Travelling in India as women alone – including some tips

In India there are mostly more men than women on the streets (Jaipur)

 

I took so many good advices with me to India – about right behaviour, being chatted up and the status of women. All this might help to alleviate the culture shock, but it does not prevent it. And although you can for example read everywhere, that wearing Indian clothes is the better choice, I was still astonished which difference it made – in the perception of my counterpart namely.

And of course it is then difficult to retrace, that a free belly under the loose sari goes absolutely without saying, while the free shoulders or a wider decollete often trigger more than lecherous eyes. Many female tourists don’t realise that, others adapt and some enjoy that also.

Especially at the beach this is striking. Wherever a foreign women wears swimming clothes outside from the main tourist ghettos, it will attract a bigger or smaller group of men (well at least two in any case). These guys are looking, passing by and holding each others hands or shoot photos without any embarrassment.

 

Tip 1 – Wear appropriate clothes (really) – and use a scarf

It sounds so simple and old fashioned, but it is true. You are simply perceived in another way and you meet people on “eye level”.  I felt even better, when I bought my first Indian blouse (kurta) and combined this with soft trousers. In these clothes I always felt well and “dressed”. A light scarf is a good friend for all kind of situations – protects against the sun, looks and sometimes from air condition – I always had one in my day pack.

It is not foreseen to be alone

There is something additional for women traveling alone. I’ve often been asked, during my bus and train rides, where my companion is. Many Indian men ( and I suppose women too, but they usually do not start a chat) cannot imagine a woman traveling alone – without male protection. This can sometimes evoke a very helpful protective instinct.

 

Tip 2 – Ask for help actively

I often asked for the right bus or the right address, which had as consequence that the addressed person took me under his wings until I sat in the right bus or until I was on the right place. With time you get a feeling to ask the right persons, speaking a bit English and willing to help without hidden agenda.

Completely different gender relations

Women in India have a complete different status than in western countries. The female image is traditional and the genders are separated in a stricter way. To get to know each other better, or to touch each other before the marriage, is not foreseen, while at the same time the gender gap is increasing. That means because of targeted abortion and negligence, there are less women. This hinders the battle against children marriage (which is still widespread in the economic weaker North). And in many states there are almost no women on the street. Detailed information about the situation of women in India is available on Wikipedia.

All this can explain, why women travelling alone are often looked at, as if they came from another planet Additionally family has in India a much higher significance and importance than in European countries. Nobody is left alone – there is always someone from the family present, for most people the only available safety net.  To leave someone alone, is not foreseen. I met for example in the train a young man, whose parents moved to his city after he managed to find a job far away from home in the south.

 

Tip 3: Sometimes it is helpful to have a story ready.

Because of all this reasons it can be helpful to have a “story” ready. I told for example, that I am a widow. This had a huge impact on my conversational partners, and I was left in peace then in a different way and with respect.

Many tell about husbands or parents, which stood in the hotel just on that day. The clou is for sure to relate to an Indian husband, whereupon I would suggest to know a bit the country, its people and to speak one language, if you do that – it could be embarrassing otherwise. But I did not always talk about myself being a widow. This has to be appraised from case to case, because for many people the western lifestyle is not a closed book. Sticking to the truth can be the start of interesting conversations.

 

Differences in cities and tourist regions

In big cities you find a different picture. Here I met many young women, well educated and fluent in English, with western clothes, who even might drink a beer in the evening. These women transport a picture of a changing country, and I am very grateful for these contacts and experiences.

It makes also a difference how far the travelled regions are in their touristic development. The more touristic a region is, the more the relation between solo traveling women and male residents is changing. The interaction is more open and informal. Nobody is going to be surprised that this leads to one or the other affair – but this is another story.

 

Tip 4: Search the women

At a cooking class in a private household next to Hampi

 

In some states like in Kerala it is easy. Here the women are more self-confident, can be seen more often on the streets and many of them speak English. This makes an exchange quite accessible (Have a look at my article about Kerala). I made also good experiences with cooking classes. They enable fascinating and authentic insights in female living environments and a special intimacy arises via the common work and eating. I also had a unique encounter in Jaisalmer (Rajasthan), where I met an inspiring women. She byes the crafts from the surrounding villages and sells them in her small shop in a narrow street. The chat I had in this shop, sitting on a beautiful carpet, has reconciled me in a way, as I started to get really angry about the obvious discrimination of women in Rajasthan.

