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It couldn’t have been a better time to visit Gujarat for the ‘Wheels of Wander’ self-driving trails campaign by Maruti Suzuki Alto and Outlook Traveller. We had several things working for us – the pleasant weather in late January, the fact that the four-month-long Rann Utsav was at its peak, and of course the fabulous company of three friends. Meisha, Diisha and Delna from Mumbai were selected to participate on the Gujarat leg of the 4-day self-driving trail and one could expect nothing but fun, laughter and plenty of memories.
The idea of women travelling in India is a relatively new concept, whether it’s solo travel or with a bunch of friends. Only the last decade has been the game-changer for women where exploring the country on their own is not unheard of anymore. Especially when they are in their early twenties, this offers a feeling of liberation. It was the same with these three friends. Given the erratic nature of work assignments, their travel is usually for work and not exploration. So when this opportunity came about, they were more than happy to get on the road.
Meisha called dibs on driving during the first part of the journey. With Delna as ‘co-pilot’, Diisha and I settled at the back, and off we started. Conversations veered off to favourite travel memories as kids. Delna’s eyes lit up as she described a trip to Darjeeling. For Diisha, it was a Manali trip that is etched in her memory. “If only I could go back in time to have those snowball fights with my dad,” she laughed. Meisha’s fondest memory was learning how to swim in the ocean with her mother, in Goa. The experience of travelling as kids and now as young women was a natural progression to the conversation.
I was trying to understand what travel means to them now. Is it just a vacation with fancy check-ins on social media? Or another opportunity for those incessant selfies? Or more? Four days and several conversations later here are some revelations.
Travel is synonymous to self-confidence
Meisha who started her career at 15 years of age as a model, travelled frequently across cities for work. It exposed her to different cultures and also gave her a sense of independence. For Diisha and Delna, travel meant breaking away from the cozy cocoon that they were confined to, and stepping out of their comfort zone. Diisha confessed that her first solo trip was intimidating and she had mixed feelings during her trip. But in hindsight, the trip made her break the shackles of being shy through numerous conversations with locals. It gave her a sense of achievement and boosted her confidence.
Liberation – the biggest byproduct of travel
We spoke about how young women like to take their own decisions. A sense of liberation is the natural byproduct of travel and they want a taste of that. They detest stereotypes like ‘women cannot drive well’, or ‘women cannot travel by themselves’. Delna, who left Jamshedpur four years ago, said that she took the big step so she could lead her life on her terms and shape her future with her decisions. For these young women, travel is an escape to break free, a stress buster that provides freedom from the routine and an exploration to fuel their curiosity of the known and unknown.
Traveling in India - safety is subjective
"Mumbai is the safest city!” announced Delna and Diisha in unison. Meisha begged to differ. She said that safety is subjective, as one needs to be on their guard wherever they travel in the world. "I felt safe in Delhi," she added. ”I had heard so much regarding safety in Delhi, but I actually felt that people were helpful. They generally are when they see a solo woman traveller. It is in our culture to be a little extra protective towards women.” We all agreed that needless risk to jeopardize a trip could be avoided and no city could be labeled ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. When it comes to being prudent on the road, all of them felt that carrying a pepper spray and sharing travel details with someone at home is of utmost importance. The bottom-line is that everyone has to be his or her own hero.
Travel is the best teacher
"I’ve learnt more from actual travel than textbooks”, Delna laughed. For these youngsters, travel means exploring new cultures, appreciating diversities and embracing new horizons. Meisha contributed that traveling in India itself has repeatedly led her to believe that deep down all of us are the same. Smaller places can be more atmospheric and personal. They all love towns, which are high on culture with local art forms, traditions and away from commercialization. For Delna, a new place every year is a ritual. She likes to fuel her curious soul and break her own preconceived notions.
During their driving trip to Kutch, they were bowled over by the hospitality and warmth of the locals. Many craft villages opened their doors, showcasing their heritage with pride, not once making them feel out of place.
All girls’ trips lead to the best bonds
Gossip, selfies and music cannot be stripped away from an all girls trip. While trips with friends and families are special, an all girls trip tops the preference chart for these three. An all girls’ trip leads to a bond like none other, with endless banter, a reasonable share of fights, subsequent patch-ups and plenty of sisterhood. We all agreed that an all girls trip could not be traded with any other holiday.
As the sun set over the White Rann, the trio walked arm in arm, chasing it till the last of the light had left the sky. It was like bidding adieu to the stereotypes of women travel in India and ushering in fresher perspectives with a new dawn.
Courtesy of Outlook Traveller
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