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Four Hours Light

2 minute read

Tallinn, Estonia 028 - Catedral Alexander Nevsky/ Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Somewhere between lying in a hospital bed, travelling, and coming back to a hospital again, I decided: man, I really need to go away. I knew that my default go-to place was India. Until it wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love India very much and it still holds a special place in my heart, as the one country that has given me much, but in 8 years of intensive India travel it is no longer “a destination I know nothing about” type of experience. India is a home I go back to, in grief and in celebration, and always will; I just needed to flirt briefly with other countries and climes, and so I will.

Tomorrow, I depart for Helsinki. After that, Tallinn, Stockholm, Skinnskatteberg, Malmö, Copenhagen. I know I said in my previous post that I needed to slow down, and learn to live again — this is exactly my idea of slowing down. It sounds mad, but I have a plan.

Ever since the hospital, I’ve stopped smoking and drinking, even casually. Even if not life-threatening, the episode convinced me that I wanted to do more with my life, where lifestyle was concerned — it also convinced me that I wanted to see more of the outdoors. I’ve been cycling, running, and cycling even more. I will bring my bicycle with me to the Nordic states (yes, I know I can rent bicycles there… but. I want my bicycle! Not somebody’s else’s!), and I will get to enjoy the onset of spring in some of the best cities in the world for bicycle commuting.

I don’t know what to expect: I know so little about that part of the world. The only thing I know for certain is I will be cold. I’ve prepared for it, but I’ve never been in that type of cold until now, so I’m just going to have to make it up as I go. I’ll be completely shut off from work for a while, which will be the first time in some years. I will be completely shut off from the world, and the world wide web, for a couple of days, too, which will be the first time… since I discovered the world wide web. Work-wise, I’m excited about that part of the world as it’s the land of Spotify, Angry Birds, Minecraft — some of my favourite things in the world — along with awesome salmon and mesost, which I also love. I spent 3 all too brief days in Stockholm in 2010, and now I’m going to be back there, in the company of friends this time with the possibility of a superb dinner.

I can’t wait.

The Years of Living at High Velocity

7 minute read

Or how I am not dealing with hyperthyroidism

Ever since I had a vague inkling of ambition, it’s been go, go and go.

Occasionally go even further, at top speed. Once I learned to catch the wind, I wanted to fly. I was the weird kid who climbed and used my stroller as a skateboard, even before I could walk.

I don’t really know how to live any differently.

In school, I had to run every single track and field event, jump, debate, represent my institution and country at whatever they wanted me to, learn to be house captain, juggle many loves, do more A level papers than I needed, work in a few jobs, travel the world. I was unstoppable, not from the overwhelming middle class Singaporean need for accomplishment, but from not knowing any better.

The simple truth: I don’t know what to do with myself. If I do one less thing. I freak out. My mind wanders. I fidget, physically, but worse is the emotional fidgeting that comes inevitably when I do fewer things than I can. (Not emotional as in “I should date someone” but as in “OMG WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE”. Just to clarify.)

The moment I was done with university, I pursued all those madcap adventures I’d dreamed of as a child. Without the restraints of geography and formal education, I shined.

I may not have travelled far, unlike some mileage-racking people I know, but I have returned to the cities I love, repeatedly. I have pushed my body through some extremities. And travelled in ways that I am told are not good for me, in the long run.

Borneo longhouse and then Barcelona, in 36 hours.

Beirut and then Istanbul, in two weeks, by land.

Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry and 3000 kilometres of my beloved South India, in a rickety little tin can.

Dubai. Istanbul. London. Dubai. Chennai. Kuala Lumpur. Chennai. Dubai. London. Singapore. Dubai. Sana’a. Dubai. Singapore. Bangkok. Singapore. Dubai. Beirut. Damascus. Aleppo. Adana. Antalya. Goreme. Istanbul. Dubai. London. That was six months of my life in 2008-09.

At 23, you think you’re invincible. The world is your oyster. There is nothing you can’t do.

At 27, you’re a little older now. Older and slower.

I was in Bombay two weeks ago, happy as usual to be there. I was going to go to Hong Kong, then go back to India again. I came home instead to Singapore, supposedly to catch my breath for a day before flying off to Kuala Lumpur, then Hong Kong, but found myself in hospital instead.

I didn’t feel so invincible then.

