The Mumbai terror attacks in November, 2008 shocked the world. And as a frequent traveler to India I was saddened by the senseless deaths and destruction. But it will not deter me from visiting this fascinating country.
I am planning a month-long trip in April, and then a prolonged stay of six months beginning in June. I usually travel alone in India. As a single, Western female, I personally have always felt safe there.
Officially, there is no "travel warning" from the US State Department advising US travelers to avoid India. They have, however, suggested travelers "maintain a high level of vigilance." I believe in exercising caution no matter where I travel—or live. When I walk around downtown Seattle I am conscious of my surroundings and the humans I share the sidewalk with. I'm far from paranoid. Just responsible and aware.
Terrorism exists the world over. We learned after 9/11 that we are not safe in our own country from foreign terrorists. Neither are we safe from our own citizens—the Oklahoma City Bombings, Columbine tragedy and shootings at local malls are testament to that. So, I choose to continue to travel, and travel to a place I love.
On a practical note, rather than an emotional one, I also acknowledge the reality of the tensions in that part of the world. But recent events and awareness are promoting action. In response to the terror attacks the Indian government has increased the level of security in crowded areas and those frequented by tourists.
During my travels to India (five trips in the last two years) I have met with much kindness and warmth from the Indian people whether I am in big cities such as Delhi or tiny villages in Rajasthan. I have never felt threatened. I have been invited to many meals and events by families, business associates, and of course, curious men. The last takes more diplomacy than other acquaintances, but it also requires some of the same tactics in the states.
My sense of adventure and openness to this culture have yielded experiences I would not trade for anything. I have had tea at the houses of tribal villagers in Central India, been the houseguest of a family descended from royal lineage, learned to make stuffed Indian bread in the humble four-room home of a local guide, and been shopping with a young professional mother of two.
Years ago, I read an essay entitled, "Why We Travel" by Pico Ayer, the world famous travel writer. I have never forgotten it. It begins: "We travel initially to lose ourselves; and we travel next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed."
For me, the riches of India, its people, culture, crafts, cities, villages, wildlife, jungles, language, food, and outrageous idiosyncrasies and dichotomies, have rewarded me personally tenfold. They are the reasons I will continue to travel to this wondrous country.