Friday, 30 December 2016

"To Infinity and Beyond"

A year ago, I began my year of travel in the last continent of Antarctica. A year later, I have now returned home. 2016 is now coming to an end, and it has been a while since my last "chat" with you. 

So, where have I been?

When I left you in July, some of you reached out to me asking me "Where's Asma now". It was a pleasant way for me to keep in touch with you. There were many others I left in the dark. They waited patiently till I completed my trip so they could hear my stories and share their own. I would like to thank you as well. 

In the last half year, I have experienced loss, rekindled my ability to feel small joys, and met old acquaintances. It is not easy for me to say, but after the first 6 months of my trip, I was fairly broken. Emotionally exhausted. Logistically I was a marvel and could plan a trip at a moment's notice, but compassion fatigue had set in and I needed a break.

As I reflect back on my year with you, I realize that it was not the people or the places that made my trip. It was not even the moments. It was the minute acts of kindness; the hope that there was some empathy, generosity, and bond between a stranger, a family member, and myself for a brief passing minute. 

After my trip, there was no transformative happiness and I sensed a feeling of disenchantment, apathy, and hopelessness. After all, change requires time, and my brief interactions with people were not sufficient to support or change thoughts and beliefs in a meaningful way, a way that supports kindness and compassion . In fact, some may never change.

I had hoped to inspire. But my impact is unknown, and that is okay.

The past year has been tumultuous in many ways, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see the world at exactly this time. It has been a time when we wonder if our differences will be recognized and understood - age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and political views. A time when we wonder if it is important to change beliefs as long as actions do not harm. A time when we were unsure how to help, and whom to trust as sources of information.

Is it necessary to make a difference, or is it necessary to just act differently?

The good news is - I have truly recognized the power of hope. An opiate that inspires many to form a bond with strangers, to give a compliment, to trigger an emotional reaction which brings them to make a donation, to offer a seat or a smile or say sorry for being in your way. Although it seems that those with hope may be unrealistic, living in a childhood fantasy, doomed to realize that nothing will change. It is a force that helps us live. 

This new year brings hope to those who would like to leave the past year behind. And while I may not wish to do that, I will be accepting my new life and old routine as most of the world does and dream of a future where we work to live and not live to work. This new year, I will continue my blog posts and hope to see your comments, but I will hope without expectation as I know this is a venue for me to express myself and for my hidden readers to connect with me in thought even when they remain hidden. 

In solidarity and yours very truly, one-woman-who-hopes-she-is-empowered.

I wish you a sincerely happy new year with unreasonable hope and fantasy *wink*.

Courtesy certainasthesun/Redbubble

Saturday, 2 July 2016

How to overcome your fear of solo travel

I have decided to start a new "How To" series as a way to respond to many of the questions you have asked me along the way. This is my way of sharing my tips, asking for yours in the comments below, and also a means to support your own travel dreams.

To the moon and back my fellow travelling enthusiasts!

The one question I am asked frequently is whether travelling alone is scary and how do I do it? As I have now travelled to quite a few countries, can safely say my tips are now more informed as I understand your challenges better.

But, I would like to hear from you about whether your have other tips and challenges I may not have considered.

#1. Travel with a group

Okay, let's say that you are just not ready to take on the city by yourself. Preplan a group tour that picks you up and drops you off at your home, hostel, or hotel!

Some tours even arrange for a one night stay at a hotel before your tour.

You get to meet others who may share your interests, visit the places that you would like to, and no worries about getting to and from there.

Great way to start. Just like I did!

#2. Share a room

I find that when I am in a dorm room with other active travellers, I want to explore myself.

Yes, sometimes, I seem to share rooms with travellers who prefer to stay in bed or keep to themselves. But looking outside at the sun and sky and seeing my fellow travellers staying inside is just as much a motivator for me to leave the room!

#3. Your base, your entry strategy

What's that?!!

Well, we may be all gung-ho to start our trip - we got frustrated, we know what we want to see and how, or we booked a group tour. But we are still frightened as woah!

Why? Because we aren't used to living by ourselves and knowing how to get there in a foreign city.

No worries - There are tried and true ways to find accommodation. Canada - Hosteling International; Australia - YHA; Asia - Reviewed hotels; South America - Reviewed hostels! Use booking.com or makemytrip.com to find your accommodation, and before booking look online for negative reviews.

Make sure it has free WiFi, laundry, and a shared kitchen to save you money. And, they sometimes even help you get to their place with an airport pickup.

#4. Get frustrated

When I found it easier to depend on others rather than face my fears travelling solo, I found that my best bet was to get so bored and frustrated that I picked myself off that cozy bed and stepped out into the open.

The reason ranged from the fact that I had spent so much money to get there, or I was hungry, or noone else was available to accompany me but gave me directions to meet them somewhere at a certain time.

Whatever the reason, use your frustrations and plan an exit strategy!

#5. Plan an exit strategy and destination

My favourite exit strategies?

Google - Find which destinations you would love to visit in your tourist city. Does your city map draw you a route from one tourist attraction to another?

Arrange your transportation - Do you need a city pass that you use to pay for public transport? Do you need to get off at certain stops? Or, can you book a cheap taxi ordered straight to your door via a mobile app or your hostel or hotel.

#6. Find your biggest supporters

Who are the people (or person) in your life who support your dreams, no matter how scared they themselves are?

Sometimes it's family, sometimes friends, sometimes coworkers, and sometimes fellow travellers. These are the people who tell you - you are the champion, you got this!

In fact, they get so excited that they even research activities, destinations, and hotels for you to enjoy your trip.

One cheerleader is all you need!

#7. Ready to do it without a plan?

Once you have a bit more experience, book just one day of accommodation. You will realize flights, accommodation, and tours are cheaper found on the go. And sometimes you get the best tips from locals.

Use booking.com for hostels and reviews along the way, flights can be found by googling and choosing the best dates and airline companies, and tours can be found by asking travel desks and tour companies physically located in your vacation destination.

Sometimes friends can be a great resource if they have visited the place or live there, and sometimes Google is your best friend. I mean, I recently booked a 3-day tour the night before I had to leave for it, and I had a great time and learned a lot.


I hope these tips help you as they helped me. Please share your own tips in the comments below, and share this post with others who may find it useful.

Enjoy your trip!!!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The elder

I dedicate this post to my grandaunt, who has looked after us, scolded us, loved us, and spoilt us with sugary treats.

Some of you may remember that I had originally planned to leave for Australia at the end of March. With my bad health and later, news that she was also not well, I decided to extend my stay in India till June.

Seeing her deteriorate in the hospital in May - one of my hardest experiences. When I had to leave, I made a difficult choice supported by my entire family. But every step I take onwards will be in her memory.

Who was she?....

I recently visited my grandaunt's apartment in Surat. As I walked up the steep steps, all my memories flooded back - of my childhood, sitting on tiny stools in the kitchen to eat, playing on the rocking horse in the adjoining room, looking out onto the streets whenever we'd hear music from a wedding party go by, running upstairs to a neighbour's to catch a few minutes of TV.

As I sat there listening to her about how much pain her legs were in and how lonely she had become, I thought back to how she would command our respect.

