What does the idea of “a solo woman traveling in India” surface for you?
When I met Chiaki, we were both, waiting for the local bus to our yoga ashram. A Japanese waif of gentle yogic smiles, she challenged my notions about what it is to be a solo female traveler in India. Chiaki didn’t boast the extensive list of a world traveler, nor was she avoiding the challenges of navigating the Indian terrain in the way a native would; she was tackling India solo in calm stride.
How the hell was she doing it?
Her courage inspired me and I wanted to know.
You see, although I’ve spent the last two years working towards the goal of becoming a solo traveler, I’m not always 100% convinced and comfortable with going solo. In fact, I feel like I’m still trying to figure it all out. And in a challenging country such as India, where the chaotic culture can feel taxing and the sea of staring men, intimidating; I’ve had moments, where I’ve wanted to hide under a rock, until I found energy to deal with daylight again!
Chiaki has graciously allowed to be my first interview, so here we go…
Tell me a bit about yourself:
My name is Chiaki Nakajima. I’m from Japan. I’m 31 years old. I’m a macrobiotic teacher, yoga teacher and English assistant teacher.
What was your first big solo trip?
After I graduated from college, I started traveling by myself from Oregon to New York for one month. First time I didn’t speak much English so it was difficult, but people helped me a lot.
Since then, what other countries have you traveled by yourself?
China, Japan, Mexico… now India.
What inspires you about solo travel?
When I travel by myself, I can meet many people and I like it.
Everything that happens has meaning. Maybe someone you pass on the street and never talk; the people I meet are very important. I think– maybe there is a meaning.. a connection. Maybe I have to learn something from them.
I can find the essence of my life from the people I meet.
What is the most difficult part of solo travel for you?
Hardest thing for me is language. Countries with people who don’t speak English or Japanese, I find hard. I have to figure out, “What happened?” “What’s going on?” “What should I do?“ Also when I don’t see anyone around, that makes me worry. People are my friends. Could be anybody… (laughing)
Are you the type of traveler that has to plan things or are you comfortable with winging it?
Yes, (winging it). If I go to a country, I feel like I’m not deciding anything; something else is deciding for me. In a way, I do plan– I want to go here, here,… here; but I don’t make specific plans– what time I’m going to do (an activity) , what I will eat, etc…
| Here I don’t like to make plans; not this country. India is difficult. I can’t plan anything here. If I make plans, things change a lot. Things are messed up; it’s always something- engine problem, something broken, etc… It’s the culture, maybe. |
.Chiaki shops at vendor stalls in Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
As a female solo traveler, do you trust your travel instinct?
I trust myself a lot. I’m a girl so I have to be careful. I’m not going to go out very late at night. I have to be careful but I trust myself, not to meet bad people. That’s what I trust. I try to feel something about energy, environment, person… Good energy, that’s an important thing. If something has bad energy, I stay away from him/them.
I also believe in the power of thought, power of mind (and that) the inner mind radiates outside. You understand? For example, maybe you think– I don’t like these people or that person very much. Maybe they don’t like me very much. When I think something, maybe that person feels the same thing. So I try to have positive thoughts when I go into situations.
| Everyone has their own glasses and everything has a color. Maybe you have red glasses, I have green glasses, they have black glasses. People have their glasses. |
Maybe things happen, like a bad car accident. So maybe I say, “Oh, it’s not a big problem”, but you think “Wow, it’s a big problem!” Things happen a lot in this country, not only car accidents. Many things happen in front of me– maybe a rickshaw-wallah is talking to me and everybody stares; maybe some people I’m saying” No, no, no…” and others I’m enjoying (their company) because they’re not bad.
Everything is from here. (Chiaki points at head). Everything must be clear. Open mind.
How do you trust things will work out?
I believe, everything happens for a reason but in a positive way. If I can’t get that train, then I think:
“Maybe there’d be a train accident. Something bad (would have happened to me had I gotten on).”
In Japan, this creates a big problem. If you don’t show up at a certain time, then people say, “Why? Why you didn’t come?“. India, is not like that. If I don’t show up at the ashram by tomorrow, maybe the ashram people understand me– there’s no train.
So say you arrive at train station and ..
No seat for me?
Then I ask someone,” What should I do?” (laugh)
Maybe take the next train, take train the next day or stay here one more night… People will help. I know someone will help me out or take me to the next place.
.At the train station, checking in on her “wait list” status.
Okay, so hotels… do you have fears about traveling late at night and not finding a place to stay?
Here (in India) I don’t have to worry about it. Everywhere I visit… the cities, there are many hotels.
But you’ve given yourself a daily budget…
Ah yes, in India, a place that’s a little expensive is okay for me. Japanese yen… If I need, I will pick the more expensive place, not a 100 rupee place. I have to be safe. If money helps, I will pay. (laughing)
When you travel, do you have to compromise your macrobiotic diet or beliefs about food?
In India, the food is (generally) good. It’s vegetarian; I’ve not had a problem with it. But yes sometimes, it’s difficult. If I know a country has only meat and fast food, I’m not going to eat that kind of food. I’d carry vitamins, some powders from Japan and something like Umeboshi plum, which is very good food for the body. It keeps the blood healthy and is good to carry anywhere. It never spoils; it’s fermented food, so your intestine environment, your blood stays good.
What do you like about traveling in India?
Some people don’t like India; some love India very much. In Japan, people told me many bad things. So when I came I thought, “I have to be very careful in India”. But since I came to India, I’m enjoying. I feel light… alive. In Japan, there is already a way. Everything is clean, set up, organized. This country? No. Everything is messed up, not clean, unorganized, no traffic rules… nothing. Here, I have to negotiate prices and live a basic life– eating, washing, sleeping, walking… and walking (laughs).
| Here, it’s like I have to make up the road by myself. I’m surviving. |
In Japan, I don’t have to worry about things; I don’t have to negotiate. Prices are always $100, $500.. so okay, I pay. But in India, everybody has different price. In some way, it makes sense… some people have lots of money and can pay more. But if you think it’s expensive, you don’t have to buy it. That’s it.
It’s exciting, an adventure. Sometimes, it makes me tired (laughs).
How tell me something yogi cool- what can yoga teach us about travel?
Yoga is not only for travel. My life is yoga practice and it’s a practice for surviving my life!
A lot of times, I think about the future and I worry; it may not even happen. But you have to be (present) with your mind.
Always mind go away– future, past– not stay here. That’s why we practice pranayama (breathing); so mind comes back to body. That’s why we practice asana- bring mind back here to concentrate on pose and posture. That’s the practice.
NOW creates your future. If you concentrate on Now, it’s going to make your future better. So don’t worry about future. Stay here. Now. Try not to (let) mind go away. Always hold inside of the body. That’s the yoga practice.
Do you have advice for solo travelers in India?
Don’t make plans. Enjoy yourself. Open the mind.
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