LIVE

A photographer discovered, on a trip to Rajasthan, that the answer is a resounding yes.

By Nancy Lova
January 22, 2021
Advertisement
The pool at the Leela Palace Udaipur luxury hotel
The author captured the view of the pool at the Leela Palace Udaipur.
| Credit: Nancy Lova

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.

A busy street scene in India, from inside a taxi
The author's view from an auto rickshaw in Udaipur, India.
| Credit: Nancy Lova

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?