Conclusion

I met in India way more women traveling alone than in South-East- Asia. The question why this is so, is interesting, but would go beyond the scope here. It is remarkable that many travelers are in some search of themselves, of their path of life and understand their trip as spiritual search. And in comparison to South East Asia India is a more direct and intuitive experience. Here people stare at you and often you will be in the middle of attention – so you may experience yourself in a different way. The right blend between open acceptance of interesting opportunities and due caution is in my opinion one of the biggest and most interesting challenges, India can give you.

 

Further reading:

My top tips for women traveling to India: A good and extensive article, full with tips from one of the leading travel blogger about India.

Happy, safe solo traveling – India by yourself: Detailed and full with information, not only for women – worth reading!

Five reasons why travelling in India is not so scary: A  beautiful article – I especially like the focus on how amiable and helpful many Indians are.

The women traveling solo question: An excellent article, showing that staying at home is way more dangerous, as most of the violence against women take place in their direct social environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working in the hotel (4) … and why I finally left

In previous parts of this article series I wrote about the highlights of my work, had some thoughts about the joy of working and published an article about the connection between the work in a hotel and the Turkish family. To finish it (at least for the moment), I want to explain why I left this job earlier than foreseen. 

 

The happiness and satisfaction of guests is for me the main criteria during such kind of work. And even if it is turbulent behind the scenes or there are conflicts, it is necessary not to show to the guests anything about that. This is normal and I know it from my years of work in conference management. The more there are conflicts and difficulties behind the scenes, the more energy it costs you to insulate this from the guest, and – which is even more important – at a certain point the behaviour towards the guests is not authentic anymore. The famous smile,  which is not real. People notice this.

Somewhere along the way I realised, that I can transport this attitude less and less credibly towards guests, as I was too much bonded with this “background noise” – while – in the frame of burn-out prevention – I encouraged  to find a satisfying and honest approach to work.

 

And so I decided by mid September, with a heavy heart, to stop the work. For sure it was helpful that I could stay at the house of a dear working colleague and friend, so that I didn’t have to leave the country which I started to love despite all its contradictions.

Altogether I made an experience I would not want to miss. I had a great time with wonderful guests and colleagues at one of the most beautiful places of the world. I’ve learned and seen so much, like I didn’t for a long time. At the same time I am happy, that I left in time to have a positive general impression.

 

 

Working in the hotel (3) – the hotel and the Turkish family – a small tourism sociology side note

 

In the first part of this series of articles I wrote about the highlights of my work, in the second part about the joy of working. Today I continue with some thoughts about the Turkish family and its relevance in hotel business.

The hotel -as temporary home – is a professional led household, where all the guest wishes are fulfilled as soon as possible. In this one week of holiday, you don’t want to take care of anything – no housework. And in a house with mostly women travelling alone this is even more true.

Accordingly it is no coincidence, that hotels are often run as family businesses and many small houses live from the familiar atmosphere. I often heard from guests, that they feel safe like in a family, and the considerable amount of returning guests can be related to that. Also  the management played with  the image of the family business.

Most hotel and restaurant owners, as well as their families and employees (although the boundary is blurred) spend at least six often seven days per week in their business. This does not mean, that there is always something to do. But the presence is important – a kind of stand-by service – because whenever there is something, you have to jump. And in that way working time and leisure time are interleaved. This is very practical for the guests. Not only that there is always someone here, there is also no need to handle to many different faces, with clear persons to speak with and the feeling to be more involved in the family.

It was never easy  for me to spend leisure time in the hotel or during excursions with guests. The “guest radar” is always on – a kind of constant screening, if someone needs help. Neither holiday nor work  – in any case attention. Even when my radar was off, I was still contact person for the guest, and I did’nt like it so much to tell them I am not in charge – because I did not want anyone to wait or to search for the right person.