I slept for six nights next to a dying woman, who expended her last breaths snoring like a champ. I figured if you were at that point, you can do whatever the hell you want. Preachers and Christian relatives came to proselytize by her bedside every evening. She grunted.

I had no preachers, but lots of balloons. (The person with the least-threatening disease had the most number of balloons. That didn’t seem fair.)

I had lots of love.

I had everything I needed: food, water, medicine, medical attention, visitors, and potassium chloride, attached to my arm through a drip.

Life has a funny way of cutting you back down to size: I was diagnosed with hyperthyroid. My body, like my ambitions, was in overdrive, with so much metabolism that I lost 20kg at one point (not a good thing, btw); such that my hands shook, always involuntarily and sometimes violently; such that my heart raced and slowed and sputtered, often audibly.

No one could tell me what it was until I collapsed at dinner in Singapore, and my face went pale and my body cold, but my head burned at 40 degrees when I got to the hospital. Thereafter, I was force-fed medicine and put through a battery of tests for six days before I was released into the world again with stern orders to medicate and just chill the fuck out.

That didn’t, and still doesn’t, sit too well with me. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m frequently stumped by people who say they are bored, because I haven’t known boredom in many years. The world is out there for the taking — and imma take it! But it was not meant to be, because my body said so.

In my hurry to be better and faster, I’d forgotten to stop — I’d forgotten about stopping at all.

I’d forgotten to spend time on the things that matter most: my health, my family, my friends.

I’d forgotten my body is a vessel that cannot keep up with all the desires of the mind, that needs to be well-kept and well-lubricated.

The hormonal imbalance caused by my hyperthyroidism put my life and what I cherished most about it in jeopardy. I swung, and still do, from sad to happy to neutral in a matter of minutes. I thought, and still do, of destroying everything I’d built up in years in fits of what felt like madness. I never thought it possible for a little butterfly shaped gland near my throat to wreak so much chaos in my life, but it has: my clothes don’t fit, they literally fall off me; I went well below the weight I was at 10 years ago; I want to throw things one second and then I want to hug a kitten the next; I can be in the middle of a totally normal situation, such as sitting on a chair in my house, and then my heart starts racing, and slowing, when it pleases, almost as it wants to leap out of my body. If you ask me about the hormonal imbalance caused by hyperthyroidism, I’m very certain that it’s on a scale of (old school birth control pill hormonal fallout + PMS + remembering all your sad memories) x 1000. On a good day, I potter about in a haze of drugs and sadness, and somehow manage to muster some of the old spunk left in me, and hold on to it like an unskillful amateur magician for however long I can keep it up. On bad days, I am utterly helpless, tiny things set me off, stupid things stress me out with no regard for proportion — I worry about small things now as though the apocalypse was just around the corner, when every rational bit of me that’s left knows it’s not, but my body and my mind just cannot compute it.

I miss that the most about pre-hyperthyroidism: my cool. I miss that my superpower of being unfazed by anything seems a world away from me now. I can deal with the months of diarrhea, weight loss, heart palpitations, hand tremors. I can deal with any of those physical things. But not being in full control of my mind is a scary place for me.

Talking to people who know what it’s like helps (Thanks Lucian). Medicating regularly and sleeping more has helped, too. Physical symptoms and hormonal imbalance aside, I do not like that I (1) get loopy from time to time (2) have trouble concentrating (3) am significantly slower in terms of cognitive processes (4) forget things immediately (5) feel helpless about all of this.

There seems to be awfully little I can do except wait it out and hope for the best. In the grand scheme of things, I know this is one of those things that’s going to be just another quirk, in a couple of months. I know I should be thankful it isn’t anymore serious or life-threatening. It just gets in the way, you know? Especially when you are a small business owner like me, I need to be 150% there, 100% of the time. It seems to be my body’s way of telling me to slow the fuck down and find a pace and time where I can do the things I want without destroying my body in the process. Health is wealth, etc, and all that mumbo jumbo (even if true, it still sounds funny saying it).

I’ve decided to chill out. To not let this disease take over my life, or my mind. To do things differently. To sleep before two in the morning, every night. To sleep at least six hours a day. To not subject myself to torturous travel schedules. To be aware of my limitations. This part is the hardest, but I will try.

I’m going to have to take a break from all of this — Singapore, Malaysia, work, empire-building, community-building, nation-building — so I can come back in a better shape to resume all of this, and more.

