Yesterday was our last day in Dharamsala. Most of us have agreed that it was our favourite place so far- a beautiful sprawling village beneath the Himalayas that saw gorgeous warm sunshine during the day and chilly temperatures at night. The snow capped mountains in the distance were a breathtaking backdrop to the faded but vibrantly coloured buildings scattered across the cliffs.
After catching auto rickshaws down the mountain to the village centre, we walked past the markets selling beautiful Tibetan yak wool socks, pashmina scarves and little trinkets and had brunch at a quirky little rooftop restaurant overlooking the town. Some of the group strolled down to the Buddhist temple and Tibetan museum, but a ‘closed for lunch’ sign meant we missed it on our last day (I think we’re getting used to India’s mostly endearing way of running on its own ‘India time’!).
After our lunch of momos and a little more shopping, we went back to the hotel to pack our bags for the long 12 hour overnight sleeper train to Rishikesh. Some of us were a little apprehensive about the train ride but I think it turned out to be relatively pleasant. It was nice to be able to finally lie back and get some sleep on such a long journey!
One of the issues that we’ve been faced with as a group of 13 females (plus one male) is the unwanted male attention, which became pretty apparent on the sleeper train, with men lingering around our bunk beds. This issue has been something that we’ve been able to engage with on a few different levels, which has enabled us to look at it more critically. One the one level, we’ve been able to have a bit of a laugh about it, which I think has helped the group bond more closely, since we’re all in the same boat. On another level, the nature of this study tour and its objective of harnessing ‘purposeful travel’ with young people, has meant that we’ve discussed issues such as gender equality, patriarchy and culture in meaningful ways, which I don’t think would have necessarily arisen had we simply been a group of women on a regular vacation. If this were the case, I think I would have been more likely to return home with rather negative views of Indian men and their behaviour, rather than thinking about the ways in which globalisation and poverty have engendered unfavourable representations of Western women in Indian men’s imaginations.
Chatting about gender issues during our evening debriefs has also made us question our preconceptions of the subjugated Indian woman and the nuances in feminist ideals across cultures. We’ve also been able to draw parallels between patriarchy in India and the ways it manifests in Australian culture, in the home and in the workplace. So far, it’s been an incredibly insightful journey and one that I think has brought about a lot of meaningful reflection and debate! I’m looking forward to exploring beautiful Rishikesh and seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise as we wrap up this incredibly memorable trip!