Women-Only India Travel Club Breaks With Tradition

Flickr photo by rajkumar1220

Historically, the idea of independent travel was not an option for Indian women. They typically stayed at home, cared for by a husband or a father figure. But with more female opportunities in education and employment, the role of India’s women is changing. Say hello to Indian travel clubs.

Traditional travel groups for Indian women included widows, abandoned wives and the elderly. But even those women traveled with a male chaperone, mostly to religious sites. Today’s Indian travel for women includes trips around the world, from the the Taj Mahal to the Antarctic.

“In a typical Indian family holiday women end up in a role-playing mode of being a mother, wife, daughter and are often unable to experience a destination as an individual,” says Piya Bose, owner of Mumbai-based women’s travel group, GOTG (Girls on the Go) in an Aljazeera article.As the number of urban, educated Indian women grows, so have the number of travel clubs enabling them to see the world on their own.

With offices in both New Delhi in North India and Bangalore in South India, Women On Wanderlust (WOW) is another travel club, this one founded by travel writer Sumitra Senapathy who promotes the advantages of group travel. “They can come in solo but travel with the security that a group provides”, says Senapathy.

India Travel Guide

Ode to the expat newspaper

expat newspaperOne of my favorite things about traveling, in addition to foreign supermarkets, oddball museums, and miniature toiletries, is the local English-language expat newspaper. When I’m home in New York, I tend to get all my news online, either directly from news websites through specific searches or curated from friends’ links on social media (one of the best sources for news from US newspapers is Canadian NY1 anchorman and New Yorker favorite Pat Kiernan‘s site Pat’s Papers). Sorry US newspapers, I know I’m part of the problem. But while I’m traveling, I love to grab the local newspaper over hotel breakfast or in a coffeeshop and learn about local issues, news, and phenomena.Last month in Malaysia while reading the New Straits Times, I learned about how competitive the Chinese are at a kite flying festival and how southeast Asian children have to be taught to detect sour milk. The travel section reviewed a new hotel in Penang with a first impression of “adequate” and the Niexter insert written by Malaysian teenagers taught me all about malapropisms. A couple at our hotel told me they came to Penang after reading an article on the Hotel Penaga’s renovation from the paper in Kuala Lumpur.

It was from Istanbul’s Today’s Zaman that I learned about the excellent expat community and online forum I’ve become a part of in the last year, and I now have friends who have worked at Zaman and their competitor the Hurriyet Daily News. When I first visited Turkey in 2008, I recall reading an interesting editorial in one of the papers about how stealing things from airplanes like safety cards can cause delays, as the plane can’t take off without enough for everyone. The torn out article is long-gone, but I’ve retained the factoid and it keeps me honest on airplanes (though I’ve been tempted to take a souvenir from some eastern European airlines). When the Hurriyet turned 50 this year, writer Jennifer Hattam wrote a great piece on the particular challenges of not only translating the language of news, but the cultural specifics and background as well.

Expat news doesn’t only come in print form. I tweeted about expat news sources and read how writer Lisa Bergren relies on the BBC for news as well as comfort, and CJGuest recommends Al Jazeera from the Arabic world, the German Deutsche Welle, NHK from Japan, and Russia Today from the Russian Federation. Gadling’s own Grant Martin likes the South China Morning Post and the more western Sydney Morning Herald.The local English-language paper doesn’t always have the freshest content, the most stellar writing, or the coolest layout, but it provides an invaluable look into regional and national issues. Expat news can also provide a lens through which to see world news through local perspectives, and help us keep in touch with the sentiments and opinions in our home countries and cultures.

Gadling readers, do you have any favorite news sources abroad? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Ed Yourdon

The Arab revolution: the reaction of one Muslim community

arab revolution, Arab RevolutionFor the past few weeks, headlines all over the world have been dominated by the so-called Arab Revolution, a wave of anti-government protests across the Middle East. I’m living in the Ethiopian Muslim community of Harar and locals here are absorbed in the events. Sitting in living rooms or cafes to escape the heat of the day, all eyes are glued to the satellite channels and conversation revolves around the rapidly changing events.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive tempered by caution. They’re happy to see a strong pro-democracy movement in Egypt but say that since the army is the real power, democracy is still in danger. While the West worries about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over, one recent university graduate told me, “They only use Islam for political gain. Deal with them in economic terms and there will be no problem.”