This experience of the “family” as business model, was despite its shady sides  enriching and valuable. Why I still left earlier than foreseen, is part of the next and last article of this series.

 

Winter at the Lycian coast

Big ships and wild light games – winter at the sea

 

Kış geldi – the winter has come. You can hear it everywhere. The last rain was really strong – and then the temperatures dropped again a few degrees.

Now make even the hardest start to use the ovens in everywhere in the small shops there are eletric heaters although I doubt about their effectiveness. Rubber boots are now an important utensil – minor floodings everywhere.

Even the forest cottage where I established myself, was affected. Suddenly there was a small stream flowing through the house – the young Auf once because a small stream flowed through – the young cat had to examine this with great amazement

It is often cold and windy – and I do not want to go out as much. But then when the sun breaks through a is a bit incredible light and cloud games and the distant view is breathtaking. The sea is wild with high waves and suddenly in all the bays there are large ships, who “park” here  to hide from  wind and weather.

Working in the hotel (2) – Kolay Gelsin – working with joy

 

 

In the first part of this serie about my time in a small turkish hotel I described my personal highlights of this period. This article focus. Today it’s about the attitude that I have tried to incorporate into my daily work.

My dear colleague D. has told me about a Turkish proverb. Kolay Gelsin – literally translated as “May it come easily.” In everyday life, this would mean something like “Keep up the good Work”. However this saying encouraged me to let the work come easy. Besides enjoying working this means for me to get into a certain workflow, where one job goes smoothly and logically to the next.

And they were there, the many beautiful moments. Not only to the activities, which I had the opportunity to accompany, but also in the hotel at the front desk, when there was just a good mood. And even with not so great activities – such as creating the transfer or cleaning lists, I came quite often in a certain flow, because I also wanted that all the guests were picked up at the right time and their rooms were ready on time. The thought of the results can therefore also provide quite joyful moments.

The ability to find joy in your work – and here especially in the service sector, and even more in tourism, is – I believe – a “stone”, which kills severals birds at a time. At first it is just a better feeling which makes you secondly more credible towards guests. When I go to work and I really like to take care of my guests, the result will be even better. And thirdly, that makes the guests more satisfied and that’s the point in the end. The circle is then closed by the fact that satisfied customers give positive feedback, and not just the staff is happy, but also the management, because regular guests bring good money with little marketing effort.

Often I have succeeded well, and the feedback from guests and colleagues have confirmed me with that. Unfortunately, there was in the hotel apart from all the good mood – not just according to my perception – a culture of grumping and moaning, characterized by low appreciation and many conflicts. To shield this from the guests, can be quite exhausting, and was in the end the reason for me move on. (but more on that in a later article).

In any case it take with me the idea to focus more on these aspects of flow and joy.  And for me, this idea also connects to a statement from the Bhagavagita, which provides, in substance, that one should do the work, but not attach to its fruits. This could be interpreted in a way that the activity itself is the value, and should be done with appropriate devotion. But I will think about it in peace during the next stage of my journey – when I go to Spain where I want to go a little deeper in my studies.

In the next part of this series of articles I am goig to continue  with reflections on hotel and family. Soon.

Working in the hotel (1) – the highlights

Coastal walk – the first highlight- Sunrise on the Bay of Adrasan

So many years I worked around this huge theme tourism – in applied research, as a project manager for education, public relations and regional development projects around the topic of social and environmental friendl tourism, and finally as an event manager for a major European conference. In parallel, always traveling a lot, experiencing with the lenses of a tourism expert- always a professional look. And yet all these years – I have always seen hotels as a guest and  never from the inside, from the side of those working in a hotel. When I got the opportunity last spring, to work in a small hotel on the Lycian coast (Turkey) and to take part in the guest services, I could not help but accept.

Finally, I worked three months in the hotel and gained an incredible amount of experience. A small selection of which I will present in a small series of articles. And the beginning – what could be more appropriate – are my personal highlights.
So many nice guests

The very best in the work was the direct contact with guests, mostly pleasant and intelligent guests. Many more women than men who came with a common desire: Once just relax for a few days only. It was always a pleasure to see the guest releasing more and more  from day to day, as they discovered the yoga, the sea, the nature, but also te contact with fellow travelers as a source of relaxation and inspiration. Many wept at parting, and said they had never relaxed so quickly and so well.

