unshakeable confidence in traveling solo and in the beauty of meeting new people in a way that can only be facilitated by solitude. In the interest of offering suggestions, I'd even say be willing to be surprised by the destinations you didn't previously deem suitable. For instance, two girlfriends and I made our way down to the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh last year, and were more than pleasantly surprised to discover that Khajuraho could be a mecca for solo women travellers. Safe, serene, beautiful, spanking clean, uncrowded, and village-like, in so far as the simplicity of its inhabitants was concerned. Yes, the very same place we've all long associated with the Kamasutra is actually very little erotica, and more a small village with bicycles that one can rent and traverse across town and outside.

Sure, there are parts of this country that may not score high on the safety scale, but if you're smart and can shut down the fear - you'll be amazed at the things you discover about this beautiful landscape, beyond the bloody murder that our headlines scream. In fact, don't just restrict yourself to cities, because the real India resides in its villages, some of which are unlike what one might ever imagine.

Let this video inspire you take the first step and go out and #OccupyLife. If you're unsure where to start, check out these destinations which are fit for any first-time solo traveller .

India awaits you, girl.

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