Have you heard the one about the female NRI with a rucksack? I wish it was a joke, but the reality was, backpacking around India as a female Indian raised more than a few eyebrows - and a lot of questions.
For starters, locals could never quite figure out me out. I was Indian. Tick. I was clearly not poor as I ate out and stayed in hostels. Tick. Ergo, they thought I was mad. ‘Why do you want to join all the gora (whites) eating cheap street food and staying in wonky beach huts with no hot water?’ was a common question.
Wrong. Just because I was Indian (well, via Uganda and Essex), didn’t mean I had to stay in Hiltons and Hyatts and dine in the gymkana club restaurant. If I had, budget limitations would have restricted my trip to precisely 0.5 days. Instead, I wanted to see India the way I’d seen Thailand, Vietnam, Argentina.... meeting locals and fellow travellers, gorging on cheese and chutney sarnies at street markets and staying in local haunts.
And most of the time, after a little chat, the locals got it. They realised that being an Indian from the UK meant I still viewed India with foreign eyes even though part of me felt right at home too. But on the odd occasion, it wasn’t so clear-cut.
Take Bangalore for example. I’d left my friend to continue her travels to Kerala and booked myself into a comfortable three-star hotel in central Bangalore for my last night before the long flight home. As I approached my room, I noticed the door of the room opposite was wide open and three Indian men were sat on the floor chatting. They smiled and I said a polite hello before entering my room.? ?Inside, I treated myself to the first hot shower in two weeks, ordered room service and settled in for a night of trashy satellite TV followed by a good night’s sleep. Happily snoozing away, I was woken up at about 11pm by my phone. It was one of my neighbours from across the corridor asking me how much I charged and when I was free as he was ‘on heat’. I jest not.
Naturally, I told them where to go, but before phoning reception to lodge a complaint, I blocked my bedroom door with all the furniture I was able to move, just in case the three musketeers turned out to be raving loonies who thought a high-class hooker had just snubbed them. I know this furniture pile-up went against all fire safety common sense, but at the time, I felt their burning loins were a far greater risk than that of any fire. But I learnt my lesson. I’d be sticking to wonky beach huts in future...