There’s a world of opportunities out there, it sucks that I can’t have all of them, right now, but I can at least pick my battles and be darn good at it too.

Goodbye, my crazy high velocity life. Hello, a better, healthier me.

Taj Mahal Foxtrot

8 minute read

A note from New Delhi

Taj Mahal Foxtrot, namesake of the book by the same name by naresh.fernandes

Another new year, another bad habit: I’m late, again.

Just a few days ago, I was sitting at the back of a Toyota Innova, stuffing my face with mithai and chips — not at the same time — thinking what a nice surprise it’d be for my readers, to finally post, and on New Year’s Eve, too. I didn’t make it. I got busy.

The landscape outside my window was of rural Rajasthan: familiar. Not as brutal as the Marwar I came up close to, the last time I was here, at the peak of summer. Not too long before that I had arrived in Rajasthan with my young traveller tie-dye pants, led by nothing other than the youthful desire to do something unexpected, terrible and difficult. Things are quite different now: I have a ‘job’ to get back to. No doubt it’s a business I own and run, but I still can’t get away for as long as my college summer breaks allowed me to.

Everything feels different. Only India feels the same.

/* */

This winter made Rajasthan different from the last. It was much better, with its cool — almost too cool — air, dry spells. Not quite as cold as Delhi.

Hurtling through traffic, avoiding cows and camels, stopping occasionally for a ‘sulabh’ break — BYOTP (Bring your own toilet paper), the Innova, the “metal cow” of the Indian road made its way through all places familiar and strange.

We made a makeshift cinema on the rooftop of the small bed & breakfast we were staying at, shivering in the cold under bundles of blankets, with a dazzling view of the Umaid Bhawan in the near horizon.

We drank copious amounts of lassi.

We ate, drank and made merry — with our hands, of course, for to eat with a fork and a spoon is just like making love through an interpreter.

We didn’t break up at the Taj Mahal.

/* */

I’m in a different place now. A good place.

Not too long ago I was hopping around some parts of the world on a series of one way tickets, with nothing to hold me down to any place or any one. Just me, my backpack, my cameras, notepads, my lone self in a hostel room for one, on the lonely (but fun) road to self-discovery. That part of my life seems to be a distant past now. The places are the same but the package is different. I could not go away for a year now, not without looking back wistfully at some people, things and creatures.

The things that bind come when you least expect it.

They were the crazy thoughts that slip into your head when you meet someone for the first time — at a bar, or at least that’s how it was for me. The furious back-and-forth binary exchanges through various electronic sources. A text. An email. A few stamps in your passport and many flight tickets later, and you’re settled. Sort of. Settled as far as you can be. You go to a city, rent a house, set up a business, own a dog, and suddenly you’re one of those people boring hippies to death about how you love Singapore because you can go jogging at three in the morning and feel safe. Suddenly you’re one of those regular people who can go someplace breathtakingly beautiful like the Taj Mahal and feel nothing except annoyance at the incessant crowds, and you’re not the sort of girl who goes to the Taj Mahal and breaks up with the person next to you anymore.

No one ever tells you it’s going to get better in your twenties.

They don’t. Okay, so you can drink Yakult everyday before lunch and after lunch, and nobody tells you you’ve gotta eat a vegetable. That’s where it gets tricky. No one tells you anything — you’re supposed to know. About everything. About salaries and savings. About weddings and funerals. About businesses and jobs. About children and insemination. About… everything. It’s up to you. You can drink as much Yakult as you want, but if you lau sai, you take yourself to hospital and you pay for your own medical bills. You can go through life never eating a single vegetable if you don’t feel like it, but when you’re constipated… well, never mind.

You amble through life, finish college, and if you’re lucky, acquire some sense of purpose — I like to think I was lucky in that department — and then you try to make yourself a success. Somewhere along the way, one of your friends is going to die in an accident, another one of your friends is going to be diagnosed with a terminal disease, and there’s going to be absolutely nothing anyone can do when faced with sudden mortality: something most of us have not had to think about until now.

I’m not sad or anything like it. Quite the opposite. I love what I do (btw, it’s a combination of writing, speaking, and separately of selling and making apps and running a small company that makes apps), I wake up every morning the master of my own time and location — which is something I established a long time ago as a bare minimum for any endeavour. I will be where I want to be, when I want to be. This has meant 800km trips up and down the North-South Highway every other week, crazy meetings packed in rapid succession, and some sort of invisible third arm growth that is my iPhone and high speed internet connection.

