kanheri caves, India, Maharashtra province
"I think it's a very bad idea for you to go," the agent frowned. "A woman alone? That place is like nowhere else. It's very unsafe for you."
That was my conversation while booking my flight, and the travel agent -- a well-meaning young guy -- was strongly urging me not to go. I looked down at my bitten nails. Only yesterday, my partner was trying to convince me to stay home because it was not safe.
Once I made it obvious that I was planning to go no matter what (and the words felt false, since in my heart I was probably mildly depressed and wanted nothing more than to retreat to rural Canada for a week), the staffer changed his tune and told me I would have a grand adventure which didn't involve gang rape or robbery at knifepoint.
Booking the trip was messy. The medication, the typhoid shots, everything was done in a furious frenzy, dashing to the train and sprinting for blocks and blocks to arrive at the medical office in time, bruising up my knees in the process.
I'd been on a lot of trips before, and this one felt the most disorganized and crazy in a long time. My trip to Shanghai/Beijing/Suzhou was almost as messy, with me having to move out of my apartment on the day of departure, cleaning and packing from 9pm through 4am, sleeping on the floor for a few hours, then meeting with the building manager at 8am, then dumping boxes of donated electronics to the neighbourhood store at 9:30am, then grabbing a train and beelining it to the airport with less than 1 hour until departure (not cool for international flights), carrying everything from an extremely heavy box full of pennies to random business books in my giant backpack.
But at least even then, I'd arranged hostels. I'd booked guides to show me around. In India, I'd done nothing. Everything except my hotel was a pure blank slate. I made a feverish dash to Chapters and bought the only India travel book they had (sad state of bookstores these days), as well as a pocket language dictionary. But this was undoubtedly the worst planned journey I'd ever taken. And it would be one of the most important.
Probably due to the summer heat, I'd felt exhausted for weeks and felt like running on empty when I shambled into the Vancouver airport. There was no excitement, even--this was the first time I couldn't even get worked up and thrilled about a new place I was visiting. Everything was too much. A strong part of me felt like I shouldn't even be at this airport at all, that I should be back in my bed, trying to catch up on sleep.
But as I would discover in the next few days, the trip was absolutely worthwhile, and necessary.
I would learn that just about everything they told me about the place was wrong.
It was not dangerous for women (not refuting other people's experiences, this was just how it was for me).
I wasn't even catcalled.
People did not stare at me because I was a foreigner -- my foreignness fascinated exactly no one.
No one took advantage of me (I was almost "scammed" by a rickshaw driver for the princely sum of 40 cents once).
Stuff. Was not. Cheap. No shopping for me.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport was a million times nicer than the Charles De Gaulle Paris airport and made YVR look primitive by comparison.
And yet, I learned we are appallingly, almost offensively privileged in Canada and largely unaware of it.
All that and more I'd find out in the upcoming days, which will be roughly chronicled here.