The issue is contentious and some might not like what I have to say, about the gang rape of the Swiss ‘adventure tourist’ in Central India, March 2013.
Let’s say I’m a white woman, athletic and in shape. I am a long distance cyclist after all. I think of myself as strong, fit and able to handle myself. I am a husky, warm-blooded, Caucasian female who needs to prove something, not to admire the scenery. Where I am biking right now, there is no scenery worth writing home about. Anyway, scenery is boring, lying around sipping pina coladas by the sea, ditto. I like venturing into the unknown and the unexpected and thus the sobriquet ‘adventure tourist’.
I feel the adrenalin as I set out with my bike and my Swiss partner. Only, its not a ride through the valley of Gstaad or downtown Zurich. Zurich and Gstaad bore me. We are in India and have chosen to go cycling along the AH43, from Orchha in Central Madhya Pradesh to Agra in Uttar Pradesh, distance of around 250kms. They are perhaps the most perilous 250kms in the whole of India and maybe even in South Asia. A stretch of land known well for its inhospitable terrain and complete lawlessness. We’ve just done 80kms and I know we can’t make it before sundown and we shall have to stop for the night somewhere along the way.
Known as Chambal, the region we are biking through is mostly desolate, characterized by deep ravines and dense forest, dotted with villages that are more like watering holes for marauding bandits that roam the area, than normal villages. Over the ages, Chambal has developed an infamy for its lawlessness and besides brigands, Chambal boasts foraging packs of hyenas and particularly vicious strains of vipers and scorpions. I am of course not unaware of unexpected dangers that are a part and parcel of adventure tourism. Maybe it’s my bravado, ’cause before we set out, I don’t bother to carry out even the most rudimentary check of the region, its terrain and the folk who inhabit it. If I had I’d have found out how deadly a cycling trip through Chambal can get. I’m an adventure tourist, remember? I just love being in the remotest and most dangerous parts of the earth and meeting crises head-on.
The AH43 is riddled with potholes and vast patches completely unpaved. It slows us down and as the sun sets over the sal forests, we decide to pitch tent in the middle of nowhere, right about the very grid location in the whole wide world where the gender ratio happens to stand at 84 women to every 100 men.
Soon, a knot of villagers gather and gawk at me. They’ve probably never seen my pale skin, my blond hair, tiny shorts, bare white legs. They start chattering among themselves, pointing and hooting like a bunch of monkeys. My partner shoos them off, most likely in words that they don’t understand. He brandishes a tent pole at them in his effort to scare them away. They melt into the dense thickets after a while. We slip into our tent.
Just what do I expect will happen next? The mayor of the village will approach with garlands and a massive key? To the village? Slaughter a fatted calf and announce a feast?
How could I have been so stupid?
Is there any doubt that evil exists and it will touch me if I insist on going out looking for it?