Women who travel

Doubts, risks, and the joy in exploration
Photos: Afra Nawar

A month ago, three of my female friends planned a trip to Cox's Bazar. They decided to take a late night bus. It was a simple enough plan which should have been easily executable by any adult but I ended up not going because there was no way I could explain to my parents that I would be traveling, at night on a bus, to Cox's Bazar with three other girls even though I am a university graduate with a full-time job.

The above situation is not uncommon for any woman with wanderlust living in Bangladesh. Many have had to bury their urge to travel into the unknown while others, who have the privilege of being able to go abroad, have done that as an alternative. And this is another common theme I've come across while writing this article. Most parents who have been protective of girls wanting to travel within Bangladesh have easily allowed them to do so outside of the country.

Nevertheless, I have always wondered what it would be like to be out on your own in nature or exploring a completely new place alone.

Afra Nawar, an engineer working for a Bangladeshi mobile financial service provider, shared her experience of traveling alone within the country for the first time.

"I have travelled extensively abroad as a solo traveller but ever since Covid-19 hit and the international borders became off-limit, I started travelling within the country as an alternative," says Afra. Her journey initially began after she met some trekkers through social media groups who enjoy going off-trail inside Bandarban.

"My first trip was to Nafakhum and Amiakhum in Bandarban. The whole trail consists of various mountainous lakes and you climb mountains and boulders to reach a beautiful waterfall. It requires 7 to 8 hours of trekking to reach Amiakhum. When the first trip turned out okay, it put me at ease and prepared me for my next ones and I ended up going to three more trekking trips inside Bandarban and even camped on top of Marayan Tong on a freezing December night, which was again, a whole different experience for me," she explains.  

Now, a lot of the time, people ask, "What is the need for traveling alone for women?" You could just travel with your family, right?

In reply, Iqra L. Qamari, a junior consultant working for Public Private Partnership Authority Bangladesh, explains, "When you travel with your family, more often than not, you're under some form of supervision. It's liberating for me to travel alone or with my friends where I can be myself."

She went on to share an experience. The place she talks about is the waterfall called Hum Hum also known by the locals as Cheetah Falls, situated in the Rajkandi reserve forest in Kamalganj, Moulvibazar District.

"The waterfall is a five-hour trek away and hence you are ideally supposed to start at dawn. But we started the trek at 2 PM. Of the two paths to the waterfall, we took the scenic one with small waterfalls along the way. On our way, the waterfalls created slides and huge puddles where we sat pretending to be in Jacuzzis. It was beautiful. By the time we reached the waterfall, it was dusk. Now, in this situation, if we were with our parents, there would be outbursts and they would have freaked out. But, my friends and I were laid back and we were enjoying the journey. As it got dark, we lost our way back but we were still enjoying the adventure of it. We thought it was a very rare experience," recalled Iqra. 

She further added, "We understand very well that it was a risky situation to be in but it was a very memorable experience. When we found our way back, we came out of the forest with torn sandals, fire-ant bites, and leeches stuck to our body."

However, this is not to glorify traveling inside Bangladesh for women, as adventures are not devoid of risks and safety concerns.

"On our night journey to St. Martin's island, my friend and I were the only female passengers on the bus. Right after getting on the bus, both of us became quite stressed. We were two girls travelling alone at night. We could feel other passengers judging us and talking about us which was quite unpleasant," said Anupoma Joyeeta Joyee, a barrister and advocate, while talking about her first-time experience of traveling alone with a female friend inside Bangladesh.

"At one point, when we were at a stoppage, after finishing our dinner and getting on the bus, one of the male passengers had his phone angled towards us. It was clear that he was taking our pictures. When I confronted the person, he denied it and said that he was actually talking on the phone. He retaliated to my accusation with a raised voice and most passengers took the man's side. I realised that the more I argued, the more I would increase people's hostility towards me and so after a while I had to step down," she recounted. 

Regardless, this experience did not dampen the trip for either of them and after reaching the resort at their destination, the duo was beyond ecstatic.

"I understand everyone will have different degrees of trouble while traveling in Bangladesh especially if they are a solo traveller. When we were at St. Martin's the first day, we were so content and satisfied with ourselves for having done that. It was an experience of a lifetime in the sense that we were always told travelling alone as a female in Bangladesh isn't possible, but we did that. It made me feel empowered," commented Joyee.

Now, looking back at my broken Cox's Bazar plan, a part of me wishes I had taken that leap, while another part of me is fully aware of the security concerns that perturb not just my parents but myself as well. The unfairness of the situation where I have to take so many things into account in order to embark on an adventure here is clear to me and all we can hope for is sometime in the near future, all of us can hop on buses and trains to discover the world irrespective of our gender.

Tasnim Odrika has only one personality trait and that is cats. Share ideas for new personality traits with her at [email protected]