Don't nod your head; say yes. Clean the room. I learned how to tuck in my bedsheets from her, you know.... Even now, in her ripe age, she still scolded us about how we must learn to cook, take care of our elders, and save money instead of spending it foolishly. Oh, and take sweets from the cupboard whenever you want, ok?

Growing up, she would stand at the door waiting for my grandmother, then in her teens, to come home from school. When it was time for her to get married, she took care of her ill mother financially and physically. She took care of the house, meticulously noting down the household expenses. Soon, she was balancing her work and household life on her own, after my great grandmother expired.

But my grandmother would visit her often. And she would also travel down south to visit my uncles and aunts.

As she entered retirement, she gave up the world of work, but her personality and convictions remained the same. Respect for elders, a clean house, hard work, and meticulous bookkeeping.

But, she grew to feel that she would have benefited from the presence of a male in the household, someone to take care of duties she no longer had the physical ability to do on her own.

I will still remember her though as the family's strong voice, one with the ability to be strict till we cried, and loving too.

As she passed away today, our family is in mourning and we remember her, strong, stubborn, and loving. A champion for some of us in our hardest times.

After all, she was the first person in my family to know and support my dream of travelling the world for a year.

Even if we try we will be unable to meet her level of self-sacrifice. We love you.





The yoga teacher

Story #3 – Alefiyah Siamwala

Alefiyah is my cousin, the future of India, a jewel in the rough you could say. Her energy, her grace, and her dynamism is what I see in almost all young women in India today. How do I even begin to tell her story?! A fashion entrepreneur, a freelance yoga teacher, a photographer-in-training; these are just her current pursuits! And she has many more experiences to boot while growing up in Mumbai.

When Alefiyah was in school, she was, in her words, "a complete introvert, scared of what people would think about her if (she) dared to open (her) mouth. She did not have any friends and had very low/no self-confidence. She did not participate in competitions and was in a state of depression by the time she reached the 10th grade". These are powerful words from someone who has shown her talent and her mental strength in many ways over the past few years....

The day she left school she promised herself she would completely transform herself. When she entered college, she pushed herself to be social. Her degree also gave her a platform to speak in front of audiences. She remembers a particular speech she gave on "The Girl Child”, to which she received a lot of recognition. With each presentation and each new event she organized, her confidence grew. 

Despite her new found confidence, she had to regain herself after graduation. Today’s young women are faced with an enormous responsibility to either get a steady 9 to 5 job, or get married. But there are so many options that they forego because of these boundaries. Due to many different reasons, Alefiyah was also caught in a vicious cycle and could not find a job that she could continue. She also could not find guidance on where to turn next in her career, and relied on friends and her mother for emotional support. She stopped attending events because she would be asked what she was doing.

Today she is happy to say she is a ‘multipotentialite’. We do not need “one true calling”; it is perfectly alright if we are good at many things. In her current pursuits, Alefiyah is able to be creative, and work on her passion for fashion, photography, yoga and writing. Yoga, she says, has brought her a peace of mind which was hard to find earlier, and teaching her clients has given her a contentment no job could ever give her. She has also started her own website and blog called “Trends and Trails” and is a co-founder of an accessory brand called “Threads and Stones”.


Her advice for the younger generation, "People who matter will support you no matter what, and family will come around if you show you love what you do. Go ahead and chase your dreams, live for your passion and make sure the person you look at everyday in the mirror is happy internally as well as externally!"



The entrepreneur


Story #2 – Shamim

Two weeks ago, I sat in my aunt’s kitchen waiting for Shamim to take me to her house. An epitome of inspiration and yet one of the most humble women I have met, her energy was infectious. I watched her speak animatedly about the importance of a regular health check-up. She had returned from booking an appointment for her and her friend, even though her friend was hesitant. Fast forward 30 minutes and we were weaving through gullies to reach her home.

A two-story house with tiled floors, a tiny kitchen, cupboards lining the walls; the bedrooms were upstairs. It also had a bathroom with working sewage facilities; a rare occurrence where this house was located. All due to Shamim. Shamim is a cook at my aunt’s house and she lives in what is known as the slum area; a word I do not like using since it typecasts the people living there as someone desperate and needy. Instead I would like to say that many living here are extremely entrepreneurial. 

This is Shamim’s story.

















Now separated from her husband, whom she had helped to get a job many years ago in Mumbai, Shamim is the champion of change in her household and with her community. Her husband has not spoken to her for 2 years. Yet, Shamim, a powerhouse of a woman, has managed the budget of the household, created a network of clients through referrals to homes and events, and is the manager of an informal venture capital fund that collects 5,000 Rs per month from each of 10 members and then donates a random member each month 50,000 Rs. This has helped them buy homes, fund the education of their children, and provide for many other necessities.

Shamim has studied until Grade 7 and was married at the age of 20. As she speaks about the power of education, she says that women need to know that they can be independent financially. She speaks about the desires and aspirations of young girls today and how they need to study, so they can work even after they are married; this is a significant issue in some families in India regardless of socioeconomic status.

She has advocated for the education of her two children, and her nephews and nieces. In their late teens and early 20s, they are pursuing different fields of service that will lead them to stable jobs. They speak very fondly of Shamim, her struggles, and her inspiration.

How can anyone not be inspired by a mother, a sister, and a confidante such as Shamim….


The doctor

Story #1 – Dr. Shobha Kale

I met Dr. Kale years ago when I had a case of Delhi belly right in Mumbai. I still remember her placing her hand on my stomach and diagnosing what I had right away. She left an indelible impression on my mind, as I was back to my kicking self within a few days.

My paths crossed with her this time in Mumbai, as I was seeking advice for the baby in Jodhpur whom I mentioned in my previous post. As she spoke about the resources I could contact, I realized that I could not miss the opportunity to interview her. As a woman in her 70s, still running her practice, I knew I would hear an incredible story about her childhood, and that is exactly what happened!


















Born to a family of 4 girls and 2 boys, Dr. Kale grew up in a household where girls were given the opportunity to study, but boys were still the “kings of the household”. Water for the boys? Let the girls get it! Land inheritance? Boys first. But, Dr. Kale along with her sisters woke up every morning, completed their domestic chores, and then went to school. The family did not have a doctor, a huge prestige for any family in any community in India; so Dr. Kale was asked to pursue the profession. “Listening to our parents is how we were brought up”, she said to me.

Now in her 70s, she still believes that parents must guide their children, but she also speaks about families that do not support their daughters and daughters-in-law. Eat after the husband; do not talk to any men, except for the husband; do not work after marriage; why invest in a girl when she will get married eventually anyway. I even learned of stories where, if a husband is not happy with his wife, he leaves her even if she has children, and marries another woman.

As I listened to her story and the stories of many other families, I began to feel impassioned about the rights of women. These are not stories that are told, yet these are stories that exist in every family, regardless of class and level of education. And in some cases, through domestic abuse. It is a sad state of affairs when any life is not given the importance it deserves. 

I ask her what can be done; that I cannot sit passively while women around the world suffer in silence. She replies “This is how it is; it is difficult to change the system”. But, as we continue talking, her words imply that change is possible.

She is a prime example of possibility, just like many other families in India, including my own. In fact, she has also provided logistical and practical advice to many young women and men about how they could overcome their obstacles. What is special about her is that her nuanced advice is offered in the context of family dynamics, in a way that seeks to bring harmony in the household but also empower each family member wherever possible. Because of mothers like her who suffered in silence, daughters are now being provided every opportunity despite the naysayer in the family, the community, and the world.

