Sunday, September 22, 2013

You win, Dad. We're Not Going to India... This Time.

Since the idea for our trip came to life, Sarah and I have gone back and forth countless times over whether or not we should include India on our recklessly tentative list of potential destinations itinerary. The idea of traveling to India is extremely compelling as students and teachers of the practice of yoga.

While there are many destinations within India where we could practice yoga in the very country of its origin, we settled on Rishikesh, a town in the northern state of Uttarakhand on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Often called the "Yoga Capital of the World," Rishikesh is home to dozens of ashrams where visitors can study yoga and meditation.

Since putting India on the table, we've gotten lots of feedback from friends and family discouraging us from going there. The main concern is sexual harassment and violence against women, particularly young, white, American women like us. While I recognize that the recent extreme horror stories in the media are probably outliers, it seems as though accounts of groping, stalking, relentless staring, and unwanted attention from men are very common. From what I've read, Rishikesh itself doesn't seem to be particularly dangerous, but the journey from the airport in New Delhi to Rishikesh could put us at risk.

While we've decided against visiting India for now, the threat of violence was only one factor on the "con" side of the list. The need for anti-malarial medication, the hassle of obtaining a visa, and a limited budget are relatively minor concerns that wouldn't otherwise stop me, but they tipped the scales for this particular journey.

I think it's important to note that these kinds of crimes can and do happen literally anywhere in the world, including the United States. I wouldn't walk alone at night in certain parts of Boston, let alone other major cities in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

Just because some Indian men committed heinous crimes doesn't warrant the assumption that all Indian men are predators. That would be straight-up racism, folks. It's that kind of thinking that breeds hate and disunity across the world. Part of the attraction of traveling is to learn first-hand what another culture is like through your own personal experiences, rather than ignorantly accepting stereotypes.

There are many accounts of women traveling in India who have been violated or assaulted to varying degrees, and I certainly don't mean to invalidate their experiences. However, let's remember that there are also plenty of women who have fantastic experiences traveling in India, and positive interactions with it's men. Travel writer Candace Rardon recently wrote an incredibly inspiring piece on this topic - please check it out here.

India isn't on the itinerary this time, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed - but I'm keeping an open mind for venturing there in the future. So go ahead, Dad, breathe that sigh of relief (for now).


  1. hey hillary!

    while i haven't traveled to India and am not validating anyone's experiences, I always try and live in the mindset that anything can happen anywhere. If you're meant to visit a place, just take care to do it and spend time with the locals.

    <3 jamie

    1. Thank you so much Jamie, that is great advice! I know I'm meant to visit India... it's just a question of when :)

  2. Mom is relieved, too! Enjoy Australia instead. Maybe a journey to "Uluru" or Ayres Rock:

  3. Hi Hillary! Rabies? Hospital? Dad seeks enlightenment. Love you!