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.
"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".