I dedicate this story to our Doctors, our true intellectuals, and the elders of India; those who seek to amplify the good and always see the potential in every life!

Friday, 27 May 2016

5 Times I Fell in Love with Asia

My last post was filled with disappointment about the struggles people face in Asia. There were rays of hope though. And, I thank you for your words of encouragement in your comments!

As I get ready to leave Asia and move on to my next continent, I can't help but reflect on the times that I truly fell in love with this continent. So, in honour of my ancestral home, my family and friends who I will miss dearly, and the many new countries I have visited and people I have met here:

5 Times I Fell in Love with Asia


1. Travelling by myself in Hong Kong

Feeling like I could travel on my own again, experiencing the self-confidence I had lost a short while before, was empowering.

I chose to step out of my hostel; I chose where I wanted to go and problem solved how to get there; and then I walked, trained, and explored the area by myself!

Of course, I had my airport map, advice from roommates at the hostel, suggestions from close friends in India, and Google. After that, all I needed was initiative.

The few days in Hong Kong during the day were necessary for me. With my self-confidence back during the day I could visit friends at night, and really experience the city for what it had to offer - bright city lights, lush green islands, and beautiful parks with exotic birds!







2. On a private boat on Inle Lake in Myanmar

The one place I really wanted to visit in Myanmar - Inle Lake!

Taking the bus to the Lake was an experience in itself. On a top of the line VIP bus, served by an usher, provided fresh snacks for the night journey, and surrounded by earphones with which we could watch our own private movie on the seat in front of us. And, a reclining chair. Wow!

Once the bus stopped at the village close to the Lake, the next 10 minutes were spent in a private car, and the car (when requested) took us to a local service provider for boat tours.

As I sat in the boat, I covered my head with a scarf, to shield my eyes from the sun.

Soon, I was told I could lay on my back, while the boat drifted on the water. How could I refuse?

As I slept there facing the sky, I could see the clouds. And, each time the boat passed a fenced gateway, the water level would drop, and the boat would take a small nose dive into the water.

The best moments in life are in nature, silent, feeling fresh waves and a beautiful breeze.








3. When I visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

The Golden Temple in Amritsar was on my bucket list for a few years (because it was on my dad's bucket list for most of my life). I had almost given up hope that I would be able to visit it, because of the social unrest in Northern India at the time.

But, because I fell sick and had to cancel my flight to Australia, and with the help of my close friend and his best friends, I was able to squeeze in a detour to Amritsar before leaving India.

Walking at night on the cool floor, watching the temple light up golden against the night sky, by a man-made pond of bright fishes, hearing the religious hymns praising all religions and humanity - I could not help but feel overwhelmed that I had finally ticked off something from my dad's list.



4. When my friend's mum showed me her ancestral home in Jodhpur

I began my trip through Asia in Jodhpur, India in January, 2016. At the time, my new friend and his family were planning renovations to their home and I was planning my route through Northern and Southern India. I spoke about how I wanted to visit all 7 continents in a year, and about how I needed to shoot videos and take photos that documented my journey.

With a twinkle in her eyes, pride in her voice, and an infectious energy, she suggested her ancestral home in Jodhpur. She hailed a rickshaw on a main street and with all my gear, we set out towards her home. As we passed each street, she pointed out the street where her husband worked, and spoke about how she would walk from her home to her parental house in her younger days.

Reaching her home, she even asked me to take a photo of the nearby well, the doors and windows of her house, and spoke about how close it was to Mehrangarh fort.

As I walked through the gates of that home, I could feel history living in its rooms.


5. Finally, loved by my family in Mumbai and Chennai, India 

As my trip was not pre-planned, I was not sure when I would be able to visit my paternal and maternal uncles, aunts, and cousins in India.

In Mumbai

When I finally arrived in Mumbai, I took off for my cousin's home to see my 2-year old niece. After her brief fascination with my Merrells, and my quick fruity snack, the three of us booked a taxi and set off for my uncle's home. My uncle - who was concerned about my trip and made sure that I had all my needs met; my aunt - who would defend my trip on my behalf to anyone who questioned.

As I met each part of my close family, I noticed how much they wanted to support me. From one of my uncles who traced my entire round-the-world trip on a large map, to my dad's cousins who opened up family albums to show me what he looked like when he was a child.

The love was palpable.

In Chennai

When I arrived in Chennai, at the end of my trip in Asia, I was given a tour of Chennai.

But, not just any tour!

Sitting on the passenger seat of my uncle's scooter - the same scooter I used to stand on as a child - I snapped photos of the college where my mother studied in Chennai, the beach where my mum used to "hang" with her friends, and the home where I was born.

I listened as he spoke about my grandfather's successful export/ import business, our family's ancestral wealth, and how he travelled in his own buggy and car when few others had them.

Despite the struggles we face daily now, to earn an income, to balance household chores, and to take care of ill family members; knowing where my mother grew up, studied, and gave birth to me filled me with a sense of history, a sense of pride about my beginnings.



As I bid adieu to Asia, I know that I will have learnt the most from this vast, largest continent of ours. Antarctica will always have my love; but Asia is home.

Stay tuned for my next post as I visit MY LAST CONTINENT - the land of the outback!

And don't forget to share your comments here on my blog, subscribe to my blog posts, and follow me on Facebook (One Woman Empowered) and Instagram (@onewomanempowered)!!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

7 Lessons I Learned While Travelling in Asia

When I first started planning my round-the-world journey, I had a simple plan. I would take a year off to travel to the 2 continents I had not yet visited. Antarctica and Australia! Along the way, I would visit new countries. I would experience their natural landscapes, lush green hills, and forests. I would even spend time with friends and family I had not seen in years. All before I turned 31!

As I began travelling, my expectations began to rise. I wanted to inspire young women to pursue travel, to pursue their passions. I wanted to discover whether I could travel as a single woman to far away countries, proving that the world is not as unsafe as we perceive.

My journey has been a difficult one; my
 increased expectations crashing and burning in the presence of my original plans. My family and friends struggling. Myself learning new lessons.

In this post, I wanted to share my innermost thoughts and lessons with you. Many of you asked and I listened. So, please read on! Because there is a good news too! 



Lesson 1. Family and friends come first


You may have noticed long periods of silence between my blog posts.

As I continue travelling, I find it necessary to take these breaks to recover when I fall sick, to feed a hectic travel schedule, to work on my next blog post, and to spend time with family.

This trip has taught me that charity begins at home. We know the personalities and needs of those closest to us; we know how to steer them in the right direction and to provide them with emotional support. In the process, we also know our own body's needs and must take care of ourselves too.

Balancing an appreciation of self with selflessness for family is difficult. Maintaining self-confidence and independence in the midst of this balance, even tougher.

Lesson 2. Everyone is inspirational

You asked me when I will be writing my remaining 4 stories. I have come across so many stories in the past 4 months. Without enough background on each of those stories, I am unable to write about them. But, one thing has made itself clear; that each and every one of us faces challenges and each and every one of us is inspirational in the way we survive those struggles.

