Can Black Travelers Find Themselves in India, Too?
A photographer discovered, on a trip to Rajasthan, that the answer is a resounding yes.
As a Black traveler, I've had my share of difficulties. I've been ignored and belittled by waiters and hotel staff. Locals have grabbed my arms and taken my photo. I've been told I look "too exotic" to be from London, my hometown. Women have touched my hair without my permission. Men have catcalled, shouting the names of celebrities who look nothing like me — except for the fact that they, too, are Black.
These disrespectful gestures are almost enough to discourage me from traveling at all.
So when I set out for India in April 2019, I braced myself for plenty of negative attention and racial comments. Instead, I discovered a place that felt like home and that rekindled my love of exploring the world.
Which isn't to say it was easy. To make the most of my trip, I relied on a few tactics that helped me better navigate the destination. My first step was to book a room at a world-class hotel, the Leela Palace Udaipur on Lake Pichola, which Travel + Leisure readers ranked as the best in the world in 2019.
It may seem obvious that a luxury hotel would provide top-notch service, but the benefits of my stay there went beyond the on-property pampering. The Leela's concierges handpicked kind and knowledgeable guides who they knew I would feel safe with. These guides took me to places of worship like Jagdish Temple, where I got a crash course in Hindu beliefs, and markets where I tried kachori, a deep-fried chickpea-flour snack, and jalebi, a traditional sweet. The photo-taking opportunities were nearly limitless.
Another key was seeking out local women in markets whenever I had a question, whether it was about directions, shops, or where to eat. Despite a language barrier, they often welcomed me through gestures like placing a vermilion bindi on my forehead or setting a garland of marigolds around my neck. In these moments, I felt protected and embraced.
Lastly, I reminded myself to keep an open mind. I brought my preconceptions to India, no doubt, but nobody there seemed surprised to learn I was from London. I'd gone to Rajasthan expecting one thing and left having learned that, while some trips may disappoint us, others can be life-affirming revelations.
A version of this article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Can Black Travelers Find Themselves in India, Too?