Travel Travails: Part 1

As a travelling woman, or I should say a woman with a travel bug, I have my own set of travails. I wonder while travelling do woman face similar issues to men or it doesn’t really matter. Through these blog series I want to know how other women have fared. No I am not a feminist but just a curious observer who happens to be a woman.

So my life has fortunately included a lot of travel in it. Both in India and outside of it. Of course I do have my own “wonder list” that I want to complete. I have travelled the length and breadth of India –– from Leh in the north to Kanyakumari. By road, bus, plane and train.

It has been a rich experience. Travelling in India has its own quirks. The one thing that has always been a thorn in my own experience has been the delicate issue of loos. Yes, I know what a topic to pick up and write about, but it comes right next on my list of top ten irritants while travelling, the second being the taxi drivers and their choice of stereo as well as music. But that is another story.

So the thing about “this” is not that we don’t have any. Over the years I have really seen the scenario change and its not that queues don’t exist abroad; what I am talking about are the state of the loos.

Till a few years back travelling woman had only one choice: “beta you can go behind that bush/tree/wall, etc. Yes, I don’t know who would have been more creeped out the tree or me. (If only trees talked or for that matter bushes or if walls had hands and feet, India’s landscape would forever be changing!) Few years later the roadside dhabas started to have “cater” to these needs. The maintenance of these were questionable, but travelling across cities, I have seen all sorts of structures called loos. I don’t know if as women we were more relieved that finally there is a place to go or more scandalized at their appearance but atleast the bushes heaved a sigh of relief. One of the most fascinating structures’ I saw was a tarpaulin on four sticks, where I was directed to on inquiring “is there some place to go?” (I might upload the photo if I locate it)

 While on a road trip, a usual morning ritual would be “let me go once. Don’t know where we will find another … (you know what)” to “are u sure?” to “ladies ke saath yehi problem hai” as if for men the whole world, nature/forest is one giant loo and we traveling women have no compunctions seeing men standing on the roadside. So much for admiring the scenery or taking in the mountains last time before starting.

 Finally, the petrol pumps on the highways started to have, yes “loos” (though usually hidden behind at the back as if trying to hide their existence).  I thought so we are going to catch up to the great civilized west. The cleanliness will come later but first we could now proudly say, our petrol pumps have one too. How was I to know my fragile pride was about to be shattered. Last year, while returning from Ramgarh, after an extremely relaxing trip in the mountains in the rains (you must try it) we were forced to return by road. The one and only mini plane from …. Having got cancelled due to heavy rains. Well! We thought this was expected considering we were brave enough to venture to the hills in the rains, despite landslides. This was nothing. So on our return journey by road, I had to stop, after all it was a 6 hour drive. As you may have it, on the lone deserted petrol pump, where people were hiding from the rain, a single hand from an office directed me to the back and I saw that to reach the yes, loo, I would have to swim through a huge puddle and reach a tin door, locked with no help in sight. Resigned to my fate as a traveling Indian woman on the road I turned around, smiled at my companions and prayed to reach home soon.

But to end this post on a reflective note, I cannot help but wonder if in India hygiene in public has always been a casualty. You see houses kept immaculately clean but not streets. Some of us fortunate enough to have travelled abroad have returned with these expectations but a majority of our villages, people in urban India, and even in metros are still struggling to get the basics in order. So as you travel by road and pass the fields and the dhabas, you don’t get anything but this.

 Coming back to today, four years back I had seen some friends carry a sanitiser in Pune. Thanking all my stars that finally India is huge on sanitisers I now always travel with one, a soap, tissues and a prayer.


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