Educated, loving mothers in the most average of families have been fed false information; their daughters suffering through female genital mutilation; sons unaware. Wives have been physically and/or emotionally abused by their husbands; they are encouraged to leave by their families, but stay on for their children. Single women, who spent their lives supporting their siblings, are now old, sick, and alone; their nieces and nephews around the world are bonding to show them love, balancing commitments to their own ill health, their own families, and their jobs. 

Yes, I have even seen blatantly visible sex shops advertising sex with women; men selling sex on menu cards and naked women in photo albums.

To top it all, I have heard many negative assumptions about other religions and other people.

But, I have also seen a lot of positivity. Women in "developing countries" running their own businesses, travelling to and from work alone, acting as the sole breadwinners of their families. Muslim countries giving the most "Western" of freedoms to their daughters and mothers; boys dating girls; girls free to wear the clothes they wish; women working as policewomen and pilots.

My belief in the media has greatly reduced!

Lesson 3. Love and let be

On this trip, I have also lost my once-admired ferociousness. My pop's favourite name for me - "tigress". But, on this trip, there have been times I have doubted myself, even been scared.

I have sat in my hotel room all day, afraid to step outside, afraid to walk down the street alone. Why? I do not know. Maybe because there were people on the other side of that door; what would they think of me; how would they look at me. What if someone found me out - that I was not a local. What if they took advantage of me. What if I took the wrong bus and ended up in a shady street, with men who would rape me with their eyes. What if; what if; what if.

The reason does not matter. I learned a valuable lesson. It is easier said than done.

Asking people to grab a hold of their inner passions and take that first step - it is easier said than done.

How did I break out of that mold?

My first step was to allow others to step back, to tell me they were busy. I had to find my own way to pre-determined addresses where I could meet them. I would then use my mobile app to order an Ola cab, shower and get dressed, and then wait for the call from the driver before I made my way down to the hotel entrance. Once I was in the cab, I would hold my breath until I reached the destination, which I would have Google mapped in advance.

Something that was and is so trivial for me in Canada took me a great deal of willpower to do in India.

My lesson - just love those who are unable to do. Understand that they may be unable to do what you are asking them to do. Give them an opportunity to learn through the babiest of steps, and maybe they will overcome. If not, just be there for them emotionally. 

Lesson 4. Travelling solo does not mean travelling alone

Some of my favourite moments have been in the company of new and existing, young and old friends. But, there were times where I could not enjoy the moment because I thought I was losing my independence, which was not true.

Once I realized that I could be independent even in the presence of my friends, I began to appreciate new experiences even more. Like the time I laughed endlessly with my aunt and cousins in Mumbai about how I was destroying my English just to fit in. Or when I shared a car with my friend and his childhood friends, watching them laugh with each other, playing their favourite songs on the radio.

In an effort to reclaim my independence - carry my own bag, make my own plans, problem solve my own way in each city - I forgot that it was okay to work collaboratively with others and still feel accomplished and successful. I knew this was important for work, but this trip taught me it is true for travel too. You just need to find the right travel companion

Lesson 5. A child's fantasy

Recently, I had the opportunity to share an AC private cabin on a train from Jodhpur to Delhi. Not something that is easily available. A god-send as the heat in India is deadly at this time. I was in a bad mood though, and could not enjoy the cabin as I should have.

I lied on my back on the lower bunk of the bed in the cabin, and realized that I may never have such an opportunity to see villages and cities in India. As I lay on my back, I shifted the curtain slightly, and looked out the window at an upside down world, passing by like a movie reel. Looking at the world like a child made me appreciate it all the more.

Lesson#1 - Absorb each new experience, artefact, building, beach, and park like a child.

Lesson 6. Life is (not) beautiful

Tucked away in the suburbs of Canada, I had mastered the art of a simple life; one in which I was learning to be independent, confident, selfless, and understanding. No lies. No duplicity. 

As soon as I stepped out of that safe haven to experience the beauty of life, oh what a shock!

My naivety that all people have an inkling of good in them was shattered; that everyone can be understood, and that to steer them onto a path of selflessness and compassion, they only need to understand.

Not true!

Fact#1 - Each of us is inspired by movies like Wild and Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara and Highway. We forget the pain of the characters, and focus only on the extreme moments of joy they experience while travelling. Have you watched 127 Hours instead?

Lesson#1 - Accept the fear of travelling solo, the possibility of harm and/or death, and embrace travel for the rollercoaster that it is. If not, don't despair, travel to a park close to you and build your self-confidence. Until then, you can also visit new places using Google Street view - thank goodness.

Fact#2 - Cities are an infestation of exploitation and probably have a history of war, conflict, loss, and death. Each city I have visited, each lake-side village, I could not dissociate myself from the possibility that behind closed doors there are people who are struggling for their daily bread, have broken relationships, and are sheltering abused wives and children.

Lesson#2 - There are only four options if you want to enjoy travelling in a city - 1. Do not overthink; 2. Volunteer with a local NGO, expecting to learn from them instead of teach them; 3. Limit yourself to tourist destinations to avoid reality; 4. Stick to nature - your mental health will thank you for it.

Fact#3 - Travel bloggers do not lead a life of luxury 24/7. They work hard. For example, I found myself, in every new situation, formulating my experiences into words that I could articulate in my next blog. Every moment had to be captured in a photo or video. Every dish I ate. Every alleyway. And once that was done, came the sorting, the writing, the multiple edits over days and weeks.

Lesson#3 - If you are travelling for yourself, do not write a blog. If you would still like to start a blog, check out the blogging tips by World of Wanderlust, posted on my facebook page.

Lesson#4 - Successful travel bloggers may not be staying in hostels and backpacking. They have worked very hard to promote their blog and win free stays at spas and hotels.

Lesson 7. Media is marketing

Fact#1 - You will be bombarded with negative stories from social media - sexism, destruction, exploitation, and loss. On the other hand, you will notice travel bloggers post beautiful photos of the places they have visited and the people they meet. Both worlds are make-believe.

Lesson#1 - Experience the world in your own way.

Lesson#2 - Music always helps enhance your travelling experience. Try out these Hindi travelling songs on YouTube - Road Trip Songs. They helped me.


In my next post, I hope to share more definite tips about what has made my travels easier, including apps, finding your way around a new place, and finding company.

Please stay tuned, and continue to support my travels by reading, sharing, and following me on Facebook and Instagram! And, don't forget to leave a comment for me below!










Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Behind the Looking Glass

Imagine. You are standing in front of a clock, round, with 12 hour hands and 60 minute hands. Take one step towards the clock. The hour hands begin to take shape; forming arms and legs. Another step forward. The heads of the hour hands transform into faces of travellers known to you; travellers who inspire you. Another step forward. The minute hands form words so miniscule, you can only imagine they are the stories narrated by these travellers.

Drawn into a trance, you take a few more steps forward and have now entered the insides of the clocks, watching the wheels turn. But wait. You hear whispering.

fotosearch.com
"Psst; Not that photo. How about this one". "There's this one too". "Yes, that one looks good". Sudden silence. A flash. You look down at your clothes and see images playing on them. Turning around, you are surrounded by an aurora borealis of colours. The colours form inverted images, infinitely bigger than you, on the backside of the clock face.

The images make no sense to you. But you hear gasps from outside the clock. "Wow; that's where she went". "Oh so beautiful". "I wish I could go there". You suddenly realize the projected images are yours; the compliments on the outside are for you. You smile and whisper to yourself, "thank you".