The main talk right now, of course, is about Libya. Descriptions of Gaddafi range from “crazy” to “stupid” to “evil”. Some Hararis even say Gaddafi is a heroin addict. “He has an injured back and started taking it for the pain. He has a Russian nurse who follows him everywhere and gives him injections,” one friend told me. I’ve never heard that before, but it would explain the bizarre interviews and why he wears sunglasses indoors. Everyone thinks he’ll go down fighting rather than give up control.

Most people here watch Al-Jazeera. That station has taken definite sides in the Libyan revolution. When Gaddafi’s government blocked the Internet, Al Jazeera started running the addresses for proxy sites to access Gmail and Twitter.

Mazzika 1, an Egyptian music video station, is now running a video about the uprising, showing the protests in Tahrir Square, the faces of some of the dead, and the final joyous victory, all set to inspiring music. It makes an interesting contrast to their usual fare of Arab starlets gyrating in front of the camera.Ethiopians have no love of dictators. When the Derg regime under Colonel Mengistu Haile Miriam assassinated Haile Selassie in 1974, it started a brutal repression across the country that killed 500,000 people in its first year. Nobody knows the total number of victims. A bloody civil war finally toppled the regime and Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe, where he still lives in comfort. Ethiopia now enjoys a democracy. It isn’t perfect, but mechanisms are in place to perfect it. Ethiopians want to see the same for the Arab world. “They need it,” one Harari said, “or they’ll never be free.”

One friend put it in Marxist terms. “The French had the first bourgeois revolution in 1780. We had ours starting in 1966 and now finally the Arabs are having theirs.” He feels it’s the next step to creating an egalitarian state.

The Hararis I spoke with are surprised and cautiously optimistic by the protests in Saudi Arabia. That nation has a huge influence in Ethiopia because of its sponsorship of Wahhabi mosques and madrasas. Wahhabism is a strict form of Islam that in strong contrast to the tolerant, easygoing Islam practiced by most Ethiopians. It encourages Ethiopian women to wear the niqab and denouces the Harari reverence for Muslim saints as unislamic. The face veil is alien to Ethiopian culture, and Harar’s many Islamic saints are a cornerstone of their religious practice. One Harari friend called the Wahhabis “poisonous snakes.”

I won’t be like many journalists and pretend the dozen or so people I spoke to are representative of the feelings of the entire population, only a huge opinion poll could claim that, but the daily conversations I’ve been having about the Arab Revolution provide a viewpoint I couldn’t get anywhere else.

And that’s one of the best things travel can give us.

Don’t miss the rest of my Ethiopia travel series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s City of Saints.

Coming up next: Homestays in Harar!

Love from London: $200 million penthouse, anyone?

Don’t worry, I am not going to turn this into a real estate blog. I realize I recently blogged about the real estate prices in London, but I just couldn’t NOT tell you that in London, somebody actually bought a new development condo for £100 million ($200 million), which is incidentally the most expensive apartment ever sold, anywhere. That is the kind of town London is these days.

The development, One Hyde Park, is located–you guessed it–right by Hyde Park in Knightsbridge opposite the Mandarin Oriental hotel and not far from the department store Harrods.

According to SkyscraperNews, the somebody was Sheikh Hamad, the foreign minister of Qatar and the owner of Al Jazeera, whose £100 million offer last year exceeded the £82 million the flat was originally said to be on sale for suggesting that a bidding war went on between potential purchasers eager to snap it up. The facilities apparently include everything a billionaire could ask for: a private lift, bullet proof glass windows, and an underground passage linking it into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to save him ever having to walk down the street with the great unwashed.

By the way, the great unwashed would be us, folks.