The Taj Mahal!

I didn’t get groped in India on the first day. Not once.

 

On the second day I even took the metro, and forgetting about the women-only car at the front, crammed myself in with all the men. But no groping. One man even accidentally brushed against my forearm and then held up his hand in apology.

 

What was going on?

Even this guy in Chandni Chowk has no idea what's going on.

In all my travels around Asia, I’ve heard a million stories about travelling in India, both good and bad. There are always a few underlying themes: it’s incredible; you’ll both love it and hate it at the same time; and you’ll be hassled constantly: they want to sell you something, give you a ride, or take you to a store so they can get commission. And females will get groped in India, regularly, even when traveling with a male companion. Boobs and asses will be grabbed at every opportunity, with the woman able to do absolutely nothing about it.

 

But not me.

These guys harassed me on the street...but only because they saw me taking pictures of their oranges and wanted me to take one of them!

Men befriended me on the street, asking where I am from and how long I’d been in India, what hotel I was in, how long I would be staying. I gave my typical vague answers: “a while”, “over there somewhere”, “not sure”. They chatted for a bit, asked how I liked India, and asked me to visit their store. I said I wasn’t interested, and they let me go on my way, no more questions asked. They called out and waved a friendly hello any time I walked by again.

These guys are hoping for some work in Chandni Chowk, Delhi.

I wandered around, stared at occasionally but bothered very little, grinning from ear to ear at everything I saw, heard and smelled, loving every minute. I live for this stuff.

Wandering on Varanasi's waterfront. The smells here were....interesting, to say the least!

On the way to the metro station I found myself walking next to a man at about the same speed, and he struck up a conversation, asking where I was off to. Ever cautious, I told him I was just wandering and he told me about some places I should go both in Delhi and beyond. He was friendly and helpful, and upon parting wished me a wonderful trip in India. Nothing more.

 

I didn’t get hassled for much else, either. Auto-rickshaw drivers asked where I was going, offering a ride. A simple “No, thank you” was all it took for them to back off, as long as I kept walking. Only rarely was I required to say it twice.

The busy street in Chandni Chowk. Any one of these auto-rickshaw drivers could have harassed me. Very few actually did.

I picked up my friend from the airport, and we went to Agra. As the home of the Taj Mahal, Agra is tourist central, and we expected the worst harassment here. But still, neither of us was groped, and while of course we were offered rides and tourist trinkets, no one was overly persistent.

 

We did let one rickshaw driver take us to a ‘bazaar’, where we took a few minutes to examine the jewels and elaborate gemstone carpets, telling the salesman flat out that we were not going to buy anything. He answered our questions patiently, anxious to help us find that perfect souvenir but also happy enough to let us leave empty-handed.

There were definitely peaceful spots to be found in Agra!

I was confused. Where was the over-the-top harassment I’d been told about? Where were the scary men? Why hadn’t I been groped yet? (Not that I wanted to be, but I was expecting it!)

 

Surely in Varanasi we’d be pestered. Possibly India’s most full-on city, both touristy and a major pilgrimage site, it had to be the place we’d be excessively hassled and groped.

Pilgrims next to the river Ganges in Varanasi.

But even in Varanasi, harassment was minimal. Only when we actually wanted a rickshaw and began the negotiation game did it become intense, and even then it was only for a few minutes. Walking on the crowded streets and through narrow alleyways, I was ultra-cautious about my backpack, and still I was neither pickpocketed nor groped.

 

So what’s the deal, India?

Down an alleyway in Varanasi (ok, this was one of the wider and less busy ones).

Is it because after living in Oman, where harassment just doesn’t really exist, I had been away from it for long enough that it would take longer than a week for it to start to bother me?

 

Is it that as a pretty experienced traveler, I’ve learned to deal with rickshaw drivers and other forms of harassment very well so I am not as bothered by it as others?

 

Or is it possible that all the tales I’d heard about India were overblown, all the negative experiences welling up in the tellers’ minds and overflowing into their stories as if they had been constant occurrances?

The tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah in Agra, also known as the 'Baby Taj'.

Of course I fully realize that I was only in India for 8 days, and that in India terms that’s only thinking about scratching the surface of this incredible place. I know that harassment (sexual and otherwise) happens in India (and everywhere….) a lot and that it’s a big issue. Had I been there longer, perhaps I would have been groped, mugged, pickpocketed, and harassed until I could take no more. But I was definitely pleasantly surprised to find that none of this happened and that India with all its chaos, dirt, and crowds was just as charming as I’d wanted it to be.

 

Now when can I go back?

Were you groped in India? Were you harassed? Or not at all, like me? In what ways did India surprise you? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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