I smile and I whisper  "thank you".

My favourite new Merrell footwear


This post is dedicated to the readers of my blog, who have shared my posts, supported me through my travels, and together built up my views to 5,000 this month!

There have been times where I have been busy travelling, fallen sick, or needed to support my family and friends in need. This has meant a long hiatus in blogging. There are also times I am unable to share parts of my travel to ensure the privacy of those I meet.

In all my travels, one fact holds true. Despite the struggles that I have seen people face (physical illness, mutilation, meagre finances, exploitation, and depression), communities build people.

You have continued to read and build my readership, and I thank you as my own community for your love and support! Au revoir until my next post!

I will continue to update you more regularly on my facebook page "One Woman Empowered", and my Instagram account "@onewomanempowered".

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Travel Space-Time Continuum in Asia!

So far, I have shared my video blogs of India with you, in my last two blog posts. The history that each building embodies, the beauty of the vistas, and the depth of the relationships is something I hope I could convey through my photos.

In this post, I share with out my travels outside India. Excited?! I know I am!


Vietnam

Fact#1 - I landed in Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh, a city of many glittering highrises, wide clean roads, well groomed local parks, and late night Sepak Takraw and badminton sessions played by youth. The city is also lined with tangled thick and thin telephone wires hanging above houses on all streets. These two pictures presented a city which still has a ways to go, yet much that other countries could learn from.

Fact#2 - In all my travels so far through Asia, I felt safest walking at night in Ho Chi Minh, close to the tourist hub of the city. It was surprising and refreshing to me as a female foreigner that no one glanced at me once leave alone twice.

Fact#3 - There are massage parlours every few feet in the tourist part of town of Ho Chi Minh. I can only hope that they truly offer massages. But, I did witness a tourist sexually harassing one of the staff distributing flyers outside their parlour. This once again highlighted my and our responsibility as tourists to foreign countries.

Fact#3 - The number of motorcycles on the roads of Ho Chi Minh city is unbelievable. Watching throngs of them line up at each intersection for at least a mile, stretching the entire width of the road, is a sight to be seen. But because of these motorcycles, the pollution in Ho Chi Minh has been measured to be deadly. I met and spoke to a researcher who will be publishing a research paper about air quality in Ho Chi Minh within the next year. Do read about it.

Fact#4 - Cat Tien National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site. Taking a tour bus to the National Park is confusing, maybe because the tourism infrastructure of Vietnam is still being developed. Along the way, I saw many tall, thin rubber trees which are associated with local ghost stories, of raped women who haunt men and women at night, calling them into the forest and leading them to suicide. A disturbing history connected with natural beauty.

Fact#5 - Walking amongst the trees at Cat Tien National Park, I could hear sounds, maybe of birds. I did not see any animals, and only 1 crocodile at the park's crocodile lake. Upon asking the staff there, I was told that large mammals are now extinct and only a few birds and monkeys still remain. The Cat Tien National Park suffered extensively during the Vietnam War and even after the war ended. I live in the hopes that the staff will maintain what remains in the Park.


Cambodia

Fact#1 - The road from the airport to the city is lined with beautiful resorts, separated by wide open spaces. The presence of these resorts was striking to me, compared to the city and its humble lifestyle. When I called for a tuktuk as a foreign tourist, I once again realized how easily fares can skyrocket for the shortest of distances if you are not local.

Fact#2 - The "Old Market" and "New Market" in Siem Reap seem to cater to tourists, while the local market, scattered with fishes, fruits, and vegetables, is visited by locals. I would recommend buying sugarcane juice from a street vendor in the local market; no flies, so clean, and yummm!

Fact# 3 - There are many historical killing fields across Cambodia. One of the locations where Cambodians were slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge regime, I read, was at Angkor Wat and its neighbouring temple complexes.

Fact#4 - Angkor Wat is adjacent to other temple cities such as Angkor Thom, which all exist in one large complex. The best way to visit these temples is by following a path (small circuit which takes 2 days, and large circuit which takes longer).  These temples show carvings from both Hindu and Buddhist religions. One of the temples was reconstructed in a way to represent a sleeping Buddha across the 2nd floor length of the temple; another depicted faces of Buddhas on each of its tower.


Myanmar

Fact#1 - There are pagodas across Myanmar dedicated to the Buddha. From what I have seen, worship of the Buddha varies in different countries around the world. The faces of the Buddha in Rangoon's pagodas, and the adornment of these temples with gold, is something that I have not yet seen in other parts of the world. How each country adopted Buddhism would be an interesting read.

Fact#2 - There are female Buddhist monks in Myanmar! Think about how significant this is.

Fact#3 - Tourists generally spend half a day visiting Inle Lake, which means they only visit the first of three lake villages along the corridor of Inle Lake. I was told by (trustworthy) local tour guides that the most beautiful lake and village is located at the end of the Inle Lake corridor. To visit it requires a full day's boat tour, starting early in the morning and ending in the evening. Don't forget a good hat, sunglasses, and tons of water to keep you hydrated and cool.

Fact#4 - As I rode along the Lake, I was able to witness floating farms of chickens and cows, a stilted nursery school, and many shops for tourists and local houses. There are also stilted hotel rooms along Inle Lake, and you can stay there at a reasonable price! But, the beauty of the Lake, I think, has been preserved because of the minimal number of tourists there, which I hope will not change.



Please stay tuned for my next post. I myself do not know where that will be!

Thank you for continuing to follow my travels; I eagerly wait for your comments after every post! Please do not forget to Like my facebook page, One Woman Empowered, which also contains my podcast, photos, and articles. Do share my blog with others who may be interested as well!

P.S. The music used in these videos was found on bensound.com. And some of these photos were taken by my new friend and travelling companion to parts of India and Asia, also an outdoor enthusiast and brilliant photographer!

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Travel Space-Time Continuum - Part 2

Part 2 of The Travel Space-Time Continuum presents Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan!

In my last post, I shared some photos and facts from Mumbai, Gujarat state, and Delhi. Facts that stood out to me, and that I thought you would also find interesting. As the bulk of the cities I have visited were in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan I wanted to dedicate one post to these states in India. I hope you like this post as much as you liked the last one!

As you may have noticed, Central India is home to me and my family. And, Delhi being the capital of India and home to so many historical buildings required its own video. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan though are two states that one, evoked strong emotions in me, and two, inspired my imagination.




Uttar Pradesh

Fact#1 - Many structures in Agra and Fatehpursikri are symbols of architectural prowess, but also of labour and loss. For example, the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz, who died  giving birth to her 14th child. And, did you know that the inspiration for the Taj Mahal was Humayun's Tomb, the mausoleum built in Delhi by Shah Jahan's great grandmother, Empress Bega Begum, for her husband, Humayun. 

Fact#2 - Rajasthan's quarried stones were used to build magnificent structures such as the Taj Mahal and Red Fort in Agra and Buland Darwajah in Fatehpursikri. 

Fact#3 - Agra is also home to a cafe that is run by acid attack survivors, young women who are powerhouses, pursuing their individual passions in art, fashion, and business. We could all learn a thing or two from them.

Fact#4 - One does not need to buy anything from local vendors at mosques and temples in order to express faith and belief in a higher good.


Rajasthan

Fact#1 - Pushkar's Ghat has bathing areas where women can perform ablutions. These are cleaned regularly. In fact the Ghat has signs advocating respect for women on all its walls. 

Fact#2 - In cities, camels are used by tourists as part of travel packages. Local residents use motorbikes and jeeps to travel. Camels are mainly used by local residents in farms, deserts, and rural regions for transport.


Fact#3 - Rajasthan is home to some of the most beautiful forts and palaces I have seen. Some of these buildings are open to the public while the king lives in their own private quarters in the same compound. A prime example is the Umaid Bhawan palace in Jodhpur. 

Fact#4 - Some buildings are called palaces but are hotels built only for tourists.

Fact#5 - There are local parks in cities around Rajasthan where youth and seniors go for walks early morning to stay active. For example, Gulaab Bagh.

Fact#6 - Rajasthan, in its cultural richness, architectural in genuinity (read about the Hawa Mahal), and it's colours and traditions has captured my imagination in a way no other city may be able to.





In my next post, I will be sharing more photos of cities I have visited outside Asia. Do continue to read and like these posts, and share your comments below and on Facebook at"One Woman Empowered".

Wishing you a colourful day ahead!!

P.S. Music courtesy bensound.com



Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Travel Space-Time Continuum - Part 1

At my age (30), visiting cities not only takes me back in time and space, it forces me to ask questions about the past, the present, and the future. I have learned that I need to take a break even when I travel, to collect my thoughts, share them, and dissociate myself from the past so I can continue on my journey. 

Not an easy task, especially when the present is waiting for you on the other side of the gates asking it's own questions!

One thing is for sure, each city has made its own special place in my travel memories; and although my videos present you with photos of forts, temples, and palaces, I have learned much more about India through the cities I have visited.

Central India

Fact#1 - The community built between friends, family members, and professionals and their clients has been the binding force for each person's private life. Without such a community, it would be that much harder to survive what we as humans face. 

Fact#2 - Gujarat's cities, roads, and railway stations are some of the cleanest I have seen in India. I was only startled by the high incidence of air pollution plaguing Ahmedabad....

Fact#3 - Gujarat's historical stepwells - their architecture and their embellishments - are breathtaking. Each carving holds special significance and may even be based on astronomical and scientific principles. In fact, as an example, I would recommend reading about Modhera's sun temple!


Delhi

Fact#1 - Not all parts of Delhi are unsafe. In fact, walking around Hauz Khaas Village in South Delhi, I felt right at home in my Western clothes and couldn't help but notice women practising yoga by the lake.

Fact#2 - Significant strides are being made in India for cleanliness and to reduce pollution. There are trees lining many roads. All vehicles in Delhi must run only in compressed natural gas, a cleaner option. But yes, to reduce the pollution already created due to generations of globalization, it will take time.

Fact#3 - The preservation of historical structures in Delhi is laudable. And then, new structures like the Bahai Lotus Temple and Akshardham Temple are present-day architectural marvels. But, I was especially impressed by the efforts taken to reconstruct Humayun's Tomb. Please do read about it.


Please stay tuned for my next post about cities I visited in UP and Rajasthan. And do let me know what you would like to hear more about, by leaving a comment below!

Do not forget to like my Facebook page "One Woman Empowered" and share my posts! And thank you as always for continuing to read and encouraging me on my travels. It does keep me going!!

P.S. Music courtesy incompetech.com and bensound.com


Thursday, 31 March 2016

The perfect haircut

I look at my scissors and my hair in the mirror. "I'm ready," I say to myself. I begin cutting off one strand at a time without any inhibition or fear. Although I am unable to see whether I am making progress, I touch the back of my neck and I think my hair is well trimmed. Then I hear him. "What are you doing?! Are you crazy?!! Don't do that!". 10 minutes later, with his help, my hair looks neat and tidy enough to me... The moment I decided an imperfect haircut would do - very easy. The moment I decided an imperfect trip would do - much harder!





Hostels, Hotels, and Interesting Conversations

I have now lived in houses, hostels, swanky business hotels, resorts, and on a ship in Antarctica. I have camped on snow, and will live in a tent. I have slept in a train, bus, car, tuk-tuk, boat, plane, capsule hotel, and ship. If I could sleep on a bicycle, I would probably do that too. Lol.

But, I have always maintained that I feel most comfortable in hostels. After all, I get to pay nominal prices for a bed and breakfast package, and meet the most interesting of strangers!

Take the time when I learned about the 70 year old grandpa who bikes across Canada, or when I set off with my new friends on bicycles to nearby wineries in Niagara Lake!

Not all hostels are created equal though.

Some leave you just as lonely as hotels, and some do not hold the same cleanliness or safety standards as other hostels. In fact, after much convincing and informed advice, I have not spent a single day in a hostel ever since I left Argentina. Yet, I have had some of the most memorable conversations since I began my trip in December (2015).

My first memorable conversation took place in the tourist hub of Vietnam.

It was an odd sight for me as I walked down a broad, paved road that was congested with vehicles and foot traffic, with my hiking backpack on my back, after an hour’s ride on a bus from the airport. Both sides of the road were flanked by restaurants serving alcohol to foreign clientele seated outside; there were massage parlours every few feet, and street hawkers blaring automated speakers announcing the delicacies being sold.

I still remember particularly observing one lady who would lie like Cleopatra atop a portable wooden table, just like the small ceramic models sold in souvenir shops across the world. She had Vietnamese facial features, a round body, and an aura of superiority that I recorded in my mind.

A few shops down and on the right, I found a small, long restaurant with two steps leading to a cement floor, 6 tables, four chairs around each table, and two tables lining the passageway every few feet. My new-found friend and I took a seat at a table outside the restaurant.

At the table next to us was a gentleman, obviously a foreigner. He continued to sip from his bottle of beer, while watching the road only a few steps away from his table. Looking down the road, all foreigners seemed to have the same past-time, while the local residents dressed to the ninths were entering the club opposite us.

In no time, the waiter brought a couple to be seated at his table.

The gentleman courteously left his table, asked if he could grab the seat on the outer edge of our table, and took a seat. In order to preserve my stoic yet polite fa├žade, I nudged my friend – “Offer him some fries”. The gentleman refused. “Talk to him”.

One nudge at a time, one question at a time, and soon ensues an interesting conversation. He was from Canada, completing research on the air quality of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The conversation was heavy yet humorous.  

We chatted about pollution in India and Vietnam, capitalism and economies driven by tourism, self-interest, and politics. As we parted ways, we received tips from him about where to visit so we are away from the touristic hub of Ho Chi Minh.

Hours later, just as fast as the conversation began, it ended. I have learned that these kinds of interactions are just as precious to me, as friendships that develop while travelling. #travelsuccess

The other conversation that still stands out in my mind was also with tourists in Pushkar, India.

After an hour’s walk from the resort located on the outskirts of the city, I found myself walking along the steps of the Bathing Ghat. As I felt the hot steps under my bare feet, I watched believers bathing themselves in the Ghat, and a few tourists self-reflecting as they watched the still water a few feet from them.

The steps were surrounding the Ghat on all four sides, and right opposite the gate I had entered from, my friend noticed three girls sitting at the topmost step of one set of stairs. Two were wearing traditional dresses from the state of Rajasthan, and a younger girl was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans.