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Coastal walk – later just sit and watch

First steps in burn-out prevention

I also had the opportunity make my the first steps in the field of burn-out prevention. Once a week there was a short introduction and later sometimes a mini-workshop, when there was more interest. The feedback was really positive and I was very encouraged to continue working in this direction. At the same time I also see the difficulty to deal with such a heavy topic during holidays. Many guests contacted me almost apologetically, pointing out that they actually desperately need input in this area, but could not motivate themselves to join, as they just wanted to relax in this short week and not to deal with problems. Of course I fully understood that.

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Look – at the sea and more…

Once a week – coastal walk (including sunrise)

And then I could even do a weekly excursion – and that was a special joy. A morning walk, first to see the sunrise on the beach and then along the coast to the point where you see a small lighthouse and a lot of sea. Over time, I’ve adapted it and made it into a photo walk. With inputs how to arrange pictures and  peppered with thoughts about photography. The glowing eyes of the participants after these walks along a really beautiful coastline will stay with me for a longer time.

Yes – I had some really good experiences. But working in the hotel also helped me to gain some new insights – but more on that next time

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A former restaurant at the roadside – Ulupinar

Ulupinar is a small village on the coast road south of Antalya, which is primarily known for its trout restaurants. Whole  buses come here in the hot summer months – in the shade of the forest and the cool air of the water streams, it is probably one of the best places to be in the scorching summer heat to cool a bit.

Most restaurants are huge, and on designed for large groups that are brought up from the nearby resorts Kemer, Camyuva and Tekirova. In some of them tourists can even fish their own trout from the creek.

When we recently went by car to this place, however, I noticed a really nice house- a restaurant closed for some time. Really a pity – a nice shady garden, and stone house with a fireplace and wooden windows – now it rots. As a photo opportunity, it is  beautiful – see for yourself:

 

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Unbenannt

Arykanda – a Lycian city in the mountais

“The residents of Arykanda must have been happy people”, it comes to my mind while I am standing in Arykanda high on the mountain in the old amphitheater and admire the view. I imagine how the spectators did not know around 2000 years ago, if they want to look at the spectacle or at the view – and at night the stars.

In general the remaining ruins of this Lycian city are not a sign of poverty. Town houses, a political and commercial Agora, spas, baths, a stadium etc. The residents of Arykanda should also have been extravagant, but it seems they were able to refill the city coffers with trading revenues.

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There’s not much left and some can only be guessed, and yet – or perhaps for this reason – the place radiates its very own magic. The very picturesque ruins, surrounded by overgrown trees and bushes, on a sunny western slope at lofty heights just before Elmali where the houses nestle along the slope upward. The breathtaking views – best from the theater (see above).

 

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Interesting which buildings are located at the top of the slope. Not only the previously mentioned amphitheater but also the shopping mile, twelve square scale businesses opening to a beautiful place with – of course – an amazing view. But why are these shops at the top?Isn’t it tedious to bring all the goods upon delivery all the way up. On the other hand, next to the shops, the Town Hall (the ancient Greeks said Bouleiterion) – is then also convenient for the business men, as they have a very short way to the meeting room, after having closed their shops.

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We spend several hours there on a November day and stroll through time – nothing disturbs the peace, and I take pictures with joy and passion … when I suddenly see three soldiers in full gear and with guns on the seats of the theater . Shortly my heart slips into my boots and I take the camera aside. But probably they just want to make a short break and enjoy the view, as they are leaving just a few minutes later. Then there is again silence, and this unique atmosphere – which is going to stay with me for a while.