Some mornings, though, I wake up missing the part of me that’s long gone. That part of me that used to write furiously, take good photos, chase stories, pursue any trail of human interest in my vicinity. I’m not complacent or anything: I’ve just lost it. Like not knowing how to play a piano again from neglect, despite banging on it for 10 years: I’ve just lost it. I’ve lost my need to go to places, see things, talk to people, take photographs, write stories. I’ve lost my wide-eyed curiosity and innocence — I’ve seen it all before, my brain tells me, and there are precious few things in the world that leap out at me the way everything once did. Absolutely none in the developed world, which doesn’t interest me anthropologically or culturally in any way, and a dwindling number in the developing world. India. Yemen. Syria. Places like that — full of raw energy, waiting to be unearthed. And in India’s case, ever-surprising and ever-ready, no matter how many times I go back there.

Then there’s the writing. Not having had the discipline, time or desire to write as often or as much as I once did, the year or two of utter neglect is leaving me scrambling to pick up the pieces before I lose it forever. It’s difficult to keep writing when you’ve been stuck, as so many writers before you have been, on that one debut novel you’ve been hacking away at for years. On the bright side, I am at a better place right now to write — and finish — that novel.

/* */

So the point of all this, I guess, is to figure out what’s next? Lots.

There’s that book to write. Like an awesome Chinese soup on slow boil, it can’t be hurried. I’m just doing what I know best, although I should know better. But that’s for me to figure out.

There’s the business, which appears to be growing. I’ve had the good luck to work with great people, so I’m excited about what it’s going to bring in 2012.

Then there’s the travel. I’ve been lucky to be able to visit all these amazing places and to know a few of them quite intimately. There’s plenty of travel scheduled for 2012, some work, some leisure, and I may finally be able to get to a few places I’ve dreamed of going since I was a little girl. Places that were difficult to get to.

On the home front, my resolve to spend more time with my family in Singapore appears to be going well. On the home front in KL, we’re at a good place although there are some plans (on my part) to move back to Singapore at some point this year.

I don’t know. For someone who hates planning, I’ve certainly planned too much. Always the big picture, the big goals at the end of the line; never the small details. Maybe it’s time to think about the details, too.

Health-wise I’m in pretty good shape. I’d let myself go — so typical of a long-term relationship — but I think I’m back at a healthy weight, build and BMI. Never again. Although the rapid and massive weight loss means I need to shop for a wardrobe anew, it’s a step in the right direction for 2012!

I won’t bother with setting any resolutions since those so often disappoint. Let’s just say I have my eyes on the prize… or prizes! Lots to do, lots to work towards — a combination of company work, personal work, and community work — and I can’t wait to get started. Though I’m currently nursing a flu from the brutal Delhi winter smog, I can feel it in my bones that 2012 is going to be a year without precedence, one that will blow the last 5 out of the water (and I’ve had very, very good years recently)!

Also, I’ve been going back to India really, really often. That counts for something in the greater scheme of happiness. Happy new year, everybody.

I Hate Cabbage Soup

6 minute read

White cabbage is death. If there is a Creator, it is one of his less glorious moments. The only thing worse than white cabbage is white cabbage soup. I am a soup maniac, but white cabbage soup I do not touch with a ten foot pole. I cannot even sit at the same table when it is being drunk. The sight and smell of it makes me want to throw up. Because of these vile leaves, I am unreasonably opposed to all food that is white in colour but is not a carbohydrate or dairy product.

White cabbage soup is Chinese New Year is a vile, hateful thing is I hate the both of them.

For reasons unknown to anyone currently alive, we must drink white cabbage soup at reunion dinner every single Chinese New Year. Without fail. I suppose someone must have liked it once upon a time — perhaps one of my ancestors in China. We have continued this tradition since. And I have started a tradition of setting up another table next to the main table, just so that I can have soup I like. My cousins have joined me. It’s the table for young people and for people who don’t like cabbage. I have not rested in my crusade against cabbage, and this year I shall continue.

I didn’t use to hate it so much. Now, in the run-up to reunion dinner (I have mine tomorrow, one day early), I am fretting about everything and I am happy about nothing. I do not exaggerate when I say the thought of Chinese New Year fills me with such intense hatred, I can almost smell the bak kwa, and hear the loud, extended family I am somehow related to by blood. I find my mind wandering back to the not-so-good old days of a childhood spent reading ten books in a corner every single day of every single Chinese New Year because I was bored to death.