This time my friend nudged me. “Take their photo. Three women seated together. This is exactly what you are looking for”. My conscience forced me to ask them whether they would feel comfortable if I took their photo. One of the three ladies responded. “Mine?!”. I replied back in Hindi, the Indian language I felt most comfortable with. “All three of you, please”. To which, the younger girl said, “No”.

I understand (okay a bit upset at the lost opportunity, but I understand), and I walk onwards to a small stone canopy. Sharing that canopy with two other tourists, both foreigners, I resisted talking to them. After all, I wanted an authentic Indian experience.

But no sooner did we start, thanks to my friend, we shared one of the most intellectual conversations I have ever had on my trip so far.

The conversation was enhanced only due to the deeper knowledge of India that my friend possessed. As we were sitting there in the dimmest of lights, all others began to leave the Ghat. Yet, we continued talking, about pollution and cleanliness in India, commercialization for the sake of tourism, respecting local customs and religious beliefs, and the differences we experience travelling alone versus with a companion. The one point that was raised time and again was the need to have open discussions between and within countries for continuous improvement.

The fantasy of living life small, in hostels, speaking to locals, has been dashed as I sit there, whether in Vietnam or India, having an intellectual conversation with my friend from India and with visiting foreigners, all of us broadening our own narrow vision of the world….

Cheap, Luxurious, or Available (Vehicles)

The avant garde solo travelette in me, the rebel, couldn’t care less about cars and flights. In fact, my ultimate fantasy would be to use the cheapest form of transport to get anywhere in the world.

Put me in a bus, a truck, or a small boat and despite the hours of nausea and exhaustion I will recount it as one of my fondest memories. I guess I have a penchant for travel torture.

On this trip though, I have experienced the city in ways that I would never experience had I been travelling alone. Totally against my need to travel cheap, but extremely comfortable for sure.


How to book train tickets in India, and train etiquette

My train travels were of course still aligned with my need to travel cheap. Phew! Did you know? There is a website that can be used to book train tickets in India!

I still remember sitting down with my aunt to book my train to Baroda, India. The only constraint was that I did not have an Indian credit card. Shucks!

Once the tickets were booked with my aunt’s credit card, the advice I received was to refrain from talking, looking, and smiling at anyone. Oh, and no eating anything served on the trains. Totally unlike me! But I heeded the advice and not once did I even glance at another soul.

Ok, I lie. I glanced.

I placed my bags on the horizontal steel poles placed high above my seat for luggage, and sat down at my window seat. Not too long later, a man sat beside me on his reserved seat and asked me to close the blinds to block the sunlight. The sunlight! Grrrr!

My movie-like desire to feel the wind and view villages passing by had been dashed! I tried to console myself; "Who cares if it is not perfect"! No use.

A few hours later, I was surprised by an unfamiliar voice calling my name. My friend's friend had come to visit me in the train for a handful of minutes, to give me a quick bite to eat while the train had stopped at Surat. Context – I had bought a sandwich at the railway station in Mumbai when I set out, but as it was not grilled, my friends and family told me it may not be safe to eat.

A few bites of the Dhokla I was given by my newest friend, and my mood was uplifted in an instant! Isn't it amazing – how a network can be built across many miles just to uplift one spirit.

In the many months to come, I travelled to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Within each city, I tried different modes of transportation, based on what was easily available, comfortable, and/or reasonably priced.

I took autorickshaws in India, Cambodia, and Myanmar; intercity tourist cars in India and Vietnam; taxis in India, Vietnam, and Myanmar; local buses in India and Vietnam; overnight sleeper buses in India and Myanmar; and local and overnight sleeper trains in India.

Out of all these modes of transportation, my best experiences in India were technology-based. I have been able to tell exactly how late my sleeper bus and train will be at each of its stops along the way, from an understated local website.

I have learned how to find reliable intercity tourist cars.

I have even downloaded mobile apps to call for local taxis in India (Ola Cabs for cars and Jugnoo for autorickshaws), and other apps (m-Indicator) to find out when and where to catch local buses and trains, right down to the platform number and name of the train and bus stations.

The perfect health

Forget about accommodation and mode of transportation. In order to successfully complete any travel plan I have devised (*LOUD EVIL LAUGHTER*), my health has been the most important.

It has been my driving force that has determined where I will stay and what mode of transportation I will use to travel. And, this has been a typical year for me where my health is concerned! I do not know about others, but I don’t think I have ever been perfectly healthy throughout a year. Lol.

Bruises in Antarctica, colds and coughs in Jodhpur and Mumbai (India), mosquito bites to boot, rashes in the weirdest places, and pain affecting various body parts.

From my experiences, I have learned that:
  • Bruises fade away.
  • So do small burns (Although I know the key catalyst for my burns to fade away was a popular Mumbai cream called zakhmerooz)! 
  • I love sleep and it really helped with my heat-induced headaches and colds and coughs. 
  • I avoid antibiotics with all my heart, but once in a while it did speed up my recovery.
  • Moisturizers really help with rashes.
What else?:
  • Lip balm helps reduce the sting of dryness in the air.
  • Hiking in the wilderness helped with my knee pain.
  • Hand sanitizer is effective for mosquito bites. 
  • My insect bite gel was an excellent investment for particularly stingy mosquito bites.
  • Painkillers were essential when I could not bear my menstrual pain.
And, finally, hurrah for WhatsApp when I missed my friends and family.
But, being surrounded by healthy people who are active also makes a big difference!

As I have travelled, I have seen the best of the best in terms of health advocacy around the world.

Winter marathons for youth and adults across India; seniors waking up early to catch the sunrise while walking in their local parks; youth playing badminton on the streets at night and practicing yoga by lakes in the park; and outside gyms in Vietnam and Delhi (India), so local residents can exercise any part of their body on open-air machines at all times of the day.

In fact, I think my body has just been exhausted taking local buses, trains, rickshaws, and cars. Combine that with the pollution and the incredible heat that is pervasive in Asian summers. Unfathomable!

I guess there are only two possibilities – one is that there is no recourse for those who must travel for work and work in the heat, and the other is that those who do have recourse can find comfort under fans and ACs in restaurants or shops.

The perfect experience

My best experiences in India were ones that involved laughing and singing with my cousins on a bed while watching old, classic movies; sitting on the floor eating sandwiches and full-on Indian meals; and watching my niece jump around the house like a little kangaroo.

Kangaroo? Imagine - a 2-year old running around the entire house, singing at whim, pouring you imaginary tea, spreading powder on her face and yes, refusing to sleep!

Apart from the moments I spent with my family, I have learned about my need to believe in others despite their negative attitudes, the vast array of intellectual thoughts and paradigms impacting Indian education, and the efforts of the few in spite of their perception that their impact will just be a drop in the complex history and infrastructure of India.

There were times where I was tired and sleepy and could not keep my eyes open for longer than a few minutes.

Yet, I fought the urge to sleep and captured my environment on camera so I could really feel its power, if not in the present then in the future. There were also times where I admired the architectural prowess of heritage structures while battling with the knowledge of the pain and death involved in their making. In some cases, death has followed some structures until recently because star-crossed lovers have decided to leap to their deaths from them.

Genuineness of intent

The most appreciated and respected figures are no comparison to regular women I have met. I still remember sitting in Nimisha’s car when I met her in Surat.

She was passing under an expressway when she asked me, “Did you see them fighting”. I hadn’t. To which she responded that she had once intercepted a fight by walking over and hugging one of the people involved in the fight. The person she hugged automatically calmed down. “Do you want to do that now?,” I asked. “Should we?”. “Sure!”.

A U-turn, a quick parking, and off she went to mediate. Not too long later, I saw smiles on some of their faces. Her presence had obviously made a difference, and she had spent more than a few minutes with them, listening to both sides and nodding her head to imply she had heard them.

When she returned to the car, I asked her whether she would return the next day and whether she thought she had made a difference. A practical person, she responded that she may not have. But I truly believe she had in that moment….

There are few like Nimisha who step out of their regular routine to help a passerby.

Some I have met who explain and assist me graciously. Others who care only for their self-interest, avoiding any services that may be in their professional package but cause them inconvenience. Still others who claim ignorance when they are alerted to their lack of service.

All this to say, I must learn that no trip is perfect, no person is perfect. But, I continue to be an ill-fated optimist that everyone has a soft, pleasant, kind, caring corner somewhere deep down in their heart of hearts.

Nature versus Nurture

Vietnam

In Vietnam, I spent USD $265 on a hike. Too much right?

After months of city dwelling, I needed it. After all, that is where I have always found pure happiness – amongst the trees!

A long ride to the national park, much asking for directions and searching for vegetarian food, forms filled in the dim light of a lamp by a lake, a short boat ride, a 2 minute golf cart ride to get the keys to the hotel room, and the end of the night in the room.

However, the trip to the hotel did not disappoint as much as the attitude of the hotel staff, who found it inconvenient to cook vegetarian meals, had little to no knowledge about the species in the park and why their large mammals were extinct, and were unable to advise us when crocodiles could be seen at the nearby lake.

With my training in Antarctica, I patiently waited for an hour on the second floor of a lean, tall, three story wooden structure. Staring through the camera my friend loaned me, I noticed something harsh and brownish on the lake surface.

I zoomed my friend’s camera to focus some more, and omg! There, far in the distance, after being told they were not around, I and only I saw the teensy weensy eyes of a croc! I took one hazy photo and then it disappeared, not giving me a second chance to hold the camera more stable.

But, the walk to the lake and back to the hotel was the best part of the experience. As I walked amongst the trees, I mulled over my thoughts while listening to cricket-like chirping around me, an orange jacket around my waist, and drinking my bottle of water in the humid heat. I realized how much I had missed hiking. Solo or not. This was #MyNature.































On this trip I have realized my best experiences may not necessarily be solo, but they must involve hiking, pushing myself, and feeling the incredible physiological and mental satisfaction of achieving something while being out and about, amongst the trees!

Case in point – Myanmar.

My favourite experience there was the ride along a narrow stretch of water that turns into a wide lake and then begins to be spotted with floating farms with cows and chickens, houses and shops on stilts with clothes hanging outside to dry, and tufts of green dotting the lake.

Despite the stopovers at the tourist markets and only one small child asking for payment (uncharacteristically) to park our boat, I enjoyed watching the clouds above me with squinted eyes due to the harsh sunlight beating down on me.

As I lay there face up in the boat, staring at the sky, I could feel the boat leaning forward, landing in the water with a whoosh everytime there was a dip in the river. Inle Lake is known for its fishermen who row the boat with one foot while using their hands to hold their coned nets and catch fish.
Many of us choose to idealize this picture and the simple way of life, with local residents bathing in the river, and their children fishing with makeshift rods.

I choose to remember this serenity of Inle Lake, and wonder whether I truly understood the economic and emotional state of its residents #MyNature.



India

In India, I enjoyed my brief, 90 minute walk from my resort, on the outskirts of Pushkar, to the Bathing Ghat in the city town.

Hiking in my Merrells in the desert sands, I felt I could tackle anything in front of me. Heat? Pshh! Sand? Pshh! #MyNature. I heard kid’s voices in the distance. Oh sweet village children; innocent, smiling, children. But my naivety was shattered.

First asking for chocolates, then for my bracelet, and finally for money, I wondered where their innocence had disappeared.

And, whether genuineness could be preserved while also building infrastructure, spreading technology, and encouraging tourism.

Cambodia

And finally, the environment was totally different in Cambodia, which took me back in generations to a time when a whole city was dotted with differently built Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Angkor Wat.

After a long drive in a tuktuk, hiking in the heat from 5am in the morning till 3pm in the afternoon, past trees enveloping the temples, in the dirt, up each temple’s steep steps, along the temple’s corridors, and finally sitting outside the temple by a murky, green lake watching the sunset.

I could not get enough of it, gulping down mouthfuls of water and trekking in my Merrell shoes was the best feeling!

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In the past two months, I have learned that if one enjoys travelling, it doesn’t matter if it is solo or with someone (only the right companion is required).

#MyNature is one in which I can be outside and push myself physically and mentally.






























I have hiked in national parks, deserts, villages, and cities. I have experienced minor and rare incidents of sexual harassment, a fascination for foreigners, and commercialization and exploitation of tourists (local and foreign).

I have appreciated architectural prowess while feeling overwhelmed by my historical knowledge of wondrous monuments.

I have gone entirely vegetarian and experienced difficulty finding vegetarian food.

I have learned that there are advancements in the East that I have not come across in the West, and I have learned women are pursuing any and all professions around the world.

In all these experiences, one thing is for sure, I feel most comfortable in #MyNature, one in which there are trees and I can hike. In fact, did you know that Stanford researchers have found a positive relation between hiking and mental health!


Before I end this post, I have been asked to share my tips on 5 essential things I think every person should travel with. What I have learned I should never travel without:
  1. Working phone – I used it to take photos, access maps, order taxis, and Google top destinations I wanted to visit. I also kept in touch via WhatsApp with family and friends.
  2. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper – So very important when I needed to sanitize any injury, when I found myself dotted with mosquito bites, and when I needed to use the bathroom!
  3. Menstrual underwear (yes this is directed to women) – I wanted to make sure I did not leave behind a large environmental footprint and that I was travelling light.
  4. Medication, including painkillers and cold medicine
  5. Local currency cash, and a valid credit card – No matter what Google tells you, I have learned not everyone accepts US dollars!
Of all these, except for #3, you can find the others at local stores and at the airport.

My secondary list would include:
  1. Universal adapter with a high quality USB cable - I have come across so many types of plug outlets around the world!
  2. High-end portable charger – Smartphones run out of battery quickly. So annoying.
  3. Synthetic fibre clothes that can wash and dry fast. Super helpful!
  4. Excellent hiking backpack that won’t break your back
  5. Healthy snacks for midnight hunger pangs!

I am in the process of preparing a video to share all my experiences with you in Asia. Do stay tuned and thank you for continuing to check if and when I make a post!

P.S. There is also a new website (onewomanempowered.com) that will lead you to all my different social media accounts - Instagram for photos, my facebook page "One Woman Empowered", and Twitter. Please do not forget to leave a comment, and like my facebook page so you can continue to be notified of new posts, which will I hope be more frequent going forward!!

Wish you a perfect day!