 

 

Tips

 

  • Plan enough time: Especially here it would be a pity just to tick off the attractions. The view and enchanted site invite you just to follow you nose and or to stay somewhere for a short break.
  • Time of the day: During the hot season (ie mid-June to mid-September), the midday should be avoided. Too hot and the photos will not be pretty. Best in the late afternoon to come and don’t forget to enjoy the evening light.
  • Equipment:a bit firmer shoes (eg trekking sandals) increase the fun factor while climbing and straying significantly. Water and something to snack as well.
  • I say it reluctantly, but Lycia is generally best reached by car . According to my information there are Dolmus from Kumluca and Finike(dolmus to Elmali). From the turnoff to Arykanda there are just a few hundred meters to the excavations. There’s also a guesthouse at this junction, which from the outside looks very charming.
  • And last but not least : The small waterfall almost directly on the street, a few meters after the junction to Arykanda. Here there are not only tons of great-tasting spring water (take your bottles!), but also a small Lokanta with delicious food, fresh grilled corn to take away, and a small bazar with the savory aplles from Elmali – Do not miss .

     

    And here’s a little slideshow. with some more pictures Enjoy!

     

     

Autumn at the Lycian Coast

The words for spring and autumn are very similar in Turkish. Spring is in the second quarter of the year from March to June is Ilk bahar – translated the first spring. When there is fall in Europal, there is Son Bahar in Turkey – the later spring. And it is true – while  the landscape became drier and drier over the sommermonths, the grass and the flowers slowly disappeared – now everything is thriving again. Green meadows lie down on the soils which are  becoming slowly wet, and wetter, and all sorts of autumn flowers make the landscape colorful  again.

At the same time, the days are getting shorter, the nights are fresh and now and then it rains cats and dogs for a few days. In the little wooden house where I live, we make ourselves ready for the winter slowly. Wood has been delivered, the thin wooden walls are covered with carpets and and the roofs and open terraces isolated with plastic sheets. And I’ve moved – from an airy tree house in the height I am now resettled in a  wooden hut nearer to the earth and better isolated- which improves the stability of my body heat considerably. That was necessary, as I did not fully realize how much I was freezing up there. Now I live not only warmer but also a drier.

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The inside life of my little hut

Yes, I had underestimated the cold. This may sound strange, as the temperatures are of course considerably higher than in Central Europe. The difference is probably the strength of the sun – if it shines. Then the few remaining guests and locals flock to the beach or out in the mountains and they really search for the sun – quite the opposite from the summer. A kind of inward warming up before shadows and the cold are coming around 4:00pm. To live closer to nature, means also to be more exposed to the cold. Then the warmth is all the more pleasant – at niche camp fires, or at the great designed fireplaces design in the very few still open restaurants where every evening brings together a round of people and to warm themselves.

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Afternoon lightgames at the beach of Cirali

My (for now) last month in Turkey is breaking and I am looking forward to more walks along the beach or in the mountains, wthe just starting mandarin and orange season (a taste explosion – I think I’m forever spoiled for citrus fruits purchased in Austria) and cozy soup cooking evenings by the warm stove, which is lined with thick pieces of wood. And the cold – yes, you have to outsmart it each day with a piece of the action ….

Five months in India – a small personal summary

Full Moon rising at the southern tip of India – Kanyakumari

 

Prenote: This article has been written in spring 2012 after my return to Austria from India. Unfortunately I found the time only now – almost five months later – to translate it in English.  This translation is also the first step towards a revival of my website – watch out!

 

India is like a lucky bag-. One – no, endless numbers of new worlds are opening up. Each city is different, where ever you go, there are always new and fascinating landscapes, and friendly people everywhere – at least in most places, Indians and loads of  travelers. I cannot count the number of nocturnal and sometimes very profound conversations I had.
This country attracts different travelers than Southeast Asia, there is less drinking and many people who stay longer, look for far more than running through the attractions. Through these many conversations I not only learned a lot about the country; I also saw a variety of different lifestyles and the search for it. Sometimes, however, I had the feeling that this country is just a projection, a playground for travelers to experience themselves – and I was no exception as well.
These encounters, the traveling around by bus and train – an impressive, tight, friendly and colorful experience, the variety of smells, noise, colors, dirt and dust – an assault on the senses (I know it’s a cliche but it’s true) , this incredible and touching experience nature in Hampi (of course) but also in the mountains of Western Gats, or the desert in Rajasthan or the sea in Kerala. All this and much more were the source of five brilliant months, I had in India.