Now, at age 26 and counting, I am still trying to find out what we are celebrating.

Some of you will say, oh, silly person, it’s about spending time with your family of course. Sure. When I was living in the Middle East, I looked forward to coming home because I missed my family so much. I love my tiny immediate family. I see them every weekend. It’s the extended web of relations, the sort you see only at weddings and funerals, who I don’t understand. Why do these strangers give me oranges once a year? Oranges are not the only fruit.

Other than family, if there is a meaning at all to this celebration, I am not able to divine it. If anything, it reminds me excessively of a culture whose values I do not understand.

As you know, I identify not as a Chinese person but as a Teochew-speaking yellow M & M — yellow outside, very, very brown inside. I’m a fake desi in the wrong body, someone who was probably an Indian man in many lifetimes past. The only Chinese thing about me is my love of soup and pork. Other than that, nothing. The festive music bothers me. I am still waiting to hear one, just one, Chinese New Year song that is not about money. The values of this festive music bothers me even more. Why is it that I must either sing about how much money I have, how much I’m looking forward to money this year, how money has suddenly appeared in my life, how money’s just… you know, rolling in the deep. /rolls eyes

What about money that you made through sheer hard work? Why won’t you sing about it too, bloody dong dong chiang people on the loudspeakers, who have followed me to haunt, tease and kacau me all my life?

Why about money that you made through smart investments? Why won’t you sing about prudent financial behaviour and clever business acumen, you stupid gong xi gong xi gong xi people who will one day gong me until I si?

What about family? Love? What about adding in the message, “don’t be a douchebag!” in your songs about striking it rich? Or about how happiness doesn’t lie at the end of a slot machine, mahjong table or lottery queue?

Then there’s the music. And the movies. The Hong Kong or Taiwan or Mainland China variety shows and concerts. It’s always the same movies every year. Chinese New Year movies are the worst. Actually if I wasn’t such a self-hating Chinese person, I probably wouldn’t hate them so much. I don’t mind the kungfu. I don’t mind the awful, not very clever humour. Somewhere in my brain, multiple negative associations have been made repeatedly ever since I was a little girl: Chinese New Year movies and variety shows are the soundtrack to my many miserable hours sipping ten chrysanthemum tea Tetra-Paks in a row, stuffing my face with too much bak kwa, reading and re-reading every magazine, book and newspaper I have so that I don’t have to talk to people, seething in rage that I not only have to be a part of such a superficial culture that judged me first by my grades then by my wallet, but also deigns to tell me I NEED TO GET MARRIED, AND TO A MAN TOO?

No matter how much I hated it, Chinese New Year always had a silver lining. If there was one thing I loved about it, it was to see my grandfather excited, filled with a sense of purpose — he did not cook at all, but he took pride in making his awesome secret chilli, and he also loved to prepare reunion dinner. Ah gong and ah ma worked together as a duo at their finest, waking up at five in the morning so that they can get the best braised duck and whole chicken, roast meat and fish for the family. Next to going for walks in the park together, reunion dinner preparations were when they were the closest.

This will be the third Chinese New Year without him around. Every Chinese New Year without him, without his stupid jokes, without him stringing the grandkids along on some ridiculous, elaborate joke, feels like a joke itself. I keep wishing this was one of those times when he stood outside the house, rang the bell ten times then ran away to hide. I keep wishing this was one of those times when he told me he had gone away on a holiday but hadn’t. I bought it a few times when I was a little girl, not knowing he didn’t believe in vacations. It’s been more than 3 years but the banter-less silence from my grandparents’ room still freaks me out. I still miss him everyday. My tears still well up uncontrollably when I think of him. When I see his photo. When I see a video and see him there and hear his voice but cannot reach out across the binaries to hold his hand.

Tomorrow, when I sit down for reunion dinner I will still panic when I don’t see him at his usual spot. I know I will wake up on the first day of Chinese New Year and expect to see him in his best set of singlets, shorts and sandals, and be sorely disappointed when I don’t.

I hate cabbage soup but it was one of his favourite foods, and I would drink a thousand bowls of cabbage soup if it meant I could see him for just a minute more.

Quora: Is it safe for a single woman to travel alone in India?

5 minute read

Here I start a series of my best answers on Quora, starting with this one. It still has the highest numbers of upvotes!

For those of you who don’t know, Quora is an amazing community full of smart people asking and answering interesting questions. I spend a lot of time on it.

Follow Adrianna Tan on Quora

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My answer:

Absolutely. Many women do. I have travelled alone to India over 20 times. To all parts.

I used to always stay in $2 rooms alone, and also travelled sleeper class in long train journeys alone.

You need to have your wits about you, more so that you are a lone woman, but this is true of all places if you have travelled alone before.

I’m not saying nothing untoward will ever happen, just that the most I have seen has been verbal harassment which was quite easy to disarm. And that this did not happen significantly more than other places I have travelled to alone, and I will include Yemen, Bangladesh, some parts of western Europe in that list. You will have some trouble travelling alone anywhere — I don’t think India is a special case in any sense.

Someone told me, very early on when I first started exploring India alone: when in doubt, talk to a woman. I thought he was nuts but then I tried it whenever I felt unsafe anywhere (this has happened just a handful of times). People in India are super friendly, so don’t be afraid to ask. It should not be too hard to find English-speaking local women who can help, as they deal with much worse on their own. I realized this person was absolutely right: Indian women got me out of situations with calm ferocity, each and every time. They would tell the guy/s to f*** off, and make sure they deliver you to safety. This has happened across India and I urge you to consider this if shit ever hits the fan (it shouldn’t).

Some things to note, from anecdotal experiences (all of this has happened to me):

– a generalization: you will probably find South India very safe compared to North India. If interested, ask some locals on their opinions on why that is. My experience is just that in south India people are more reserved and less taken by the idea of anything foreign.

– many people in India are unable to comprehend why you should want to do that. Many of my friends there who come from privileged backgrounds, are not even given the opportunity to travel alone the same way I did. Most of their parents thought I was mad, and thought their country extremely unsafe. I think as a foreigner, one is held to a different set of standards and you can see India in a completely different way. Don’t be put off or scared by stories of other people’s opinions. Discover India for yourself and never be afraid of her. There’s a lot to learn.

– you will be asked endless questions about your personal life. What is your good name, what is your country, how old are you, are you married, how many children do you have, do you like India, what is your native place, how much money you make and can you help them get a job in your native place. Be friendly, be open to making stuff up (“the correct/expected answers”) if you like. It doesn’t really matter. But do not take this personally: this stuff is expected, considered good form, and not intrusive at all. They will also want you to send their regards to your parents, who they haven’t and will never meet, just keep it all in good faith. Friendliness takes you far in India.

– an unpleasant quirk of travelling as a lone female: this is a strange, not very nice thing but you will find out that in some places, some local men will assume because you are a foreigner = you are willing and able to have sex with them because all foreign women are not Indian and therefore impure and loose by definition. You won’t hear this said, but it is thought by many. I have found this attitude more pervasive in the north than anywhere else. I have seen and heard and experienced this behavior personally from lowly educated men and highly educated men alike. Remember, most local men are GREAT. It’s a couple of bad eggs that spoil it, as always. Just remember this terrible idea comes from watching tv and never having interacted properly with foreigners and believing in the myth that all white (and foreign women) are interested in alcohol and sex (and necessarily with them). Many people also won’t be able to understand why your husband or boyfriend is okay with you travelling alone.

– in general, the “holier” the place, the more shit you will get as a single lone female. The negative stuff I’ve experienced have come exclusively from the touristy and/or holy cities/towns. No problems at all outside these parts. There’s a crap ton of hypocrisy in the so-called holy places. All the sexual harassment I have ever faced have come from weird men in “holy” places. Luckily none of it was ever dangerous, just annoying.

So, be on your guard but make sure you don’t let any kind of fear cripple your trip either.

I mean, I have more than survived India alone.. And I also have a lot of female friends who have travelled India alone many times over the way I do. Their experiences more or less corroborate with mine.

The assumption is that you will dress appropriately and be sensitive to local customs. You will be fine. More than fine. Make plans before hand to meet some prominent local people in major cities, especially if they are in a similar field of work or working in an area you are interested in finding out about. I’ve learned a lot from talking to journalists, artists, tech types. They can teach you a bit about their city, and they will also watch out for you as you are a guest of Mother India’s after all!