 

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Wedding in Bikaner

 

The entry was gentle – relaxing on the beach, instead of a metropolis to start with, like so many other travellers suffering then weeks under the culture shock – and the idea did pay off. I wanted to like the country and did so from the very first second, with all its contradictions. Nevertheless, there are always those moments where you can just palm your face – dirt and pollution, incredibly dusty bureaucrats, antediluvian attitudes to gender issues, poverty, diseases and more. And then again the variety and colors, these full and dirty streets, the immense number of merchants and small businesses, the narrowness …… but also a fascinating nature in all varieties and shades, temples in all shapes and colors and and and and and … I think of India not as a country but a continent which can explain this diversity a bit. And each state with its own culture, language, gods and landscapes is a country. And yet there is a common cultural basis – as in Europe. India was like a grab bag – an attack on all the senses, sometimes positive sometimes negative.

 

The Indian everyday life (of course, with the luxury of a western tourist) became normal for me in these five months and the culture shock when returning home seems almost greater than five months ago, when I entered India palefaced and very excited. I now enjoy the luxury of warm water, drinking water from the tap, heated homes and broadband Internet. And yet all seems a bit anemic and clinically. Why is everything so perfect and clean but yet so gray and empty? The colorful life remaining on my computer’s hard disk with its nearly 35 GB of photos.

 

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Lonely beach in Kerala

 

I also intended to practice yoga during my stay in India. After a few hours of internet research, I realized that the offer is too confusing to find something reasonable without concrete tips.But what I did find is a renewed and deeper access to Nature . In some places (especially Hampi and Kodaikanal in the Western Gats), I felt a very deep connection with nature. I formally merged in it, admired the richness and incredible details. And not to forget sunrises and sunsets, full moons in incredible colors or just deep dark night, in an unprecedented intensity. I took this back home – during my walks here, I realize that I experience the nature around me in a different way, with an ability to enjoy weather, the greenery and the upcoming spring in a more mind- and joyful way.

 

Spiritually seen, the five months were an exercise in developing trust. If you travel to India without trust can, you can’t be happy, I believe. Confidence to sit in the proper bus, even though you have no idea where it is going, trusting in the own ability to differentiate (in yoga viveka) with which people it is good to get involved with and which not. But also in longer term to learn not to mess this great opportunity to travel so far just to think about my future all the time, but to trust that everything will somehow result (and that’s what happened, but more about that later)

 

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Morning athmosphere in Madurai (Tamil Nadu)

 

I left Austria without great expectations and just wanted to take my chance of being able to do such a long trip. And India seemed the perfect opportunity. I’ve never been there, and as an avid yogini going to the birthplace of yoga, seemed somehow appropriate. These five months have been just a great time. I have seen and experienced so much, in an amount not seen for years. And I think I am again grown a little bit. On the latter, I will be able make good use in the future … but more on that another time.

Finally here the trip in a nutshell:

The first weeks were devoted to the arrival. First in Agonda (Goa) chilling at the beach and then in Hampi, this wonderful scenery, which has touched my heart. Later traveling around – temples and mosques in Badami and Bijapur, modern urban feeling in Bangalore. In Kerala I visited the colonial city of Cochi and then up in the mountains. Kumily and Munnar – hills with extensive tea and coffee plantations, clear air and cooler climate. I love the sea, but in the mountains there is something warming my heart. Christmas and New Year I spend almost alone in a small guest House by the sea. I enjoy the solitude and read a lot. After a short resocialization period in a busy Guest House just a few miles further, I take the plane to Rajasthan, where I travel with at high pace. Eight locations in four weeks give us indeed a good idea of this state – at the end, however, I feel overwhelmed by the multitude of impressions, and will get sick shortly after my arrival in Goa – the next destination of my trip. A second visit to Hampi has not only an article on the outcome but I find my peace again, while I dive there in nature. The last month I spend again in the south, a week at sea, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets on the southernmost tip of India and three weeks in the mountains at 1,700 meters above sea level, where I don’t want to leave because I learned to appreciate this simple life at a high altitude with a really good view and a fantastic community.

Later I published an article, about traveling alone as a woman in India.

 And here the route on google maps:

India 2011 -2012 auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen